When you think “politics” today, you probably think national issues, Clinton vs Trump, jobs and the economy. If someone asked you how are things in your local community, you would probably say “fine”. Because so long as your taxes don’t go up, your road gets plowed and your garbage gets picked up, local government doesn’t matter much to you.
There is no shame in being honest - you are probably in the majority who doesn’t pay attention to local politics. For the most part our garbage does get picked up and our roads do get plowed. But right under our noses, our local government has become a bit of a mess.
Look, I respect anyone who runs for public office. They really don’t do it for the fame or money – our town council members and county legislators are mostly hard working people who care about the public good.
But over the past year, our local elected officials have either been asleep at the wheel or have actively allowed the following shenanigans (and this isn’t even all of it):
- EMBEZZLEMENT – Carmel councilmembers didn’t feel they needed to do careful oversight of the Mahopac Fire department, and then the treasurer stole five million dollars before anyone figured it out.
- THEFT – Jean Noel, who was appointed to head up the Putnam County Consumer Affairs office, is alleged to have stolen cash money from the coffers, and resigned in a guilty plea deal
- PATRONAGE – Libby Pataki, the state’s former first lady and a wealthy political ally of our county executive, was given a plum position and paid a big salary as our head of tourism in Putnam County. Turns out neither the executive nor the legislature actually required her to do anything for us in return but spend the money on political events! (She also resigned.)
- LOWERING STANDARDS - right now the Putnam County legislature is trying to eliminate the job requirement that a Planner actually have a degree in Planning. So much for the best and the brightest, eh?
But perhaps the most frustrating part of all is that there doesn’t seem to be any real plan to breathe economic life into Putnam County towns, put workers and customers into local vacant storefronts. So people complain that taxes are high – and they are – but have any of our Republican elected officials done anything about it? (Can’t blame the Democrats for this one!)
What is worse is that we keep re-electing the same people who run virtually unopposed - no one is willing to step up and run against them. This clearly sends a message that either these shenanigans are fine with us…or that perhaps we don’t really care.
But is it fine with us, the sloppy government of an unchecked one party system? Do we care?
If you have felt frustrated and wished there were something you could do about this situation, you are not alone. But the problem will not fix itself - we need people to get off the sidelines and participate. In the battle for good government, we need good candidates, and we need concerned and vocal citizens.
(By the way, Lorenzo Garo, you are a hero, writing your letters and challenging the local power elite. We need more Lorenzo Garo’s!)
Democracy works best when there is exchange of ideas, when differing sides come together to hash out the best deal for the people. Democracy works when the people work to make change.
In a presidential election year, more people raise their heads and look around to see how they can make a difference. And yes, the president is important. But keep looking around for a while and you will see how much local government matters.
In the words of a certain president, “I promise you, when we keep at it; when we change enough minds; when we deliver enough votes, then progress does happen.”
Get off the sidelines, Mahopac. Your community needs you.
Jennifer Colamonico is the chair of the Carmel Democratic Committee, a local homeowner/taxpayer and a parent to 2 children in the Mahopac schools.