The last Rotterdam Town Board meeting made one thing resoundingly clear – there isn’t a true leader among any of the elected five members. Procedurally, the meeting was a complete mess. Most have been after the 2009 election. Sure, there are a few political novices among the bunch but there is also a fair degree of experience as well. It’s now 2011 and there has not been much if any progress toward conducting a meeting efficiently or transparently. The cause of that has been the subject of enough finger-pointing to cause a blindness epidemic! At this juncture, it’s beyond disgraceful.
Even worse though, is the rancor. No one on the dais seems to be able to maintain any semblance of professionalism. The disrespect is blatant and intentional. It’s very sad to witness but the real damage isn’t limited to the political participants. It has seeped into the audience. Disrespect has been validated by the behavior of the Town Board members and has now been adopted by too many in attendance. Disrespect breeds disrespect. I have previously stated on this blog that if you intend to hold someone to a higher standard, then you’ve got to hold yourself to that same higher standard first. This Town Board has collectively failed to do that.
It is abundantly clear that every member of the Town Board is trying to advance their own personal agendas at the expense of everything else. Normally, this might not be so surprising but this crew was elected as a unified team with a unanimous Democrat endorsement. What’s occurred since is nothing short of a travesty.
I don’t believe there is a leader among them. If there was, they would have already emerged to quell the fiasco. Instead, each seems hell-bent on fueling it.
The solution lies in upcoming elections. The Supervisor seat and two Town Board seats will be up for election in November. It’s still wicked early so most candidates are not known yet. What we should know at this point is who we definitely don’t want. We need to start looking for those who will bring some professionalism back to the meetings in place of the juvenile antics we have currently. We need to start looking for those who favor rigorous, respectful discourse and debate in place of last minute shenanigans and political maneuvering. We need to look for true leaders.
Third party politics seem to be flourishing in Schenectady County. The Alliance Party, founded by Roger Hull, is poised to stage a third party threat to city politics. In Town of Rotterdam politics, the No New Tax Party (NNTP) will re-emerge with a return appearance by Brian McGarry. Both men announced their intentions for 2011 pre-Christmas 2010 and have indicated that they would be announcing full candidate slates eventually.
I am intrigued by these developments and will be paying close attention to their evolution. My immediate question regarding these announcements is whether they will be true “independent” endeavors or morph into some hybrid of the two-party state. By that, I mean will they be seeking cross endorsements from the major parties or solely go their own way? This was an aspect I wrestled with to some degree during the first NNTP run. After my previous experience, I prefer a pure independent approach.
From newspaper reports so far, it appears the Alliance Party does not intend to seek any cross endorsements (though I suppose that doesn’t mean they won’t receive any) while the NNTP will be seeking major party endorsements (though that doesn’t mean they’ll receive any) in addition to their independent ballot line. Of course, both efforts will face the daunting task of actually creating their own independent ballot line regardless of whatever endorsements they might receive. Success or failure at that endeavor is really the important wild card either way.
Concern starts creeping in depending on how all of this ultimately unfolds. My whole life revolves around a notion of being “not beholden.” I believe cross endorsements can taint that. The major parties don’t relinquish power easily – they want to pick their own candidates – not be dictated to. Making nice to secure additional ballot lines runs counter to what should be the underlying motivation to create an independent ballot line anyway, in my mind. If major lines are deemed a desirable advantage, then simply primary for them, much like I did in 2009 (much to the Republican Party bosses’ dismay when I won.) My point is that if you think you have appeal to a major party voter base, then appeal to it through a contested primary, independent of party power bosses. Even this approach has a downside though as some people will start to question “your real stripe.”
Of course, I’m not a politician – and politicians and their strategists will tell you my approach is a losing one. (Hey – I lost – they must be right.) I wonder why the major parties are so intent then on trying to usurp independent efforts. Quite simply, it’s because they recognize the threat and are quick to try to diminish it through absorption, if possible, or outright dismissal, if necessary.
Conviction. This is one of the most important attributes I look for in gauging a person’s character, especially when it comes to politicians. Let’s face it, there are plenty of “great guys” that still have trouble finding their backbone when the sledding gets a little tough. A fantastic notion is immediately compromised in the absence of conviction. In the presence of conviction, even a fledgling idea can become fantastic. Conviction is powerful – it is transformative. Unfortunately, it can be as equally fragile and vulnerable. Not only do you have to know what you believe, you have to actually believe it. You have to believe it when the sun is shining and you have to believe it in the fiercest windstorm.
Having conviction doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be stubborn, inflexible, or uncompromising either. More accurately, it’s about being unwavering in principle. In the end, words and actions have to be consistent.
