Friday, January 30, 2009

A 6 Man Board (We Need a Mom!)

Laura Walls resigned from the school board this week to take a job with Eliot Auerbach in the Ulster County comptroller's office. Laura was also the board vice president so that position is also now vacant.

The current board now consists of six men: David Dukler (President), Rod Dressel, Steve Greenfield, Don Kerr, Patrick Rausch, and Edgar Rodriquez.

These six men can:
* Leave the seat vacant until the May elections
* Appoint someone to the open seat now
* Authorize a special election for the seat

As far as the VP seat, these six men can:
* Leave it open
* Vote for a new VP

Any actions will be taken in executive session, I believe even the Superintendent will not be present.

It is too close to May to hold a special election. Given the prevalence of 4-3 votes on this board (Laura being in the "4" group), my suspicion is the board will appoint someone. Is it even possible these six men could find someone that they all could (well, at least four of them) agree on?

And what about the VP slot? I suspect they may just let that one go till May, maybe even July.

The Dressel and Kerr seats are up this year, and if they decide they want to stick around, they will need to run (and win) in May to keep their positions. Laura's term also would have been up, so that means we have three school board seats to fill in May. Will they appoint someone just to fill the slot till May, someone that may not even choose to run this Spring? Will that be a prerequisite to appease all parties?

Only three (I think) of these six men have school-age children attending New Paltz schools. Only one has elementary school age kids (again, I think). In my opinion, we need a New Paltz mom! (Or two, or three... but good golly I'll take at least one at this point.)

(This post is also at The New Paltz School Renovation)

Living on a glacier

I feel like I can't say enough about this ice storm, and how much it makes me think that snow and ice removal should be a function of village government.  In fact, they already do it for the absentee landlords; I had a conversation with building inspector Kathy Moniz a few minutes ago as the DPW crew plowed and shoveled the icy mess across the road from me.

The village charges a dollar a linear foot plus a $50 administrative fee if they need to remove the snow and ice from your sidewalk.  As my own glacial horror is too frozen for a snow shovel and chipping away with a garden shovel is reminding me of my age, that price seems almost worth it.  The fifty dollars is for Kathy's time, as she has to stand by filming the crew, both to prove the bill is appropriate and for liability reasons.  Of course, if the village just did it as a matter of course, Kathy wouldn't need to do a survey after every snow fall and watch the crew as they did their jobs; she could focus on many of the other tasks her understaffed department is responsible for.

When I shared my interest in municipal snow removal with Kathy, she said to me, "You'll never get them to do it."  I don't know if she meant the board or the DPW.  

If she meant the board, I'm not so sure.  There are only a few readers here, but they're quick to pipe up if they don't like what the poster has to say on an issue, so I'm assuming that the small sample represented by the readership of the Gadfly would like clearer sidewalks.  I'm reasonably sure I could get the board to consider this in their next budget cycle.  Kathy is probably just a bit jaded by working in government.

If Kathy was referring to the DPW . . . well I really hope she wasn't.  I take a very dim view of any government employee who doesn't do their job, and I have no problem with naming names in all sorts of public places if that sort of shenanigans were to occur.  But I'm sure that if the DPW is directed to remove snow from sidewalks, that they will do so quickly and efficiently.

For the moment, I await a ride from a friend to go buy more salt.  My car is completely frozen under, and even my garage is frozen shut.  Ah, the joys of living on a sloped lot!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ice Job for New Paltz

I wrote up my thoughts about snow-covered sidewalks before yesterday's wintry mess brought fluffy inches coated with ice, which melted and refroze overnight to leave most area residents staying inside if they could help it.  After pushing my wife out of our plowed-and-iced driveway and shoveling more of the frozen plowshare (with the hopes that additional salting would make the next round possible), I had the opportunity to see how my neighbors fared in the conditions.

