A lot of fur has been flying lately between local government leaders and top brass at the Adirondack Park Agency.
The Local Government Review Board — a state-funded entity — released a full-throated attack on the APA last month, describing the regulatory agency as “under the influence and in need of detoxification.”
Chairman Curt Stiles fired back, describing the Review Board as deceptive and questioning its legitimacy as a voice for local government.
Hidden behind all this sound and fury are some very good ideas for reforming the APA and making it an even more ambitious and idealistic experiment in Park management.
A growing number of politicians — including Democrats — are calling for at least some of the Agency’s in-Park commissioners to be chosen directly by locals.
It’s a great idea. But the people doing the choosing shouldn’t be local government leaders.
Frankly, towns and counties have made some dubious choices in picking representatives to sit on the Local Government Review Board.
Two of the group’s members — John Maye and Howard Aubin from Clinton County– have leveled accusations against state officials and environmentalists that are both incendiary and factually untenable.
So untenable, in fact, that Review Board executive director Fred Monroe distanced himself from the charges.
A far better way to choose in-Park commissioners would be to hold direct, Park-wide elections, allowing Adirondackers to cast their own ballots and make their own picks.
Imagine for a moment the kind of democratic debate that would ensue. Locals would have a chance to discuss openly their concerns, their desires, and their ambitions for the Agency.
Supporters of strict environmental protection inside the blue line would be forced to find electable candidates, who can engage communities directly, reaching out and making their arguments.
They would have the chance to do some educating, but they might learn a few things themselves about local attitudes toward conservation and the outdoors.
Opponents of the APA’s broad mission, meanwhile, would be forced to go beyond ad hominem attacks and zingers.
They would have to articulate their own vision for how the Park’s open space should (or should not) be protected.
And I’m guessing they might find some surprises when they begin to take a real measure of the support for the APA that has grown in the Park, especially among more recent immigrants to the Adirondacks.
We should start this experiment in direct democracy with a small step.
The next Governor should work with the legislature to allow two of the five in-Park seats to be filled through direct election. All persons living in towns wholly or partially inside the blue line should be allowed to vote.
Would such a campaign be fiery at times? Sure, absolutely. That’s how democracy works.
But the Adirondacks is already one of the most visionary and ambitious models for open space management in the world.
Currently, Park rules allow locals to share in many of the decisions that are made about their communities and the landscapes that surround them.
That responsibility has brought about a profound evolution in the way many locals think about the environment, the economy, and their lives.
By expanding the rights of Park residents even further, we would also expand and deepen the experiment that is underway in the Adirondacks.