COLUMN: ‘Common sense’ test needed when governing

If there is a fundamental issue that I have with virtually every governing body I’ve encountered, it’s the action of avoiding decisions.

In Seneca County, the board of supervisors has historically been one of the governing bodies that this column focuses on. Last week, I was given new ammo, as the supervisors voted to avoid deciding on an odor complaint system, which would have been run through the county’s website.

It was not the first time the matter came before the board. It wasn’t even the second time the full board had the chance to debate it. It was the third time that the resolution, in some fashion, came before the board. And it resulted in the exact same debate as the previous two times it came up.

Forget that anything related to Seneca Meadows Landfill instantly becomes the most controversial item on any agenda by its mere presence.

This issue was debated at length last month during committee meetings — where the full board is almost always present due to Seneca County’s standard of holding committee meetings the same night as regular full board meetings.

Those marathon sessions may be a lot of things, but one thing for certain, they allow supervisors to share their opinions, whether they’re part of the committee debating a resolution or not.

On that night, most of the supervisors spoke out against the resolution, or at the very least had serious reservations about the county paying for such a system.

Remember: This was the second time it was debated.

Fast-forward to last Tuesday’s meeting, and the writing appeared to be on the wall. Most of the supervisors were aligned — at least on the surface — against the odor complaint system.

Kyle Black, Seneca Meadows district manager, did his part, saying that the landfill would provide the odor complaint data monthly to any governing board interested. Seneca Falls Supervisor Greg Lazzaro backed that up by pointing out that the town would make odor complaint data available on its website.

If that wasn’t enough, Varick Supervisor Bob Hayssen came back with another alternative. He suggested the data be placed directly on the county’s website.

For those in support of the new system, having a third-party operator of the digital hotline was a necessity.

That wasn’t a sticking point for those opposed to it, and through their own dialogue during the open meeting, they collectively came up with an alternative.

Yet the board voted to table the resolution.

Only four supervisors voted against tabling, which meant that the supervisors against the system collectively had the votes to kill the resolution outright.

But they didn’t.

This specific issue aside, governing is about acting, not putting off action.

The community has listened to elected officials, as well as landfill officials promise that Seneca Meadows is doing the right things to fix the problem. They’ve told us that those who oppose landfilling or Seneca Meadows are simply a vocal minority.

Obviously, there are three groups of people that make up the landfill debate equation: Those who support it, those who oppose it, and then those who really don’t care either way. Assuming there are equal parts of all three groups, there is a large portion of the overall population that simply doesn’t care or hasn’t been invested enough in the details to have a strong opinion one way or another.

That would mean that a large part of the taxpaying population in Seneca County would have no opinion or would have been happy about the supervisors killing the resolution.

That’s right: The resolution, if killed, could have been chalked up as a win for several of those supervisors who have taxpaying majorities that either don’t care or don’t want to see any legislation pass that goes against Seneca Meadows.

Common sense suggests that the board wanted to kill the resolution and possibility of a county-sponsored odor complaint system, which is completely fine. If the will of this board is to trust the data coming from Seneca Meadows, then its actions at Tuesday’s meeting should have reflected that faith.

This column was originally published in the Finger Lakes Times. Read more here.

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