Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Paltz finds too many leaders leads to trouble |

New Paltz finds too many leaders leads to trouble |
My living inside the village has done nothing to convince me that the occasional trash pickups are worth the extra layer of government - or that we can't still have them anyway.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Police looking to demonstrate tasers

This week's paper reports that Chief Joe Snyder asked the Police Commission for its opinion on the police force purchasing tasers. Among other things, he said he would try to arrange for a live demonstration "if he could convince someone to do it."

I'll do it.

The article implies that the Chief was looking for a volunteer from the department, since "officers have to be tasered" as part of their training. It's commendable, but I think it's the wrong way to go. Officers who have experienced a taser in the past, and are trained to endure much tougher rigors than the rest of us, can't possibly provide an accurate representation of what this thing is like on the receiving end. Let's get a civilian volunteer, I thought, or demonstrate the taser on members of the Police Commission so they have a clear idea what they're being asked to approve.

Then I realized that it's fine to make that kind of suggestion, but no one's going to take it seriously. I also realized that I have no idea what a taser is like, and so I really shouldn't be forming opinions.

So why not? I can get tasered at the commission's next meeting and tell them what it's like. I've got an average build, average health, and a willingness to sign a waiver, as long as I get a copy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Code of Conduct statistics (now, with a title)

The superintendent's office prepared a response to my inquiries about the code of conduct, as promised. I did have to submit a formal request for this information, but I got far more than I really could have hoped for. Instead of simply allowing me to review the endless pages of statistics the district no doubt keeps, assistant superintendent Connie Hayes prepared a specific response to my request. This was a remarkably unobstructionist thing to do - they gave me exactly what I asked for, even though they weren't under any legal obligation to do so. It took some time, but that included doing the research, confirming what they legally could tell me, and checking with the Health Advisory Committee because I found a typo in the Code.

What I asked
Mostly, I wanted to know how many kids have been told to "go home" as punishment for something that they did. In the 2008-9 school year, 169 kids were suspended from school, none permanently. 122 of these, or 72%, were high schoolers; 45 (roughly 27%) were middle school students; the remaining two were attending Lenape. Most of the suspensions were for five days or less (149, more than 88% of cases) - this included the two Lenape students. Twenty kids were given longer out-of-school suspensions - nearly 12% of cases.

I also asked how the punishments fit the crimes. Interestingly, the offenses aren't reported using the same categories as are listed in the Code of Conduct, so the information was less clear. Here's the list in order of occurence, with my paraphrasing of the name of each offense:
  • Insubordination: 77
  • Willful acts to disrupt normal operations in school: 76
  • Disorderly conduct (includes abusive, lewd, and obscene behavior): 30
  • Misconduct on school bus: 30 (all Lenape)
  • Drug offenses: 20 (all high school)
  • Misuse of electronic devices: 9 (all middle school)
  • Stealing: 8
  • Tobacco: 6
Some interesting hints about the actual offenses come from the names of the discipline reports, "Cell Phones," "Inappropriate Language," "Disruptive Behavior," and "Insubordination." Did nine children actually get sent home for using a cell phone? Were another twenty given the boot for cursing out a teacher?

I realize that violent kids have no place in school, but how serious does a cell phone offense have to be to send a kid home? I was surprised at how few of these cases were related to drugs, but I have to wonder how serious the inappropriate language has to be to get the kid the reward he might just be looking for.

I'm glad the district made it so easy to discover the truth here - that we're awfully quick with the nuclear option of sending a kid home. Am I off-base in thinking we could make this a lot less common practice?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Undoing Racism in New Paltz

Doing the research for my letter to the New Paltz Times also made me curious about the Undoing Racism course that Mr. Rodriguez felt his fellow Trustees should be taking. What type of coursework was it?

Superintendent Rice told me to contact Ulster County BOCES, whose offices I contacted a little bit late on a Friday for anybody high up to be around the office. Administrative professionals do all the real work, but would rather not have their name attached to anything. I did find out that the program was actually created and presented by The People's Institute.

I did, last Monday, speak to a member of the Ulster County BOCES staff about the class. I have his name here, but he didn't actually ever give me permission to use it. Bloggers don't have a universal code of ethics, but I don't think it's right to mention someone's name if they don't say I can. For the most part he might have been reading from the link above, but he eventually told me something that was not on the web site - that New Paltz (the district) was a strong participant in the Undoing Racism class. Some people get uncomfortable or defensive during the program, but the attendees from New Paltz (which are many) "always stay to the end."

My Rodriguez letter to the New Paltz Times

After writing about my initial reactions to Edgar Rodriguez' racism accusations I decided to dig deeper into the matter. I wrote a letter to the New Paltz Times about the subject, which I present here as well. I know that NPT has about a billion times' the readership of the Gadfly, but there's no reason to deprive to two or three who read here and not there. (I also hope this post lasts longer than the month or so they keep their letters online.)

As a white male, I realize that I'm not permitted to have an opinion which runs contrary to a claim of racism. So, I will allow others more qualified to speak on my behalf today.

Trustee Edgar Rodriguez made such claims at a recent Board of Education meeting. It's not the first time he's felt discriminated against; Rodriguez filed a suit against SUNY New Paltz in 1984 alleging the same. In that case, Rodriguez claimed that he was denied tenure because of his race, while the court felt that SUNY was consistent in requiring Mr. Rodriguez complete his Ph.D., like others are required to do, and so found no evidence of racial bias.

At the Board of Education meeting in question, after Trustee Rodriguez left, Trustee Daniel Torres thanked the district for the many opportunities he had received as a student and pointed out that he had, earlier that day, attended the Latino Leadership Luncheon at Marist College where he is a student. Trustee Torres, himself a Latino, apparently does not feel the same racial tensions as Trustee Rodriguez.

Racism is an ugly thing that should be addressed immediately and quashed completely wherever it is found. Still uglier is making a false claim of racism to cloud the issue of the middle school's renovation, because it gives bigots ammunition for hatred and devalues the experience of real victims.

I don't doubt that Trustee Rodriguez is presently getting a frosty reception from other board members, but perhaps he should apply Occam's Razor and discard other, more likely possibilities as to why, such as his battleground mentality and dissemination of incorrect information about the project to the public. I am glad that he is willing to express a minority view, but he should check his facts if he wants to have any credibility, and he certainly shouldn't assume racism just because he's not being listened to.

My next post will be on what I learned about the Undoing Racism course.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Road Ahead

I can't stand politics and I'm grateful I don't have to see those signs on the roads for much longer. Instead I'm looking forward to what will be happening with the roads of New Paltz over the next couple of years.

One thing everyone agrees about is that Phil Johnson has done a good enough job in his tenure to keep New Paltz safe. That he managed to tick off both developers and environmentalists while doing so is impressive - it's hard to get those folks to agree on something, after all.

What New Paltz needs now is a smooth transition to the next Highway Superintendent. Phil and the entire department can give a real gift to the community by being as helpful as George Bush was to Barack Obama. I don't believe everything I read, and I'm sure Phil isn't so petty as to harm his home town by being uncooperative, but I hope he bends over backwards to make this a smooth ride.

Mike Nielson has many ideas that could be years in the future because the cost is prohibitive or the technology isn't ready yet, but there are things he can do this winter that will save the taxpayers money and save our delicate watershed from the impacts of human encroachment. Stormwater Magazine's newest issue's cover article is on road salt, and many of the ideas in it can be used here and now. For example, there's no reason we can't prewet our roads with brine (salty water) ahead of a storm, which has been proven to reduce icing, or reduce the amount of salt in road sand, which doesn't really do much other than keep the sand from sticking together.

Our roads are one place where embracing new strategies can save money and the environment, so there is no need to be at loggerheads about how to move forward.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mike and the Library WIN in New Paltz

C'mon People It Is Election Day

Based on voter counts taken at all the polling sites in New Paltz at 4:30pm it looks like turnout will be at about 30% today. C'mon people - it was 79% last year! Get out to your polling place and VOTE!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Who I will be voting for

For New Paltz Highway Superintendent: Mike Nielson - on the Working Families line.

For County Court Judge: Deborah Schneer - on the Working Families line.

For County Clerk: Gilda P. Riccardi for Ulster County Clerk - on the Working Families line.

For Town Board and Supervisor -- since the incumbents have a cake walk with both the Republican and Democratic lines -- who should we write in, just for kicks? I am thinking Jason West and/or Guy Kempe and/or Terence Ward - what are your thoughts?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Racism? orly?

