The two Town Councilmen who are leaving office, Ray Billica and Chris Aronica, wrote a letter last week. Their message, essentially, was that we need to elect Town Council Candidates who will do the will of the people rather than the will of a select few. And thus, their inference was that Supervisor McMurray is not listening to the people, but doing the bidding of a select few. But what does the record say?
After 18 months in office serving with both of the gentlemen who wrote this letter, I can say that I know one of them fairly well. In fact, I thought I had a certain level of rapport with Councilman Billica, who I am more familiar with. Neither of them, however seems particularly venal or malicious.
Councilman Billica is an avid and dedicated sportsman. Just as he would not allow me to spike the ball in his face or cross him over for an easy layup, I will not sit back while he implies I'm somehow acting on behalf of a select few. I'm sorry Mr. Billica, but the record is clear. As Supervisor I have served the interests of the many, rather than the few (keeping in mind our town’s best interests), even when it was miserable for me to do so.
One of five
Please keep in mind that I am the only Democrat on the Town Board, and one of five councilmembers. Every one of the board members has voted against me. Have you seen some of these meetings? Various members of the Town Board have tried to block me on almost everything I tried to accomplish as Supervisor. But often, once an idea gains favor, they’re all on board.
They grumbled about term limits, the solar law, and even sidewalks on the Boulevard, despite the fact that we obtained a grant to pay for 80% of the project. Yet, on all of these (and other) initiatives, the board eventually voted with me, although some passed by only one vote.
Other projects I take heat for — like Scenic Woods, Assumption Cemetery preservation, the West River Multi-Use Path and cashless tolls — stemmed from dormant plans like the lapsed Scenic Woods grant money or State initiatives. I inherited many of these projects that were already in existence. On others, I approached outside agencies like New York State Land Conservancy or the Thruway Authority, just as any citizen could.
And for the Dunlop building, which is now the Holiday Inn Express project, I heard complaint after complaint about that old building while I ran for Supervisor. If reaching out to adjacent property owners and helping them get it done (without any town money) was somehow wrong, call the police. I’m guilty.
Although it may have often been politically expedient for me to step back and do nothing, I knew that grant money and projects beneficial to the long-term health of our Town were at risk. It would have been remiss for me to not to fight for these projects and advocate for initiatives I heard people support. I am the Supervisor. I was elected to lead.
They fought for the loudest, not the best
Please keep in mind that I am just one of five. The majority could pass or push forward anything they want. But over the past two years, what did other councilmen fight for? Two things: (1) stopping tourist homes, like Airbnb; and (2) legalizing trapping. That’s it.
Let’s start with trapping. I’ve never seen so many Islanders passionate about a single issue. We had hundreds of people at Town Hall meetings when it was on the agenda. Councilman Billica led the charge to ban trapping. I supported him after carefully reviewing the public land available and the demand for trapping (one young man applied).
But when push came to shove, Councilman Billica changed his vote to vote in favor of trapping despite the hundreds of residents who spoke out against it. I was stunned. If we stick to sports analogies, it was like Ray threw me the perfect pass in the end zone, but had slathered the ball with butter. All that for one trapping application. Was that the will of the people? Really?
Now let’s move onto tourist homes. Arguably, a lot of people are against tourist homes. I support them, when done under the right standards, because I believe in private property rights. I argued that banning them completely, which the Town Board attempted to do, would create a black market because we do not have the power or resources to enforce an outright ban. Guess what? Lots of people still rent out rooms or homes. That black market exists. Complaints continue. Has the will of the people (for or against) really been met? No way.
Before I took office
It seems like ancient history now, but I've been in office for less than two years. Let's try to recall what it was like when all five members of the Town Board were from the same political party. Was the people’s will reflected in the decision to raise the density standard to fit more apartments along the Boulevard and near River Oaks? What about the shed in Veterans Park that was built the wrong way, contracted to a friend, and paid for with taxpayer money? How about legal action to stop farmers on Grand Island? And what about all the employees and elected officials who are relatives or long-time friends?
None of those decisions seem to benefit the residents as a whole, and the decisions were often made in workshops scheduled at odd times with no residents in attendance. Things are different now. It's all more out in the open. Everyone can follow along. You can even watch live streams of many meetings!
Yes, I am applying more scrutiny and rigor to the way our town is run than previous supervisors did. Some are not happy about it — so unhappy, in fact, that they are resigning from their employment with the town. But I remain committed to representing the best interests of everyone, not of a select group.
There is no scoreboard; we’re all on the same team. I firmly disagree with the letter last week, and the facts reflect its inaccuracy. But I hope to continue cooperating with these gentlemen until and after their time on the Town Board is done. I will seek to work with the new members of the Town Board (vote November 7!) and represent the broad interests of the people of Grand Island — not just the connected or vocal few.
So, Councilman Billica, please give me a break and pass me the ball. We'd make a heck of a front court in the over-40 league.
Grand Island Town Supervisor