Last night Croton pulled back from the brink. At last, cooler heads prevailed. In response to growing health and safety concerns, trustees applied the brakes to Mayor Gregory Schmidt’s headlong attempt to wangle an exclusive, no-bid contract for a Poughkeepsie engineering firm.
His blatantly obvious objective is to allow this company to adulterate Croton’s unique water with a chemical substance so dangerous in bulk as to require special training for the village employees who would handle it. Why he is pursuing this so single-mindedly is a mystery.
Until recently, Mayor Schmidt has managed to conceal his hot temper and vindictive personality from public view. His outbursts in private meetings with staff and trustees, however, are legendary. According to those who have felt his wrath, he rants and raves, curses, pounds the table and throws books around. An old German proverb best describes this: “Ein Engel auf der Strasse, ein Teufel im Hause.” Translation: “An angel in the streets, a devil at home.”
You’ve heard about books and plays that are banned in Boston for salaciousness. Last night Crotonblog was banned in Croton for no reason at all. Bob Wintermeier, Croton’s ever-vigilant guardian of the village exchequer, approached the microphone armed with a thick sheaf of papers intending to discuss zinc orthophosphate. As soon as he voiced health concerns and attempted to present evidence gleaned from Crotonblog’s report on the dangers of the dangerous chemical our Mayor proposes to add to Croton’s water, Mayor Schmidt exploded and openly rejected the sincere, painstaking research of a supporter who has remained loyal to him through thick and thin. The Mayor’s attempt to muzzle a citizen, one of his most loyal constituents, failed abysmally. Undaunted, Mr. Wintermeier had more than enough other research gleaned on his own to make a significant case against a precipitous vote.
The Mayor announced that he would not allow anyone to present information posted on Crotonblog that was not individually signed. This edict, of course, also removes from consideration every report from government agencies that are parties at interest in this crucial public health issue. Hitler’s Third Reich was famous for its frenzied book burning of works that displeased its mad Führer. Last night marked the 21st century equivalent: blog banning. Croton Mayor Schmidt’s refusal to allow information obtained from a legitimate electronic medium to be presented at an open public meeting because it displeases him sets a precedent of dubious legality. That this action violates every tenet of our guarantee of freedom of speech apparently escapes Mayor Schmidt, who piously opens every board meeting with a ritualistic schoolroom pledge of allegiance to the flag—but not to the Constitution.
As a recommendation for adding this dangerous chemical to Croton’s water supply, the Mayor cited the fortunate outcome of a recent accident involving the potentially lethal escape of chlorine at the village’s water treatment plant. Imagine that! Because the village got lucky once, the Mayor now tries to twist this into a reason to court danger again by adding another dangerous additive to its repertoire of risks.
It was indeed a strange performance the Mayor put on at the Village Board meeting last night. He is someone who does not hesitate to spend time laboriously instructing village residents on the proper method for disposing of a spent or broken 28-watt fluorescent bulb. Yet he thinks nothing of quickly trying to ramrod a preferential deal with a lone contractor with no justification for the favorable treatment accorded this company other than that they made a proposal. Is this any way to run a village? To call the Mayor’s public performance weird and duplicitous would be the understatement of the year.
When Croton citizen Dan Ferguson appealed for “freedom of choice” for village residents worried about being forced to collectively ingest a foreign substance whose principal purpose is to protect the village’s obsolescing pipes, the Mayor assured him that every aspect of the proposal would be explored. He then turned around and almost immediately pushed for a vote on it.
Never has Crotonblog seen such Teutonic hard-headedness and unwillingness to consider polite, logical, reasonable argument. Whenever anyone tried to present cogent reasons for studying the proposal more carefully, the Mayor would remind listeners that his favored contractor had already presented conclusive evidence, and that was that. The company, of course, can hardly be called a disinterested party. It stands to gain financially from the Mayor’s sweetheart deal. The Mayor’s ire was particularly focused on Crotonblog, of course, because of its methodical demolition of the Mayor’s desire to rush headlong into the contractor’s program for adulterating Croton’s water.
The Mayor next called on Village Engineer Dan O’Connor to explain the ramifications of adding the adulterant substance to Croton’s water. Obviously conflicted at being forced to defend a proposal with environmental consequences, he obliged by going through the pros and cons of employing this additive. Attempting to justify its incorporation into the water supply, the Mayor lamely pointed out that zinc was an ingredient in some vitamin tablets. Crotonblog calls this grasping at straws. For someone who insists on being addressed as “Doctor” (Doctor of Chiropracty, that is) this could hardly be described as “scientific evidence.” Despite Mr. O’Connor’s credentials as a licensed Professional Engineer, Crotonblog is not willing to trust matters affecting our health to him until he can show that he has an M.D. attached to his name.
Trustees Gallelli and Kane had already signaled their desire to take more time before being stampeded into a decision. Plaudits for a stellar performance must go to Trustee Tom Brennan. On several occasions in the past he has demonstrated a refreshingly independent, populist streak. Last night he showed that he was not under the Mayor’s thumb. Sensing the groundswell of public unhappiness over the speed this crucial decision was being pushed through by the Mayor, he took a brave stand and expressed his desire for the village to take its time and examine all sides of the question. Crotonblog has occasionally twitted Mr. Brennan for his creative Brennanisms—new uses of the English language not unlike our President’s—but his performance last night was a fine example of responsive participatory democracy at work. Crotonblog tips its hat to Trustee Tom Brennan for exercising caution and using old-fashioned common sense before making a decision that would affect every man, woman and child in Croton.
Crotonblog is left with a number of unanswered questions, and we pose them now:
Why is the Mayor so all-fired anxious to get Croton into bed with The Chazen Companies with a lucrative, no bid contract? What’s the Mayor’s stake in this deal?
The Mayor again repeated his fabricated claim that the magazine Consumer Reports is about to publish a major article on the dangers of lead. A commenter to Crotonblog has already shown this to be a prevarication. Perhaps the Mayor will furnish the public with the anticipated publication date of this mysterious article or stop using this trumped-up lie.
Last night Mayor Schmidt almost lost his cool in full view of the public. He already has had an earlier public blowup in the Black Cow reported on Crotonblog. Who knows what will happen the next time he doesn’t get his way?
There are many unanswered questions about zinc orthophosphate. We have heard how great it is for the village’s water distribution system and the benefits it will bring to the pipes in individual homes, whether the homeowner wants them or not. What we have not heard is any information about the effects of zinc and phosphorous on the human body, particularly on infants and growing children. Shouldn’t parents be the final arbiters of what goes into their children’s bodies—not some political hack running for re-election every two years?