KINGSTON, N.Y. — Newly minted Ulster County Legislature Chairman Peter Criswell wants to crack down on what he calls “unauthorized” press releases issued by county lawmakers by implementing a policy that would prohibit lawmakers from using county letterhead without prior authorization.
Criswell said the change would “create a structure” and would ensure “accuracy and transparency.”
It comes days after a Feb. 1 press release from Minority Leader Kevin Roberts and Legislator Joe Maloney calling for the county to sever its ties with Samadhi, an organization that bills itself as an alternative drug treatment program.
The press release was sent on letterhead bearing the Ulster County seal and the words “FROM THE ULSTER COUNTY LEGISLATURE.”
Later that day, Criswell, D-Kingston, issued a statement on letterhead that bore the county seal and the words “ULSTER COUNTY LEGISLATIVE NEWS,” criticizing the two lawmakers for issuing the press release, saying it was “not an official communication,” and that it was “misleading to claim bipartisan support without input from the majority of Legislators.”
Roberts is a Republican from Plattekill and is the GOP minority leader. Maloney is a Democrat from Saugerties.
Four days later, on Feb. 5, Criswell sent an email to legislators in which he stated that he is implementing a policy under which all press releases written on legislative letterhead must be “vetted” through the Legislature’s office, which would then send out those releases.
“This approach will not only enhance the credibility of our communications but also ensure we present a united and accurate front to the public,” Criswell wrote.
“If you intend for your press release to be associated with the Ulster County Legislature and bear our official letterhead, it must be vetted through the clerk of the Legislature’s office,” Criswell stated.
Roberts called the demand “ridiculous,” and “shortsighted.”
“It seems more of the chairman being able to intercept messages he doesn’t agree with,” said Roberts. “I can assure you that I will not be getting permission from the clerk or the chairman to speak freely to the press.”
Likewise, Maloney said as an independently elected member of the Legislature he doesn’t need to get the chairman’s “permission” to issue a press release.
“We never represented anything but this was mine and Kevin’s views,” Maloney said. “I’m a duly elected official, I don’t have to go through anybody to send a press release out.”
In an interview Tuesday, Criswell said he was attempting to create a process akin to those used by not-for-profit boards where only approved statements can be issued on official letterhead.
“This is not anything about trying to curtail anybody’s right to speak,” said Criswell. “As long as they’re sending it out as themselves, that’s fine. “If they’re sending it out under the heading of a Legislature then it has to go through the legislative clerk.”