Sussman: Sullivan County Retaliated Against David Sager

Mr. Sussman also commented on rumors that “documents and files are being shredded and destroyed” at the Department of Family Services. “We have heard the rumors but I have not yet substantiated them.” However, he called on DFS employees to “not be a party to any destruction of files. If you are being directed to destroy ‘stale files,’ document the direction you were given and the person who gave you the direction. Report it. Those ‘stale files’ are now evidence.”


On May 15, 2013, Dr. David Sager was terminated from his position as the Deputy Commissioner of Sullivan County’s Department of Family Services (DFS).  He was given no warning or explanation — just a letter from Commissioner Randy Parker telling him to collect his belongings and leave.

In the month since the firing,

  • a public outcry and allegations of dereliction of duty and cover-ups have  surfaced against senior officials at DFS.
  • on June 6th, Sullivan County’s  NAACP and  a union rep for Teamsters Local 445 stunned a crowded meeting room with questions about 4 million dollars  worth of services that went missing in the Foster Care Program and  about child abuse cases that were never investigated.   Those questions nearly drowned out two others:  (1)  why were so few cases of fraud investigated by the DFS legal team during the past seven years; and (2)  why are so many  of our current investigations being conducted on  old complaints?
  • an online petition  (that remains open and was initiated by the writer of this article)  has gathered 472 signatures demanding that Dr. Sager be reinstated as Deputy Commissioner of DFS and that the County Legislature conduct an immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding his termination.  (Several signators have appended comments that allege personal knowledge of wrongdoing in DFS.)

The overflow public turnout at the Health & Family Services Committee meeting on June 6th forced a change of venue to the large Legislative chamber where several speakers stepped to the podium.

Sandra Shaddock,  Vice President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 445 asked the Legislators to account for  a $4 million discrepancy in the County’s funding of its Foster Care Program.

Elaine Williams and Sandra Cuellar Oxford (NAACP)  issued a Freedom of Information request “to obtain all Child Protective Services/DFS Legal abuse and neglect petitions filed in the past year in Sullivan County Family Court.”   By way of explanation,  the NAACP stated, “We believe that current efforts on the part of an overworked and understaffed CPS staff are simply not sufficient. The protections we expect and deserve for our children and families have been short-circuited by what can only be described as a cavalier and disengaged DFS Legal Department. In short, more than ever, our most at-risk children are at even greater risk…. Based on what we have seen to date of Commissioner Parker’s leadership, we are very concerned it appears that Mr. Parker’s aggressive behavior and reckless policies will go unchecked without the benefit of Dr. Sager’s sound reasoning as part of the management team at the Department of Family Services.”

When YNN’s Eva McKend asked Commissioner Parker for his response after the Health & Family Services Committee meeting, he said,  “No comment.”  However, later in the day — and for (again)  unexplained reasons —  Parker provided an interview  to The Times-Herald Record in which he accused Dr. Sager of  being a political appointee who’d been forced down Parker’s throat and who was incompetent to perform his duties.  Characteristically, the interview provided no explanation for why it took Parker seven months to fire his  “inexperienced”  Deputy,  why he praised Sager’s work in at least one staff meeting and why the Commissioner spoke with Sager about expanding the Deputy’s sphere of  responsibility.

For his part,  Dr. Sager wrote at his Facebook page on May 23, 2013,

“I performed my duties as Deputy Commissioner of the Sullivan County Department of Family Services competently and professionally. Because Commissioner Parker has offered no reason to me or anyone else for my abrupt termination, I can only conclude I was let go as an act of retaliation for expressing to Mr. Parker my serious concerns about both past and present failures on the part of DFS relating to individual cases and the inability of certain employees to conduct their work competently and in accordance with the law. DFS employees in my office have come forward to say I was a caring, productive, and hard-working colleague. Though Commissioner Parker and I occasionally disagreed on a course of action privately, I was always a supportive and deferential deputy. Recently Mr. Parker praised my work at a departmental meeting in front of the entire staff. In fact, leading up to the day of my firing, he and I were seriously discussing adding additional responsibilities to my portfolio.”

