Op-ed column: Sales tax deal shows evil of one-party rule in Schenectady

A city employee was fired for giving to the City Council information about the city and county sales

Politicians all too often pursue a strategy of hiding essential information. Last fall, we certainly saw that strategy in the mayoral race in Schenectady, when my opponent, Acting Mayor Gary McCarthy, denied the city’s obvious impending financial crisis — until he was elected and had to admit it.

At times last fall, I accused the City Council of being puppets and the mayor of being the puppet master. Not surprisingly, the members of the City Council took issue with me—and then they voted again and again and again for whatever the mayor wanted.

Now, the council has voted to approve a deal with the county regarding the division of sales tax proceeds. Four members thought it a good arrangement; two others, including Vince Riggi who was elected last fall with Alliance Party support, did not.

I certainly agree with those who voted “no.” I also appreciate the courage of city budget analyst Jason Cuthbert. He dared to provide the City Council with historical information about the sales tax; he was fired by the mayor for having the courage to do so. His crime: telling the City Council that the emperor had no clothes.

Where’s the outrage of the puppet council members? Only Vince Riggi and Carl Erikson tried to stand up for transparency; only those two members of the council challenged the mayor.

A city employee was fired for giving to the City Council information about the city and county sales tax. It is hard to imagine an action more improper, more petty, or more vengeful than this one.

However, I think there is a far more basic point — the evil of one-party rule. That evil has far-reaching effects.

Puppets & puppet master

I believe now, as I did when I accused council members of being puppets, that the mayor is pulling their strings. I also think the cracks that are appearing in council ranks are a good thing and that Vince Riggi and, at times, Carl Erickson are doing what members of the City Council should do — question the mayor and vote against him when they believe him to be wrong.

The evil of one-party rule (and, yes, I would feel the same way regardless of which major party was in control) extends itself to the county. In the process, those evils also extend to the negotiations that resulted in the sales tax agreement.

Just as the mayor pulls the strings of the City Council, so the county attorney pulls the mayor’s strings. Until there is real competition, until we do away with one-party rule in the city and in the county, we can expect more of the same.

Do we really think council party members will not follow the lead of their boss, the mayor? I for one don’t.

And should we expect an arms-length negotiation on a sales tax agreement when the power behind the party throne in the county (the county attorney) negotiates with the mayor? No. It is more of the same; it is just that the city’s puppet master has become the county’s puppet.

Let’s state the obvious: There is one pot of money. If the city gets more, the residents of the county (which obviously includes city residents) get less. It just seems dramatically fairer, though, to spread the costs of services over the 157,000 residents of the county than to have 66,000 city residents pay the cost through increased taxes or decreased services (which, in the case of taxes, are the highest in the Capital Region and which, in the case of services, cannot go much lower).

For 24 years, I ran two institutions. Despite financial challenges, I never laid anyone off for financial reasons. If layoffs in the city, also denied during the mayoral campaign, are to be avoided, we need more revenue.

Unfortunately, the mayor “blew” his best opportunity for that revenue. The mayor may feel confident about his plan for the future, as he stated on May 6, but no one else should. And certainly, members of the City Council, who were kept in the dark until Jason Cuthbert’s courageous action, should feel no confidence. No one with an independent bone in her/his body could.

Starting in Nov., I hope voters will realize, as they began to do last fall, one-party rule serves only those in the power structure of the party. It does not serve residents. It never has, and it never will.

Roger Hull lives in Schenectady. The Gazette encourages readers to submit columns on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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