Sunday, November 21, 2010

No Respect

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 reporter for the Spotlight seems equally out of touch – headlining a recap of the circus with stating the budget “cuts spending, lowers taxes.” That’s just plain wrong. The budget they adopted RAISES taxes. They only cut spending and lowered taxes relative to the previous outlandish proposal which really means they didn’t do either.

There should be one realized objective driven by one critical question: 0% tax increase by asking the question, what is absolutely essential? I’ve offered my views on how to achieve this objective in the past (November 2008). Until our elected start addressing the question properly we as taxpayers will get no respect.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Call an Ambulance

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.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Alliance Party

Schenectady’s Sunday Gazette provided some interesting news in an editorial offered by Mr. Roger Hull, former Union College president. He, along with some others, announced the formation of the Alliance Party, a new party designed to be an inclusive, solution-minded vehicle. I absolutely love the concept he describes. My original hope for the No New Tax Party effort was similar - attract participants and candidates of as many parties as possible and shed the usual constraints that serve to impede real solutions – though we failed to accomplish that with regard to candidates, even if we attracted supporters from across the spectrum. It was an honest start anyway and I’m heartened to see others attempting to take it to the next level because I think it can work.

Not surprisingly, the effort is already the subject of scoffing from several quarters. Once again, the same people who claim to want a different approach that yields results are reluctant to embrace this initiative. The same old arguments of splitting the vote, ulterior motives, or sheer impossibility are being recycled. There even seems to be some jealously from former independent hopefuls that have offered some similar thinking on some subjects! Sorry, but in my mind, no one owns a monopoly on previously expressed ideas that get us better government.

I particularly like the self-imposed term limits the Alliance Party will rely on. Though I didn’t make it an express part of my campaign for office, I intended to do exactly that if elected. By doing so, it takes the influence of special-interest money out of the equation.
Their idea of a pay freeze is also one I support. I’ve previously fought against pay raises for elected officials. It should be all about a desire to serve, not compensation. Transparency and Quality of Life, two subjects I’ve written about in the past, also appear to be cornerstone elements.

Personally, I’m excited to see this effort unfold. I’ll be attending the forum being held at the Eastern Parkway Price Chopper tonight at
7:00 pm to learn more firsthand.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Seeking Leaders

Where are today’s leaders? From top to bottom, our government doesn’t seem to have many, if any. Rancor, partisanship, and even corruption seem to infect nearly every discussion and issue. As a result, important needs go unaddressed. Possible solutions get postponed or stifled altogether. And nothing changes…except for the worse.

A big part of the problem is the influence of special interest money in both major parties. It doesn’t seem to matter if either Democrats or Republicans hold the reins because the only true difference is which special interests get served. The hard working American is always left holding the short straw. As a result, anger has been building among the electorate and an optimist would say that things are finally on the verge of change. The Tea Party has emerged and is beginning to flex its apparent might.

And that’s where it all begins to unravel again unfortunately. Both major parties have recognized the anger as a force to be reckoned with and have begun to re-fashion themselves as Tea Party champions. Among the scary hopefuls are personalities like Palin, O’Donnell, and Paladino. If these are our saviors, I’m sad to say we are doomed. Even for more “traditional” Tea Party candidates, money has flowed relentlessly to support those “with a shot.” Palin seems to fancy herself as some sort of kingmaker. O’Donnell is carrying enough baggage to sink her candidacy several times over. Paladino continues to try to paint himself as a reformer when in fact he is among the biggest insiders NY has ever known. In my eye, the hope that was sparked by the anger has deteriorated to desperation candidates. The Tea Party candidates emerging are extremely divisive and have given strong voice to the fringe. Personally, I am disappointed but not surprised by that progression.

One of the more interesting questions posed to me when I ran for office last year regarded the ability to work effectively together with whoever got elected to get things done that needed to get done. It was a perceptive question, especially considering the dysfunction and discord that has ensued among those that were united before the election but have since assumed individual agendas and relegated effectiveness to the sidelines. The local discourse in Rotterdam has once again turned nasty and divisive. I am greatly disappointed in that development as well.

So what’s the answer? My friend at Poli-Tea recently provided an excerpt from the Huffington Post that I found intriguing in its simplicity.

Once you begin to expose that two-party, Democratic versus Republican paradigm for the manufactured fraud that it is, a political opportunity starts to emerge.
Drop the theatrics of left versus right and you see that both parties are united
in their corruption by special-interest groups. Suddenly, a real alternative
founding principle becomes clear; one that could effectively rally the support
of a significant number of Americans. Our country needs a third political
party based on the explicit rejection of lobbyist money as its fundamental,
unwavering principle. This party sales pitch would be clear and compelling;
"Unlike the Democrats and Republicans, we aren't corrupt."
Because this party will break the chains of left versus right, its policies would be unlikely to fit neatly into the current paradigm. The traditional questions of big
government versus small government would be replaced by an emphasis on effective government.

