Yes, some Adirondack Park Agency commissioners should be elected

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.

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32 Comments on “Yes, some Adirondack Park Agency commissioners should be elected”

  1. mary says:

    No to more people on ballot for voters. It is expensive to add them to a statewide ballot or even by county.

    Why not elect them? Do we need more campaigning and slimy donations to candidates who represent their well funded contributors?

    Clean up our campaign finance laws and maybe I will change my mind.

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  2. Dan says:

    Brian: While I like the suggestions of engaged citizen voting for in-park representation, the ultimate result would be pressure that all members, in-park and out-of-park would end up being elected with no real gubernatorial appointees, but for the 3 state officio’s who once named to their primary posts also sit on the APA. Politically, the Governor has no benefit from any elected reps – it reduces his power as Governor and last call for the Agency which, after all, is an Executive Agency under the Governor’s Office. We can all imagine the big money that would be backing real estate developers being elected to APA posts. To advance democracy, better, deeper and more public dialogue is much more preferred and far easier to establish, but this is a good discussion. Thanks.

    Dan
    Keene

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  3. Bret4207 says:

    An OUTSTANDING idea!!! And high time too. An agency with the power the APA has to affect the very livelihood and even the ability to live within the Park should have elected members. To argue against it is simply ludicrous.

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  4. Brian says:

    I agree with some APA commissioners being elected provided that the below statement be what happens:

    “But the people doing the choosing shouldn’t be local government leaders.”

    Replacing commissioners appointed by one set of politicians with those appointed by another set of politicians is no improvement at all.

    Have some (not all) elected by Park residents.

    It’s also important to make it a non-partisan election, to have candidates run as individuals, not as Democrats, Republicans, etc.

    Additionally, there must be some campaign finance restriction for this race. Either people should only be able to use their own money to campaign or there should be a very low ceiling on TOTAL campaign ‘donations’… maybe $1000 or something. Otherwise, we’ll just have developers or green groups buying commissioners the way they (or at least developers) buy other elected officials.

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  5. Pete Klein says:

    Good idea except for the usual problem. Who picks who will run?
    Actually, I’ve reached the point where I roll my eyes every time I hear anything about the Adirondacks. I am sick of all the green groups, the developer groups, the pro this and the anti that groups.
    It seems like all the so called news concerning the Adirondacks is nothing other than someone whining about something. Cabin fever 24/7/365!
    There is this Geico commercial that asks, “Does a Drill Sargent make a really bad psychiatrist?” I think of him when I think of all the whining that goes on up here.

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  6. It does seem like a good idea, but isn’t there a bit of a logical fallacy in your assertion that the locally elected representatives of Adirondack towns and villages will make worse choices than the people who elected them? I also think you are unfair to Howard Aubin, who is widely respected as an expert on APA law and procedure (including by many state officials and APA officials) and who has for decades volunteered his time to help people with their APA cases.

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  7. Brian Mann says:

    Will –

    I do think a Park-wide campaign and vote would be a significantly different political animal — and more productive debate-wise — than having county legislators make this kind of pick.

    I think Howard Aubin is a very interesting player in the Adirondack Park debate, and he is very knowledgeable.

    But as I note, some of his accusations have been factually unsupported, to the degree that even the LGRB and many local government leaders consider them to be non-credible.

    That said, I think having Aubin as a candidate for an APA seat in an election campaign would be fascinating and productive — far more interesting than having him appointed by a county board.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  8. James Paul says:

    The chairman should be one of those elected. The current chairman has been a disaster for relations between the APA and Adirondack citizens and local government. Also, only the chairman has much day to day influence on Staff culture and behavior. There needs to be an effort from the Chairman to change staff attitudes and the tone of their dealings with applicants.

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  9. Brian says:

    “It does seem like a good idea, but isn’t there a bit of a logical fallacy in your assertion that the locally elected representatives of Adirondack towns and villages will make worse choices than the people who elected them? ”

    Not necessarily. Bear in mind a few things…

    a) electing someone to be town supervisor or to the county legislature solely on the basis of their views on environmentalism, zoning/land use planning

    b) as Brian M mentioned, a Park wide race would be very different from a town- or county legislative district-only race and would focus on different issues

    c) a large number of officials in the Park are elected in unopposed races.

