Sunday, July 22, 2007

Politics Before People

The American two-party system pretty much doesn’t work any more. It’s broken and the Republican and Democratic politicians broke it when they started representing their parties and not their constituents.

Back “in the day”, if a politician represented a farming district his first obligation was to farmers; urban area representatives stood for urban interests, etc. No matter what party they belonged to, all the farming-district reps stood together, all the city-district reps stood together. You could tell what type of constituents a politician had by how he voted and his committee assignments.

Looking at the platforms of today’s politicians doesn’t give a clue what the interests of their districts and constituents are, but you sure know their party affiliation.

Is there any practical way to give the two-party sytem back to the citizens?

A start might be nonpartisan elections, but recent Hillsborough “nonpartisan” elections such as the Board of Education and the Charter Study Commission have shown we simply end up with party regulars running, quietly (and financially) supported by their parties. All that changes is the lack of a party affiliation listed on the ballot.

The rise of independent politicians might help, although I have no clue how they would finance any but the most local contests. Maybe if independents start winning local contests and proving themselves to their constituents they may eventually work their way up without becoming part of the old system.

The two major parties are much too entrenched to suggest they disband and we start again, but one hopes [0ne can always hope.] that there are at least some Republican or Democratic idealists who are trying to work from within to bring back representation of the people.

If the current two-party system doesn’t change – from the local elections on up - I fear for America as a democracy.

- Susan Gulliford

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hillsborough's Kulaks

The Founding Fathers designed our federal government with three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. Each branch was assigned certain powers with this separation of powers designed to create a series of checks and balances preventing one branch from taking over the country.

One of the forms of government under consideration by our Charter Study Commission would involve a directly elected mayor [Executive Branch] and a council [Legislative Branch], thus adding a form of checks-and-balances lacking in our current form.

Unfortunately some local residents are opposing this basic tenet of The Constitution, with one forum poster disdainfully referring to the CSC as “hiding the divided, separated branches of government, with separate staffs, accountable to the separate branches of government.” Why would they hide one of the major doctrines of United States democracy?

The only argument these anti-Constitutionalists have made against this mayor-council form of government is the possible cost of separate branches. I guess those old Patriots were just a little shortsighted, right?

For those who need a refresher course in this divided sovereignty, please reread The Constitution: Article 1 - Legislative Power, Article 2 – Executive Power, and Article 3 – Judicial Power.

Considering what is going on in Washington, I can understand the confusion of a few Hillsborough residents about The Constitution.

In the best American tradition I tried to come up with an acronym for the anti-Constitutionalists, but I could only come up with Hillsborough Anti-Constitution Kulaks (HACKs). Any other suggestions?

kulak: n. A prosperous peasant in czarist Russia. Wikipedia has an interesting entry on kulaks, including "relatively wealthy peasants in the Russian Empire who owned larger farms and used hired labour....the creation of a group of prosperous farmers who would support the Tsar's government...".

Friday, July 13, 2007

Having Your (COAH) Cake...

Consider these two COAH applications recently heard before two different township boards.

A Weston Road developer is requesting permission from the Planning Board to convert 14 already constructed COAH two-and-three bedroom rental units in his 185-unit age-restricted development to COAH for-sale units, testifying that there is no demand for COAH rentals.

Another developer has applied to the Board of Adjustment to construct an apartment house containing 84 COAH rental units off Route 206 on Campus Drive.

Both developers have presumably studied the COAH market, but somehow come out with vastly different results. The Weston Road builder testified that he has been unable rent out his 14 affordable units – no one wants them. The Route 206 developer apparently has demographic and marketing information showing that he can easily rent out 84 affordable units.

Now, if the Route 206 builder gets approval, builds the building, Hillsborough gets the COAH credits, and then the builder can’t rent out the units, what happens? Can the builder “take back” his affordable offer and change them to market-price rentals or for-sale condos? Does Hillsborough just lose its credits or is there some penalty involved?

So who is going to decide if the COAH rental market is there or not? The developers?

Uh-oh. I think we're in trouble.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

You've Got Snail Mail...Maybe

According to an article in this morning's newspaper, due to rising costs mail deliveries could be cut back from six days a week to five or even less. Or the recipient may have to go pick their mail up or pay extra for home delivery.

From the tone of the piece I was given to understand that I – and all Americans – should meet this news with maybe not horror, but at least dismay. After a moments reflection I realized that I wasn’t even mildly upset.

The loss of a day’s mail delivery wouldn’t really impact my life as these days there is nothing that I receive in my daily mail that would make a big difference if it came a day or two or even three later. And it wasn’t that long ago that residents of some local villages had to go to the post office to pick up their mail.

Additionally, I no longer wait for the mail, anticipating a card or a letter or an invitation to a special event. Most of my mail is junk mail interlaced with an occasional bill or bank statement with more and more of my day-to-day personal communications arriving via email.

In fact, these days tell me I’m going to get my email delivered only five days a week and then you might get a dismayed reaction or I may even react with horror.


Reminiscing about mail delivery, I know that it came twice a day when I was young, but the switch to one delivery a day didn’t even register with me.

I remember when the mail was delivered to our door – either through a mail slot or placed in the mailbox hanging on the side of the house next to the door. In the early 70s I moved into a small village that didn’t have home delivery and had to go to the post office to pick up my mail from my post office box. When I lived in a townhouse we went out to our community mailbox next to the parking lot to get our mail from our individual boxes. In our later houses we had rural-style boxes along the road, the way we have now.

My father was a mailman through most of the 1950s. They weren’t mail carriers then, they were all mailmen because they were all men. They walked, carrying a leather mailbag over their shoulders, and I never remember him wearing shorts. And he had Wednesdays off.


Actually I just thought of a downside to delayed mail delivery. My habit of mailing cards at the last minute could mean friends and family will get their greetings even later than they already do and my excuses will stretch even thinner and thinner.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Don't You Hear the Whistle Blowing?

The first house I ever owned – several decades ago – backed onto railroad tracks. It’s what I could afford. A few trains a day went by and it wasn’t long before the noise blended in with my day-to-day life.

The trains never came to my attention again until a few years later when I tried to sell the house and discovered that there were a lot of picky homebuyers out there who did not want to live next to a railroad. I finally sold the house to a local who knew about the trains and didn’t care; he was buying an investment rental.

This past winter Hillsborough’s Board of Adjustment began hearing an application for a proposed 7-home subdivision along a railroad track. While none of the nearby neighbors objected to the development itself, they protested vociferously about the possible loss of the property’s woods that serve to partially buffer them from the trains traveling behind their houses and the bells and lights of the nearby railroad crossing.

One of the residents commented that when he bought his house he had been told there was only about one train a day. The board laughed. The attorney’s laughed. The press laughed. And, bitterly, the local residents laughed.

With today’s disclosure laws, the sellers will probably have to be upfront about the amount of train traffic behind these proposed single-family 3200 to 3500 square foot homes.

Unless the Board can find some reason to deny the application, good luck to the new owners and we all hope they purchase these homes with their eyes and especially their ears wide open.


Hillsborough’s growing transload facility and the township’s plan for a transit village encouraging passenger train service can only increase the numbers of trains.


I’m not sure where American literature [maybe through the first half of the twentieth century] came by the legend of the romance of the train – the whistle across the plains making the protagonist wonder about the rest of the world. Maybe it had something to do with the train not being in their back yard or the fact that most of the locals would never travel further than their county seat making train travel only an exotic dream.


"...Don't you hear the whistle blowing?
Rise up so early in the morn..." - from I've Been Working on the Railroad.

It seemed like such fun when you sang this in second grade.