Friday, July 27, 2007

The "Bully" Pulpit

A Report From The Special District Public Hearings

Well, at least some attempt was made to keep the public in public hearings.

Show up. Sign in. Be seated. Just don't say too much when you step up to the mike!

Laura Mally, no stranger to the scene as a community activist [check out our postings], got up to say a few words. Stan Lundine, of the State Commission, tried -- in the interest of expediency -- to shut her down.

Oh, you'll never quiet the likes of Laura Mallay, Stan. NEVER!

How effective this Commission on Local Government Efficiency will be in the end remains to be seen. Two things, however, are perfectly clear: It was public outrage, demonstarted through outspoken citizens such as Laura Mallay, that got things started as concerns the efficiency and effectiveness of the special taxing districts the Commission now seeks to examine and reel in. And it will take public support, and the continued vocalization of our grievances, to change a system of local government that has badly failed all but those who are beholden to the fiefdoms the Commission now hopes to shed a cleansing light on.

You go, Laura Mallay. Let's keep the public upfront and talking in this great debate.

And note to Stan Lundine: You may serve at the pleasure of the Governor as a member of the Commission. That Governor, be reminded, serves at the pleasure of US!
- - -
District battles form special bond
Joye Brown

Stan Lundine, the former lieutenant governor of New York, basically told Laura Mallay of (South) Hempstead to shut up yesterday.

He wasn't mean, he wasn't tough. And his laudable goal, as chairman of the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness - whew! - was to keep the line of witnesses moving so an unexpectedly large number of Long Islanders could testify at its meeting at Hofstra University.

Line 'em up, knock 'em down. But make time to praise any elected official who happens to saunter into the audience. That's what commissions, or any political entity, for that matter, tend to do at gatherings such as these.

But let's jump back to Mallay.

No, let's jump back even further, to a year ago, when Hofstra's Suburban Studies Institute called Long Island's first-ever summit on Nassau County's special taxing districts.

Laura Mallay was in the audience for that summit.

So was Terry Tietjen of Hicksville.

Gina Previte, all the way from Medford, was there too.

At that time, none knew the others.

Mallay rose to challenge the way things worked in her special sanitation district, which charges more for services than town-run ones. Previte testified about the outrageous cost of operating the Gordon Heights Fire District, which covers a little over a mile and, it could be argued, shouldn't even exist.

Tietjen didn't testify. But she listened, and listened hard. For years, she had been fighting for the administration of Hicksville's Fire Station 2 to change its expensive, clubhouse ways.

"I was so happy to find out that I wasn't the only one fighting," she told me yesterday.

Fast forward to this year's meeting of the state commission at Hofstra.

Mallay, Tietjen and Previte now support each other and share strategies. And they are no longer alone.

In the hallway yesterday, Previte and Tietjen talked, with passion, to Long Island fire officials who attended.

Mallay, for her part, is more than comfortable taking on sanitation district commissioners.

Thanks to them, things are changing. Really changing.

Mallay ran - and lost, by 1,282 votes to 633 - a race to become a sanitation commissioner in (South) Hempstead.

But she didn't give up. She's a trustee of a new group, Residents for Efficient Special Districts.Tietjen rose yesterday to read a list of hard-won achievements, from tripling voter turnout for fire commissioner elections to bringing enough community pressure to bear to reduce the district's budgets two years in a row.

As for Previte, she and the other residents of the Gordon Heights Fire District are still waiting for relief. One neighbor told me she had been fighting to abolish the district for 20 years.

On Tuesday, before the hearing began, I asked a commission staffer what they had heard from Long Islanders.

"We've heard the most from Gordon Heights," she said.

And, so now, the commission has heard from Long Island, New York State's epicenter of special districts, duplicative services and sky-high taxes.

But there's something the commission, local elected officials, and even Gov. Eliot Spitzer need to recognize.They're not leading the effort.

They are following Mallay, Tietjen, Previte and others who have spent their own money, put in long hours, and even, in some instances, endured bullying from the entities they are trying to change.They've made it safe for politicians to talk about the high cost of schools, of police and teacher salaries, of Cadillac benefits paid for by a public who can't even dream of getting the same thing in their private-sector jobs.

"There will be no bullying," commission member Sam Hoyt, an assemblyman from Buffalo, told Tietjen, apologizing for the abuse she said she has suffered in her reform effort.

Hoyt said the commission wouldn't be bullied, either.

Let's see what time brings.

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

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