Look around at towns that have scrapped the at-large system of electing their boards and created council districts. There's no evidence of sharply increased costs or higher taxes in towns such as Brookhaven or North Hempstead. Still, now that the issue is coming to a vote in Huntington tomorrow, opponents are putting on a full-court press.
One argument against districts in Huntington is that they'll stand in the way of regional thinking and increase NIMBYism. If there was regional thinking going on by past boards, not much of it translated into regional action - just look at the still-unrealized promise of redeveloping Route 110. One of the real obstacles to regional economic development is competing town industrial development agencies, not council districts within towns. As for NIMBY thinking, some of its leading centers are towns without council districts, such as Oyster Bay and Smithtown.
Incumbents tend to oppose council districts, because at-large voting makes challenging them more difficult; newcomers must run expensive townwide races. With districts, challengers run in a smaller area. That means more opportunity for new thinking and new blood, and more access to power by ethnic and political minorities, not the alarmist claims that different sections of the town will be pitted against one another.
With council districts you know who represents your community and you can hold him or her accountable. Opponents say the at-large system gives you a choice of several council members to ask for help. But it also gives all of them the chance to dodge your request, leaving no one with the direct responsibility to advocate to the county or state for solutions to problems such as crime or drainage. With districts, every part of town has a fair seat at the table of power. It will have no impact on schools, fire department or other services.
Sure, it would be better if this vote were taking place at a general election, when more citizens could have a say. The town board had several chances to put it on the ballot in a general election before, but didn't. So it bears more blame than proponents for the special-election timing. A yes vote tomorrow is the start to a more responsive town government. hN