Dear Johnstown: The Open Meetings Law really isn’t that difficult to comprehend

Posted February 7, 2017 by xsubsquid
Categories: Uncategorized

First disclaimer:  I’m not running for anything.  Get it out of your mind.

Second disclaimer:  The issue being written about below has absolutely nothing to do with the person, and everything to do with the process.  I don’t know the person.  If you do, and if you have a problem with that person, keep it to yourself.  This post is not about that sort of thing.  It is entirely about an issue of procedure.

_______

Okay.  It’s reasonable, then, to ask, “Lance, if you aren’t running for anything, why do you feel the need to comment – especially about something that takes place in Johnstown?”

The answer is that I’m a procedures guy, and the issue of the process used to appoint a new Councilman-at-Large in Johnstown violates a very simple procedure and just rubs me like petting a cat backwards.  It offends what’s left of my sensibilities so much that even now, years after any formal involvement in local politics, it can still lead to eventual finger-to-keyboard eruption.  The result of that ghastly non-medical condition follows.

Here’s the bit of text that caused this post to be written:

Note that it says the candidates were interviewed during a closed-door executive session.  I didn’t think this was right because it was not the process used by Gloversville when it had to replace its Councilman-at-Large, Duke Caruso, in 2005 when he needed to move.

So, I wrote to Robert Freeman, Director of the New York State Committee on Open Government this morning, who gave me a written response an astonishing ten minutes later (seriously, I am aware of no other government office that moves at the speed of this little organization).  If I, Joe Civilian, can get an answer to the simple question, “Does the process for interviewing for appointment to a normally elected position follow the reasons for executive session listed in the Open Meetings Law section 105.(1).(f), surely someone holding an elected or appointed position should be able to get that answer as well.

Yet it doesn’t appear to have occurred to anyone to check.  No, instead the default position is always secrecy.  Closed doors.  Shhhh.

What?  You think the people who would normally elect this office holder might not want to listen to what they have to say as you, the council, make a decision on who will hold the second highest elected office in the city – a city that has just recently had the unfortunate experience of losing a mayor in office?  Nah, why would they care?

Sigh.

You know, perhaps what’s even worse here is that there doesn’t appear to be any hue and cry from Johnstown’s citizens.  Perhaps the proletariat prefer to have their commisars decided for them.  I dunno.

Anyway.  Back on topic.  Mr. Freeman linked to a rather clear advisory opinion the heart of which can be seen in this screen shot.  You screwed up, Johnstown.  You chose secrecy over openness and that is NEVER the correct course of action:

The takeaway from all this is that elected and appointed officials need to ask questions of the state offices tasked with oversight of issues they are dealing with – especially the rare issues one might not be expected to have encountered before.

Now, there’s no reason to do anything about the issue this time.  The vote to appoint was held in public session.  The only thing an Article 78 lawsuit would accomplish is the waste of  lot of perfectly good public money.

If anyone from Johnstown City Government actually reads my drivel, please note there’s no ‘bang a shoe on the pulpit’ intent here.  I’d just like you to realize you were naughty and endeavour not to be naughty again.

Lance

Would You Consider a Gas Tax?

Posted September 23, 2015 by xsubsquid
Categories: Business, Family, Fulton County, Gloversville roads

Jennifer Mendelson begins to fill her car's gas tank at a station near downtown Seattle, Tuesday, March 11, 2008. The cost of filling up the family car jumped to a record high Tuesday, adding to the challenge consumers already face with falling home values and rising food prices. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

I’m not sure of the legalities (except that I’m sure they exist), but let me ask a hypothetical question:  “Would you, as a driver and taxpayer, be willing to pay an extra 10 cents per gallon in either Gloversville or Fulton County as a whole if you knew the revenue gain from that tax would be used to improve the area’s roads (above and below grade); and, when that task is essentially caught up and in a regular maintenance mode, used to rehab properties, buy equipment for municipalities, help local citizens with their property issues, fund recreation venues and perhaps other possibilities as the taxpayers choose?

