Frosty reception for government reform ideas

Next chance for comment at upcoming Town Board meeting

A plan to make changes to governmental structure in the Town of Bethlehem got a cold reception at an early public discussion of a report issued by the citizen-led 20/20 Implementation Committee.

Of equal note, there were only a handful of residents in the audience. They were outnumbered by past and current town officials, members of the 20/20 Committee itself and members of the Albany County chapter of the League of Women Voters, who moderated the Tuesday, May 24, meeting.

In a recently released report, the 20/20 modernization subcommittee has suggested extending the town supervisor's term from two years to four and making the positions of the receiver of taxes, highway superintendent and town clerk, appointed instead of elected. These changes would require voter approval in November, and town leaders are now considering whether to put them on the ballot.

On Tuesday, several members of the public said they don't want to lose any of their voting power, including resident Kim Vining.

To take that away from the voters, I think you're going to find a lot of people quite frankly insulted by that, she said.

Others expressed concern that appointments could open the door to political cronyism and wondered exactly what oversight would be built into the process.

Ken Hahn, who served as receiver of taxes in Bethlehem for many years, said he is philosophically against the changes and would make it his goal to make sure the three positions remain elected.

"Thank God that the law requires a vote. ... All over the world people are dying for freedom, and people here are trying to take it away," he said.

But committee members said that's not the goal of the changes. The 20/20 Committee's John Clarkson said this plan is not a criticism of any current office holders, but rather a proposal to bring the three elected positions in line with at least nine other town departments that have appointed heads, many of which are bigger than those with elected bosses. Having those three people be elected is an antiquated practice, he argued.

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