IMMIGRATION – DONE RIGHT!!

Immigration is a “hot topic” right now. Unfortunately, many of the issues focus on a negative aspect of immigration. There are currently thousands of illegal immigrants in our country, and some of them pose safety hazards for the rest of us. That is a complex issue, and certainly deserves attention. However, there is another side of immigration that is often overlooked by the media. Legal immigration represents much of what is best about America.

On March 16th I attended a “Naturalization Ceremony” at West Seneca West Senior High School. At that ceremony my son-in-law, Valeriu “Vali” Ciobanu, was sworn in as an American citizen. It was a wonderful experience for him and our family. He was one of 51 individuals sworn in as naturalized American citizens. They came from more than 30 different countries, including Canada, Brazil, Panama, Great Britian, Bhutan, Thailand, Yemen, Sweden, Italy and Moldova.   Each of these individuals had reasons to leave their country of birth. Each viewed America as a land of opportunity. For most of these people, this ceremony was “a dream come true.”

Vali was born in Moldova when it was one of the “Soviet Socialist Republics,” and was essentially a colony of Russia. Everything was controlled by the Communist Party. Vali’s father was a Christian pastor and their family experienced persecution and harassment because of their faith. Things improved somewhat for Vali’s family after the “Iron Curtain” fell in the early 1990s. However, Moldova was still a very poor and corrupt country. It was (and is) a difficult place to live. His family managed to get by with help from American Christians who visited to help build churches and encourage fellow Christians who had experienced persecution. One American family offered Vali an opportunity to come to America for a college education. With their help he attended Kent State University in Ohio. This was a challenging experience since he wasn’t yet fluent in English. (Imagine trying to attend college in a foreign country when you don’t know the language.) He persevered and was able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. After graduating from college Vali obtained a work visa and remained in America (legally).

It was during this period that he met and courted my daughter, Elizabeth. They got married in 2013. Today they live in Allegany County with their two children, Anna and Zoe. After their marriage, Vali applied for a “Green Card” as a permanent resident alien. This involved screening, testing, and sponsorship. Elizabeth and I sponsored Vali, which was basically a guarantee that he wouldn’t become a burden or problem for America. He is a devoted husband and father, and has worked to support and provide for his family. For him America represented a place to come for freedom and opportunity.

I believe America is better and stronger when immigrants, like Vali, come here and become citizens. They bring their strengths, abilities, dreams, visions and vitality. This is a very different experience from that of “illegal” immigrants. They come here without any screening, testing, or sponsorship. Ironically, most of the amnesty programs that have been proposed excluded those who came here legally and were pursuing citizenship. It was almost as though we were punishing those who came here legally, and were doing it right.

For me the highlight of the naturalization ceremony was the “Oath of Allegiance” that every naturalized citizen recites. That oath is: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.” Perhaps it would be good for all citizens (not just naturalized citizens) to take this oath.

I wish to take this opportunity to welcome Vali and his fellow naturalized citizens to America. This is now your home, just as much as it is mine. WELCOME.

 

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SERVING THE PUBLIC GOOD

The March 13th session of the Allegany County Legislature had some unusual elements. It began, as usual, with the Pledge of Allegiance. Former Air Force Airman First Class Bobbi Foster led us in reciting the Pledge. She enlisted in the Air Force on December 14, 1984, and served until June 29, 1987. Her primary assignment was as an Administration Specialist. She has worked, until recently, for the Veterans Administration. She lives in Andover, with her husband.

Privilege of the Floor was granted to John Padlo and interns from the BOCES Government Internship program. They are receiving “hands-on” experience in how local government works. Director Kathryn Boyle-Kirsch of the Allegany County Association for the Blind gave a presentation on the services provided by that organization. Representatives from several County agencies and departments were available to answer questions, and new reports were received from additional county agencies.

Eight separate resolutions were considered and approved by the Legislature. Resolution #32-17 was taken “off the table” for consideration. It approved an appropriation of $8,000 for the Allegany County Association For the Blind and Visually Handicapped, Inc. This resolution had been previously tabled to gather additional information about its programs. That information was delivered during “Privilege of the Floor.” This resolution was approved by a vote of 12 ayes, and 2 noes, with 2 legislators absent. Resolution #45-17 approved the creation of one full-time position of Account Clerk Typist in the Office For the Aging (“OFA”). Resolution #46-17 created 3 part-time positions of typist in OFA. These positions will actually allow the County to reduce staffing expense in OFA. Resolution #47-17 re-appropriated $4,497 for the County Comprehensive Planning School Grant. Resolution #48-17 accepted and appropriated a $434 insurance payment from NYMIR for damage to a DPW vehicle. Resolution #49-17 approved an agreement with the Allegany County Agricultural Society (“County Fair Board”) for $8,000. Resolution #50-17 approved a lease with Sanzo GT, LLC, for office space for the Cancer Services Program at 20-24 Water Street, in Cuba, at a monthly rental rate of $541.50.

