Wednesday, March 11, 2015

More on Centreville election...

The town did in fact communicate the upcoming election to the citizens via a press release and with a small advertisement on page 27 of the February 13th Record Observer. A February 26th town email newsletter also carried the election notice and filing deadline (that email was delivered 2 working days prior to the filing deadline). There is no archive on the town site for either the press release or the email newsletter.    

With slightly more than 3 weeks before the planned April 6th election, however, the town has not made clear who has filed, how many candidates have filed, nor that there will not be a need for the April 6th election. The process by which the town can "formally" announce who filed as a candidate, and subsequently announce that there will not be an election, takes time. Both the Board of Elections and the Town Ethics Council need to review candidate filings; the Board of Elections was scheduled to meet last night.

Perhaps the process has been slow rolled because only one person has filed, perhaps not. But if multiple persons had filed as candidates on the filing deadline of March 2nd, and another nine days passed before those candidates were made official, the voters would have a short three weeks to make their decision. This leaves little time for research, candidate forums or vetting by the press; and these candidates, if elected, deal with serious matters, making decisions with profoundly long-term impacts. The risks to the voters of not knowing who is running seem to be higher than maybe some realize.

It is clear to me at least that a month between filing deadline and election, knowing the process that has to occur before a candidate can be made "official" by town entities, is too short of a time frame.  I would suggest that the town either make the filing deadline a month earlier, or make the election a month later. The process should also codify that the Board of Elections and Town Ethics Commission will meet within 2 days following the filing deadline. The process should be clear, easy to understand, and it should be consistent.  I would also suggest that the town post candidate filings as soon as they are submitted, and simply mark those candidates as "provisional" pending the completion of the town process.

Elections are important, knowing who is running is important. There should be signs announcing Town Election - April 6, the election should feature prominently on all town communications, on the town website, and perhaps include an announcement with the utility bill, and all of this should begin well in advance. The town should have no qualms announcing who the candidates are, and no qualms about promoting the election. 



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Centreville Town Council Election UPDATE

In the "news you (unfortunately) won't find in the newspaper" section, the filing deadline for running for the Centreville Town Council has come and it has gone. March 2nd was the deadline, and after confirming with town staff, I can report that current councilman, Tim McCluskey has filed for reelection, and no one has filed to oppose him.

As such, per the recent change in the town's charter, there will not be a town election in April. McCluskey will simply be certified as the new council member at the April 16 reorganization meeting. A (fairly) comprehensive search of the town's website finds no hint, not a whisper, about the town election that no longer needs to be held, the town's online events calendar has no entry for the March 2nd candidate filing deadline, and has no entry for the (now unnecessary) election. The next "town event" listed on the town homepage is the April 11 Project Clean Stream event. There is no news about who has filed as a candidate, and indeed, there is no announcement that the town election no longer needs to be held, due to a lack of competition for the council seat. Perhaps this information went out as part of the weekly email, but there is no archive of those emails on the Centreville website, and further, there isn't even a 'search' function for the town's website.

A similar search of The Record Observer website also finds no mention of the Centreville election, proof that the press generally won't find something they aren't looking for.

All of this strikes me as pretty amazing and somewhat worrisome. I have no issues with cancelling the April election, the outcome seems pretty clear and there is no need to be going through the motions for a foregone conclusion.But it is absolutely critical that Centreville town government should be making this information widely available. Press releases should have been sent about the approaching filing deadline, about who the candidates are, and when only one files, another press release should be sent announcing that there won't be an election.  When you click on the Press Releases tab on the town site, you are informed in somewhat Orwellian fashion that "There is no News." No news? Really? An election doesn't qualify as news?  The Town News tab also features nothing about the election.

In a town with 4,000 people, your best kept secret shouldn't be about an election.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Book Report: The Power Broker

Robert Caro's The Power Broker is a bitch to carry around. It was first published in 1974, and its scale, at 1162 pages (not counting the acknowledgments, bibliography, notes, and index) and more than four pounds, is best suited for transport in a 1974 Cadillac Eldorado. Which is ironic, because that big old road beast was precisely the kind of car that Robert Moses built his roads for. You can just imagine informed New Yorkers carrying this behemoth on the New York subway in the 70s and 80s, and maybe still today, as the book is not published in any electronic formats.

But the book is very much worth the reader's effort. This is a work of monumental importance, reflecting the kind of research effort on the part of Caro that typifies a deserving Pulitzer winner. The Power Broker took years to research, but the prose isn't the pale prose of the research library, it is the energetic prose of the journalist. The narrative flows in a way that makes complete sense. A thousand pages of rote detail about every Moses public works project would be difficult to stomach and unnecessary; but a narrative that tracks the gradual shift in Moses' approach to public works, his accumulation of power and the ways in which he used that power, is itself powerful.  Moses started as the consummate progressive reformer, he wound up his career more than forty years later as the consummate grafter and politician. He made grand plans, subject to few whims other than his own, and then he made those plans come to life with an effectiveness seldom seen in public affairs, then or now. With an effectiveness that shared much in common with his beloved bulldozer.

Moses spent forty years defining the New York landscape. He opened some of the finest public beaches then known to man, incorporating whimsical architectural details into beautiful bathhouses built to fit in with the dunes on which they sit. In the process, he grossly underestimated the costs; knowing full well politicians would never appropriate the full amount he needed, he proposed getting the job done for much less than he knew it would cost, betting that no politician would ever not grant his requests to finish a half-built project. For decades, this tactic of 'putting a stake in the ground' helped Moses to build some of the most iconic public works in all of human history.

Of course his roads tore the heart out of communities, his slum clearance projects forced proud families to poverty, and created as many slums as they cleared. Where a block or two shift in a Moses route might have saved much heartbreak, he was unwilling to even consider the slightest change. Because he controlled massive amounts of toll booth revenue, and the subsequent bond authority garnered from those liquid assets, his power was virtually untouchable, he couched no compromise, feared no politician. But while the stories twists and turns are anything but formulaic, the product of his downfall: the unnecessarily ruthless exercise of his own power, becomes increasingly predictable. 

As a reader of much serious historical non-fiction, I must say that it strikes me as unique that Caro does seem to have it out for Moses from the very beginning, indeed one cannot help but think that the book has an anti-Moses vendetta at its very heart. Generally speaking, works of in-depth research don't have such clear author bias, perhaps especially in a field such as biography, where one hopes to strike a balance of presentation. Moses was certainly no saint, and Caro leaves no stone unturned to prove his motives were base virtually from word one. The conclusion drives the narrative, not the other way round, but perhaps in this case it could be no other way. 

But there are profoundly meaningful (and modern) lessons to be learned in this 40 year old book about a man born more than a century ago. It is the tale of what happens when elected politicians aren't paying attention to the laws they write and how entrusting too many of the various levers of power to one person is always an incredibly bad idea; it is a tale of how effective the politics of personal destruction can be when used by a master. Most importantly in my view, particularly in today's environment of politically tailored news outlets, it is a loud warning as to what happens when the media doesn't do the kind of independent research required to get at the heart of stories about public issues, when they just regurgitate the press releases from whatever side they happen to be in the can for.          

There are a few books that I consider required reading for anyone interested in United States politics, even generally. The Power Broker joins that list immediately. Every American Politics 101 student in college should be required to read it front to back, and any American who votes should likewise, Hell any American citizen ought to do our society a favor and run to your local used bookstore, and buy a copy of The Power Broker. The book draws conclusions not in hypothesis, but in stone, in concrete.