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Redefining a molehill

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It seems like all issues in the town of Cape Vincent are now processed through a single filter: how one views the proposed BP wind development.

The latest example of this was demonstrated when some people began calling for Clifford P. Schneider to resign as a member of the Cape Vincent Town Council. Mr. Schneider cited personal reasons in moving out of Cape Vincent and into Sackets Harbor. He said he fully intends to return to Cape Vincent after a few months.

People who support the wind project are the loudest voices calling on Mr. Schneider to step down from his elective office. They claim he is tarnishing his position by taking up residency in another community.

“I think it’s very unethical,” Harvey J. White was quoted as saying in a Watertown Daily Times story published Sunday. “He should have the decency to step down.”

“I have no interest in their personal matters. It’s nobody’s business,” Gary J. King said in the same story. “But he should resign for the sake of the integrity of the town board, his friends serving on the board and the Cape Vincent community.”

We respect all residents of Cape Vincent, whatever their position on the wind project, and support their right to express their views.

What happens in the community impacts them the most, so their concerns should be of utmost importance to town officials.

But Mr. Schneider has shown no sign that he intends to plant roots in Sackets Harbor while continuing to influence public policy in Cape Vincent as a member of the Town Council. He said he still owns property in the community and pays taxes there. And as stated previously, he plans to return his main place of residency in Cape Vincent after a few months.

Town Attorney Mark G. Gebo said this factor is key to a provision of the law allowing council members to live outside of town temporarily. As long as they intend to return to Cape Vincent, there is no obligation for them to resign from their positions.

Having municipal officials live in the communities they serve is crucial. By nature, people will have the most interest in their hometowns. So requiring those who craft public policies to live in the communities directly impacted by those policies makes the most sense.

But the law cannot be so stringent as to not allow reasonable exceptions under mitigating circumstances. Things sometimes occur in people’s lives that compel them to make different living arrangements for a short period of time. This does not, however, necessarily nullify their commitment to their hometown.

It would be preferable for Mr. Schneider to have found temporary housing in Cape Vincent. But as long as the law permits him to live in Sackets Harbor for the time being and that he fulfills his pledge to return to Cape Vincent after a few months, there is nothing unethical about his decision. It’s obvious that the objections against this raised by residents are being driven not by what’s legal but by how the winds of political opinion blow.

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