Trustee Edgar Rodriguez dropped a very colorful ball during the circus that was the most recent Board of Education meeting. In amongst a series of bizarre votes and actions, some of which seem to have been made up on the spot by board members, Rodriguez gave the rest of the board the impression that he thought they were all racist. I'm sure I'll be accused of either being Eurocentric or hopelessly naive for saying so, but I didn't realize we had more than one race among the board members.

Middle School Renovation
Let's back up a bit. Edgar Rodriguez felt outnumberered on the Board of Education from the day he was elected, and from my conversations with him I believed it to be because the other members at the time were very conservative and didn't hold the same philosophies about taxation and education. The debate over the Middle School led at least two of the current members to run for the Board, and I figured that if anything, Edgar had made it into the majority of thought, but apparently the shift still left him out in the cold.

The details of the renovation have been discussed at recent BoE meetings, and last week a fellow Board member told me that Edgar was handing out information to the public that was "just flat-out wrong." In particular, he made notes in the margins of some financial statements that made claims about what the district currently owed that were incorrect - claims that were corrected at the most recent meeting by superintendent Maria Rice, and were also the focus of much of the shenanigans that occured.

To say that Edgar is not quite decided on the fate of the Middle School is both fair and understandable. He voted to move forward with renovation over building anew, a project that would have cost far more in the long run but less per year, but now he's expressing concerns about the senior citizens in New Paltz (although maybe this project will get them moving into Woodland Pond more quickly, so the first residents won't have to pay extra if the facility isn't filled up - a bizarre contract clause that the Woodland Pond Board thought appropriate to foist upon their neighbors . . . but, I digress). I would probably have trouble balancing the needs to the community, too, because the property tax model pits our children against our elderly. I get that.

Let's not let the public see this
At the last meeting, Rodriguez' ambivalence was a focus. Trustee Patrick Rausch, according to the New Paltz Times, wanted to move to executive session to work out the disagreement. That's a creative use of executive session if I ever saw one. I may just try it on the Village Planning Board. Oh, wait, that's right, they would ask me the legal justification for the motion and I'd either talk out my butt or sit there with my mouth agape, because you can't just go into executive session because you disagree. Public meetings are about public debate, right?

Then Rausch tried a different tack, suggesting that they close the meeting and enter a "retreat" to discuss their differences. The fact that they seriously discussed this possibility would lead me to believe that Rausch didn't make this idea up on the spot, but I'm still not convinced. It sounds to me like another way to dodge the Open Meetings Law, like when they denied Rodriguez the right to attend Facilities Committee meetings (even as a spectator) so that the meetings wouldn't have to be open to the public. This kind of secrecy makes me want to vote "no" on anything they bring before me - what could you possibly have to say to each other that you can't say in public? How do you intend on treating this man?

But . . . the race card?
Edgar Rodriguez, who left the meeting early after casting the only vote against not adjourning it, told his fellows trustees he would not go to a retreat with them unless they all attend the "Undoing Racism" course. He was later quoted as saying, ". . . I am getting differential treatment on the board. And I'm starting to believe that it is because of my racial ethnicity."

As I said above, I never thought of Edgar as being a member of a different race than the remainder of the school board. There are three races, I was taught, and they are characterized by physical differences. Edgar does not possess a high melanin content, broad nose and lips, and highly kinked hair; nor does he have an epicantic fold that changes the appearance of his eyes. Granted, his skin lacks the particularly pasty quality of mine, but it's no darker than that of my Italian friends, and I'm certain that I share a race with them.

Did nature evolve a race of people with a genetic predisposition for fluency in Spanish that I am not aware of? Well Dan Torres should be a member of that race and be getting similar treatment. In fact, each of the board members seems to occupy a different racial profile: woman, firefighter, entrepreneur, IBMer . . . aren't these all races? No?

I don't think Edgar is wrong to believe he's being picked on, but I think it's got nothing to do with race, ethnicity, gender, or any of those qualities which he cannot control and from which genuine discrimination springs. Edgar has sat on this board long enough to see it swing from one end of the political continuum to the other and it change from almost entirely white men to a body diverse in ethnicity and representing both genders. I think that if he's still feeling like he's left out in the cold, that it might be more about how he behaves as a trustee of the Board of Education. It's about dispensing inaccurate information, the victim mentality, and not knowing how to conduct yourself when you hold a minority view in an elected body. If you want to be a kid, go trick-or-treating. We need adults handling our schools, thank you.

The Board of Education seems to be an illegally secretive body, but those secrets don't look like they have anything to do with race. I only wish that the much-needed shakeup on this Board could occur before the Middle School matter is voted on by the public, so that we can separate that question from these childish shenangins.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why I Like Mike

This was my nominating speech for Mike Nielson at the Democratic caucus.

My name is kt Tobin Flusser and tonight I have the honor of nominating my friend Mike Nielson for Town of New Paltz Highway Superintendent.

Let me tell you why I like Mike.

Last winter, Mike told me he intended to run for Highway Superintendent. At that time I knew very little about the job and wondered why Mike would consider this a goal to aspire to.

Looking back, less than a year later, I have to ask: who would have thought that we could all get so excited about a Highway Superintendent candidate? Who would have thought we all would know so much more about what the job entails and how significantly the highway department impacts our daily lives?

Mike made that happen. He has energized and informed the public about the vital role the Highway Department plays in so many areas - and he has clearly outlined its specific impacts on our economy, on sustainability, and on recreation in our community.

For the past few months, we have been reading in the newspaper and hearing from many of our friends about Mike’s accomplishments. And from Mike himself we have learned his clearly articulated goals for our Highway Department.

Mike grew up in New Paltz and his wife Nikki hails from Gardiner. They are raising their adorable daughter Norah, a fifth generation Nielson, only four doors down from Mike’s great grandfather’s original house on Plains Road.

I like Mike because he is a life-long resident who knows our roads well — as a driver, a runner, and a cyclist. Our community is so blessed that someone with these varied perspectives and knowledge of our roads is running for this position. Plus, Mike is an approachable guy with a can-do attitude who has pledged to work towards providing pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle-friendly sustainable roads in our community.

Mike is a courageous person who has already served New Paltz for many years in our volunteer fire department. He is also a successful local business owner. I like that Mike will take a balanced approach to infrastructure challenges with a focus on the environment and our local economy. I believe he will be a great leader for the employees of the highway department, which is one of the largest in our town.

Mike has a wealth of experience directly relevant to running a Highway Department. Through his work in his own business which he has appropriately offered to set aside for the duration of his term, his volunteerism, and his athleticism, he offers a unique combination of skill sets that are truly suited to the job he is seeking.

The fact that he is a parent, a local business owner, a life-long New Paltz resident, a firefighter, a union member, a homeowner, a taxpayer, a runner, a cyclist, a civic volunteer, and a person who is concerned with both our environment and our local economy, proves he is exactly what we need in a Highway Superintendent.

Our community needs intelligent, thoughtful, and visionary leaders to meet the specific challenges facing New Paltz. Mike Nielson will be such a leader and because he possesses the strength of character and all the necessary qualities and skills needed for this position, he will be an exceptional Highway Superintendent when elected.

It is time to rethink the road ahead.

Vote for Mike Nielson on Tuesday November 3rd!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sign Law Update

Last Thursday, I had a work commitment and was late to the public hearing on the sign law. Thanks Town Board for letting me chime in on the topic later during open public comment. In a nutshell, my concerns were: elimination of the ban on internally illuminated lights, the increase in the allowable size of signs, and finally, the irrationality of the current signage (particularly in the area of the Stop and Shop and Cherry Hill plazas) and the misconception that the proposed changes were the best way to help local businesses – that rather than focusing on illumination and size, the focus should be on a level playing field in terms of directory signage.

I did find out via Lagusta’s Facebook status that there was some civility in the room during the public hearing… “Wow. I went to a Town Board meeting tonight, listened, said my piece, listened some more, everyone was relatively polite and intelligent (including our elected officials) and I left feeling like some real progress might be made. It was totally illuminating (that was a pun--the meeting was about illuminated signage!). What's happening to this world????”

Town Supervisor Toni Hohanson reported that she went around town and measured the brightness of existing externally illuminated signs. According to her very unscientific, but much appreciated informal study, only one sign in town currently meets the proposed new requirement for illumination - “(the) average level of illumination on the vertical surface shall not exceed three (3) foot-candles”. The one sign was the college sign on Rt. 208. Hmm… I know this sign, it is very dimly lit sign – which prompts a few questions:
1) Does this mean that any new signs – externally or internally lit – will need to be this dim? If so, good.
2) What does this mean for any currently existing signs? How long till business owners will have to comply with these new standards?
3) Any chance we could require these lights have zero carbon footprint? As in, be solar powered – if they are so dim, is this not possible?
4) Um, why bother fighting for illuminated lights if they are so dim?

