Higher fences and parking-law violations also discussed
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
The possibilities of longer terms of office for elected officials, higher fences, and a crackdown on parking-ticket scofflaws occupied the Cold Spring Village Board Tuesday night (June 7) before the board disappeared into executive session to discuss personnel matters.
At the board’s weekly workshop session, Trustee Charles Hustis proposed extending the terms of office for mayor and trustees from two years to four years, if voters approve the change. His colleagues expressed skepticism. A week earlier, Hustis had raised the issue in passing. Tuesday evening, he returned to it, distributing a memo that outlined four options:
- Changing both mayoral and trustee terms from two years to four years
- Keeping the mayoral term at two years but changing the trustee terms to four years
- Keeping term for mayor and trustee “as is,” but establishing term limits for them
- Keeping the current terms of two years for both mayor and trustees
Hustis, whose term ends next April, said he brought up the matter to “give some food for thought. I’m just throwing it out” for feedback.
“It should be a referendum question. Let the voters — true government, true democracy — make the decision on it.” His memo outlined advantages and disadvantages for each approach. Hustis said that under Option 1, changing all the terms to four years, “we eliminate two consecutive elections,” in 2014 and 2015, “which would save the taxpayers money. The downside to this is that if you have a mayor or trustee that you don’t like, you would have to wait four years to get rid of them,” he said. According to Mayor Seth Gallagher, each village election costs approximately $4,000. ,
Hustis said that Option 2 would bring the village into line with town practices, as the town supervisor serves a two-year term but the other Town Board members serve a four-year term as councilors. This approach would also allow longer-serving trustees to advise an inexperienced mayor, he said. Giving the mayor a shorter term than that of the trustees “doesn’t sound good to me!” Gallagher quipped.
“Perfect! That’s what we want!” Trustee J. Ralph Falloon countered with a laugh.
The plus to Option 3, term limits, “is that new people can become involved,” Hustis continued. The drawback is that an outstanding public official would be barred from continuing in office after a certain number of years, he said. He summed up the implications of the fourth option, leaving the present practice intact, as opting to “let the democratic process work.”
“I kind of like Number 4,” keeping the current system, Gallagher said. Potential candidates might find a four-year term a lengthy commitment and thus “a little bit daunting,” he added. “Signing up for two years is a little bit easier. Plus I think the campaigning is good because you are forced to go out door-to-door and talk to people.”
Falloon, too, pointed out that four years might seem too long to some prospective office-holders. As well, he observed, some board members might burn out after two years. If that happens and the term is four years, “you’re of no use to the rest of the board because you’re just trying to get your next two years over with.” Campbell noted that it can take a year for a new trustee to feel acclimated but with two-year terms there’s only another year before the term ends. If seeking re-election, “you can’t believe how fast you’re going through all the motions” of another campaign, he said. However, “if you’re good and doing a decent job, you shouldn’t have any problems” getting re-elected.
In other business, the board agreed to have Village Attorney Stephen Gaba draft a law to allow police to “boot” or put immobilization locking devices on parked cars owned by drivers who constantly ignore parking tickets. “There are a pretty good number of people who get the tickets and basically tear them up,” the mayor told the board. “This is not your average person. It’s scofflaws,” who receive upwards of 10 tickets, sometimes accumulating unpaid fines well over $300, which they refuse to pay as their infractions continue, he explained. “Just the fact that you have a law” spelling out consequences for repeat violators should make drivers think, Gallagher proposed. “The goal is not to boot vehicles but to get them to pay tickets.”
“We want their money,” Hustis put in.
The board also gave a bit of attention to a recurring concern: amending the zoning code to allow higher fences, at least around part of a residential property. The board discussed such a change a year ago and the possibility has been bandied about in the village for months. “The idea tonight was to get this into people’s hands,” Gallagher said. “We’re not doing anything tonight. We’re just looking at it,” before deciding whether to schedule a public hearing on the change. Currently, village law restricts fence height to 4 feet. The revision would allow a fence 6 feet tall, on one side of the property. “I still don’t like it. It means I can only have privacy on one side,” Falloon said. Moreover, “whether it’s 4 or 6 feet, you still have the ‘boxing'” effect with houses whose enclosed lawns start to resemble a series of tall boxes or stockyard pens, he said. Other questions arose on the meaning of certain clauses or words in the draft law, so the board decided to ask Gaba for clarifications and revisit the matter at its June 14 meeting.