In September, the Cattaraugus County Legislature changed the mission statement of the county through ACT No. 329-2021, entitled OPPOSING INFRINGEMENTS ON THE INALIENABLE RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE AND DECLARING CATTARAUGUS COUNTY A CONSTITUTIONAL COUNTY AND AMENDING THE MISSION STATEMENT OF THE COUNTY TO CONFORM THEREWITH.

The changes move the county from “a traditional role as an arm of State government while also taking a more non-traditional role which seeks to establish the County as an agency that analyses service needs, sorts them in an orderly manner, and realigns and consolidates services so they may be performed most effectively and financed most economically” to a county where “The Legislature stands as a protector between the citizens of this County and the tendency of governments at state and federal levels to advance into territory not their own and consume rather than secure, the liberties endowed to the people by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”

Further, the Act states “that public funds, resources, employees, buildings or offices not be used to restrict such rights or to aid or assist in the enforcement of any restriction of the rights granted under the Constitution or its Bill of Rights.”

The legislators moved themselves from a position of providing services and looking out for the general welfare of the citizens of Cattaraugus County to a position of serving as guardians of the Second and Ninth amendments (see text of Act). We see this new role playing out in the defiant statement of the County Legislature Chairman Howard VanRensselaer that Cattaraugus County has “neither the resources nor the will” to obey the statewide mask mandate. The governor listened and will provide resources so there is no excuse to defy the mandate.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of the mask mandate issue. The pros are that the legislators are assuring that, in a very conservative county, they will be able to continue to get re-elected. Also, they will have a certain part of their constituents encouraging them to continue to defy even more state and perhaps federal mandates.

On the con side, there are serious consequences. Olean General Hospital has restricted all non-essential surgeries and procedures so now family members cannot have endoscopies, colonoscopies, cataract surgeries and other procedures that are not emergencies but might be life-saving in the long run. The loss of money on these non-essential procedures is having a devastating effect on the hospital budget.

Oh, and children cannot be admitted to the hospital — instead they are being diverted to other hospitals. Imagine what it’s like for parents who have other children at home and who are torn between trips out of town for a sick child and caring for other children at home.

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The doctors at the hospital have put out a video stating how hard their jobs are and the difficulty in facing so much unnecessary death. Nurses are quitting their jobs because of exhaustion, overtime and fear that they, too, will catch COVID-19. The hospital system just had to hire 30 travel nurses, a further blow to its budget. Cancer patients, who don’t benefit from their immunizations, have no protection out in public.

Teachers are facing defiance from students and parents when all they are doing is trying to protect their students and themselves. Firefighters and paramedics are exhausted from trying to keep people alive until they can get them to the hospital. Business owners wanting to protect their employees and customers by mandating masks are getting no support from the legislators and their employees are attacked with rudeness and anger.

Frankly, the Cattaraugus County Legislature has seriously let us down. Instead of taking the high road and supporting the mandate for the general welfare, they are acting like defiant teenagers who want to show off in front of their friends. I’m embarrassed by them and ashamed of them. Their job is to protect our citizens and promote the general and economic welfare of Cattaraugus County and they are doing neither.

If I owned a business looking to move into Cattaraugus County, a little research into the thinking of these legislators would have me running away. It’s time for our legislators to stop the political posturing and do right by our citizens.

One further thought — there is no such thing as a “Constitutional County.” The U.S. Constitution outlines the rights and responsibilities of the states and the federal government. The word county is not even mentioned in the constitution. This is all just a political game.

(Linda J. Matthews lives in Olean.)

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