Concerned Citizen Editorial: The Gepetto of Amherst
The supervisor has a strangle hold on the board and the town. At town meetings the board members sit mostly quietly while Weinstein controls everything, the “Gepetto of Amherst”. One small exception is the way Guy Marlette every so often tries to moderate the politically negative actions of the supervisor in an attempt to blunt probable future problems, but in so doing only succeeds in pointing out how badly the supervisor ignores the input of the residents. Mark Manna, our nominal Democrat, every so often makes a dissenting a comment on a resolution here or there, but is rarely effective as an opposition voice. Anderson and Nucherino could have of just as easily mailed their votes in ahead of time, they are so predictable.
1. Changes to Public Hearings.
The time allowed for individuals to comment at a public heating has been reduced from 5 to 3 minutes while developers (and others) are rarely limited to the 15 minutes they are supposed to get. In fact if you include the Q&A session between the petitioner and the board it sometimes takes 30 to 45 minutes to finish a presentation. So with typical Weinstein logic the only way to shorten a public hearing is to reduce the time allowed for the public to speak, effectively taking the “public” out of “public hearing”.
2. Changes to the Rules of Order for Meeting.
The rules of order at meeting were recently changed to give the supervisor even more power by allocating him an official rebuttal (the last word) to ANY comment from the public. So if he hears something he doesn’t like, he can tell you that you are wrong or your “inaccurate”, rule you out of order if he so chooses, and tell you to sit down and be quiet.
Weinstien also changed the rules to forbid the use of any board member name in any comment from the public. So if have a specific comment on any action, behavior, vote, or pet project by any board member it never sounds like how real people talk to each other, but rather more like a bunch of first year law students trying not to make the professor mad.
3. Public expression.
This ones a real head scratcher. Until the last meeting their were two types of public expression, the first before board voting occurred called “suspension of the rules” where the public could only speak on any item on the current agenda for 3 minutes, and “public expression” at the end of the meeting for everything else.
In theory it sounds almost reasonable, but in practice it failed miserably. If you attended meetings regularly (the few, the annoyed, the public), you might be able to figure out when to say what. If not, you didn’t have prayer of knowing when you can speak or what you can say. That seems to be the primary reason way “suspension of the rules” is now called “public expression” where supposedly there no restrictions. If you believe this fiction, I’ve know of some swamp land in East Amherst you can buy.
4. THE Consent Agenda.
This voting practice by the town board is so egregious and offensive to the residents’ right to be informed that is deserves its own editorial. Almost all voting by the board occurs at the 3 pm “work session” and not at the 7 pm “public session” effectively preventing the working public from hearing any pre-vote discussion. When on the rare occasion a resolution is saved for 7 pm, it is to allow the supervisor to tell us ordinary people what a great job he is doing. Discussions of the thorny or embarrassing resolutions never make it to the 7 pm meeting, in fact I suspect they never make it to any meeting, but are decided in private much earlier.
5. Board Downsizing
This ideological driven action by the board was more about keeping the supervisor’s political base happy than improving the boards’ efficiency. A highly controlled and political board is already very efficient, they only need to know how the supervisor wants them to vote. Downsizing just reduces the number of people the supervisor needs to put on his email distribution list. The $25,500 is only pittance of in a $115,867,653 budget (2011), or about 2 one-hundredths of 1 percent. Less town board members equals more power for the supervisor. Given all of the above it means less not more accountability to the voters because the process is so opaque.
Town board meeting have become mostly political theater who’s only objective is to get its members re-elected. It certainly is not as an opportunity for the public to become informed. If the residents have little or no knowledge of what the board does or is doing, how can they intelligently hold them accountable for there actions in the next election? Or is that the real reason why the supervisor has bent the board meeting so badly?
DEMOCRACY DIED IN AMHERST
I concur with the points made by someone in another blog reprinted above.