THE LANDMARK VIEW
It’s good to know where elected officials stand on critical issues. And in two recent votes, the always politically predictable Riverside village board took firm stands which made clear the priorities of the board’s two factions.
In straight-party votes, the Gorman-led majority killed a reasonable proposal to open a discussion on an ethics code for village officials. Too political, said Trustee Mark Shevitz, referencing the recent Landmark coverage of Village President Michael Gorman’s inappropriate conduct toward female staff members. Shevitz at least gets points for acknowledging that the proposal from Trustee Ben Sells is rooted in a troubling, real-world incident.
Gorman ally Lonnie Sacchi is operating in a serious state of denial when he claims, “We’re solving a non-existent problem. What is the problem that we’re trying to solve? Are we inventing a make-believe problem and then coming up with procedures to solve them?”
No, Trustee Sacchi, President Gorman’s insensitive, inappropriate and altogether peculiar actions toward Cathy Haley, the long-time village hall staff member, is actually a very real problem. And if you consider this kind of harassment to be in any way “make believe” then you need a serious adjustment of your attitude, this being 2011 after all.
Sacchi’s perspective, though, is always through the lens of the past century where Riverside is a petrified curio, locked in Olmsted’s vision. That is best seen in the village board’s other recent narrow vote to outlaw broom-finished concrete. That would be the hard surface known to the rest of the world as “concrete.” But in Riverside, we talk about “hardscape” and the need, perceived by some, to “visually sublimate” the “hardscape.” The way to accomplish that goal is, according to the board majority, to mandate that all carriage walks and driveway aprons be constructed of “exposed aggregate concrete.”
That exposed aggregate concrete costs up to 40 percent more than good old concrete and does not last as long, is seemingly immaterial to Sacchi and his fellows. They’re not even open to a compromise alternative being explored by other trustees. The money quote from Sacchi after having shepherded this micro-management through the village board: “I’ll sleep a lot better.”
We’d sleep a lot better if Sacchi and his colleagues would pay as much attention to the unacceptable behavior of their village president in his relationship with village employees as they are to the “hardscape.”
Are there political aspects to the minority trustees introducing an ethics code for consideration at this moment. Sure. There are politics even, and especially, in small towns. That doesn’t mean that codifying an accepted approach for dealing with allegations of misconduct is without merit. Now, while the Gorman incident is fresh in our minds, is the right time to discuss and enact a reasonable and plainspoken policy on how elected officials monitor their behavior.
A well-crafted policy – and the initial proposal from Trustee Sells is thoughtful – would effectively lessen the politics the next time a question is raised over the actions of an elected official. The proposal starts with a code of conduct for elected and appointed officials and then moves on to procedures and timelines for responding to complaints.
This is an entirely reasonable approach.
It is the minority, seeking to protect one of their own, which is playing politics.