Dear Islanders:

The market place of ideas is open for business

I want to address a few different things this week. But let’s first revisit my letter from two weeks ago regarding my opposition to the creation of a police “chief” position on Grand Island. Many of you have contacted me to express your support. Thank you! Your interest and encouragement helps! We need you tuned in and involved. And that’s why I reached out when some of my colleagues told me “You’re wrong” and “Good luck.” I felt that unless I raised the issue publicly, my side of the argument would be disregarded.

Some of my colleagues, however, contacted me to express their regret that I wrote about this—although one, since, has submitted an opposing piece of his own. I was glad to see his response. I believe in open and transparent discussion, especially on matters of public policy. I often refer to the "marketplace of ideas," which holds that truth will emerge from the competition of ideas in open, public discourse. Government in America is not meant to take place in shadowy rooms behind closed doors. It’s meant to occur in the sunshine of public scrutiny. That’s why our founding fathers often engaged in robust debate in written letters published in newspapers. I love the words of Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Darkness cannot drive away darkness. Only light can do that . . .”

It would be a lot easier for me, however, if I kept everything quiet and wrote you the civic equivalent of my mother’s annual holiday family update letter. Sure, we need some of the "flowers are in", "baseball season is here" upbeat variety of news too. But sometimes, we also need to have serious, thoughtful discussions regarding thorny questions. Thus, I will continue to go to the public—as I did here—when I feel I need your input (or help). Rest assured that I am increasingly aware that I must not unintentionally fan the flames of contention. I will work harder to remain genteel, even when disagreements arise and regardless of how I may, myself, have been disrespected.  

I can’t stop the vote

Why are we doing this? That’s my first question. Why?

Why do we suddenly need a police chief? And now, why, out of nowhere, was a resolution put on the Town Board meeting agenda to create a five person board of commissioners for the police, rather than one single commissioner? For years and years it has made sense to make the Supervisor the commissioner. Why change that now? Why usurp the power that the people of Grand Island vested in the role of Supervisor for all of this time? Is there some urgent need or public demand we must address through this change? And will the change create other issues? For example, how will this body of five act in a time of crisis?  Will we need a quorum at 3:00 in the morning to make a split-second decision when the officer on duty calls for support or guidance? 

Back to the appointment of a chief again, here are a couple more questions. Are we legally required to have a chief? The answer is no. If that changes, the analysis changes. But for now, we can move on to the next question. Is there some reason we would want a chief? The answer again is no. Some people point to the paramilitary nature of law enforcement. But in the military, the title “officer in charge” or “OIC” is commonly used for managerial positions related to emergency services. On to my final question then. Are there reasons not to have a chief? YES! For one, it represents further mission creep and will eventually lead to more costs. Members of the town board can claim they don’t want costs to go up, but we are not only responsible for our hopes and apparent intent, but for the long-term consequences of our decisions. 

If the Town Board decides to vote against me and create a chief and a board of commissioners, they have the right to do so. But they are not the only ones with the right to act. As a resident of Grand Island, I encourage you to get involved and contact your Town Board. Please ask questions and share your opinion. 

No matter what, this won’t slow me down

Regardless, I’m not going to let any of this slow me down from working on all of the other things I am trying to push forward and care about: pedestrian access, protection of green space, improved quality of life for our families, and business development.

Further, I will work side by side with and support all of my Town Board colleagues on whatever interesting and creative initiatives they want to put forward (see below regarding the Emerald Ash Bore), which may be beneficial to Grand Island. However, I will never be interested in the intricacies of town hall “palace intrigue,” political gamesmanship, and power plays. It’s my hope that we can work more frequently with each other rather than against each other on the things that will truly improve the lives of the people living and working here. In other words, let’s find cures for ailments that actually exist. Forward!

Shifting Gears: Calling all Grand Island Guardians

Grand Island Guardians, we are going to have our first gathering on Saturday, July 2nd at 9 am.  Meet in the Town Hall parking lot.  We will spend an hour or so picking garbage and making sure Grand Island Blvd is ready for the parade.  Join us!  And I just had a funky logo made up for our little group.  The first five people to arrive on that Saturday will get a t-shirt!  If you want more information or to get your name on the Grand Island Guardian email list, let Cyndy know at cmontana@grand-island.ny.us

We need to prepare for the Emerald Ash Bore

The Emerald Ash Bore is a little bug (which is a pretty green color, thus the name) causing a big set of problems. It came to North America from Asia in the wood of shipping pallets. It will crawl into the living layers of ash trees and borrow through, cutting off the circulation of nutrients to the tree. Once infected, it’s very hard to stop the tree’s death. Simply put, unless you catch it early and unless you really love your tree and are prepared to pay lots of money to save it, your Ash tree will die. Thus, over the coming years Grand Island will lose hundreds (if not thousands) of trees on private and public property. And there's little we can do about it other than replace them with different types of trees. 

The Town Board has asked Councilmen Ray Billica (who graciously volunteered) to work with the Conservation Advisory Committee to study the impact of the tree deaths and to come up with a reforestation plan. It will not be easy, but imagine a bare Town Hall commons, or at least a Town Hall commons that requires a serious comb-over. Unless we act now and prepare for the impending impact, Grand Island will become much less green in the coming years. 

“Home Free ain't dead.” It’s just getting started

If you think I’m Don Quixote charging the tolls booths, you are wrong. From millionaires to milkmen, Democrats to Republicans, truck drivers to fashion models, all types have reached out to me and said, “Nate, don’t quit on the tolls!” And I won’t.

We need to hold Senator Ted Kennedy and Assemblymen John Ceretto to their word.  They have taken the first step and put forward a bill. Now we need to keep after them to work on and finish what they started.  We have created a template letter of support that you can print out, sign and send to each of them to show your support.  Email Cyndy at cmontana@grand-island.ny.us to get a copy.  Remember, squeaky wheel gets the grease!  Don’t forget - you can still get your ‘Home Free’ t-shirts for $10 at fxgraphix.wix.com/gitees. And if you want a free "Home Free" bumper sticker, please stop by town hall. 

One more thing on the tolls.  You need to read this poem. It was given to me by Shirley Luther, husband of former Supervisor Bunny Luther, and grand-daughter of Supervisor Henry Long. It was written by her mother, Mary, who gave it to her husband before he went to Washington D.C. to lobby for the bridges in the 1920s. It was published long ago in the Buffalo News.

Marooned like Robinson Crusoe
Upon this island grand,
We as tax-payers of our nation
Would fain a bridge demand.

For ten and sixty years or more
Tis hard to be exact,
We've had to pay a ferryman
To take us to town and back.

We have produce for city markets
And milk for babies there,
But out of all our profits
Must come the ferry fare

If we had saved our money
So stories have been told,
And started building long ago
We’d have a bridge of gold.

But money isn't all our trouble
It’s waiting that “gets our goat,”
We are down at the ferry at 10 o’clock
And make the 1 o’clock boat.

For, when the river is jammed with ice
We can’t blame the ferryman,
He’s only using common sense
And doing the best he can.

“Well, why don’t you move?” We hear you say.
“Away from that wretched place”
But, it is our Homeland, we love it
And we are a patient race.

For, if some day the mainland
Is joined to this beautiful spot, 
It will indeed be a paradise
Instead of a place God forgot

What a beautiful poem! And how amazingly relevant! The bridge was meant to free the island, not continue its imprisonment. How long should we remain a patient people? I, for one, think we have paid our fair share to ferrymen and tolls!

With warmest regards,