Friday, October 30, 2009

Tuesday's Election II


---- Voting is a civic duty, right? Every vote counts, right?

---- For residents of five GreeneLand towns, however, voting on November 3 would be an irrational act. In Windham, Ashland, Halcott, Hunter and Cairo, there are plenty of offices to be filled. They include, just as is the case in the other Towns, legislator, supervisor, council member, town clerk, justice, highway superintendent and tax collector. But for every one of those offices in those towns, Tuesday’s ballot offers just one candidate. The only choice presented to voters in those towns will be a choice between candidates for Supreme Court Justice in the State’s multi-county 3rd Judicial District. (The contenders are Jill Dunn, Republican, and James Gilpatric, the Democratic, Independence, and Conservative [!] candidate).

----- In other GreeneLand towns, voters will actually settle some contests, but contested elections are abnormal events. Thus, 12 of GreeneLand’s legislators are seeking re-election, and seven of them cannot fail; they face no opposition. In the 12 Towns where the office of Justice is subject to election this year, there are 12 candidates. (All of them are incumbents). Of the eight Town Clerkships that come up for election on November 3rd, two (in Prattsville and New Baltimore) are subject to contest. Of the nine Highway Superintendent offices, three are subject this year not only to election, but to electoral contest. (They are in Coxsackie, Greenville and Lexington). Of eight Tax Collector races, seven are one-entrant affairs. (The deviant case, offering a choice between candidates, is in Prattsville).

This plenitude of choice-free elections does not attest to system health. In cases where the sole candidate is the incumbent—that is to say, most cases—the absence of a challenger does not attest reliably to general, informed satisfaction of voters with services received. It does not betoken excellent performance by the incumbent, or the opposite. With regard to most kinds of local elective offices, it attests to ignorance of what these office-holders do and of how to evaluate their work.

That ignorance is shared among office-holders. Town Supervisors and Town Councilors can scarcely monitor, much less control, the work of local judges, tax collectors, highway superintendents, and clerks. Some arrangements (such as mandatory outside audits) shed light on the performance of those officials. But direct popular election gives these officials a basis for independence from the legislative ‘branch’ of local government. Election without contestation fortifies that independence. Town highway superintendents do not file periodic reports that are open to public scrutiny and shed light on cost-effectiveness of performance. A tax collector who runs up needless expenses, or who collects selectively, cannot be fired--if, perchance, her malfeasance or nonfeasance were known. A town clerk who thwarts the will of town council members (even with regard to keeping the minutes of council meetings) cannot be fired.

Our superabundance of choice-free elections can be blamed in good part on bad laws. The offenders are the peculiar New York State laws creating our superabundance of types of local offices that must be filled by direct popular election. The intention may have been to facilitate popular control. The effect is the reverse.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tuesday's Elections I

THE PROSPECT -----Voters in GreeneLand on Tuesday could change the county legislature’s present Republican 9-5 majority into a bigger majority, of 11 to 3, or into a minority of 6 to 8. Those arithmetic possibilities, and limits, are grounded in the facts about alignments, contests and the absence of contests.

----Of the Town of Catskill's four seats on the legislature, three are currently held by Republicans and one by a Democrat. Six candidates are vying for those four seats. Four are Republicans (including two incumbents) or proto-Republicans. One is an incumbent Democrat. The other is a proto-Democrat. Thus, the Republicans could lose one Catskill seat, or gain one.

-----Elsewhere in GreeneLand, four seats are currently occupied by Republicans who are standing for re-election and are unopposed. They are the two Coxsackie seats along with one from Cairo and one from the four-town Ashland-Jewett-Prattsville-Windham district.

----In all of GreeneLand's legislative districts, the only incumbent Republican who is seeking re-election is being challenged directly; he represents Athens. On the Democratic side, two incumbents who are seeking re-election are being challenged; they represent Catskill and Durham. Meanwhile, in Greenville, retirement of the Republican incumbent has given rise to an intense two-party battle.

-----If the two embattled Democratic incumbents survive, if the two open (Republican-held) seats go from Republican to Democratic, and if the one Democratic challenger to a Republican incumbent were to win, along with the three unchallenged incumbent Democrats, then next Tuesday’s GreenLand election would, with regard to party affiliations, be transformative. It also would be, to all knowledgeable observers, astonishing.

