This letter was published in the Gazette on February 8, 2018.
To the Editor:
New York is a phenomenally corrupt state, and as Governor Cuomo prepares to stand for re-election he is under fire for not doing enough to effectuate his pledge to clean up Albany.
But as even the Cuomo-unfriendly New York Post has noted, many of Governor Cuomo’s reform proposals have been blocked by Republican members of the legislature. The lax standards for ethics benefit the self-interest of both parties in Albany, and that is unfortunate.
What is equally unfortunate is the editorial stance of The Gazette (Nov. 30-Jan. 6 issue: “Outgoing Croton administration changes ‘compensation’ policy”), and the subsequent echo of that stance by Amy Ferrara (Gazette, Jan 18-24), when the Village of Croton took steps to ensure high ethical practices in Croton’s government.
The resolution which passed on November 20, 2017 regarding Board of Trustees’ compensation is available on the Village website, as is a video of the Board discussing the resolution.
At no point during the discussion does anybody discuss Ann Gallelli, nor does the resolution say anything about Ms. Gallelli.
The language of the resolution is clear, and it references both the statutory and ethical rationale for the resolution. Neither of those matters were addressed by the Gazette article, nor were they addressed by Ms. Ferrara.
There was a tradition in Croton that the Village newsletter was a patronage stipend given to a Trustee. Arguably that was always in violation of Chapter 54 of the Village Code, and certainly it was one of those “traditions” that needed to be changed to comply with the existing law.
You might disagree with Mayor Dr. Schmidt’s handling of the newsletter, but there is no disagreement that he led by example: taking the newsletter out of the political patronage trough and directing that the Village Manager handle the matter in a non-political manner.
For 2 years, Dr. Schmidt left the production of the newsletter to be done by the Village staff. This practice not only saved money, but it also removed even the perception of politicization of this municipal resource.
That is not “petty vindictiveness,” it is ethical stewardship that respects the citizens of Croton and our inclusive representative democracy.
Nobody from Croton United ever got any pecuniary benefit from the newsletter, nobody from Croton United ever got state pension credit for production of the newsletter, and nobody from Croton United ever used the newsletter to bash their electoral opponents nor their electoral opponents’ respective employers.
Dr. Schmidt’s position on public service as a privilege and not an opportunity for personal gain is well known and longstanding. That is what he did with the newsletter.
To suggest (as the Gazette article does) that this position was “specifically” directed at a particular individual is to ignore both the precedent which Dr. Schmidt set and also the black letter language of the resolution. The resolution applies equally to all individuals, just as Chapter 54 applies to all individuals serving on the Board of Trustees.
Have we become so cynical that we prefer to believe that Dr. Schmidt and Trustees Pugh, Anderson, and Walsh were acting out of hidden spite rather than acting in what they honestly believed to be the public interest?
The resolution passed 4-1, and even Ms. Gallelli explicitly stated that her grounds for opposing the resolution were procedural and not substantive. In fact during public colloquy with Mr. Walsh, Ms. Gallelli said she was not taking a position whether the resolution was substantively objectionable. The municipality is not preventing anybody from publishing a newsletter.
In 2018 anybody can set up a website or Facebook page and reach a global audience with negligible to zero cost. And anybody can write to their heart’s content and email their views at no cost whatsoever.
All of us have a right to express our viewpoint. What we don’t have is a right to force the taxpayers of Croton pay for that expression nor to lend the imprimatur of the municipality to our personal expression.
The Village newsletter is now being produced under the supervision of the non-political Village Manager, and that is a step forward into a new age of ethical and transparent governance.
Albany could take a lesson from Croton: stop working backwards from the “What’s in it for my party!” demand and instead start working forward from the “What’s the right thing to do?” perspective.
All of us have a role not simply in changing the current climate of political ethics, but also in supporting and advocating for written policies that foster good government. Just because politicians have always done a particular practice does not mean that we as citizens should not make a change for the better.