On election night, five votes separated Ron Alcock and Chip Capraro on the machine counts. That result was affirmed by Republican Commissioner Mike Northrup after the post-election machine recanvassing. Those results are still posted on the Election Commission's website.
On Wednesday, November 14th, absentee and affidavit ballots were unsealed and counted. Capraro won that count by a large enough margin to swing the results in his favor, but Northrup emerged from a side room to announce that a 'clerical error' had widened the margin between the candidates and Capraro was actually down nine votes.
In other races in our area, where margins were even wider, candidates have initiated the process of serving papers to impound the machines, recount the ballots, and have a clear explanation of the outcome to be certified by the Board. In keeping with that standard procedure, Democratic Election Commissioner Mary Salotti and her Republican counterpart, Mike Northrup, were served with papers, Wednesday, November 28th.
The documents, prepared by local attorney Sam Bonney, petition that the commissioners not certify the election "until machines used in Ward 4 District 1 are tested and examined per Election Law 9-208 and an explanation in writing is made about the discrepancies in the machine vote."
The petition is supported by three affidavits submitted by voters who describe difficulties in pulling the levers on Row A on a malfunctioning machine that was eventually taken out of service. Complaints were made to poll workers on election day, by two voters over three hours apart. At least 50 voters used that machine between the first and second complaints.
In addition to clarification on the nature of the clerical errors, the petition proposes that there be "both statutory and diagnostic testing, to determine the specific malfunction of the machines."
In previous statements, Northrup said the election would be certified by Monday, December 3rd. Does this mean that these questions will be left unanswered?
Thursday, November 29
On election night, five votes separated Ron Alcock and Chip Capraro on the machine counts. That result was affirmed by Republican Commissioner Mike Northrup after the post-election machine recanvassing. Those results are still posted on the Election Commission's website.
Posted by Capraro and Augustine at 11:33 PM
Wednesday, November 28
Springfield, Missouri finds itself in a situation similar to ours. Their city manager has given notice that he will be leaving in 2008. But, in a strange twist, their outgoing mayor is not rushing to appoint a committee of political insiders, but is instead inviting the public to sign up to serve. Say what?
Eight years ago Geneva had its own citizen’s committee to select a city manager. Twenty four residents from across the community spent countless hours reading, evaluating, and discussing resumes from candidates coming from all over the United States. The committee, which Capraro served on, conducted phone interviews to narrow down the candidates to three top finalists. Every member of the committee agreed that the three finalists brought the experience, expertise, and commitment to become part of the community that we need in a city manager.
City council took the three names, thanked the committee for their work, and then proceeded to hire Rich Rising, who was not amongst the committee’s finalists. So much for valuing the input of the community.
With his term rapidly drawing to a close, we suspect that Mayor Cass might want to repeat this process as his last official action. Hopefully, that will not happen.
The people of Geneva have the talent, the energy, and the time to make this selection the right way. And they should not feel rushed to do so. The City Manager is the Chief Administrative Officer for the city. That means he oversees the day to day tasks that support City Council’s established policies. But that does not mean that the city will perish if the post sits vacant for a few months. We have skilled department heads who are fully capable of managing operations for a short transition period. What is most important in the selection of a new manager is that we get a candidate with the skills, integrity, and vision to build upon Geneva’s strengths and to tackle our challenges head on.
Manufacturing is not a silver bullet for Upstate New York anymore. So those who said we need a manager who can “get another Guardian” are, in our opinion, a bit misguided. We need to reverse our population decline, boost our tourism appeal, and provide better, more targeted city services to residents as a return on their tax investment. Speaking of taxes, we need a manager who understands that the average homeowner is having trouble keeping up with the tax bill.
The best way to get a Manager that can connect with the needs and interests of the people is to have the people involved in selecting the Manager.
Enter Springfield. Because their Mayor is at the end of his term, a current councilor (Gary Deaver) is chairing the search committee, but there is no indication that he is trying to impose his own views on the community. Instead, he tells a local newspaper:
“This will be one of the most important decisions the council makes in quite some time.. It’s my goal to create a process that is totally transparent and inclusive.”
That process begins with a new Web site– which the city planned to unveil last week – where citizens can fill out a questionnaire and offer comments about what characteristics are most important for a city manager. Linked to the city’s home page, www.springfieldmo.gov, citizens also will be able to fill out a volunteer application if they are interested in serving on the search committee.