    The whole rationale behind electing commissioners is to give them some accountability to the people whose lives are affected by their decisions. Switching their accountability from one set of politicians to another doesn’t achieve that, in my view.

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  10. Brian says:

    Sorry, just realized my point a didn’t make any sense as written… Should be:

    a) one typically doesn’t vote for someone to be town supervisor or to the county legislature solely on the basis of their views on environmentalism or zoning/land use planning.

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  11. dave says:

    Give local residents as much control and say over the areas where they live. Absolutely. It is a no-brainer… almost everywhere except here.

    This isn’t some rural US anywhere. It is a State Park whose natural environment and characteristics we are trying to protect and balance with the needs of communities. Exposing this balance to the whims of local political campaigns and self interest is a bad…. bad… idea.

    Unless very specific controls, like what Brian F. suggested, could be guaranteed. Including, and especially, finance restrictions. I personally have very little faith that those sorts of controls are possible, or that they would satisfy the Monroe’s and Aubin’s of the world.

    Brain M., you have an optimism about political campaigns and debates that is contagious. Seriously, you really do. Once of my favorite parts about hearing you speak. You perk right up and glow about it when you talk about the noisy back and forth of the process. This is clearly your passion, as you have said in the past. Politics, debate, ideas. It also, in my opinion, is what taints your view on a subject like this.

    I’ve heard you describe the local political process as fascinating, fun, and messy. But what is fascinating and fun for a political observer/junkie, is not necessarily good for every situation. Sometimes, it is just messy. And sometimes it is downright counter productive.

    As a resident, I am perfectly fine with the way officials are indirectly elected right now. We all elect the governor, who appoints the commissioners, and we all elect our state reps who vote on them (do the vote on all appointees? including the in-park seats?). Thus, we already do have some say over these positions.

    Changing this because of some high school like drama between current “dubious” local review board representatives and the APA seems like an over reaction to me.

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  12. Pete Klein says:

    I agree with Dave above. We don’t need one more thing to vote on unless…
    Could we vote on each item in the town, county, state and federal budgets?
    Could we vote to keep or get rid of every single state and federal agency and all the laws and policies they now pass? Could we vote for who gets to serve on the Supreme Court?
    Maybe we could get rid of our elected representatives and vote on everything they get to vote on.
    Gosh! If we did that, we wouldn’t have to listen or watch any campaign ads and all the special interest groups would be sending us gobs of money to vote the way they want us to vote.

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  13. mike says:

    Watching the local town leaders in Tupper Lake dealing with the ACR developers is a prime example of why we shouldn’t have locally elected representatives on the APA.

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  14. Paul says:

    Dave,

    Everywhere except here? That is kind of a strange take don’t you think? Sure lots of the land is public and the entire state really deserves a say in what happens with that land. But I think it could be different for the privately held land. I have always thought that the APA could have oversight over private land development and they should leave public land decisions to the DEC (even if that means moving the APA state land committee next door and just changing it’s name) . That would alleviate half the animosity right there. Plus maybe they would stop arguing with each other and wasting money in the process.

    As far a general election of sorts that seems a bit extreme and probably not very practical given the shrinking budget of the agency and the tight belts of the towns. Brian M., the town legislators are already elected by the town residents why not have them appoint the members? It is not perfect but it could work. Maybe folks will pick different legislators based on this new role they would have? I think maybe you just don’t like the opinions of some of the current town supervisors. Injecting their type of view point is not necessarily a bad thing. Remember the Adirondack Park is an experiment, one where we seem unwilling to change the experimental parameters when things are not working. Take a chance, let a guy you think is a kook make a few decisions, you still have all the other members appointed by the gov under your scheme.

