The Town of Chester may change the way it elects the town council, moving from an at-large voting system and creating wards which each would elect a member. It’s a good idea anywhere, one that gives voters a better chance of knowing the officials they elect to represent them.
Of course a ward system does not automatically create political diversity. If a community is dominated by a political party, that usually is not limited to geography. Parties who control local machines to get out the vote, especially in local elections, prevail at large or ward by ward.
And, of course, it is hard to ignore that while this theoretical democratic exercise could have been brought up at many times in the past, it is coming up in Chester today because a large development, one planned for decades, is on the verge of being built.
And it is being marketed to Hasidic families.
Those who all of a sudden have become fans of a ward system insist that it has nothing to do with religion. It is only about equal representation.
The imminent arrival of so many new neighbors also has the county reconsidering an essential question involving infrastructure, one that seemed to have been settled long ago.
Back when he was the Chester Town Supervisor, Steve Neuhaus was instrumental in reaching a settlement requiring the town to guarantee sewer capacity for the large housing development. As a story put it in 2010, “The deal ensures that the town’s allotted sewer capacity is not bartered away for other projects.”
As the story put it, quoting Neuhaus, the developers of the Greens at Chester had been paying fees to help fund maintenance and operation of the local sewer system despite the lack of construction.
Now, however, as a story reported just last month, Neuhaus “has promised to lend his support to try and stop or reconfigure Greens at Chester. Plans call for the project to tie into Orange County’s sewage treatment plant. Neuhaus said he would raise capacity issues. He said he’d also try to steer the builders toward commercial development.”
These are not new issues.
The contrast between a ward system and one that elects representatives at large is as old as the nation itself. The question of sewage capacity is also a continuing concern, one that doubtless will be coming up all over the region as the economy improves and housing construction continues to increase.
It would be nice to discuss them without the disturbing overtones that have become so prevalent lately and, fortunately for Chester, the town supervisor understands that.
Alex Jamieson said he’s not about to jump into wards “because it’s the flavor of the month.” And he reminded all involved, including the county executive, that the town must accept Greens at Chester because it’s mandated by a lawsuit that was settled in 2010.
So, he said, the town is “going to make sure everything is built to code … We’ll be watching them 24/7 to make sure the water and sewer lines are done correctly.”
Everybody else needs to watch the way the town and the county executive do their jobs.