----Meanwhile, voters on Tuesday could bring about a modest change in the Republican and Democratic shares of Town Supervisor offices. Larger swings are precluded by the absence of a supervisorial election in one town (Catskill's election comes at another time) and of electoral contests in most others. In all but five Towns, the incumbent Supervisor is seeking re-election and (whether Republican or Democratic) is unopposed. Actual contests are being waged in Greenville, whose current Republican supervisor is seeking election to another office (county legislator), and where a Democrat and a Republican are competing for the succession; in Athens, where a Republican and a Democrat are contesting an open seat; Prattsville, whose Democratic incumbent is being challenged by the Republican who lost the seat to her (by 6 votes) in 2007; Jewett, where a Republican and a Democrat are vying to succeed the Democratic incumbent, who was not re-nominated by his co-partisans; and New Baltimore, where two candidates are contending for the open seat.

THE SELL ----The foregoing sentences, while delivering information about an impending bunch of elections to public offices, also deliver a sales pitch. They steer receivers in the direction of a judgment about what is most important, most portentous, about election results. They prod receivers to believe that, of all ways of appreciating the significance of the present election contest (and perhaps all public elections), the foremost is party affiliation.

----That suggestion is arbitrary. It is no less arbitrary than other categorical choices, such as gender ratio, race, turnover rate, religious denominations, national origins, occupations or hairstyles of contestants. It is no less arbitrary, and it is probably more insidious, because it is journalistically conventional.

----My treatment of the GreeneLand legislature and Town Supervisor races reflects standard practice. I have given it extra emphasis by means of surgery: dwelling on party affiliations while stripping away every other aspect of the matter, including even the contestants' names.

-----Party affiliation-focused accounts of popular elections reflect common practice, and they reinforce it. They also promote an illusion about intelligibility. By dwelling descriptively on the party affiliations of candidates they endow that variable with primary importance on and with seemingly clear meaning (for town and village and county elections as well as State and national elections). Thus, a change in the party affiliation of the majority of county legislators would be transformative—and the nature, the legislative meaning, of the transformation is self-evident. ----Such miseducation can be blamed in part on bad laws. The electoral laws of this State, and of many others, prescribe that every candidate whose name appears on the general election ballot (for clerk or tax collector, for judge or highway superintendent, for town or village or county legislator, for Representative or Senator or Governor) must be listed on a party “line.” To earn placement on a party line, a candidate must round up a prescribed number of signatures by voters who not only endorse her candidacy but also, specifically, endorse his Republican, Democratic, Conservative, Independence, Working Families, and/or Common Grass Voice Sense candidacy. Thus, focus on party affiliation is imposed on the voters by State law.

----For voters and for news-givers, this irrational, costly regime is treacherously convenient. Citizens want to make rational voting decisions, but it would be irrational for them to spend big resources for that purpose. They welcome informational shortcuts. They are receptive, accordingly, to suggestions that a bit of readily available information-- party affiliation--serves to differentiate candidates (local, regional, national...) and may differentiate them in a substantive, programmatic way. That bit of information could yield a rational vote--a choice that is the same as what wouild emerge from arduous study of candidates' positions on various issues, in relation to one's own arduously determined preferences.

----Voters look to the media for help in shaping their choices, and news providers want to help. But they too are constrained by information costs. Rarely can they afford to make deep studies of candidates' background and positions. They dwell on readily available, low-cost information: : name of candidate, age, home town, occupation, family ties, office-holding experience, and party affiliation. The latter information differentiates the competing candidates.It is uniquely highlighted on the ballot. It enables reporters to group together many candidates for many offices, and thus to generalize about election results. It appears to be impartial and objective (in contrast to "liberal" and "conservative," for example. It gives the voters a basis for choice that appears, however wrongly, to be a basis for rational choice.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The GreeneLand Beat