Resolution #51-17 sought approval for an electric purchase agreement through MEGA (Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance) between the County and Constellation Energy Services of NY, Inc. This agreement will run from now until December 31, 2018. It is projected that this will generate considerable savings for the County over the next 21 months. The exact amount cannot be ascertained until the period has expired, and we can compare the rates we paid with the rates available through our regular utility provider. I think this shows prudent analysis, and creative planning that should save the county significant sums.

After acting on all of the resolutions the Board conducted its audit of the approved bills and expenses, and then approved payment of those amounts. This was approved by unanimous vote of the Legislators present. At that point Chairman Crandall informed the Legislature that I had requested and been granted Privilege of the Floor. I delivered some comments that reviewed my time of service as a Legislator. I then announced that I needed to “resign” from the Board. My service had started on January 1, 2006, and ended on March 13th, 2017. Recent changes in my law practice have made it necessary for me to spend more time on the legal work that “ actually pays the bills.” While challenging and rewarding, my service as a Legislator has been rendered at the expense of time spent on my full-time job and with my family. Much remains to be done, but there are many qualified individuals who can serve and work to achieve further progress.

My comments emphasized several points. Although there are differences of opinion and disagreements about specifics, I am confident that every legislator serves out of a sincere desire to improve conditions in our County. We just differ on how to accomplish that objective. I believe that each individual can make a difference, and urge others to give serious consideration to serving at the village, town, school district, or county level. It has been a privilege to serve as your Legislator for the past 11 years.

 

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TAXING QUESTIONS AND ISSUES

The second regular session of the Allegany County Legislature convened at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, February 27, 2017. Marine Corps Corporal Gregory Bock led us in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Greg enlisted on February 26, 2013, and was just discharged on February 25, 2017. His primary specialty was Engineer Equipment Mechanic. He plans on seeking further education using his GI education benefits. His father, mother and brother accompanied him to our meeting.

Privilege of the Floor was granted to the President of the Allegany County Chapter of Farm Bureau. She reported that agriculture is strong and growing in Allegany County. Membership in our County Farm Bureau has been increasing, and they have received awards and prizes because of their success. This is great news for this key industry in Allegany County. I want to thank our County Farm Bureau officers and members, and all of our farmers, for all that they do.

Eleven resolutions were considered and approved at this session of the Legislature. Six of those resolutions dealt with routine financial matters.

Resolution 34-17 requested our State Legislators to introduce and seek passage of Legislation authorizing Allegany County to continue the additional 1.5% county sales tax for four years. This action has been taken every two years for my entire time on the Legislature. (The 3.0% county sales tax rate is permanent and does not require biennial renewal.)

On Tuesday, February 28, 2017, the State Broadband Office announced the award of Round 2 Grants for Broadband Service. A total of about $25 million was awarded to Southern Tier Counties. Five towns in Allegany County (Andover, Independence, Centerville, Hume and Rushford) were identified as destinations for new Broadband facilities. I have mixed feelings about these grants. I am thankful that NYS has directed funding towards towns in our County. However, I wish that the State would be more flexible in its eligibility criteria. Current criteria make it impossible for local companies to qualify for these grants. The State also dictates that applicants use fiber-optic or coaxial cable technology that isn’t well-suited for our terrain. It will be interesting to see how well these grants work.

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SANCTUARY CITIES – WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

Recently there has been a lot in the news about “sanctuary cities,” as well as sanctuary states, counties and villages. What does this term mean, and what is the impact of “sanctuary” status upon our community, state and nation? Here is what my research has turned up:

* A sanctuary jurisdiction typically refuses federal requests to detain undocumented immigrants who are apprehended for low-level offenses. For example, when someone gets picked up for a DUI, he/she is processed and released. If they are “undocumented” federal authorities would typically be alerted, and that individual would be held pending a response from the federal agency. If requested, most jurisdictions would turn that individual over to federal immigration agencies. A jurisdiction with a sanctuary policy generally refuses to comply with such requests, or never even notifies federal agencies about the arrest or detention.

