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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Local Government Roundup

1. “In order to earn the public’s trust and begin the process of restoring faith in our government, our elected leaders and candidates for office must commit to reforming our redistricting process. We need nothing less than a completely independent, non-partisan commission in charge…” This is what Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said last year as a candidate for New York State Attorney General. Reform isn’t just needed at the state level.

2. Nassau County and the towns of Hempstead and North Hempstead are already late in planning their redistricting processes for the 2013 elections. If there is to be any serious improvement in transparency, public input and the creation of competitive political districts, it has to start now. It takes time to change the flawed local laws, set up the open technology and educate the public about participating. This time, hold decision makers accountable for creating fair, competitive local districts.

3. League of Women Voters chapters, I’m looking at you. Not just you, but you. More soon.

4. Overall, Long Island local governments have not been making the progress we need in creating official web sites that are useful, informative and time saving. In the last year, some have even slipped backwards. Can’t find the answers to common questions. Buggy. Complex or confusing navigation. Worst of all, we still have local government sites that make it difficult or impossible for taxpayers with visual impairments and other disabilities to use the site.

5. If your government website doesn’t meet basic accessibility standards, then it can be fixed. If you don’t care that it doesn’t meet standards, then you really shouldn’t be making public policy.

6. You know what doesn’t seem to exist on any of the county, town or village web sites in this county? Any passing mention of ethics standards, expectations or enforcement. Now we have the sudden and still somewhat mysterious withdrawal from the political scene of Suffolk County Executive Levy. We may never have a full explanation because the deal with the District Attorney was that after his withdrawal and forfeiture of all campaign funds, the books would be closed on any public investigation. What we really don’t know, and need to know, is exactly what Mr. Levy is supposed to have done that isn’t being done in town halls and other public venues across Long Island? Is it just a matter of size and scale?

7. Recently, I met a friend for lunch. Sitting ten feet away was a person with a public trust, enjoying luncheon with a private contractor whose well-publicized proposal was still before the official’s agency, and had become a matter of great controversy in the community. I had a bowl of soup and shared some fruit salad for dessert. I paid for my lunch. I don’t know who paid for lunch at the other table, or what was discussed or what may have been divided up. Probably it was harmless. But imagine the casual attitude toward appearance and propriety that exists within that agency. Where are the workshops, the pamphlets, the attempts to establish an ethical culture in which residents can have confidence? Where?

8. Readers may recall that the unauthorized and fiscally dubious partial dismantling of the county highway and park systems under the last administration was not endorsed by this writer. In particular, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of irreplaceable county-owned parks were handed over to the Town of North Hempstead in order to reduce maintenance costs.

9. The signage in one of the transferred parks was just replaced. In the new version, there is no welcome to Nassau County residents, as there was on the original signs. It just says that it’s a town park. Eventually, the signs will say, “Town Residents Only.” No one will remember differently.

10. The taxpayers of three towns and two cities paid to build that park. A housing development was penciled in on that land until county taxpayers bought it before I was born. More than a million county residents have lost any say in their park, any obvious right to be in the park, any emotional connection to the park. You lose.

 

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net