Scarsdale League Puts Spotlight on Local Politics

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Scarsdale League of Women Voters member Amy Sharpe recounts some of what the group learned about other communities that are governed under nonpartisan political systems at Monday night's meeting at the Scarsdale Public Library. Photo Credit: Mark Chapman

SCARSDALE, N.Y. – It was a lesson in hometown civics as the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale did a presentation about Scarsdale's nonpartisan village election system Monday night at the Scarsdale Public Library.

About 30 people listened as ad-hoc committee chairs Kim Myers and Jackie Irwin and committee member Amy Sharpe gave an overview of the system that governs the village.

According to the Scarsdale Citizens Party website, "The Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan System seeks to promote a cooperative, deliberative and open atmosphere in local civic affairs in order to attract the most qualified individuals to serve in local public offices."

Myers started it off by explaining how the Scarsdale system works before handing off the microphone to Sharpe, who talked about how other communities handle their nonpartisan systems. The league looked at several other communities, she said, focusing on those similar to Scarsdale. That included the suburban communities of Glen Ellyn, Lake Forest, Winnetka and Glencoe, Ill.; Montclair, Cedar Grove and Ocean Township, N.J.; and Garden City.

The report showed in each instance that nominating committees were elected in a similar fashion; they interview candidates in a similar fashion; and, with one exception, nominate only one candidate per vacant seat.

There were key differences, including discussing issues publicly, public vetting of candidates and naming all those under consideration by the nominating committees to become candidates. In the three New Jersey communities, candidates self-nominate.

The secrecy issue was the impetus behind the candidacy of independent candidate Harry Reynolds, who ran for the Board of Trustees this year.

Florie Wachtenheim, who serves on the School Board Nominating Committee, said she was not sure whether allowing candidates to take positions in public was in keeping with the intent of the system. "Expressing views on issues blurs the line between partisan and nonpartisan," she said.

Former Scarsdale Mayor Edward Morgan said the system isn't perfect – "Nothing in human affairs is perfect" – but it is "pretty good."

Morgan said the system needs some tweaks, and urged the Scarsdale Forum to do its own study. The TVCC, he said – the Town and Village Civic Club – puts a third of the members on the Procedure Committee and appoints the board's leadership. The Procedure Committee, charged with overseeing the Non-Partisan Resolution that governs the system, proposing amendments to the resolution, and administering the procedure for the election of members to the CNC.

"That needs to be reduced," he said. "It needs to be spread out among more groups." Currently, he said, some say the TVCC has too much power over who governs Scarsdale.

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