GFD $3.9M vote lacked transparency

To the Editor:

In 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight.”

The Guilderland Fire District seems to have forgotten to enlighten us prior to the recent referendum, which added almost $4,000,000 to our tax burden.

According to the Enterprise article on Aug. 22, 2013, no one attended the fire commissioners’ first public hearing. Their notice, published as a one-inch legal notice on June 20, 2013, stated only that the board of fire commissioners would hold a special meeting on July 8, 2013 at the firehouse.

There was no indication that the public was invited, nor the topic to be discussed. Is it any surprise that no one came?

Their second notice, again hidden in the legal notices on July 11, 2013, was a little more specific, in that it at least mentioned that the board of fire commissioners would hold a special public informational meeting on July 16 and again on July 30, 2013.

What was the result of this notice that no one saw? One person, a fire department member, attended the second meeting, and four were there for the third (I’m guessing all fire department members as well).

A total of five attendees at three meetings should have given them an indication that their notification process, although possibly meeting legal requirements, certainly wasn’t sufficient for a project of this size.

I wouldn’t have known about the vote at all, had it not been for a neighbor who drew my attention to the Enterprise article published on Aug. 22, 2013.

The referendum vote itself was, to my mind, equally flawed. When I arrived at the voting place, the Guilderland firehouse, I found my street was not even on their “locator list.”  I’ve lived within a block of the firehouse for the past 25 years, but was asked for my voter registration postcard to prove I was a registered voter. (I told them I had thrown it away weeks ago, as there was no change, so I didn’t need it for anything.)

Fortunately, 911 knows where I live, even if the fire district doesn’t. I just hope my house doesn’t ever catch fire.

The vote was by no means a secret ballot, as observers could readily see what was marked on the paper ballot and could easily look in the large slot on top of the paper-box “voting machine.”

Add to that an e-mail that went out to firemen at 7:30 (voting was from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.), encouraging members to come vote because “we’re seeing a fair amount of residents voting and very few members.” We residents badly needed a disinterested third party observer there to keep things “honest.”

Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in a proud family of volunteer firemen, who were available at all hours of the day and night to keep their neighbors safe. I wish I had a dime for every time I was dumped out on a corner to find my own way home because the fire siren was going off.

I’ve always supported the Guilderland Fire Department’s dinners and fund-raisers, and will probably continue to do so in the future. But this referendum has soured my respect.

There was not a sign of this expansion on their website or the town of Guilderland’s. There was nothing sent to the residents whose taxes will be going up.

Was suppression of this vote done legally? Probably.

Was it ethical? Possibly not.

Had I been “enlightened,” as Jefferson suggested, I might have voted “yes.” Instead, I feel this whole referendum should be thrown out and started over with proper voter notification and transparency.

Linda Chaffee

Guilderland 

Editor’s note: The $3.9 million bond project to expand and upgrade the 19-year-old firehouse passed, 45 to 32. For the full story, click here.

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