Written by Matthew A. Piacentini Friday, 29 October 2010 00:00
There has been a lot of discourse at public hearings, opinions stated in letters to the editor and messages both for and against on signs all over town regarding “Proposition Glen Cove” or “Proposition 1” as it will be called on the Glen Cove ballot. Simply, the decision that is being put directly to voters in the City of Glen Cove on Nov. 2 will be whether or not they would like whichever mayor and city council members are elected in 2011 to begin serving four-year terms instead of the current two years.
Mayor Ralph V. Suozzi introduced this proposition last year to the city council and brought it back up this year for the referendum. The idea behind it, he has said, is to create a more stable, less political environment for the mayor and council to run what has become a “complex” city in a way that encourages long-term planning and proactive measures.
Glen Cove is indeed a unique municipality, one of only two cities in Long Island, and its government manages a good deal of services - like the water district, police department and property assessments - that are overseen in other areas by the county and various townships and villages. Because of the self-sufficiency of Glen Cove and the reach of its government and services, the concept of four-year terms for the city leaders has come up repeatedly.
Certain segments of the city, for instance, the Chamber of Commerce, have been longtime supporters of the proposal. Last year and this year, Chamber representatives have come to city council hearings on the matter and backed four-year terms, saying that elections disrupt the business environment and longer terms with one leader would promote their agenda of attending the needs of the business community.
In terms of supporting Proposition 1, Four Years 4 Glen Cove was formed this year and registered with the New York State Board of Elections as a political action committee. The group, chaired by Julie McCann and staffed with about 15 volunteers, has been working to build awareness and backing for the four-year term initiative.
McCann said that, as a longtime campaign volunteer, she noticed over the years the amount of time and energy that goes into each election, and how much time and energy she believes this takes away from bettering the city.
“All the fundraising, the campaigning working up to Election Day,” she told the Record Pilot, “it takes almost a full year. So, a two-year term is just not enough for elected officials. With all the time and money spent on signs and ads and campaigning every other year, you have to ask yourself: ‘Couldn’t this energy be better placed?’”
McCann said that to her, the key points to consider about the proposition are: it is not extending the terms of the current city officials. Further, she emphasizes that it does not change processes that keep elected officials accountable to the voters. “People are saying that you will lose control of the government and what they are doing,” she said, “but that is not true just because you have four-year terms. The same structure is still in place for public hearings for tax increases or important actions. The budget process will be the same.”
To those who point out that McCann is married to City Court Judge Joseph D. McCann, appointed by Mayor Suozzi, she maintains that he is not involved in her campaign in any way. A city court judge is paid and overseen by the State of New York, she said, and it was her own involvement in local elections that inspired her to start Four Years 4 Glen Cove.
“In the year 2010, a married woman can get involved in her community without her husband’s involvement,” McCann said. “Everyone who knows me, knows that I have been active in the community long before my husband ever became a judge.”
She maintains that the momentum that her committee is building is not in support of any party or official, but is about what her group believes is the best thing for Glen Cove. McCann said, “To me this is the difference between a senator or a congressional representative and a CEO. They all deal with big issues, but a mayor and council are actually acting as managers, dealing with big financial and budget issues and acting as liaisons to federal and state agencies.”
Regarding the CEO concept, Mayor Suozzi, agrees, saying that there is a difference between the job of the mayor and council and other leaders like assemblymen and congressmen. He likens the set-up of Glen Cove to be more like a county than a small municipality, with many services and responsibilities. In this county, the executive serves four years.
Further on the issue, he said, “In congress or the state government, you have many individuals. If one or two change, the institutional memory doesn’t change. In Glen Cove, when you change the administration, you’re going back to 1918 – you’re starting from scratch. All the department heads go out, all the projects stop. It hurts the people.”
The mayor maintains that a two-year cycle can encourage short-term, politicized decision-making by city leaders, rather than long-term actions that truly build up the city. He argues that his predecessors were afraid to make potentially unpopular decisions to raise taxes when necessary, or to deal with failing infrastructure problems, because they were functioning day-to-day on short-term goals related to re-election.
On the other side, opponents who have come out against the referendum could be fairly separated into two groups. There are a few people who have argued during hearings and written letters to the editor in defense of the voter’s right to judge leaders on a short-term basis. Simply, some say they like the option of voting out a government within a shorter period of time.
Others, namely those who have run against this current administration in recent time, oppose the details of the referendum, arguing that they would have liked to see other options explored. Reggie Spinello, who recently ran against Mayor Suozzi, and David Nieri, who recently ran against the sitting city council members, have both expressed at hearings or in letters that they agree with the need for a longer term for mayor, but both take issue with the exact length Proposition 1 proposes or with the inclusion of the council members.
Paul Meli, chair of the Glen Cove Republican Committee, who recently ran against the current mayor, promoted exploration of different options for the city last year, maintains that the city should have delayed this vote.
Meli submitted the statement, “Many will recall that, long before the current referendum for a four-year term was proposed, I urged the formation of a bipartisan commission of citizens to study our entire city charter, including the length and staggering of terms of office, or even a system of council districts that would elect their own representatives, versus having council members serve ‘at large.’ …I urged [the current administration] to hear what the public had to say about our form of government, and how it might be improved upon, rather than presume that they knew best and impose a single choice upon us.”
The Republican leader also sees the gains from an increase in term lengths outweighed by losses. He stated, “While electing a mayor and six at-large council members every two years, as we do now, might be seen by some to potentially and adversely affect continuity in our government, it also provides the citizens to whom our elected officials are ultimately accountable an opportunity to vote them out of office if dissatisfied with their performance…. Our elected officials should and must be accountable to the voters for their actions. The threat presented by reducing such accountability far outweighs the inconvenience of maintaining it.”
So, it goes to voters: do they want to keep a short leash on their government to measure their performance every two years? Or, do they want to give them more time to work on their goals and deliver a good performance?
Mayor Suozzi maintains that Proposition 1 is simply enabling about better government. “It is about making the government work better for Glen Cove. I inherited problems that were the bi-product of the political two-year cycle,” he said, adding that longer leadership promotes better financial well being, and in the business world, CEOs do not change every two years.
Further, from the financial angle, the Proposition actually has a de facto endorsement from Moody’s, the company that rates municipalities’ financial standing. In a review of Glen Cove, Moody’s submitted that two-year terms are an obstacle to straightening out the city’s finances.
In a statement by Moody’s on Glen Cove’s financial outlook, the company cited a problem with two-year terms, citing, “… prior management’s unwillingness to increase property taxes, in part attributable to the city’s two-year mayoral and council terms which create political obstacles to tax increases.”