Brian Mann has raised a proposal to allow Park residents to cast ballots and elect the five Park resident APA Commissioners, which would require a change in the law which requires the Governor to nominate, and the Senate to confirm all eight of private citizen members of the agency. I happen to believe that the current law remains the most equitable and practical way to ensure a proper diversity, array of statewide and park talents and commitments to the purposes of the APA Act. Be that as it may, Brian’s is hardly a new idea.
I found some interesting quotes from early APA Chairmen who were answering a question posed to them in 1981 at a conference. The question from a member of the audience was: “If one of our main goals is to win the acceptance of the Adirondack people, wouldn’t it have been a good idea earlier on to include local representation and to have the commissioners elected, or to give the local people some other access or resources in dealing with the agency”?
One of the most interesting resources from which to follow the thinking and trends of the Adirondack Park Agency in its early history are the printed records of the Conferences on the Adirondack Park, 1971-1981, published by St. Lawrence University. SLU faithfully captured every word spoken at those June conferences held on their beautiful Camp Canaras campus on Upper Saranac Lake.
Just about every conference in those years featured the views and reports of APA Executive Directors and Chairmen, along with those knowledgeable in Adirondack wildlife research, tax policy, land use planning, Forest Preserve, water quality, invasive species, great camp architecture, and much more. The costs of publishing these printed records of the conference in the era before computerization eventually became prohibitive, but SLU’s Camp Canaras conferences continued for another 15 years or so, and I always felt they were “must attend” events. The content, entry price, company, and shoreline scenery were all outstanding.
How did former APA Chairmen Richard Lawrence of New York City and Elizabethtown and Robert Flacke of Lake George answer the above question which was posed to them on that summer day of 1981? The answers are found in the printed proceedings of St. Lawrence University’s 1981 Conference on the Adirondack Park. Richard Lawrence served as chairman of the APA from its beginnings in 1971 until 1975. Robert Flacke succeeded Dick Lawrence as chairman in 1976 and served until 1978.
Robert Flacke: “I think the history of land use controls give us the answer to that…if 51 percent of any type of a voting body has a parochial interest, whether it is in a village or a town or a county or region then essentially those are the only interests that will be forwarded and protected. That is what happened with the (Lake) Tahoe experiment (in California). There was an equal voting strength between the two bodies and there was no overriding concern. Now, the basic question was asked in the Study Commission on the Adirondacks: Are the Adirondacks an area of statewide concern? The answer was affirmative. The program goes beyond the interests of the people who are here, although the interests of the people who are here are very, very important. Therefore, the balance that was established, I think, is the proper balance… One must maintain, then, a statewide interest if one continues to believe that the resource is important for all the people of the state.”
Richard Lawrence: “I might add just one other point. We have, of course, elected representatives in the legislature such as assemblymen and state senators. Yet this is a fact of political life that not one of our local representatives is here. Andrew Ryan, Glenn Harris or Senator Ronald Stafford could not possibly be reelected if they would support and go all out for the Adirondack Park Agency. That is a simple fact of life. If they choose to be in office they simply cannot believe very strenuously in land use planning. Perhaps ten years from now there will be a different answer. That is the name of the game now.”
Later on, in response to a statement from Park resident that “the thing I am most worried about is that the Adirondack Park Agency may disappear. I do not want it to disappear because I do not want to lose any of this,” Robert Flacke continued, “That brings out the fundamental question of membership in a land use agency. Land use control started with the Park Avenue experiment in New York City, but the lowest level of government, when you look back in the history book, has always been unable to perform adequately in land use controls because of the very issue that you bring out. If a town board gets involved in land use questions, its members then become subject to very grave social and economic pressures… I can remember during my tenure as town supervisor certain councilmen had to make a decision that they felt very strongly about. It may have gone against certain other economic interests. A fellow that ran a gas station came to me one day and said ‘I’m going to go broke because all my customers are telling me that if I don’t vote that way they will go elsewhere for their gas.’ This essentially says that when you are involved in land use, you have to have an insulated body generally at the next level of government, whether it is county or regional. I think time will tell that economically the local people are not destroyed (by the APA), but benefited, if in a different way.”
Photo: Above, looking out on Upper Saranac Lake from the SLU Camp Canaras campus, 1991 Conference on the Adirondacks; Below, a panel at the same conference.