“GREENE COUNTY USA. A local history of national importance” will screened for the first time tomorrow. The new documentary, compiled and delicately edited by deft hand Jonathan Donald, will be unveiled in Catskill’s Community Theatre at 4pm. A reception will follow, across the street at the Arts Council headquarters, which is undergoing an esthetic transformation. BEAT-UP” is the name used by journalists in many English-speaking countries to characterize a story or a headline that magnifies and sensationalizes an event. An example appeared in Tuesday’s Daily Mail, in the form of a banner headline across page one:
Realtors declare war over mortgage tax hike
The actual event, as reported, was that Ted Banta, president of Greene County Multiple Listing, flanked by a couple of other GreeneLand realtors, went before the county legislators (on Monday, 10/19) with a request for reconsideration of their recently adopted mortgage registration tax. Mr Banta read a statement (too rapidly for comprehension; but he’d been told to limit himself to ten minutes). The tax, he said, “distresses the real estate market,” “penalizes home owners,” and “exploits those who are in great financial need” to point of needing to refinance. Its terms put Greene County “on a par” with neighboring counties “whereby [sic] our economy and housing markets do not compare.” Various legislators responded, along with County Administrator Dan Frank, with remarks mostly about the need for revenue, especially at a timeof economic when demands for services from public agencies are abnormally high. “GOOFY" could be the proper label for a news release put out on October 16th by the National Audubon Society. Under the headline “Give Birds a Break on National Feral Cat Day,” the release gave information about the menace of feral cats (an “epidemic”) and of free-roaming domestic cats, to birds and small mammals. With their growing numbers, these cats are having “untold and profound impact on bird populations already in steep decline.” They kill “hundreds of millions of protected birds” and “more than a billion small mammals.” Keep domestic cats indoors, says Albert Caccese, Audubon New York’s executive director. For more information and tips on keeping your cat healthy and happy indoors, visit the American Bird Conservancy’s “Cats Indoors!” website at: Not identified in the Audubon story was National Feral Cat Day’s day.

PUBLISHED in the November issue of Guideposts. True Stories of Hope and Inspiration, is a true and inspiring GreeneLand story. It’s about the family quest last year that led to discovery, under a rock near Dutchman’s Landing, of the “Captain Kidd doubloon” that had been sought by GreeneLand treasure hunters for 19 years. The doubloon earned for the family a $10,000 jeweled crown. The determined hunt by “Team Ria” members was conducted in memory of a recently deceased sister.

COMMUTING by Amtrak from and to Hudson is going to become more expensive. Car parking in the big city-owned lot will no longer be free. In prospect, we understand, is a $3 daily fee, or a $900 yearly fee.

150 = years of age of Catskill’s St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church. That event, according to reliable sources, was observed last Sunday by means of a visit from Bishop Howard Hubbard as well as from the church’s former longtime pastor, now retired, Fr John Murphy. Because the church had to be closed last year, after chunks of plaster fell from the arched ceiling and costly repairs could not be funded immediately, the service was held in the former Bingo hall in the adjoining school’s basement. The church’s closing, along with the absence for two years of an assigned priest and with administrative problems, has generated a scattering of the flock. Some parishioners attend services at the Village’s Franciscan Friary, or in Athens or even Hudson. Local administration is handled by a nun, Sr Mary Mazza, while a chaplain from the Coxsackie prison system, Fr Rick Shaw, has been saying Mass. Bishop Hubbard assured the congregation that every effort was being made to effectuate a reopening, and he appealed for patience. He also shared a numerical recollection: When he entered the seminary in the 1950s, the Albany diocese encompassed about 600 priests. When he was elevated to Bishop in the 1970s, there were about 300 priests. Current trends indicate that when he retires in 2013, there will be fewer than 100. (How much more shrinkage must occur, we wonder, before the subjects of ordaining women and dropping the celibacy rule are revisited).