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  15. Dave and Pete Klein:
    The problem with having APA commissioners appointed by the governor is that the governor is elected largely by people who live outside the Park, thus the local representation is not only indirect but, often, nonexistent. The usual procedure is direct election of the leaders of a municipality — supervisors, town board; mayor, council members; governor, legislators — and then appointment, by them, of the officials who run such things as zoning and planning boards, the state liquor authority, and so on. Why not have the same procedure we use everywhere else for the APA — direct election of the Adirondack town and village leaders, then appointment by them of the APA commissioners? I do think, because it is a state park, the governor should also be allowed an appointment or two to the board, and, perhaps there could be other ways certain commissioners were appointed. But doesn’t it seem logical to have at least some of the commissioners appointed by the elected representatives of the areas they oversee, as is done in almost every other case?

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  16. John B says:

    Property owners inside the blue line are subject to rules that don’t exist outside the line. If you don’t like it, don’t buy property here. Nowhere in the US can property be purchased that is not subject to some level of government control. Absent any government control, there would be chaos because there would be no way to establish and record ownership. In exchange for order, the regional authorities are granted a measure of control over the land.

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  17. dave says:

    Paul,

    The Adirondacks are not like anywhere else… so, no, saying that something might be a good idea everywhere else except here does not strike me as a particularly strange assertion.

    I understand that you would like it if the APA didn’t regulate private land, but that is (thankfully, in my opinion) not the reality of the Park.

    I also reject the notion that the experiment is somehow not working, and needs anything even approaching drastic change. The sky is not falling where I live, and I have yet to meet anyone here who thinks it is.

    Will,

    We not only help elect the governor, we also elect our state reps who then have a say in the matter. Recent nominee Peter Hornbeck has had his nomination stalled thanks mainly to the efforts of Betty Little – our elected official. Saying that we have non-existent representation in this matter is simply not true.

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  18. mary says:

    I can’t help but say something about regulating private land. You have to remember the Adirondacks have alot of privately held land — large lots owned by timber companies and the rich. There are private preserves with thousands of acres.

    This is a unique situation in NY where most of the properties are small and getting smaller as farms are sold and divided.

    To say that the APA cannot regulate the private land is to go against the whole concept of the park legislation, because of these unique properties.

    Back when the APA was strengthened into its present form, it was done to keep control local to the state and keep controls in place to protect the land. Out on the table was the idea that protecting the Adirondacks would be best be done by making it a national park. This would have meant that regulations would have been done on the federal level.

    The APA when viewed in this light reveals it was a compromise to keep the federal interest and federal laws away from the Park.

    That being said, there is still room for change. But the APA needs some power to regulate the large tracts of land and prevent exploitation — as happened in the past.

    The Adirondacks could have easily become a park back in the 60’s and 70’s.
    People can live in a National Park, but the laws come from that agency.

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  19. RonV says:

    Having the APA commissioners elected will ensure that political considerations will take the place of science in the decision making process.

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  20. Pete Klein says:

    Will,
    Isn’t about time for the towns, all of them and not just some of them, to have their own zoning and planning boards?
    My vote is to get rid of the APA and force the towns to become responsible – or not, and let the DEC do its thing with state owned land.

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  21. scratchy says:

    Horribel idea. I mean really, people in the Park just aren’t capable and intelligent enough to select park members. Better to have governors appoint commissioners and the Senators confirm. They are after all, experts what living in the Park is like. Rural folks now so little compared to the NYC and Albany “experts.”

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  22. Paul says:

    Dave,

    Where did I say that I don’t think the APA should be regulating private land? The only suggestion I made is that the APA move its PUBLIC land functions into the building next door (the DEC).

    Anyone who thinks the Adirondack experiment is going well is only looking very narrowly at the picture. You can’t just ignore the opinions of many people that are not happy. From my perspective as a second home owner in the Adirondacks, the experiment is a huge success, but many year round residents disagree. I can’t just ignore them like you can. It has to work for everyone.

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  23. Paul says:

    “Having the APA commissioners elected will ensure that political considerations will take the place of science in the decision making process.”

    Ron you don’t actually think that political appointees are not political? An elected comm can just as easily listen to the scientific staff at the APA as an appointed one could. Might even be less political.