The voters brought Stu Einstein into city hall because they responded to his promise of a new way of doing business. The search for a new city administrator is the best way to show a commitment to bringing new people, new faces, new voices to the table. We hope that outgoing Mayor Cass will not take advantage of incoming Mayor Einstein's good nature and stick him with the dilemma of either accepting an aggressive move to control the City Manager search process as a lame duck or protesting it and risking being labeled vindictive. The new mayor should get the same break as the old mayor: a fresh start with a new city manager.
Posted by Capraro and Augustine at 5:02 PM
Tuesday, November 27
We hope you were able to watch the unprecedented statewide interactive forum with Economic Development czar Dan Gundersen that we posted an alert about. The show, aired on PBS stations was called “Upstate: Getting Down to Business.”
It was an incredibly informative discussion of the challenges and opportunities present throughout upstate communities and it resonated with several local issues we’ve been discussing here. You may remember when we first discussed Governor Spitzer’s appointment of Gundersen as the point person for upstate economic development (read it here). Well, he has gotten right to work developing ‘targeted economic development plans’ for several communities, from Buffalo to Rochester to Syracuse to Binghamton. While the show discussed these a bit, the majority of time was spent focusing on the shared concerns of municipalities struggling to retain existing businesses, attract new businesses and residents and generally revive their economies.
Gundersen and his Acting Regional Director, Kevin Hurley, outlined three “barriers to development” that need to be the focus of local, state, and federal economic development efforts. The three are:
- High Taxes. As Peter Alan Weinman stated, in his opening comments to Gundersen on behalf of the City of Buffalo, “property taxes are growing at an alarming pace” and Buffalo has one of the highest rates in Western NY (you can compare their rate of $37.41/ $1000 assessed value to our rate by clicking here). Gundersen spoke frequently of the Commission on Local Government Efficiency as an agency that is examining this issue in close detail. You can visit the Commission here and see how ideas like shared services (that we discuss in relation to Geneva here) and parity in compensation (that we discuss in relation to sewer services here) are key to alleviating the tax burden that scares away businesses and residents.
- A Lack of Young Professionals. Maybe you’ve heard it referred to as the “brain drain” but that might not exactly capture it. Recent college graduates and other young professionals are not only looking for employment opportunities, but for a certain community or social dynamic. Better collaboration between area employers, colleges, and government leaders might enhance those offerings in Geneva. For our take on attracting young families to the area, see “Rethinking City Living."
- Dwindling Downtowns. It’s not just young professionals, but many potential new residents that are looking for vibrant downtowns. The work-downstairs, live-upstairs model is once again gaining ground and communities that want to revitalize need to focus on repopulating their downtown areas with shops, restaurants, and cultural offerings and housing for the people who can frequent these establishments. This is the focus of the recent RESTORE NY application submitted by the city.
Posted by Capraro and Augustine at 12:17 PM
Friday, November 23
By any count, nearly 1,350 City voters voted for incumbent Councilor At Large Chip Capraro on Election Day. With results still unofficial and still uncertified by the Ontario County Board of Elections, a difference of less than 4/10th of one percent separates Capraro from his opponent. Signed and notarized affidavits from four voters (Sue Kichhausen, Doung Knipple, Kris Whiteleather, Jim DaDaddona) at two polling locations have been filed. They document problems pulling the lever for Capraro on Row A. Machine malfunction is a factor in the outcome of this local race. It’s also been a statewide and national concern.
The U.S. Department of Justice is suing the State of New York (read it here) because New York has not complied with an order to replace its lever voting machines. According to the Justice Department filing, the machines need replacing because they are not handicapped accessible and they are not auditable.
Not auditable means there is no way of verifying if a vote attempted to be cast on the machine was actually recorded in the machine tally of all votes. If you were buying a used car and wanted to know how many miles it had been driven, you would want to check the odometer; but if the odometer were known to have been malfunctioning, you’d never know for sure what the actual mileages was— and reading it and re-reading it wouldn’t help.
New Yorkers for Verified Voting, a not-for-profit ballot reform organization with the “goal to ensure that all eligible citizens can vote, and that their votes will be accurately counted,” says lever machines are not reliable and their malfunction is widespread across New York State.