11=number of days left before November 3rd voting for GreeneLand legislators and for supervisors, council members, judges, clerks, tax collectors, and highway superintendents in GreeneLand's Towns. Town of Catskill candidates have been invited--along with voters--toparticipate in a candidates' forum tomorrow. Organized by the League of Women Voters, it starts at 10am in the Community Center, and will stream-cast on our new community radio statiojn, WGXC. IF YOU don't join Cornell Cooperative Extension's “50 Mile Harvest” dinner on Saturday evening, featuring foods grown on nearby farms (622-9820 ( then the event of choice is a recital of music set for two harps. The performers are the renowned duo of Lynne Apnes and John Wickey, along with some of their students, at the Union MillsGallery, 361 Main St, Catskill. They will come over from Jared Aswegan's estate in Athens, where they are participatingin the HarpArts Fall Retreat. A wine & cheese/colloquium/student performance starts at 7, with the big show starting at 8. Information: 914-388=2822.

PEACE ranks, at cooking classes offered on Tuesdays at GreeneLand’s Peace Village, as “the magic ingredient.” (

NEOLOGISM Dept. Vook = video book. Blawg = blog devoted to legal matters. Blook=object that looks like a book (paper pages, printing…) but isn’t. Diavlog=two-way video blog.

Friday, October 16, 2009


LOCAL HERO. A GreeneLander was honored this morning with the title Hudson Valley Hero. The title was conferred by leaders of Scenic Hudson, flanked by leaders of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission and the New York State Parks Commission. It took place at an outdoor site down in Highland NY in conjunction with ceremonial dedication of the new Franny Reese State Park. Receiving the hero’s mantle was Hudson (his real first name) Talbott. He was so honored in tribute to the book that he wrote and illustrated, River of Dreams, whose publication coincided with our Hudson-Champlain-Fulton Quadricentennial observances and gave rise to a musical show performed up and down the Valley by GreeneLand school kids. The book and the show, however, are not the sum of Mr Talbott’s Hudsonian heroics. There’s also his recent instigation and promotion of the recently unveiled Wall of History paintings on the warehouse at Historic Catskill Point. Plus active participation in the revival of downtown Catskill, in the revival of Catskill’s community center, and in the governance of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.

ALSO RECOGNIZED: GreeneLand’s Mountaintop Arboretum, with top rank in Hudson Valley magazine’s list of “Fun Places You Didn’t Know About”; with the cover picture in the I Love NY guide to this region; and with improvement money from the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District.

JOBS. The rate of unemployment in GreeneLand, according to State Labor Department figures, went up a bit in September, to 8.4 per cent of the worker pool. That is an increase (“gain” would not be the apt term) over August’s 8.0% and over September 2008’s 5.9%. The job picture here is bleaker than in neighboring counties: Albany at 7.1%, Columbia at 7.7%, Ulster at 8.1%. It’s brighter, however, than the nation-wide figure (9.5%) and the State-wide figure (8.8%).

FUELING AROUND. In GreeneLand filling stations late this week, the low price for a gallon of regular gasoline was around $2.58. That is above the United States average, the East Coast, the Gulf Coast and the new York City averages ($2.49, $2.41, $2.32, $2.48), but slightly below the State-wide average ($2.64). It also is higher than in neighboring Saugerties ($2.49 up), Hudson ($2.51 up) and Albany ($2.52). Maybe the small change in composition of the county legislature that will occur at November 3’s elections will bring a more effective push against high fuel prices here.

RECOVERING? A local enterpriser, who runs a specialty store for home improvements, recalls that business in the first quarter of this year (January through Mach) was 42 per cent below the same quarter of 2008. But that was the bottom. Trade has picked up since then, to the point that by the end of the year, he expects a drop of no more than 10 per cent. Is that a representative story? In the meantime, we hear reports that the pace of real estate transactions in the past three months has picked up. That could be another sign of recovery.

REPORTING? Riders Fair Well Individually.

Suspicious Briefcase Brings Out Bomb Squad.

Hunter Mountain has only served to appease the populace of the world for a mere half century. But let’s not make mole hills out of mountains.

TV Pilots Shot in R.I Await Word of Fate.

ON THIS DATE. 1950 – Bill Grimes of the Green Bay Packers gains 167 yards on 10 carries in a 44-31 loss to the New York Yankees....

Last year’s budget welcomes a 10.5 percent increase.

Coxsackie residents the Stacy Road site to break ground at the recently overturned community garden....