In the debate on the sign law revisions, a huge misconception arose about opponents' collective opinion of the signage in town. Let’s be clear –opponents do not like the signage in our town, especially in the “Stop and Shop” and “Cherry Hill” area, and the concerns voiced were out of a fear that the proposed changes would make the situation worse – not a blind acceptance of the status quo. Of course, we want to make the signage better – less ugly, more rational, more helpful. Further, I would fully support a sign law that gave preferential treatment to local businesses, but I have no idea if you can legally do that.

Brighter is not necessarily better – nor is bigger. How can we maintain the community character we all cherish, support our local businesses, and make our town more navigable for residents and visitors alike? Those are the fundamental questions that need to be addressed, and the first set of proposed revisions to the law did not satisfactorily do that.

One other afterthought on this debate about revising the sign law: Joyce Minard and Craig Shankles are great citizens who do a TON for our community – I respect them both a great deal, but to only have business people on the sign law committee was a big mistake. It was only Joyce, Craig, and Toni Hokanson on the committee. There should have been at least one historic, one environmental/green, and perhaps other voices represented. This process might have been a little less contentious had there been a greater diversity of opinions on the committee. At a minimum, the appearance of stacking the deck with a business perspective would have been avoided.

After the public hearing, the board spent a considerable amount of time revising the revisions presented to them and have sent out the new copy to their lawyer. I am not sure if there will need to be another public hearing, but if so, we will post the announcement here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Vote for Our Hot Local Farmer

Vote for Billiam for Favorite Hot Farmer.

How will your Halloween be?

New Paltz does Halloween very, very well, but I don't know that anyone's ever tried to quantify how well. I've been writing a series of articles on Halloween in New Paltz, and I need help to write one on trick-or-treating. Would you please share this survey with anyone and everyone you know who lives in New Paltz?

Take survey here.

"NO" on the Library

I respect my fellow Gadfly's opinions, but on this matter we must differ. Here's the letter I wrote to the New Paltz Times explaining why:

I'm an avid reader and I spent a good chunk of my childhood trolling my local library for new books. The librarians all knew my name and were happy to suggest titles I might like. My parents voted "yes" for the library's budget every year when it came up, as we lived in a community that had a library which taxed the residents directly and submitted its annual budget to the voters for consideration. And yet, when a kindly supporter of Elting called me to ask my intentions on the upcoming vote, I was on the fence. I've done more reading on the subject and reached a difficult conclusion.

I support funding Elting Memorial Library. I think we can afford to give them more money than we do now. But Proposition 414 is not the way to do it.

This proposition asks, "Shall the annual contribution of the Town of New Paltz provided in its budget for the Elting Memorial Library, a free association library, located at New Paltz, New York, be increased by one-hundred fifty-one thousand ($151,000.00) dollars annually to three hundred twenty-one thousand ($321,0000.00) dollars annually?" Unlike the mechanism that our library (and all town departments and other outside agencies) presently use, this would not be revisited every year. The library would get that same $321,000 every year unless and until a new proposition was passed by the voters to change it. We would no longer have the ability to ask our library's Board of Directors how they've been spending our money, which is a standard to which we hold our fire and police departments, the ambulance corps which is contracted to rush us to the hospital, our schools and the good people that keep our roads paved and free of obstructions.

I'm prepared to swallow a bigger chunk of library funding in my taxes, but I don't expect the increase to be quite as high as Prop 414 is asking -- mostly because I don't expect our Town Council to support such an increase in an election year. It's not very fair to the library to stake its fate on the political climate, but it's also not very fair to suggest that we should accept an "opt out" tax increase (since we would have to "opt out" by passing another proposition) when every other level of government as some sort of "opt in" mechanism in the form of an annual budget that is either approved by voters or by duly-elected representatives of those voters.

If the Board of Directors of the library feels that the town government is unwilling to share its expenses fairly, I respectfully suggest exploring the option of establishing a library district. Then the library would have the right to bring its case directly to the people -- and every year, the people would have the right to say "no."

“YES” on the Library

When I step into the polling booth this coming Election Day, before continuing down the ballot to make my candidate selections, I'll be voting “YES” on referendum number 3: Proposition 414.

A “YES” vote will ensure that our local Elting Library has the adequate funds to: preserve and increase its inventory of books and materials, continue to provide cultural and educational programs and events, increase its hours (in particular, to Sundays), provide free access to books and inter-library loans from 66 libraries across our region, and maintain staffing to do all of these things. A rejection certainly threatens the library’s ability to provide these services and might even cause it to close.

Why is the library requesting this funding? Most libraries in our region receive 90% or more of their funding from their local municipal budgets. The Town of New Paltz, for the past five years, has provided a much lower amount - 48% of Elting Library’s operating budget. A “YES” vote brings our library’s funding in line with its regional neighbors.

Since the new library building was constructed (which by the way is fully paid for), as a result of the expansion of space and services and the decline in our economy, library usage has increased tremendously. We need our library now more than ever – for children seeking books and after-school programs, for people seeking employment or better employment via available newspapers and online resources, for community organizations in need of space to hold their meetings and events, and for people seeking free educational, cultural, and intellectual resources.

Some people are concerned that the library will get this money no matter what happens in each budget cycle. But that cuts both ways, it also means they cannot receive any budget increases without coming back to the voters. Others have proposed that we take more time considering alternatives. While other models for funding libraries do exist, such as becoming a public library or creating a library district, this is the solution that our library is presenting to us now so that they can keep their doors open for the next year – and it is the right choice, right now.

If you want our library to stay open and be fully functional for the next year, then on November 3rd vote “YES” on the library referendum. Elting Library is a gem in the heart of our community. Let’s make sure it can continue to thrive.

For more info, visit the library webpage.

And of course, after voting “YES” for the library, don't forget to pull the lever for Mike Nielson for Highway Superintendent while you're in there.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Keep the Town Sign Law “As Is”

It is not uncommon for municipalities in our region to ban internally illuminated signs. In Ulster and Dutchess counties, the following municipalities do not allow them: (Towns) Amenia, Clinton, Dover, Gardiner, Hyde Park, LaGrange, Milan, Rhinebeck, Shawangunk, Stanford, Unionvale, and Washington; (Villages) Red Hook, Rhinebeck, and Wappingers Falls. In the City of Kingston, they are prohibited in the RFR district. In 2001, New Paltz was a trendsetter when it passed our current sign law banning illuminated signage. But now, the town is considering revising the law to allow them.

Why do communities ban internally lit signs? There are many reasons, including, but not limited to: negative impacts on community character, negative consequences for attracting tourism, and light pollution. As a result, it is also bad for business.

New Paltz has a unique community character, built out of a rich history and an active citizenry that has worked hard to maintain this uniqueness, to not have our town turn into “anywhere America”. New Paltz’s attractiveness to tourists is built upon this character, and will be diminished by the “strip mall” appearance lighted signs bring.

Internally illuminated lights along our main street corridor will diminish our distinctive character. Maintaining this character is critical to the success of our local economy, and keeps our town attractive to residents and visitors alike. Eight years ago, our town leadership worked hard to craft and pass a sign law that reflected this community character, and we should keep those laws in place.

There is a public hearing this Thursday 10/22 on the proposed new sign law, Town Hall at 7pm.

School Code of Conduct update

I stopped by the district office yesterday and spoke with the District Clerk. She confirmed that my request for information about how the code of conduct is implemented was received (I wasn't sure, having never gotten any response to my email), and that the data I requested couldn't be compiled until next month. The Health Advisory Committee needs to meet and discuss some kind of error in the code first, apparently.

Maybe it has to do with the wisdom of having a zero-tolerance policy?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Is this Legal?

(A letter from the incumbent Town of New Paltz Highway Superintendent to this week's New Paltz Times)

Do you want to know the truth about the New Paltz Highway Department and how it is run and how it works? Do you want to make an educated vote on Election Day -- one that you know will affect your community and you as a taxpayer?

I invite all concerned citizens to visit the Highway Garage, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and talk with me, my Deputy Jennifer or any employee. You will be provided with a tour and your questions will be answered.

If you are unable to come to the Highway Garage, call my office at 255-5050 and schedule an appointment. I will come to your home to speak with you or pick you up and provide transportation to and from the Highway Garage.

Phil Johnson, Superintendent of Highways
Town of New Paltz

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Blurry Party Lines

I guess New Paltz is not the only place where there are blurry party lines.