* Partially because some jurisdictions do not report data about undocumented immigrants, there is no clear data regarding how many individuals are involved. Most sources indicate that there are between 10 million and 12 million illegal immigrants in the country. About 60% of all illegal immigrants live in six states: California, New York, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and Texas.

* There is no agreement on how many sanctuary jurisdictions there are. There is also no standard definition for a sanctuary jurisdiction. However, there are four states (California, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut), 39 cities, and 364 counties, that have passed sanctuary laws or ordinances. The New York State Assembly recently passed a bill to make NYS a sanctuary state.

* President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off federal funds to jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agencies regarding undocumented (“illegal”) immigrants. This could have huge impact for some cities and states. For example, San Francisco receives more than $500 million in such aid annually. It is unclear whether he has authority to do so. In 2013 a federal appeals court issued a decision stating that local jurisdictions could not be compelled to cooperate with federal immigration agencies. The Obama administration didn’t pursue that adverse decision.

* Pro-sanctuary groups cite statistics that say that their communities are safer than other communities that cooperate with federal immigration agencies. Anti-sanctuary groups cite statistics that tend to show that illegal immigrants commit crimes and create unsafe conditions where they congregate in large numbers. I could not find conclusive evidence supporting either position.

* The murder of Kate Steinle by alleged murderer Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez illustrates the complexity of the sanctuary problem. Lopez-Sanchez had been convicted of numerous felonies and deported multiple times. Local authorities requested his transfer from federal prison into their custody to stand trial on a minor marijuana possession charge. San Francisco authorities ended up dismissing that charge, and released Lopez-Sanchez

even though federal agents had specifically asked that he be returned to their custody. After his release he allegedly murdered Kate Steinle.

* Federal authorities insist that they do not intend to take all undocumented immigrants into custody. They have declared that they are only interested in those convicted or accused of serious criminal conduct. On the other hand, many officials from sanctuary jurisdictions refuse to cooperate with federal agencies on any cases.

For me the central issue is the “rule of law.” Both sides on this issue can point to tragic circumstances and outcomes. However, that does not give any individual or group the right to violate federal law, or to “pick and choose” which laws they will enforce or obey. Much of the confusion was created by the Obama administration’s failure to enforce those laws that it didn’t like. My oath of office didn’t contain any “exceptions” for laws I didn’t like. Neither do the oaths of law enforcement officers and public officials. If a law is wrong it should be repealed or amended. Until that is done it must be obeyed and enforced. How else can we be one nation governed “under law?”

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A TALE OF TWO MEETINGS – ALLEGANY COUNTY STYLE

I attended two very different meetings this past week. On Monday (February 13th) I attended the Allegany County Legislature session in Belmont. On Saturday (February 18th) I attended a Town Hall meeting with Congressman Tom Reed at the Town of Allen Town Hall. These meetings could hardly have been more different. I think we can learn from what happened at each meeting.

Monday’s Legislative Session began with the Pledge of Allegiance. Former Army Specialist Fourth Class Joseph G. Flynn was present and led us in the Pledge. From 1959 to1962 he served as a cryptographer with a Top Secret Crypto Security clearance. He later served as Professor of English and Humanities at Alfred State College. He also served as President of the Faculty Senate for the SUNY System. In 1986 the SUNY Board of Trustees promoted him to the rank of SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of English and Humanities. He remains active in numerous organizations. During Privilege of the Floor Chairman Crandall honored Betty “Geanie” While who has served as a cleaner in the County Office Building. Youth Bureau Director Linda Edwards introduced the students who had participated in this year’s NYS Youth Leadership Forum.

A highlight of this meeting was an oratorical presentation by Rachael Burns. She was first runner up at the Western NY American Legion Oratorical Contest. She spoke on the importance of the US Constitution. Her delivery (without notes) was excellent, but her thoughts and content of her speech were outstanding. Rachael has a bright future, and she gives me hope for our nation’s future. Well done, Rachael.

The Board considered five resolutions. Resolution 29-17 created the position of Deputy County Clerk IV and established the pay grade for that position. Resolution 30-17 called on the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services and the Governor to provide funding for services for those incarcerated in local jails. More than 65% of those incarcerated suffer from some level of alcohol and/or substance abuse. Resolution 31-17 approved the Annual Agreement with Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Allegany County at a cost of $277,694. Resolution 32-17 that would have approved an agreement with the Allegany County Association For the Blind and Visually Disabled was tabled for further information. Finally, Resolution 33-17 approved a Grant Application by the Health Department for the Kresge Foundation Emerging Health Leader’s Grant for $125,000.

