A former candidate for New Castle supervisor is proposing a plan to increase the size of the town board and have the council members represent districts rather than the entire town.
Manny Areces, who was defeated in the 2005 race by former Supervisor Janet Wells, is aiming to gather enough signatures this summer to force a townwide referendum asking that two council seats be added to the town board and to change from at-large representation to a ward or district system. He said he needs valid signatures from at least 5 percent of the number of registered voters in New Castle who went to the polls in the 2010 general election and submit the petition to the town clerk’s office to have a referendum scheduled.
Areces contended that the move, which is allowed under state law, would better represent all areas of the town and force more civic participation among residents. He said areas such as Kisco Park, Random Farms, Rolling Hills and the hamlet of Millwood are often under represented by four at-large council seats. With emphasis being placed on more citizen involvement, a change to a district system would be more in keeping with that trend.
“The more I talked to people, the more I found apathy in areas of the town so why are we going the other way?” said Areces, who ran as an independent candidate capturing 39 percent of the vote six years ago. “Now, a relatively small number of people can control what’s going on. You don’t have to reach out to anyone except the core.”
Expanding the size of the town board would also help its members share the workload, which is made worse when one or two members are forced to recuse themselves on a key issue, Areces said. He cited the overwhelmingly complex Chappaqua Crossing application where two board members eventually stepped aside for potential conflicts of interest.
Areces said the residents he has talked with are interested in the proposal and want to learn more. He said even if some may not agree it triggers healthy discussion on what the best direction for the town may be.
“They are out on the street and people are talking about this,” he said.
Calls placed last week to Association of Towns Executive Director G. Jeffrey Haber to find out how many towns in the state use the ward system were not returned.
Pace University political science professor Dr. Greg Julian said while he is unaware of any other municipalities in New York that have changed to districts over at-large representation, it is an intriguing discussion. He said the proposal bucks one current trend of smaller and limited government but on the other hand is in step with a growing desire by the public to be more involved at the local level. Furthermore, the ward system is still overwhelmingly popular in New Jersey, he said.
“The more people you get involved in the process is an important thing,” Julian said.
New Castle Republican Chairman Kevin Moore said he would like to hear more about Areces’ proposal but thinks it’s at least worth pondering.
“I think people would be open to it once they see what it’s about,” Moore said. “I think most people would be open-minded about it.”
Areces said under the plan, Republicans and Democrats would still nominate candidates in each of the six districts but it would force residents in the neighborhoods outside of Chappaqua, which typically dominates the representation, to run for office.
Even though he has been encouraged by the level of competition this year for town board, there is room for improvement, he said.
Areces plans to start carrying the petition this week but gave no timeframe for when he would formally submit the paperwork.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/