Good things are happening with energy use in the town of Queensbury, but Travis Whitehead and John Strough are doing their best to overshadow them.
Whitehead’s aggressive nitpicking and Strough’s defensive shouting are the very definition of unproductive.
It’s too bad, because both men can be and often are very constructive and creative when it comes to figuring out how to run the town in an efficient and productive way.
At a Town Board meeting recently, Whitehead argued the town should not pay SmartWatt $21,000 for an energy audit. SmartWatt did the audit, and according to Strough, it has been useful. It has guided the town in its ongoing efforts to save energy and money.
Whitehead argued the audit was turned in late, voiding the contract. Strough said the town was responsible for some of the delays.
Whitehead also argued the company’s energy-saving proposal was not budget-neutral, which would mean the contract was voided and the town wouldn’t have to pay for the audit.
But Whitehead’s argument is that SmartWatt’s estimates didn’t leave enough wiggle room to deal with any problems that would arise or for prices to go up. He is probably right, but he cannot know that for certain, because the proposal was never put in place.
SmartWatt proposed a 14-year program of energy conservation that it would oversee, while charging the town $842,000. Whitehead convinced Town Board members, including Strough, the proposal wouldn’t save the town much money, if any, so they voted against it.
At that point, what we had was a good news story: A concerned and knowledgeable citizen (Whitehead) persuaded board members not to spend a bunch of money on a plan that probably wouldn’t save taxpayers money. Yay!
But Whitehead wasn’t satisfied with slaying the $842,000 dragon. He wanted to defeat the $21,000 audit, too.
When he came to the Town Board to argue against the audit, however, Strough shouted him down.
Whitehead strode over to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at that point, accusing Strough of misappropriating funds by paying for the audit.
In other places, cops investigate crimes. Here, they get asked to pick sides in a billing dispute.
Aside from the absurdity of going to the police, both Strough and Whitehead are at fault.
It was the Town Board’s call, not Whitehead’s, whether to pay for the audit. He should have made his case and left it at that.
But Strough should not be shouting at citizens and especially not at Whitehead, who has a lot to offer. If Whitehead is taking up too much time at town meetings, Strough should invite him to continue the conversation in his office the next day.
Whitehead, an engineer, has proven he has the smarts and the time to catch things public officials miss. He told Warren County supervisors they were getting a raw deal from Siemens on the cogeneration plant and on the geothermal project, and he was right in both instances.
If Whitehead can save Queensbury from throwing away money on projects that aren’t worthwhile, Strough should welcome that.
We are also concerned that the bill for the audit was included in a group of bills considered at the Town Board’s first meeting of the year, when several members were new to the board. A bill for $21,000 about which questions had been raised deserved to be considered separately.
The Town Board should tell Whitehead it values his input, and Strough should pledge to listen to him, in another setting where they have more time, if necessary.
Whitehead should withdraw his police complaint. It’s not a police matter, and it puts the Warren County Sheriff’s Office in an awkward spot, because Sheriff Bud York is a prominent Republican elected official who publicly supported Strough’s opponent, Rachel Seeber, in the recent election. He has a conflict of interest, which means, even if this complaint was justified, his agency should not be handling it.
It seems clear Strough and Whitehead have allowed personal dislike to influence their public behavior.
Political disputes should not be taken to the police. At the same time, politicians should not allow disagreements to get so heated that citizens turn to the police for a resolution. Whitehead and Strough both need to take a deep breath and get back to leading the town and saving it money.