This meeting was orderly, calm, routine and courteous. It was also lightly attended. A lot of business got done. There was some debate and a moderate level of disagreement. Probably because of the lack of drama, there has been relatively little media coverage of it. Saturday afternoon’s Town Hall meeting in the Town of Allen was very different. That meeting took place outside in the muddy Town Hall parking lot, in bright sunlight. The Press has reported that more than 500 people attended that meeting. The media reports I have been able to find indicate that most of those present were protesters. My personal estimate is that more than 50%

were Reed and Trump supporters. (Most of the protesters were strangers to me. Most of the Reed-Trump supporters were familiar local residents.) One news report noted that there were two men with Trump signs standing at the side of the Allen gathering. That is inaccurate. I personally saw more than 20 Trump, Reed and Anti-Obama signs. There was a lot of shouting by both protesters and supporters, but most of those present behaved with dignity and respect for others. I personally had a number of interesting and courteous conversations with protesters. Tom Reed demonstrated great patience and respect for all of those present, including the protesters. Judging by the prepared materials, signs and chants, the protesters were clearly organized and “trained.” This was not a spontaneous protest.

I am very troubled by the media coverage of the Town of Allen event. The only TV coverage I saw left shortly after a loud shouting exchange over whether “Black Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter.” It seemed like the cameraman was only interested in getting a sound-bite. Follow-up Internet and TV coverage has focused almost exclusively on the protesters. Congressman Reed’s supporters have been largely ignored. Based upon the media coverage I would conclude that almost everyone there was anti-Trump and anti-Reed. My personal observation is that several hundred Republicans took time from their weekend to show up to support Congressman Reed and President Trump. The media has largely ignored that. Finally, it is obvious that our country is deeply divided, and I think the Democrats have finally woken up to the fact that they lost the 2016 election. It will be interesting to see where we go from here.

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THE RULE OF LAW (“OUR NATION IS IN DIRE PERIL”)

I fear for the future of our nation. News accounts report that many politicians and celebrities are calling for protest and opposition to our duly elected President and Congress. I am troubled that many appear committed to blocking and opposing the new administration in all possible ways. Senator Chuck Schumer announced that he would oppose the appointment of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, even before the identity of that nominee was announced. Democratic Senators have blocked the confirmation of nominees for cabinet positions. Senator Elizabeth Warren violated Senate rules to attack a respected colleague. Whatever happened to the concept of a “loyal opposition?”

However, those actions pale in comparison to the actions of those engaged in the ongoing and explicit disobedience of federal law. Numerous mayors have declared their cities to be “sanctuary cities” and are flagrantly disobeying federal law. They refuse to cooperate with federal law enforcement officials, and have protected illegal immigrants who have been arrested for violating local, state and federal laws. Recently California Governor Jerry Brown announced that he is considering declaring California to be a “sanctuary state.” This represents a breakdown of the “Rule of Law” in America. Unfortunately, the alternative to the Rule of Law is anarchy.

About 150 years ago the United States fought the Civil War. The fundamental questions in that war was whether any State could decide to secede from the Union, whether they had to accept a president they had not supported, and whether they had to obey laws with which they disagreed. For better or worse, all of those questions were answered in support of the federal government. No state can secede from the Union. Every state must accept the duly elected leadership of the nation. All citizens must obey the laws of the nation. More recently, the federal government used the National Guard and FBI agents to enforce federal desegregation laws, to integrate schools, and to enforce non-discriminatory voting laws. Those arguing for “states rights” were overruled.

The fundamental issue is not whether the policies, laws and positions of the Trump Administration are legal and appropriate. The crucial question is whether we are in this together, and how disagreements and disputes will be resolved? Can State and local leaders simply refuse to enforce federal law? Can the decisions and rulings of federal courts and agencies be ignored and/or disobeyed? If America is to survive the answer to these questions must be “NO.” I fully support the right of those who disagree to challenge the laws and policies through the court system. However, they must declare their commitment to accept and follow the laws of our nation.

Those who are asserting their “right” or “duty” to disobey laws that they find objectionable need to consider some of the following questions:

* Where did their alleged “right” to disobey federal law come from?

* What was the significance of the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement, upon the principle of “States Rights”?

