Thursday, January 24, 2008

Murky Water

Do you ever feel like you’re swimming in dirty dishwater? And your only true ally is in the water next to you, but instead of reaching out a hand to help keep him afloat, you hold his head under instead? Nasty business.

The question becomes do you maintain your grip or come to your senses and see the forest for the trees? The forest is burning. But you might still be able to save a few trees. The enemy isn’t the one in the water with you. In fact, he’s the one who can help see through the smoke.

It’s a strained alliance. A riskier one now, perhaps. (Hell, you were just holding him under after all.) Trust your instincts.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


It’s time to acknowledge what each of us already knows. Anything of value usually costs money and involves personal sacrifice.

I have been fortunate to earn an exceptional living. Of course, it was borne of my parents’ sacrifices to provide the tools to enable that success. Likewise, despite my better-than-average salary, I live modestly; choosing to invest my resources toward the betterment of my children’s future. As a town, I believe we need to approach matters similarly.

Our current infrastructure is either lacking or deteriorating. That needs to become a priority of our tax dollars. Everyone agrees until the bill arrives and then no one wants to ante up because the benefit will likely be disproportionately enjoyed by those that come after us. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the beast.

So the mindset that prevails is usually one where we look to higher branches of government to provide. That’s flawed…and an approach that simply isn’t going to work as available monies become scarcer for various reasons. We need to take care of ourselves and the best way to do that is through succeeding generations.

Again, it comes back to money. Where is it going to come from? From us, in the form of taxes. But we all know we can’t shoulder any bigger burden. That leaves one option. With resources finite, they must be reallocated. Everyone complains that taxes are too high but complains again when services are reduced. You simply can’t have it both ways despite the “smart growth” rhetoric that has raged for years. Good infrastructure breeds economic development, not the other way around.

It’s going to take time. There won’t be a lot, if any, immediate gratification. In short, it’s going to mean sacrifice. No one likes it but it’s necessary. If we’re methodical, we can build the base we need to thrive.

Since we agree the current tax burden is excessive, we need to begin with reducing it and prioritizing where our tax dollars are utilized. We could debate where best that is for eons but I’d suggest we start by cutting expenditures uniformly 20-30% across the board. Every service feels the pain equally. That alone forces us to do more with less to provide as much as we can and will serve as a means to eliminate the “waste and inefficiency” we’re always hearing about but have a hard time identifying. Just like you and me, the powers will have to ask themselves what they can do without when faced with having less money.

With a proper Comp Plan in place (priority one), we can begin to whittle away at some of what is needed. Some of that involves rectifying (and yes, paying for) problems created by past mistakes. It’s likely to be slow and ugly getting started but I believe it will be worthwhile in the end.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Once again, the issue of a town board raise is front and center. This time in the guise of Community Committee formation to offer insights. WHAT? This is just plain crazy…and wholly unnecessary. Personally, I find it insulting.

The Town of Rotterdam has an unfortunate penchant for committee formation to address problems. While on the surface appearing as a genuine attempt to involve more citizens in the process of decision-making, it is a device more often used to diffuse criticism for the already predetermined decision. In this instance, the Town Board has made it abundantly clear it wants a raise and was sorely disappointed when it was denied recently. There is no need for a committee to study it and make recommendations. All aspects to this issue are more rightly considered during public budgetary hearings.

Let’s examine a few recent committee failures instituted by the Town. The most infamous was the Corridor Advisory Board (CAB) that was formed to make planning recommendations. Their recommendations turned out to be contentious, running counter to what the Town Board had decided independently to pursue. The Water Advisory Board (WAB), convened to systematically address several drainage issues in town, met similar resistance. Lastly, the Masullo Estates Advisory Committee was sanctioned to coordinate remediation in that subdivision but was only convened by the Town once.

The point is that forming committees to help address needs is terrific if their suggestions are ultimately factored in the solutions. However, more often than not, these committees are simply used as tools to give the appearance of progress being made when in fact, it isn’t.