Ignorance seems to be the Defense of the Day:  

  • Most Legislators claim that when Commissioner Parker came to the Executive Committee meeting on May 16, 2013,  they had no clue he was planning to fire Dr. Sager the next day.  (Although, when asked directly by Ellen Neumann on June 6th,  Jonathan Rouis remained mum.)
  • Several Legislators who attended the Executive Committee meeting reported  that, “Parker asked if we would support his actions as Commissioner.”  Some  have even expressed  “outrage” that neither Parker nor Yasgur clued them in about the termination letter.  One Legislator told me that when Parker was asked  why he wanted Legislators’ “support,”   the Commissioner provided no answer.  (BIP Note:  Are the Legislators “outraged”  that they didn’t ask more questions or that Parker refused to answer the few they did ask?  Or, as some of the Legislators have wondered,  “Why didn’t our County Attorney tell us he’d  drafted a termination letter for Parker to use?”  (FYI:  Attorney Yasgur is an “at-will employee”  who serves at the pleasure of the Sullivan County Legislature.1)
  • At the Labor Sub-committee meeting on May 21st,  Legislator Kitty Vetter declared that she’d never heard there were “problems at DFS.”  Sandy Shaddock begged to differ and went on to  enumerate several instances when  she had personally reported  her own and employees’ concerns about DFS.
  • After the June 6th  Health & Family Services Committee meeting, County Attorney, Sam Yasgur told me that he’d  “drafted” Sager’s termination letter  for Commissioner Parker but didn’t inform the Legislators.  “In large part,” he said, “my job is to protect them [the Legislators].”
  • County Attorney Yasgur  offered to provide me with  a copy of the County’s “Whistleblower Policy” but when we went to his office to retrieve it, he couldn’t find it.
  • When I asked  him about the rumor that the County has an “exit interview” policy,  he explained it was used for  employees who leave County service of their own volition.  I explained he was in a position to offer a different policy for the Legislators to consider.  (He shrugged but couldn’t find a copy of the exit interview form, either.)
  • Despite contrary  information  provided by this writer on at least two occasions, Legislator Cindy Geiger continued to assert on June 6th that “at-will employees”  can be terminated without recourse.   “There’s nothing in County law to protect them,”  she added.   (When she was informed that the  protections exist in Federal and State law,  Mrs. Geiger had no response.)

On Wednesday June 12, 2013,  Dr. David Sager and  his attorney, Michael H. Sussman,  appeared at a press conference to announce David’s  plan for the immediate future:

  • A Summons and Complaint  has been filed on behalf of Dr. David Sager against the County of Sullivan, NY.  (The full document can be viewed at The Sullivan County Democrat’s  Facebook page  or a print copy can be obtained from the Sullivan County Clerk’s office at the Government Center,  300 North Street,  Monticello, NY.)
  • Citing to  Section 75B of New York State’s Civil Service Law,1  the Summons and Complaint alleges the following:
    •  “…Parker has claimed that plaintiff lacked the experience to discharge the duties and responsibilities assigned to him.”;
    • “This reason is  sheer pretext in that in the weeks before terminating plaintiff and  before plaintiff’s disclosures, Parker stated that he intended to expand plaintiff’s duties and responsibilities and at the most recent full staff meeting held in April 2013, Parker praised plaintiff’s job performance.”;
    • “In fact, defendant terminated plaintiff because he was reporting fraud and illegal activities which were transpiring within the Department of Family Services, specifically on the part of legal staff, CPS staff and  temporary assistance staff.”;
    • “ Commissioner Parker  engaged in illegal activity when he terminated Dr. David Sager.”;
    • “…plaintiff reported that a serious case of sexual abuse known to [Child Protective Services] CPS staff had not been, and then was not being, properly or timely investigated
    • “…that neglect and incompetence on the part of DSS’  legal staff was causing the failure to conduct a timely and proper investigation.”;
    • “Plaintiff made clear that he believed that CPS’ failure to timely investigate this serious claim of sexual abuse constituted an improper governmental action, was contrary to departmental rules and regulations which required the prompt and thorough investigation of such matters and imperiled the health/safety of the child adversely affected by such conduct.”;
    • “While Parker privately agreed with plaintiff that DSS’ legal staff was not competently performing their functions, he took no remedial action.”;
    • “Indeed, Parker’s political association with one of the DSS counsel caused him to wish to conceal the evidence plaintiff had revealed of her incompetence and professional misconduct and, instead, animated him to terminate plaintiff.”;  (Underscoring added for emphasis.)
    • “But for plaintiff’s disclosure of the incompetence and professional misconduct of this agency attorney and her engagement in improper governmental action, Parker, acting on behalf of the County of Sullivan, would not have dismissed  the plaintiff.”

