Friday, December 12, 2008

Man with a Plan

So Ken Wishnick, former town board member and longtime REALTOR®, is set to become the town's new planner. Ken has a degree in urban planning and, as I've learned with conversations with Ken over the past few years, a sincere interest in how things work in this community. We both were participants in the Chamber of Commerce's Economic Discussion Group, facilitated by the late Peter Rossi. Ken later took up the mantle of that group, reshaping and broadening its purpose. He also renamed it, but I can't for the life of me remember what it's called now.

Kitty Brown broke ranks with the remainder of the town council in voting against hiring Ken for this newly-minted, $41,000 a year part-time job (although at those rates, I seriously should consider working part-time for the town myself). She was concerned that only two candidates had been interviewed for the position, one that would wield considerable influence over the town's comprehensive plan. Toni Hokanson poo-pooed Kitty's misgivings, saying that she ran ads in several papers and advertised it on the planner's web site, so two candidates was all they were going to get.

According to Toni, they're just waiting for the green light from the town's Ethics Committee, since Ken plans on keeping up his real estate license. After all, Town Planner is only a part-time job worth about $60,000 a year with benefits, so Ken will need to do what has to do in order to keep food on the table.

Now I know Ken, and it's very likely that he is qualified to do the job. I do have a couple of questions, though.
  1. Did you think about a consultant? What's the rush to hire a new town employee when professional planners can be hired on an as-needed basis? The village uses Greenplan, a professional planning firm right in New Paltz, and there are probably a few others in the area that could be hired for big projects, or even on retainer.
  2. He wants to keep his real estate license? Are you kidding me? Why was this even brought up for a vote? I might not have voted for Ken even if he had already given up his license, because his perspective and experience are focused on land-as-investment. This is an important consideration for a businessman, but a municipal planner must consider issues in a broader context. If the Ethics Committee decides Ken doesn't need to give up his license, someone needs to take a long, hard look at our local laws.
  3. $41K and benefits is a part time job? I can hear Toni now explaining that the town needs to be competitive. I don't buy it. At the very least you need to find enough work to keep your planner busy for forty hours a week. I don't care if he's unbending staples, Toni, just keep him at his desk for forty hours. I'll bet Paul Brown is qualified to do that job, and he doesn't have a degree in Urban Planning, and he's at town hall for close to forty hours a week for free.
The bright spot is that having a planner in place is one of the stumbling blocks that the town has used to impede any meaningful update of the comprehensive plan. There are a lot more of them ahead, but this puts us one step closer to fixing what's broken.


rachel lagodka said...

The questions you raise under #2 are the reasons he never should have been considered for the position, let alone followed what looks like a dubious route through an appointment to and then stepping down from the town board. Yeah, now we have a planner. A real estate agent who thinks it might be OK to keep his license while making decisions that directly affect real estate.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes it helps to dig a bit deeper. I saw Ken and asked him about real estate conflicting with the town planner job. He had some thoughtful things to say, as he usually does. Ken strikes me as having an awful lot of integrity, something we could use a lot more of in our government. Ken told me he only represents clients buying or selling existing houses. He said he has NEVER represented a client that required planning or zoning board approval in any town. That is a world of difference from the innuendos being tossed about. Before we all run to burn him at the stake, how about we be a little civil this time and allow some real discussion before condemnation. Just remember that when you keep attacking the qualified people, guess who's left to represent us at the town. Take a good look at who's there now! I rest my case.

Anonymous said...

$41K for a part-time job in this economy and it only drew two applicants? Very hard to believe. Anonymous, I don't care if Wishnick is a saint or a rogue. Common sense says being a Realtor and a planner is a conflict. Don't try and turn legitimate concerns about this conflict into a personal attack. That's what people in these situations always try to do. Talk about counter-productive.