Letter to Editor of Rockland Voice
Talk from Elected Officials is Cheap
We Need Proactive Steps to Preserve Orangetown
by Chris Day
The recent combination of Supervisor Stewart’s column extolling the virtues of his administration and the recent “no knock” law and a brief comment by the Facebook page “Orangetown – What They Don’t Want You to Know” caused me, as an Orangetown resident, to consider – what, in this age of pandering to the concerns of the ‘Preserve‘ movement, should we expect of incumbent politicians who attempt to claim the ‘Preserve‘ mantle?
The fact is that ever since Ed Day’s countywide election in 2013, running on a platform I was proud to write and drive to victory as campaign manager, the tone of many elected officials has largely changed on the issues of over-development, public schools, and “equal treatment for all, special treatment for none.” Incumbent politicians have realized that they must at least play to the crowd on these issues in order to avoid a voter revolt. They will say and do just enough to make it difficult to prove they are on the wrong side of the issues, but when push comes to shove they are either not there when it counts or steadfastly refuse to throw the entire power of their office at these issues.
This is exactly the position I believe our Supervisor, Andy Stewart, to be in. Now that Preserve has expanded into Preserve Orangetown, he is extolling his “cred” on these issues. But the supervisor is the executive of our town government, which for most of Orangetown is the first level of enforcement on zoning and code issues, land development, and attracting businesses, and as supervisor he has a well-staffed town government and police department at his disposal to take proactive, not reactive, steps to preserve our town for generations to come. He has the ability to implement a vision, if he has one, for the town.
So we now, with the support of the town board, have a “no knock” law. We will almost certainly have either substantial nonresident fees or a ban on nonresidents for our parks. Lovely gestures? Yes. Long-overdue basic steps? Sure. But proactive policy that actively secures our suburban way of life, as one might expect from someone claiming to stand by the goal of preserving Orangetown? Not by a long shot. We can applaud these steps, but they are just that – steps, and small ones at that.
Which brings me to that Facebook post, which asked if the town knows what properties have been bought by shell LLC’s within Orangetown, and the ultimate ownership of those LLC’s.
To this I say – how could it not? How can a supervisor who professes to want to preserve our town not have already brought to bear just a small fraction of his substantial resources to catalog, track, and if legal issues are found report, such real estate transactions?
What about increasing fines for code violations? Adding code enforcement officers? Tracking scofflaw and slumlord property owners, fining, and publicly shaming them? Our county level of government has actually had to step in against slumlords because town and village governments, to include Supervisor Stewart’s administration, have not done enough to enforce codes. Same thing for tax delinquent non-residential properties – the County has stepped in to crack the whip on delinquent landowners who refuse to pay taxes within Orangetown. Shouldn’t an incumbent Supervisor be doing the exact same thing before another level of government has to step in?
Talking about things is fine. Expressing support or opposition to things is all well and good. Supervisor Stewart seems to do these things well. But public statements and passing reactive laws in the hope that Orangetown can close the doors, shut the windows, and put our fingers in our ears until a threat to our suburban lifestyle and quality schools passes by is not enough for someone in an executive position with power over zoning, land use, and code enforcement. The position of supervisor is one of leadership – we can’t blame part time councilmen for this anymore than we can blame Congress for a poorly written treaty or failure by a President to react to a natural disaster. We need the full time leader of our town to be constantly working to win on these issues, and from what I can see that’s just not happening.
People will pander to Preserve Orangetown like they have been pandering since I helped organize Preserve Rockland in 2013 along with grassroots groups Preserve Ramapo and the Clarkstown Preservation Society. But we need to judge the people we elect to office on the totality of what they could be doing with the power of their office, not just their propaganda about what minimal things they have actually done.
The time for talk has passed – even the time for action has almost passed. We must demand more, or we will soon be looking back with regret on a lost future for Orangetown.