Want your village gov.? Prove it

The Island Now

In an election held last week by the Village of Roslyn Harbor, population 1,032, two trustee candidates and one candidate for village justice — all running unopposed — each received 8 votes.

That was twice as many votes received in the Village of Roslyn Estates, population 1,193, where two candidates — also running unopposed — each received 4 votes.

In Great Neck, six villages held races for 16 positions — all of which were uncontested. The combined vote total for all six villages: 283.  The combined population of the six villages: 15,404.

Based on the number of villages in North Hempstead, one would think that people love local government. But based on the number of contested races and the number of people voting, not so much. Turnout, for the most, was between awful and deplorable.

A major factor in the low turnout was the number of contested races.

Across North Hempstead and Floral Park, 19 villages held elections for trustees, mayors and village justices last Tuesday. Only three were contested.

Great Neck Plaza Trustee Pam Marksheid said it was not uncommon for villages in Great Neck to have low voter turnout.

But, she said, she found the voter turnout “pretty shocking” and “unfortunate.”

And Marsheid won, receiving a relative outpouring of support with 112 votes.

Markshield attributed the low turnout to some people being content and some being uninterested.

That may be so but this is not a good thing for the state of democracy or the quality of government in North Hempstead.

As proof, simply look at the three villages that had contested elections last week — Munsey Park, Mineola and Williston Park.

Candidates and residents in all three villages joined in a robust debate of issues important to them. For Mineola, it was downtown development, in Williston Park the quality of the village’s leadership and in Munsey Park, village taxes and access to government.

In all three cases, incumbents or their choices for open seats won. But both incumbents and challengers had an opportunity to state what they saw as the needs of their village and what they would do about it.

For the villages with uncontested races, little or nothing was said by most candidates about the needs of their village and their plans.

When he was state attorney general, Andrew Cuomo called for the consolidation of the more than 10,500 governments in New York State that he said helped saddle residents with the nation’s highest taxes and duplicative services.

Keep in mind that not all villages held their elections last week nor did special districts hold their elections either. Other villages and special districts will hold their elections later this year.

Cuomo continued his consolidation call when he took office as governor in 2011.

He had a good point. But mayors and other government leaders did not agree — at least when it came to their municipality — and Cuomo’s proposal has gotten nowhere.

In an effort to boost Cuomo’s plan to cut taxes, increase voter participation and encourage more candidates, we would like to offer a few modest proposals.

Our first is to hold all village elections on the same day, say the first Tuesday in March. This would eliminate confusion about among residents about when their village was holding their election.

Our next two suggestions are inspired by sports leagues.

Teams in soccer leagues are transferred between upper and lower divisions based on their performance for a completed season.

So, too, should villages. With a slight change. If the village is demoted, it must merge with a nearby village.

The consolidation rule could be based on two criteria — the percentage of residents who vote and just sheer numbers.

Let’s establish as a principle that no one should be elected to village office by fewer people than can fit into a mini-van. How about a minimum of 100 people

This might be a challenge for a village such as Baxter Estates, which has a population of 983. But that would serve as even greater motivation to find challengers to engage in a discussion about the village’s future.

The second rule would require that at least 5 or 10 percent of the registered voters in a village vote or the village faces the consolidation penalty.

The same recommendation would apply here — make the race interesting by encouraging all candidates to have opponents who can engage them in a debate.

We know that many people on the North Shore lead busy lives with important jobs and families to raise. And at least some are content with the leadership.

But if they are content, let them prove it by casting a vote once a year.

The same can be said for finding candidates.

Those who serve in village government as both elected officials and members of committees all deserve our praise. They sacrifice their time by serving their community and set a good example of civic involvement.

But if a village does not have enough people to run for office, then it shouldn’t be a village.

That’s how democracy works. Use it or lose it.

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The Island Now

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