THE MAP IS NOT THE TERRITORY
The mapmakers are
Sometimes it can be little things that point the most clearly to misconduct and undue influence in government policy making.
Removed from the shadows of bureaucratic justification: each piece tells a story of the ethics and intent behind these public policies — who receives the benefits — and how that affects the life of the community.
In this chapter; I will use the legal definition of fraud to examine a map that was used to support far-reaching policy decisions, summarize the results of that examination and its disclosure
The map is the “Town of Lansing, N.Y. Agricultural Property” map displaying the legend: “Agricultural Exemptions 2016”. The source is “Tompkins County Assessment Dept, 2016” and it contains the seal and imprint of the “Tompkins County Planning Dept”.
Fraud is commonly understood as dishonesty calculated for advantage. It can be proved by showing that the defendant's actions involved five separate elements:
(1) A false statement of a material fact
Nearly half of the land marked as “agricultural property” in this map is not owned by agricultural entities; and is only rented for agricultural use. Much of this property is residential or commercially owned and rented for a little tax relief – in a county that has one of the highest median property taxes in the United States.
Although the map purports to show “Agricultural Exemptions” - much of the land marked does not receive any agricultural exemption. For example: only 40% of my neighbor’s land received an agricultural exemption; but 100% was marked as receiving it in this map.
(2) Knowledge on the part of the defendant that the statement is untrue
In a “clarification” email; the County’s Assessment Department admitted that they knowingly helped create a map misrepresenting the actual acreage receiving Agricultural Exemptions: “The intention of the map is to show the parcels that receive an agricultural exemption – it is not intended to show how much of each parcel receives an exemption.” Although this is clearly not the representation of this map; the Assessment Dept. still insisted: “The map is in fact correct.”
(3) Intent on the part of the defendant to deceive the alleged victim
This map was used to support preferential agricultural policies for a handful of influential farmers, including the unilateral creation of an Agricultural Zone, to the exclusion and detriment of 95% of the existing rural community — an intentional misrepresentation of material existing fact. This is an “afterthought” piece of supporting evidence; created and added after the town’s Agriculture Protection Plan was already approved – what it claims to be is clearly, knowingly, and admittedly, not a true representation.
(4) Justifiable reliance by the alleged victim on the statement
This map is “signed off” on by both the County Assessment Dept. and the County Planning Dept.; it was included in the Town’s comprehensive plan, and was presented with those credentials as a factual representation. Residents were invited to place reliance on this map and approve the rezoning of half of the town from Rural/Agricultural to Agricultural only.
(5) Injury to the alleged victim as a result
This map was used by authorities to justify the enactment of restrictive policies against “non-farming” residents; further marginalizing the county’s rural poor — to promote Agriculture as the only preferred use of rural land, and to designate farmers as the sole and exclusive “stakeholders” in the rural community.
This map is included in the arguments of Town and County “representatives” who fostered citizen petitions to prevent the sale or rental of rural land for solar farms or for housing, and force highly-taxed rural landowners to sell cheaply to farmers; already the richest and most influential people in the community. The “consolidation” of rural land into the hands of ever-larger farming corporations; further enables the spread of “modern farming methods” that have been proven to cause “significant harm” to neighboring families.
A knowingly inaccurate map should neither have been created nor have been offered for inclusion in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan – a legal document that is described in NY Town Law as: “Among the most important powers and duties granted by the legislature to a town government.”
Additionally, whereas this map is offered as a proof of intent by the Town to protect land for continued agricultural use; the Town has sold the land that it rented for agriculture use to a housing developer — and a different Comprehensive Plan map shows that the Town plans to zone most of the agricultural land in the southern half of town for future residential and commercial development.
Just changing the legend and/or name of the map would only cover up the situation and retain any advantages that the misrepresentation has already given to the parties involved.
I sent these arguments in an email requesting that the County Legislature remove this map from its files and from any documents wherein it has been used, and to correct as much as possible the damage its use has caused.
Attachments included both the Agricultural Property map and the “clarification” email from the County Assessment Department.
There was no response or acknowledgement from any of the county’s 14 Legislators.
If it is ethics that give a government legitimacy; what does the County’s creation and continued use of this map represent?
The Town of Lansing’s 2016 Agricultural Property map is just one example of the deliberate misrepresentations that riddle the County’s planning agenda.
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