COLONIE — The Town Board, by a 6-1 vote, forwarded to referendum a local law that would change the terms of the supervisor and the clerk from two years to four beginning after the 2023 election.
Three residents spoke in favor of the measure, which, as per state law, will be voted on during the General Election in November, 2022.
“I have run three times for a four year term and six times for a two year term. I know what it is like to run every two years and you people have hit the nail on the head about what would be best for the people of Colonie,” said Mary Brizzell, a former town supervisor and former member of the Town Board. “When you run every two years, you just get started doing things for the people of the town and the second year comes quick and it’s time to run again.
“When you are campaigning and raising money and looking at the opposition, it takes away from the things you want to do for the town.”
Other residents said time spent campaigning would be better spent on governing.
“I personally think four-year terms are better because, as you know, Colonie is very large compared to most surrounding towns,” said Mark McCumber. “Running a successful campaign means knocking on thousands or doors and making many speeches to many different community events. While I believe it is important to remain connected to the people, this takes a vast amount of time — time that should be spent governing the town.”
“A town supervisor and town clerk focused doing what is best for the town of Colonie rather than their election campaigns can only benefit the residents of Colonie.”
Jim Quirk echoed the Town Board’s sentiment regarding the timing of the move. If approved it will not benefit outgoing Supervisor Paula Mahan, who presided over her last meeting on Thursday, Dec. 16, before retiring after 14 years. And it will not directly benefit Supervisor-elect Peter Crummey, who will serve two years beginning on Jan. 1, 2022 and have to run again in 2023 for a four-year term.
“I believe this is good timing. As perfect as you are going to get. I can’t imagine how hard a job it is governing the town and after 18 months your attention is diverted from governance to running a campaign,” he said.
Even residents who were opposed to measure thought it had merit.
Matthew Sissman said it will “reduce the number of campaigns for town wide office and will thus save on the cost of running campaigns for those in office and the elections for them.”
“I am concerned in the manner in which the proposal was made, however,” he said. “This is a significant change in how our town runs and should be made after deliberation in which all stakeholders have an opportunity to provide appropriate input. I don’t feel the hearing this evening is sufficient to that end. I feel it is just a start.”
Ryan Horstmeyer, the town Democratic Party chairman, read a statement on behalf of the Executive Committee, which unanimously opposed the Local Law as presented but not necessarily against changing the terms from two to four years.
Rather, he said, it should go into effect in 2025 so as not to suppress voter turnout during years when the supervisor is not on the ballot and put more candidates on the ballot in the same years as the county Legislature runs for office.
“It’s worth noting that more people voted in last month’s election than any other recent vote. We attribute that to the intense campaigning by both major party candidates and the attention paid to the top of the ticket, the supervisor’s race,” he said. “But this proposal will permanently remove the supervisor and clerk election cycles 2025, 2029 and 2033 and so on. And it will move those elections to a cycle that already has plenty of campaign activity, specifically in the form of 10 Colonie legislative races.”
Splitting the supervisor and clerk from the legislative races, he said, would go a “long way, perhaps the whole way, to addressing our concerns.”
He said the committee expressed an interest in other proposals modifying how the town operates that could accompany the change in terms such as term limits, breaking the town into districts for Town Board representation and consolidating the Receiver of Taxes office with the town clerk.
“For this reason, we encourage you to delay a vote tonight at least to hear those ideas on changing our electoral system,” he said.
The Town Board voted 6-1, three Democrats and two Republicans voted yes, to bring the measure to a referendum with Town Board member Linda Murphy casting the lone no vote.
“I’m glad it will result in a referendum that allows the taxpayers and the residents to vote on the issue but I am voting no,” said Murphy, a Democrat.
Right now the supervisor runs two-year terms, as with most town supervisors in the state, and the Town Board runs four-year terms. During the last election, Republican Peter Crummey defeated Democrat Kelly Mateja to replace the retiring Mahan while Julie Gansle defeated Galen Heins.
As mentioned, Crummey and Gansle will need to run in 2023 and if the ballot proposal is approved by the voters in 2022, it will be for a four-year term. All other offices, including the Receiver of Taxes and the three town judges, serve four-year terms.
“The best part of this proposal is that it isn’t up to us, it is up to the people who vote. It’s not up to any political party, it is up to the people to decide,” said Mahan, who also voted yes. “We have talked about it for a number of years and one thing I wanted to do was keep politics out of it and there is no more perfect time than during this transition. It doesn’t benefit me as supervisor and it doesn’t’ benefit the supervisor-elect.”