Term Limits: Getting to Yes

On Wednesday March 20, 2013 Kent Fiscal Watch hosted a meeting on term limits featuring former County Legislator, Vincent Tamagna, as guest speaker.

During his presentation, Mr. Tamagna provided a brief history of his role in Putnam County politics and how his own personal experience motivated his decision to pursue term limits for county legislators and the executive branch; Mr. Tamagna added that he does not necessarily endorse term limits for local town elections.

Following his presentation, the meeting was opened to questions from the audience.  One questioner asked Mr. Tamagna if a citizen initiated term limit proposition can be included on a local town ballot; Mr. Tamagna stated, although he was not sure of the exact details, the answer is “yes.”

As a follow up to this question, I contacted the Putnam County Board of Elections and requested the petition requirements for placing a term limit referendum on the town ballot.

In response to my question BOE Commissioner, Anthony Scannapieco, stated the requirements for placing a citizen initiated referendum on the election ballot are covered under Article VI, §80 and §81 of the NYS Town Laws; the basic requirements are as follows:.

  • The minimum number of required signatures for a petition is based on 5% of the town turnout in the last gubernatorial election;
  • For the town of Kent, a minimum of 167 signatures are required;
  • The petition must be certified by the Town Clerk;
  • The petition must be submitted between 60 and 75 days prior to the next election.    . 

Can't Find a Budget?

The budgets for our local taxing authorities are all online, but they're not always easy to find. Having tracked them down, I thought I'd save you the trouble by posting links here.

The budget for the Carmel Central School District is here. The school district has done a good job of making it easy to find the proposed budget by posting a link to it on the home page for the district. Yeah for the school district! The town and the county could learn from them.

The budget for the Town of Kent is in an obscure location on the website. It's on the Finance Department page near the bottom. It's the first one in the unorganized list of PDFs. At the end of the list is the proposed budget for the Kent Fire Department.

The budget for Putnam County is in an even more obscure place. Links to the two parts that make it up can be found on this page. They are in the lower left part of the page. They look like they're the budget for the Putnam County Tobacco Asset Securitization Corporation, but they're actually the budget for the whole county!

Term Limits: Are They Effective? J.J. Kirk

On Wednesday, March 20, 2013, Kent Fiscal Watch hosted a public discussion on the issue of term limits for elected town representatives.  The featured speaker is former County Legislator, Vincent Tamagna, who successfully advocated for term limits at the county level.

As a member of Kent Fiscal Watch I originally endorsed term limits and agreed with the reasoning by fellow member Mr. Dave Ehnebuske.  In his post, Mr. Ehnebuske stated that term limits may aid in curbing political corruption; limit the influence of special groups; and promote more balanced elections.

Admittedly, these are worthy goals, but do they withstand scrutiny?

There are currently 15 states with term limit laws for their state legislators.  The majority of the term limit laws went into effect during the early 2000’s.  Of the 15 states with term limit laws, 9 limit the number of consecutive terms for state legislators; and 6 states limit the total number of years an individual may serve on the state legislature.  For a list of states with term limit laws click here.

To determine if term limits reduce political corruption a comparison of the number of political corruption cases brought over the past 30 years works as a good control group as compared to a selection of randomly picked states without term limits.  This information is provided by the Department of Justice (DOJ), who provides Congress with an annual report on the number of official misconduct cases the DOJ has brought under the public integrity provisions of the federal Ethics in Government Act of 1978; the report includes the cumulative total of convictions for each state for the past 20 years.

According to the theory espoused by proponents for term limit laws the number of corruption cases should decline in the control group states as compared to the number of political corruption cases for the same period in randomly selected states.

A review of the DOJ report demonstrates that the number of convictions for states with consecutive term limits has increased in each of the last two decades, whereas states with lifetime term limits the number of convictions has decreased over the past 10 years.  However, in the randomly selected states without term limits the number of official misconduct convictions increased over the past years but are relatively unchanged over the past 20 years.  To review the reports for 2011 click here; for 2001 click here; for 1991 click here.

Moreover, California and Maine have the distinction of being the first states to enact term limit laws; in 1996 California’s lifetime and Maine’s consecutive limits went into effect.  A review of the 30 year period for both states shows that in the 15 years prior to enacting term limit laws CA had 1167 official misconduct convictions compared to 1143 convictions in the post term limit period; ME had 49 official misconduct convictions during the pre-term limit period, and 53 during the post period.

