One of the most frequently touted benefits of consolidating the town and village governments is that it would make non-partisan elections possible. Proponents of consolidation have kept up a steady beat of positive statements around the phrase ‘non-partisan’ in an attempt perhaps to deflect our attention away from the two years that was spent on missed opportunities and wasted money, hours and volunteer energy. During that time, eight of the ten town and village officials were trying to convince our community that consolidation was the way to go, without providing us with the hard facts we needed to make an informed decision.
Candidate Randall Leverette is now providing a way for us to have a non-partisan election without the need for a consolidated New Paltz government. Through his recently formed Common Ground party, he is reaching out as a registered Republican to all New Paltz residents. Indeed, members of the Democratic, Working Families and Independence parties, as well as many individuals like myself who are not enrolled in a political party, are working as volunteers on his campaign as a way of supporting his candidacy.
So it seems we don’t, in fact, need to consolidate our governments in order to conduct non-partisan elections. We can achieve this goal as early as Nov. 5 and in the meanwhile work together to explore and better understand all of the key issues before finally casting our vote on one government for our community or two. Leverette may ultimately decide in favor of consolidation and, like many of us, will make his decision at the end of this process.
Another purported benefit of consolidation is that it would enable our community to develop a common master plan; however, according to discussions held at a joint town/village meeting last week, it appears this is possible right now in the form of a simple inter-municipal agreement. Another example of a goal that can be achieved without consolidation.
I wonder what else might be possible if cooperation, compromise, civility and mutual respect were practiced by our elected officials. Could tax reductions and other fiscal savings be achieved simply as a result of our town and village government officials talking with, rather than at, one another? At the very least, would it hurt to try?
Something special in New Paltz
Something special happened in New Paltz last week. Two separate public government meetings were held on the same evening and the public comment sessions at both resulted in open, honest and, in my opinion, healthy public discussions. Both meetings reminded me of a good old-fashioned New England town meeting where citizens and elected officials had a civil conversation and learned from one another.
At the New Paltz Central School District Board of Education meeting there was a cordial give and take regarding the impact of a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) application submitted by a mega-developer to avoid paying property taxes on a for-profit rental housing project. Presided over by the board president, a discussion ensued during which people on both sides of the issue listened respectfully to one another as honest differences of opinion were shared. Afterwards, the board took immediate action by voting unanimously to establish a study committee that will issue a summary report containing the factual information board members will need to arrive at a decision on the matter in the coming weeks. Members of the public will have access to this same set of facts.
On the same evening, the New Paltz Village Board held its meeting, with trustees Ariana Basco and Tom Rocco in attendance and deputy mayor Rebecca Rotzler presiding. The topic during the public comment session had to do with a 400% increase in parking meter rates on village streets. The Village Hall was packed with local business owners and residents. Most who spoke were opposed to the rate increases, yet the discussion was courteous, respectful and expertly guided by Ms. Rotzler. All of the board members present took notes and showed by their facial expressions and body language that new information was being presented, which they valued receiving. Before the public comment session ended, acting mayor Rotzler announced that the rate increases would be rolled back and a longer-term solution developed after a period of information gathering and further public input.
It should be noted that, during these two sets of discussions, no open meeting laws were violated, the walls did not come crashing down, the roof did not cave in and the earth did not open up and swallow everyone present. Could this possibly be a welcome harbinger of things to come?