The supervisor of a town already has special powers, both governmental and political, that town council members do not.
Using those powers to take over a committee to secure more authority and access is an excessive use of the supervisor’s powers that threatens to undermine the principle of democratic majority rule.
Niskayuna Supervisor Yasmine Syed, a Republican, last week expanded upon her supervisor’s powers by appointing herself co-chair of the town Public Works Committee, currently headed by Democratic Town Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw.
Legally, she’s entitled to make such an appointment. But should she have?
The supervisor’s new authority comes after the Town Board last month unanimously voted to give her power to execute contracts with potential customers and haulers of waste for treatment at the town’s wastewater treatment plant on Whitmyer Drive.
That’s on top of the significant financial authority she already has under state law.
Syed said she appointed herself to the co-chairmanship in part because she wants to be kept informed of all aspects involving the treatment plant and Sewer District No. 6, and in part because residents feel comfortable coming to talk with her about their concerns.
But was it really is is a grab for additional control over town operations, and the wastewater treatment plant issue specifically.
Not only is her action a stretch of her supervisor’s powers, but it’s also unnecessary.
She already can attend Public Works Committee meetings, and she can review the minutes of meetings and vote on actions when they come before the entire Town Board.
Certainly, no one on the committee is going to prevent her from offering her input on issues. And if they tried to, she could just go directly to the people and the media herself.
Plus, citizens don’t need her to be co-chair of the committee to approach her about their concerns. They can walk into her office, email her, or share their concerns and questions during Public Works Committee meetings, which are open to the public, and during regular Town Board meetings.
We understand the political ramifications.
Syed is the lone Republican among a Town Board otherwise made up exclusively of Democrats, which puts her at a severe political disadvantage. It would be natural for her to try to build as much leverage as she can.
But she didn’t create the political makeup of the Town Board — voters did. If voters want to give the supervisor more power or support, they can elect more members of her political party, or they can elect members who are more in agreement with her on the issues.
On a broader view, do voters really want supervisors putting themselves in charge of town committees, thereby giving themselves exclusive control over government operations? Syed might limit herself to this one appointment, but other town supervisors might not.
Whether she agrees with the committee’s actions or not, whether she feels she can be a better conduit for the citizens or not, the supervisor shouldn’t be trying to grasp more control over town government by usurping the authority of committee chairs.
Democratic Town Board members were right to be upset.
Town residents should be, too.