The 2011 election season has (unbelievably) commenced already with local independent hopefuls staking their claim early. I’m not among them nor do I expect to be anytime in the near future. What interests me at the moment is that the major tenets of my campaign seem to have found a continued voice through new candidates. I’d be lying if I said there’s not a degree of satisfaction in that development, but I think it was inevitable – our effort was early but the underlying motivation behind it was pervasive and is now simply taking better shape. I’ll be watching closely to see how it unfolds.
Of course, these developments have caused some to speculate about my political future. I’ve always maintained I was never a politician – just a concerned citizen. I remain so. Being an effective part of the solution doesn’t always involve running for office. Make whatever you’d like of that. I always do what I think I must to be able to sleep at night and look at myself in the mirror the next day.
Keep your eyes on those that step forward. Hold them to their word. Make sure they have a clue beyond their rhetoric. I was happy to read a comment on another forum recalling my philosophy of not being beholden. It was discussed in a political sense, but the phrase “not beholden” wasn’t just for my campaign. I actually live by that every day. It has helped me succeed, and at the same time, it has held me back, but it works for me.
I had the great misfortune of accidentally stumbling into a replay of the most recent Rotterdam Town Board budget vote meeting. Overall, it was probably one of the most embarrassing public displays ever by an elected body.
Personally, I was deeply disturbed by the proposed budget by the Supervisor which would’ve resulted in a 7.4% residential tax increase, and a whopping 11.4% commercial tax increase. It is incredulous that this budget was submitted by an administration that ran for election on a platform of lowering taxes!
Now, I’m supposed to be relieved by the surprise 11th hour budget proposal, subsequently adopted in a contentious 3-2 vote, by 3 of the dissenting Town Board members that results in a 3.5% residential tax increase and a 7.4% commercial tax increase? I’m not. Seemingly, I’m supposed to be enamored of these three so-called “3 Musketeers” for being my tax relief champions. That’s equally ludicrous! All of these officials campaigned on lowering taxes. Obviously, they can’t deliver. They should be voted out.
The truly disgusting part is not only did we just get a tax increase, but we got it by way of severe dysfunction and incivility. I’m reminded of that campaign question about getting along after elected that I’ve discussed a few times since. The Rotterdam Town Board has achieved the epitome of dysfunction, evidenced by the manner of budget deliberations, or lack thereof. Apparently, the members of the Revitalize Rotterdam Team are each choosing to go their separate ways…and they don’t seem to be hesitant about expressing their displeasure with one another quite rudely. The Supervisor demands respect yet then shouts at another Town Board member to “shut their mouth” while also calling them a “liar.” The councilmember on the receiving end of the insults is outraged by the show of disrespect yet is the same member that publicly shredded a resident a few months ago in an equally harsh manner. The bickering is childish, unprofessional, and utterly disgraceful. It’s also counterproductive. The fact that it is done publicly makes it even more so.
The Town of Rotterdam is poised for a public referendum on a new tax district to support ambulance service. REMS will be the supposed beneficiary of those tax funds should the tax district vote succeed.
The debate on this issue has raged for far too long, in my opinion. Is the creation of a tax district for ambulance service a valid approach to provide a necessary, vital service? Absolutely, no question. A better question would be is a tax district to support ambulance service necessary? Absolutely not, no question.
The real question is, are you willing to pay higher taxes? At this exact moment, I’m not. Not because I don’t think ambulance service is important – in fact, I consider it necessary and vital. And it’s not because I can’t afford to pay the tax if it is approved because I can. I’m against it because I’m not willing to increase my tax burden further, at this point in time.
There are alternatives, however. First, it’s not a situation where people will be faced with no ambulance service at all. Mohawk Ambulance is eager to fill any void created by the disappearance of REMS. In fact, they already compliment a competent REMS with competent service of their own. There will be ambulance service. I’m not about to begin arguing which service might be better qualified because I’m not qualified nor interested in doing so. I’m arguing taxes, pure and simple, while attempting to take panic out of the decision equation.
As I said, I believe ambulance service is necessary and vital. I also said I don’t wish to pay additional tax to support it at this time. Contradictory? Not necessarily. If we assume that ambulance service is a desirable necessary and vital service, then the question is asked and answered, in my opinion, especially when I’m not willing to assume a larger tax burden. I believe ambulance service should be funded through the General Fund by using our existing tax dollars. (Current policy and practice, in fact, supports this approach.) Since budgets are tough all over these days, this desire puts an even greater demand on our elected officials to find the appropriate cuts elsewhere to pay for it. If they can’t do it when something is deemed necessary and vital, they’ll never ever be able to do it on anything. It’s time to make the hard decisions…and funding ambulance service shouldn’t be one of them. But raising taxes in arguably the most difficult environment we’ve ever seen shouldn’t be the solution.
I ran for office recently with a campaign largely based on No New Taxes. I lost, so maybe it’s me that’s out of step. We’ll find out soon enough. The vote is scheduled for Tuesday, December 14, 2010 from 8am -8pm.