New Paltz: Drop it, now

A few years ago the recurring idea of getting rid of the Village of New Palltz as a municipal government resulted in a $50,000 grant to study the issue. Fairweather Consulting, a local firm, was hired to conduct the study and after much inquiry that outfit could only say that “consolidating” the (two local, village and town) governments would have marginal benefit, if any.

When you get that sort of report, you shrug your shoulders and say, “O.K., let’s move on.”

But when the handful of people in New Paltz who circulate in and out of government and general civic busybodyism get the wind of the latest civic fad in their sails, it is never over when it’s over. Ego commitments get made. A belief system arises. Evidence has no place. It’s just “let’s keep going until we make complete assholes of ourselves.”

It gets very detailed, this story, but underlying it all is an already falsified a priori assumption, an axiomatic premise, that the current arrangement of a village government and a town government is bad. There can be no looking back to that arrangement, as if it was already gone, and no right-thinking person would conceivably say, “wait, no, it’s fine, it works, and there’s nothing to be gained from changing it.”

Here’s a distinction that I often make: When the issue of getting rid of the village government came up around 2006, it was a response by more established busybodies to the Green Party annoyances who had taken charge of the village board (via the election of Jason West as mayor along with a couple of trustees, Rotzler and Walsh). No one, and I mean no one, had a greater distaste for West than I had, but my argument for keeping the village government (the “inner municipality”) rested not on the personalities but on the origin and purpose of the village government, which to me were clear, sound, and justified. The village has exclusively village work that needs to be done, and whoever sits on the village board must see that it gets done. This village work was not a good job for the town government, which would have to juggle divided interests. In other words, the village made sense when it was formed back in the 19th Century and made roughly the same kind of sense today.

Now is the time to drop this effort. Let it go. It has devolved into personal feuds veering toward local spectacle. Here’s a bottom line to consider: Does it make sense to consolidate local political power into one set of administrative hands? Or is the subsidiarity of the village government the way to keep some of that power directly accountable within the distinct concerns of the village? Conversely, why would someone in the area of the town outside the village, getting water from a well and using a septic system, want to be involved with the water mains and sewers of the village?

Once you drop the a priori assumption that the current village-town arrangement is somehow no good and view it with fresh eyes, and then consider two old maxims: “First, do no harm,” and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” you can indeed move on.

Now, let’s do something about recruiting volunteer firemen, who are the pride of New Paltz. How about getting high school students interested in volunteering, and also those at the college? That’s an important issue that we are failing at.

Minor edits on 6/3/13 at 1:34 pm.

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