Proposed change would require supermajority for reserve fund use

The difference is only one vote, but the effect could be profound.

The Education and Government Committee of the Montgomery County Legislature approved a resolution Tuesday that will require a 2/3 majority vote to transfer any money out of the county’s contingency fund or use any money from the fund balance. The measure is one of nearly two dozen proposed changes to the Legislature’s rules of procedure passed by the committee; the full Legislature will act on them at its meeting March 24.

All resolutions, including money transfers, currently require a simple majority vote–five of the nine legislators–for approval. A 2/3 majority would mean six positive votes are needed to pass a resolution.

“From a majority to a supermajority is only one vote, but sometimes that vote is hard to come by,” said District 4 Legislator Ryan B. Weitz, chairman of the Education and Government Committee.

District 1 Legislator Martin P. Kelly, who sponsored all the proposed changes, was pleased that this one was approved.

“A 2/3 vote to transfer money requires us to take the budget process very seriously,” Kelly said. “We are the legislative body, and one of our duties is to control the purse strings.”

To that end, Kelly also proposed replacing the Finance Committee with a Budget and Finance Committee, which would consist of all nine legislators. That measure also passed in committee and will go before the full Legislature.

Another change would require all proposed resolutions to be submitted to the county executive, with a copy going to the clerk of the legislature.

“[The current] Rule 29 does not address the office of the county executive at all,” Weitz said.

Two proposed changes will not go before the full Legislature. A measure limiting the amount of time a legislator could speak on an issue to three occasions and a total of five minutes was defeated. District 6 Legislator John M. Duchessi said the legislature already has the power to end debate.

“I don’t think this is necessary,” Duchessi said. “We have the ability to call the question. [This proposal] could limit debate. Spirited debate is good for the process.”

A proposal to give the chairman of the legislature the ability to adjourn a meeting in case of an emergency will not go before the full board. Kelly pulled his sponsorship after hearing Duchessi say he wasn’t comfortable with giving the chairman the power to do that.

Kelly said after the meeting that some of his proposals were based on practices of other counties.

“I read the rules of Duchess and Putnam counties and pulled ideas together,” he said. “I spent a lot of time. We needed to do our due diligence.”

John Becker

John Becker is both a Reporter and Consulting Editor for The Compass. He and his wife Pat operate Abbey Farms in Amsterdam NY.