Ulster County has a new law setting term limits for elected county officials and legislators.
Democratic Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan signed the law Tuesday outside the historic New York State Senate House in Kingston.
“I think in passing and signing this law we are recognizing that we have to constantly reinvigorate and reenergize our democracy, and that ultimately no elected office should belong to any individual, but it always has to remain in the hands of the people,” Ryan says.
Ryan says Ulster is now one of just a few counties in New York to implement term limits for countywide elected officials and members of the Legislature.
“For legislators, it’s six, 2-year terms, so a total of 12; and for countywide executive, comptroller and so on, it’s three, 4-year terms,” says Ryan. “So for anyone serving, it limits them to 12 years total time, which I think is really important to allow for that reinvigoration and new blood to come in.”
Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro signed similar legislation earlier this year, also for the same number of terms for legislators and elected county officials. Under state law, term limits cannot be set for county clerk, sheriff, district attorney or judges.
County Legislature Republican Minority Leader Ken Ronk of Walkill says it’s the sort of legislation he first introduced in 2013 and had tried to get passed since.
“I’m just thrilled that it’s finally happening, that we’re finally going to have term limits for the people of Ulster County,” Ronk says.
Ronk, calling the legislation his favorite to be signed during his tenure, is one of the bill’s main sponsors.
“I’ve always gotten a lot of laughs when I say these things in my minority addresses, my chairman’s addresses… that I never believed in term limits until I got elected to the Ulster County Legislature, and I saw the kind of lifetime service that you had in the legislature,” Ronk says. “I recall, one time, I was first elected to the legislature, I got in the elevator to go up to the sixth floor for my first committee meeting, and there was a legislator got in with me, and he looked at me and he scoffed at me, and he said, I used to be like you, I used to get all dressed up and want to come to the meetings, now, I can’t stand to come to them. And I thought, man, if I ever get like that, get me out.”
Democratic Legislator Joseph Maloney of Saugerties:
“And I think term limits, quite frankly, puts the people back on the priority list,” Maloney says.
Maloney sponsored the bill with Ronk.
“When you have a lot of career politicians, people that want to stay forever, and appointees that want to stay forever, you end up kicking the can down the road, and tough decisions that the people may not like, that are better 20 and 30 years from now, don’t end up happening,” Maloney says.
The term limits proposal was adopted at the July session of the Ulster County Legislature. Ryan was elected county executive in an April special election and faces another election in November.
“I promise you that we will work every single day to ensure that in everything we do, big and small, we stick to this core principle that I think is at the foundation of our identity as a country and a community that government exists to serve the people, not the other way around,” Ryan says.
“It’s really interesting that the term that this law finally passed in was the term when, in the previous election, we had the most turnover I think that we’ve ever had in the county legislature,” says Ronk. “And I think that that’s telling because once you get the career politicians out of the legislature and bring in new voices and new ideas, like Legislator Maloney who fought so hard for this, I think that really great things can happen.”
And here’s Maloney:
“And I think that you’ll see a bigger push, like I said, for things like the RRA,” says Maloney. “I think we need to spend some money, and we have it, to start talking about processing recyclables in house, locally. That takes money and equipment. It’s going to take an overhaul over there.”
RRA is the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency. And he hopes there is a bigger push to spend money to turn TechCity, a former IBM plant, into a tax-revenue producing business hub.
The term limits law will take effect in 2020, meaning office-holders elected in November 2019 will be subject to the term limits. The law, as in Dutchess, is not retroactive.