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Let the people decide?

March 17, 2009 - John Stack

A big subject of contention recently has been about consolidation. Consolidating highway departments, police forces, and everyone’s favorite, school districts. But one of the relatively unknown consolidation drives has to do with how to change certain elected officials to appointed. (The ADE is running a series of articles this week on the topic) Currently, a town needs a mandatory referendum to change a town clerk from elected to appointed. A mandatory referendum means the board MUST put the proposal before the voters. A permissive referendum means the electorate needs to gather a certain number of signatures on a petition within 30 days of some local action being taken.

            The governor’s current budget creates the opportunity for a town board to go to permissive referendum, rather than mandatory, for town clerks, highway superintendent and tax collector. A couple years ago, the state made this available to towns for changing 3 person elected boards to sole appointed assessor. The town of Keene did just this last year.

            My biggest question sis ‘Why are these positions even elected positions in the first place?’ All of these positions are basically ‘professional’ and really shouldn’t be subject to one person’s opinion or motives. We don’t vote for the school superintendent. We don’t vote for the town bookkeeper. We don’t vote for town attorneys and the like.  Why should an assessor be elected? If an assessor wants to keep their elected positions, would there not be an incentive to ‘favor’ certain taxpayers in town? As an appointed official, they only have to do the job assigned to them by the town board. They can do their job freely, without worry of voter reprisals. Plus, the town board can set up certain qualifications for an assessor (or other officials.) In fact, currently, the only requirement for an elected assessor is to be 18 and live in the town. Appointed assessors need certain educational requirements before taking office, not after.

            How about a tax collector? What is it that gives one candidate for tax collector an advantage over another? It’s a position with certain knowledge required of tax collecting. How do you know how well the tax collector is doing their job? As my taxes get paid through escrow, I have no need to ever meet a tax collector. I would presume the town board and supervisor know better than most how well the job is being done. They could set hours when the tax collector had to work, and other such items. Why isn’t this just a normal job at the town? Why is it not at least civil service? Same as town clerk. Why doesn’t a town just hire someone to do the town clerk position? How about highway superintendent?  The town board should know significantly more about the duties of the job than the typical taxpayer. The town board could interview many candidates, and choose the person best for the job. I have no idea how well the highway super is doing their job. All I know is when my driveway is plowed in during a storm! But, I sure don’t want the populace voting for a highway super based upon how quickly the road is plowed by my house. If I have a problem, should I call the elected highway super and tell him to plow the road by my house first, or I won’t vote for him?


            An argument against this is people will lose their job, and the taxpayers will suffer. I was at a meeting today where one tax collector said out loud ‘I don’t want to lose my job’. But, government’s job is not to give people jobs. What happens when a tax collector/clerk/assessor dies? Moves away? Loses an election? Chooses not to run again?

            Assemblywoman Janet Duprey shows a complete lack of understanding of the issue when she says’ the state shouldn’t mandate the appointment of town clerks’. This has absolutely nothing to do with mandating anything, other than changing from a mandatory to permissive referendum. State Senator Betty Little actually inadvertently makes Paterson’s point for him. Her spokesman said ‘She thinks it’s a position that, given the responsibilities and the knowledge that person has to have, its better for it to be an elected position’. How on earth does being elected somehow make sure a qualified individual gets the job?  At least a town board can set up qualifications other than popularity! Finally, Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward takes this to an extreme level when she says ‘What will be next? Supervisors will be appointed? Assembly members? Senators? That’s not America’. The thing is, Supervisors, and state legislatures are elected to LEAD us. We elect them because we believe in their vision for our town/district/state/country. I just want my town clerk/assessor/tax collector/highway super to be competent. I don’t want them to take some type of political position on my assessment, my taxes, or my road getting fixed.


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