Christopher Agnello-Daly is suspected of stealing from Wal-Mart.a multitude of items including raving blade cartridges.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Cats-Up II

TOP CAT at Sunday's splendid auction at Catskill Point was Jim Cramer's "Old Kaatskillian III." He--the cat, that is--went for $7000 to determined collector (and sponsor, and landscaper) David Brockway.

"Cat-tue of Liberty" (Cheryl Lickona, Chad Weckler, Rob Roy MacGregor) fetched $3500, as did "Half Moon Kitten" (Kenny Rich, Alain Greg Contreras).

----"Cat-tue" and "Half Moon" were snagged. along with Cynthia Mulvaney's "Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow Cat," by scrappy Mike Ferro, for display next Spring at a new creek-side bistro.

Two of the cats--"Media Luna" by Kico Govantes; "Lights in the Night" by Colorado-based Sabine Baeckmann-Elge -- went to buyers from The Netherlands.

-----For more pictures-- excellent work by photographer Rob Shannon-- go to, then click Artists 2009. Up will come a full series of cat pictures, plus verbal profiles of their makers. The pictures are small, but a cursor's click yields a larger image.

----The average on bids for the 58 fiberglass felines, reports Chamber of Commerce executive director Linda Overbaugh, was $1370. That figure is down from the previous two years ($1600, $1800) but it yielded $79,200. One fourth of that sum will go to the artists, with the remainder, augmented by sales of posters and other souvenirs. going to worthy local causes.

THE BACKERS. Every cat that went up for auction on Sunday was the product of a design that won sponsorship, at $500, from a local supporter. And every one of the 465 people who attended or staffed Sunday's auction was the beneficiary of sumptuous food contributed by local hosts. Twenty-one establishments (restaurant, resort, bakery, pub, as far away as Leeds and Palenville, with names ranging alphabetically from Ambrosia and Antnony to Village Pizza and Wasana) contributed food. Not among them were three Main Street, Catskill, establishments.

----In addition, one of the Village's three retailers of alcoholic beverages, Catskill Wine Cellar, was sole supplier of the wine that flowed rather freely, since a $5 payment bought a souvenir glass and a no-limit consumption privilege. Meanwhile, huge contributions of hands-on help on Sunday were made by, among other people, Tina Gagliardy (Mahalo Gifts) and Eileen Dees (The Garden Gate).

FROM CATS TO BATS.Mickey Brantley, GreeneLand’s home-grown gift to major league basebal (Seattle Mariners outfielder; New York Mets coach)l, evidently has enlarged his contributions to the game: his son Michael, 22, who was called up last month from his Double-A team to the Cleveland Indians. He is hitting around the .300 mark, and is touted as a hot prospect for center field and lead-off batter next season. (For this tip we are indebted to ex-Catskillian Fred Chetti, who is now a Floridian)

FROM BATS TO BANKS. While many GreeneLanders are unemployed, while property and sales tax revenues are down, while foreclosures are up, while business is slow, GreeneLand's foremost local bank seems to be thriving. In the just-issued annual report of Greene County Bancorp, parent of the Bank of Greene County, President Donald Gibson reports “record earnings, along with strong growth in loans, deposits and capital” for the fiscal year 2009. Net income rose 52 per cent to $4million, thanks mainly to “net income interest” ( the gap between what the bank pays to borrow money and what it receives from loans). Assets rose by 21.3%, lending by 12.4% (to $268 million), deposits by 24% (to $398.7 million), investments by 44% (to $162 milion).

SCAMS DEPT “You send us phones. We send you cash!” “Up to $300 per phone.” “Up to $5 for inkjet cartridges.” That’s the promise trumpeted on the web site So GreeneLander Ryan Osswald patiently accumulated a box full of old cell phones (“about 15 of them”) and 40 cartridges, and shipped it off. In due course he received a check: one hundred seventy-five cents.

PENDING ORDINANCE. On Oct. 13, at the Senior Center on Thompson St, Catskill Village’s trustees will hold open discussion on a law prescribing that owners of property fronting on any public street must “cut the grass, weeds, and bushes on the property at such …times as may be necessary…. If the owner fails to do so, Village workers will do it, billing the owner for cost plus $100. Similarly, the trustees will take up law requiring owners of properties abutting public sidewalks to remove snow and ice from those walkways within 24 hours of the end of any storm, and making them liable for any injury arising from failure to act. Again, cost plus $100 fee.