This storm was definitely more than we could handle.  No matter where I went, I saw one or more of three things:
  1. People breaking up ice with whatever tools were available, from metal shovels and hoes to sturdy boots.
  2. Ice, ice, and more ice, sometimes over snow and sometimes not.
  3. Water, either dammed into pools by the ice or sitting atop it as the sun melted it all again.
I found it very difficult to find places to safely walk, and it wasn't because residents and employees weren't trying.  The only safe passage was on sidewalks alongside the campus and Hasbrouck Park, and the caterpillar treads were all the explanation I needed.

Storms like this our outside of our ordinary abilities to react to completely and quickly.  This is a case where a government can be used for its intended purpose - to do things that need to be done to keep civilization chugging along.  Safe streets and sidewalks are part of that mission.  If the village were charged with removing snow from the sidewalks, it would have been done far more quickly and thoroughly than we as a community have accomplished so far.

I got home to discover that the remaining snow-covered half of my sidewalk melted enough to collapse onto the cleared portion, rendering it pretty much impassable.  It was already too cold to make much of a difference, so make sure to wave to me tomorrow as I try to clear away the old stuff before tomorrow's flurries.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Clearing sidewalks is snow joke

We get more snow in the Hudson Valley than I experienced growing up to the south of here, and far less than the many feet I saw when I was a college student to the north. Snow removal, particularly from sidewalks, was a topic of concern at this week's Town Planning Board meeting, held jointly with the Town Council. It's also the topic of a letter that Bill Weinstein wrote to the New Paltz Times. The picture at left, taken this morning, is of my own buried sidewalk, and reminds me that some shoveling is definitely in order out there.

Paul Brown, chair of the Planning Board, seems to feel that we're better off minimizing how many sidewalks we require be built because those sidewalks need to be maintained and cleared. Better to make people walk in the streets, which are plowed, than force homeowners to shovel would could amount to hundreds of feet of sidewalk in some areas of the Town.

Bill Weinstein recently took over the chair of the Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee, and he's not impressed by how poorly the sidewalks in the Village proper are cleared. This is what he has to say:

To the Editor:

The heavily used crosswalk across Main Street from the Chase Bank to Elting Library was blocked by snow on the bank side for at least six days from Thursday, January 15th. The shoulder of snow that straddled the street and sidewalk by the bank was thrown up by a snowplow doing its job clearing the street. Nevertheless, no one took the time to cut through this snow and make it possible for pedestrians, particularly people in wheelchairs or children in strollers, to use this wheelchair-accessible curbcut.

Pedestrians eventually made their own passageway through the snow, a mini-Khyber Pass of about a footprint's width. (Please see the attached photo.) This was what I had to help my three-year-old navigate twoThursdays ago, with only one eye out for the traffic – a dangerous situation with a high risk of slipping or tripping into the traffic lane.

By Friday, the passage was no clearer, and colder weather and more snow was setting in. By the end of the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, the now greater accumulation of snow and ice still had not been cleared, as was the case on Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday afternoon volunteers from the New Paltz Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee cut a clean, wide path through the snow and ice. Pedestrians could now cross Main Street from the bank to the library without fear of slipping.

But whose responsibility is it to make sure that New Paltz crosswalks are kept clear for walking? Village Code §175-11.E requires that the owner of property at an intersection must clear a path 30" wide to enable pedestrian access from the sidewalk to the street. Safe pedestrian access to our crosswalks and sidewalks is an important part of making New Paltz the vibrant, liveable community we love. Let's make sure we all hold up our end of the shovel when the snowflakes fly.

Yours sincerely,

William Weinstein
For the New Paltz Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee

I find that New Paltz is really the worst of all worlds when it comes to removing snow. As a homeowner, I do not have the village clearing the sidewalks as happened in Potsdam, where I went to college. I also do not have a parkway strip, as my parents did on Long Island. That two feet of grass between road and sidewalk is very useful right now, because with my sidewalk adjacent to the street, it becomes the depository of the plowed snow.

I like to think of myself as a young man, and I have no problem either shoveling a couple feet of fluffy snow from my walk, or hiring some local kids to do it. But moving the plow's share is a lot tougher. Last time we had snow, we got it shoveled only to have it buried again, and then it froze solid. I've been trying to get rid of it ever since. It can take more than good intentions to shovel even a short walk, and I can't imagine how people older than I do it.

