Friday, September 28, 2007

A Former Water Commish Opens The Floodgates

Water Districts, Water Districts Everywhere, And Only A Few Look To Shut The Valve

Nassau County Comptroller, Howard Weitzman, recently reported of the misdeeds of those who are "elected" to oversee the Franklin Square and Hicksville water districts.

We've been writing about the special district shenanigans for years now, and you've been reading about it all in Newsday, and elsewhere.

Of course, we're all on the outside, looking in. All except one of us -- Michael Uhl of West Hempstead -- who was doing so much more than treading water when he was Water Commissioner of the West Hempstead-Hempstead Gardens Water District [a race he won by unseating a lifelong incumbent, one Anthony Dignato, by 3 write-in votes.]

Today, Michael continues to rail against the excesses not only of the water districts, but of government, in general.

Our guest blog today comes to us courtesy of Michael Uhl, a proponent of competent and efficient government. [Shh. Don't tell that to the powers-that-be...]

Michael Uhl is a candidate for Nassau County Legislature in the 8th LD, seeking to unseat 6-term incumbent Vincent T. Muscarella. [You may need a crowbar and that stuff they use to remove twenty year old bumber stickers to get this guy out of his seat, Michael!]

Check out Michael Uhl's website at
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You Tell Me It's The Institution
By Michael Uhl

As a former Water Commissioner, I was recently asked to testify by the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency at Hofstra University. You can read my full testimony

I gladly testified about my personal experiences, because, during my three-year tenure, I saw firsthand how entrenched incumbency results in negligent and inefficient government services. Combined with the runaway taxes we pay, and the low voter turnout, it is obvious that our communities and our democracy are eroding. With today’s new technologies, however, we can use our voices and not be silent accomplices to our own demise.

If we want to successfully address the problems vexing us on Long Island, we must summon the political will to recognize that 4,200 taxing jurisdictions spread throughout New York are too many, too expensive, and too loaded with conflicts of interest to provide efficient government services. We must reduce the number of Commissioners and make them meaningfully accountable to the residents and guided by experts in each discipline: a Water Director, Fire Director, Sanitation Director, etc.

Subsequent to my testimony, the Suffolk County Water Authority adopted many of the same recommendations I have been advocating – it rescinded perks granted to part-time Board members and corrected other efficiency and accountability issues. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.

A large number of part-time Board members in various special taxing districts have been entrenched for decades without term limits, been paid for undocumented work, and received health insurance for themselves and their families. Additionally, they have received dinners, trips, and vehicles and have given lifetime jobs to family members, all at the taxpayers' expense.
Commissioners are paid based upon the number of days they work, which is determined by simply "signing in" for the day. As a commissioner, I advocated that Commissioners should not be paid for signing in unless they actually worked. Taxpayers should not be paying for a signature only. In order to achieve this basic level of accountability in the West Hempstead Water District, I requested that each Commissioner should provide a written summary of the work he performed for the district that day. The Board refused to do so. Despite their refusal, I recorded my work because it was the right thing to do.

I convinced the Board to track and remediate toxic spills, including MTBE contamination, before the wells, which the community relies on for its drinking water, were negatively affected. The Board stopped tracking spills after I left office.

What a surprise.

Three years later, there was a public scandal when our wells were contaminated with MTBE and residents were ordered not to use their tap water. Proactive policies can protect against such future damage and expense.

I voted against the Board when a particular Commissioner wanted to hire his daughter without interviewing any other candidates. The daughter was not hired during my term due to my objections, and fear that I would "spill the beans" to Newsday. I left the board on December 31, 2003. The daughter promptly went on the payroll in January 2004. An alarmingly high percentage of the District’s employees are family members, and that perpetuates the entrenchment.

It was because of my experience as a Water Commissioner, and my growing concern as a citizen/taxpayer, that the symbol of my current campaign for the Nassau County Legislature seat in the 8th District arose: One person from the community, carrying a lantern, followed by a growing number of people from the community, shining their lanterns, can light the way to a secure and successful future. Some will say this is a pipe dream -- and they will be correct, but only if we do nothing.

You Say You Want a Webolution

We live today in the digital age, the 21st Century, yet we are governed, in many cases, by 20th Century machine politics. This entrenched form of government is unable to change and develop new ways to do the business of government. It resists transparency, oversight, standardization, and performance measurement, all of which are qualities of a healthy democracy and sound business. Such outmoded practices will continue to threaten our safety, health, environment, home values, and economy until it is no longer sustainable. To change this situation we can, and must, now get involved electronically on our own time, then vote.

Advances in technology have allowed citizens to achieve our ideals of participatory democracy more easily than ever before through the use of the Internet and related technology.

We must collectively demand specific standards that hold our officials openly and measurably accountable for their performance. Their records of voting, attendance, and actual accomplishments ought to be publicly available on the Internet.

The Internet allows today’s diverse citizenry to reason with each other and to engage in communication with our representatives like never before. It is essential that we use these connective technologies to strengthen and achieve our common bonds.

I hope you will join me in carrying the “lantern.” Please e-mail me with your thoughts at
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The Lantern. Isn't that on the Turnpike in West Hempstead? Hmmm. We think we had breakfast there last Tuesday.

Thank you, Michael, for saying so eloquently and succinctly what we've been trying to say in these blog pages for years.

We can only hope that enough good people out there will heed the call and join the webolution.
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If you think The Community Alliance blog is "all that," check out Michael Uhl's blog at Not only is it cutting edge, its green!

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