SATURDAY in GreeneLand is replete with attractions. In the mountainous west, it’s History Day in Ashland (from 10am at the fire house) and Autumn Affair time in Windham ( including a new “Sublim(e)nal Abstraction” show at Windham Fine Arts In Hunter, a full weekend of Oktoberfest will enliven participants at Hunter Mountain (, while in other parts of town, life-sized puppets will perform Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” (Doctorow Center, 3pm; ), the Reel Teens film and video festival swings into a second evening (, singers and stringers (=stringed instrument players) will perform early Latin American music (Doctorow Center) and the Sugar Maples Center of Creative Arts will be enlivened by a day's load of happenings ( Cairo's weekend harvest festival and craft fair begins tomorrow at the Town Park ( In Freehold, the superb Flamenco guitarist Maria Zemantowski will perform, with percussionist Brian Melick, at Ruby’s Hotel ( while East Durham's pubs will resound to the strains of Irish musical participation in a Banjo Burke blast ( In Catskill, the farmers' and artisans' market (with music by Paul Slusar) will end at around 1:30pm, just before the start, from Dutchman's Landing, of a morning “Out of Darkness” walk up Main Street, as organized by the county Community Service agency with a view to raising awareness of the nature, incidence and available treatment services for, mental illness. Later in the day, Catskill art galleries and studios welcome visitors. For details: . For maps and authorizing buttons, go to the Arts Council building (398 Main St) or the Thomas Cole National Historic Site (218 Spring St).

SUNDAY at Catskill Point, from 11am: The Great Northern Catskills Heritage Festival, “Living the Good Life Locally,” will showcase regional artisans, cultivators and their products, as organized by Cornell Co-Operative Extension (

---And at 1:30pm, on the south wall of the Warehouse on the Point, the Wall of History will be unveiled. Culminating a project managed by Hudson Talbott, it will showcase representations of aspect of local history, as depicted by Terrance Barrell, Don Boutin, Victoria Brill, James Cramer, Tasha Depp, Patti Ferrara, Edith Marcik, Michelle Moran, Enrico Scull and Daniella Zeman.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Word Games People Play

POLARIZING QUESTION, Hudson’s Valley at 400: Paradise or Paradise Lost?” That question (formally speaking) is used as title of an art exhibition that opens tomorrow at the Athens Cultural Center (works by Susan Bee, Claudia McNulty, Leah Rhodes, Ellen Kozak, Marianne Van Lent; curated by Randall Evans and by Cynthia Karasek, who also made the superb poster). The terms of this either-or question prod respondents to infer that one of the posited alternatives is ‘correct,’ and thus deters variations on ‘neither.’

-----Also remarkable in the advance publicity for the exhibition is a rare feat of mind-reading. “This show,” says the publicist, “hopes to illuminate the palpable tension between wilderness and cultivation that charges this place with its vital current.”

-----BTW: We heartily recommend the show.

FAKE TITLE. “News from the Chiropractor” is the name of a series of articles published in local newspapers. The articles do not offer news (that is, descriptions of recent events). They offer information about health problems, along with therapeutic advice. That advice dwells, every time, on the benefits of chiropractic. It is followed by personal information about the author, including her chiropracticing business address.

PREGNANT QUESTION. “And just what exactly made the witnesses withdraw their testimony that caused the judge's dismissal?” This question (formally speaking), posed by a pseudonymous “Adrien van der Donk,” was offered as a Comment in response to our recent “Doing the News” blog. Its interrogatory form, however, does not signify a request for information. It conveys a suggestion about the likely answer. Something (or someone!) made those witnesses recant, says “Adrien.” Corruption? Bribery? Coercion? Party-political mendacity? Those possibilities come to mind. We are deterred by the pseudo-question’s terms, and by the context of its expression, from contemplating ‘innocent’ explanations. We are deterred from giving credence to the possibility that the witnesses came (with outside help) to believe, correctly, that their first affidavits were wrong.