Let me explain what caused me to bring this up.  I read a lot.  Sometimes it causes me to think (and sometimes too much, I admit).  A little while ago, I read a September 22, 2015 Automotive Magazine piece by Arthur St. Antoine entitled, “Raise the Federal Gas Tax.”  In it, St. Antoine posits that:

Increasing the gas tax by, say, just 20 cents per gallon [it has been stagnant since 1993], potentially generating billions in road-repairing funds, would raise the average cost of a tank [emphasis mine] of fuel by only about $3. That’s one fewer mocha-soy Frappuccino a week. What’s more, an increased gas tax could very well reduce the average motorist’s annual driving expenses. A 2015 report by the national research institute TRIP estimates that poor roads cost drivers as much as $1,000 a year in vehicle damage, added fuel costs, and productivity lost to delays. That’s an annual loss of $109.3 billion nationwide.

St. Antoine posits a national sales tax increase and while there may be a solid argument in his thinking for that to occur, I’m more than reasonably certain that increase will not benefit municipalities or counties (except where federal or state roads transit through them).  That means we’re on our own when it comes to road repair, minus the pittance doled out by the state.  As citizens, we are therefore left with what amounts to two options:  beat the drums for lower taxes which will decrease available funds and ensure the situation gets worse as funds dry up, or, unfortunately, create a new targeted tax to take control of the situation and make it possible to repair our infrastructure.

Now, I have to admit up front that my figures are approximate.  I used this internet available site to gather the majority of my data, and from that data extrapolated the rest.  Everything is ballpark, but I feel confident it’s a set of good working assumptions.  Without further ado, here’s the math so each of you can decide for yourself if this makes sense.

If we consider doing this at the county level (my preferred choice), the figures would be:

Residents:  54,925

Total Cars:  19,889*

Total gas used annually (average 14 gallon tank times 52 fill-ups/year =) 14,479,192 gallons sold in Fulton County per year.

Total tax collected on 10 cents per gallon (14,479,192 times $0.10): $1,447,919.20

If we consider doing this just at the Gloversville level, the figures would be:

Residents: 15,315

Total Cars (approximation based on county figures): 19,889

Total gas used annually (average 14 gallon tank time 52 fill-ups/year**=): $10,192,000

Total tax collected on 10 cents per gallon ($10,192,000 times $0.10): $1,019,200

There are a couple of reasons I’m not a big fan of the Gloversville-only plan.  The first is that raising the city’s fuel tax rate is going to price Gloversville out of the fuel market.  Since drivers have plenty of choices outside the city’s borders, it is quite likely fuel purchases in the city would plummet and this estimated sales tax figure would be a fantasy.  Another reason I’m not a fan of this plan is that infrastructure issues exist throughout the county.  Gloversvillians operate on county roads as well as city roads and therefore maintaining the whole of the infrastructure just makes more sense.

An advantage to the county-wide plan is that it would include sales to out-of-area vacationers which means that at least a small portion of the figure wouldn’t even be paid by area residents.

Let me close with a look at my personal costs for fuel.  I am a commuter and travel about 30,000 miles per year for work and pleasure.  At an average 35 mpg figure for my hybrid, I use about 857 gallons of gas per year to travel that distance.  At 10 cents per gallon, I would pay out an additional $85.71 per year to fill my vehicle, or about $1.65 more per week (not per gallon – don’t confuse that).  I wasn’t always a hybrid owner, though.  The average of my last 3 previous vehicles was around 26 mpg for about the same average miles per year.  This crunches down to an annual figure of $115.39 per year with the tax, or $2.22 per week.  Not that much more.  If you drive an F-150 and average about 16 mpg, you’d be looking at $187.50 per year or $3.61 per week.  That’s barely a happy meal.

Oh, and did I point out I’m about to have maintenance done on my car’s suspension system because of bad streets?  Yeah, that’ll come to about $300 or 3.5 times the extra I’d pay to fix our streets.

Thoughts?

*This figure was extrapolated from two charts located on the link above:

Owner-Occupied Car Ownership

Renter-Occupied Car Ownership

**One could quibble over the 14 gallon tank and 52 fill-ups per year, but I took into consideration the number of older mid-sized cars and pick-up trucks in the area, as well as diesel vehicles whose fuel costs are already higher.  The 52 fill-ups per year might be a bit high too, but it was an attempt to capture the visitor component.

