Friday, 05 February 2010 00:00
The city of Youngstown, Ohio, has lost 56 percent of its population since I was a kid. Forbes magazine named Youngstown one of “America’s 10 Fastest Dying Cities.” The city’s dynamic mayor, Jay Williams, is preaching a philosophy that rejects the kinds of sprawl development strategies we still see too often on Long Island. The emphasis is on “place-making tactics” that will establish Youngstown as a superior place to live, attract a talented workforce and give the city a competitive advantage. For example, they’re converting blighted blocks and brownfields into parks. The city will be smaller, but it will survive and sustain.
Thirteen states now require high school students to take a course in personal finance as a requirement of graduation. Two other states require high schools to offer such a course, which typically covers critical topics such as credit card management and buying a first home. I can’t think of a subject that would be more useful to students throughout their lives. Over the years, I have used a credit card a lot more often than I have used trigonometric functions. Cosine my elbow.
In 1993 and 1994, there were hearings around Nassau County regarding the court-ordered replacement of the old Board of Supervisors with a district-based county legislature. Residents got up again and again and said they wanted a setup in which regular people, maybe from civic associations or school boards, could run without a political party behind them. They wanted the legislature to be community service, not a career choice. We didn’t get anything like what people asked for at those microphones, over and over. Legislators who feel strongly that they aren’t paid enough or receive enough excellent benefits and perks don’t have to suffer through their terms and can resign anytime. You knew what the salary was when you ran; 47 percent raise for party leaders, my elbow.
“Only modest compensation is offered to elected officials. A compensatory salary can make council membership a career endeavor. It also tends to drive up the cost of campaigns.” That’s part of the respected National Civic League’s explanation for low legislative compensation in their model city charter.
In 1993, some good government advocates wanted very small districts, possibly based on school district boundaries, with unpaid legislators. After seeing how it has all played out, this idea looks better and better. We need to also consider non-partisan elections, just like with school boards and many villages across the state; 86 municipalities in New Jersey do this. Non-partisan elections would reduce the constant drumbeat of party politics in the county legislature, and refocus attention on what makes sense for the county.
Mayor Williams of Youngstown was elected as an independent in 2005. No party. Never ran for office before. Got 98.1 percent in 2009.
When the area around the Rockville Centre station was incorporated as a village with its own government in 1893, it took in a big chunk of Oceanside. For two years starting in 1909, residents of the remainder of Oceanside petitioned Rockville Centre to be included in the village. Rockville Centre residents balked, considering Oceanside to be too undeveloped and a likely tax burden. By the end of 1911, residents of Lynbrook, Baldwin and Freeport became drawn into the fray as Rockville Centre folks moved to become a full-fledged city, with unfettered ability to improve their community. Others wanted in. It all broke down in controversy.
In 1912, Oceanside residents reneged on an appropriation to build a school in Long Beach, then part of the same district, energizing Long Beach residents to form their own village. And on and on. I have dozens of stories like this. All these hundreds of makeshift and artificial boundaries, held sacred by some of our current officials, were in almost every case formed amidst disputes, controversies and hard feelings. Yet somehow we’re bound by decisions made in another era, based on values and expectations that have nothing to do with life in this century.
To this day, Rockville Centre (population 24,000) has its own village government, while Oceanside (population 32,000) is not part of a village and is governed from a distant town hall.
Oceanside, of course, got the town landfill.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org