In the village, at least, I am thinking it may be time to consider having the DPW clear the sidewalks, like the college does. Either I'm paying someone to do it or I'm losing money (and possibly my health) by doing it myself, so I don't think it would actually cost more. It would also ensure that pedestrians get safe passage, whether or not Chase Bank gets the walk shoveled or my snow freezes under the plow's blade. Some people can't be bothered to clear the snow, and others try and fail. If the goal is snow removal, we should seriously consider why we don't consider sidewalks to be as important as roads.

Comments and contradictions welcome. Libertarian comments about the dangers of expanding government are particularly invited, but I invite one and all to poke holes in this idea.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Paving the Way to a New Planning Board

So is the Town Board intending on removing each and every environmentalist from the Planning Board?  If not, I think they need to take some time to prove otherwise.

Peter Muller was not reappointed to the Planning Board because he didn't fulfill the training requirements - four hours per year are needed to keep abreast of planning issues.  I find that interesting, mostly because it's not true.  I sat at the table with Peter during at least two, if not three, Biodiversity Assessment Training sessions given by Hudsonia.  Prior to beginning that ten-month project, Rachel Lagodka and David Jakim of the village ENCC asked the Town Planning Board to rule that those sessions would fulfill the training requirement, and we did.

Peter had to drop out of the project for some minor thing . . . oh, right, he had hip replacement surgery.  It's very likely that he failed to fill out the form confirming that he received sufficient training.  Are we so bureaucratic that we can't just ask the man?  I'm sure he would have filled out his paperwork.  Maybe Jeff Logan is still bitter about his write-in campaign and figures everyone needs to be held to an unyielding standard?  I hope not.

At the joint meeting of the town and village boards last night Rachel Lagodka asked about Peter, and Jane Ann Williams said that nothing had been decided yet.  Nothing decided?  Then why was Peter's name removed from the Planning Board member list?  Please don't insult my intelligence by saying that was an administrative error; Ken Wishnick is still listed as liaison so it's not like the page is updated aggressively.

I think this is a trend because of the way I was asked to give up my own seat.  Sure, I was honored when Terry Dungan asked me to consider moving to the village's planning board, but my concerns about the Crossroads project held me back.  It wasn't until Toni Hokanson asked me to switch that I decided to do so, because I was impressed at her willingness to give up a member to the village when it's really tough to find people willing to serve.  When I saw how quickly I was replaced with an obviously pro-development member I realized that my idealism was used against me, and I told Toni so.  I expect they'll find someone even worse to replace Peter.

Jonathan Wright's term is up next.  What will the reason be to get rid of this articulate and intelligent advocate of smart growth and green development principles?  Will they be willing to act like adults and talk about it in an open meeting, or will they again hide behind the closed doors of an executive session to make these decisions?

Town Board, consider yourself on notice.  I don't trust your motives.  I don't believe your words.  I don't think you feel you need to represent the community because all you have to do is take the Democratic caucus to guarantee reelection.

If that's the way you want it, fine.  I know that there are intelligent and talented people who care about this community.  If you want a fight at the caucus, you can have one.  I don't want any of the five of you to think for one second that your jobs are guaranteed, and if you continue to pull stunts like these I will work tirelessly to find the people to unseat you.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Barack Obama!

This is about New Paltz because of all the NewPaltzians that believed in him, worked on his campaign, canvassed for votes in PA and elsewhere... and VOTED for him. It is a new era people.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What's up with the New Paltz Times?

Is it me, or was this week's issue of the New Paltz Times particularly tough to read?

