BETHLEHEM The Bethlehem Town Board is holding off on discussing government reform until later in the year after hearing a report from the Governance Options Study Committee on Wednesday, July 25.
“I think this is probably something to look forward to as post-budget activity because most of our focus and the public’s will be on that,” said Supervisor John Clarkson after a majority of the board members stated they did not support a ward system for the town, but were open to further discussion.
The presentation was given by Committee Chairman David Liebschutz and was broken into three parts discussing different options for selecting department heads, a possible ward system and term changes for elected officials. The creation of the report was a matter of contention at the July 11 meeting, with some board members questioning Clarkson’s involvement, but the discussion Wednesday concentrated on its contents.
Thumbs down for ward system
According to the report, of the 167 towns eligible under state law to form a ward structure, only 13 have implemented such a system. The nearest town to do so is Queensbury in Warren County.
To implement the system in Bethlehem, the town would need to be broken up by population into electorate districts of either four or six wards. The lines could be drawn by either the state Board of Elections or the town. The proposal would then need to be approved by the public through a referendum.
If the ward system proposal were passed, each sitting board member would represent the citizens of one ward and not the entire town’s population. By state law, term lengths would change to two years unless changed by the Town Board or voters.
Through research and interviews of officials from other towns, the committee found there to be both political and administrative challenges associated with a ward system. The system could make residents from rural areas feel better represented, or work to make the town more divisive. Political parties would need to work within each ward instead of just town wide, and the wards would need to be redrawn every 10 years to account for population shifts provided through the Census.