Editor, The Spotlight:
It seems that “the hits keep on coming” when it comes to local politics in Bethlehem. This week the Bethlehem Central School Board announced its appointment of Joanne Cunningham to fill a vacant seat on the board. Aside from the obvious benefit this brings to the school board it unfortunately sets the stage for an inevitable conflict of interest.
Ms. Cunningham, of course, is the wife of highway superintendent candidate Brent Meredith. Mr. Meredith, if he is successful in his election bid, would have policy and administrative control over the Highway Department’s $6.5 million budget. When you consider that Mr. Meredith’s wife was appointed and will have similar authority over the school district’s $90 million budget it resurrects the old question of nepotism in local government and raises the specter of conflict of interest going forward.
With this appointment, the politicization of the school board is advanced. We have seen in the recent past how this type of cross pollination can have disastrous consequences. For example, at a public hearing of the Bethlehem IDA on March 19, the school district aligned with the town supervisor to approve a Vista Technology Park tax giveaway for a company called Breonics. In the months that followed we learned that Breonics had reneged on $200,000 in loans from Dutchess County and then watched as Breonics pulled out of the Vista Park for a better deal elsewhere, leaving the town and the school district holding the bag.
It is a central tenet of open government that we maintain independence among the branches with a system of checks and balances. The need for diligence is heightened when related parties assume control of taxpayers’ money. In the election bid of Mr. Meredith and the appointment of his wife let’s demand a high ethical standard and let’s make sure that conflicts of interest are not allowed to stand.
Editor’s note: A Breonics representative told The Spotlight the company is still interested in Vista and is negotiating with developer Columbia Development Companies. Read more at spotlightnews.com.