STAMMEL: After Vacancy Rift, Bi-Partisan Trust Needs Rebuilding

LETTER from ANDREW STAMMEL

After Vacancy Rift,

Bi-Partisan Trust Needs Rebuilding

To the Editor:

The run of bi-partisanship on the county Board of Representatives has been interrupted by the Republican caucus’ recent efforts to steamroll through a replacement for Representative Oberacker.

During my two and a half terms on the county board, cooperation between parties has ebbed and flowed. Since the 2017 election it has been split 7-7 between Democrats and Republican-affiliated members.

Thankfully, a bi-partisan governing coalition and leadership team was ascendant and the board increased its productivity and collegiality. There was an understanding that it was in the county’s interest for the party caucuses to work with each other. Representative Bliss has been selected as chair three years running, in votes that relied on support from both parties.

Some cracks began to show in January 2020 as the leadership team became fully Republican after two years of shared leadership with a chair and vice chair from different parties. But cooperation mostly continued until this month.

With Representative Oberacker’s recent election to state Senate, he is set to take office in January 2021. This will create a vacancy in his county district because his board term runs through December 2021.

The board’s Rules of Order and local law clearly outline how to fill vacancy, within 30 days and with nominees submitted by both major parties, to be voted on by the Administration Committee and then the full board.

Unfortunately the Republican caucus apparently coordinated to prevent Democratic input into this process, rejecting bi-partisanship.

Representative Oberacker inexplicably submitted his resignation letter a month and a half prior to commencing his new position, unexpectedly vacating the board prior to important votes on the annual budget and other matters.

His resignation letter was dated Nov. 13 to take effect the 16th; but it was not received by the board clerk until Nov. 17 (according to the date stamp). The clerk did not share the resignation with the Board members until the 18th, a day after the local Republican Committee met to nominate a replacement.

Upon receipt of the resignation letter, the Democratic board members inquired with board leadership about the process for moving forward and how the Democratic Committee could submit a name (the committee had a regular meeting scheduled for the 19th).

These inquiries were ignored by leadership, and the Administration Committee voted on the morning of the 19th, along party lines, to approve the Republican nominee.

Does this sound like collegial bi-partisanship? It sounds like a fishy partisan power move to me, contrary to the letter and spirit of county law.

The county board now has seven Democratic members, six Republican-affiliated members, and one vacancy. Democrats have a plurality in weighted voting on the board but neither party has a majority. Bi-partisan cooperation will be required to move forward on any items, including the filling of this vacancy.

It had been my expectation that the board would fill the vacancy as I believed that to be in the county’s best interest. I also expected that the board would choose a Republican, as this is historically a conservative district.

But now I ask myself what the Republican plurality would do if the shoe were on the other foot. Would they keep open a vacancy in a traditionally Democratic district and press their advantage to maintain their plurality and greater control over the Board?

If you had asked me a year ago, I would opine that the Republicans would probably do the right thing and fill the vacancy. Today, after their latest maneuvers, I’m not sure.

The success of our county and board depends on restoring bi-partisan respect. With the county still fighting a pandemic and dealing with a likely double-dip recession, we need a high-functioning and fully staffed board.

Although the timing of the filling of this vacancy is unknown, I do not plan to keep the position vacant for over a year and I expect some of my Democratic colleagues feel similarly. But we also need the GOP caucus to work to rebuild bridges and trust.

Like any relationship, this one requires work and good faith on both sides. I hope the holidays and New Year allow my Republican colleagues to reflect on their recent actions and consider how they can contribute to restoring trust and collegiality.

ANDREW STAMMEL
County Representative
District 4, Town of Oneonta


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