League of Women voters opposes ward referendum, but will hold forum on Oct. 17

September 23, 2011
by Christine Yeres

The League of Women Voters of New Castle will oppose a referendum on the November 8th ballot proposing that the number of town board members be expanded from the current supervisor-plus-four-members to supervisor-plus-six, and that the six members should each be elected by voters from discrete wards, rather than by the electorate as a whole.  The League will hold a community forum on Monday, October 17 to educate the public on the pros and cons of the referendum.


Manny Areces, spokesman for the group promoting the referendum, gathered the requisite signatures over the summer.  On August 4, the LWV announced that it was studying the proposal and planned to organize a forum, open to the public, in which it would present the pros and cons of adopting the ward system.

In the first week of September, New Castle’s town clerk sent the petition on to the county board of elections to be included on the November ballot.

On Thursday, September 15, the League announced a date for its community forum on the referendum: Monday, October 17th at 7:30 pm at New Castle Town Hall.

Then last Tuesday night, September 20, 23 members of the 101-member League met to participate in a time-honored “consensus” process, in which an issue is presented to the group along with extensive background information and research.  The issue is then discussed by members with the aid of a moderator—League member Polly Kuhn, a former New Castle supervisor who now lives in Somers. 

Meeting on the morning after its consensus process, LWV board members discussed several minor changes to the language of the text expressing their position opposing the referendum. 

Drawbacks to the ward system

In addition to its research comparing New Castle to other towns that operate by wards (only 11 of 932 towns in the state use the method, and “New Castle would be the smallest” of these), the League had interviewed current, past and prospective members of the town board and supervisors, as well as proponents of the referendum. 

“Some members went in [to the consensus meeting] with one opinion and came out with another,” said one board member.  “I came into it thinking it a much better idea than [the government system] we currently have,” said another, “but once I learned about implementation [of a ward system], I said ‘Wait a minute’ to what seemed a good idea on the surface.” 

Board members listed the following points as drawbacks of the ward system and the addition of town board members:

• the instability from turnover of elected officials every two years,

• the increased cost of adding paid town board members in a time of serious cutbacks [they are paid $10,250 each],

• the divisiveness of electing candidates from separate geographic areas as opposed to town-wide representatives, and

• lack of information on how the board of elections, striving to make districts of equal populations, would draw up the wards

On this last point, a board member explained that New Castle’s population is concentrated in the middle of the municipality and is “fairly light at the outer edges.”  This means, League members had concluded in their consensus session, that those residents who might feel most under-represented would invariably end up bundled with more dense areas, defeating the stated purpose of the ward representation, to increase representation of the under-represented.  They would remain a minority in a ward system.

Board member Leah Barth added another reason that she felt hadn’t been captured sufficiently by the consensus recording secretary the evening before: the very palpable sense “that people wanted all town board members to be responsive and accountable to them and wanted to vote for all members of the board, not just one from their small district.”  Another board member added, “Manny’s motivating reason for this [referendum proposal] is not going to be solved by this [change]. It wasn’t going to solve the problem they thought it would.”  Barth concurred.  “Yes,” she said, ” ‘That the town board should be more transparent and accountable’?—going to a ward system doesn’t increase transparency. That can be addressed in other ways.”

Consensus followed by Community Forum

Asked whether board members considered the consensus decision would undermine the community forum the League has scheduled for October 17, members saw no conflict.  “Our intention is to present both sides of the issue.  That’s what the League does.  We will have a forum that presents both sides,” said Jennifer Mebes Flagg, co-president of the League. “Manny will be up there on the dais too, and I’m sure he’ll love to do it.”

Why achieve consensus before presenting the community forum?  “Because the election is very soon,” said League Co-president Sheila Bernson. “We thought it was important for us to take a stand before the forum.  When we began our research in the summer we didn’t know whether the referendum would have the signatures, then whether it would have valid signatures, then whether it would be on the ballot, so we had to get going.” 

“The League approached the subject with no opinion, has come to consensus, and has taken a stand,” explained League member Evelyn Bloom.  As Mebes Flagg explained it by email:

A League consensus meeting is held after a study committee has gone through a thoughtful, thorough process of researching an issue, including seeking input from informed, knowledgeable individuals.  League members come to consensus based on their informed opinions and then advocate their position in the community. Part of the League’s mission is to influence public policy through education and advocacy.

The community forum being hosted by the League serves a different purpose. It is meant to educate the community on the issue. It will be clear in all materials for the public meeting and at the event that the League has already reached consensus and advocates voting against the referendum.

Reached yesterday with news of the consensus, Manny Areces commented, “I’m happy to have any discussion that gets the information out on both sides of the issue. And on October 17th I hope the League will present to the community the research it based its consensus on.”

Click to read the League’s letter to the editor, “League urges a “No” vote on ward system referendum” in today’s NCNOW.

We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

How many of the 23 members of the LWV who reached this “consensus” live in the “outer edges”? Even better, how many of the entire 101 person membership of the League live outside of Chappaqua? Since the League and the dominant political party in town think that the current system is doing such a terrific job representing the interests of all town residents, perhaps the New Castle Democrats could let those of us in the “outer edges” know who their local committee members are (and where they reside) that are supposed to represent the wards (since political parties do divide municipalities into wards) out here in the boondocks.