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  24. RonV says:

    Paul: Of course there is already a degree of politics involved. But one has only to look at our current crop of elected national, state, and sometimes county and town official to see how this would work.

    My concern is that these elections would not be immune to the corporate and other special interests that most others are. Votes sold to the highest (contributors) bidders. What’s to prevent that from happening?

    One interesting consideration… With such a scattered media market, a park-wide campaign could be interesting to run.

    Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I am an elected councilman for the town of Johnsburg. And, I have never taken any special interest contributions for my campaigns, such as they were.

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  25. Kent Gregson says:

    “some of the Agency’s in-Park commissioners to be chosen directly by locals.” At first it looks good then I see the qualifiers “some” and “in-park”. That makes me feel the presence of the original fight in 71 and 72. When you tell people what they can and cannot do on property they own, there will be trouble. My father (and senator Stafford) reffered to the APA bill as an employment initiative for lawyers. What the state has brought to the wilderness is paperwork. Some say it was inevitable, but The idea of adding another layer of governmental gobledegook does not appeal to me.
    I think that Brian should re-visit the Monroes in Chestertown with a different pair of glasses and try to fill in that hole he dug for himself. The adirondacks have very few voters. That is why there is an APA. Anywhere else it would not be possible to acomplish. Is it true that the rest of the Hudson River Valley needs no protection?

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  26. Bret4207 says:

    Some of the comments endorsing the staus quo here are…..well, the word crap comes to mind. Consider this, all of you who think the present idea is so wonderful- Let’s suppose Plaidino or someone else on the right is elected and he removes the entire APA board and replaces them with his version of political flunkies as opposed tot he current left wing political flunkies. I would imagine at that point you’ll be screaming for a “local vote”.

    I would also note the idea that locals are just so incredibly stupid they can’t possibly make good choices is both insulting and elitist.

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  27. mike says:

    Bret, I’m a life long local in the central adirondacks. From what I’ve seen in the past 40 yrs of local politics there are very, very few locals I would want to see on the APA.

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  28. Bret4207 says:

    Mike, born and raised in the Central Adks. I can think of lots of locals I’d like to see on the board.

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  29. Brian says:

    I was not aware that Aubin and Maye were on the Local Government Review Board. Mr. Doolittle’s articles about alleged APA misdeeds quoted both gentlemen but (and I just re-read the articles) did not mention that either were on the LGRB. Unless both men were appointed to the LGRB after the articles were published, then their status as part of a body that’s long been critical of the APA should have been mentioned to give context to their personal criticisms of the APA.

    Speaking of the LGRB… I wonder why the website of this quasi-government and publicly funded agency has sponsers [sic].

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  30. dave says:

    “Anyone who thinks the Adirondack experiment is going well is only looking very narrowly at the picture. You can’t just ignore the opinions of many people that are not happy. From my perspective as a second home owner in the Adirondacks, the experiment is a huge success, but many year round residents disagree. I can’t just ignore them like you can. It has to work for everyone.”

    The Adirondacks have to work for everyone or else the experiment is not going well?

    That is probably the first time I’ve heard that suggested.

    Also, this notion that there is some abundance of unhappy residents just does not line up with my experiences. Other than on these websites, I never hear about how bad it is to live here – literally, never. I have yet to encounter someone, anyone, who resides here and is as unhappy with the situation as you and others like to suggest.

    I am sure these people exist, I am sure there are people here who struggle and wish things were different, but they are nowhere near the majority they are constantly portrayed to be. And furthermore, you could say this about any area in the country. For example, I hear far more complaining about the local state of things when I go back to my hometown, which is outside of the park.

    Suggesting we need to somehow alter or change the way the Park is managed because it doesn’t currently work for “everyone” strikes me as an untenable position.

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  31. Bret4207 says:

    Dave, you ain’t hanging out at the right diners.

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  32. Joe Rota says:

    Brian,

    A better system that is in place at this time, however the 5 local seats represent local government. Who better to represent local government then those chosen by local government

    Joe

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