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A LETTER FROM RESIDENT PAUL STEINBERG FROM THE 9/25/14 EDITION OF THE GAZETTE ON TRANSPARENCY, GOUVEIA, THE GOUVEIA EVIDENCE OBTAINED THROUGH FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND MORE
To the editor:
In recent weeks, we have seen much debate in the Gazette about transparency (or the lack of it) in Croton.
few weeks ago, Trustee Gallelli had a list detailing the "concerted
effort to make more information available to the public" (Sept. 4 Gazette).
In last week's (Sept. 18) Gazette,
Chairman Rolnick says that his party candidates are "committed to an
open exchange with voters" and Joel Gingold takes issue with the
omission of a submission pertinent to an agenda item.
All of this is well and good for a high school civics class, but as a practical matter it is beside the point.
Ms. Gallelli is correct insofar as there is a considerable volume of information available on the village website.
But the FOIL'd evidence which came out a few months ago shows a long-standing pattern of hiding key information until after the real decisions have been made by a handful of people.
Mr. Rolnick we may take at his word and assume that the party is committed to an "exchange" with voters.
the evidence disclosed this summer shows that decisions in Croton are
made long before the voters are aware, and "exchange" with voters is
theatrical pretense to ratify decisions already made in secret.
Rolnick's claim as to "exchange" with voters is laudable, but the
evidence shows that since at least August 2013 only a select few of our
elected Trustees were kept informed as to Board activities.
Rolnick would do a great service to the citizens of Croton if he were
able to persuade his own party's elected officials to treat each other
as equals, entitled to a voice in Board decisions.
I do not mean
to say that Mr. Rolnick is primarily responsible for the conduct of the
Board over the past few years; the Trustees who are excluded from the
inner circle need to start speaking up for themselves and doing their
duty to the voters.
But if Mr. Rolnick can not even get elected
officials of his own party to treat each other with honesty and
transparency, then an "exchange" with voters is meaningless.
Gingold has a valid concern with a lack of disclosure on agenda items.
This has come up with CPA, with Mr. Zambrano's contract renewal, and
most famously with the Gouveia property.
While I realize that Mr.
Gingold's concern touches on legitimate aspects of both procedural and
substantive aspects of municipal governance, it would be a wonderful
thing if Croton was at the point where disregard of statutory "open
meetings" requirements was the main problem.
Unfortunately the problem is more fundamental, and I would refer Gazette readers
to the now-public email exchange between Ms. Gallelli and Barbara
Sarbin: a village official gave explicit instructions to an applicant
not to disclose certain items despite there being an agenda item before
the Board. The explicit written rationale was to avoid giving citizens
an "opportunity to pick it apart."
These instructions by a village Trustee lend credence to Mr. Gingold's concern.
in reality by the time the item was on the public agenda, the outcome
had already been decided as a result of more than a year's worth of
secret discussions. Therefore the contempt which Mayor Weigman and
Trustee Gallelli exhibited for the statutory requirements for
transparency is not relevant to fixing the problem.
irony of the whole Gouveia affair is the secret involvement of former
Mayor Elliott. At the same time that sitting elected officials and the
taxpayers were being deliberately misled and kept in the dark, Mr.
Elliott was a key player behind the scenes. I would point out that after
leaving the mayoralty, Mr. Elliott went on to Albany where one of his
responsibilities was oversight of the Committee on Open Government.
problem in Croton is not a lack of guidelines, nor a lack of laws to
prevent secret deals for favored friends, nor a failure to post exhibits
to agenda items.
Rather, our problem is a condescending attitude bordering on disdain for the residents of Croton.
understand that Mr. Gingold is being circumspect in the interest of
civility, and I respect that. But we need to be frank if we are to
prevent a recurrence of what has gone on over the past few years.
question before us now is how to prevent a recurrence of the type of
governance exhibited in Croton. It is unlikely that our officials will
again be so foolish or arrogant to leave a lengthy paper trail of
A starting point would be for our Trustees to put their
obligations to the constituents ahead of party loyalty. Regrettably the
only sitting Trustee who feels this way is not running for re-election.
would be helpful if some of our current officials changed their views
on the utility of their Trustee colleagues and the wisdom of the
electorate, and gave concrete suggestions as to how to change the
back-room culture which they have created.
In the face of
documentary evidence, simply reciting a hollow paean to an "open
exchange" makes a mockery of our democracy and is an insult to our
We--the citizens of Croton--need to solve the underlying problem.
And since Gouveia is mentioned extensively above, you may also have an interest in http://everythingcroton.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-gouveia-property-september-26.html