Blaber News reports that some heavy hitter Ulster County Democrats have donated to Republican county level candidates.

I believe this includes some Democrats on the county Democratic committee. (Jeremy - can you confirm?)

And, yes, that is New Paltz's Joe O'Connor's law firm that donated to the Republican campaigns.

Friday, October 2, 2009

We need a clear plan for disciplining our kids

If you've ever watched Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader, you've probably been stumped by a fair amount of the questions that throw at the contestants. Some of them are bloody hard, but that's good - it prepares our kids for much tougher things, like reading the Code of Conduct for the New Paltz Central School District.

Some background: every year the Health Advisory Committee, a group of faculty, parents, and community members appointed by the Board of Education, review and revise the district's code of conduct. Then the Board reviews what they say, and approve some form of it.

What the actual Code ends up being is a Gordian knot of vague statements supported by endless appendices that is damned near impossible to decipher. The actual Code lays out what's expected, because it frames it in a positive light. However, this means that one might want to look up in a stressful hurry - say, what happens when you or your kid is accused of doing something wrong - you discover it all crammed in the back, as if it were an afterthought. To make things even more fun, the list of prohibited conduct is one appendix, and the consequences comprise another one entirely. What this means is that you have to find the bad behavior in Attachment C, and then cross-reference it against the list of punishments in Attachment D.

I'm sure that all of these hard-working volunteers have the very best of intentions, but it makes me recall the joke about a camel being a horse built by committee. And the organization of the document hides some even more troublesome facts.

When I was a kid, it was universally accepted that there could be no more terrible punishment than having to sit quietly in a room, doing nothing, for an entire school day. Okay, maybe some schoolwork if you were lucky enough to have a teacher send some down (and you'd be begging for that to happen after a couple of hours), but no talking, standing, moving, singing, sleeping, leaving, or enjoying was permitted. There were always tales about that really bad kid who decked the principle and got expelled, but that was serious stuff - it never happened to someone you knew or anything.

I'm finding that in the New Paltz Code of Conduct, the phrase "permanent suspension" (which sounds like Newspeak for "expelled") is popular - it's a listed consequence for twenty-four different offenses, ranging from violence and theft to lying and using an MP3 player. I emailed the superintendant on September 18 requesting some fairly detailed information about how often this and related consequences (suspension from school, as opposed to in school suspension) were actually meted out last school year; as of this writing I haven't even heard whether or not she intends on supplying me with those data.

Removing a misbehaving child from the classroom is often a good idea, and in extreme circumstances I'm sure it's useful to keep them out of the building, too. But in a world were parents have to work, being sent home isn't so much a punishment as it is an abdication of responsibility. If a kid brings a weapon to school, of course the first priority is safety, but shouldn't the second be to figure out what's up with this kid? That might be harder if they're, oh, wandering the streets for an extra four hours a day (figuring two hours a day is being spent with a district-supplied tutor). If it's serious enough to keep the kid out of school, it should also be serious enough to keep the kid in a juvenile hall or psychiatric facility. Any kid that isn't in one of those categories shouldn't be sent home as a reward for "Engaging in any willful act that disrupts the normal operation of the school community." (prohibited conduct A9).

So my concerns about the existing Code of Conduct are three:
  1. It's so badly organized as to appear to be deliberately confusing,
  2. It permits removal of children from school when that may be detrimental to both the child and the community, and
  3. It provides so much latitude in meting out punishments that a child could be expelled for lying (prohibited conduct D1).
Let's keep the kids in the classroom, or at least the school, unless it's dangerous to do so - and get those kids the help they need, instead. Understanding that the current Code provides flexibility so that an administrator won't find her hands tied when she needs to act, let's take another look at whether or not the punishment fits the crime. And to make any of that possible, let's make some real changes to how the Code reads, so that's it's understandable to the layman instead of the lawyer.

Otherwise, what are we teaching our kids?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Where there's smoke . . .

About a month ago, the Village Planning Board reviewed an application for an unusual special use permit: two entrepreneurs want to turn the old Peak Performance building into a hookah and oxygen bar, combining the upscale tobacco scene of New York City with the purified oxygen venues popular in Los Angeles. A public hearing was set more than enough time in advance, and notice of the hearing was published in the local paper. The applicants didn't spring any last-minute information on the Board, and one could practically hear the crickets chirping at the meeting.

Last week the local paper covered the business, Zikibiki's, again as controvery finally stirred up.
Even with ventilator units, opponents of the hookah and oxygen bar are will worried about secondhand smoke, Prevention Connections Associate Director Heather Ohlson said.

Pity opponents weren't worried enough to show up at the public hearing, a vehicle designed to ensure that public concerns are addressed. In fact, member Thomas Rocco was very concerned about ventilation, and the Board required installation of a system which will be much more expensive than what the prevailing laws require.
Opponents are also suddenly concerned about the proximity to the Middle School - it's just a block away, and they feel this could encourage tobacco use among these impressionable youngsters in a way that the deli which sells cigarettes between the two locations doesn't.
On Zikibiki's Facebook group page, there are only a handful of comments. However, one comes from a teenage boy who asks "will this be the open to people of all ages, I would be very interested, but I'm 14."
For [Shari] Kanner that post alone proves that their point has merit. "There really is a concern about a 14-year-old smoking from a hookah."

Kanner may have been mollified if she spoken to the boy, like I did. Aaron Rudder is a New Paltz High School sophomore who speaks and writes eloquently, and plays several musical instruments. I asked Aaron about his comments on Zikibiki's page and his interest in the business. Turns out that Aaron has zero interest in using tobacco, ladies; he was asking because he's curious about the purified oxygen. Aaron points out on Zikibiki's group page that "according to New York State law, the only laws relating to tobacco, are that you cannot smoke indoors, and you must be 18 to purchase it" as opposed to an age restriction for admission, like bars use. His arguments are entirely in support of his interest in trying out the oxygen, something which took me about five minutes of work to determine.

When one puts together all the available information on this business, it's interesting to note that it appears the cart is driving the horse. A special use permit was approved, but the building itself still has a "for lease" sign in the window. This might be because there's no money yet to fund the project, as evidenced on the Facebook page, which is essentially a request for venture capital. A business selling tobacco near a school, but which doesn't have any money to mount a meaningful legal defense, is pretty low-hanging fruit to grab. Maybe if Susan Zimet had paid a fraction of that much of her attention to Woodland Pond, we'd have a senior community that wasn't a gigantic eyesore from ridge that draws most of New Paltz' tourist traffic.

People are asking why this went through so easily. Simply put, they followed the rules and didn't have a bunch of people lined up against them like the Main Course did. Public participation is vital to ensuring that a planning board makes the right decision for the community and within existing laws, and if no one raises a question it's much harder for the Planning Board to answer it.

Democratic Caucus Results

Uncontested Races
Town Board: Kitty Brown and Jeff Logan
Justice: Jonathan Katz

Contested Races

Town Supervisor
Toni Hokanson 152
Josh Honig (nominated from the floor) 80

Highway Superintendent
Mike Nielson 169
Phil Johnson 77

Worthy of note: Corrinne Nyquist was set to be Caucus Chair, but Brian Kimbiz and Jon Sennett were nominated from the floor. Sennett won by an overwhelming vote.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

New Paltz Film Competition Via Bill Mulcahy's Eyes

Check out Bill Mulcahy's pre-show visit at the New Paltz Second Annual Film Contest

and i quote, "kt flusher's going, oh that should be good!"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Update on the police accident

At the Police Commission meeting Thursday night, Chief Snyder gave some details about the July police collision that wounded two officers and killed a third. The accident report has been finalized, so the Chief was able to share some details that would have only been opinion prior.

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Officer Judge was proceeding northbound on North Putt Corners Lane, emergency lights on, responding to a call. Officer Knoth was responding to the same call, and was driving behind Officer Judge's vehicle in the same direction, without his emergency lights on. The distance between the two vehicles was not mentioned by the Chief, but my sense is that Officer Judge may have been aware that there was a vehicle behind his own.

Dispatch called Officer Judge off the original call to respond to a residential alarm, and he slowed to turn around by making a left turn into Erman Lane. Officer Knoth, aware that his fellow officer would be turning around to respond to a different call, assumed that Officer Judge would simply pull off to the right and thereafter make a U-turn. However, Officer Judge, unaware that the vehicle behind his was Officer Knoth's police cruiser, elected to make the left turn instead. Officer Knoth collided with Officer Judge essentially because he expected his fellow officer to zig, when in fact he zagged.

