Home » The ABC’s of local government

The ABC’s of local government

NEW YORK STATE — There is no better time to start attending local government meetings than at the beginning of the year when new people are joining the board.

As the newly elected officials settle into their roles, they are sure to ask extra questions that will benefit the people who chose to watch or attend the government meetings. Those questions will often garner information about the history of current issues, the proper protocol and the definition of commonly used jargon, acronyms, abbreviations, terms and phrases.

While it’s difficult to give a complete history of all of the current issues in all of the local towns or to give a full run-down of all of the governmental protocols, a pocket-sized political dictionary is much more doable.

This article will describe the local levels of government — from the town boards to the school boards — and define some of the terms commonly used during board meetings.

Make a New Year’s resolution to attend one board meeting each week, then carry this guide to the meetings or keep it handy while reading the meeting summaries in The Millerton News.

General Information


Counties in New York are divided up into towns. Towns can include incorporated areas (villages) and unincorporated areas (hamlets). The town, which is governed by a Town Board, provides services to its residents. Local  property taxes are collected through the town. Local towns include Amenia, North East, Pine Plains and Washington.


A village is a small incorporated area of a town. Villages are governed by a village board, which is separate and different from the town board, though the two serve similar functions for their respective municipalities.


Hamlets do not have their own municipality government. They fall under the jurisdiction of a town. A hamlet may have a post office, fire department, school or other services that separate it from the town.

Hamlets in the town of Amenia are Wassaic, Amenia Union, South Amenia, Leedsville, Smithfield and Hitchcock Corners.

Hamlets in the town of Pine Plains are Pine Plains, Pulvers Corners and Bethel. Former town Supervisor Gregg Pulver said that there are other communities within the town that are not drawn as official hamlets on the town maps.

According to the North East Town Hall, the town does not have any official hamlets, although some communities consider themselves as such.

The town of Washington has only one zoned hamlet, Mabbettsville.

Town board

The Town Board is the group of elected officials that run the legislative branch of the local government. The board is usually made up of one town supervisor and between two and six town council members. Amenia, North East, Pine Plains and Washington all have one supervisor and four council members.

The Town Board needs a quorum [see definition below] to be present to hold a meeting and vote on issues.

For any vote to pass, a majority of the board members must vote “yes.”

Town Board meetings are generally held twice per month. Normally, one is a workshop meeting and the other is a business meeting, but some towns don’t follow this rule strictly.

According to former Amenia Supervisor Wayne Euvrard, all Amenia Town Board meetings are business meetings, with no true workshops, because voting is not allowed during workshops. Some meetings are listed as workshops, but Euvrard said they still operate as a normal business meeting.

All members of a town board receive payment for their work on the board.

Town supervisor

The town supervisor is the head of the town board. He or she presides over the town board meetings and is allowed to vote on all issues before the board, but he or she does not have veto power.

The supervisor is elected by the public on Election Day. Each term as supervisor lasts two years.

In the event that a supervisor is not present, the deputy supervisor takes his or her place.

Town council

Together, the supervisor and the council members make up the town board.

Council members can also be referred to as board members, but the term  “board members” encompasses all members on a town board.

Local town councils have four members. Each council member is allowed to vote on issues brought before the town board.

Members of the council are elected by the public on Election Day. Each position has a four-year term.

Town clerk

Each town has one town clerk. The town clerk is elected by the public on Election Day. Each town clerk term is two years.

The town clerk records the minutes and the results of any votes that happen during the town board meetings. He or she also authorizes permits and licenses, like marriage licenses, at the town hall, publishes legal notices of public hearings, files local laws with the state and responds to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests, among other things.

Village board

The village board is a group of five elected officials that govern the village on the local level. The board is comprised of one mayor and four council members.

All village board members are elected by the public.

Village mayor

The village mayor is the head of the village board. He or she presides over village board meetings.

Mayors are allowed to vote on issues brought before the board, but they do not have veto power.

Planning board

The planning board is a group of people who review applications regarding new developments in the town. Many of those applications request a variance (see below for definition) or a special use permit.

While reviewing applications, the planning board ensures that any developments adhere to the law, will not negatively impact the environment and will not negatively impact neighboring existing land uses.

The planning board is headed by a chairperson and contains several additional board members. The chairperson and the board members are all allowed to vote on issues that come before the board.

The planning board does not have the authorization to create a local law. If the planning board needs a local law to be created, it must recommend it to the town board.

All members of the planning board are volunteers and do not receive payment for their work.

Local law vs. resolution

The biggest difference between a local law and a resolution is that a law requires a public hearing during which the public can voice their opinions either in favor of or against the proposed law.

Both local laws and resolutions must be followed by the residents of the town or village in which the piece of legislature was adopted.

Both a local law and a resolution are voted on and adopted by the board before which the legislation was brought. Only town boards can adopt local laws.

Board of Education

Often abbreviated to BOE.

The board of education is the body that governs the school district.

The board is headed by a president that presides over all meetings. Six additional board members also sit on the board.

All seven members of the board are elected by the public on a specifically designated day.

Additional members of the school district, including the superintendent and the business and finance administrator, may participate in the board of education meetings, but they can not vote on issues brought before the board.