Carly Fiorina and the Glass Cliff

Posted September 18, 2015 by xsubsquid
Categories: Uncategorized

In the couple of days since the second Republican Presidential Debate concluded, it has widely been reported that former Hewlett Packard (HP) CEO Carly Fiorina was the winner.  Rather predictably, I’ve begun to see on Facebook picture posts such as this one that purport to encapsulate her record at HP in the usual millisecond soundbite:

Fiorina worst CEO

If one searches for strings like “Carly Fiorina Fired,” or words to that effect, one can find almost 5,000,000, hits.  While I didn’t check them all, even the first 10 pages (much farther than the average person tends to look) are almost universally articles and/or blogs about her horrible tenure at HP:

Four million hits

As is so often the case, articles and blogs only deal with the surface of an issue.  Due to time constraints in the busy world of 24-hour news, it is rare they have the ability to dig deep to get to the heart of a matter.  And if the article or blog fits a particular narrative, it can find itself sourced, copied, reblogged and/or picked up whole or in part by other agencies hundreds or thousands of times.

Such, I believe, is the case with the story of Fiorina’s tenure as HP’s CEO.  On the surface, she appears to be a horrible CEO and horrible person who cavalierly went about doing her own thing nearly destroying a major company in the process.

But things are not always what they seem, are they?

If one wades hip deep through the posts and reposts one eventually finds a September 2, 2015 article from the New York Daily News written by Alexis Grenell entitled, “Dangling Carly Fiorina over the cliff: This is a classic case of a businesswoman being judged by different standards.”  The New York Daily News, it should be noted, is generally not construed as a Republican-biased newspaper.  In fact, The Blaze, a site sponsored by ultra conservative radio talk show icon Glenn Beck, refers to the paper as a, “disgusting biased rag….”  Therefore, an article appearing in that paper in support of Fiorina, a candidate from the other side, would seem unlikely and worthy of mention.

Yet, it’s not alone.  Think Progress, another unabashedly liberal news source, picked up a story by Bryce Covert on May 4, 2015 entitled, “The Main Talking Point Against Carly Fiorina is Wrong.”  Both articles discuss something known as the “Glass Cliff.”  We are probably all familiar these days with the term “Glass Ceiling,” a term which means, “An unofficially acknowledged barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities.”  The “Glass Cliff,” on the other hand, has yet to enter into common usage despite the fact research increasingly points to it existence.  It is defined as, “…the phenomenon of women executives in the corporate world being likelier than men to be put in leadership roles during periods of crisis or downturn, when the chance of failure is highest.”

This, it appears, is exactly what happened to Fiorina.

In her May 4, 2015 article, Covert makes the statement about the issues at HP that, “… they weren’t necessarily troubles of her own making. Fiorina was appointed to the position of CEO in 1999, just as the tech bubble of the dot-com era was bursting, hurting most technology companies and destroying many.”  A year earlier, in a separate April 29, 2014 article entitled, “Women CEO’s are More Likely to be Forced Out of Their Jobs,” her research found that, “women are brought into top management roles just as things get bad in order to clean up the mess. One study of FTSE 100 companies who appointed women to their boards found they were more likely to have just experienced a bout of bad performance than those who appointed men. Another found that companies are most likely to appoint women after a loss that signals underperformance. And yet another found that this doesn’t just impact women, but people of color, who are both more likely to be promoted to CEO when the firm is performing poorly.”

So, was that the corporate situation at HP?  For that information, let’s move back  over to Alexis Grenell’s September 2, 2015 piece in the New York Daily news in which she states, “HP hired Fiorina in 1999 to steer it into a new phase of its development. Once an innovation-driven firm, the wildly successful LaserJet printer turned HP into a commodity-based one. The company was floundering without a strategy, and the board worried that it would dissolve into obscurity. The outgoing CEO advised the board to find a “transformational CEO.”  And they got one. Fiorina centralized HP’s management structure and rolled out a new marketing campaign — and the stock price jumped 6.5%. When the dot-com bubble burst, the company took a hit, and she laid off 30,000 people. She pursued a tricky merger with Compaq that didn’t immediately bear fruit.”

