Contact the editor, Ron Fraser, at email@example.com
Issue Number 3, April 2022
From a reader in Holland: “If people are to be free we need to know how to listen well to one another and strive to better understand the other and the issues at stake AND take on responsibilities that help make our community better for all.”
Regarding the sign (See Issue #2), a reader from Colden writes: “I think that they have a right to express their hatred of Biden, but not in their lawn.”
“It is wonderful,” a reader writes, “to find a place where key issues of our local towns will be succinctly presented.”
Pipeline in Limbo
Way back in February the National Fuel Corporation asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to grant the company until December 2024 to complete its proposed 99 mile, Northern Access Pipeline connecting Pennsylvania to Canada. FERC’s normal review period of 45 days lapsed in early April. What’s the hold up? No one seems to know, including Sierra Club’s Diana Strablow.
Recap: This project calls for a 75-foot right-of-way for the installation of a 24-inch natural gas pipeline along 8.24 miles in the Town of Sardinia, 7.08 miles in the Town of Colden, 3.80 miles in the Town of Aurora, 4.98 miles in the Town of Wales and 1.93 miles in the Town of Marilla.
Members of the Sierra Club’s Niagara Group formally asked FERC to deny National Fuel’s time extension request, as did the NY Department of Environmental Conservation.
Holland’s Empty Barn
A few weeks ago, the 800 acre Kramer dairy farm on Holland-Glenwood Road suddenly went dark. Over-night the barns, home to 400 Holsteins, were emptied. Tractors and dozens of other farming implements disappeared as well. What happened?
John Kramer, in his 70s, told New York Farm Finder, “What is most important to the Kramers is that the land stays in farming.”
He may have gotten his wish. Jill Dix, Holland’s Town Clerk reports that the farm has been sold to Edelweiss Farms, perhaps to be operated as a beef cattle farm.
Grass Roots Democracy
In school we learned that American democracy is built on the three-branch form of government: including a separate legislative, law-making, branch; a separate executive branch, with a chief executive, to carry-out the laws; and an independent judiciary branch to settle disputes. Each separate, independent branch of government provides checks on abuse of power in the other branches.
New York State government and New York counties operate with a three-branch form of government.
New York towns, however, do not. Towns operate with a collegial form of government that does not have the checks provided by separate, independent branches of government. Instead, members of town boards share responsibility for both making the laws and carrying-out the laws. There is no independent executive branch.
Article IX in the NYS Constitution, titled, “The Bill of Rights for Local Governments,” is also known as the home rule statute. The first sentence reads: ”Effective local self-government and intergovernmental cooperation are purposes of the people of the state.” New York’s 932 towns are not sovereign, independent municipal islands. Instead, they are part of an intergovernmental network of 62 counties and the lone state government.
Local governments (counties and towns) are granted the power to adopt laws relating to the “…affairs or government…including the protection, order, conduct, safety, health and well-being of persons or property therein.”
The Southtowns and Erie County differ greatly both in the manner in which they are organized and the number of public employees available to carry-out specific Constitutional powers. This imbalance might account for some of the resistance many towns greeted state and county health-related, mask mandates. A breakdown in intergovernmental cooperation between Erie County and the small, rural Southtowns may have also been a factor.
While small Southtowns’ budgets focus on a few activities, including road work, general government administration, employee benefits and trash collection, Erie County’s budget, unlike towns, puts plenty of resources into public health activities.
The ability of each level of government, from the state down to the town, to carry out their assigned duties is, in large part, dependent on the number of their full-time staff employees. Here is how the Southtowns compare to Erie County and the state governments.
New York State: 254,000 employees, or one employee for every 75 state residents.
Erie County: 4,458 employees, or one employee for every 250 county residents.
Town of Colden: 7 employees, or one employee for every 471 town residents.
Town of Holland: 7 employees, or one employee for every 471 town residents.
Town Sardinia: 5 employees, or one employee for every 540 town residents.
Town of Wales: 4 employees, or one employee for every 750 town residents.
Issue Number 2, March 2022
Small town governments, Then & Now
During the presidencies of James Madison, James Monroe and John Quincey Adams, between 1818 and 1827, the towns of Colden, Holland, Sardinia and Wales got their start. Town boundaries were drawn at a time when citizens travelled by horse-power and lived in small, agrarian towns—then considered the grass roots keepers of American democracy.
One writer, then a Syracuse University professor, Roscoe Martin, author of Grass Roots, (1954) described grass roots democracy this way: “When the chores of government are discharged by friends and neighbors, the citizen feels that he belongs…that he can chat things over with them on the doorstep in the evening.”
Do you and I, citizens living today in the towns of Colden, Holland, Sardinia and Wales, feel like we belong and can chat things over with our neighbors occupying town hall?
