By Dan King
By a narrow margin, Whitehall village officials have approved a change in village election terms from two to four years – but that’s not the end of the issue.
After hearing feedback from residents for a second consecutive meeting last Tuesday, the board passed the measure, 3-2. Mayor Ken Bartholomew and Trustees Walt Sandford and Pat Roche voted for the change, while Trustees Pat Norton and Marge Mohn voted against it.
However, if someone wants to challenge the board’s decision, they can do so by picking up a petition for referendum at the Whitehall Municipal Building. Bartholomew said village officials have already printed off a few of the petitions, because some residents have voiced interest.
A successful petition for referendum would need to be signed by 20 percent of the registered voters in the village of Whitehall, or 247 registered voters. If a petition is successfully circulated and signed by enough people, this term issue will be placed on the ballot and decided by village voters.
Opponents of the change say they feel it isn’t what the people of Whitehall want.
“I’ve had a number of people approach me and say they’d like to keep it at two years,” Norton said. “Originally I was leaning toward the change, but they swayed me the other way. I’d rather see term limits.”
“I have mixed feelings about it myself,” Mohn said. “I think what bothers me is we represent the people and I don’t feel like the people want this,” referencing the fact that a few residents have come to the past two village meetings to voice opposition to the measure.
Proponents of the change said with a lack of people running for the board and the learning curve of being an elected official, it makes sense to lengthen the terms.
“The reality is no one is running now anyway,” Roche said. “If you had six or eight people coming forward each election, I’d say ‘yeah, keep it at two-year terms,’ but right now we have elections and nobody runs.”
Bartholomew added: “My opinion is, first: you’re saving costs of having an election every year and second: when you first get on the board you have no idea what you’re in for. It takes some time to get the hang of things. Four years is, to me, a better deal.”
“When I first got on the board, I thought I knew everything that was going on in town,” Sandford added. “It’s extraordinary how much goes on in a small community.”
A few residents have expressed interest publicly in circulating a petition against the decision.
David Molenaar, who is currently circulating a different petition – trying to get a supermarket in Whitehall – said that while he’s been going around with that petition, “many people have been irate about the term change.”
Molenaar said he wasn’t “passionate one way or the other about the issue.” However, in countering the argument that village residents are apathetic to local government he said, “I know of maybe four people who want to run as Democrats next election.”
Last village election, only two residents came forward to run for three seats – both were incumbents.
The term change will not affect the current village board.
During the next village election in March, the seats occupied by Sandford and Roche will be up for contention. The winners of those two seats will receive three-year terms. Each village election after that will be for four-year terms.
Nuisance law passes
Nobody came forward to voice an opinion about the village’s newest law – a chronic nuisance property abatement law.
Village officials spent months drafting the law, modeling it after a similar law in the village of Hudson Falls. They say that the new law will give the village more teeth in code compliance and the remediation of nuisance properties.
The board waited in five minutes of silence for someone to come forward in the public hearing and nobody did. Officials then voted 5-0 to pass the first law of 2016.