In her research, Grenell found, “David Beim, a retired professor of finance and economics at Columbia Business School,” who wrote a paper entitled, “Corporate Governance at Hewlett-Packard 1999-2005,” which can be found online here.  Beim concludes that, “Fiorina received backlash for implementing precisely the kind of transformation she was brought on to make. And the fluctuating stock price, layoffs and other supposed byproducts of her leadership? “Normal. You don’t survive if you continue to do your old thing in a new world.” Today, Hewlett-Packard is one of the few original titans of Silicon Valley to thrive in the modern era.  “People like (Fiorina),” he adds, “are very good at running mature companies.”

My conclusion of all this is simple.  Choosing to perpetuate the notion that Fiorina was a bad CEO flies in the face of the REAL research on this issue.  For women especially, promoting that mantra does a severe disservice to your gender.  If this nation wants an accomplished change agent willing to take a beating for the sake of the goal, with a proven track record of accomplishment even in the face of ridiculous levels of gender-based bias and mounds of negative press, you’re likely to find no better candidate than Carly Fiorina.  No candidate is perfect, of course.  I just feel this deeper look into her performance tells us we are getting a far more genuine executive than this country has seen in a long long time.

And that’s my opinion.

The SMART Waters Executive Sessions are Illegal

Posted June 10, 2015 by xsubsquid
Categories: Gloversville Council, Gloversville Mayor, Gloversville Supervisors

Tags:

Open Meetings Law

And let me be blunt.  It’s not open to argument, discussion or interpretation.

They are illegal, and the fact the press is writing about it as if it’s just a normal bit of business disturbs me greatly.  Where’s the outrage in the press?  Where’s the outrage from the plebeian class?

In New York State, under the Open Meetings Law, executive sessions can be held for the following reasons and ONLY the following reasons:

  • matters which will imperil the public safety if disclosed;
  • any matter which may disclose the identity of a law enforcement agent or informer;
  • information relating to current or future investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense which would imperil effective law enforcement if disclosed;
  • discussions regarding proposed, pending or current litigation;
  • collective negotiations pursuant to article fourteen of the civil service law;
  • the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation;
  • the preparation, grading or administration of examinations; and
  • the proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property or the proposed acquisition of securities, or sale or exchange of securities held by such public body, but only when publicity would substantially affect the value thereof.

Note that the only one that comes close to qualifying for executive session is, “…collective negotiations pursuant to article fourteen of the civil service law….”

Yet this is not a bargaining unit negotiation we’re talking about.  Yes, it IS negotiation, but not bargaining unit negotiation.

There’s a difference.

Don’t believe me?  Well, okay, let’s refer to the Committee on Open Government Advisory Opinions on the topic:

  • In a March 19, 1993 advisory opinion, a response by the Committee on Open Government stated, “the [Southold Town] Board went into Executive Session to discuss a proposed Inter-Municipal Agreement between Southold and two other towns. This agreement, which is at a very preliminary stage, would outline how the three towns would swap municipal solid waste for mutual advantage.”  Doesn’t this sound similar to the SMART Waters negotiations?  Oh, yes.  It’s a different topic to be sure (waste as opposed to water) but it is two or more governmental bodies entering into negotiations with each other.  NOW does it sound familiar?  What did the Committee on Open Government say about it?  Just that, “…the only provision that includes that term [negotiation] is §105(1)(e), which permits entry into executive session to discuss or engage in collective bargaining negotiations under the Taylor Law. That law pertains to the relationship between public employers and public employee unions and would not have been relevant to the issue under consideration.”
  • In a June 8, 2011 advisory opinion, we are not privy to the specific case Robert Freeman is responding to.  However, his response, 18 years after the first response, is essentially the same.  He says, “… the only reference to “negotiations” in the Open Meetings Law appears in §105(1)(e), which pertains to collective bargaining negotiations involving a public employee union.”  The response goes on to point out the result of a litigation event in which, “One of the decisions involved a situation in which a town board invited its adversary in litigation to discuss the possibility of a settlement.  The Court found that once the adversary joins the discussion, the board loses its ability to conduct an executive session [see Concerned Citizens to Review the Jefferson Mall v. Town Board of the Town of Yorktown, 84 AD2d 612, appeal dismissed, 54 NY2d 957 (1981)].  The operative point, here, is that when two political bodies meet for a “discussion,” it is not an executive session event.

