Photo: John Carl D’Annibale
ALBANY — The commissioners of the Albany County Board of Elections formally delivered a thumbs-down to County Executive Daniel McCoy’s proposal to move the board’s offices from its current home off Central Avenue to a facility on South Pearl Street recently vacated by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
In a memo to the leaders of the county Legislature, Republican Rachel Bledi and Democrat Matt Clyne call the idea of moving from the board’s rented offices at 32 North Russell Road to 260 N. Pearl St. “ill-advised.”
“The Executive’s latest proposal … is being submitted over the opposition of both election commissioners, and is being made without any consideration of the operational requirements of the Board,” they wrote.
As an example of those needs, the commissioners pointed to the board’s imminent responsibility to handle early voting during a nine-day period leading up to Election Day on Nov. 5, under reforms recently signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“Neither the building nor the parking facilities at 260 South Pearl Street are adequate to accommodate early voting, the training of election inspectors or the movement of the voting machines,” the commissioners state.
The memo does not include any commentary on the relative safety of the former DMV site. Bledi prompted controversy in October when she said the facility was located in “a bad, dangerous neighborhood.” McCoy at the time called that line of argument “ludicrous,” and County Legislator Wanda Willingham called Bledi’s remarks racist.
In their memo, dated Wednesday, the commissioners call McCoy’s proposal “both unrealistic from an operational standpoint and politically myopic given the less-than-convenient geographical location of the building for the vast majority of the county’s voters.”
The memo notes that the board has recently inspected “a fair number of facilities providing both office and warehouse space” in Menands, Guilderland, Colonie and Watervliet.
McCoy said last fall that a move to the South End could save county taxpayers more than $350,000 annually. The commissioners, however, claim the rent currently being paid on the board’s current headquarters was competitive, and that “the cost of a proposed relocation and attendant operational disruption are factors which the Legislature should consider when evaluating” the idea of moving.
In conclusion, the commissioners said, “The Executive’s proposal to relocate the Board of Elections is a budgetary quick fix to the decision by DMV to leave 260 South Pearl Street. Like most quick fixes, it is short-sighted. The fact that it was made over the opposition of both commissioners of election is a political red flag which the Legislature should not ignore.”
The memo also criticized McCoy’s proposal — in the form of a Request for Legislative Action or RLA — as “deficient from a purely technical standpoint since it fails to contain any factual information to support the proposal.”
The commissioners noted that the original RLA was submitted by the Commissioner of General Services on Dec. 6 “and mysteriously withdrawn.” McCoy’s proposal was submitted on Jan. 6. “It is believed that this substitution was designed to circumvent the (Legislature’s) Public Works Committee, where the proposal would actually be debated,” the memo states.
Bledi and Clyne proceed to argue that McCoy’s RLA “constitutes a thinly-veiled attempt by the County Executive to circumvent the statutory mandate that the Legislature, not the County Executive, provide the Board of Elections with ‘proper and suitable offices'” under election law.
The memo also pointed to McCoy’s 2014 refusal to sign the most recent extension of the board’s lease on its Russell Road offices. His renegotiation of that lease included a provision that allowed him to terminate it — an element that stands “in clear violation of the County Charter and the Election Law,” the commissioners claim.
The matter is currently before the Legislature’s Law Committee and was to be considered Thursday evening.
In an emailed response, McCoy noted that neither commissioner wants to move “and have cited unfounded safety concerns over the South End location.”
Rebutting the memo’s implication that McCoy was trying to circumvent the Legislature, McCoy said that the withdrawal of the first RLA was at the request of lawmakers.
The commissioners’ argument, McCoy said, “is an excuse to obfuscate their resistance to a plan that will save taxpayers money and will further efforts to increase voter opportunities for education, increased registration and involvement by moving the Board of Elections to the county-owned South Pearl Street location, notably an area of low voter turnout.”