Letter to the Editor: I will vote No on the proposed referendum to institute a ward system
October 21, 2011
by Rob Greenstein
After attending Monday’s panel discussion by the League of Women Voters, I am now convinced that a ward system would not be good for New Castle. And rather than saying Millwood is a victim of the current system, I think we could learn from Millwood.
This past Monday night I attended the discussion on the referendum that will be on the November ballot. This referendum would expand the number of at-large seats on the Town Board from four to six, and to have those six members run for election from six geographic wards.
My first letter regarding this referendum listed my concerns. At that time, I had not yet formed an opinion; I wanted to learn more about it. Now I believe it would not benefit our town.
In my opinion, this referendum will restrict those willing to run. We may be preventing a member of our community—who would be an asset to the board—from serving just because he or she happens to live in the same ward as another qualified candidate. Multiple candidates from the same ward would be forced to primary each other, whereas there might be vacancies in other wards. We need policies that encourage more people to run, not restrict qualified candidates. We need policies that will lead to more contested elections, not fewer.
I believe that having representatives from each of six separate wards would fracture our community. A ward system would pit neighbors against each other, and create unnecessary divisiveness in our town government. The board members would have their initial allegiance to their ward, instead of the Town of New Castle. A ward system could lead to gridlock.
And I don’t think it’s a good idea to have all six at-large members change at the same time. It would be too disruptive for town government. Right now at-large members serve four-year terms—and elections are staggered, with two of the four seats up for election every two years. The Supervisor serves for a two-year term.
Lastly, I don’t feel comfortable not knowing the boundaries of the wards. These ward boundaries would be drawn by the Westchester County Board of Elections. Right now, it’s a big unknown.
Millwood and West End are not ignored
It has been suggested by Manny Areces (as a panelist in favor of the referendum) and by Republicans in their press conferences that Millwood and the West End will continue to be ignored unless we adopt this ward system. I don’t think that is an accurate concern, nor is it fair. As Supervisor Gerrard (a panelist opposed to the referendum) pointed out in her statement, the current town board undertook a number of projects in Millwood and the West End:
$2.6 million on a Hudson Hill water storage tank
$1.4 million on Gedney Park
$700,000 for open space and park land on the West End
$446K on the Route 133 wall at the A&P and on Allapartus Road
The Town Board encouraged the development of the townhouses across from the old station house and John Demeo’s Thru way Gas Station. And just this month, the town board commissioned “Welcome to Millwood” signs and a redesign of the sign board at the A & P.
As far as sewers, over the past several years, Supervisor Gerrard has been pushing to connect the Yeshiva, River woods, and Random Farms developments, all of which have failing septic systems, to the existing county trunk line located along NYS Route 100. While this may or may not come to fruition, many feel that we are closer than ever.
As I’ve previously mentioned, it was wise for the Town Board to include Random Farms, Riverwoods and Yeshiva on the same sewer application as Chappaqua Crossing. By combining this application, with the promise of affordable housing units at Chappaqua Crossing, it may expedite a solution. The proposed application has been processed and the legislation is being considered now.
Chappaqua could learn from Millwood
I think everyone would agree that Millwood has a great mix of retail in its business district—and not a lot of vacancies.
As far as the Millwood Task Force, they are open and encourage audience participation. Town board members and/or administrators come to Millwood on the first Thursday of every month and sit in the audience, in the hot seat(s), to answer questions from task force members. Members of the public (a lot of them, including myself, are now candidates) in attendance are encouraged to ask questions. There’s lots of give and take. It’s very informative.
Compare that open forum to Chappaqua’s Downtown Steering Committee. They meet only a few times a year. And their meetings are closed.
West End Neighborhood Taxpayers could learn from Millwood too
I understand that some residents of the West End feel under-represented. I understand that those residents feel a ward system would give them a seat at the table, bring in more voices and more expertise. But I don’t think this proposal is necessary to achieve that. I believe there are more effective ways to accomplish this.
I would suggest that the West End follow Millwood’s lead and start a West End Task Force. A task force would bring together interested and active residents to meet openly to discuss their local concerns. It would provide a forum for different voices, and people with different expertise, to come together to form a common objective. And it could be used to disseminate facts so that more people can be informed.
As I’ve mentioned before, anyone who feels his or her interests are not being addressed can form his or her own political party and run for the Town Board. According to the Frey Report on Revaluation-Impact Study, there are 619 parcels in New Castle that pay taxes to Ossining School District. Board members typically receive around 2000 votes. Do the math. Run for office. Due to publications like NewCastleNOW, The Patch, The Examiner and The Daily Chappaqua, I believe that party affiliations are not as important as they used to be. Any candidate can present ideas that spark substantive discussion of issues affecting our town—and they don’t need the support of the political parties to do so. I see no major impediments for someone who feels under-represented to get involved and run for office.
Although I am not in favor of this referendum, I would like to praise Manny for generating this discussion. Some interesting ideas were suggested. For example, no party affiliations on the ballot and increase board to seven members. These ideas should be further explored.
It might be safer not to possibly alienate those in favor of this referendum, especially weeks before an election. It would be safer merely to criticize the current town board, and say they ignore Millwood and the West End. But I don’t think that would be fair, and it would be doing a disservice to the residents of New Castle.
As I mentioned in my first letter, this proposition should be decided with everyone understanding the issue, and voting on the referendum. The whole structure of our town government is at stake.