Bottom line:  The executive sessions the Gloversville Common Council has been engaged in with elements of the Board of Supervisors and/or their representatives are illegal.  The executive sessions held amongst the members of the Gloversville Common Council for their own discussion of the matter are illegal.

Please stop doing illegal things, and find out whoever is advising you on the legalities of such things and calibrate them because they are broken.

Also, many of the current council have been to at least one session on Open Meetings Law training – at least four of those members attended in my presence, and one member of the Common Council has been on the board long enough that I know he has been privy to four of these training sessions.  There is no excuse.  Stop it!

The 2015 Study of Non-Taxed Properties

Posted March 3, 2015 by xsubsquid
Categories: Gloversville finances

Tags:

gloversville_banner (1)

Eleven years after the first time I undertook what I termed a study of non-profit properties*, I have now taken the time to renew and (hopefully) improve upon that original effort.

The spread sheets can be viewed at this link.

Here are some points to take away from this effort:

  • In 2004, Gloversville’s total assessed value was listed as:  $406,181,559.  By 2015, that value had slipped to:  $371,490,124.
  • In 2004 the total dollar figure removed from the tax rolls for all purposes was:  $103,140,700, or 25% of all property value.  By 2015, this figure had climbed to:  $112,475,126, or 30.28% (4-4-2015:  it’s worth pointing out the increase in percentage has been exacerbated by the decrease in total assessed property value over the last 11 years; if we were to use the 2004 total assessed property value as the denominator in the equation, then it would come out to 25.4% of all property value removed – essentially unchanged after 11 years)
  • In 2004, the much maligned Lexington Center properties counted for just .91% of city property tax value removed from the tax roles.  Eleven years later, that figure has increased .09% to 1.02%.
  • In 2004, school district properties accounted for 11% of property value removed from the tax rolls.  In 2015, that figure is 10.63%.
  • In 2004, EDC/CIC properties that were ‘specially’ taxed accounted for 2.3% of property value removed from the tax rolls.  In 2015, that figure is down to 1.46%.

Basically, what I derive from this is that, eleven years later, things are pretty much status quo.

Newer tools now allow me to create much more interactive visuals on the linked spreadsheet.  I think it’s blatantly clear from page 3, ‘Government Non-Taxed vs All Others,’ the largest holder of assessed property value removed from the tax rolls is any and all government, quasi-government entities, or property tax supported organizations such as the School District and library.  At 63.5% of the total land value removed from the tax rolls, that particular group absolutely eclipses its nearest competitor – Nathan Littauer Hospital.  This analysis holds true even when taken as a percentage of total assessed value of all city property.  At a combined government, quasi-government and property tax supported figure of 19.23%, the nearest competitor is the hospital again at 5.52%.  No one else even comes close.

Another take-away from this effort should be to note any effort to find alternative methods to extract money from non-profits for support of city services – fees, PILOT agreements or other legal tools – is going to affect a comparatively tiny portion of the non-taxed properties.  There will be very little gain from such efforts, and perhaps a whole lot to lose if such efforts become the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back for many of the struggling organizations in Gloversville.  Note that churches (and that includes some cemeteries) make up a mere 2.06% of assessed property value off the assessment rolls.  A minuscule number.

Here’s a link to the source material retrieved from the City Assessor on 3-2-2015.  My apologies for it not being in landscape.  Any decent .pdf software ought to give you the option to rotate the pages.

I’ll continue to update this spreadsheet over the next few week or so.  There are a few items with yellow highlights that had information I couldn’t decipher and need to use the Fulton County Tax Map to clarify.  There may be additional notes and other tweaks.  I’m  even willing to consider other breakdowns of the figures if anyone has any suggestions.

–Lance

*This link is to an old series of screen shots from a former Gloversville online social board known as Backdash.

