I thought Phil Reisman of The Journal News lent the more humorous take on what Rethinking Westchester Government is -- and isn't.
There is confusion among some elected officials about this group's goals and methods -- and our associations.
We're not looking to storm the County Building like the French Revolution. We're not looking to prompt civil unrest. We are looking forward to earn the respect and help of many County lawmakers who presently are being ordered by political bosses to keep their mouths shut. Let's be clear on that point, since it is often over looked in New York's passive aggressive zoo of politicos. It's about powerbrokers negotiating for jobs, money and/or endorsements. It's the politics of fear and ownership.
They don't like us because actually making progress. They don't own us and they can't scare us.
Rethinking is one of the reasons the Westchester County Board of Legislators thought twice about raising your taxes a percentage or two or more. We are looking to eliminate county government, at least its present form, but that does not mean we're looking to end many valuable services.
Whether services can be more cost-effectively taken over by the state or local governments, we're concerned about the rising taxes. Westchester is the highest taxed county in America. Something has to change.
If that translates into a downsizing, consolidation and sharing of services that makes for a more productively run representative branch of local government ... good. Some believe we have to press to eliminate county government to just get these knuckleheads we elected (yes, we collectively have to take responsiblity for them) to carve a percent or two off your tax bill.
Initiative and Referenda
One method Rethinking Westchester Government would like to use is no different than a school budget vote.
It's that simple. We would like public referendums on: the budgets, all the bonding, departments and some level of services being handled by other levels of government (or eliminated completely). There are things the state can do better and less expensively. There are things a local village, town or city can do more efficiently than county government.
But to get there, we need the New York State Legislature to allow greater use of Initiative and Referenda.
Right now, the control freaks in the Assembly and State Senate don't want the people (that's us) to have access to such control over finances and the operation of government. In my humble opinion, they're taking an elitist attitude and don't feel "the great unwashed" can responsibly conduct the business of government.
It will take two sessions, over a period of four years, to get such a Constitutional Convention to pass such a change in the law ... theoretically.
Then there is Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's proposed law for consolidation, legislation that would require signatures to be gathered to allow a referendum. It's a wonderful idea whose time is long overdue -- and perhaps it's the direction we as a group might take.
Now do you understand why people are so frustrated and prone to protest like a scene from Frankenstein. People are mad as hell and not going to take high taxes anymore, especially during a recession that might become an economic depression.
How do we get that change?
Just like a campaign for elected office, our democracy demands some level of accountability from the people in terms of a grass-roots level of support. We need signatures. Lots of thems. Tens of thousands of signatures, maybe more, maybe hundreds of thousands of signatures statewide.
We're talking about months of work, all done by volunteers, and on a scale more serious and expansive that a statewide campaign for public office. This is a lot of work.
Is there a quicker way? Probably not. And this remains our challenge. Can we and other good government groups around New York State gather enough signatures to lobby the lawmakers to pass such a law -- if they can Constitutionally pass it?
They key will be the grass-roots support. They can't say no to many thousands of signatures nor can the courts.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has just proposed a law that might make this simpler.
We will have more on that law in the coming days.
Grass Roots Support
What else can you do?
In addition to commenting on our blog, making your voice heard, we also have a place to comment anonymously on our website. Still, we would welcome seeing your name. It makes a greater impact.
It is about making the right noise, this thing called free speech.
You can knock on the door of your local elected official and ask if they can help. You can show up at a local meeting and discuss the issue where your entire community can learn about our group. Write a letter. Whether you e-mail, call or mail a letter to elected officials on the local, county, state and federal level -- every little bit helps us. Contact the media. We can help you there. We can supply you with names of news producers, editors, publishers and journalists throughout the tri-state area. Don't forget the bloggers either.
Arrange a meeting. Invite us to speak. Suggest a place where we should schedule a major forum in your village, town or city.
Some of you may not want to go door-to-door or may not be able but the above actions are helpful.
Rules of the Game
Now we already know that the politicians will pull every cheap dirty trick to discredit us.
What we're discovering is that some elected officials are already running for cover, making excuses and trying to avoid being accountable on the issue of fiscal responsiblity on the county level.
Why? It's a back scratching game these knuckleheads play where they each "go along to get along" and the general rule is not to rock the boat.
So there isn't an confusion, please remind them that Rethinking Westchester Government is not associated with a publisher named Sam Zherka. The self-styled reformer tends to attack people ungracefully in his newspaper rather than addressing the idea. That's not the kind of good government approach we envisioned.
We recruited volunteers to build a new website. We added a blog. We're drawing the support of true reformers around the county. It's not that Zherka's zeal for reform is without merit. It's just that Zherka's confrontive style is not part of our organization. He wants a physical protest. We want a change in legislation through grounded activism.
Meanwhile, the other side continues to bully and threaten our allies. Well meaning public servants are being told not to join us. Where we don't agree with Mr. Zherka, we do agree that there is fear on the streets and arm-twisting behind closed doors by those wishing to spend more of your tax dollars.
In numbers, we have strength and your outreach to these elected officials is all important.
Please encourage them to come to the table. Be our messenger. That's when grass-roots works best.
The above can be considered a rough draft of a personal vision statement, for now, and there will be more to come by other members of our group.
Rethinking Westchester Government