The Chief said that speed was a contributing factor, and that the emergency lights should have been operating on Officer Knoth's vehicle. I asked about the use of turn signals by police, but he declined to go into that much detail about the accident. I suspect that police officers in emergency conditions do not generally use turn signals, and have observed them declining to do so under non-emergency conditions a number of times. I don't know if using a signal would have prevented this accident, since I imagine that they aren't as easy to see with emergency lights on, but I hope the Department elects to require its officers to do so consistently in the future. Even for police officers, being aware of what other drivers plan on doing can prevent terrible accidents like this, and if using a signal increases accident avoidance by even .000005%, I think it would be well worth it.

May the injured officers recover and the deceased officer rest well after more than six years of service.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Republican Caucus Results

Town Supervisor: Toni Hokanson
Town Board: Kitty Brown, Jeff Logan
Highway Superintendent: Phil Johnson beat Mike Nielson by 1 vote, 24-23.

Mike was not there, this was not a nomination he was seeking. He was nominated from the floor by Terence Ward and seconded by Jerry Benjamin. (According to reports, there was a crowd of seconders.) This nomination was a complete surprise to Mike.

Turnout was the highest it has been in years. I don't have the actual numbers, but I do not think Toni, Jeff, or Kitty had any significant opposition.

Well, now we know who the Republican candidates are, on Monday we'll find out about the Democrats.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

School supplies don't have to break the bank

Second in an occasional series about Family of New Paltz.

Today's the first day of school in New Paltz, when parents and kids alike are filled with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. One thing that parents shouldn't have to worry about is making sure that their kids have adequate school supplies.

In addition to running a food pantry in New Paltz, Family accepts and distributes school supplies to people who are having trouble making ends meet, but not so much trouble that they received a check for school supplies from New York State. What they can give depends largely upon what's been donated by area businesses and residents, but depending on their ages children can get notebooks, paper, pens, pencils, crayons, and maybe even a book bag, although those are few and far between.

Interested families should find out what their teachers are asking for and stop in to Family to see what's available. Not every child will be able to be helped since these items are in short supply, so families should be willing to take the bare minimum that they need so as to leave as much for others as possible.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Gadfly Caption Contest

Entries for this photo, taken of Terence by kt, will be accepted through Monday, September 14th.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What is the plural of caucus? (3)

First off, I moved to New Paltz in 1989. By my math, that is 20 years ago, not a mere 20 minutes ago.*

A front page article in the New Paltz Times this week makes it sounds like Butch Dener is referring to me when he dismisses a critique of statements made here on the Gadfly because the comments were made by “someone who has lived in New Paltz for maybe 20 minutes” … but according to him he was referencing someone who made comments submitted to the blog, not the blogger (me). That is a significant distinction, don’t you think? (Sorry, I would like to link to the New Paltz Times article that makes this misrepresentation, but alas, it is NOT online.) That said, I do disagree with rejecting someone’s input based on the amount of the time they have spent in the community we all share.

Secondly, my last entry on this topic was NOT a correction.

Update, yes. Correction, no. At no time did I say in the original blog post that the incumbents went running to the Republican Party. And to evade the point that they did indeed interview – a first step that is clearly an explicit move towards seeking a nomination – with a party whose platform is in direct contrast with their party of registration - is smoke and mirrors. And the three incumbent candidates I have spoken to – Toni, Kitty, and Jeff – were all quite frank that they are quite open to the potential Republican nomination.

Again, it does remain to be seen whether or not they will get or inevitably accept a Republican nomination. However, I stand by my criticism of them even considering the idea. That is how I feel, what I believe. They feel differently. It is a disagreement among friends, among people who care about New Paltz. Nothing more, nothing less.

kt Tobin Flusser
*In 1989, I moved here to attend SUNY New Paltz, which I graduated from in 1992. When my husband and I were first married we had a brief sojourn to the “other side of the mountain” and northern Ulster from 1994 to 1996. In 1997, we moved back – we had our first child and wanted to be back in New Paltz, especially so we would be in this school district.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Meating the Need

First of an occasional series about Family of New Paltz.
I've spent some time at Family of New Paltz helping out recently, and I've gained a broader perspective on all the food drives held during the year to benefit them. I've been a pretty typical donor to those drives, I think: I look in my pantry for stuff that we haven't eaten and probably never will and toss it in the collection bin. I've learned a few things about how Family (and probably other food banks) operates which will inform my donations, and might even change my philosophy on people in need.

Crisis in Timing
Family of New Paltz gets a big chunk of food every month from a food bank service, but this month the timing sucks. The food bank is involved indoing an inventory that will keep Family from its regular pickup until late September. Typically the regular food drives are enough to supplement what they get, but August was a light month, with only one drive by the Green Party, and even though they were packed to the gills last week, most everything's gone now. August is a time of vacations, so I doubt there's ever a lot of drives in August. And this year, of course, a hell of a lot more people are out of work and looking for help. The end of the month always sees a spike in demand, because Family only gives out emergency food every 30 days to the same people, so typically those packages are picked up when the food stamps have already run out.

Dare I say it? It's the perfect storm in hunger?

What to do?
If you want to know all the reasons why I think Family and organizations like it should have to be providing food to people, stop me in the street. You'll probably condemn me as a heartless conservative, but I'll tell you what I think. However, if you think you'd be nodding along with me as I go on my rant, read on as I try to convince you that now's the time to do a little more.

The economy's in the crapper, not because the Republicans free market deregulation old-boy-network system didn't work, but because they didn't have the guts to let the cycle finish because some companies are "too big to fail." Yes, I believe that George W. Bush's biggest economic mistake was demonstrating that he's not a conservative, doesn't have faith in the American people, and doesn't believe that capitalism actually works. There are no atheist in foxholes, they say, and apparently there are no free market economists in a recession. The Great Recession was lengthened and deepened by a failure to stick to solid Republican values when they were needed most. So if you're conservative, if you're Republican, and if you were secretly disgusted with Bush, please recognize that many people are now down and out because he ran the Republican philosophy into the ground. It's not your fault that many people believe that Republicans are soulless and uncaring, but it's up to you to show them how wrong they are. I know you believe in individual responsibility, as do a lot of people that were screwed by this recession, so take responsibility for paying it forward by buying a couple of things and dropping them off at Family.

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What food do they need?
I've always held the attitude that beggars can't be choosers, but I have to call shenanigans on myself here. If we all take the creamed corn out of the pantry and buy a box of spaghetti, there's going to be a lot of badly-balanced meals out there. I've seen the kitchen there, and I have asked the staff what's most needed so you can get a better idea of what to give.
  • Meat. Do you buy meat in bulk, either delivered to your house or from Sam's Club or just when it's on sale? Grab a steak or some chicken legs from your freezer. Every food package is supposed to have some meat in it, and even giving only one piece to a family the stuff always goes fast.
  • Vegetables. Many area farms donate extra fresh produce (the Gardens for Nutrition even has a plot that volunteers tend just for that purpose), so during the summer there are days when there's lots, but of course they don't keep. Canned vegetables are a great supplement to those donations.
  • Fruit. Canned fruit never stays on the shelves.
  • Cereal. Every emergency food package should get a box of cereal, and does if there's any around. People generally donate stuff that's a little more nutritious than Froot Loops, which I'm sure is a disappointment to the kids but generally better for their teeth.
Family has an awful lot of pasta, and it makes meals stretch a long way, but this week you can probably get more of a bang for your buck with another food donation choice.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What is the plural of caucus? (2)

My post on the Republican caucus inspired a lot of spirited emails and phone calls... Please, a reminder - a "gadfly is used to describe someone who persistently challenges people in power, the status quo, or popular positions". The fact that this riled up so many of you - so much so - that many of you felt the need to communicate with me with such anger and horror and a strong, strong need to clarify, means, well, that the Gadfly is doing her job well.

That said, here's some updates:
1) The Democratic incumbents who were not nominated by their own party did not seek out the Republican party. The Republican party chair, Butch Dener, initiated, as in, he invited them.
2) Just because they were all amenable to the idea of the interview, not all of them interviewed. Jeff Logan was out of town and Jonathan Katz because of a "brain freeze" by Butch. :)
3) Just because they were open to the idea of interviewing, that does not mean we know whether or not they will or will not attend the caucus, will or will not get nominated, and/or accept or reject the Republican nomination if so chosen. That all remains to be seen - for all of the candidates.

Okay, enough for today. I will have a lot more to say about local politics, partisanship, and strategy - so stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Woodland Ponds: A view from the Table

I haven't read the live blogging that went on during the Village Planning Board meeting last night, because I want to articulate my thoughts without being distracted by whatever excellent points my esteemed coblogger may have made.