Based on the foregoing term limits appear to have a minimal effect on the level of public corruption in states with lifetime term limits, but has no effect on states with consecutive term limit laws.

As to the goals of limiting the influence of special interests; given the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United and their subsequent decisions against election laws in Arizona and Montana it is unlikely that the influence and money of special interests will disappear anytime soon.

Moreover, the NYS legislature has pending legislation (A04980), which provides eligible candidates access to designated public funds.  Although, the aforementioned legislation does not pertain to term limits, the stated goals of increased public participation, expanding the field of candidates, and limiting the influence of special interests and corporate money are similar to the goals espoused by term limit advocates.

On March 16, 2013 advocates for publicly financed elections held a public teleconference, which featured guest speaker Governor Cuomo and included presentations from the presidents of the CWA[1], NAACP, and the Sierra Club.

During the presentation segment of the teleconference, sponsors claimed that public election financing laws would have a major impact on the influence of corporate money in the electoral process.

However, during the Q & A segment, a listener asked how public financing would limit corporate money; in response, a representative from a sponsoring organization stated that “keeping money out of elections was like trying to stop water from flowing downhill.”

Further, again unrelated to term limits, in 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a study to ascertain if public finance laws in Maine and Arizona achieved the stated objectives for these laws.  One of the stated objectives for both AZ and ME’s public financing laws was to reduce the influence of special interests and corporate money on the electoral process; the GAO could not determine if public finance election laws limited the influence of special interests.

This same report also studied if public finance laws had an impact on the number of uncontested elections.  During the period studied (1996-2008) the number of contested elections increased from 60% to 75% in Arizona and from 86% to 91% in Maine.

As part of their methodology, the GAO selected comparison states to determine if AZ[2] and ME[3] demonstrated statistically significant improvements for the stated objectives of public finance laws relative to the selected comparison states.  The GAO concluded that during the study period, the number of contested elections in the comparison states increased by 12% and 5% respectively; therefore the GAO could not determine if public financing laws were responsible for the increase in competitive elections.

However, since all of the comparison states for AZ and 2 of the 3 comparison states for ME have term limit laws, one can easily draw an inference that term limits help open elections to new faces.

While the foregoing information does not indicate a major impact on the electoral process, the fact that the number of corruption cases declined, albeit slightly, in those states with lifetime limits and the number of competitive elections increased adds some credence to the idea of enacting term limit laws.

However, the decision on whether to adopt term limit laws ultimately belongs to the voting public and if the towns residents endorse term limit laws for the Town of Kent they must voice their opinion to their elected town board members.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Communications Workers of America

[2] South Dakota, Montana, Colorado

[3] South Dakota, Montana, Connecticut (no term limits)

Consumer Protection

Changes in Putnam to the current laws pertaining to retail pricing are being held hostage to lobbying efforts by NY State Senator Greg Ball.  Why is he against advancing to a modern system that protects the consumer and gives choice to the retailer?  This revenue neutral department needs to move into the 21st century while maintaining its cost effective operation, and so do our retailers.

If this interests you, attend the county meeting Tuesday evening..

 

 

Term Limits for Towns?

Last year the Putnam County Legislature had the courage to move forward by enacting term limits.  Kent Fiscal Watch thinks term limits should be applied to all elected positions; federal, state and local.  We acknowledge that, with term limits, we would sometimes lose the services of experienced and respected officials, but limited terms also encourage the most capable to go on to higher positions and accomplish more.

Term limits help prevent office holders from being led astray.  Too many have come to public office with the intention to serve, only to be corrupted by personal power accumulated in their long tenure.

Limited terms also decrease the corrosive effect special interest groups have on the legislative process.  A regular turnover of officials is a costly challenge to the long-term funders who seek undue influence.

Most important is the space that will be provided for the next generation of leadership, fresh candidates, now discouraged by the high cost of unseating an entrenched politician.  New leaders often have more vigorous and open relationships with their constituents.

