A proposed local law to set term limits for certain elected officials was recently vetoed by Ulster County Executive Michael Hein, ultimately due to legal challenges that the law could have created.
On Sept. 24, the county legislature issued a proposal for term limits to Hein, which would involve the county comptroller, county executive and county legislator to have no more than 12 years in office from their Jan. 1 start date. A legislative vote of 14 to 8 motioned the resolution to this next step, despite previous advisement by the county attorney that this proposal might be illegal if approved, according to Hein.
Hein was unable to consider this proposal by way of referendum, which calls for a direct vote by an entire electorate and is only allowed in circumstances permissible by state law.
A month later, on Oct. 19, Hein issued a veto message on behalf of his office, returning this resolution upon receiving legal advice from the county attorney’s office not to move forth with the process. This rejection was not due to the content itself, but the manner in which their resolution was crafted. Hein stressed that while he acknowledged the valididty of the proposed limits he was incapable of approving it based on legal technicalities.
“It wasn’t about some sort of protectionist mentality, and I want to make sure that this doesn’t impact me. That’s just simply not real, it’s not true,” Hein said. “It was much more about the truth, that this law was being brought forward technically flawed…I had no choice but to veto it.”
The theoretical approval of this proposal would not have affected Hein in any way, nor the county executive for more than 12 years, according to Hein.
A discussion about campaign money from undisclosed donors (dark money) also raised concerns, which was allegedly tied to Reclaim New York, a “non-partisan, non-profit organization that empowers New Yorkers, through education and civic engagement, to reclaim ownership of their government,” according to the organization. Hein, however, has expressed a different viewpoint of their motives.
“One of the things they like to do is start with things that seem innocuous or maybe even popular, to be able to get a foothold into the community,” Hein said. “Reclaim New York…that seems like a nice enough thing, right? But [they are] actually funded by the Mercer family, which is like very heavy, multi-million dollar investors in far right politics in this country and so they were supporting this idea as well of a referendum.”
Reclaim New York advocates for this and other related topics, because they believe it will push their agenda to the polls in an attempt to corrupt the American democracy, he said.
“I don’t understand how his response has anything to do with us. I mean, he’s either standing on the side of citizens or he’s not, and he’s just mudslinging to distract from the fact that he won’t say his position on term limits,” said Jadan Horyn, spokesperson for Reclaim New York. “He’s the elected official. If the process in his mind was wrong, then correct the process and move forward with the solution that citizens are seeking.”
The League of Women Voters is in opposition to this proposal, with reasoning that the enactment of this local law would take power away from citizens when voting elected officials into office. President of the League of Women Voters of New York Dare Thompson described term limits as a “mechanical system.”
“People develop such an expertise and if you take them away and just keep sending new people through, those people have to get up to speed on the issues [and] that takes quite a while,” Thompson said.
If a decision is made to override Hein’s veto, which is a rare circumstance after receiving a veto from the county executive, this would require a two-thirds vote, according to Jennifer Clark attorney for the county’s office. The next legislative session is scheduled for Dec. 18, during which legislators will need to decide whether or not to override this executive decision.