'Ward system' needed

By Robert Frankl
Wesley Hills
(Original Publication The Journal News: July 14, 2005)

There are hundreds of towns in New York state that are governed by what is commonly known as "at-large" representation. Council people are elected to office by the entire population of the town.

The overwhelming majority of these towns have populations measured in hundreds of people, not in thousands. It is easy for those who live in those towns to vote for their friends and neighbors, or for the people who they think can get the job done.

So, we in Ramapo are governed by the same rules that govern the Town of West Almond, the population of which is a resounding 353.

Historically speaking, when the population of a municipality reaches many thousands of people, the structure of the government changes dramatically. In New York state, there are approximately 40 communities (cities, towns and boroughs) the population of which exceeds 100,000 people. In Ramapo, we live in one of them.

Out of all of these communities, there are only two or three that retain the "at-large" voting method of electing people to the town board. None of them have appointed clerks and collectors of taxes. Babylon, L.I., for example has a population of 200,000. They have six council people elected at-large, but they also have elected people filling the posts of town clerk and collector of taxes.

Our government was based on many fundamental principles that proclaimed the sanctity of freedom. The Founding Fathers of our republic carefully included into our Constitution provisions stating unequivocally that we all have equal rights. That one branch of government shall not have the power to dominate over the rest. A system of checks and balances was ingeniously included that guaranteed that this domination should not and could not prevail.

The "ward system" or "councilmanic district system" is only one of the tools provided to us to ensure that domination can and should be avoided at all costs.

Last year, 3,700 people in Ramapo signed a petition to have the right to vote on this proposition, more than twice as many as required by state law. They were turned away by the appointed town clerk because the wording on the petition did not satisfy some trumped-up technicality.

These folks were denied their right to redress their government and are now in the unenviable position of appealing his capricious action.