I’m all for active citizen involvement but this proposed committee simply isn’t needed. The fact that so much time and energy is being devoted to the issue of raises is discouraging. It’s a distraction. It’s time to get back to the real problems plaguing our town and take real action to address them. Let’s get back to the business that matters.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Beating A Dead Horse

I had to return to the topic of the proposed salary increase for Rotterdam Town Board members because despite the raise being defeated at the most recent meeting, the horse appears only semi-dead. Newly elected Mr. Della Villa and Mr. Silva joined Supervisor Tommasone in saying no to the raise…but couched their votes in dialogue that opened the door and even seemed to support a pay raise during the next budgetary process. (In fact, the vote stalemated at 2-2 with Mr. Della Villa being absent but recording his sentiments against nonetheless.) This raise was rightly defeated on procedural issues but I still oppose a raise even if considered within proper budgetary discussion.

For now, no raise. So what’s my problem?

I don’t accept the logic being used to support a raise. Mr. Mertz and Mr. Signore have made arguments about how long it’s been since the last raise and how the increase will attract better candidates for office for both parties. Even Mr. Della Villa and Mr. Silva seem to accept those arguments in their dissent and seemed poised to pass a raise at their next opportunity.

I’ll use Mr. Silva’s argument to illustrate my case, only because his view was stated in some length. First, he expounded on how little money the extra $5000 per person is, yet then made the case for how that increase would somehow attract more magical candidates. How can it be both ways? Further, he then talked about how candidates are driven by their desire to serve and not by any advertised salary, he himself not even knowing there was a salary as he campaigned door-to-door. He was running to try to make a difference.

I don’t dispute the Town Board works very hard. I don’t dispute that the current $10,000 salary probably doesn’t compensate them properly for all the hours they devote, nor would $15,000. The fact of the matter is they will never be compensated at a level anywhere near what might be expected in the private sector. Never. Ever. I believe their salary ought to be a token one anyway.

The position and the desire to serve attracts people or it doesn't. Simple. If you’re looking for compensation for that privilege, then you’re looking in the wrong place.

There are a few other considerations in this matter. Primarily, what’s best for the residents? 2008 looks increasingly like the beginning of an economic recession. Energy and food prices are breaking the back of nearly everyone, adding to the ever-increasing tax burdens we all shoulder. The Town of Rotterdam is light years behind in possessing adequate infrastructure to support its population. I personally find it insulting that a pay raise is even being contemplated against that backdrop. Factor in the eventual slippery slope element of disparities versus the current Supervisor’s salary and County Legislature salaries and you’ve opened Pandora’s Box.

Money is scarce. It’s about to get more scarce. Let’s forget talk about boosting salaries and put any resources toward things that need doing…no matter how little some think $20,000 is.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Everyone likes to root for the underdog. Except in politics. In that arena, underdogs are a passing curiosity. In politics, the prevailing maxim seems to be everybody loves a winner. Climb aboard the bandwagon…in politics, it’s all about winning…whatever the cost. My integrity won’t let me on the wagon. That’s okay…I don’t mind walking.

It’s a gray world, and for a very long time, I saw things only in black or white. I’m beginning to see things in shades of gray instead. Compromise is colored gray. Lasting solutions are crafted in gray. (My hair is turning gray.) Though some things I will always see in black or white, I’m willing to accept that I’m not necessarily right. I’ll explore the gray.

I suppose I’m fundamentally conservative but reluctantly tolerant. Empires crumble on tolerance. They crumble faster on arrogance. Compassionate wisdom? That sounds interesting but I’m not sure exactly what it means.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2008 Resolutions

Resolutions. We all make new ones every year…or make the same old ones new again anyway. I make several personal resolutions for myself every year with varying degrees of success. I don’t let failure stop me from continuing to try and I would encourage everyone else to adopt the same approach.

I’ll share one resolution that I think ought to be on everyone’s list: Listen better. What exactly does that mean? For me, it will mean listening first, before speaking. Not interrupting someone else speaking to have my say. Listening means more than hearing. We all hear, but we don’t all listen. I have always been a poor listener and I intend to be a better one with each passing day of this new year and beyond.

Most of my resolutions are aimed at making me a “better person.” That’s selfish, I guess. Perhaps I should add a “don’t be selfish” resolution…maybe next year. Anyway, trust me that the real beneficiary of any progress I make on my resolutions is the unfortunate individual that has regular interaction with me to begin with. I just hope their resolution is “to be more tolerant.”

So take a moment to reflect honestly. Don’t waste time beating yourself up for shortcomings. Instead, resolve to do something to improve them. If you fail, don’t give up. Effort has value.

2008 is a promising year. Make it a rewarding one too. Good luck!