There are over 500 West End properties in the Ossining school district. I would think that just that segment of the “outer edges” of town has enough residents to constitue a majority of a 3000 person ward. The entire West End (including Millwood) easily exceeds the population to constitue its own ward. Twenty percent of the properties in town fall outside of the CCSD. This is a distribution that is “fairly light at the outer edges”? We don’t need a ward system because New Castle is too big to be governed by at town board that is elected at-large. We need a ward system because the interests of 20% of the town can be (and frequently are) safely ignored by a government that is elected by a population who think that there is no difference between the interests of the town and those of the CCSD.

By West Ender on 09/23/2011 at 8:58 am

Manny and the other members of the Ad Hoc Citizens’ Committee for the Representation Referendum are building a website which will provide background, pros & cons, FAQs and more, which will more fully address the League’s concerns.  As soon as it’s live, we will post a link here.  Thank you for your interest.

By Penny Vane on 09/23/2011 at 9:00 am

Anyone noticing a trend here?  The Town Board meets behind closed doors in “executive session,” then comes out with their opinion before a public hearing.  The Party Leaders meet behind closed doors to hand-pick who will and will not be candidates in a one-party town.  Now 23 members of the 101 member league rush to judgment before having their open town forum. What is everyone afraid of?  Hearing opinions and ideas that aren’t the same as theirs?  It’s time to get more people involved in this Town’s government, and this referendum might just break down some of those closed doors.

By Out in the Cold on 09/23/2011 at 9:06 am

The League of Women Voters wasn’t exactly rushing to judgment. It has a formal process by which members study issues and discuss them:

“The League is a grass roots organization that bases its action on study and consensus.  Before the League will take any action on an issue, such as lobby or participate in forums, its members study it.  A study can be long or short and takes up issues at the national, state, or local levels.  Once a study is completed, members are educated on the study and reach consensus on possible action through discussions.”

If you’d like to be a part of that, you are welcome to join the League: http://www.watpa.org/lwvnc/joinus.html

By maggie christ on 09/23/2011 at 12:17 pm

Out in the Cold, it also bothers me that “the Town Board meets behind closed doors in ‘executive session’, then comes out with their opinion before a public hearing”.  I also don’t like that “Party Leaders meet behind closed doors to hand-pick who will and will not be candidates”, and then those candidates would run unopposed.  But, that is changing.  More people are getting involved, and we didn’t need the referendum to do so. 

The fact that 23 members of an organization unanimously agree on something does mean something to me.  I share their concerns, and I’m not part of the political machine of this town nor do I have ties to their organization.  I’m just someone who agreed with you that “it’s time to get more people involved in this Town’s government”, and that’s why I decided to run.  Anyone can run, and if anyone feels underrepresented, they should run. 

That’s the solution to the problem, not this referendum.

By Rob Greenstein on 09/23/2011 at 8:18 pm

Don’t like the smell of machine politics behind the ward system.

We will have less transparency and power as voters because the ward pols will be more beholden to their party rather than to the public they are supposed to serve.  They will need fewer votes to be elected.

This is historically an old political ploy of machine politics.

By Don't fall for it on 09/24/2011 at 1:10 am

@Don’t fall for it

Machine politics? Really? The last time that candidates for town board did not run unopposed was in 2005. The opposition candidates formed their own party, the New Castle Community Party, to get a line on the ballot. It has been more than a decade since the last time the Republican Party had a candidate for town board or supervisor. We already have machine politics in New Castle. How do you suppose the decision to not nominate Michael Wolfensohn for reelection came about?

The intent of the ward system is not to allow party bosses to sneak in their favored candidates. That is already the status quo in New Castle. The ward system will allow residents who are woefully underrepresented on the town board to elect a candidate who will make sure their concerns are at least heard. The way things are now, the concerns of residents who live outside of the CCSD can be ignored since the board members’ (re)election is assured without needing a single vote from the West End or any other resident of the 20% of town that does not fall within the CCSD.

By West Ender on 09/24/2011 at 8:22 pm

Remember that show that aired several years ago saying that we did not land on the Moon? According to the best brains in the word, it is very easy to take a set of facts, and on a mass basis disseminate opinions, fictacts (fiction facts), and cause people to believe and hold true to a certain position that they believe is their true opinion.

Well, thank god we do not need to dip our fingers in a bottle of purple ink in order to VOTE! Where a group or segment of a population has the only benefit, but to possibly gain from being represented; WHY NOT THROW YOUR SUPPORT BEHIND SUCH AN EFFORT! The core princples of our Society will still remain in effect, through the power of one vote for one person, unless we adopt what happened in Portchester! Then for every West End Voter, a matching Chappaqua Voter gets to vote their position three times. 

A blunder was made. We will forgive you, and hope that individual members will vote for a ward based system using their one private vote!

By Did we land on the Moon! on 09/26/2011 at 5:15 pm

We already have that system in place! Who on each of the Town Boards represent the interest of the West End?

By Portchester! on 09/28/2011 at 12:58 pm

The blunder was so many people being pressured into signing that petition with the assurance by Manny Areses that it is no big deal, just sign it.  Well here we are with an ill conceived referendum on the ballot.  If there is to be a change in the way that our local government is elected, this is NOT the way to do it.

By Vote no ! on 09/28/2011 at 6:33 pm

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