Wilmington politics: Transparent as mud
We disapprove of the methods used to fill a briefly vacant Wilmington Town Council seat.
After a series of maneuvers that show a lack of respect for Wilmington’s voters and for the democratic process itself, a person was appointed to the seat in a hurried and contrived way.
The speed with which the town supervisor announced his choice to replace Paula McGreevy was completely unnecessary. The hastily announced “special meeting” and the inconvenient scheduling of that meeting appear intentional. The nonexistent notice of the manner in which the “special meeting” would be conducted or of the criteria that would be used to select a new board member; the technical difficulties with the web link through which the townspeople attempting to attend the daytime meeting remotely could not hear or be heard; and the scripted nature of the meeting itself all demonstrate that the voice of the voters of Wilmington was not wanted.
Announcing his support for Michelle Preston’s appointment days before the oddly timed meeting took place — an announcement made in a confusing Facebook post that also announced the meeting itself — is one of many signs that the supervisor would not consider any outcome other than placing his personal choice on our town board.
The town supervisor could have taken his time — time that the town’s bylaws permit; time that would have allowed potential candidates to ask to be considered; and time that would have allowed the town’s voters to express, through a clear and commonly understood process, their support for any of the people who could have stepped forward for the vacant seat on our town board.
Rather than doing those things, the supervisor pushed to quickly appoint a candidate that the people of Wilmington recently declined to elect for that very position.
Supervisor Holzer repeatedly stated that he was being “transparent” by publicly announcing his support for Michelle Preston and rushing to place her on the board. But his statements and actions were the opposite of transparent. Genuine transparency would have required the supervisor to announce a clear, open, and deliberate process for filling the vacant seat on our town board.
Mr. Holzer told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and the Lake Placid News that his preferred outcome was warranted because the result of last fall’s election for two Wilmington Town Council seats was “so close.”
One candidate received 319 votes in that election. A second candidate received 242 votes. The third-place candidate, Michelle Preston, received 172 votes.
The election was not close.
There are many signs that the selection of Michelle Preston was a foregone conclusion before the “special meeting” was even announced. Town Councilor Darin Forbes showed his hand at the meeting’s start when he said, “We have decided to fill the position with a candidate that we feel is best qualified based on experience, up to date on town issues and basically past running for office.”
But in the three-day window between the time Mr. Holzer announced his preference for our town board and the special meeting, both Stephanie Gates and Rarilee Conway stepped forward and offered to serve. Like Michelle Preston, both Gates and Conway have run for office in Wilmington. Gates was repeatedly elected to serve as a Wilmington Town Justice. Conway was repeatedly elected to serve on the town board.
As the members of our town council have acknowledged, there have been contentious board meetings and “hot topics” in Wilmington recently. For these reasons and for many other reasons, it would have been appropriate to use an open, evenhanded and transparent process to select the newest member of our town board.
Relying on an opaque process and thin rationalizations to elevate a political candidate who, less than a year ago, was not the choice of Wilmington’s voters is unlikely to help calm tensions and unify the community.
The frantic rush to place Michelle Preston on the Wilmington Town Council was a dismal spectacle. It was not appropriate or respectful, and it certainly was not democratic.
Sue Ellen Gettens