For the past eight years, I have had the distinct honor and privilege to represent the Seventh Legislative District, and at the beginning of this year I was sworn in to serve my fifth term. But I also took a second oath this time around. I was selected by my colleagues to serve as presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature. It is very humbling experience to be chosen by my colleagues to lead the body in which I serve, just as it has been humbling to be chosen by the residents of this district to represent them. The position comes with tremendous responsibility, and I am following in the footsteps of some great leaders.
The presiding officer is responsible for making sure that the work of the people is done every day. I will oversee the operation of the legislature as a department and ensure all administrative responsibilities are met. After the legislators approve a resolution, the staff of the legislature goes to work putting that vote into action.
While the administrative aspect of the job is necessary, the position will also allow me to shape the agenda in the next year. As presiding officer, I will also serve as chair of our general meetings, where the full body will consider each issue put forward by the committees. As chair, I set the length of debate on each matter, call experts to provide testimony and generally move us through the proceedings. A presiding officer can have tremendous influence over the direction that Suffolk County will take. It is a responsibility that I take very seriously as I begin my tenure in this position. In addition, the presiding officer establishes the committees and assigns its membership. These committees take a first look at legislation. They can pass them on to the full legislature for approval or they can stop a bill from moving forward. Committees also provide one of the legislature’s most invaluable oversight functions by inviting county officials to answer questions and provide insight into the key issues facing our residents. Through presentations, committees can also help shine a light on areas that might otherwise go unnoticed.
One of the key issues I want to tackle in our county government is diversity. A number of news stories over the past year have shown that our workforce does not reflect the makeup of the residents we serve, especially in leadership positions. We have also seen how the lingering effects of redlining have continued to pervade our housing market. This relic of the segregationist era has shut out people and families of color from certain neighborhoods, perpetuating a system of discrimination on Long Island that has gone on for far too long. We cannot hope to address an issue as important and difficult as this without getting our own house in order first. To that end, I have officially added diversity to the Government Operations, Personnel, Information Tech and Diversity Committee. With this new structure, the Legislature can finally give this issue its proper due.
Another change I have made is to create the Fire, Rescue and Emergency Medical Services and Preparedness Committee. In the past, these issues would have been overseen by the Public Safety Committee. Unfortunately, issues related to the law enforcement have too often overshadowed the issues of importance to our other first responders. We know that we are in an era of superstorms and rising seas. The risk of catastrophic natural disaster is increasing, and this committee will give even greater attention to how we are preparing Suffolk County for the future. We can see the intersection of these issues when we look to the devastating wildfires in Australia. Firefighters are working around the clock to contain the unprecedented blaze that has shocked the world, but it also brings memories of our own Pine Barrens fires. These issues are too important not to give them our full attention, and that is what this new committee will do.
I am looking forward to an exciting 2020 in my new position. Despite the new duties I have been entrusted with, my primary responsibility will always be to serve the residents of the Seventh District. My door is always open, so please don’t hesitate to call my office at 631-854-1400 or email me at Robert.Calarco@suffolkcountyny.gov.