The discussion is on once again in the Town of Bethlehem over exactly what form of government will best serve residents. You can read all about thoughts on a ward system on the front page.
While it’s fine and good leaders are trying to make Bethlehem government the best it can be, we’d suggest a new Town Board structure isn’t needed to give redress to the concerns of outlying parts of the town. There is already a way, what’s needed is the will.
First of all, we were shocked to hear several board members with many years of service say these concerns come as a surprise. From the recollection of Spotlight staff, underrepresentation of certain outlying parts of town is a none-too-recent topic of discussion. We speak with Bethlehem residents who feel they have no voice in government quite often, and they sometimes show up to Town Board meetings and put those complaints to the board as a whole or otherwise place them in public. Former supervisor Sam Messina struck up a series of “around town” meetings during his administration citing this specific matter.
So, this is an issue, make no mistake about it, and it is being aired in public. But whether it can be solved by Supervisor John Clarkson’s ward system is quite another thing.
As Councilman Jeffrey Kuhn points out in Marcy Velte’s story, only a few New York towns employ a ward system. That’s with good reason.
Wards work a lot better in big cities, where the population has many diverse needs. In these cases, a ward system (when correctly and judiciously used) ensures the specific issues of one or more groups are not overlooked in what is usually a big, complicated system. The City of Albany, for example, has 15 wards sending a representative to the Common Council, and the New York City Council has 51 members. In Bethlehem, we’re talking about four or six wards, for a board of five or seven.