A blatant, manipulative power play

To the Editor:

I believe independent thinking and carefully considered action are essential to good government. What happened at the June 18, 2020 Westerlo Town Board meeting was anything but.

Discussion of the very serious issues facing our town was derailed by dug-in, personal, and partisan agendas that came together in a political stunt. I define political stunt as: an action done primarily for attention, manipulating public support and influence, especially one that will gain attention but is not likely to achieve its goal.

What form did this political stunt take?

A resolution is a structured way to introduce information for legislative consideration and action. The action Councilman Richard Filkins and Councilwoman Amie Burnside took weaponized a set of resolutions in a bombardment that could barely be deciphered, let alone considered. The rest of the town board had not seen these resolutions before the meeting. The action was a deliberate tactic, used to create confusion and disorder.

At the start of the meeting, right after standard reports were approved, Councilman Filkins jumped in and read a report at a pace that was unintelligible to me and I suspect to many others. Councilwoman Burnside immediately followed, reading a motion to appoint a town clerk, which was already on the published agenda for later in the meeting. Someone, I don’t know who, seconded the motion and it was voted on without any discussion.

That vote was immediately followed by Ms. Burnside’s reading 18 more resolutions, also at a pace that was unintelligible to me and I suspect to many others. While this was going on, the Westerlo Republican Committee chairperson, at will, vigorously interrupted with comments such as, “Amie has the floor …”.

The “floor,” such as it was, was seized, not properly yielded. This disruption was clearly planned and took half an hour, after which most of the published agenda was deferred, in spite of the importance of continuing the discussion on budget issues and actions started in previous meetings.

It was the first time, in all the many disreputable Westerlo Town Board meetings I’ve attended, that I wanted Robert’s Rules of Order imposed.

How was this action supposed to achieve a goal? 

If the goal was that no highway department people be laid off — too late. If, in that tangled stream of words, there was a resolution to avoid or reconsider layoffs, it was completely ineffective. That had already been decided by a majority vote at a previous meeting and acted on as a drastic measure to help keep the town solvent.

If, in fact, the highway superintendent had a problem with the decision, why didn’t we hear it directly from him in the meetings that preceded that vote? That would have had far more credibility to me than this second-hand assertion that the essential work of the department could not be done with two fewer people, who, we had been told, had volunteered to be laid off — one who was already looking for another job and one who was planning to move out of state.

What, then, was the goal? If the goal was to create chaos and further delay discussion on the critical decisions regarding how the town can continue to function with the huge hit to sales-tax revenue, that goal was achieved. I don’t see how that contributed anything constructive.

I later learned that the way they propose to make up $140,000 of the expected budget deficit is by imposing $100/year transfer-station fees on every household in Westerlo. This is just another kind of tax. It is a tax that many people can’t afford.

We currently pay fees only for specific kinds of material, such as certain appliances, on a per/item basis. Going from $0 to $100 is neither fair nor feasible. Where do you think garbage will wind up?

I supported Ms. Burnside from the very beginning of her bid for elective office. I have long encouraged presentation of different points of view as a basis for making the best decisions.

I was part of the team that brought the documentary film “American Creed” to the area, which models how people who don’t agree politically can still be friends and have important, if difficult, discussions and find common ground. That team also established “Hilltown Conversations” as a way to bring neighbors together to find ways to get along and to get the work of the community done.

I don’t make excuses for myself or anyone else. The action taken by Mr. Filkins and Ms. Burnside was a blatant, manipulative power play, part of a destructive trend infecting not only the Hilltowns, but the whole country.

Maybe they imagined they had no other choice. I don’t believe that for a moment. There are unelected puppeteers at work here. I spoke out against that when crony Democrats ran the town and I speak out against it now. Boss politics stinks, regardless of party.

Unlike many, I prefer the hard work of coming as close as possible to consensus, not the party-in-power abuses of power that are so sickeningly common. Each board member needs to take individual responsibility to independently study a problem and act responsibly.

That is not what happened at the June 18th meeting.  It was grandstanding, a political stunt, egged on by the Westerlo Republican Committee chairperson’s many verbal interventions.

It was treachery, not governance. 

Dianne Sefcik


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