John F. Kennedy is credited with writing Profiles in Courage shortly before his election in 1960. It is with a modicum of chagrin that I borrow the title to his book, modify it somewhat and use it to highlight some things many 21st century politicians resort to lately: Taking the cowards way out when the political decisions get tough.
I could tell a few stories from my 12 years on the town board, but that's for another time and place. This time, I'm going to tell you the 2017 story of political cowardice that recently took place on the 10th floor of the Oneida County Office Building during a regularly scheduled meeting. Some background first:
County services decided there was a need for a communications tower up on Higby Road in New Hartford a mile or so before the Herkimer County line. After some engineering, it was decided a 195' tower would solve whatever problem (or future problem) was needed to communicate with ... whomever. Apparently, this project went through proper channels and came to a vote on the floor of the legislature. It passed, but not unanimously. Your 2 New Hartford legislators abstained: Jim D-15 D'Onofrio and Mrs. D-16 Pratt both abstained from the vote. Why?
These towers are not popular in the area they are placed and the people that live there day in and day out don't want them in their 'backyard.' It's commonly called NIMBY which means Not in my Back Yard.
So, to be able to look their constituents in the eye and honestly tell them they did not vote for it, they abstained. Since they both represent the area bordering the location of the new tower, rather than take the heat for voting for it, they simply refused to vote.
However, that is what I call a half-truth because they didn't vote against it either. It is 100% political cowardice.
But wait, there's more!
When I served on the town board for 12 years, there were plenty of contentious votes that would have been convenient to hide behind by refusing to vote via the abstention. But I didn't, and there's a few reasons why:
1, You are put there to make decisions. Sometimes, the decisions are tough - either you vote for bad, or you vote for worse than bad. Some decisions have no upside, they are necessary to keeping government operating smoothly and since you ran for the job, now do it. Make the tough decisions.
2: Abstentions are supposed to be way out of avoiding a personal involvement in what is being voted on, such as a financial tie or familial connections that could potentially benefit from your vote. THEN it is perfectly acceptable to abstain so as to keep clean hands.
3: If you do choose to abstain, you are duty-bound to explain to your fellow board members what your conflict of interest is. It is not merely deciding not to vote on something that is politically unpopular; if that were so, legislators would be abstaining all the time on any contentious matter.
No explanation was asked for or tendered to the public. They chose the cowards way out, and that is why I am calling them out for the political cowardice they displayed on the floor.
But wait, there's even more!
Mrs. Pratt has only a few months of appointed experience whereas I have 12 years of elected experience. Experience would have told me to handle the issue in a completely different fashion.
I would have asked to delay the vote so that I could notify the residents in the area and hold a public informational meeting about it. While I was setting the time and place for the meeting, I would have been investigating whether or not the need for the tower was real and dire and whether it could be co-located on an existing tower or in the worst case, lowered. 195 feet is tall and as an experienced Commercial Pilot, I can tell you towers can cause aviation accidents, especially tall towers on a hilltop.
And yes, if I was not afforded the opportunity to delay and hold the meeting, I would have voted AGAINST it. I would not have abstained.
I'm thinking of making this an annual award and expanding it to other local governments. From my years watching political units act, I can tell you there is no shortage of cowardice in politics and most likely never will be.
Next blog post: How Mrs. Pratt already took more money out of your wallet in her short 6 months.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and I respectfully ask for your vote on Primary Day (Sept 12) and in the general election in November.
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