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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one
 

Glenville issue shows politics is seldom nice

By Sara Foss
Saturday, November 23, 2013

Here’s a funny thing about the art of politics: It’s seldom pretty or pristine.

We hear a lot of lofty rhetoric during political campaigns, but such rhetoric tends to be in short supply after election night, when the actual business of governing begins. Then the focus turns to cutting deals and backroom meetings, gamesmanship and strong-arm tactics.

And whenever voters catch a glimpse of this process, they’re usually disgusted and often feel as if they’ve been had. Because such methods are usually dismissed as politics as usual, the response is usually a resigned shake of the head.

Not always, though.

Residents in Glenville are justifiably upset about town Supervisor Chris Koetzle’s plan — announced almost immediately after the election — to turn his part-time position into a full-time job. Earlier this month, voters went to the polls thinking they were electing a part-time town supervisor at a salary of $19,000 a year, only to discover they had likely elected a full-time supervisor at a cost of $83,000 a year.

Now, I have no opinion on whether the town of Glenville needs a full-time supervisor, although it’s probably worth noting there are a number of communities of comparable size that have full-time supervisors. But this just doesn’t look good.

If nothing else, it fuels voters’ deep-rooted suspicion that important decisions are being made behind their backs, without their input.

That might explain the outpouring of criticism in response to the Glenville Town Board’s decision to consider making the supervisor position a full-time job without holding a public hearing first. In response to the outcry, the board voted to hold a public hearing later this month, which is what it should have done in the first place.

Again, a full-time supervisor might be a great thing for Glenville. I don’t live there, and I don’t particularly care one way or the other. But I am a big advocate of democracy and fair and transparent processes, and I can understand why residents might feel they’d been had. Making the supervisor position a full-time job is a big-enough deal that residents should have had more of an opportunity to weigh in on it.

At the very least, it shouldn’t come as a post-election surprise.

During the public comment period at last week’s board meeting, one resident, Kristin Trapini, said, “I feel like I’ve learned more about this decision tonight sitting in the audience listening to the public comments than I have in any sort of official or public manner that was endorsed or promoted by the board.”

Koetzle’s explanation for how this all came to pass isn’t unreasonable. In a letter in the Gazette, he wrote, “Anyone engaged in the campaign, and even before, knows that I have often suggested that the supervisor’s job is a full-time one and should be compensated appropriately. I did say it during the public forum of the campaign, when I said, ‘You need a full-time supervisor here.’ ”

He added, “The timing is difficult because state law requires the budget to be filed by Nov. 20, and once filed, elected positions can’t have their compensation changed.”

Well, OK, but offering up some vague comments about the need for a full-time supervisor is different from making a concrete proposal to change the position to a full-time job. And, frankly, there are a lot of jobs that require people to put in more hours than they’re compensated for.

For instance, my father sometimes takes on part-time ministry positions that are full-time in everything but name. But he doesn’t turn around the next day and ask for a big salary increase, because he knows what he’s getting into when he applies for those jobs.

Of course, seasoned voters understand politics is seldom pristine or pretty, and sometimes good things can emerge from bad processes.

The movie “Lincoln” made the backroom wheeling and dealing that resulted in passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, seem like a heroic enterprise. But most political battles are not as important and noble as ending slavery. Most of the time, they’re fairly petty.

My guess is Glenville will soon have a full-time town supervisor. And maybe it should. But the change should be made in a more democratic way, with input from the people.

 

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