Last night's meeting was long, hot, and complex. I'm grateful as many people showed up as did, and that as many of them stayed for the duration as did. I'm glad that Bill Mulcahy recorded most of it before he had to go, and that three Village Board members were in attendance.

I'm particularly thrilled with my colleague Linda Welles for doing such a fine job of expressing our frustrations. She told the Woodland Pond representatives that it's completely unfair to come to us for solutions to problems that were out there from day one, screaming about urgencey because they need to get people moved in next month or their funding will dry up. It's not only unfair to the Planning Board, it's terribly unfair to the people who have been planning on moving in to the facility.

I have found that the more aggressively an applicant wants to push forward with an agenda item, the more it makes me want to slow down and look more carefully at the information. Why are you pushing me to judgment? Is it because you just realized we meant it when we made you agree to these conditions, or is it because you're afraid if I look too closely that I will see things that may sway my decision in a direction you don't care for? Like Linda, I'm going to make my decision on the facts; but I for one won't be bullied into making that decision before I think the facts are all before me.

I found it incredibly refreshing that so many senior citizens were in attendance, but I regret that we don't have a public comment period at our meetings, because I really would have liked to have heard what they had to say. There were also many environmentalists in attendance, but they're quite good at making their views known to me. Since we don't have a public comment period, I would like to extend an invitation to people to comment here, email me, or call me to share their views. I want to know what people think, because that's my job. I won't put my full number here on the internet, but 9947 is all you really need to know to find me.

The chairman, Ray Curran, did a spectacular job of reminding the applicant that this urgency was created by circumstances unrelated to the Planning Board, and that the urgency doesn't mean we won't look at the issues as thoroughly as we would any other matter. In fact, I would go so far as to say he held their feet to the fire. He also controlled the meeting like a pro, keeping myself, the other members, and the applicant's representatives on point.

I wish the Woodland Pond Board would show up to the next meeting so I can meet these local folks and make sure that they know we aren't doing anything to hold up their approvals, and that any delays are simply related to the fact that the Planning Board has a job to do, and we owe it to the community to do the best job we can.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What is the plural of caucus?

I have written a bit about the Dems in this town, along with their impending caucus on Monday Sept 14th - At the high school at 7:00pm New Paltz Democrats! I know of no new candidates since I blogged last on the topic.

But there is another caucus in this town, held by the Republicans. It will be held on Wednesday, Sept 9th, 7:00pm at the Town of New Paltz Community Center (behind Town Hall).

Interestingly enough, ALL Democrats up for reelection - Toni Hokanson, Jeff Logan, Kitty Brown, Jonathan Katz, Phil Johnson - those same registered, incumbent Dems that their own party chose not to endorse - interviewed with the Republican party - as in, they are seeking the Republican endorsement and ballot line.

Can we all say BLECH! I am not a strident Democrat, but this is ridic people! I am one of those people who actually thinks there is a difference between the Democrats and Republicans, and switching hats for political expediency, for me, is well, shameless and pathetic.

As a registered Democrat (albeit conflicted), this will certainly impact my vote at the Democratic caucus.

According to Butch Dener, the only invited, announced candidate to decline an interview was Mike Nielson for Highway Superintendent. Mike is a registered Democrat who has already been endorsed by the Working Families and Independence Party. Mike says his views are not in line with the Republican Party, and he is focusing on beating his opponent, Phil Johnson, at the Democrat Caucus (and at the polls in November). I like his style.

There is one Republican seeking a nomination at the Republican Caucus. As per Butch, Ken Campbell has expressed a desire to be nominated. I know him not at all, except that he wrote a poorly written letter in support of Phil Johnson in the New Paltz Times a couple weeks ago. Update: Ken is a Democrat also, and probably will also try for the nomination at the Dem Caucus.

Butch also says, "WE ARE NOT endorsing anyone,, but ,,, I will entertain comments from the floor,,, maybe, in favor of a candidate,,, maybe..."

The only other ballot line activity I have heard about is that Toni Hokanson collected enough signatures to get on her self-created independent "Common Good" party, which in the paper this week she said was "an insurance policy to make sure I'm on the ballot."

kt tobin flusser

How did we get here? (5)

WAIT -- shheeshh - another topic at the end... some other right of way issue at the back of the Lent subdivision.... property owner is here and does NOT appear to be amenable to granting the right of way... it is the secondary access entry

Curran - this is very similar to the earlier discussion and it needs to go to public hearing.. but we don't have the info we need to get there yet.

Drayton - they can only build half the road right now. The VPB needs a plan - a site plan amendment.

Curran - that is the only way they can get it on the sept 1st docket.

ok, now i am really out, even if they keep talking. out.

kt tobin flusser 9:43pm

How did we get here? (4)

Drayton: wants to add wording so that Residential is excluded and the developer is fighting it. They just agreed I think to change "uses" to "development". good.

Drayton: now they are discussing whether or not to take out "mining" as reasonably acceptable...?? it is out. curran: "I really think we have discussed mining enough."

Drayton: a bunch of things I missed or dont understand... legalese stuff.

There is a maintainence road? Not sure where... also something about working with the aercheology dept on something that needs a sign. Tom Rocco wants stronger language on forbidding ANY new structures on the land unless related to education, safety, and environment(?).

Drayton: put stronger language for motorized vehicle exceptions to the land.

Drayton: something about not being able to force public access... WVLT guy - they are not involved in maintainence beyond compliance to the easement. there are two portions, the wet side and the western portion which will have trails for the public. and curran confirms, that specification is part of the easement.

Terence - what happens when easements are violated? Fines? what is the mechanism. Are there any non-monetary remedies?

Curran: when does the issue of public access come into play? have you spoken with an entity to manage that piece? Developer: we have not spoken to anyone about it lately... but they will - curran asked him to read that part... i *think* they are saying all they have to do is "say" they will deal with the preserve later

Drayton: "You have taken this as long as you can?" Developer: "It is not your role". Curran is now asking Seth to speak so I think he will counter this argument.

Seth: comments to make stronger and clearer... Purposes clause needs work. And would like to see strong languages on public purposes. Paved pathes for accessiblity ONLY needed. Suggest- intent is natural setting.. need wording that cannot be misunderstood in 5, 10 years.

Tom Rocco: what about impermiable surfaces? lots of discussion about paving...

Seth - in terms of public access.. there needs to be something somewhere because everyone agrees it is the goal to have a preserve... this concept plan was presented during site plan review. there is tremendous interest in creating this... the next step is to move forward with the general public input, low impact, natural setting, should interact seemlessly with surrounding lands.

SOOOO - if the parties change in the meantime, we need a more forthright statement about the commitment to this project...

Developer - we wrote a letter 2 years ago saying it could be done with their ability to say yay or nay to what happens. Cynthia Rosenberg (?) - the WP board has liability issues with this and will not sign off in that way now.

Now the easement talks about precluding from things happening, not assuring they will happen.

Curran - is there any way that a later WP board could say no to this later on?

Rosenberg- YES.

Curran - With this language, can you get out of this?

Rosenberg - YES.

Developer lawyer - General public on private property creates liability issues.

Drayton: WP board has a particular point of view... they should get the insurance now to show good faith.

Curran: I really want to know - again, is there anyway they can get out of this?

Developer lawyer - If you can say unreasonably acted in getting the public access - not trying, they are not acting in good faith.

Drayton - it is common to get insurance on trail easements.

Seth - if it is just about the liability I agree that is a resolvable issue. But he still wants a letter of intent. Rosenberg - No.

Lawyer - not budging.

another Devo rep - the board is local as are the residents and he has faith that this will happen.

Rachel - heart goes out to the people who want to move into WP. site plan approval in 2007, why is the info just getting out now?

Devo lawyer - we have never even mentioned the EnCC as holding stuff up or otherwise

Rachel - well that is part of the problem... for example, the critter crossings..

Rosenberg - we see Muniz all the time (somebody interrupts) let's get back on track

Rachel - section - how are values set out in the easement? and with public access... why can't it say you have the value to make that happen? with a commitment.

Pollution protection has been added to the easement, good.

Linda w. - was Seth's language added about carry in/carry out?

The section on dumping - in or out?

Michael z. - In condition for C of O - last sentence reads that the easement must not proclude public access... since there is no mention in the easement, why not comfortable - the preserve drove the basis for the easement to begin with -- so why not specifically refer to open space committee language be a part?

WVLT - Not putting it in, using generics, means any non-profit, could be the entity, not just the open space committee.