In the Town of Holland
Entering the hamlet from the north along Route 16, you may have noticed a sign that reads, “State Law Noise Limit 90 Decibels.”
According to the town supervisor, G. Hack, “The sign was installed by the New York Department of Transportation. These work orders are usually generated in response to local concerns looking to limit the use of [noisy] jake brakes by trucks, however it was not initiated by the Town of Holland.”
Hats off to the citizens who successfully turned their “local concerns” into a do-it-yourself community win. But their task has only begun.
How, and by whom, is the 90 decibels law to be enforced? Or, is voluntary compliance with the posted law working? Has truck noise in the hamlet gone down or stayed the same since the sign was installed?
In the Town of Colden
Master Land Use Plans. The Town of Colden is updating its ancient comprehensive (AKA master) land use plan adopted way back in 1993.
The starting point for the planning process calls for the town planners to find out how the people of Colden— the very people for whom the plan is being prepared—want their town to look 10 years from now. Do they want the town to remain as it is today? Do they want their town to make changes in the future and what changes are top priority?
The legitimacy of the new plan, to be adopted by the town board a few months down the road, depends on the quantity and quality of the input from a broad cross section of the town’s population. A poor response from the population will likely steer the planners in a direction other than where the people want them to go.
On the town’s website the planners write: “We can’t create a plan for the community unless we hear from the community. Tell us your thoughts and help to guide us in planning for the Town’s future…The plan will act as a road map for the future and help to guide decision makers moving forward. A comprehensive plan is only as good as the feedback and input that is provided from those that know the Town itself.”
To gather this crucial feedback, town planners have posted a well-designed, 15 question survey on the town’s website. But, unsure how effective the town’s website is for reaching citizens that may not have access to the Internet or, if they do, do not check the town’s website frequently, a postal mailing to all homes in the town will back-up the website. The town’s supervisor, James DePasquale, tells us:
“The Town Board has decided to include a survey in our newsletter [mailed to all households] coming out shortly. That will give every resident the opportunity if they choose to provide their views in our master plan.”
Citizens of Colden, do not miss this once in 25-years opportunity to guide the development of your town over the next 10 years. Look for the town’s newsletter and enclosed survey in your mailbox and return the survey to town hall.
Located on the corner of Darien and Center Streets in the Town of Colden is, on public display, a sign that reads:
and Fuck You for Voting for Him”
At first glance, this sign is simply an expression of someone’s Constitutional, free speech rights. But is it? The sign targets and intimidates, and some may say threatens, neighbors, fellow Americans, who simply exercised their Constitutional right to cast their ballots for Joseph Biden.
And who are the sign’s targets? They include:
760 Biden voters in the Town of Colden
608 Biden voters in the Town of Holland
454 Biden voters in the Town of Sardinia
619 Biden voters in the Town of Wales
The New York State Constitution grants town government officials the power to oversee the order, conduct, safety, health and well-being of persons or property in their towns.
Since similar signs may already appear elsewhere, the question for all elected town officials is: What is an appropriate official response to this and similar publicly displayed signs?
Town of Wales
Speaking of boundaries, the Town of Wales supervisor, Tim Howard, is taking a serious look at the pros and cons of the town leaving Erie County and joining Wyoming County where, perhaps, Wales residents would have a more powerful voice in county government affairs. The idea is that being a small, rural town, Wales would fit better in rural Wyoming County rather than remain located on the urban/suburban fringe in Erie County.
Beyond the urban/rural tug-of-war, another factor is at work here.
On February 8, 2022, the Wales town board passed a resolution proclaiming their “opposition to the abuse, overuse and overreach of the use of Executive Orders in the form of mandates by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and the New York Governor, Kathy Hochul….These Executive Orders and Mandates ignore the responsibility of elected officials from the Town Boards…We respectfully ask that the County Executive and State Governor cease and desist what may be seen as arbitrary and capricious Orders and return authority to the duly elected officials of the Town of Wales.”
A formal stay-or-go study has yet to be launched, but possible topics are being identified, include:
Property tax comparison; sales tax rates and flow of funds back to the town; school taxes; how road work is performed in each county; etc.
If the completed study makes a compelling case for the town to seek a new home, and the people of Wales agree, will Wyoming County then conduct its own study to decide whether or not the residents of Wyoming County will accept the addition of Wales?
Town of Sardinia
Small town governments rely heavily on citizen volunteers to conduct the town’s business. Town planning boards are a good example. In my town of Colden citizens appointed to the planning board are not paid. In the Town of Sardinia, however, planning board members receive compensation for the time they spend attending official planning board meetings.
Members of the Sardinia planning board receive $25 for a meeting that runs less than 30 minutes and, if the meeting last more than 30 minutes, the rate is bumped up to $35 per attendee.