People have lost faith in our current political system and with
good reason. I believe we're close to a tipping point, where the incredible
advances in communications technology combine with a strong anticorruption
philosophy to help build a political party that breathes life into American
democracy before it's too late.

In practice, I don’t believe it will be as simple as described but the emphasis on effective government is certainly the key. Many think they know my mind and will be perplexed by this post. I’ve always been a registered Republican but I wouldn’t say I’m a Republican anymore. I’ve agreed with some Democrat objectives, usually taking issue with implementation, but I’m no Democrat either. I consider myself to have conservative leanings but I’m fairly certain Conservatives would lynch me, and though I hold some liberal views on certain topics, I’d lynch myself if I thought I was a Liberal. I’m definitely angry, and have been for longer than most others that have recently been motivated by their own anger, but I’m definitely no Tea Partier either. The rhetoric of their “leaders” scares the hell out of me. Anger, in itself, just isn’t enough. It has to be tempered and magnified simultaneously and then focused thoughtfully to realize worthy accomplishment. It’s easier to be loud and angry than to translate the anger into meaningful and desirable change. I don’t believe the Tea Party has quite figured that out yet.

Just consider me an independent – totally and completely – and if you think you know my view on a particular aspect, you’ll probably wind up being surprised to learn my actual view. My views are as disparate as they come. Sometimes they are even contradictory. That dichotomy gets reconciled through effectiveness, which is something I’m usually skilled at. I’d like to see my leaders equally skilled.

Monday, February 8, 2010

2010: A New Odyssey

Don’t send out the St. Bernard…I’m still alive. After intentionally burning my candle at both ends and anywhere else it would burn, I have purposely simplified my life for 2010.

I’ve intentionally refrained from offering much unsolicited comment since the election. That’s mostly a result of some personal circumstances that dictate my energies be directed elsewhere, but also from a desire to reenergize myself after the exhausting demands of last year’s campaign. Additionally, I thought I’d try to avoid criticizing the new administration while they rolled out their vision for town affairs. However, I’m not particularly pleased about most of what they’ve unveiled and implemented so far. It appears it’s business as usual – where politics, favors, and rhetoric continue to rule the day.

Eventually I’ll post the final installment to my election analysis, but lately I’ve been contemplating the best path forward for independent politics. Current election law makes the scenario of duplicating our local effort very challenging if not unlikely. The No New Tax Party (basically Rotterdam’s version of the Tea Party) was a ballot line that ceased to exist the day after the election. To keep it or any other independent ballot line alive in coming elections will require a level of unparalleled motivation and commitment to collect the necessary signatures. It is a daunting task and the effort required is incomprehensible to anyone that hasn’t tried to do it.

As far as the local effort is concerned, these are among what I consider to be the key elements going forward:

  • What individual will lead this effort?

  • Is this individual capable of mustering the necessary manpower?

  • Can he motivate enough voters?

  • Does he have the courage of his convictions?

  • Is he knowledgeable on the specific local issues that face us?

  • Does he have a plan for addressing those issues beyond the rhetoric?

These questions can be asked equally about any candidate but they become particularly important when looking for that elusive alternative…otherwise, why even go through the trouble of creating an alternative? I will be curious to see if a local independent line gets created again for this or any other election, or will “independent” hopefuls simply seek the path of least resistance and operate within the entrenched two-party system?

The answer to that question may be reflected in what has been going on nationally. Last week, Tea Party Nation organized a controversial tea party convention that in my opinion was not reflective of the grass root intentions of the majority of tea party participants. From the questionable motivations of the event organizer to the role of Sarah Palin, the convention seemed to be a perverted version of real tea party sentiment.

My friend at Poli-Tea has numerous worthwhile commentaries and analysis on the relationship of independent politics and the two-party system. The links below are to a few of his more recent posts that I found interesting and I hope you’ll explore them too.

On the Inevitable Failure of Strategic Infiltration, or, the Degeneration of Tea Party Activists into Petty Party Functionaries

All Jokes are Half Truths and the Joke is on You: if You Support Democrats or Republicans, You are the Problem

Already Dead: the Democratic-Republican Partisan Paradigm in the Age of the Independent Voter

Pretend-ependents and the Tea Party Movement

Tea Party Revolution Suffers Defeat at the Hands of Red-Coated Loyalists to the Two-Party State, Some Carry On the Work of Real Opposition