Written by Wendy Karpel Kreitzman Friday, 06 November 2009 00:00
“This rally is to get New York state, the state legislature, and the governor to change the law passed in June … a law with no other purpose than to make money,” said Saddle Rock Mayor J. Leonard Samansky, president of the Great Neck Village Officials Association. The GNVOA, along with the Great Neck Park District, the Great Neck Water Pollution Control District, the Manhasset-Lakeville Water/Fire District, and the Long Island Special District Association, hosted an Oct. 26 rally calling for amendments to the state’s law that now permits easier consolidation or dissolution of local municipalities (i.e. villages and special districts), often with little say from the residents involved.
At the podium with GNPD Chair Robert Lincoln, New York State Senator Craig Johnson, and New York State Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, Mayor Samansky noted the presence of many public officials, calling the two state legislators “the two champions of this effort.”
Mayor Samansky stated: “We are here to talk about government of the people, by the people and for the people.” He said “everyone has said that this is a bad law … and we need amendments …” The law is called the State Citizen Empowerment Act, and Mayor Samansky said that the new provisions are simply because “the state is broke … they want money … we’re the only ones solvent, the villages and the districts …”
Mayor Samansky went on to say that “we are the government closest to the people … the most efficient.”
With the new law, which will go into effect in March (unless amendments are adopted), people outside of a village or a district can pass around petitions to dissolve that municipality, there is no time limit to petitions, and, should there be a referendum, in some cases people who do not live in the particular municipality may vote in that election. In other words, non-residents could vote to dissolve or consolidate a local municipality, and an election to dissolve could be won with just a few votes. “This gives disgruntled people the opportunity to dissolve, at your expense,” the mayor told the large crowd. Fighting a dissolution attempt would be quite costly.
And, he added, the law takes away home rule, local government control, and your right to vote. “What we want is reasonableness,” Mayor Samansky said.
Park Board Chair Robert Lincoln spoke next, complete with a PowerPoint presentation. Mr. Lincoln, who is also a director of the LISDA, said that he and the others are working toward “providing input to get a fair and workable law … without people having to give up the right to vote and the right to speak.”
Mr. Lincoln stated that amendments are what is needed. He did note that it is not their intention to take away people’s right to dissolve or consolidate, if that is what they want; the goal is to allow the people affected to be the determining factor.
Mr. Lincoln stated that those who favor the law “do not demonstrate any savings of scale.” There would be no real savings.
He also said that the law does not allow for adequate public notice, and permits too low a percentage of petition signatures. As well, he said that there must be a mandatory final referendum, and there is objection to the fact that a county-initiated movement would allow those outside of the affected village or special district to vote.
Said Mr. Lincoln, speaking of local government: “We are the government closest to the people … we are transparent …we are reachable and service oriented … and local government is financially sound.”
Mr. Lincoln suggested residents look at the LISDA.NET website for further information.
Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel explained that the recent changes to the law “started with Spitzer,” and “this will be a tough fight.” She said that she and Senator Johnson fought, successfully, to bring the law out of the budget. But, in the end, the newer version of this law did receive bipartisan support. Assemblywoman Schimel added that “if you see something, say something.” In other words, if you see a questionable petition being handed around, call her office immediately.
Senator Craig Johnson said that the members of the opposition (opposition to changes) are “very powerful people.” The senator said that there are even more amendments that he would ultimately suggest. “We are only two legislators out of 212,” he said, “and it’s not easy … we’re known as being very vocal on this issue.” Senator Johnson also noted that he was the only Democratic senator to vote against this law.
All of the public officials urged everyone to oppose this law and write to the following state officials:
Gov. David A. Paterson
State Capitol, Albany, NY 12224
Atty. General Andrew M. Cuomo
120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
L.O.B. Room 932, Albany, NY 12248
Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, Jr.
Capitol Bldg. Rm. 420, Albany, NY 12247
Senator John Sampson, Senate Majority Conference Leader
409 Legislative Office Building, Albany, NY 12247