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Democratic dispute over leadership in Monroe County Legislature could be heading to the courts

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A dispute over Democratic leadership in the Monroe County Legislature could be heading toward judicial intervention, according to Legislature President Joe Carbone.

It all started late last month when some Democrats on the Monroe County Legislature tried to remove the current Minority Leader, Vince Felder (D-22), and designate Yversha Roman (D-26) to the position in his place. Felder challenged the caucus’ actions then and said it wasn’t legal.

“I am doing my best to try and hold this caucus and the Monroe County Democratic Party together, but these rogue individuals appear to be hell-bent on doing everything they can to destroy it,” Felder said in an August statement.

Felder alleged “Any meeting of the Democratic Caucus must be called by the Leader, or any actions taken are invalid. As such, any appointment made at a meeting not called by the Leader is invalid.”

MORE | Democrats clash over leadership in Monroe County Legislature

However, an attorney’s review from Harris Beach PLLC concluded that “the Democratic Caucus has properly acted when designating Yversha Roman Minority leader.”

The Harris Beach review said the designation was proper, in part, because “The County Charter is silent as to voting by a caucus. The absence of such a provision in the County Charter was not a surprise as matters of caucus activities are political in nature and left to the caucus. Additionally, the Democratic Caucus has not adopted rules specifying a term for the appointment, or for that matter, has not adopted rules as to voting requirements or procedures.

“As for past practices, there is at least once case of a past minority leader being replaced during a legislative term. With this past practice, arguably the Democratic Caucus knew of the issue when they acted in December 2019 such that the absence of a specific term for the Felder appointment indicates an intent to have an appointment at will subject to change by subsequent vote of the caucus.”

The review by Harris Beach attorneys is in line with that of the Monroe County Attorney John Bringewatt, but President Carbone dismisses Bringewatt’s opinion on the matter.

In a statement News 8 obtained Wednesday, Carbone said of Bringewatt: “The County Attorney has proven himself to be nothing more than a paid political battering-ram for County Executive Adam Bello and his allies in the Legislature. When facts and laws aren’t on their side, they use the County Attorney to create a facade.”

Felder’s lawyer, Daniel Strollo, says the designation of Roman was invalid, saying in a letter Tuesday to Carbone, “Legislator Felder and his fellow members of the Black Democratic Caucus were deliberately excluded from those proceedings.”

In that letter Strollo pointed to the County Charter for the invalid designation, saying in part: “The County Charter contains no provision whereby a Minority Leader duly named at an Organization Meeting held pursuant to Monroe County Charter can thereafter be removed or otherwise replaced. Rather, the County Charter, taken as a whole, requires that a duly appointed Minority Leader serve out the entire legislative term for which he was appointed.”

Due to differing legal interpretations of the County Charter from both sides, President Carbone said in his statement that he has advised both Felder and Roman to seek judicial intervention to decide the matter.

Furthermore, Carbone addressed claims that attempts to change the County Charter were shut down at a recent meeting, saying in part: “Debate on the proposed amendment to the Rules of the Legislature was closed after two-thirds of the Legislators voted to end the discussion. The motion to end debate was made after discussions turned from productive to divisive name-calling.”

Lastly, Carbone’s statement included some pointed words for County Executive Bello, saying in part:

“County Executive Adam Bello’s lack of leadership and inability to get his house in order was on full display last night. The conduct of the Legislators aligned with County Executive Bello was embarrassing and unbecoming of the Legislature. The repeated attempts to let their inter-party squabble interfere with the business of the Legislature will not stand.

Felder released a statement Wednesday that reads:

“I am disappointed that members of the Democratic Caucus continue to claim that Yversha Roman is the Minority Leader. As my attorney noted, there is no provision in the Charter to remove me from office. Even if it occurred in the past, it occurred improperly. Now is the time for the Democratic Caucus to unify so we can move forward with a progressive agenda for our constituents. Slander and ad hominem attacks are not productive. As Socrates said, ‘when the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.'”

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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