According to Voting Verification board member, William Edelstein, in his article, “New York State Law and Lever Voting Machines,” lever machines frequently malfunction because they are old, improperly maintained, and in need of spare parts that are hard to come by because manufacturers don’t make them. In the City of Geneva, voting machines sit idle in the city garage, along with vehicles and tools, between elections.
Edelstein explains, “With a lever voting machine, the voter flips levers and trusts that the counters corresponding candidates are properly incremented,” but, “there is no way to verify a vote once it is cast; the voter cannot look at the counters and see if the machine has correctly counter their vote. There is no way to audit votes or recount them later."
When it comes to the numbers on a lever voting machine, demanding a recount doesn’t mean very much. All anyone can do is open the machine and keep eyeballing the same numbers on the same counters. For lever machine votes, there is no trail of any kind, such as a hard copy, paper ballot or a receipt of the voting transaction.
Douglas W. Jones says the first lever voting machine was put in service in 1892, in Lockport, New York. The last lever machine was manufactured in 1982. In its day, the lever machine was regarded as an improvement over the paper ballot. There was nothing to “interpret”; the voter’s vote was directly recorded when pulling the lever advanced the counter for their chosen candidate. The booth assured privacy and the secrecy of the ballot.
"Unfortunately,” says Jones, “the mechanism of a lever voting machine maintains no independent record of each voter's ballot. Instead, the only record of a vote is the count maintained on the mechanical register behind each voting lever, where each register has a mechanism comparable to the odometer in a car. Not only is this vulnerable to tampering by the technicians who maintain the machine, but it means that the machine has an immense number of moving parts that are subject to wear and very difficult to completely test."
Testifying before the U.S. Senate on voting system reform, Dan S. Wallach, associate director of ACCURATE (A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable, and Transparent Elections) and Rice University professor summarizes a reform minded point of view on ballot reform (read the full transcript here):
It’s important to understand just how much we ask from our voting systems. We certainly want accuracy, both in the ability to correctly record the voter’s intent and in the final tally of the votes. We also want efficiency, in terms of the time it takes a voter to operate the system. We need accessibility, to enable voters from all walks of life. We need tamper-resistance, to defeat attempts to corrupt the election results, whether from within or without. Problems of one sort or another will always occur, so we need recoverability to mitigate against such problems. We need anonymity, so voters may freely express their opinions without fear of bribery or coercion. Most important, we need transparency, such that voters, observers, and the candidates themselves can convince themselves of the correctness of the election outcome.
Jones recommends logic and accuracy testing (L & A testing) before a machine is put in service for any election. In Geneva, the Board of Elections conducts an inspection of the machines, but not a test per se. Malfunctioning machines should be taken out of service and repaired. One person, one vote is the law of the land. We should be able to count on it!
Posted by Capraro and Augustine at 10:27 AM
Tuesday, November 13
Four candidates ran for two at large seats on Geneva’s City Council, and the two top vote getters will be seated in January. Steve O’Malley received the most votes by a substantial margin. Either the incumbent, Chip Capraro, or the newcomer, Ron Alcock, will occupy the other seat, depending on which one receives the second highest tally. Capraro trails Alcock by five votes. There are nearly 150 absentee and affidavit ballots still to be counted. In addition, alleged malfunctions in the Row A- Democratic ballot line on two voting machines throw the outcome into question.
At the District 4-1 polling location, Geneva High School, voter #65 alerted election officials that the Row A (Democrat) levers for were not working properly. She was told that a vote for Capraro could be cast on Row E (Working Families), and a vote for Stu Einstein and Steve O’Malley cast on Row F (Good Government for
Republican Election Commissioner Michael Northrup said that in response to a complaint he had a machine immediately taken out of service and emergency ballots issued. That is not what happened at either location. If Northrup was referring to the alleged complaint of voter #130 at North Street, we know that machine was never taken out of service. If it was voter #65 at the High School, we know voting continued on the machine for another 50 voters, and was taken out of service after a second complaint at that location. In both locations, no emergency ballots were offered. According to voter #115, some voters at Geneva High School were told to come back later.
Were numerous District 4-1 voters disenfranchised by the ineffective response of election officials? What was wrong with the machine at North Street School? How did this situation effect the votes people tried to cast on Row A?
