MAYVILLE - County Executive Greg Edwards has been given the OK by 16 legislators to begin contract negotiations for the sale of the Chautauqua County Home. Seventeen votes will be needed in the future to finalize the sale.
Hours of discussion, debate and mass confusion marked Thursday's special legislative session in Mayville.
Lawmakers eventually agreed to begin contract talks with Altitude Health Services Inc. for the sale of the 216-bed County Home in a meeting legislature chairman Jay Gould, R-Ashville, said afterward was full of "political smoke."
William Rothner of Altitude Health discussed his $16.5 million offer for the Dunkirk skilled nursing facility. Rothner, who owns five nursing homes throughout the country, took questions from the legislature after an hour of public discussion.
Legislature Minority Leader Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown, grilled Rothner over his ownership with numerous nursing homes she said have been rated as inefficient and unsafe.
"We have a right to know as a county who is looking to buy this facility," Cornell said. "... I haven't heard you once talk about the people or about the care."
Rothner said the five nursing homes he owns have multiple-star ratings. He then distanced himself from other nursing facilities owned by members of his family.
"My father does not own facilities at Altitude Health," he said.
After two hours of discussion, Gould attempted to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote.
Confusion then took over.
Cornell, after a five-minute recess, immediately called for an amendment to sell the County Home outright, allowing Edwards to negotiate a contract with Altitude Health on his own without foresight by the legislature.
Bob Whitney, D-Jamestown, said the amendment was designed to end County Home talks after months of discussion. "Let's take care of this now," Whitney said.
Several legislators, however, then admitted they were unaware or unsure what legislation was up for a vote to begin with. The legislature clerk eventually read an email dated Oct. 12 sent to all lawmakers detailing the agenda of the special meeting.
One lawmaker pointed to past media reports in early October that described Thursday's meeting as a vote to sell or keep the Home. Gould, however, said that was never the case.
After some discussion, the legislature voted down to amend the resolution. "This is going against everything we wanted to do," said Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown. "... I want to see a contract before it is approved."
Lawmakers then approved the contract talks in a 16 to 8 vote. A simple majority of 13 votes was needed to pass the legislation.
Gould said afterward he was disappointed how the bizarre meeting unfolded.
"It was nothing but political smoke. They all knew what we were doing here tonight," Gould said. "For them to say they weren't sure is nothing but political smoke."
County Executive Greg Edwards saw things the same way.
"I can't get into the minds of the legislators as to what was going on, but I found it very difficult to sit quietly knowing because I saw the written documents that were delivered well in advance to this meeting as to what this meeting was all about," Edwards said.
Cornell told reporters she was confident there weren't enough votes in the legislature to sell the County Home on Thursday. She said she brought the amendment forward to "bring some sort of conclusion" to the table.
"We can't just keep kicking this down the road," Cornell said.
The county executive, meanwhile, is expected to immediately begin contract talks with Altitude Health. A vote to approve the contract, which would require 17 votes in the legislature, could come as early as next month.