(The salient portion of  the law cited  by Attorney Sussman  can be read here.)

According to Sussman’s statement at the  June 12th press conference,  “…dereliction of duty and  the improper handling of  long-standing cases  by DSS employees resulted in the endangerment of children.  When David raised the questions to Dr. Parker,  he was doing what he was responsible to do.  Parker’s  adverse action was illegal.”

Mr. Sussman also commented on rumors that  “documents and files are being shredded and destroyed” at the Department of Family Services.  “We have heard the rumors but I have not yet substantiated them.”  However,  he called on DFS employees to “not be a party to any destruction  of files.  If you are being directed to destroy ‘stale files,’  document the direction you were given and  the person who gave you the direction.  Report it.  Those  ‘stale files’  are now evidence.”

***************

(BIP Note 1)   For those who’ve asked, “Who’s OZ?  Who would have had the power to pull Commissioner Parker’s strings,” I offer this information from the Sullivan County Government website::

  • The person in charge of prosecuting DFS cases is Colleen Cunningham;
  • At the link to the SC website, Attorney Cunningham describes, in part,  her duties and responsibilities, “The Legal Department represents the Department of Family Services in legal matters before County, Family, Justice and Supreme Courts.”

Additionally,  Ms. Cunningham  is the sister of Chris Cunningham who was a Legislator and former- Commissioner of Health & Family Services.

 

(BIP Note 2)  Comments are being written at The Sullivan Post Facebook page by individuals who claim to have worked with or knew Randy Parker in Richland  County,  Ohio prior to his employment by Sullivan County, NY.  One comment reads,

“You need to check into Richland County Children Services in Mansfield, Ohio. The people of Richland Country tried to warn you about Randy. I believe there are still lawsuits pending against him and he had contempt charges and other legal issues as well. His contract was terminated and he walked away with pay. There was a tremendous amount of turnover while he was the director. The man surrounded himself with lawyers. He is despised here. It wouldn’t take much to find out about his reign of terror. Good luck ridding yourselves of that mongrel.”

A retired peace officer says,

“his reign of terror is just beginning! HISTORY is a good reflection of what the future holds. Whoever did his background check should be checked for dereliction.”  And “ I cringe at the number of “awesome” social workers that i worked with that were made to leave “DISGRUNTLED”. we could tell success stories of providing safety and protection for children. all the good things these workers did without any support from the agency they represented. several times i recall these workers coming in to my office and crying over the things we had to deal with and see, let alone not having any support from their “leader”. Social workers see atrocities involving children every day and to not support them in their jobs is absolutely disgusting.”

Although many other comments have been left by Richland County folks,  BIP’s last offering is this one:

 “I can’t believe that the Sullivan County officials hired Randy Parker if they did any research at all on his background. All you have to do is google his name and you will be amazed! He created an extremely hostile work environment in Richland County, OH. Mr. Parker would belittle employees, use fowl language, cussed at employees in front of their peers, at meetings, etc. Not only did he not get along with employees, he had major problems with other agency leaders, including the Juvenile Court Judge. He has several law suits pending with folks in Richland County. All I can say, is I feel very sorry for the folks that are currently working under him. Shame on you Sullivan County officials, if you continue to allow your employees to endure abusive behavior by this man.”

