The following piece was submitted by the last three chairs of the Scarsdale Citizens Nominating Committee, Bill Kay, Bruce Wells and Dan Hochvert. There have been a number of references to "secrecy" in opinion pieces in the Scarsdale Inquirer, in advertisements and on websites in connection with the Citizens Non-Partisan Committee's (CNC) procedure for selecting the Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan Party's (Party) candidates for Village office. To our minds that term does not apply, but rather there seems to be a lack of understanding, perhaps related to inadequate publicity, of the details of how the CNC members determine which candidates they think will best serve all citizens of our Village.
Before elaborating on the workings of the CNC, perhaps it is helpful to recollect that in the early 20th century partisan politics became so fierce that it was difficult for residents to work together to make Scarsdale a better place. Fortunately a group of public-spirited people decided that improving Scarsdale was more important than partisan politics and that gave birth to today's non-partisan system. The procedure for selecting the Party's candidates for Village office has been modified by public referendum many times as things changed over the years, and it has identified people who are solely focused on helping Scarsdale to continue to be a great place to live, not on promises they would have to make to secure citizens' votes.
We believe that the Scarsdale public would benefit from a better understanding of how the CNC does its work. Each year the CNC reviews the previous year's Rules of Procedure and modifies them if appropriate. Those Rules were added to the Procedure Committee's website in January of this year but only passing reference was made to their availability in publications and on websites. They are still there and will remain posted, along with any changes approved by subsequent CNCs. Thus, there is transparency as to the Rules, but more publicity as to their availability is needed.
Another area of the selection process that may not be well understood is that each potential candidate is given the same five questions to address before the CNC, which although they have not broadly been publicized, they are certainly not "secret". Rather than being directed at specific issues such as zoning or development, these questions focus on the level of experience, and commitment to Village activities such as "Can you commit the time needed to do the work of the position?" and "What previous work that you have done are you proud of?". The potential candidates are given 10 minutes to speak to the questions at a CNC meeting and the CNC members do not ask the potential candidates any questions. Despite the non-specific and open-ended nature of the questions, and to dispel even the appearance of secrecy in the CNC deliberations, the next CNC may choose to have the questions posted on the Procedure Committee website.
There has been concern expressed regarding where candidates stand on issues. It is around this particular concern that we think the term "secrecy" has been misused. It is true that CNC members are not able to ask the potential candidates questions about issues, but that is because history has taught us that the very essence of a non-partisan candidate's position is to NOT take a position on an issue until all the information that can be gathered on any issue is available for consideration. Some of the important qualities that CNC members have historically sought in evaluating the potential candidates for a Village position are that the candidate be open-minded, thoughtful and a good listener. Asking a potential candidate about his or her position on taxes may be satisfying but it may bear little application to the situation in which Trustees may find themselves when confronted with uncontrollably rising pension costs and limited ways to pay for such expenses mandated by other levels of government, most often New York State.
In determining which potential candidates should be nominated for the Non-Partisan Party slate, CNC members conduct due diligence among people in the community. Specifically, the CNC members contact people who have worked with candidates or are their neighbors and the information received through this effort is shared with the entire CNC. No comments are shared with the members unless the individual making the comment is willing to attribute the comment to himself or herself. This prevents gossip, rumor or innuendo from running rampant since other CNC members can then conduct fact-checking as to any such statements. We believe that this part of the procedure must remain confidential so that people who are contacted will speak openly and frankly regarding potential candidates.
The CNC historically has not publicized the names of potential nominees who are considered and not selected. This has been considered a number of times by the CNCs and it was decided each time it came up that publicizing the names of candidates that were considered and not selected might result in fewer people agreeing to be considered by the CNC for Village office in the future. Although the CNC has chosen not to publicize these names, there is no CNC rule that would restrict potential candidates who were not nominated from sharing that result publicly, as has been done from time to time.
The bottom line is that relatively little in the Party's procedure is confidential and we believe that a greater effort to share with the public information regarding the procedures and rules governing the process will be well received . The objective of the non-partisan process followed in Scarsdale is to create an environment that draws on the best and most talented volunteers to govern the Village. This process has repeatedly proven, over time, to produce excellent results in Village Boards and Justices that served our Village well without regard to partisan politics - a tradition of which the CNCs are justly proud.