Posted by Capraro and Augustine at 9:33 PM
Monday, November 5
When I opened the newspaper and read the introduction to the endorsements, I was overjoyed. I believe (to echo the comments of Paul Kirsch) that the editorial board laid out rational criteria by which to choose candidates for endorsements. The quest for a collaborative group (as opposed to a ‘team’ marching in lockstep) is, in my opinion as well, the main objective.
But key to collaboration is, I believe, the presence of elected representatives who hold themselves to that same rational approach to city deliberations. In order to achieve that, people must have three fundamental traits: 1. A sense of fair play in sharing and receiving opinions; 2. An understanding of the gravity of the position with regard to stewardship of the public trust and the public purse; and 3. A commitment to open and honest governing (meaning integrity in the making and following of the public laws).
I suppose that I should be happy that you attributed those qualities to me, and to some extent I am. However, there are three glaring errors in your endorsements that not only make me concerned for the potential struggles of the next four years, but point to a more systemic barrier to moving Geneva forward in the best way possible. So I am writing not out of an immediate emotional reaction to certain persons, but out of a genuine and, I believe, well-founded concern about standards, integrity, and accountability in the long term. I hope you will consider my comments in that light and share them with the editorial board.
- The non-endorsement of Chip Capraro. What you say about Chip is true until you state that “along the way Capraro’s demeanor has worked against him. It puts people on the defensive and inhibits collaboration.” What has put people on the defensive is Chip’s commitment to telling the truth. He is not contented to just ‘let it go’ when it comes to critical matters of city government. He also doesn’t give into the “why bother” attitude that has hobbled even the best councilors before him. When he joined council last year, things were very bad. The ‘back room’ was a place of bullying and dirty deals. Those are not baseless accusations, it is the truth! Until Councilor Nyrop was elected four years ago, I had been totally isolated in the back room. If you ask Jan what he regrets most about council he will tell you, as he told me, that it was compromising on issues that were wrong, but seemed small at the time. What seemed small then was the snowball of bad government that was rolling down Castle Street. This is, in my view, Chip’s greatest strength. He understands that tolerating the things that seem small in the short term is simply priming the pump for the long term exclusion of principles and, by extension, the people’s interests. Chip understands that good government doesn’t admit of degrees. It’s an all or nothing proposition. This doesn’t mean that in the practice of good government nothing can ever go wrong, it simply means that in the practice of good government, the intention to practice good government must be ever-present. When he points out its absence, people get defensive. But they get that way because they know they have done something wrong, not because he has done something wrong. If I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, should I break the mirror? You rightly point out that Chip has been “the point man for ‘accountability’” but then dump him for doing exactly what being the point man for accountability requires. If it had been the case that an equally capable ‘point man’ was running and you simply chose one over the other, I could accept that. But you chose, instead, to endorse Ron Alcock, pointing to his experience with the OZAC. But therein lies the rub: Ron Alcock barely participated in that committee and, when he did attend the meetings, he was unprepared and hardly spoke. Those are not the actions of a point man for accountability. Not endorsing Chip is, in effect, trading good government for feel-good government, and I believe that is a serious disservice to all who are impacted by Council decision-making (not limited to city residents, but our regional partners as well).