Tom Rocco - but it is part of the agreement, this stipulation - now outside the conservation easement.... so it prevails in or out of the easement? Lawyers say yes.

hopefully wrapping up

Drayton - wants to go back to Rachel first - two more points:
Rachel - section one still not satisfactory - needs Seth's addition - biodiversity issues, the beaver needs to be specifically mentioned as part of conservation values
Drayton - she took out nan's report, but open to referring to it as not a planning report. Devo lawyers fighting it. Seth suggests "as documented by the Hudsonia report."

-article ten .... Rosenberg - we never said we would have this time of hashing out and we need this my tomorrow at 8am for a board meeting

Linda Welles - I feel very disrespected by this process... the timing, you are telling us you needs this by an 8am meeting... we scheduled this emergency meeting in the middle of summer for you

Devo lawyer - you are pushing us beyond the needed process and did not give us the needed materials

Linda - this is our job and you are rushing us and not letting us do it

Curran - this is a question of interpretation.

Drayton - I don't think Rachel's changes would change the intent of the document. She was doing nothing inappropriate.

Devo lawyer - We had an agreement and only needed this meeting because changes were being made. (HUH? kt IMO - they waited TOO long to do this and hence, the MESS.)

Curran - can we suggest stuff to add and leave it at that for now?

Devo lawyer - Yes.

Only a straw poll tonight, board will not vote to approve the easement for two weeks.

Rosenberg - our board has already voted, if VPB makes changes it needs to go back to another WP board for another vote

so wait -are they voting now because of that... seems that way, they are voting to approve the easement with the revisions from tonight

thank you and good night

kt tobin flusser 9:29pm

How did we get here? (3)

Terence would like to know how we keep track of occupancy - something verifiable on an interim basis? Drayton says the building inspector can do it, Terence wants a regular visit schedule to do so.

I have lost track what % move in at what time they are negotiating... Terence wants it to be safest for all occupants- All people that live there deserves the left hand turn lane (as specified by the previous planning board), we can negotiate, but all need to be safe... There was also some talk about DOT requirements are tweaked based on the fact that residents will be older than the general population.

ok... next topic: conservation easement
Drayton: it is an agreement btwn Ermin estate, Woodland Pond, and the Village NP allowing for public access to the property. (also involved is the Lent property.)

Dave Clouser has not reviewed it yet.

This topic will not have a public hearing, Sept 1st is only for the left hand turn? It is required for the C of O. It is signed by the Village Board - not the Planning Board. The Planning Board can review and provide feedback to the VB.

Developer is saying this is good to go. Curran keeps saying it is not a PB issue.

WHAT??? on to next topic... the agreement with Walkill Valley Land Trust for another easement - ah - this must be the Millbrook Preserve!

Developer: the C of O cannot be issued with basic elements including an agreement with a non-profit, protection of the property as permanent open space, for a reasonable cost, and WP must approve anything that happens on the land.

Drayton: she made revisions to strengthen the wording for the land trust and what the role of all parties are. She says Seth McKee informed her work -but I know not all of his feedback was incorporated... oh good - Curran says Seth can talk later on that and the EnCC can talk too. Developer is now complaining that only WVLT should be the only voice right now and that was the extent of their agreement. "frankly he did not anticipate that this is a document to be open to public comment..." curran: "are you surprised?" developer not happy. curran and terence want their consultants and team to chime in. other developer interjecting again how they are surprised by this, that it is the form, not the content. curran - "that is up to us to decide."

kt tobin flusser 8:03 pm

How did we get here? (2)

Ray Curran, Planning Board Chair, has just announced that this is not a public hearing. Only solicited input by the board will be heard tonight. There will be a public hearing on Sept 1st.

Tonight is a working meeting - no decisions will be made.

Bill Mulchahy is here and is filming.

first agenda item: phasing in of the DOT required turn lane, applicant will update issue tonight.

An older lady just asked that the thermostat be turned down... the response it that the AC is working the best it can at this time. Windows are now being opened. Some by the mayor himself.

chazen rep is presenting an alternative to the original left turn lane - until it is ultimately constructed. that the lane is not needed for the the occupancy levels at the opening phase (but what if they never get the right of way??? wonders kt) they say they will enter into agreement with the property owner soon, terence has asked what are the guarentees it will get signed. they say they have a "gentlemen's agreement".

drahten (village lawyer, sorry i know i am spelling her name wrong) is saying that from an attorney point of view, nothing can move forward without a site plan application (and that this should have been done a long time ago.) ray curran clarifies that in early formulations the developer did not know they would need this, something about the county and its purview.

ray curran is saying that we need a plan b if they don't succeed in getting the right of way - and the answer is that occupancy will not fully be able to be met.

dave clouser is now speaking - he had the numbers rerun on the DOT specs - you could only get to 60-70% max run without the left turn lane.

developer keeps saying the agreement is forthcoming, next week at the latest and does not see a need for talk of a plan b.

dave clouser adds: one of the conditions of site plan approval is embodied in this issue, it must happen to get a C of O.

linda welles would like more evidence that they can provide this agreement before the public hearing on sept 1st. it is silly - kt's words - to have the hearing if this is not resolved my then.

linda welles wants to know if there are safety implications of constructions at the entrance of the site while people are moving in. they say they will have traffic control personnel and it will be on the "side" of the road. ray curran is saying it is such a small amount of people moving in early. (kt asks? number please?) linda asks! 55 people from from sep 14th to oct 31st.

dave clouser reemphasizes, again, not C of O without the right of way in writing.

kt tobin flusser 7:40 pm

How did we get here??

I will be live blogging tonight from the Village Planning board meeting about Woodland Pond.

I am mortified that the FEIS (Final Economic Impact Statement) was approved in 2007 and we are now, tonight, about to witness an emergency meeting over:
1) the conservation easement which under standard procedure is finalized before construction begins, and is complicated in this instance, as it includes the specifications - which will greatly impact the future - of the Millbrook Preserve
2) a right of way for a DOT mandatory left turn lane onto North Putt - which word on the street, the property owner is not budging on - another issue that absolutely should have been resolved before a shovel hit the ground.
3) There is also an extensive punch list that building inspector Muniz has said must be completed before a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) can be granted. (That is, before anyone can move in.)

And, the developer is playing the "if you don't give us the C of O" and fast-track the conservation easement, and let them postpone the DOT requirements, then they will soon those their financing. All sounds very, very sketchy to me.

A crowd is gathering outside the locked meeting room door... and bill mulcahy has threatened to show up with a camera... this should be fun... to be continued... the first live Gadfly blogging ever!

kt tobin flusser 7:00 pm
* disclosure: my fellow gadfly Terence is on the Village PB, but the opinions here expressed are mine, and mine alone

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Did somebody swat the Gadfly?

Over a month without any new posts . . . what gives? Well, life happened to both of us. If we could get more intelligent-yet-somewhat-polite people to participate we could prevent such sad little gaps, but blogging is apparently not a participatory sport for most of the residents of Die Pfalz, so we'll make do.

Some quick updates:
  • The contest response was underwhelming - one and a half entries. Thank you to the person who submitted a complete entry! Having the community review a single entry is just plain silly, so I'll probably just show it to kT and we'll decide if we like it or not. Again, if there's a particular type of prize that would be motivational, please let us know - but if you do, you'd darn well better submit an entry if we agree to it!
  • I've been avoiding committing to any political candidates yet, because I want to know who's running and make as informed a decision as I can. My biggest personal criterion is transparency in government, which means that incumbents with a track record for secrecy are going to have a harder time impressing me that untried candidates who have no such baggage. I'm sure kT has different criteria than I do, and if either of us endorse any candidates here it will not be a collective endorsement unless we say so. I kinda hope we disagree - the whole point of this blog is to get different New Paltz viewpoints represented.
  • The free pool experiment continues.
  • Woodland Pond will be the subject of a special Village Planning Board meeting on August 24. They want to change some of the requirements for getting a certificate of occupancy.
That's all I can think of off the top of my head.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Pool and Playground for Everyone

For quite a few years now our town pool, Moriello, has been an issue of debate and contention. So much so that after awhile many of us get so sick of talking about it we throw up our hands in frustration and refuse to talk about it. The overpriced, shabby bathhouse took years to build. Many people take issue with the fact that the pool is not open to the public till noon. But those posts are for another day (or never).Today, I want to write about a possible solution to the playground problem.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the playground at Moriello is only open to pool members or those that pay a daily fee. This is problematic for people who believe all town residents should have open access irrespective of pool usage, in particular, many of the private donors who contributed funds towards the building of the playground.

