The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York state senator for 24 years, coined the term “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” Elected to govern and intent to lead by example, the Riverside village board would be well served to clearly distinguish between fact and opinion in their debates.
Given the sum of all the evidence presented at last week’s village board meeting about the merits of a new parking lot at 61 and 63 Burlington, I believe that any reasonable and independent observer could have concluded to be in support of or against the lot.
This was not a clear cut call to be made by the trustees, given the numerous stakeholder interests to be balanced, and with the best interest of Riverside in general as the overriding objective in mind. Ultimately, the party in power decided the outcome, based on the individual opinions the trustees are entitled to. Fair enough.
As for dealing with the facts, that was a different story. The storm clouds indicative of current Riverside board of trustees culture turned from gray to black during the discussion of the financial impact of the proposal.
One trustee said the lot would cost taxpayers over $800,000, while another trustee said it would cost approx. $56,000. Which number was correct? Since the question of cost played an absolutely central role in the debate over the merit of the project ever since the two lots were purchased, the board members’ blunt demonstration that they are unwilling or unable to sit down across the aisle to agree on underlying factual realities is unacceptable.
Neither the village president nor any trustees attempted to offer an explanation to the numerous meeting attendees and all the residents watching on TV, with one trustee even suggesting that all the talk be cut short so that a vote could be taken right away.
The proverbial elephant in Riverside, which became abundantly obvious during the meeting, is that the trustees don’t trust each other. The election has caused damage from which they have not been able to move on. Trustees are questioning each others’ motives instead of each other’s wisdom. A subtle yet crucial difference.
At a time when the village of Riverside faces significant financial and planning challenges, there are few signs on the horizon that inspire confidence in our leaders’ abilities to come and work together.
Yet, Riverside needs a vision and a comprehensive plan for the future, one that is based on fiscal, communal and environmental sustainability. Such a vision should have short, medium and long-term goals, and consider a timeframe of numerous decades to account for future generations, also known as our children and grandchildren.
Majority and minority status come and go in two- or four-year increments, and given the time frame that really counts, one hopes the trustees realize how little this temporary alignment of power means.
Of course, there is an actual political power reality. President Gorman, the tipping point on the scale of tied votes, has a choice to make. He can attempt to emulate President Lincoln and support the “Team of Rivals” concept of governing and coalescing all six trustees, or he can attempt to go it alone with the Riverside Community Alliance trustees only.
The campaign is over. What is the vision for Riverside, and how will the board lead us there?