Giving up is not “reform.” County Executive Ed Mangano’s proposal to transfer property assessment from the county to the towns might possibly speed up assessment decisions by replacing one large and overwhelmed bureaucracy with several somewhat smaller ones. It will likely recreate problems that were major motivations in creating our highly centralized county government 75 years ago.
The 1938 county charter merged the town Boards of Assessors and the County Board of Equalization, ending three decades of complaints, lawsuits and hard feelings about the lack of specific, uniform levels of property assessments between the towns. In a tax system screaming out for simplification, clarification and a sense of certainty, spinning off assessments to the towns will reintroduce “equalization” as an annual issue. Tens of thousands of residents are still trying to figure out why their assessment went down but their tax bill still went up. The division of taxes heading up the tax food chain in an equitable manner is the most complex subject in local government, and it’s all going to make people very sad, particularly in villages and school districts that are split between townships.
The potholes, the potholes, the horror, the horror. Reactive maintenance isn’t going to cut it anymore. Like so many other standard operating procedures that are breaking down under changing conditions, we need a new way of approaching the pothole problem.
If local governments pretend that it’s some blip and that revenues and temperature variations will soon be back to normal, the situation will only grow worse and more expensive. We need new ways to discover, report and track the holes, and to monitor and measure success.
Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio didn’t sneak into Town Hall on Jan. 1. He spoke the words of an oath in front of a judge on the steps of Town Hall in front of people. There are pictures. There’s video and audio. Though it was a staged “inauguration” for political consumption, it should probably count for something. But no, as of this writing he is former Supervisor Vecchio, Town Clerk Puleo having declared his office and that of another member of the Town Board to be vacant because they did not file the required written oath within 30 days of the start of their terms.
What a stupid law.
The state has finally released its annual report on income taxes by county for 2010. It takes a few years for the dust to settle, I guess. It’s an eye-opener. And remember, officially, the “recession” ended in June 2009. Some people did recover.
As of the end of 2010, just a smidgen under 23 percent of Nassau County tax filers earned $100,000 or more, but statewide the figure is just over 13 percent. The average adjusted gross income for filers in Nassau was $86,178, just over a third larger than the state average, and exceeded only in Manhattan and Westchester. Counting only returns on which taxes were owed, the average adjusted gross income for Nassau was $119,920, 22 percent higher than the statewide average.
What is integrity? To me, it means being one thing. It means being authentic and truthful in one’s dealings. Honesty means not lying. Integrity can keep you out of situations where you have to tell an outright and debasing lie.
Elected officials can afford to flail about. They can say one thing for years and then do a 180 and say the opposite thing when it suits them. Most don’t actually run anything. They wave. However, it’s understood that our governments are built around a core of professionals and managers who make things run. This is the theory of the civil service. Theoretically.
Not everyone was thrilled when, in the summer of 1964, Attorney General Robert Kennedy decided to establish a residence in Glen Cove and run for the U.S. Senate from New York. RFK was an international celebrity, but it took a lot of talking and maneuvering by Nassau Democratic Chairman Jack English, state coordinator of the Draft Kennedy movement, to assure Mayor Robert Wagner and others that RFK was an asset and not a threat to them. Within a few weeks, nearly the entire Democratic Party establishment was in line for Kennedy.
Congressman Otis Pike of the First Congressional District in Suffolk County went his own way. Always. Pike stuck with Schenectady Congressman Sam Stratton. At the state nominating convention, Pike and Stratton tried to block the delegates from granting the “Wilson-Pakula” authorization allowing Kennedy, not an enrolled New York Democrat, to run. Pike personally nominated Stratton, attacking any nomination of Kennedy as a blunder doomed to fail.
Details about the Target security breach fiasco are slowly dripping out, and the news gets worse and worse. Nieman Marcus has also announced a similar hacking of consumer card data, and more incidents may be announced. Stolen card data has appeared for sale on the cybercrime black market, and it’s from this point on that we’ll have an idea of what kind of damage may have been done to Long Island consumers and small businesses.
And already, the whole thing has devolved into a gigantic misdirection of attention away from those most responsible. Target is hardly blameless, but the large banks and other credit card issuers could have been issuing Americans the significantly safer cards that are standard around the world and have slashed data theft in other countries. The card issuers don’t want to pay several dollars per card to do it.
At first glance, it’s just another unsolicited email from an elected official. Most do not contain anything worth reading to the last line. Many public officials are issued taxpayer-funded mobile devices now, and it’s possible they’ve never learned about “data charges” or how much they’re annoying voters using mobile devices.
As a legislative and political operative, many moons ago, I quickly understood that Lists Are Gold and assiduously collected, organized and cross-referenced all kinds. But I didn’t cull constituent files for propaganda purposes. An official has the privilege of proving worthiness through service. Every constituent request or complaint is a more effective opportunity to shine than any lame “reminder” mailing about how wonderful a job my principal is doing.
Hopkinton is a high-income suburb of Boston. It is best known as the starting point for the annual Boston Marathon. In Hopkinton, residents can take a photo on a smartphone of any problem on their street, from uncollected trash to broken sidewalks, and send it to the town government. The photo and GPS data allow the town to assess exactly what is wrong and instantly pinpoint where it is. The underlying code for this “app” (little programs that run on handheld devices) was actually developed by Boston, which has passed it along to more than 40 municipalities in Eastern Massachusetts, all developing their own local versions.
The same stories are being told from Louisville to London to Lakewood, Ohio. Many cities didn’t spend money on developing their apps.
The very first function ever assigned to our local governments was to take care of those who were least able to take care of themselves. The Dutch laid it down as a condition to stop chasing away the English who kept popping up in what is now Nassau County. More than 150 years before there was a public school system, there were official systems in place for keeping widows, orphaned children, the injured, the insane and the drunk from starvation.
Since the very year that Abraham Lincoln became a lawyer, the Town of Oyster Bay, North Hempstead and later the City of Glen Cove have been served by an institution that was once unique in this state and possibly in the United States. The Jones Fund still exists today, and many readers remember that until 1973, its trustees were nominated by the political parties and elected on the same tickets as town officials.
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Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org