LEADING QUESTION. “Who are you to tell someone how big their home must be?” That question—immediately preceded by “You set a 1,000 square-foot minimum on manufactured homes”--was voiced recently in an open letter (Daily Mail; Greenville Press) signed by Andrea Macko. The question’s nominal addressee is Peter O’Hara, head of the Greenville Planning Board, leading advocate of Town Council adoption of comprehensive zoning plan and candidate for election as Town Supervisor in a contest with Ms Macko’s uncle. Ms Macko’s question recalls the classic “When did you stop beating your wife?” That question, while being ostensibly addressed to a defendant, is aimed rhetorically at a judge and a jury. While formally soliciting information it rhetorically conveys a factual claim, namely, that the witness has been a wife-beater. In the present case the speaker argues, by means of an accusatory other-directed question, that Mr O’Hara desires authority—presumptuously, impudently—to tell people how big their homes must be. In doing so Ms Macko puts a tendentious interpretation on the fact that included in the comprehensive plan which Mr O’Hara urged the Town Council to adopt was a rule prescribing that manufactured homes be at least 1000 square feet in size.

A suitable question then might be whether such a rule can properly be adopted by the elected community governors. The question that is posed by Ms Macko exemplifies the rhetorical device known as Red Herring.

ABSENT REFERENTS. Ms Macko's long letter opens with an allusion to cdurrent national controversy: "These days it's difficult to turn on the television or open a newspaper without seeing something about government run healthcare. While public opinion surrounding the plan varies, one aspect that remains incontestable is the bottom line: The federal government is seeking to control that which is private. Invited by Ms Macko's italicized words is the inference that the author has identified the thing, the that, that is private. But in fact she hasn't, and doesn't. Could she really be arguing that "healthcare" is a wholly private matter, not suitable for public regulation? If so, then sanitation would be business of governments. Neither would the certification of doctors.

AVOWAL AS ADVOCACY. “I believe in something called the Constitution,” says Ms Macko in the third sentence of her long open letter. Voiced in the context of a pending local election marked by controversy over regulation of property use, that avowal of personal faith serves to suggest that (i) To "believe in...the Constitution" is a readily intelligible posibilit;y; (ii) believing in the so-called Constitution is a topical matter, being relevant perhaps for evaluating candidates; (iii) you too should believe in the Constitution; (iv) some relevant local people probably do not believe in the Constitution. Not provided in the Macko missive, however, is verbiage about what measures, recently adopted or advocated locally, would be antithetical to the Constitution.

PRECEPT AS TOPICAL GUIDELINE. “Social issues cannot be corrected with political solutions,” Ms Macko declares in yet another passage. Voiced in an open letter, in the context of local controversy, that declaration prods respondents to believe that the precept is readily intelligible and is especially applicable to current local matters. Not provided in this long letter, however, is guidance in the form of cases. In the absence of such guidance, readers get nothing but a dose of Glittering Generality.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Awful Audit

------ In the judgment of auditors from the State Comptroller’s office, the Village of Catskill still is not being governed in a sound business-like way. Its Trustees and President “have not provided effective oversight” of the Village’s $6million operations. “Significant weaknesses” in “budgeting, accounting, reporting, cash management, and claims adjustment,” identified in an audit five years ago, have not been remedied. “Poor planning,” “unrealistic budgeting” and other “inadequate management practices” have depleted the Village’s operating funds” and its “ability to operate effectively” for its 4400 residents.

------Those words appear in a report—2009M-53,“Fiscal Oversight and Internal Controls Over Selected Financial Activities”--compiled by the Albany office of State Comptroller’s Division of Local Government and School Accounting. They come on the heels of an equally stinging report (2004M-11,Village of Catskill) that was issued in 2005. (See

======Among the auditors’ assessments:

-- *Lax supervision. The Board “failed to ensure that the Clerk-Treasurer fulfilled her accounting and reporting duties.” The Village’s independent accountant needed to make “millions of dollars” in “additions and subtractions” to achieve an accurate2006-07 financial report. Clerk-Treasurer Carolyn Pardy did not properly record all transactions, so that the figures in Village bank accounts did not match figures in the Village ledgers. And the Trustees failed to perform their required yearly audit of the Clerk-Treasurer’s records.

