Letter: Make it fair, make it clear, put it in writing!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

In recent months, many citizens of Port Chester have told the Board of Trustees that we need an inclusive and transparent process for choosing the system by which we will elect Trustees in the 2019 elections and beyond. So far, the response of certain Trustees can be characterized as, “Of course the process will be fair and transparent because that’s the way we conduct business here.” In other words, they have treated the selection of a new election system as if it were similar to any other issue that comes before the BOT.

But this is not just any other issue, and we shouldn’t treat it as such. We are talking about the method by which the Trustees themselves will be elected. There are ample incentives for Trustees to simply choose the method most likely to ensure their own reelection, rather than the system that is right for Port Chester. Because these incentives exist, it’s important that the process for selecting an election method is significantly more transparent and more inclusive than the means by which other issues are dealt with.

One or two meetings with public comment where the Mayor and Trustees may or may not engage with commenters (as occurs during regular BOT meetings) will not suffice. We need special opportunities for serious back-and-forth discussion between the public, the BOT, and Dr. Lisa Handley, the voting expert retained by the Village.

That’s why we urge the BOT to pass a resolution mandating a truly open and inclusive process, including the following provisions:

The BOT will make publicly available all information regarding the election system presented to the Board by any individual or organization.

The BOT will conduct no fewer than three public workshops – separate from regular BOT meetings – dedicated exclusively to choosing the new election system. These workshops shall provide the public with real opportunities for genuine dialogue with the Board and Dr. Handley. To maximize participation, the workshops shall be in the evening, and no fewer than four members of the BOT shall be in attendance.

The BOT shall commit to be accountable to public comments in their decisions and shall maintain a transparent decision-making process at all times.

This is about checks and balances. It’s not about calling into question the integrity of individual trustees. Even if there were seven Abe Lincolns on the Board, we’d need extraordinary transparency and inclusiveness to act as a counterweight against the perverse incentives, ensure a fair process, and stamp out any suspicion that Trustees were guided solely by self-interest.

Furthermore, it would be a miscarriage of justice to squander this once-in-a-generation opportunity for pulling more people into the democratic process. Ensuring that citizens feel they have a real and meaningful say about how they choose their elected representatives is a concrete way by which the BOT could help combat the dismally low voter turnout in this village. History will not look favorably upon BOT members if they waste this opportunity.

We expect the next Port Chester Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting, on Monday, December 18, to include a discussion of the process for choosing the election system. The Sustainable Port Chester Alliance, with the legal support of Hudson Valley Justice Center, will be outside the meeting at the Village Courtroom (350 N. Main Street) starting at 6 p.m. Please join us there to demand that the Trustees pass a resolution that mandates a process that is transparent and inclusive beyond all reasonable doubt. Tell the BOT: Make it fair, make it clear, put it in writing!

Joan Grangenois-Thomas, Executive Director, Sustainable Port Chester Alliance
Rob McCreanor, Executive Director, Hudson Valley Justice Center, Yonkers

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