To encourage public discussion of whether the Town of Kent should follow the lead of the county legislature on the issue of term limits, Kent Fiscal Watch is holding a public discussion with Vincent Tamagna, Director of Putnam Public Transport, who advocated for term limits in the County Legislature, on March 20, 2013 at 7:30 PM at the firehouse located at 2490 Route 301.

Please make your voice heard by attending the meeting and/or contacting us here at www.kentfiscalwatch.org.

Support for Term Limits in Kent

Posted on behalf of Joyce Mitchell:

Recently, I sent an e-mail to all Kent Fiscal Watch members asking for their suggestions of issues to pursue and advising them that our Board had decided to promote term limits for the Town of Kent; that hopefully other towns might wish to pursue this goal, and that the County had done so, thus revitalizing their legislature.

Richard France and Dr. Enschauf replied:

Can I (Richard) assume now that my original recommendation for term limits, which I later expanded as an op-ed piece for ALL the area papers, is FINALLY being recognized as -- sadly -- the only course that We the People have available to us in dealing with the Hydra ? I say "sadly" because, like yourself, we too regret that we can't expect the people we keep electing to act with OUR best interests being their primary responsibility. Term limits isn't fool-proof; but as the campaign I worked on in Maine continues to show -- and by the same two-thirds majority that voted for it over two decades ago -- it's a damned sight better than the arrogant and corrupt prone conditions that it replaced.

Thus far, however, we fail to see how our County legislature has been "revitalized" by term limits. We are still squandering countless millions of our tax dollars on an obscene number of superintendents of schools (and the fiefdom that surrounds each of them); on a bus system (PART) that is so little used it doesn't even pay for the cost of the fuel it uses; and are now facing the additional costs of a feckless law suit over the County Clerk's refusal to obey the law. (There was no similar standing on "principles" when that venomous self-serving airhead, Sarah Palin, was screaming, "Don't retreat, reload" -- and pinpointing people like Congresswoman Gifford as targets. The smell of hypocrisy is stultifying !)

While our schedules tend to keep us mostly in Manhattan this time of year, our family has maintained at least one residence in Lake Carmel (and, for most of the time, two) since 1953. Our hope is to pass the remaining property onto our son or daughter one of these days. So, our check for $25, made out to Kent Fiscal Watch, will go out in next week's mail.

Elisabeth Frischauf, M.D.

Richard France, Ph.D

Kent Fiscal Watch is grateful for all comments pertaining to the matters we address; transparency, ethical and lawful behavior, and fiscal responsibility in our elected officials. Dr. France has given us permission to place his reply on our website.

Cordially,

Joyce Mitchell

KFW Letter to the Editor on Proposed Sewer District

17 December 2012

 

Dear Editor,

 

On Tuesday, December 11, a public hearing was held at 7PM at the Town of Kent concerning the proposed creation of a Sewer District along the Rte. 52 corridor for commercial property, 41 homes in Lake Carmel and the planned houses of the property known as Kent Manor. The meeting room was packed, mainly by the residents of Hill & Dale whose Palmer Lake is the proposed dumping site for the sanitized water from the sewage treatment plant to be built at Kent Manor. Although most residents expressed support for future business development, they cited fear of contamination of their swimming lake.

Unfortunately, the only person chosen to speak for the project was Jeff Contalmo of Insite Engineering, a firm that has already billed many hours to this project and will be greatly enriched if the project goes ahead as presented. He was unable to answer questions about long term safety and insurance issues and the agencies that hold that information were not present.

This project, while seeking to provide needed sanitation to the community, will enrich some at the eventual cost of many. That information, along with risk statistics, is missing and should have been presented to the public.

Of particular interest to Kent Fiscal Watch was that Supervisor Kathy Doherty failed to disclose to the public that she and her husband own property in the commercial corridor and could benefit financially from this project. When a member of KFW brought this matter to the attention of the public, she was verbally attacked by Doherty with a display of unbridled animosity. The meeting was filmed and will be on the public interest channels of FIOS and Comcast.

At the very least the Supervisor should have recused herself from the voting which was scheduled for December 17, or from promoting or influencing her team on the Board. In this time of low confidence in politicians fueled by the Leibell affair, an investigation may be warranted to see if any laws were broken.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

Kent Fiscal Watch

www.kentfiscalwatch.org

Contact info: 845-721-5807