--- *Tardiness. “The Clerk-Treasurer has not filed the Village’s annual financial reports with the State Comptroller in a timely manner. As of May 18, 2009, the Village had not yet filed its…report for the fiscal year ending May 31, 2008…. Similarly, for the previous three fiscal years, the Village did not file its annual financial reports until eight to 18 months past the end of the fiscal year.” The Trustees also were slow to apply for a $460,000 bond anticipation fund related to a special project. They did not apply until the project was “substantially completed,” so they were obliged to draw on operating funds, which were dangerously depleted. Meanwhile, about half the moneys that come in to the Village do not get deposited within the prescribed ten days.

--- *Raiding. The Trustees have regularly spent more out of general funds than they anticipate or receive from property tax revenues. To meet the shortfall they borrow from the water and sewer fund accounts, whose revenue comes from user fees. Such borrowings should be repaid within a year, with interest. Instead, the Trustees have just cancelled the debts. That practice, say the State auditors, raises questions of equity, because the water and sewer funds are supposed to be used for water and sewerage. .

--- *Poor control over receipts and outlays. More than half of payments made from Village funds have been made in the absence of “proper approvals, required bids or quotes, and/or supporting documentation. These control deficiencies place the Village at a significant risk of the mismanagement, loss, or theft of Village moneys.”

--- *Inertia. “Although the Board and other Village officials received monthly reports from the Clerk-Treasurer that compared budget amounts to actual revenues and expenditures, the Board did not effectively use these reports to monitor the budget, limit expenditures to available appropriations, or modify the budget when the need arose. The Village’s repeated over-expending of appropriations violates Village Law and, together with the unrealistic budgeting practices, has placed the Village at an ongoing risk of deteriorating fund balances and fiscal stress.”

--- *Insecurity. “Weaknesses in the Village’s controls over server room access, disaster recovery planning, and data backup procedures” pose a “risk of unauthorized access and/or modification to Village data as well as potentially costly disruptions to Village operations.”

----- Before issuing their report, the State auditors observed the custom of inviting their targets to review and respond to a draft. Village President Vincent Seeley declared, in a letter appended to the report, that some of the cited defects have been corrected, others are being corrected, and some (especially the warnings about technical vulnerability and about inter-fund transfers) are over-stated or spurious. Most specific of the changes mentioned by Mr Seeley was a decision to obtain monthly, rather than just yearly, monitoring by the Village’s independent accountant.

Mr Seeley recently gave a talk at the Senior Center about the audit report. As reported in The Daily Mail (9//23), he said that while some Village purchases were not properly documented, all were legitimate. Moreover, the State’s outside auditors lack “understanding” of “what it really takes to run a growing municipality.” He also contended that the cited failures of the Clerk-Treasurer and the Trustees to meet their responsibilities fortify his case for hiring a Village Manager.

Mr Seeley also responded to a draft of this account of the audit report. As additions to his previously reported comments, he said that “we have a low debt ratio”; that “we are investing in the future and spending money to upgrade our infrastructure”; that “every municipality is experiencing double digit percent increase in expenses with no additional revenue”; that “we have outgrown our current corporate structure and there is no easy way to repair it”; and that, since “you can’t rely on a part time board to run a 5 million dollar business,” “a Village manager or comptroller would be the additional resource needed,”

Another way of looking at the problem, and of seeing possible solutions, needs to be aired. It consists of pondering the possibility that the Village of Catskll is too small financially to sustain professional business management. That hunch gains a measure of plausibility from the observation that the Village evidently has been ill-managed for several years running even though its part-time Trustees have been diligent and generous with their time. It gains further plausibility from recent State Controller audits of other small municipalities: the Villages of Tannersville, Coxsackie and Tivoli, and the Town of Cairo. Each of those audits depicts glaring managerial deficiencies.

------Such findings may serve to fortify the case for consolidation. If the present Village and Town were one municipality, then, while its governors still would be part-timers, its operating budget might be big enough (around $11 million per year) to sustain, as well as to need, professional stanards of business management.