COMMENTS OF FORMER MAYOR JON MARK
THE NON-PARTISAN SYSTEM

Comments of Mayor Jon Mark to the Scarsdale Citizens Nominating Committee

December 4, 2016

 

"I would like to add my thanks to the members of the CNC who have taken time out of their weekend to be here this evening. I would also like note my agreement with the comments already made this evening by my fellow Board members about the qualities desired on the part of members of the Village Board.

 

Rather than repeating those thoughts, I wish to take this opportunity to comment on the broader impact of the 2016 revaluation controversy on Village government and our non-partisan system. It is clear that, putting aside the economic burden on residents that 

was triggered by the revaluation, the biggest impact has been a loss of confidence by certain residents in how the Village is governed and managed. A corollary of this is the view of some that our non-partisan system is broken and should be replaced with a partisan, issue-based process for selecting Village Board members, among other things.

While this point of view is understandable as a reaction to the discussion that has been going on over the past five months, in my view it is an overreaction. If it is a view that carries the day, we risk tossing out a system that in very large part has served our Village well for over a century and should continue to do so for the future.

I have spoken on the non-partisan system in the past and so some of what I have to say I have expressed previously – but I believe it bears repeating.

Partisanship will not bring us together as a community. It will not produce consensus solutions to shared problems. Partisanship means, by definition, taking sides. Under a partisan system candidates are elected because they take positions on issues and by doing so win elections by garnering the support of those who agree with them. Once in office, those officials may say they will act for the benefit of all citizens in the jurisdiction, but the reality may be quite different. Having been put in office by their partisan constituency, the minds of the officials may be closed to countervailing views and legitimate concerns of other community members on a particular issue. Following a partisan framework would have the potential of setting one group of residents against another -- a dynamic that in my view does not benefit the governance of a Village in which we all share a substantially common interest.

The non-partisan system that on the whole has served our Village well for over one hundred years is in contrast to that sort of partisan model. Rather, it encourages us to listen to each other and to at least try to make decisions that best serve the Village as a whole and not simply one subset of residents. Is the system perfect? No. Does it always succeed in making the best decision? No. Do the choices ultimately made, please everyone? No. But when compared to the sort of dysfunction we have seen in Congress over the several years and the spate of corruption trials flowing out of Albany – a lot of which can be attributed to partisanship – I submit our non-partisan system appears preferable to a large degree. What is does foster, is open dialogue, consideration of competing points of view and making reasoned judgments as opposed to simply proceeding based on pre-conceived conclusions.

The 2016 revaluation, initiated with only good intentions did not work out as planned. Going forward, I have little doubt that any subsequent revaluation will be better managed and executed. However, to make the leap from this one experience – as significant as it was and still is – to a conclusion that would throw out our entire non-partisan system is in my mind is unwarranted. The road forward is to do a better job on the next revaluation – whenever it occurs. I do not believe that the decision-making process – whether it be about the next revaluation or another major decision affecting the Village, the proposed Library renovation to name another example -- is best served by partisans who have a pre-conceived notion of what the results of the decision-making process should be. That said, the barriers to entry to having a role in our local government are minimal. Residents are free to run for office outside the non-partisan CNC process. Trustee Pekarek sitting with us today is the most recent example of that. Perhaps that is one of the best features, and strengths of our local government – participation is open to virtually all residents one way or another.

Turning to the particulars of job for which those who will appear before you are applying, for those of this Committee not familiar with what the work of the Village Board involves, the following is a brief outline of the schedule kept by the Board:

  • The Board meets twice a month, 12 months a year.

  • The eight Committees of the Board meet more frequently and all Board

    members are expected to attend Committee meetings sometimes resulting in multiple meetings in a given week.

  • On a rotating basis, a Trustee reviews every two weeks all Village bills and payment authorizations. This gives Trustees a detailed view of how taxpayer dollars are being spent.

 

Over the past year there has been public discussion of whether the CNC should question potential candidates on Village issues. It is understood that the Committee has opted not to do so. However, in light of that discussion and so the Committee has a sense of the variety of matters facing the Board on both a short- term and long-term basis what follows is an illustrative, non-exhaustive list of such matters. The list is in no particular order and is not intended to imply that the matters mentioned are listed in order of importance.

  • Road repair, a continuing issue

  • Setting the 2017-2018 Village budget

  • Review of operations of the Assessor’s office

  • The next Village-wide revaluation

  • The LED street light project, led by an Ad Hoc Committee

  • Consideration of Village Code provisions regarding solar panel installation, led by the Conservation Advisory Council

  • The Ardsley Road water tank renovation

  • The Heathcote Road Bridge project

  • Sewer maintenance and future work as may be required by the County

  • The Library renovation project

  • The Fire Station No. 1 renovation project

  • Monitoring construction of 2-4 Weaver Street

  • Improving Village communications, led by the Ad Hoc Committee on Communications

  • Negotiation of new cable agreements, led by the Cable Commission

  • Village food composting project, led by the Ad Hoc Committee on Food Composting

  • Future development of the Freightways open lot

  • Taking another look at FAR regulations

I close by saying it has been a privilege and an honor to serve as Mayor of the town in which I grew up. Thank you for your attention and best of luck in your search and deliberations."

photo credit: Scarsdale Public Library/Scarsdale Historical Society

© 2019 by Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan Party. Funded by the SCNP campaign through contributions from our generous supporters. 

Photos courtesy of Madelaine Eppenstein, HR Flisser, Pinch Hit Prose and Lisa VanGundy, unless otherwise noted.