Schumer meets with new legislature

FONDA – Members of the new Montgomery County Legislature met with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer on Wednesday to discuss some of his work that could affect the county.

Convening in the old Montgomery County Courthouse, Schumer and members of the legislature spoke behind closed doors on new legislation and regulations Schumer is pushing for in Congress.

A state official said today the meeting appeared to violate the state’s Open Meetings Law.

In a news conference after the meeting, Schumer said one of his goals includes helping to get more flood gauges in Montgomery County, which has four on the Otsquago?Creek.

Flooding in Fort Plain last year devastated parts of the village and led to the death of Ethel Healey, 87.

Schumer said if more flood gauges had been installed, Healey might not have died.

Schumer said more money is available for flood gauges, with several to be put in Montgomery County.

“If we can put flood gauges in the right places, people can get warnings hours and hours ahead of time, before the river crests,” Schumer said.

Schumer also said one of Montgomery County’s largest employers, St. Mary’s Healthcare, will receive federal funds in March.

“They would have had to lay off a lot of people if this funding had not gone through,” Schumer said.

Meredith Kelly, spokeswoman for Schumer’s office, said this morning a three-month extension to the Sustainable Growth Rate legislation, which passed in December, allowed for hospitals dependent on Medicare, such as St. Mary’s Healthcare, a special rate.

These payments allow for the hospital to run with more financial stability, she said. The bill approved in?December allowed for a three-month extension of these payments. Schumer is pushing for another bill that would make the funding permanent.

According to Kelly, St. Mary’s receives $1.18 million through the program annually.

Schumer said members of the legislature requested funding for demolishing old buildings that may have asbestos in them, as well as funds to help make buildings more flood resistant.

District 2 Legislator and Chairman of the Legislature Tom Quackenbush said one of his big concerns was getting help with consolidating the services in the county.

“Don’t just give us a grant for a study that will say the town should work with the villages and you should all work with the county, and everyone will be happy,” Quackenbush said. “Show us how to do it. Use us as a model.”

Behind closed doors

Prior to the press conference, Schumer met with members of the new Montgomery County Legislature behind closed doors. According to Quackenbush, he did not convene the meeting, but received an email from Schumer’s office, asking him to meet with the senator.

Quackenbush said this morning he was not aware of the other legislators coming to this meeting.

Eight of the nine legislators attended the meeting – meaning there were enough in attendance for a quorum – along with Montgomery?County Executive Matt Ossenfort and Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane.

People on Schumer’s staff told media members the meeting was not open to the public.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said the meeting did not follow the law on open meetings.

With the majority of the board there, holding a round-table discussion with Schumer, Freeman said he felt that constituted a meeting.

Freeman said there was precedent on so-called “briefing sessions” that say the meeting is still open to the public.

“Since a quorum was present, yes, that triggered the open meeting law,” Freeman said.