 

1 Duties of the Sullivan  County Attorney:

 [Amended 1-23-2003 by L.L. No. 3-2003; 4-26-2007 by L.L. No. 2-2007]

There shall be a County Attorney who shall be appointed and qualified, and restricted, and have the powers as set forth in §§ C4.00, C4.01 and C4.02 of the Charter of Sullivan County. When the interests of the County Legislature, the County and/or the County Manager are inconsistent with the interests of a County officer or employee, the County Attorney shall represent the County, the County Legislature or the County Manager, as the case may be. When the interests of the County and/or the County Legislature are in conflict with the County Manager, the County Attorney shall represent the County or the County Legislature, as the case may be. The County Attorney works through the Management and Budget and Personnel Committees in budget and personnel matters respectively.   http://ecode360.com/13910345

2 In part, Section 75B of New York State’s Civil Service Law states:

  2.  (a) A public employer shall not dismiss or take other disciplinary
  or other adverse personnel action against a  public  employee  regarding
  the   employee's   employment   because  the  employee  discloses  to  a
  governmental body information: (i) regarding a violation of a law,  rule
  or  regulation  which  violation  creates and presents a substantial and
  specific danger to the public  health  or  safety;  or  (ii)  which  the
  employee   reasonably  believes  to  be  true  and  reasonably  believes
  constitutes an  improper  governmental  action.  "Improper  governmental
  action"  shall  mean  any action by a public employer or employee, or an
  agent  of  such  employer  or  employee,  which  is  undertaken  in  the
  performance  of such agent's official duties, whether or not such action
  is within the scope of his employment, and which is in violation of  any
  federal, state or local law, rule or regulation.

Sullivan County Legislator David Sager vs. “Goliath” John Bonacic?


Before   Sullivan County Legislator,  Dr. David Sager,  (District 1)  took the podium  at his press conference this afternoon,  he arranged a pair of yellow and blue campaign signs on either side of the podium.  The signs proclaimed,  “Sager  for State Senate. No nonsense. Honest Leadership.”

Literally, the  announcement may  change the face of  NYS Senate District 42.

Not only did Sager  announced his intention to  challenge long-time incumbent Republican John Bonacic, but   he will do it as a Democrat.

Sullivan County Democratic Chair, Steve Wilkinson,   introduced Dr. Sager and welcomed   Delaware County’s  Democratic  Chairwoman Cindy Lockrow-Schimmerling and various other Democratic Party notables.

“I’d like to address the large elephant in the room,”  Mr. Wilkinson began.  “David  is changing his  political affiliation from Republican to Democrat.  This is not an opportunistic change but a a philosophical change,”  Mr. Wilkinson  continued to loud applause.   “To borrow from Winston Churchill,  ‘There’s nothing  wrong with change as long as it’s in the right direction.’  Democrats wholeheartedly welcome David to the Democratic Party. For too long  the New York State Senate has been the log jam to realizing change in New York. It has been mired in its own personal politics.”

Obviously, it  was not just any elephant Mr. Wilkinson was talking about.  Dr. Sager has held his  Sullivan County Legislative seat as a Republican.  In order for him to face Bonacic as a Democrat  in a  General Election,  he must get the nod from the  Democratic Chairs of the four  counties  which  comprise District 42:  Sullivan,  Ulster, Delaware and  a piece of Orange.

Ulster  County Legislator, Susan Zimet  (D, District 10)  campaigned against John Bonacic in 2006.  Although her effort fell short by roughly 12,000 votes,  it was a strong showing against the then-16-year incumbent. (Bonacic first became a member of the New York State Assembly in  1990 and has served in the NYS Senate since 1998.)  Zimet’s  2006 campaign website is still  up and available for viewing here.

Dr. Sager’s opening remarks  perhaps signaled  the tone he hopes to strike during the upcoming campaign.  “During the course of my service on the Sullivan County Legislature,  I have been honest and passionate. I have not been afraid of issues that were unpopular or complex.  If you liked me as a Republican, you will like me even more as a Democrat.  I will contuinue to champion fair and just causes and it won’t  matter to me if an idea is Republican or Democratic as long as it’s a good idea.  After  years of consideration,  I have changed my party enrollment and  have done so in good conscience.   I still stand  for fiscally  responsible and accountable government but my social views have evolved and are more in concert with core Democratic Party values.”

Taking on some who have criticized him  for  verbal  gaffs,  Sager said,  smiling at  The Times-Herald Record’s reporter,   “I have a reputation for having a  salty tongue — per The Times-Herald Record.  I will continue to be candid and fight for what’s  right. I will put the people first. Our state government is broken…and our current State  Senator is a long-time part of the problem. Unfunded state mandates have crippled  local governments and placed the burden on local taxpayers.”

