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Part 2 of 3: APA should use courts, have elected board

February 12, 2010
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Ideally, the state Adirondack Park Agency shouldn't have to do nearly as much project review or enforcement as it does. If it had the consent of the governed, the towns of the Adirondacks would play along with the original vision for the agency and incorporate the APA standards into their master plans and codes. Then town government, which is much more directly involved with the people, would do most of this work. It wouldn't even have to be an unfunded mandate; the state has provided many grants over the years for town planning initiatives.

But until that happens, we have no problem with the APA doing enforcement policing and prosecution; it's like a county having a legislature along with a sheriff and a district attorney, or a village with a board and police.

We do, however, have a problem with the APA acting as judge, jury and executioner as well as cop and DA. Many people distrust the current system, and it creates all kinds of knotted procedural problems, as we've seen recently in the cases of two Silver Lake residents. Enforcement officers should just write tickets to town court, as police officers do, and enforcement lawyers should prosecute the charges, as DAs do. When judgment is left up to judges and juries, it is better respected.

Finally and perhaps biggest of all, there is the problem of an agency run with a firm hand by an unelected 11-member board that is entirely appointed by the governor or, in the case of three seats, by unelected state department heads. APA commissioners must be elected by the people - at least the four in-Park ones. Adirondack residents need to trust that they have some level of control over this agency, the only government the Adirondack Park has to itself.

Also, the chairman should also become one of the elected, in-Park seats. Tradition has kept the chairman in-Park so far, but this key leadership position, like a mayor or governor, must above all others be elected.

The Park is the entire state's asset, so out-of-Park people deserve a voice, even if, in this case, it's fake representation. We wish we could think of a better way to assign out-of-Park seats other than having the governor appoint them with Senate approval, as happens now. We abhor New York's runaway number of executive appointments to positions that should represent the people but in fact just represent political patronage.

"But which people would get to vote?" we thought. After all, the Park boundary does not line up with any other government borders. We think any resident of a town that has even a tiny piece in the Park should get to vote, since APA regulations affect that person's town.

In the end, we imagine a more focused, stable, boring APA that just does a job which the people of New York require and the people of the Adirondacks agree to. It would be an agency that applies rules but doesn't make them, prosecutes violations but doesn't judge them, and has at least five of its 11 members chosen by the people who have to deal with these regulations. We respectfully submit that this would be significantly better than the current design.



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