* Where do these so-called “rights” of the cities and states to disobey laws come from, and where do they end? Are they limited only to cities and states? Can a county choose to disregard and disobey State laws and mandates with which it disagrees? Can private citizens disregard and disobey laws with which they disagree? Does anyone have to obey any laws that they dislike?

* What makes any law or government legitimate? If the current federal government is not acceptable, what gives legitimacy to the governments of Rahm Emanuel (Chicago), William Di Blasio (NYC), Jerry Brown (California), and Andrew Cuomo (NYS)?

In the end the most fundamental principle in America is our dedication to the Rule of Law. Millions of people have left their places of birth to come here because America follows the Rule of Law. It doesn’t always function perfectly, but it functions better than any other system that has ever been established. I have sworn an oath to uphold it. I am vehemently opposed to those who are attacking the Rule of Law.

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NYSAC LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE – 2017 REPORT

From January 29th through February 2nd seven County Legislators and several County Officials were in Albany to attend this year’s NYSAC Legislative Conference. Those attending included Legislators Curt Crandall, David Decker, Dwight Fanton, Judy Hopkins, Kevin LaForge, Debra Root, and myself. Other officials in attendance included County Treasurer Terri Ross, County Administrator Tim Boyde, Clerk of the Board Brenda Riehle, Public Health Director Lori Ballengee, County Planner Kier Dirlam, Tyler Shaw and Lori Hennessy.

Monday morning began with NYSAC Committee Meetings. The standing committees included Agriculture& Rural Affairs, Taxation & Finance, Transportation & Public Works, Economic Development & Environment, Public Health & Mental Health, Public Employee Relations, Intergovernmental Relations & General Government, Children with Special Needs, Medicaid & Human Services, Public Safety, and Native American Affairs & Gaming. To cover as many meetings as possible our delegation attempted to have at least one representative each meeting. I attended Public Employee Relations and Medicaid & Human Services. In addition to general updates we learned about various initiatives occurring around the State.

The keynote speaker for Monday’s luncheon was State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. He reported State budget challenges and trends he is seeing in county government throughout the state. He noted that Downstate has mostly recovered from the Great Recession. Unfortunately, Upstate’s recovery has been much slower. He reported that more than 90% of the growth in our state since 2008 has occurred Downstate. Upstate counties have struggled to handle state mandated costs and programs. He reported that the State Pension Funds are doing well, and remain fully funded. Current pension reserves now exceed $180 billion.

Monday afternoon, and Tuesday morning and afternoon consisted of numerous workshops. Topics ranged from “Developing an Employee Social Media Policy”, to Pre-School Special Education, Medicaid Financing & Rate Reform, to Next Generation E-911, to Cybersecurity & Threats to IT Systems, to Early Childhood Intervention Issues, to Indigent Defense Developments, to State Budget Review, to Counties Working with Airbnb, to “Leftover Paint: A Solid Waste Nightmare”, to Ridesharing Innovations in Transportation, to County Veteran Programs, to Reducing County Energy Programs. County representatives tried to cover as many of these workshops as possible. Some workshops were very valuable, while others seemed either too technical or too general. Overall I believe that I learned a great deal.

On Tuesday morning there was a Plenary Session consisting of a presentation by Chris Low, Chief Economist for FTN Financial Capital Markets. He analyzed current economic trends. He is generally hopeful that markets and business will do well over the next several years. He was generally favorable about the economic policies of President Trump. I asked a question about the impact of increases in minimum wage rates. He noted that numerous studies show that while incomes go up for some entry-level positions, that overall employment usually declines. The reason is that businesses are motivated to automate and eliminate the entry-level positions. It usually has the greatest negative impact on young workers, and on the lowest earning individuals.

On Tuesday evening Curt Crandall, Kevin LaForge, Tim Boyde and I attended a reception/dinner that Governor Andrew Cuomo hosted at the Executive Mansion. About 150 County leaders gathered for the privilege of being “scolded” by Governor Cuomo. He reported that he is doing a great job, and that the State is in fantastic shape. The only negative mark on his record is that local real property taxes are too high. He blames that on local officials. He took no responsibility for State mandates. He stated that there would be no significant mandate relief for local governments. His 2017 Budget Proposal calls on County leaders to convene meetings with Town and Village leaders to find ways to save costs and reduce taxes. They must submit a proposal to the County Legislature by the end of August, and a proposal must be submitted for countywide referendum in the November General Election. If it doesn’t pass they must do the same thing again next year.

I hope to report more on this proposal in an upcoming article. And that’s the news from Albany.

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