May 31, 2005

Mike Hattery announces run for County Legislature

On Casey Stevens' WHCU show this morning, Town Board member Mike Hattery announced his plans to run for the 14th legislative district, currently held by Mike Lane. The 14th district (map, 598KB PDF) includes most of eastern Dryden, the parts east of Caswell, Kirk, Mineah, and Midline Roads except for the area north of Malloryville Road. It includes the villages of Dryden and Freeville.

Since I endorsed Mike Lane yesterday, it's probably best to let Mike Hattery speak for himself:

Casey Stevens: Mike, what's up this morning? What do you have in mind? I received a press release from Mark Finkelstein but I should allow you to do it in your words.

Mike Hattery: Sure. After some encouragement and a lot of consideration I've decided to enter the race for District 14 County Legislator which is currently held by Mike Lane...

Casey: Why?

Mike: That's a good question... I think the main reason is, I think our area has a strong community heritage and I think it deserves faithful representation to the values of the community that I live in. I've gotten a real opportunity to work with and represent portions of that district so far. I was a Village Trustee for... 13 years... Deputy Mayor, worked a lot with Reba Taylor for a number of years, and Bob Day as Mayor before that. And then two years ago I ran for the Town Board. I've been in the area, obviously since Michael plays baseball I've worked with the Kiwanis baseball program, and we've lived in Dryden for 24 years.

I think that over time I've gained an increase in concern for where we're headed as a county, and the degree to which the county is reflecting the values of the community I live in. I'm very proud and I'm glad that I live in the community I live in, I like the tradition values.

Yesterday was kind of a banner day... It's a community where patriotism is not something we have to be ashamed of. We had our annual Memorial Day service. We attended afterward at the Memorial Home, I had the opportunity to talk with a World War II vet who was at the Battle of the Bulge, Bastogne, and it's just that kind of deep sense of a strong community ties, strong community values that we have in Dryden and I want to see those are faithfully represented in the County Legislature.

Casey: What's your strongest asset coming into this race, Mike? You're up against an incumbent who has been there for a while, and who also has some state experience too. What's your greatest asset?

Mike: ... I think that one of my major assets - I could talk about my professional experience, but I think that the most important aspect of anybody who works in local government is that you have a strong connect with the community you live in. We have, as I mentioned, years of experience on the board, and in those years I've worked with, it's got to be 15 different board members on the Village level, and I enjoy working it out with people. I enjoy the opportunity to find common ground, to make some progress for the people we represent.

As I mentioned, I could talk about my professional experience. I've worked with the Cornell Local Government Program for about 25 years, 24 years, and worked with communities around the state, do education. Basically our mission is to improve and work with local governments on the things they need in New York.

But I think my strongest asset is that I've been in the community and I've been serving as a local official, working with a lot of folks from different backgrounds over these last 14 years.

There's a lot more conversation, which I'll try to transcribe over time. I'll also be asking for a copy of Mike's press release, which I'd like to post here. As Casey Stevens said near the end of the conversation, "Dryden has a fascinating contest about to begin."

Update: More transcription in the continued story.

Casey Stevens: You mention your job... Some say the legislature itself is a full-time job. What do you think of that? and has it occurred to your wife and family?

Mike Hattery: Yeah, it's occurred to most everybody I've talked to. One of my concerns about the legislature, I mentioned that generally on the front end there, is that it's becoming a full-time endeavor. I think one of the things I want to see happen is to restore this legislature to a part time legislature. I think it's not a difficult stretch to think about this legislature becoming more of a policy-making body that sets broad direction and gets out of micro-managing a lot of areas that they currently seem to be delving into.

Casey: There have been those charges that department heads have not been allowed to be department heads, but when you're talking about $103 million budget, $62-$63 million of it is generated locally, somebody's got to manage it. Does that mean you endorse a county executive?

Mike: I don't directly endorse - I think the people ought to have a chance, citizens ought to have a chance to evalute that and vote on it. And I think the process for evaluating whether or not we go with a county executive ought to be a lot more open process. I think the current legislature's kind of sequestered their analysis of that.

In my work, I've worked with both ... county executives and county managers, and I think part of it's personality, part of it's the person in the job and I think some people would argue, you know, if we throw open the seat of a county executive through a reform to our charter, that we're going to get a different pool of candidates coming out, and possibly somebody with a lot stronger administrative and leadership skills than we currently have, say, on our legislature. That could be. I tend to agree with the idea that it really depends on the skills and motivations of the person in the leadership role.

On the flip side, I think there are some ways that the legislature could strengthen the administrator's role. There's some key decision points. One is the decisions to hire and fire on the part of the administrator, and that requires legislature taking a much different role, and that's another option that could be considered as changing the kind of authority and powers that we give to our administrator...

