Suffolk County Swears In New Leaders, New Rules
To start the new session and with new lawmakers sworn-in, the Suffolk County Legislature considered changes to the way it holds meetings to allow lawmakers to video conference into meetings. After more than 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a no-brainer for legislators, but the measure still presented its own hiccups.
The debate began as lawmakers returned from the last summer recess. Democratic Legis. Susan Berland was still on vacation in Key West, Florida and wanted to Skype in. The state Open Meetings Law allows public officials to attend and vote at meetings via video conference.
The problem — felt by the Democratic presiding officer, legislative aides and the entire Republican conference — was that the proper technology and rules were not yet in place.
There was a short, but heated public debate and in private communications between legislators. Before long, as the COVID-19 positivity rate began to skyrocket through the fall months, many legislators opted to limit their time in the legislative chamber.
On Monday, the rules limiting video conferencing were officially removed, and the legislature will take up at a later time drafting the circumstances for when and how lawmakers can attend meetings or vote … whether its on a beach on vacation or from the comfort of their couch at home.
At the helm
Berland was chosen by fellow Democrats to preside over the 10-member caucus. Democrats chose Berland in late November as majority leader to replace Legis. William Spencer, who relinquished the leadership roll after his arrest in October. Police allege Spencer, a practicing phyisican, tried to exchange painkillers for sex.
Berland will likely be the leading voice behind efforts to deal with the county’s $1.5 billion budget deficit expected over the next three years. The legislature is expected to amend its $3.2 billion budget for 2021 in February, but millions of dollars worth of county services cut from the budget aren’t likely to return without additional federal coronavirus relief for state and local governments.
Legis. Kevin McCaffrey was selected to serve as Suffolk County Minority Leader. He said his agenda was to take back a majority in the legislature, pushing fiscal responsibility and public safety.
McCaffrey had led the county’s Republican Caucus before. He was minority leader until Legis. Tom Cilmi took on the role three years ago. Cilmi is in the final year of office, under county term limits, and stepped down from his leadership post. McCaffrey will oversee an 8-member caucus, including Conservative newcomer Nick Caracappa.
Caracappa was sworn in Monday to represent Selden to fill a vacant seat left by Republican Tom Muratore, who died in September.
His swearing in was controversial to some. Caracappa was arrested in December on domestic violence charges. Caracappa is due back in court on January 21.
County law does not require Caracappa or Spencer to step down as a legislator due to an arrest.
The legislature reelected Democrat Legis. Rovert Calarco as presiding officer and Democrat Legis. Kara Hahn as deputy presiding officer.