EDITORIAL: Sustain the progress in Chatham

FOR ALL THE CRABBING about how government doesn’t work anymore, you might think only space aliens and zombies run for office. But all around here good people do seek public office. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have this gift of democracy to crab about. So thanks to all of you who put your name on a ballot line. You give meaning to the notion of self government.

March 19 marks the start of a busy election year with the contest for village offices. There are contests for mayor and Village Board seats in Chatham and Valatie. Candidates for positions in Kinderhook and Philmont are running unopposed.

Two years ago Tom Curran, running with the support of a reform movement called Chatham United, ousted Mayor Paul Boehme, who had served the town for more than two decades. A year later Chatham United candidates won a majority on the board and, led by Mr. Curran, began in earnest to make changes that have resulted in a new, efficient and open village government.

This year Mr. Curran is challenged by Maria DeMarco, a wholistic counselor running on the Village of Chatham Sustainability Party. Major political party affiliations aren’t used in village elections, so voters must base decisions on what a candidate or party says and what they know from their tax bills.
The Sustainability Party website, www.chathampage.com, lists four things it stands for: “True accountability and transparency”; “Input from and collaboration with community groups”; “new systems” for communicating with the community; Safety and security.

These items make a good platform except that Mayor Curran and the current board have already made real progress in each of these areas in the short time they’ve been in office. Start with transparency, a concept previously unknown in the village. Now agendas are posted online in advance of meetings, current budget figures are available to the public before decisions are made and documents under discussion at meetings are routinely shared with all who attend.

Journalists are the first to holler when government keeps secrets it shouldn’t. In the last two years Chatham has become an example of how to conduct open government. Mayor Curran deserves credit for unlocking Chatham government.

Another point to remember is that not all community meetings end in good cheer; some things government communicates meet with disapproval. How could it be otherwise? But dissent and debate are not a failure to communicate, they are essential tools of political discourse as much as compromise and agreement. Over the last two years, Mayor Curran has welcomed divergent views and allowed people to speak their minds without fear of being ignored or belittled as happened in the past.

The party’s fourth point about safety taps the heart of the challenge to Mr. Curran, who was elected to get village costs under control and has taken strides toward accomplishing that task. The Police Department accounts for the largest part of the village budget and the mayor took the politically risky step of instituting a small reduction in the hours police would operate while taking steps to ensure the village coordinated carefully with State Police and the county Sheriff’s Office. This precisely the type of thoughtful decision people elected him to make.

The candidates of the Sustainability Party, who include Dave Silliman and Jay Rippel Jr. running for the board in addition to Ms. DeMarco, are dedicated to the village, and Mr. Silliman in particular has a long record of service to the community. But their proposals come from the past and all but ignore present realities.

Michael Wollowitz, a member of the town Zoning Board of Appeals, and Wayne Coe, who has regularly attended and contributed to Village Board meetings, will work with Mayor Curran to continue to keep taxes down and to advance the interests of the village in fiscally responsible ways. I urge voters in Chatham to elect the Chatham United slate of Mayor Curran, Mr. Wollowitz and Mr. Coe next Tuesday.

Strevell for Valatie mayor
MAYOR GARY STREVELL of Valatie faces a challenge this year from village Parks Director Diane Argyle. Both are fully qualified to serve as the chief executive of a village that has seen some tough times and now appears poised for much better days.
What gives Mayor Strevell the edge in this race is his record of steady-handed stewardship, especially where the community’s infrastructure is concerned. Looking at the improvements to the sewer system, the new senior housing and the move to the Martin H. Glynn School building, it’s clear that a lot of people deserve some of the credit, but the mayor deserves the lion’s share, and he should be reelected for another term.

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