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Letter: Non-Partisan System is Open and Fair, and it Works

davidbrodskyHere is a letter from longtime resident David Brodsky who currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Scarsdale Procedure Committee:
To the Editor: I write in response to numerous attacks on the Scarsdale Non-Partisan System by Harry Reynolds, an independent candidate for Trustee in the election on March 20.

As a citizen of Scarsdale, Harry Reynolds has every right to run for Trustee and every right to his opinion on what he perceives to be the inadequacies of the Scarsdale Non-Partisan System. But, as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, you're entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts.

The fact is that, because of the time-tested and proven system of fair, honest, and responsive government under the Non-Partisan System, Scarsdale has been largely free of the partisan sniping and character assassination that is typical of most partisan electoral systems in this country. The Non-Partisan System is based upon the feedback of residents of Scarsdale and others with whom proposed candidates have worked over years in civic, charitable, and other endeavors. Based on that feedback, the Citizens Nominating Committee and School Board Nominating Committee (two separate groups that select candidates for Mayor, Trustee and Village Justice and for the School Board) choose persons to run on the Non-Partisan slates because of their proven and verified leadership skills.

The fact is that the two Nominating Committees are made up of citizens who have gathered petitions to be placed on the ballot and are then elected by the population of their elementary school neighborhoods.

One can't have a closer representation of grass roots connections than what these Nominating Committees provide.

The fact is that, once members of the Nominating Committees have been chosen in an open and contested election, a call goes out to the general population for candidates to put themselves forward for consideration for Village-wide office, whether it be for Mayor, Trustee, Village Justice, or School Board member. Anyone who is over 18 years of age, a U.S. citizen and resident of Scarsdale can be a candidate. Mr. Reynolds could have decided to seek office in that way in 2012.

The fact is that all candidates fill out a publicly-posted questionnaire asking for their educational backgrounds, employment history, and prior commitments to the Scarsdale community and that each candidate is then asked to speak for 10 minutes and to answer the same three to four questions, which each candidate is supplied with before hand. The questions address basic issues relating only to the nominee’s experience, qualifications, and understanding of what a Trustee does (e.g., "What qualities and special skills do you bring from your background and experience which would be of value as Trustee?" "What is your understanding of the role of a Village Trustee relative to that of the Village staff, community, and other Trustees?"), and not to any specific issues.

The fact is that there is no questioning by members of the Nominating Committees -- never mind, hostile cross cnclogoaexamination (which Mr. Reynolds recently implied he objected to facing in an op-ed piece he published). What matters is what the candidates say about themselves and their objective records, as attested to by people they have worked with over the years.

Mr. Reynolds complains that under Scarsdale’s Non-Partisan System, “'Issues' are anathema...[and that t]he committee’s object is to divine from the applicant’s history the applicant’s desirability..." But the fact is that “divining” is not what either of the Nominating Committees does; instead, each engages in extensive due diligence.

Based on what the candidate has done in his or her career, including in the Scarsdale community, the Committees seek out and speak to persons who have worked alongside each candidate in any of his or her prior positions. The purpose is to find candidates whose proven records in prior activities show them likely to be intelligent, independent, and creative leaders in our governing bodies. Only information from persons who are willing to be identified by name is allowed to be discussed during the nomination process. Thus, anonymous smears or hearsay play no role in the evaluative material used in judging whether a candidate should be selected.

The reason for this form of inquiry of candidates is plain: one doesn't know what issues will be coming before the Trustees or School Board from month to month, not to mention over a two or three year term. It could be revaluation, it could be development, it could be storm waters, it could be searching for new principals, it could be curriculum reform. What is the hot issue of the moment may not be an issue of concern in a future year.

What matters is not each candidate's point of view about particular issues but proven track record of working well with others, intelligence, inquisitiveness, and creativity. And, after this due diligence process, it is rare, indeed, for someone to be elected as a Trustee or School Board member without such a record reflecting dedication to working in a conscientious and collegial manner, without known biases or agendas.

Mr. Reynolds complains that the Non-Partisan process "keeps secret ... what is said when those applicants appear before its nominating committee..." But one can see why the confidence of discussions within the Nominating Committees is so important. As a member of the School Board Nominating Committee for three years and an observer this year of the Citizens Nominating Committee (by dint of being the incoming Chair of the Procedure Committee), I heard frank discussion of candidates' working habits, indifference to others' opinions, or lack of preparedness for meetings from friends and colleagues of one candidate or another who had first-hand experience with the candidate and who are willing to be quoted for attribution.

I believe that without such confidential discussions, it would be rare for such useful and necessary candor to be elicited, and, therefore, I believe that the confidence of discussions within the Nominating Committees serves a necessary and highly useful purpose. The Non-Partisan System needs – and the entire Scarsdale community benefits by -- such confidential candor in order to continue to produce the highly qualified candidates that it has historically done for 100 years.

Mr. Reynolds complains that campaigns are "uncontested," but they need not be, and have not been on several occasions within the last several years. Indeed, his own candidacy this year, the write-in candidacies last year, and the formation and election of candidates from newly-formed parties in prior years, makes clear that any person who believes himself qualified can be a candidate. Overall, it is the Scarsdale Non-Partisan System's very transparency, as well as the abundant number of volunteers who work for the betterment of Scarsdale, that has kept it as viable as it has been and hopefully will continue to be.

No one can defend the highly regrettable history of the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s, where qualified resident were excluded from participating in Scarsdale's civic life, and I don’t think that even Mr. Reynolds truly believes that such odious practices would be resurrected by the continuation of the Non-Partisan System. When I served as an observer of the Citizens Nominating Committee in December 2011 and January 2012, as well as when I served on the School Board Nominating Committee several years ago, both the committee members and the candidates for School Board and Trustee came from a variety of racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds. The time when the secrecy of the Scarsdale Non- Partisan process was used to foster class or religious hatred or social injustice in Scarsdale is, thankfully, a vestige of our past, nonexistent in the present, and not a harbinger of our future.

Finally, Mr. Reynolds implies that he is running for Trustee so as to do away with the Non-Partisan System. But the Trustees of the Village have nothing to do with the processes by which candidates are selected, a fact that Mr. Reynolds appears not to understand. Every year, the voter-adopted Resolutions that govern the procedures followed by both the Village and School Board Nominating Committees, as well as the Non-Partisan election processes, are studied and, where desirable, proposed amendments are drafted by residents who are members of committees established under the Resolutions. These recommendations for changes are often adopted by residents of the Village in open elections.

This past November, nine such changes to the Non-Partisan Resolution governing the Village elections were adopted by the voters of Scarsdale, and just last month, another group of changes to the Resolution governing School Board elections were adopted by the voters. As with any electoral system, the Non- Partisan System is not perfect and if there are desirable changes to be made in the future, it will be residents of the Village, operating in those committees, who will recommend changes to be made, not the Trustees of the Village.

In closing, I urge all residents to vote on March 20 to support the candidates nominated under the Non- Partisan System -- Kay Eisenman, Jon Mark, and David Lee -- and elect them as Trustees of the Village. I also urge that any residents who question the merits of the Non-Partisan process to experience it first- hand by volunteering to run for election to the Citizen's or School Board Nominating Committees, rather than to speculate on imagined shortcomings.

Respectfully,

David M. Brodsky
Vice Chair, 2011-12 Scarsdale Procedure Committee
4 Burgess Road
Scarsdale, New York

 

 

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