Yesterday afternoon, I looked down at my computer to see a notice that someone had pushed the power button on the server that hosts this site, shutting it down. I drove into downtown Ithaca, wasn't too surprised that it wouldn't restart, and brought it home.
By 4:30am, I had all the web sites running again, but email remains down and will be for a few days. Hopefully no one's in a rush to contact me! I'm a little tired.
Update: all fixed. Well, almost all fixed. There's a bit more to do with spam filtering, but email works.
Politics, as most people think about it, is about the public: public service, public good.
There is a private component to politics, certainly - things like campaign strategy and other aspects related to competition.
When politics goes private, or "secret", as the Journal suggests in its editorial today, there's always the potential for magnifying the consequences of a trainwreck. When times are good, sure, no one notices the secrecy. Our County Legislature has held private party caucuses for a long long while. When times are bad, as they suddenly became with a botched vote for the legislature's Vice Chair, that secrecy suddenly breeds doubts, conspiracy theories, and a lot of general unhappiness.
And frankly, it should. It's hard to imagine why a publicly elected body should hold the deliberations where decisions are actually made in private. I've been disgusted by this practice at the state level with both the Assembly and the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats. I understand that party caucuses have been the practice at the county level here for a long long time as well.
I fully understand why private meetings are more comfortable. It's not fun to argue in public, with a media and a public that seem to amplify disagreement and misunderstanding to drama. Any public statement is subject to use and abuse by partisans of every kind.
Secrecy may seem to avoid that drama - but it's a false security, one that ensures that eventually more people will attribute sinister motives to ordinary activity. (I certainly don't hesitate to attribute sinister motives to our state legislators, who seem to go out of their way to encourage it.)
I don't think there was actually anything sinister going on here. It seems pretty clear to me that the Democratic legislators botched what was supposed to be a simple election, and I suspect that they were all surprised at the result. Unfortunately, the secret caucuses before and during that meeting have cast a pall over all future discussions, damaging the credibility of everyone involved.
I'm not certain that I'd want to ban party caucuses outright, but I am certain that they should be reserved for discussing electoral competition or for cases where there has been a complete breakdown of the public process, and people simply won't talk with each other.
We need to get used to dealing with public matters in public if we seriously want to restore trust in government. I know that's hard medicine for a lot of people, even a lot of good people, to swallow, but it's necessary.
Update: This won't make things any better. Chairs complaining of political pressure doesn't make them seem any stronger or the process seem any more appealing - it just makes it clear that the train has left the tracks.
Later update: And more from the Journal on caucuses - how, why, etc. Legislators from both parties seem to support their continued routine use, which I can only call unfortunate.
There are a few Ithaca Journal stories of the past few days I feel I should note:
The Town has opportunities to save on energy costs, and quickly at that.
There's an objection to the New Roots Charter School that's starting in Ithaca. (Once the state passed charter schools, it was only a matter of time...)
Some lunatic thinks governments should shovel sidewalks. (In print, that was "Gov. should clear sidewalks," but I didn't expect Governor Paterson to come do that.)
And, of course, while we clearly have a new president, the county legislature story remains a lot more complicated.
I'm posting this mostly because I haven't seen it in the Ithaca Journal, though it was in the Cortland Standard. Borg-Warner laid off around 200 employees earlier this month. I'd heard 175 from people talking at Agway, but saw a Cortland Standard headline that said 220.
Maybe I missed it? That's happened before.
And yes, Borg-Warner is in Lansing, but a lot of their employees live in Dryden.
In a decision that will doubtless make at least one recent commenter sad, but makes me very happy, the Village of Dryden will continue to clear snow from sidewalks. So says the January 21 Dryden Courier, which just arrived today.
Mayor Taylor found that a 1994 policy, the village's comprehensive plan, and advice from the state Department of Transportation all pointed toward continuing to clear the sidewalks. She doesn't sound delighted about it - as she put it in the article, "the roads are going to remain our top priority, though."
In other news, the Town of Dryden's Adult Softball and the Intergenerational Band and Chorus are stuck without a home because of construction over the summer at the Dryden High School/Middle School. (I was actually hoping to join the band now that I've taken up trumpet again. Argh.)
Nancy Hart explains the mysteries of raspberry bars, and there's a notice of winter camp registration for Primitive Pursuits inside the cover. The Fresh Air Fund is also looking for families willing to host New York City children for two weeks in the summer.
The editorial thanks the state for keeping open the Reynolds Game Farm, and questions a proposal (from Dryden legislator Mike Hattery, I believe) to spend hotel room tax funds on other things than tourism. As they put it, "there seems to be an inclination on the part of some legislators to regard what was originally introduced as a fun for promoting tourism as some sort of slush fund for other projects."
In letters, Charlie Hart thanks the Dryden community for their support of the 2008 Salvation Army Kettle Drive, and Jody Earle writes about the need for space for the Intergenerational Band and Chorus.
In Anecdotes & Brevities, Harry Weldon writes about Bethel Grove, its history, and recent efforts to get a historical marker to commemorate that history.
In sports, Zach Wixom is an Athlete of the Week for his swimming prowess, and there's mention of Dryden basketball victories, a win and a loss in wrestling, and some fine performances in track and field in Sports Around the Lake.
The Dryden Police Report seems to be purely traffic stops.
In Dryden Blessings, Kimberly Gazzo celebrates winter, quilting, Rotary's upcoming Valentine's Day Mystery Dinner Theater, Dairy Day planning, a guitar "house concert", and a Celtic mustic concert by Polarus at the Dryden Community Center Cafe. She closes with a reminder that it's always election season in Dryden. Village elections are in March, with the Republican caucus choosing candidates at the Village Hall on January 27th at 7:30pm, and the Democratic caucus choosing candidates at the Town Hall at 8:00pm the same night. (The mayor and two trustees, all Republicans, are up for re-election.)
The Courier also has a month-by-month "Year in Dryden" feature that's well-worth a visit.
Once again, I'm amazed by how much I can learn from the Courier that simply isn't in the Journal at all, even though I think the Journal's Dryden reporting has picked up a bit lately. Heck, I'm still scratching my head about why the Journal ran a letter about parking regulations in Corning this morning. I wonder if we're about to cross over from a world where the daily local franchise of a national organization (the Journal, part of Gannett) fades out and something more local, and weekly, becomes a lot more prominent. I'll also be curious to see if the Cortland Standard can do anything to take advantage of the Journal's weakness.
Now if only the Courier had a website!
This week's Ithaca Journal has had a few pieces on the Village of Dryden caucuses. Faced with opposition from Democrat Wendy Martin, Mayor Reba Taylor is stepping down and Republican Trustee Randy Sterling is running as the Republican candidate for Mayor. There are more comments there than I've seen on a Dryden-related article in a while. There are fewer comments on the article about Trustee candidates. No incumbent trustees are running. Democratic candidates Lisa Valentinelli and Mary Ellen Bossack will face off against Republicans Paul Rachetta and Monica Armstrong.
The election will be held Wednesday, March 18th. Yes, elections are normally on Tuesday, but apparently New York State won't hold elections on St. Patrick's day!
In the county legislature, there's an update on leadership concerns, discussion of how the legislative leadership will be determined, and an editorial on the problems of private caucuses that I can't help but agree with.
Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk lists upcoming events. It doesn't have to be a quiet winter!