Thursday, January 17, 2008

"Off With Their Heads!"

Or At Least With Their Microphones

Silence the opposition, loyal or otherwise.

That appears to be the strategy of the new Majority Leader of the Nassau County Legislature, Diane Yatauro, as Joye Brown opines in Newsday.

Frankly, we didn't expect all that much from the Legislator who put the kabash on Nassau's first Poet Laureate, but even we are nonplused by Yatauro's brash dissing of democracy and pitiful trashing of decency -- such as same may exist in that dark abyss known as the Nassau County Legislature.

The antics of our legislative body -- apparently, a body without much of a mind, or, for that matter, a mindset geared toward moving Nassau boldly into the 21st Century -- are many and longstanding. This one, ladies and gents, takes the proverbial cake.

Outrageous. Disgraceful. Un-American, even. Something we'd expect to see happen in the Iranian Parliament -- and, we suppose, in Nassau's answer to the cuckoo's nest, where the insane are blissfully running the asylum.

Abolish the Nassau County Legislature?

We don't know about that. After all, where else would we find such comic relief?

Levity aside, the Nassau County Legislature is capable of making sound decisions -- such as voting in favor of the county takeover of several local sewer districts -- albeit too few, and almost always along party lines.

Then again, even the sewer takeover vote was based solely on political considerations, with no comment permitted, and no debate on the merits. Perhaps the right result, by way of method (madness?) that showed us only the antithesis of open and transparent government.

There are bright and well-intentioned people on both sides of the aisle at the county seat, and even a few seized with vision, poised to inspire, and capable of leadership. [If only wishful thinking could make it so.] Unfortunately, what seems to have risen to the top, at least from early observations, is not the cream, and the people's business is yet again playing second fiddle to a "clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right" display of incivility and imprudent political posturing.

Perhaps Diane Yatauro will grow into the role of Majority Leader, and lead in the true spirit of bipartisan cooperation, or at least lead with a measured degree of humility and fairness, as did her predecessor, Judy Jacobs.

If not, and no one else should step up to fill the void and put an end to the charade that passes for government in Mineola, then perhaps we should consider abolition, or, at the very least, term limits.
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Her silencing of Nassau lawmakers speaks volumes
Joye Brown

Abolish the Nassau County Legislature.

Maybe that's harsh.

But, darn it, who could blame anyone for harboring legis-cidal thoughts after yesterday's parody of a business meeting?

It was the first full session of the term, a time for new beginnings; a time when the Legislature's brand new presiding officer, Democratic Legis. Diane Yatauro, could have begun the hard job of restoring dignity to what had become a laughingstock of a branch of local government.

But nooooooo.

Yatauro instead turned into a high-tech version of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland.

Off with their mikes!

She didn't say it. She did it, with a flick of a switch.

Legis. Francis X. Becker was criticizing a proposal to have Nassau take over three local sewer districts.

Off with his mike!

"This is a disgrace, this was never done by [former presiding officer] Judy Jacobs," cried Becker, so angry his voice needed no amplification.

Legis. John Ciotti was asking questions about the proposal when Yatauro struck again, complaining he was talking too loudly.

Off with his mike!

"I'm shouting," Ciotti shouted, "because you turned off my microphone; so I could be heard."

Curiously (not), Yatauro cut off only Republican legislators, allowing fellow Democrats to talk and even interrupt other legislators.

But the cutting hardly stopped there.

The county comptroller's office had asked the legislature to put off a decision on the sewer takeover because it needed more financial information.

So did the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a panel overseeing county finances.

So did a group of local residents, armed with 700 signatures they had collected over two days, who said they had just heard about the proposal.

"I can say I have a right to be angry," a woman from East Rockaway told legislators. "This vote is premature ... We just want to know what the plan is."

Meanwhile, Eric Naughton, director of the legislature's independent office of budget review, sat in the chamber's audience, waiting to testify about the proposal's financial impact.

He waited - and was still waiting when Yatauro called the proposal to the floor for a vote.

Republicans voted against it.

The Democratic majority voted, and passed it, just as it had been determined to do before yesterday's session even started.

It didn't matter that legislators - or the public - had questions; that the comptroller and NIFA wanted more financial information; or that the legislature had a budget review office, ready and willing to give lawmakers information.

Nassau needs a functioning legislature and a presiding officer willing to lead it, not silence it.

In the past few months alone, the county has made some boneheaded moves.

It's bonding the cost of millions of dollars in property tax appeal refunds, a move that put Nassau's finances in jeopardy years ago - even as sales tax revenues plummet and its budget grows increasingly tight.

Last week, Nassau reported that lawmakers were stunned to find expensive televisions and other items in their offices at the newly renovated county courthouse building.

Everybody went on record complaining, but not one legislator said, hey, maybe we should take another look at this as finances are tighter now than when we agreed on this thing.That's what legislatures are supposed to do.

But not in Nassau. Last month, the outgoing legislature voted big raises for every elected county official - except themselves, because the county charter bars legislators from raising their own salaries during an ongoing term.

But that may change soon.

"I've been assured that this body is going to vote themselves a raise and change the charter," Legis. Roger Corbin said last month.

That's magnanimous. And a sign of even more outrageousness to come.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.


  1. Don't be too quick to attack Diane Yaturo.
    What she did was soemthing that needed to be done years ago - try to bring order to the chaos of the Nassau Legislature.
    There is a history of a bloviating Ciotti speaking over and cutting off others. Maybe cry-baby becker and loud-mouth Ciotti should read Roberts Rules of Order.
    And before Bcker cries like a little girl, remember the "constituents" he was "standing up for" were actually Tobacks.
    It was a dog and pony show by Ciotti and Becker and they needed to settle down.
    BTW, the mic cut-off was used last year when Schmitt took over adn silenced all the Dems. And the cu-off was there from republian bruce blakeman who routinely shut down the four democrats.

  2. So, two wrongs -- or three or four -- make it all right to silence the folks who disagree with you, eh?

    If we're going to lead here, it should be by example, not by a flick of the switch denying the other guy -- as inane and innapropriate as his comments may be -- a voice.

    As to bringing order to the Nassau County Legislature, well, if the universe favors chaos, the NC Legislature revels in it.

    Not quite sure if this group can bring order, let alone legitimacy, to a governmental body more concerned with itself and the game of political footsie than it is with carrying out the work of the people.

    That may be asking too much.

    And hoping that the electorate steps up -- as in the voting booth -- to set things straight, may just be asking the impossible.