Additional Definitions


Academic Intervention Services


Advanced Placement; a type of exam that high school students can take to challenge themselves and to earn college credits


Annual Professional Performance Review


Board of Cooperative Educational Services


Board of Education


Conservation Advisory Council/Committee


Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County


Common Core Standards; regarding Math and English Language Arts (ELA)


A cohort is a group of students. Students are assigned to a cohort based on the year in which they entered ninth grade for the first time.

The cohort group is used to look at information about the students, such as graduation rates.


Committee on Preschool Special Education


Committee on Special Education


Cold Spring Eary Learning Center; part of the Pine Plains Central School District


Career and Technical Institute


Dutchess County Board of Elections


Dutchess County Department of Health or Dutchess County Board of Health; officially called the Department of Health, it is sometimes referred to as the Board of Health


Dutchess County Department of Public Works


Dutchess County Department of Planning and Development


Dutchess County Soil and Water


Dutchess County Water and Wastewater Authority


Draft Environmental Impact Statement


Environmental Assessment Form


Eugene Brooks Intermediate School; part of the Webutuck School  District


Environmental Impact Statement


English Language Arts; a school subject previously known as “English”


Environmental Protection Agency

Escrow Account

An escrow account is an account in which  money is held by a third party until a certain condition, act or project is completed.


Final Environmental Impact Statement


Federal Emergency Management Agency


Freedom of Information Law


General Accounting Standards Board


General Equivalency Diploma


Harlem Valley Rail Trail


Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association


Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium


In-School Suspension; a form of disciplinary action

Long Form EAF

Long Environmental Assessment Form


Millerton Elementary School; this term now refers to just the building because the elementary school is  no longer housed there


North East Community Center

Neg Dec

Negative Declaration of Environmental Impact Statement


New York Codes, Rules and Regulations


New York State Board of Elections


New York State Department of Environmental Conservation


New York State Department of Health


New York State Department of Labor


New York State Department of State


New York State Department of Transportation


New York State Education Department


New York State Energy Research and Development Authority


New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; a grant agency


New York State School Board Association


New York State Teaching Standards


Old Amenia Landfill


Out-School Suspension; a form of disciplinary action


Professional Development


Poughkeepsie-Dutchess County Transportation Council


Pine Plains Central School District


Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test; taken by students to predict what they will score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)

Public comments

A segment of board meetings designated for the public to offer their opinions to the board or to bring up a new topic. Some boards simply listen to the public comments, but do not respond. If an issue warrants a response, it is recommended that the board be notified of the issue prior to the meeting (by contacting the clerk or the secretary, depending on the type of board) so that the issue can be added to the agenda.

Public hearing

A public hearing is the opportunity for the public to speak either for or against a specific issue. A public hearing must be held before a local law is created. Many permit approvals for planning boards also require a public hearing to be held before the permit is granted.

All public hearings must be announced to the public before they are held. These notices are often found in the Legal Notices section of The Millerton News.


Webster’s dictionary defines a quorum as “the minimum number of members required to be present at an assembly or meeting before it can validly proceed to transact business.” Boards generally need a majority of members to be present before a meeting can be held, so, for example, a town board would need three members present since there are five members total.


Regents Competency Test; offered to identify special education students who are seeking a high school diploma, but are unable to pass the standard regents exams.

Regents examinations

Often shortened to “Regents.” It is a type of exam given to students taking high school level classes.

All students attending high school in New York State must take and pass a specific number of Regents in each subject in order to obtain a regents diploma.

Currently, exams are offered in January, June and August. Some exams may be eliminated in the future depending on budget constraints.


Request for Proposal; an RFP invites interested parties to submit a bid proposal for a specific type of service or product needed by the requesting body, often a board. The bids are opened after the submission date has passed. The state requires most governing bodies to automatically accept the lowest bid.


Regional Information Center


Response to Intervention; used when talking about academic intervention services provided by a school


State Assistance Contract


Scholastic Aptitude Test; a test taken by high school students to determine their level of academic achievement. High scores are often required to attend prestigious colleges and universities.


State Environmental Quality Review Act; often pronounced as “seeker”


Soil Mining Overlay; a specific zoning overlay

Special Use Permit

A special use permit overrides the zoning in a specific location and grants the holder permission to conduct  specific activities in that specific location. Special use permits are often granted to applicants who wish to build a new structure that is not currently allowed on that piece of property due to zoning restrictions.


Scenic Protection Overlay; a specific mining overlay


Seymour Smith Intermediate Learning Center; part of the Pine Plains Central School District


Science, Technology, Engineering and Math


United States Department of Agriculture


A variance gives the applicant permission to build or alter their property in a way that is not otherwise granted by the local zoning.

A variance is granted by the zoning board of appeals of the town in which the project will be built.


Webutuck Central School District

Workforce housing

Similar to affordable housing.

Workforce housing refers to any form of housing made available within a price range afforable to local workers within a specific community. Tenants must be able to pay their own rent.


Webster’s dictionary defines zoning as “[dividing] a city, etc. into areas determined by specific restrictions on types of construction, as into residential and business areas.”

Zoning can also allow or disallow certain types of land use, instate height restrictions or require certain construction characteristics.

Zoning areas can be defined through zoning overlay maps, which dictate what is and is not allowed by the zoning in a particular area.

Zoning restrictions can be overridden by special use permits or variances, both of which must be applied for.

More Information

TriCorner News

Copyright The Lakeville Journal
PO Box 1688, Lakeville, CT 06039
All Rights Reserved