I'm not talking about emotionally wrenching or frustrating stories - of which there were plenty, mind you - but the sheer density of bizarre errors that riddled the latest issue like termites through a lonely widow's home.  The volume and variety of mistakes make it clear that no one person could possibly be to blame, even if the paper is shortstaffed, which I suspect is true.  I had a tough time getting through it, because by the time I got to the end of an article the only thing I could remember was strange mistake that made it unique.  Let's take a look at a smattering, in no particular order:
  1. The page one article Change in Chairs does not continue on page 6 - you'll need to turn to page eight.
  2. In that same article, it was noted that Lloyd ZBA member John DiLorenzo "formerly submitted a letter asking not to be reappointed."  I'm sure it happened before the article, but I think formally was the word that the reporter was looking for.  In fact, it's the very word used further down the page when discussing a quote by outgoing ZBA member Joan deVries Kelley.
  3. The article itself, which was exclusively about appointment by the Lloyd Town Board, is inexplicably topped by a picture of the New Paltz Town Board at its reorganizational meeting.
  4. Futon Life, about the closing of the Foreign Wide, amused me.  Two lines below the where the word "wholesale" is correctly spelled, it's used again - but incorrectly spelled as two words.
  5. On page seven, in side-by-side articles two different reporters shared the same redundant phrasing.  We read about how "members of the Town Planning Board members" discussed changes to the sign ordinance, while two columns away Jonathan Wright, "a member of the planning board member," is quoted on a separate issue.
That's five errors that took me about five minutes to find, in a paper that's only twenty-eight pages long.  I know that all newspapers have mistakes, and I certainly make my own fair share, but that's errors on 17.8% of the pages without me looking particularly hard.  In fact, I avoided looking over another front-page article entirely because that piece almost sent my wife the English and Journalism teacher into apoplexy, and I figured I'd let her provide her own reaction to that one if she chose.  So, what's up with errors?

Now I know three Ulster Publishing employees that are involved with this paper personally, and I like and respect them all.  I also have exchanged frequent emails with the editor, who has remained professional, pleasant, and cordial even when my frustration with decisions made over her head certainly put her patience to the test.  All of my contacts  with New Paltz Times staff members leave me the impression that these are bright, talented people who are more than capable of putting together a fine weekly community paper.

I won't claim to be a fan of Ulster Publishing or its head honcho, who sits in an ivory tower dictating editorial decisions that regularly draw ire if the letters page is any indication, but I'm more than a little worried here.  Is he making life so miserable that his skilled staff is losing heart?  Will the drudgery of working for someone that cuts obituaries in favor of ads going to sap their wills so deeply that the New Paltz Times will lose readers faster even than other print newspapers?  I still like having a community newspaper, even one steering a course I don't agree with.  If our little paper gets so bad that it tanks, I doubt it will be easily replaced (unless the publisher of the Chronogram gets a hankering for weekly news, but Christmas is over by a long shot).

I'm probably being melodramatic; the New Paltz Times will exist as long as people buy it, and people in New Paltz would rather have news riddled with problems than no news at all.  But I really do hope that working conditions improve at Ulster Publishing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Meet Me at the High School Manana!

Can you believe it has been nearly a year since the board voted to keep the Middle School where it is now? What progress has been made on the renovation project, really? And now, we have to be concerned that the funding for the project could be reallocated?!? Please come to tomorrow's school board meeting - Wednesday, January 14th, 7pm at the high school - to speak during public comment to help ensure the money for the Middle School Project stays intact. Or, just show up and be in the room -- our power is in our numbers!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Stop, and Shop Local

Stop & Shop received its own share of grumbling when it came to town. Some people would have preferred a department store to help fill out New Paltz' retail needs, although enough others were looking for lower grocery prices in town that it wasn't going to be widely opposed. Sure enough, the prices in Shoprite are much lower now. I had my own problems back in 2006 which I wrote to the New Paltz Times about. To save space I would gladly provide you with a link to my letter, but as readers of this blog know Ulster Publishing doesn't keep articles and letters available on its web site indefinitely, and the publisher hasn't responded to my email to at least tell me how long he waits before purging, so before I get to my main point I'll reprint it here:
I recently became aware of the fact that the new Stop & Shop here in New Paltz doesn't regularly employ grocery baggers. Occasionally someone will bag things here and there to help move things along, especially in the self-service checkout lanes, but it's not policy to have them regularly available. This is quite shortsighted, and perhaps this letter will spur the management to consider a change, for several reasons:

1. The other grocery stores in the area use baggers, and we rather enjoy the service. Supermarkets cannot compete on sheer amount of inventory alone; we consumers like service. Shop Rite is just across the street and helpfully bags its customers' groceries.

