Office of the Albany County Legislature
50th Anniversary Albany County Legislature (1968-2018)

1968-2018: Albany County Legislature 50th Anniversary

The Albany County Legislature’s 50th Anniversary Celebration was held February 24, 2018 at The Desmond in Colonie. Legislators and event sponsors used the event to raise $10,000 for Albany Medical Center’s new Pediatric Emergency Department.

Legislators presenting $10,000 to Albany Medical Center
Legislators presenting $10,000 to Albany Medical Center

Honored at the celebration were Albany County Legislature Clerk Paul T. Devane Sr., who received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his 50 years of service to the Legislature.

Receiving posthumous Pioneer Awards were Homer L. Perkins, the first African-American elected to the Legislature, and Blanche R. Rourke and Dorothy Baar, the first women members elected to the body.

Distinguished Service Awards were handed out to five Legislators for their 20-plus years in the Legislature:

  • Gilbert F. Ethier of Cohoes (38 years);
  • Frank J. Commisso Sr. of Albany (35 years)
  • Lucille M. McKnight (26 years)
  • Gary Domalewicz (25 years), and
  • Sean E. Ward (23 years).
Preparing for the celebration
Preparing for the celebration

Here is the transcript of a speech Albany County Chairman Andrew Joyce delivered to a packed room of citizens, elected officials, and current and former Albany County employees as part of the Albany County Legislature’s 50th Anniversary Celebration:

Chairman Andrew Joyce delivering Legislature Clerk Paul T. Devane Sr. the Lifetime Achievement Award
Chairman Andrew Joyce delivering Legislature Clerk Paul T. Devane Sr. the Lifetime Achievement Award

When the Albany County Legislature replaced the County Board of Supervisors and met for the first time in 1968, it consisted of 23 Democrats, 13 Republicans and three Cohoes Citizen Party members. Charles E. Cahill became Chairman, my grandfather, Raymond F. Joyce, served as the Legislature’s Clerk, and Marion P. Collins was deputy clerk. Two women — Blanche Rourke and Dorothy Baar — were members of the body, which also included Homer L. Perkins, the Legislature’s only African-American. The Legislature’s total budget was $131,580.

The meeting started with an Invocation given by Rev. Monsignor Raymond F. Rooney, Vicar General of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese and Pastor of St. Thomas Church of Delmar. His eloquent prayer set the tone for the Albany County Legislature, and it resonates with me because it represents the caring community that Legislators have ventured to build.

Rev. Rooney asked that Albany County Legislators work for the common welfare and to understand that with their office, came a responsibility to provide for the good of all. He said, “keep them from smallness of mind and personal concern,” and inspire them with high ideals, greatness of heart and steadfast courage. He preached "the practical operation of justice and charity,” and wished “happiness and prosperity for all of us in this grand County of Albany."

On the national level, historians recall 1968 as one of America’s most tumultuous years. Fifty years ago, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, setting off the most difficult days of the Vietnam War. Months later, the articulate voices of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Democrat Robert Kennedy were silenced by assassins’ bullets, and Richard Nixon won a chaotic election to succeed Lyndon B. Johnson as president.

But locally, 1968 marked the beginning of a new day for government. The inauguration of the Albany County Legislature started an era in which County government played a much more visible role in caring for all residents. The organizing of the Legislature coincided with the onset of Medicaid, and was followed eight years later by the establishment of a County Executive and County Comptroller.

The County Board of Supervisors consisted of supervisors from each town, as well as each ward within each city of Albany County. The supervisors' first concern was their town or ward, not necessarily the County. A series of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1960's forced a change of that governing model across New York State. Many counties went on to adopt forms of government whose elected legislators would better serve their districts and the county.

One of the first changes brought about by the transition was that the "seasonal" meetings of the Albany County Board of Supervisors became monthly meetings of the County Legislature. The Legislature formed committees that took on increased responsibilities, and began meeting at times more convenient for the public. The Legislature added a comment period before each meeting to allow the public to weigh-in on issues. The Albany County Legislature has since enacted a series of reforms to promote transparency. The Legislature now posts all of its meeting agendas online well in advance of the meetings, videotapes all Committee meetings and archives them on our website, and live-streams all meetings of the full Legislature so residents can watch developments in real time from home.

In 1968 and the following years, Albany County started to assume more responsibility — and costs — in providing Social Services, such as mental health programs and expanded elderly care, and additional public works projects. Traditional Albany County responsibilities in law enforcement and health care were significantly expanded, and Albany County created new self-funded entities, such as the County Sewer District. To meet these new demands, Counties were authorized to collect sales taxes in addition to the property tax. That resulted in the creation and expansion of many important resources that County residents have come to rely on.

With forward-looking efforts to reconsider how government operates — such as the establishment of the Albany County Department of Children and Family Services — and investments in facilities like the Albany International Airport, Albany County has made a name for itself beyond our borders.

The Airport is governed by the seven-member Albany County Airport Authority. Four members of the Authority are appointed by the Legislature’s Majority Leader and three members are appointed by the County Executive. All members must be approved by the Legislature.

The Legislature helped lead the way in developing what was then the Knickerbocker Arena, which opened in downtown Albany on January 30, 1990, with a performance by Frank Sinatra. Last year, the Legislature approved funding to completely redevelop the arena, now called the Times Union Center. The Albany County-owned arena will play host for NCAA Basketball Tournament games this year and the two following years, which are expected to draw huge crowds to downtown Albany.

The Legislature recently authorized an extensive renovation and expansion of the Albany County Nursing Home. The investment will ensure Albany County residents continue to receive care and enjoy modern rooms at a county-run home that has experienced a revival in recent years through shared sacrifices and better management. Most other Counties have sold off such facilities to reduce financial losses, but not Albany County. The Nursing Home is one example of the healthy community we've helped build.

In recent years, Albany County has made extensive renovations and additions to its Court facilities. The Legislature also played a central role in creating the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail, one of the area’s leading recreational resources that has won plaudits from runners, bikers, walkers and nature lovers.

Another initiative of the Legislature, the Albany County Land Bank, was founded in 2014 and has quickly grown into the second largest land bank in New York State. The organization is turning around neighborhoods one property at a time by finding new owners for tax-foreclosed and abandoned properties.

The Legislature is now working to bring new life to another one of its properties, the former Ann Lee Home site in Colonie. We recently authorized a lease for Soldier On to build housing for homeless military veterans.

Other Albany County properties include the Albany County Department of Social Services, Albany County Hall of Records and Albany County Ice Hockey Facility. At the Albany County Wastewater Treatment Plant in Menands, we are looking at building a major environmental and shared-services initiative with Saratoga County called an anaerobic digester, which turns food and human waste into energy.

Over the years, I’m proud to say that the Albany County Legislature has grown more diverse. There are now five African-American legislators, compared to the one we had up until 1980. We now have a record eight woman legislators — four times the number that the first Legislature had in 1968. Women hold important leadership positions. Wanda F. Willingham serves as the Legislature’s deputy chair, while Joanne Cunningham and Alison McLean Lane hold the position of deputy Majority Leader.

We have a lot to be grateful for. And in the next 50 years, the Albany County Legislature will continue to pursue reforms and modernize so that we can play an equally vital role in shaping our destiny. But what will not change is our commitment to remaining fair and to continuing to care for our communities and citizens. My late father, Harold L. Joyce, the former chairman of the Legislature, once said, "Heal the past, live the present and dream the future." We in the Legislature pledge to do that. We will continue to work together for the good of our citizens. This has to be our legacy. And I will work hard to make it so.

50th Anniversary Albany County Legislature (1968-2018)
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