The Highland Echo

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Nowadays it seems like everyone has rather vocal political opinions regarding controversial national issues, yet most people are fairly uninvolved in their local, more immediate politics. In 2014, only one-in-five eligible voters cast a vote in their local mayoral election (knightfoundation.org), compared to just shy of a 60 percent turnout for the presidential election of that same year (fairvote.org). While what happens in Congress and in the Senate might be a major point of interest for those who concern themselves with politics, West Milford is a long ways away from D.C., and we have a government of our own here that is too often neglected.
Don’t take this as an ill-conceived call to completely ignore national politics, or as a denial of the role the federal and state governments play in the lives of the American people. Obviously those legislators produce policies that can influence people’s lives, often to a grave extent. The debate as to whether or not they should have the power they do is a completely different question, one that won’t necessarily be addressed here. However, building a political movement within the local sphere allows people to better their own towns, to be more involved in policy making, and overall have more confidence in the governments they deal with in their day-to-day lives.
As of 2002, West Milford’s government operates under the Faulkner Act. In short, this means there is a massive opportunity for a government to be directed by people who live within the town itself. Our mayor has very little power, and serves mostly as a tie-breaker for meetings of the Town Council, and has the limited authority to sign or veto any legislation that Council passes (westmilford.org).
The bulk of the legislative work is done by West Milford’s six-man Town Council, which establishes policy, prepares the budget and levies taxes, amongst other exciting bureaucratic things. However, this doesn’t mean the entire local agenda of a town of almost 30,000 people is strictly determined by six council men and women. Any West Milford resident can publically and directly address the Town Council at Council meetings, which while preserving public discourse and allowing the vocalization of grievances, does not guarantee substantial results.
Town residents are, however, granted a substantial amount of genuine political authority thanks to the Optional Municipal Charter Law. This permits West Milford residents to draft their own ordinances, and to require public approval or rejection of any Council ordinances. In addition to this, the public has the right to recall the Mayor or members of the Town Council from their respective offices, so long as they’ve served for at least a year and a just cause is provided.
There are, of course, certain restrictions and requirements within the OMCL. A petition of 15 percent of those who cast a vote in the last State assembly are needed to suggest ordinance, or for the public to determine the fate of any piece of Council-suggested ordinance. On top of that, a fourth of registered voters must petition for a councilperson or Mayor to be removed from their post.
Still, this amount of almost-direct democracy allows the public to potentially determine policy instead of bureaucrats, the national lack of which has been cited as by many young Americans as a reason they generally don’t participate in electoral politics (npr.org).
West Milford residents have previously shown their willingness to come out in droves to protest the actions of our esteemed bureaucracy, such as this past September’s controversial food waste dump debacle, which led concerned citizens to pile into our Town Hall building to make their opinions known.
Ultimately, leaving everything up to elected officials isn’t a great idea. Even the most promising candidate can be voted into office and immediately ignore the needs of their electorate. An active community has far more incentive to fix their own problems than any representative. Thanks to our town laws we have a little bit of a push when it comes to policy, but we should strive to direct it ourselves as much as we can. Otherwise, we’re at the behest of bureaucrats, and that strategy doesn’t exactly have the best track record in this country.

Colin Webb, News Editor

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