In order to provide an equitable solution, I propose we explore the possibility of funding the pool through the tax levy instead of membership and user fees. So, the key question is: What would the added cost be to taxpayers if we eliminated memberships and user fees for town residents at the pool and spread the tax burden to all taxpayers so that everybody could be let in?

I asked Toni Hokanson and here are some preliminary numbers, her words: if the estimated pool revenue is put back into the budget to be generated by taxes then a $245,000 house would pay an additional $16; a $500,000 house, $33; and a $1 million dollar house, $66.

So, these figures seem reasonable to me, would allow access to all town residents to the playground regardless of their desire to swim, and would allow for many people who cannot afford a membership now to be able to use the pool all season long. (A family membership this year costs $150.) However, there are concerns that this system would increase usage so much so that maximum capacity would be reached too often and people might be turned away.

So, I have requested this discussion item be put on the agenda for the 7/23 Town Board meeting and for the following information to be made available for the discussion (perhaps ambitious to get by then – I made this request yesterday – but what they could get by 7/23 should be enough to start the conversation):

* Revenue generated by memberships and day rates paid by town residents for the last 5 years
* (Confirmed) Estimated increase in tax rates if these revenues were collected as part of the tax levy and not user memberships and fees
* Pool usage figures for the last 5 years: daily head counts, average daily head count
* Pool usage figures (above) broken down by members/residents paying fees/non-residents paying fees and adults/kids
* Dates in the past 5 years when the pool exceeded max capacity
* Documentation on how max capacity is computed (how do they compute that anyway since people only sign in and not out?)
* Projected population figures for the town for the next 5 years

I passed this idea by my fellow Gadfly Terence, and here are his thoughts:

Generally, I support this notion and believe it to be affordable, but some thoughts to consider:
* $16 is not very much, but that same reasoning could easily be applied to any number of excellent projects. It doesn't take much for collective pittances to become a pit of taxation that isn't very affordable. As long as we're bound to the medieval system of taxing land instead of wealth, we must approach any increase, no matter how small, with the big picture in mind.
* We could probably fund this easily by simply making the police stop buying gas hogs and put them back into cars like the rest of us. Crime fighting cars to be sure, but ones that get 40 MPG minimum would be nice.
* The plastic pool house continues to be a problem, but it could cut either way:
- It barely increased restroom capacity and is the reason why the playground and barbecues must be accessed only through the pool, we're told (although removing the fence around the playground wouldn't increase liability beyond what Hasbrouck Park now faces, so I doubt that argument).
- Because it's so substandard, it may just keep people away, encouraging them to go to the county's pool, which has a building made of permanent materials instead of Lego.
* Plenty of people aren't paying for the pool now, so the figures aren't remotely accurate. All one has to do is sign in on the member list to gain access, and this is the way that many kids (and probably some adults) get in a swim. Rather than cracking down on the offenders, I would think that moving to taxation is a way to get the necessary funding without punishing overheated poor people.
* Kids are much less likely to carry wallets with ID, and it's important to make access easy for everyone. Our current, and ineffective, gate system would work quite well if residents didn't have to pay. The few non-residents who use our pool in favor of the county's would actually be a much lower number than the percentage of non-payers we currently enjoy.

Thoughts? Please comment here… and come to the Town Board meeting on the 23rd.

kt Tobin Flusser and Terence Ward

Will the Village Board please show up?

We've got a fiscal crisis in our little village, and it's a really controversial one. Terry Dungan unilaterally issued a spending freeze to all departments, including our firefighters, which has caused all manner of to-do. The fire cuts have the Town Council screaming even as they slash things like the library and the YMCA funding for similar reasons. People are pointing fingers, assessing figures, and laying blame.

Well, today I have a special request for the Village Board. I'd like you to show up.

Erin Quinn reports this week that when a motion to modify the controversial spending freeze came up before the Village Board, one that would have permitted department heads to make important purchases with approval, it failed. Here's how the vote went:
  • Terry Dungan: aye.
  • Patrick O'Donnell: aye.
  • Jean Gallucci: nay.
  • Shari Osborn: unable to be found at the time of the vote.
  • Brian Kimbiz: didn't even show up.
I don't have a problem with a vote for or against, as I assume that any vote cast was done with some thought. I do have a problem with a vote this important failing because two board members weren't around to vote.

Here's a news flash: we elected you, and pay you, to show up and meetings and vote. That is what you are supposed to do. I understand that things come up, but maybe it's time to reassess your priorities.

I don't think expecting 95% attendance at meetings would be unreasonable. Things come up, and sometimes they're actually more important than the residents of the village. Missing one meeting a year should cover emergencies. If your life is such that this is unduly burdensome . . . maybe it's time to resign.

It's a tough job, it's an underpaid job, and it's a job that makes you a target more than it makes you a hero - and you all knew that when you decided to run. Make a commitment to show up. This is a small enough village that I don't think it would be that tough to make a really, really tough attendance policy the law, but I would rather see you just do your jobs.

This isn't personal - or rather, it's very personal when the lives of the people you have pledged to represent take short shrift because you just couldn't make it to the meeting, or you were far too busy to attend the entire thing. No, I have seen other former board members pull the same stunts, and it's time to suck it up and do your jobs.

On behalf of the village, I"m begging you - don't miss another meeting. We trusted you with the job, please . . . do it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Let's shed some light on our ongoing developments

The Village's Environmental Conservation Commission has come up with a novel way to legally gain access to sites under development: make one of them an acting building inspector. It's an idea that reminds me of Terry Dungan's brief stint as acting meter maid parking enforcement officer, with one big difference: it would work.

I think that most of what Terry does comes from good intentions, but suffers from a classic case of don'tknowhowtoshowmyworkitis, which is all too common among teachers. In fact, it's the teacher's "shoemaker's children" syndrome.

But here's the rationale behind the EnCC request: Village Code provides a section about acting building inspectors, which reads:

§ 86-4. Acting Building Inspector.

In the absence of the Building Inspector, or in the case of his inability to act for any reason, the Mayor shall have the power, with the consent of the Board of Trustees to designate a person to act on his behalf and to exercise all of the powers conferred upon him by this chapter.
The rationale behind appointing an EnCC member is thus: the Village is in need of a Building Inspector II, for which there is budgeted $44,986.50. At least three people have been interviewed, and none have been hired. By appointing a member of the EnCC to act as a building inspector, the Village would be able to take a significant chunk of work away from the understaffed building department, allowing Kathy Moniz to focus on other equally important areas. The EnCC already has an interest in enforcing all of the requirements agreed to in the site plan by the developer, and building inspector status would require that individual to do what members of the EnCC are rarely allowed to do: inspect active construction sites for violations.

EnCC members have been granted only very limited access to these types of sites, because there isn't any way to legally require landowners or developers to agree to inspections to make sure that all the mitigations which were agreed to are also adhered to. The building inspector does get to inspect these sites.

The code provides for such an appointment in the case of the building inspector's "inability to act for any reason," and I can see two very obvious reasons why one of the two building inspectors in the Village's budget may not be able to act. For one of them, he or she has not yet been hired, and so is unable to act. For the other, Kathy Moniz, she's trying to do the job of two people. She's absolutely going to have to make very hard decisions about priortizing her work. She can never, ever be two places at once. Through no fault of her own, I am certain that there are times when Kathy Moniz is simply unable to act.

Removing site inspections from Kathy's plate would permit her to focus on things that are more likely to imperil people's lives, like overcrowded rentals and gas leaks in restaurants. I like the idea of her being able to do more of that stuff, if it comes up. Whichever EnCC member is selected and trained for the position, they would already start out with amply knowledge about the environmental aspects of site development. It's obvious that the budgeted $44,986.50 isn't enough to attract the right candidate, and that number isn't going to change soon. Set aside that money to sweeten the pot when you post the job next year, and let a dedicated EnCC member do what he or she wants to do anyway in the meantime.

If anyone knows when this is going to be on the agenda for the Village Board, I would definitely speak at the public hearing in support of this idea, if it comes to that.

Dems Say Thanks But No Thanks

Breaking News: The New Paltz Democratic Party announced last night that they have decided to NOT endorse a slate for town board and are looking for other candidates.

The Democratic Caucus is set for September 14th, at the high school.

Announced candidates that Gadfly is aware of: Toni Hokanson for Supervisor, Kitty Brown and Jeff Logan for Town Board (2 seats available), Phil Johnson and Mike Nielson for Highway Supervisor. All but Mike are incumbents. Readers aware of any other candidates please update the Gadflies!

Background here, here, and here.