At the risk of sounding like everyone who predicted that Mitt Romney was a sure thing, let me say this about my opinion on efforts to reverse local government downsizing: I was wrong.
In a previous column, I looked at the trends regarding the public's appetite for Kevin Gaughan's brand of government reform – his earlier failure to persuade voters to eliminate village governments, his September loss in an Assembly primary, public drives to reverse the Town Board downsizing he championed – and concluded that his work was about to be undone.
I even cleverly suggested that his efforts appeared to be just about “gone.” (Get it?)
But given the way voters in Alden and West Seneca last week overwhelmingly upheld the downsizing of their town boards from five members to three, I now realize the better play on his name was to say that Gaughan was not forgotten.
I fell into the trap of listening to elected officials and their argument that three-member boards caused more problems than they solved. Two fewer people meant more work to go around and a greater chance that voting deadlocks were likely.
There also was the contention from board members that although some savings were realized by not having to pay two officials, that cost was a pittance compared with the overall town budget and that the real reform was needed at the state and federal levels. They talked about it during meetings while their minions parroted their positions in letters to the editor.
I now see that there is a word for their argument: whining.
“All of these town officials, rather than embracing and following orders from sovereign citizens, have done everything to undermine and sabotage it,” Gaughan said last week.
I also made the mistake of underestimating the estimable Gaughan. He conceded that his loss in the Assembly primary left him “on the ropes,” which should have meant that he was too bloodied for another fight. On that point, I was half-right: He might not have been in the mood to protect his legacy, but his supporters were.
“This little dichotomy of 'Is this about Kevin Gaughan or is this it about downsizing?' misses the point,” he said. “It's about both. I take a great measure of pride in leading this, but it's a powerful idea. And it was the idea that saved us in this go-round.”
There's also this: The people who voted to downsize town boards a few years ago are the same people who go to work and do jobs that used to be done by two or more people. That audience is not receptive to the argument their “overworked” leaders were pushing.
“All my work seeks is to get government to do what every private citizen, family and business has done in response to our dwindling population, and that is: Adapt, innovate and do more with less,” he said.
It's a good point and an effective argument. So now rather than undoing Gaughan's work, elected officials have inadvertently solidified it.
What Gaughan has accomplished is impressive, but is still largely symbolic. The public has backed downsizing because whether their boards have five members or three has no effect on their lives. Real reform – such as eliminating village governments or merging school districts – remains elusive, and I doubt that he will ever be able to convince voters to take that step.
Then again, I've been wrong before.