“State Senator Bonacic  advocates for unfettered gas drilling.  I want a society and  government that asks at what price do we support industrial development that is potentially lethal to us  all.    At what point do we say no to large corporations who put their profits  first?   Gas drilling must be safe, legal, economically beneficial to all and subject  to local controls. We must take a hard look at a comprehensive  Environmental Protection Agency  study of gas drilling.  We must  support the Englebright bill which will institute a drilling moratorium in New York State until 120 days after the EPA releases the results of its study.   It’s a simple, sensible bill.  We can  wait for the science. We have a responsibility to provide safe drinking water to our children and families…. Safe drinking water is a right not a privilege.  Senator Bonacic  has been misguided [about gas drilling] while  I have been demanding a rational approach.  There must be a return to  local control. ‘Drill,  baby,  drill’  is a slogan not a policy.”

At a recent County Legislature meeting, Dr. Sager said  that the drilling issue  should not pit  farmers against non-farmers.  “It’s not an agricultural issue.  It’s about the industrialization of New York.”

“We must ask,  ‘Will the growth we advocate be sustainable?  How will  New York State and  District 42 grow?’  The 42nd District is in the process of becoming an important economic link to New York City  —  an important link to  a  sustainable lifestyle —  industrially, personally and agriculturally.”

On other topics, Dr. Sager  reminded the audience,  “I have sponsored sweeping and meaningful ethics reform for Sullivan County and  I will be at the head of it in New York State.”

“I will champion property tax reform and will be joining  Sullivan County Treasurer, Ira Cohen,  in  continuing to  review  tax exempt policies.  Large tracts of land and living complexes end up off  the tax rolls.  People cannot continue to vacation in the 42nd district for free.”

“I will fight for our schools, teachers and students so students can afford the college education they need and I’m determined to ensure our region has  the  infrastructure it will need  to benefit small businesses.”

“I’m going to need your help.  We need people who passionately support our cause. We need volunteers who will go door-to-door.  Please contact us at:  sagerforsenator@gmail.com until we get our website up and running which will be very soon.”

After his prepared remarks, Breathing asked Dr.  Sager  what he had to  say about local drilling issues and ethics reform.

“The county is in the  process, because of  my fierce prodding, of completely re-doing  our ethics policy.   As to drilling, I have not taken an anti  approach but there has been a general and blind pursuit of drilling without a necessary analysis of the science.  DEC’s  [NYS Department of Environmental Conservation] employees have  said the draft Supplemental Generic Impact Study is seriously flawed and no local official should be questioning that statement.”

Dr. Sager was also asked  how changing his  political party affiliation will affect his status with the Sullivan County Legislature.   “I’ve got a great working relationship with Jonathan [Rouis] and Woody [Elwin Wood]. I intend to caucus as a Democrat.”

A member of the  public  asked,  “Are you going to support green technology that  will help us avoid dependence on  Middle East  oil?”  and Dr. Sager reiterated,  “I want to turn the 42nd District into an area that promotes green technology. It’s how we’re going to grow our area.”

When Breathing asked a Sager supporter about  the candidate’s “salty tongue” remark,  the long-time patient of   “Dr. Dave”  said,  “Does he step in it sometimes?  Yeah.  He’s a passionate guy.  He’s not always smooth but that’s why I like him.  He does his homework and doesn’t have a lot of patience for  political games.”

For information on the amounts of money  NYS Senator Bonacic has raised in the past,  comprehensive postings have been made available  FROM PROJECT VOTE SMART and FROM THE DAILY KOS. Dr. Sager should hold on to his hat because both sites have published campaign war chest  figures for the Senator  in the $700,000 range.

Sullivan County Chair Asks Residents to Support Drilling Forums


The Sullivan County  Legislature unanimously banned  hydro-fracking on County property and “memorialized the  United States Senate and House of Representatives to amend appropriate federal laws to protect the environment and the public from risks associated with hydro-fracking.”

PUBLIC COMMENT:

(During the public comment period, all but one speaker addressed the  drilling items.)