The New Comprehensive Plan and the Non-Profit Question

Posted March 1, 2015 by xsubsquid
Categories: Gloversville Comprehensive Plan, Gloversville Council

Today’s Leader Herald article entitled, “Pursue Ideas in New Plan,” addresses an item I really wish had been left out of the new comprehensive plan.  Specifically, it discusses the discredited notion of squeezing non-profits in the city for more cash when the writer says, “The plan notes nonprofits provide valuable services and jobs in the city, but they also put stress on city services and are tax-exempt. Finding a way to get some additional contribution to the city from nonprofits could help taxpayers.”
This particular form of stink’n think’n has a long history in this city, and I’ve been around for two rounds of it.  The next most recent (to the above article) was on May 27, 2010, when The Leader Herald published an editorial entitled, “Fees Create Heavier Burden.”  While the article dealt with another issue, it waded into the non-profit debate when it mentioned a Gloversville property tax exemption figure of 35%, a figure that comes to us courtesy of page 7 of the New York State Comptroller’s 2002 SMART Report.
Six years earlier, in 2004, when asked to show how it came by that number, the Comptroller’s Office could not reestablish how it was derived.  While researching the viability of the comptroller’s recommendations in an independent check, and using the same data provided by the City Assessor, I was only able to show 25.4% (28.7% if city, county and federal properties are included) of the total assessed value of all property to be “tax exempt.”
This rather large difference of percentage was quite alarming, especially given the rapid-as-wildfire public dissemination of the 35% figure.  Perhaps my greatest annoyance with the state figure is its complete lack of context.  Just because a property is tax exempt does not mean that property is owned by a non-profit.  Indeed, the 2004 analysis showed a breakdown of the 25.4% as follows:
Note that after extracting school district properties (tax exempt, but definitely NOT non-profit), the much lower figure of 14.4% was tax exempt non-profit or special use (EDC) property.  Today, eleven years later, certain high dollar value properties such as Estee, various business and industrial park properties and at least three churches have regained their taxable status, so it is conceivable this figure is currently at or below 10%.
All of this is important because it would appear that the goal of those pushing this notion that non-profits need to pay more is to make us believe non profits represent an abnormally large drain on the city’s total property tax base and public resources, and a potential cash cow to help eliminate the city’s financial difficulties.
Not only is this not true, it fails to take into consideration the tax lowering benefits of private non profit groups doing work in the community that would otherwise need to be done by expensive unionized government labor, or equally expensive for-profit contractors.
There is no argument that a community could “non-profit” itself right out of a tax base, but that is not the case in Gloversville despite the hype.  People need facts to make informed decisions.  This rubbish of thinking non-profits are destroying the city just toys with people’s emotions and leads to the inappropriately named ‘fair share’ concept working its way through the minds of many people who care about the state of the city, and are desperately looking for any sort of scapegoat to fix its finances.
Shortly after the Fair Share concept was released to the public in 2004, Reverend Splittgerber from the Kingsboro Assembly of God church wrote a letter which was distributed to the council and mayor.  In an excerpt from that letter he pointed out some things local area churches currently do FOR FREE in this city which more than make up for any lack of property tax:
  • The clergy of most city churches are highly educated and trained in their field and provide enormous amount of professional counseling services for FREE to those in need.
  • City churches provide (at their own expense) food banks, soup kitchens and in our own case the distribution of FREE clothing to Gloversville citizens in need.
  • We here a Kingsboro Assembly of God have expended more than $60,000 in the past 4 years to make our church edifice (on the National Register of Historic Sites and Gloversville’s oldest church) a beautiful city landmark once again.
  • Our church records indicate that in 1900 our predecessors (The Kingsboro Presbyterian Church) DONATED the land to the City of Gloversville that is now known as Kingsboro Park.

(Read the entirety of Reverend Splittgerber’s comments here)

Another aspect of this issue that is fraught with difficulty is that all non-profits are not created equal.  True, one could make a weak argument that Lexington Center homes, a mere .91% of the property tax base, occasionally use city police and fire services, and certainly use city DPW services, without paying for them in the form of taxes.  One may be able to argue far more successfully concerning the need for city police to go to the YMCA home on Fulton Street.  Yet, how does the argument hold up when we’re talking about non-profits like the Fulton County Community Heritage Corporation, or the new Gloversville Housing and Neighborhood Improvement Corporation? These non-profits, if they have any ’employees’ at all, have a mere handful.  Yet through their talent with grants and other government programs bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars that directly, and positively, impact city property values.  Who here can make any sort of logical argument that these organizations should be pinched for city services money?  The idea is insane, and I apologize if that’s strong language, but it’s true.