Casey: ... Assessments. It has to be the number one priority. Even Mark Finkelstein and Barbara Blanchard, I said "Issues?" and they said "Taxes," in unison. Taxes, assessment - what's your story there?

Mike: Taxes. I think... my track record is I've been somebody that's been very much able to work with other board members to maintain what I would call modest and livable increases in taxes while at the same time investing in new infrastructure. I think we've got to do something about the trajectory of taxes.

Casey: Do you think 0% is doable?

Mike: It all depends on what you mean 0% of.

Casey: I was afraid you were going to ask me what I meant by doable. All right... we'll continue that one... Mike, we were talking taxes before we took the news break, and the issue is assessments, which have gone up from $20 million-some to $33 million in the past five years in Tompkins County. The tax rate has gone up 32% in the past five years. Hank Dullea has said cap assessments at 3% a year, your opponent Michael Lane has said perhaps we should assess every three years. I realize that you have time to come up with a policy and positions, but what is your thinking generally along these lines, about taxes and what the county's been doing.

Mike: Assessment is not the same as spending. What drives tax rates up is spending. While some people get hit in very wild fluctuations in assessment - so I think the area we could consider something that's ameliorative, or would address drastic changes in those parcels or those properties that are undergoing drastic change. Because sometimes that, the market is pretty cruel to people. I think as long as state law requires that we assess at full value, we're not helping people by trying to hide what's happening with assessment.

With the one proviso that I think some people can get really caught in rapid changes in the market that their house is in, and I think we have to think about what we're going to do in those circumstances. But generally speaking, it's spending that causes problems with the tax, property taxes - it isn't the assessments. We can have a rise in assessments - if we hold spending the same, our tax rate should go down and the bottom line about what you pay should be about the same, as long as your house isn't drastically increasing in value relative to others.

So I think the spending side is the side that needs to be addressed, and I think going to some kind of three-year or multiple year is just going to give people a much harder hit in three years rather than a steady increase, if, in fact, we remain in this kind of environment where real estate values are rising.

One of the things that we were talking about taxes earlier, you asked me if I thought 0% was possible. I'd say I hold out the possibility. One of the things I'm really concerned about is - and I faced this in at least one other local government that I stepped into - is where people were spending down surpluses and under-investing in needed infrastructure. That's just going to cost everybody a lot in the long run, if that's been taking place. And I think I know that there's been some modest - I would say very modest - attempt to redress what have been years of neglect on investment in our county highway infrastructure.

I'd like to see what that that picture is really like. I want to see where our reserves are, I want to see where our abilities are to restore the needed investment there. You know, when you underinvest in roads, you're multiplying your needed investment in the future. When you maintain your roads adequately, there's kind of a lifecycle costing to them, if you don't do adequate maintenance, you're driving up taxes higher than they already are.

Casey: Can we expect you to take on this issue of why, for the most part, some have blamed Albany continuously and constantly over the past four years, that some legislators have blamed Albany for the county's fiscal problems. Do you go along with that?

Mike: Not solely. I think there are some very clear fiscal relationships that need to change between the state and localities. One of them is, as in Medicaid, where the state is able to both grant responsibility - put responsibility on localites while maintaining the authority for changing the rules and calling all the shots. I think if localities have the responsibility, they ought to have the authority and the revenue-raising capability to take care of it.

On the other hand, given what other counties are doing, I don't think we can put the sole burden of the kind of trajectory of tax increases we have had in Tompkins County on state increases.

Casey: Mike Hattery is running for the 14th district, the eastern half of the Town of Dryden, for the Tompkins County Legislature... A minute left, Mike, all yours - Mike Hattery.

Mike: Thank you very much. And we haven't mentioned that my wonderful wife Debbie's in here with me... Michael and Debbie, my son and my wife, are, I have two older daughters as well, one 28, one 24, who are out of the area right now. But I brought them in because they've always been a big part of my efforts in serving the public, and a part of the team, so I wanted to have them with me here. I guess the other important thing, the reason why I try to keep Michael involved, is I think we need a massive effort to try to re-engage our younger people in local government in particular and interests in public affairs. I'm grappling with that and we've thought about some projects on the work side of my life.

Casey: And we'll figure that out over the next couple of months. Mike will be a regular in match with Michael Lane, so that we can keep even here, so that Mike will be one of the regulars of the Morning Report over the next six months or so, and we thank you for coming in this morning.

I can definitely agree with Mike that "we need a massive effort to try to re-engage our younger people in local government in particular and interests in public affairs," though I suspect we'd look at how to improve that situation pretty differently.

Posted by simon at May 31, 2005 8:26 AM in ,
Note on photos