Question: Does compensation increase the quality of the service planning board members render to the citizens of their town? Are there other ways to increase the quality of service provided by a town’s planning board?
Send your comments to: Ron Fraser at firstname.lastname@example.org
Issue Number 1, February, 2022
Contact the editor, Ron Fraser, at email@example.com
CIVIL DISCOURSE, of course, of course
These days, “legitimate political discourse” comes in two flavors. There is the South American banana republic style that was on display during the January 6th election-coup assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Then, there is America’s old-fashioned, non-violent variety of political discourse. That is the kind of discourse favored in this newsletter.
ERIE COUNTY’S SOUTH TOWNS
The towns of Colden, Holland, Sardinia and Wales, each with a population around 3,000, may be thought of as small rural governments but, in New York State, they are, size-wise, typical grass-roots governments. More than one-half of New York State’s 932 town governments have a population less than 3,000.
WHAT DO SOUTH TOWN GOVERNMENTS DO?
Our towns provide two types of government services.
Day-to-day Services. Here you and I will look at every day government services in our towns. How well are town officials handling snow removal, road work, trash collection and other day-to-day services?
Policy Makers. Town officials also tackle more complex public policy issues—and make decisions with long-lasting, quality of life ramifications. Examples:
o Town of Colden officials are currently drafting a new master land use plan, an important ten-year roadmap to guide the town’s future land use policies and decisions. How well are these planners collecting the values and development goals of the town’s citizens and business community, the starting point of the master planning process?
o News outlets are reporting that officials in the towns of Holland and Wales are considering whether or not to succeed from Erie County and join Wyoming County. What is behind this radical idea? Readers living in the towns of Holland and Wales, what are your thoughts on this idea?
o The towns of Sardinia and Concord have given the green light to the Genesee Road Solar Energy Center, a proposed 350 Mega Watt, 2,500 acre enterprise. What are the public and private benefits and risks associated with this project? Is the solar farm a wild card, or is it part of an existing land use development plan adopted by the Town of Sardinia?
o The National Fuel Corporation has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to grant the company until December 2024 to complete its 99 mile, Northern Access Pipeline connecting Pennsylvania to Canada,
This project calls for a 75-foot right-of-way for the installation of a 24-inch natural gas pipeline along 8.24 miles in the Town of Sardinia, 7.08 miles in the Town of Colden, 3.80 miles in the Town of Aurora, 4.98 miles in the Town of Wales and 1.93 miles in the Town of Marilla.
What are public officials in these towns doing to prepare for the environmental risks posed by construction of the pipeline, including damage to water quality at waterway crossings and damage to roadways?
For a distance of 13 miles the pipeline will cut through, and potentially contaminate, the Cattaraugus Creek Basin Aquifer, a federally designated sole source drinking water supply for 15 municipal water systems and countless private wells in Erie and Cattaraugus Counties.
Your thoughts on the above topics are welcome. Detailed reports should include town name, date, etc., giving credit for good services and decisions, as well as targeting issues that need attention.
Also, you may send a copy to your friends or send me their email address and I’ll put them on my mailing list. Thanks..
END OF ISSUE NUMBER 1, FEBRUARY 2022
INTRODUCTION TO “NOBODY ASKED ME…,” POSTED FEBRUARY 2022
Welcome to “Nobody Asked Me…but…”
…a forum for citizens who take seriously their government oversight responsibilities.
Good government doesn’t just happen. This is especially the case in rural America where small towns depend on part-time elected and appointed citizens to provide day-to-day public services and to grapple with complex public policy decisions with long-lasting consequences.
Public officials are elected to conduct, on our behalf, the town’s business. And, it is our job, as citizens, to participate in the governing process. This newsletter will provide an exchange of ideas among us citizens and between us and our fellow citizens occupying elected offices.
The first issues of Nobody Asked Me…but.. will arrive shortly. I hope you will find them of interest. To keep the newsletter tied to current government actions, you—readers living in Sardinia, Holland, Boston, Wales and my hometown, Colden—are encouraged to report your observations, your concerns and your ideas for improving public management in your hometowns.
If interested in receiving this newsletter, please send me your email address.
Once you have looked over the first few issues of Nobody Asked Me…but.. let me know what topics you want addressed in the future. If you decide this newsletter is not for you, please send me an email asking to be removed from the list.
Thanks for your consideration,
Newsletter editor, Ron Fraser, firstname.lastname@example.org
You get what you inspect, not what you expect.
The Heisenberg Principle
“It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens…must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their public servants. It is the only climate under which the commonweal will prosper and enable the governmental process to operate for the benefit of those who created it.”
New York’s Open Meeting Law