To start, Alice Diehl said,  “There have been six  generations on Diehl farms.  Our children and grandchildren want to farm.  One  of my grandsons is buying equipment.  He has his herd started.  I feel compelled because of him to come here today and let you know how we feel about  our farming  future. Gas drilling is a really bad idea.  It might bring revenue but there are other ways.  Once our aquifers are breached, that’s the end.  We can’t farm with toxic  water  and we don’t want to move.  You people are responsible for the health and well-being of  our residents.”

John  Kavaller,  a local real estate agent and long-time businessperson in Sullivan County, described himself as  a reluctant speaker.  “You really are arbiters for the pubic good and you have a lot of things on  your  plate. Businesspeople  have  substantial interest in gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale and you  have to  consider  the possible benefits and the  cons.  I would echo a previous speaker:  we need you to hold public forums throughout Sullivan County where we can hear from our public officials, our emergency responders and they can hear from residents. That’s what  we’re about in this county.   I was part of the bureaucracy  in New York State.  I have some idea how things work.  The budget determines  what happens.   Albany determines the budget.   I believe the Department of Environmental Conservation [DEC]  wants to  properly handle  drilling and hydro-fracking, but  I have substantial  concerns that the DEC,  because of budget constraints,  will be able to handle  the situation. Once the  water’s contaminated,  we can’t get  it  back.”

Larysa Dyrszka, a member of Sullivan Area Citizens for Responsible Energy Development (SACRED)  strongly supported both resolutions. A retired  pediatrician, Dr. Dyrszka,  expressed profound concerns  about chemicals used in  hydraulic fracturing  as well as  contamination from  compressor  stations. (Compressors are part of the extraction and gas preparation process.)  She said, “Both will have a deleterious  affect on the health of our  community.  We need more  information and  better science.  The Federal  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just announced it  will conduct  a  comprehensive study to investigate  potential impacts of gas drilling on water quality and public  health.  In addition to the resolutions before you today, I’d ask you to  consider a moratorium in Sullivan County on hydro-fracking until  this EPA  study is completed.  I   also agree  that we need you to make sure more science and  information is  presented to the  public.  We will be more than happy to help you  set that up.”

Ayla Maloney, a local potter and proprietor of Honey Hill Pottery in the Town of Delaware, said,  “I’m asking you to consider a moratorium in Sullivan County and it should be open-ended.  Big corporations  have invested a lot of  money in drilling and the political process.  Our recreation, our scenery, our peace of mind…the entire landscape will be changed forever.  They want to put  10,000 wells in our area.  If that happens, it will turn  our area into a hideous wasteland.  I’m very upset.  I’m considering leaving and  I love it here.  I’m counting on you guys   to stand up for us.”

Victoria Lesser  recalled her early years in the Sullivan County area. “My childhood memories of this place are amazing. I  came back and  bought The North Branch Inn and restored it to its original 1860s  state.  I’ve been thinking  for days  what I want to say.  I  saw an  enormous  sign proclaiming,  ‘Business.  Pleasure.  Life,’ and another that called the Sullivan County Catskills, ‘Mountains of opportunities.’   The question now is,  ‘For whom?’   How can it be that everything I’ve invested would be considered worthless if drilling comes here. And  who are the people who are  thinking of   leasing their lands?   So many farmers.   The sad thing is we’ve allowed our farmers to struggle.  People who are spending $5 for a gallon of milk in  New York City   haven’t got a clue that our farmers are  trying to exist on  1970’s  milk prices.  As we  pledged allegiance to our flag, I thought of the public relations of gas drillers that drilling will improve our local economy.  What’s  really  going to happen to the economy of  Sullivan County?  They bring in their own  workers that stay by the well head. They won’t be eating french toast at my  inn that’s made with  brioche I get from another local business and serve with Diehl farm  maple syrup.  And what about the public relations about our national security?  Foreign companies are investing in the Marcellus Shale.”

