Friday, February 15, 2013

No good idea goes unpunished

I first expressed support for unification in 2008 or thereabouts; I have always believed that simplifying our lives by having one less government to deal with made a tremendous amount of sense.

Of course, I wasn't factoring in the human element.

The egos and personalities which strut across the New Paltz stage make it damned near to impossible to come up with a solution that will work.  Much of the information put forth by the pro-unification factions is correct.  On the other hand, many of the concerns expressed by the keep-it-separate crowd are legitimate and should not be dismissed.  It's bloody hard to figure out what information to discuss when there are so many people pushing hidden agendas.

Does our mayor want to keep his job?  Of course!  He himself told me that the village is the largest entity he would be comfortable running, because he can "keep it all in my head," in his words.  He knows every drainage grate, he said to me, and couldn't imagine being an effective elected official on a scale where that's not possible.  So there's no question that Jason West is going to fight tooth and nail against consolidation.

But to suggest that West's information and arguments should be entirely discarded because he has an ulterior motive, or because he is arrogant and condescending, does not serve this community well.  Don't consider the source, just evaluate his rationale.

How about Susan Zimet?  She is unabashedly in support of a merger, and doesn't have any personal stake the way the rest of us do, because she doesn't even live here.  Succeeding in this drive will put a feather in her political cap and, in all likelihood, be used as evidence of her wonderfulness when she pursues higher office.  And pursue she shall:  Zimet has always been ambitious, and returned to town government more because the county legislature lost power in the charter government than out of a burning desire to clean house.

Does this make her positions on unification automatically worthless?  If you consider the source it does, but considering the source does not do justice to the information itself.  Like West, Zimet's talking points and actual data must be carefully looked at, whether you like her or not, whether you trust her or not.

There are other players, as well.  One group makes a logo to support a unified government, another group makes a parody, and suddenly people are talking about consulting attorneys over it.  That sort of talk is shameful, because involving attorneys in a neighborly disagreement squelches free speech.  Many of West's opponents (and Zimet's, to a lesser extent) have used the "fascist" label; the fact that the same people who call their opponents dictators seek to silence the opposition with litigation is sickening.

The fact that this process is inordinately complex makes me fear that no good will come of it.  If you want to ruin a good idea, create a committee to study it.  We created around ten committees, so I'm thinking we really wanted to make this idea unpalatable, or at least incomprehensible to anyone with a day job not dedicated to policy questions.

Unification should be simple.  In this iteration, it's been made anything but, and its supporters are trying to ram it through at breakneck speed without answering perfectly valid questions.  Unless something really big changes, and very soon, I think we would all be better off firing each and every one of our town and village board members and starting over once we've cleaned house.

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