The fact is, unless Gloversville is willing to go to a fee-for-service model for providing city services (where property tax is eliminated and each property is assessed a fee, not a tax, based (usually) on how much of their property fronts a road in the city), it will remain illegal to separate non-profits from their money.  It will also be immoral since the preponderance of non-profits are churches and asking church parishioners to pay what amounts to an additional tax out of the offering plate is a gross perversion of all we are as a people.  Spending time foolishly trying to make it happen will be no more successful now than it was in 2004 and will deserve every bit of the failure it is destined to achieve.  And after we waste some ungodly amount of time tilting at this particular windmill – again – we will – again – have accomplished absolutely nothing.

I would suggest revising that bit out of the comprehensive plan, or at least openly turning away from the issue.  It won’t work.

The Problem with At-Large Voting

Posted August 27, 2014 by xsubsquid
Categories: Uncategorized

For most of you, what follows is essentially a repeat of something I posted yesterday.  I ended up using the material in that post as the core of my 3 minutes of fame speech before the Common Council Tuesday night, but circumstances did not give me the time to properly footnote the document I read from and passed out to the assembled press corp.

What follows is the same document, along with the links to the source material from which I arrived at my comments, in order to fulfill a promise I made to several individuals:

__________

In 2012, a man by the name of Jonathan Hoffman (probably one of those annoying political watchdog types like, well, me for example), writing in the Southern Arizona News-Examiner about at-large elections, made the comment:

“Those who argue the contrary [that at-large elections are better] often point out that a City Council member’s vote affects the whole city, not just the ward. This, of course, is true. But it is also beside the point: The issue [he says]  is representation, not the effects of the representation.  If the effects were an overriding concern, we would have nationwide elections for federal senators and representatives – since their votes on federal bills usually affect the country as a whole. We do not [have national elections for those positions], and that is because the duty of those officeholders is to represent their constituents.”

Today, the NAACP considers at-large elections to be a tool to disenfranchise minority voters based upon its initial use in the south and west of this country for that explicit purpose. By this, we don’t just mean disenfranchisement due to race, but also those who are in the minority because of poverty, ethnicity and even their choice of political party.  In California today, court challenges have increasingly thrown out at-large voting because of this tendency to marginalize minorities.¹

While I recognize there is some emotion involved in considering a switch to a Council-Manager government type, throwing up the smoke screen of at-large elections would seem to be a wrong turn. The council members who are supporting this measure need to know that they each represent, through their person, their ward and their party, exactly the types of minorities strongly affected by at-large elections. I’m sure they didn’t realize the impact of their actions; but, now that they have been informed, they need to understand continuing down this path is the same as being a victim willingly agreeing to be victimized.

Gloversville needs to avoid making the regressive at-large election mistake.  It is my hope that Mayor King and Council Members Robinson, Simonds and Mahoney will recognize at-large elections will not move Gloversville forward, but serve to fracture the city even further.

By the way, for those who are interested, Tucson, having faced a similar debate in 2012, defeated the call for at-large elections.  It still elects its council members from wards, and also has a City Manager. Tucson was #12 on the Bicycling Magazine America’s top bicycling cities list for 2013, and #3 on Forbes best cities for jobs list in 2013. 

Gloversville, unlike other cities such as Auburn, NY, has operated without any continuity of government.  In the last 20 years, the city has tucked its 1995 and 2003 comprehensive plans on a shelf, closed the door, and continued to do the same thing over and over again.  Not surprisingly, the Gloversville of today, despite herculean efforts on the part of numerous individuals, is just as unfocused and lacking in vision as it was two decades ago.

Perhaps it’s time to make a change.

 

Lance M. Gundersen, Sr.

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1.  The information contained here is derived from readings in multiple source documents.  Among them include:


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