Ms. Lesser began reading  from a Philadelphia Inquirer article she’d brought with her:  “A Japanese  company,  Mitsui,  is investing   $1.4 billion  in the Marcellus Shale. They’ve agreed to buy a 32.5 percent stake in the … natural  gas operations of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation…. We…anticipate drilling more than 4,500 wells over the coming year…. The U.S. will be a major gas market in years ahead….” Ms. Lesser  waved her sheet,  “Not only are they buying  our resources,  but so have [Norway’s] StatoilhydroBritain’s  BP and companies in Italy.  How can we sleep at night if we allow this to happen?  You have to make sure  we remain a mountain of opportunity  for people who actually live here and love this place.  Many people  who are  signing leases  don’t even live here.  One guy who recently leased lives in Port Jefferson or some place.  People making big money are living  in Japan and people vested here  won’t be able to leave because  our lives will be  worthless.”

After the measures passed,  a few Legislators responded to the public with comments of their own.

Leni Binder said, “We’ve been holding fora.  We’re not new to this.  New York  is a  home rule state.   We don’t have the  right to tell a town  not to  allow drilling in  a town if the state tells them they can.*  I urge you to go to the State and Federal levels.   All of us endorse a  study in this county.”

Legislator, Jodi Goodman reminded the audience of a forum that was held in Liberty, NY.  “Eight hundred people nearly filled it.  But we have to think, there’s  also the home owner who’s  for  drilling. Many farmers came forward who said you have no right to tell me how poor I must be — how much I must struggle.   It’s a  very difficult subject.  We have to control  trucks coming through our county and the  amount of hazardous  materials coming through.”

David Sager, who has been at most of the drilling meetings held in the County said,  “I  brought forward the  legislation to help struggling  farmers but people need to separate the arguments.  This is not about farming.  This is not about agriculture.  This is about industrialization and the environment.”

Chairman of the  Legislature,  Jonathan Rouis, reiterated a sentiment he expressed in his State of the County address,  “The Board of Legislators can and will be  the lead educator  on the issue.  The most important thing we can do is  to develop  these fora and make sure they’re well-attended.  If you’re interested in helping us do that,  stop by the Planning office and give your name.  Keep informed and help us  spread the word.”

(NB:  Anyone who believes Sullivan County residents should hear from and ask questions of our County Commissioners and emergency responders should call   845-794-3000 and ask for the Planning Department.  Leave your name and phone number so you can help the Legislature  create informational fora in your community.)

***********************

*Despite Ms. Binder’s remarks, there’s some hope for advocates of  increased local controls  as a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision suggests. (Because the decision was reached by an Appellate court, it might carry weight as precedent in New York.):

  • According to the  Court’s ruling,  “Municipalities have a unique authority and responsibility in the regulatory framework which must be maintained; they ‘give consideration to the character of the municipality, the needs of the citizens and the suitabilities and special nature of particular parts of the municipality.’”   In the end,  the court’s  decision permits a local regulatory body to enact “traditional zoning regulations that identify which uses are permitted in different areas of the locality,  even if such regulations preclude oil and gas drilling in certain zones….”    However,  the decision also restricted the scope of  local jurisdiction,  “We do not, for instance, suggest that the municipality could permit drilling in a particular district but then make that permission subject to conditions addressed to features of well operations regulated by the [Pennsylvania Oil and Gas] Act.”  (Bold added for emphasis.)  Essentially, when it comes to actual drilling practices and operations,  the  Court  upheld that Pennsylvania State law will carry more force than local regulations.
  • In response to the ruling,  Nockamixon Township has  amended old zoning ordinances in order to restrict  gas and drilling operations  to “light industrial and quarry zones.”   Also,  the Town has strictly enforced  weight limits on all its bridges.

***********************

In Sullivan, as well as in other New York State towns and counties, legislators should  harness the public’s growing outrage that local control of community resources is being stymied by Albany and Washington.

The New York State Associations of Towns and Counties are lobbying tools that can be used coherently and concertedly  against what many view as Albany’s “over-reaching.”

For more information about protecting localities, please download a copy of  “Legal and Practical Guide to Protecting Your Citizens and the Environment in the Face of Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Drilling”  prepared by Kimberlea Rea Shaw at the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Natural Gas Development Resource Center.   (The Center has  numerous other  resources  and suggestions  such as water testing which many believe should be  paid for  by gas extraction companies before drilling begins.)