- The endorsement of Paul D’Amico. Returning to the three criteria discussed above, D’Amico does not play fair. He believes in belittling and marginalizing people as a way of deflecting attention from legitimate policy discussions. I have not been the only recipient of his bullying tactics. He also does not take the role of a city councilor seriously. During budget discussions he said that we should not be giving the city manager direction on the budget because “we are just part time volunteers” and we have to trust “the experts.” Setting and overseeing fiscal policy for the city is one of council’s most important duties. Another important duty is following the proper procedures and safeguards for the expenditures of public funds. One of D’Amico’s first acts on council was accepting the role of ‘swing voter’ in deciding to grant a raise to our city manager without first completing the evaluation process. Despite the urging of myself, Jan Nyrop, Alaine Espenscheid, and Chip Capraro to abstain from the vote or to oppose it because it contained several false statements, D’Amico went along stating that he has “known Rich for a long time” and “it would be hard” not to go along with the raise. Well, doing the right thing is often difficult, but that doesn’t relieve one’s obligation. Lastly (and related to the former points), D’Amico has not been committed to open government. I have received several nasty e-mails from him, but chose not to turn the election into a game of ‘gotcha.’ But I will share an excerpt of an exchange about the open meetings law that took place on June 6, 2007: I wrote “the sale & lease of city property is only proper in executive session where there's some issue that could substantially *negatively* effect the value of the property. Unless that's the case on Sweeney, I think item #2 should be brought up in public.” D’Amico responded, “I hope I never get to the point where I question the City Manager OR the City Attorney on what is appropriate conversation/topic for executive session. I wish to go on record that I trust the people I sit with and guarantee to you all that I will never go to an outside source to question the validity of our planned agenda/proceedings.” Not only was he saying that he would ‘go along to get along,’ he was openly criticizing me for bringing the NYS Open Meetings Law to bear on our proceedings. His treatment of City Council as a fraternity rather than a fact-based public body is an attitude that is toxic to government, regardless of the particular make up of council.
- The endorsement of Lou Cosentino. You rightly pointed out Lou’s tendency to ‘shoot the messenger.’ And I agree with you that his attitude alone is not enough to deny him the endorsement. But the legitimate grounds for denying him the endorsement are that he does not want to do what’s best for the city and its residents. I would argue that councilors must lead by example. My husband and I are landlords, we take code enforcement seriously. We understand the role fair and firm code enforcement plays not only in safety for renting families but in stabilizing neighborhoods. My husband and I are also taxpayers, and we take our need to pay our fair share seriously. Lou Cosentino has held himself above the very policies he votes in favor of, and your paper has known it, has reported on it, and has apparently chosen to forget it.
That last point brings me to the overarching message I’d like to leave you with. The real collaboration that will improve Geneva, is better collaboration between the public servants on council and the press in serving the watchdog function of government. What we have right now is an over-reliance on government self-reporting as “news.” Using the city manager’s raise as an example, council narrowly passes a resolution stating that an evaluation has been completed and that after ‘due deliberation’ a contract modification was deemed necessary. Imagine that none of us in the minority had given public reasons for our dissent. How would the story have read? Would the Mayor have followed up with a patently false letter to the editor? Would Lou Cosentino still have submitted a letter of his own, confirming the contradiction? Unlikely. If Councilor Capraro and I didn’t start the blog and the radio appearances, would we have moved as much information out of the back room? Unlikely.
What is dysfunctional on council is not the communication style of particular councilors and therefore the remedy is not simply to find people who will ‘hear each other out.’ The problem is bad government and the only solution is good government! It’s not a question of style, it’s a question of substance and I believe the endorsements punted on that. The endorsements assume that everyone is telling the truth, but that is not the case! Chip and I have both been point people for accountability by demanding that the facts be aired publicly. Does that mean that people might be uncomfortable as we call them out for violating the public trust? Sure. But is that our fault? Not at all!
What Chip and I have done on council is not offensive and does not inhibit collaboration. It inhibits dirty politics! We are not content to participate in good government only “when asked,” we are doing it every day, with every statement. I happen to believe we do more than we should--not because what we do is not necessary, but because we are filling the void left by the absence of a watchdog press. We are left to do the governing and the reporting and analysis of the governing. That is too much, but the answer is not to purge us, it is to infuse city politics with accountability from a new source, namely your paper. Consider this quote from George Krimsky, former head of the AP news “There is still a need today -- perhaps more than ever -- for identifying sense amidst the nonsense, for sifting the important from the trivial, and, yes, for telling the truth. Those goals still constitute the best mandate for a free press in a democracy.”
So, to be consistent with your own guidelines, you should have endorsed both of us or neither of us. We both have the best intentions, and have committed to the necessary actions. We have been bold, and it has come at a cost. To negate Chip’s extensive contributions due to a perceived issue of style while endorsing me for those same commitments and endorsing people who actively look to suppress those concerns (and suffer real issues of style) is not rational and not in the best interest of Geneva. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience accept your endorsement.
I do hope that the editorial board will, regardless of the outcome of this election, take seriously the charge to improve the level of accountability that you bring to bear on city government. You, too, are stewards of the public trust.
Posted by Capraro and Augustine at 5:12 PM