When one vote doesn’t count

Marc Ruckman had support from voters, but on the Village Board he was only one.

Marc Ruckman, who abruptly resigned as village trustee earlier this month, understands — probably better than anyone — the frustrations that come with being elected to office as a vocal minority. For the six years he served, his record of voting “no” on budget increases, rate hikes and personnel issues, was quite consistent.

His problem, however, was he served with trustees — now and in the past — who lack a vision for the village and region. All too often, this board governs by reacting.

This speaks to a Fredonia decline.

Many longtime residents — and village backers — hate to admit it, but the municipality continues to dig itself a deep hole. It began when Ruckman first took office in 2011 when he ran as a Democratic candidate with Janel Subjack and incumbent Joseph Cerrie.

Right around this time was when union membership at the Carriage House locations in Fredonia and Dunkirk began sounding the alarms about the company’s possible exit from the area. It brought enough attention that community and state elected leadership set up meetings with plant management to ask what they could do to help.

Those meetings were nothing but lip service from the village, which proceeded to raise taxes, water and sewer rates as well as challenge the company on its assessment reduction request. Ruckman always opposed those rate increases, but he was in the minority. The rest of the board gave its blessing to actions that do not equate to the “welcome mat” corporate America embraces.

Four years later, the village was without its largest water and sewer user along with another 250 jobs. How the village responded was typical. It refused then — and still does — to join a regional water district and told current users to save up plenty of loose change because they will be seeing a 31.5 percent increase in water rates even though its production is less.

Shrug your shoulders here.

Ruckman also opposed a larger firefighting force, which added costs to the taxpayer through the emergency medical services transport by the unit. While revenues increased from this initiative, the cost of hiring additional firefighters for the program was a much greater expense. Numbers shared with the public — and it has not been recently — showed the deficit to be in the five-figure range.

Shrug shoulders again.

In running for trustee his second time, Ruckman kept his word regarding how he looked at village issues: “As most of you know, we cannot spend more than we take in, and raising fees and taxes can go on for only so long before we are not marketable or before people, unfortunately, just have to leave,” he said in October 2015. “I am hoping to find areas where money can be saved without affecting essential services.”

Voters believed him — both times — as he collected the most votes of all the candidates running in the village elections in March 2011 and November 2015. He was hoping new leadership — and new trustees — would lead to a less destructive path for the village.

So far, that has not been the case.

Trustee James Lynden has been a disappointment. Before being elected, he was a rabble rouser when attending meetings, even questioning the ambulance transport system. Today, he resembles a rubber-stamper.

Mayor Athanasia Landis, when greeted with opposing ideas or opinions on topics such as the Barker Common project, is defensive and can come across as rude. That sounds harsh, but talk to Trustee Doug Essek who received a 20-minute verbal lashing at a board meeting in May for writing a commentary piece in this newspaper.

For the record, the OBSERVER endorsed all three of these individuals — Ruckman, Lynden and Landis — the last time they were up for election. We believed in them then — and are hopeful of some recent positive activities in possibly moving the village forward in the coming years. Regional efforts must be a vital element to that progress.

Government — with the exception of the revenues and expenses — is run based on the views of those in office. You see it on a national level and it is definitely the same in the area municipalities.

With Ruckman stepping down, three seats will be up for election in November. Those running who wish to change the continued uncertain direction of the village may have an uphill battle. Consider Ruckman’s resignation letter: “As a member of the Independence Party, I realize that I am nearly always a minority vote, and for that reason, as well as others, my vote will have little impact on policy. I appreciate the opportunity to have served and wish to thank those who have supported me.”

But support at the polls is much different than receiving it at village board meetings. Always being the one dissenting vote — no matter how correct it is — does not make a difference.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.