2. There are many reasons checking out can take more time than we'd like. Problems with technology, missing prices, and questions from other customers all add to the time we're waiting. If the cashier is also responsible for bagging, this wait can become unbearable. On more than one occasion I've seen my stressed-out neighbors snap at a cashier because of this. Overall I've noticed that the cashiers at Stop & Shop aren't quite as friendly as I would like, and that level of personal abuse undoubtedly takes a toll. We live in a friendly community, and baggers will help keep it that way.

3. It is very difficult for teenagers to find work, because there are less and less things they can do for money, especially for those under the age of sixteen. Gone are the paper routes, the snow shoveling and the lawn mowing, and very nearly so has baby sitting vanished as well. Our kids need legal jobs that will allow them to learn the responsibilities of showing up on time, following instructions, and managing their own money. A drive down Main Street in the summer, or through the Plaza parking lot on a Friday night, shows just how many kids have nothing better to do than hang around, either because they can't earn money for other activities or because they have far too many idle hours. If Stop & Shop had grocery baggers on its staff, it could make a positive impact on our community by providing jobs for many of these kids.

4. Perhaps most importantly, New Paltz is a community that has a small-town atmosphere, and by depersonalizing the grocery shopping experience by taking away that helpful bagger, you're undermining, however inadvertently, an important part of our community's character.

I'm going to steer clear of Stop & Shop for awhile and allow them some time to hire grocery baggers. If you are a patron there, I hope you will bring this letter to their attention, and voice your support for the baggers.
I've ended that mini-boycott, but I'm still bothered a bit by that store . . . well, by supermarkets in general. Would it be so difficult for them to offer a few more local products? I'm not talking about a complete retooling of the inventory, but jeez, why can't I get local apple cider from the Hudson Valley in these stores?

Bus Loop Launches!

Amid much fanfare, the New Paltz Bus Loop took its maiden ride yesterday. There was so much interest in this long-anticipated project that they had to use two buses to bring all the interested people around the route. This bus is intended to reduce traffic congestion in New Paltz by giving people an alternative to taking the car, so having it launch on a bitingly cold day was better timing than planning alone could have arranged.

The bus, I'm told, will cost seventy-five cents a ride, although some people will get to ride for free - I believe those associated with SUNY, whose students were fairly hard at making it a reality. I'm also advised that this online bus schedule isn't the correct one; the exact schedule was distributed at the press conference yesterday and will presumably be made widely available.

Bus Schedule not Forward Thinking
I'm a bit surprised that considerable effort was put into printing up schedules and route maps for distribution without making online access a priority. Isn't the cost of putting it online significantly less? Wouldn't it have made sense to announce, "We have a small number of schedules available for distribution to those who don't have access to computers, but the best information is and always will be online" to continue with New Paltz' forward-thinking philosophy? I haven't seen one of the printed schedules yet - do I need to ask if it was printed on 100% post-consumer paper with soy-based ink, something that both SUNY and our local governments should be doing whenever they print anything?

Building a Better Bus
Schedules aside, I don't know if this bus is going to achieve the success that's hoped for. Frankly, I think it costs too much. If the goal is to get people that already own cars to leave them at home, then it has to be a competitive option. If gas were still at four dollars a gallon and I'm getting forty miles to the gallon, then I'm getting ten dollars to the mile. I don't know how long the route is, but let's use a very high estimate of five miles. That would mean the bus is charging me 37.5 cents a mile, almost four times what I'm paying now. Granted, someone using a longer-term perspective would factor in the savings in automobile maintenance, but that person is also paying half the price for gas as I estimated, so I think that's a wash. While I think this bus will be a welcome relief for pedestrians, I don't think it's going to create any new non-drivers.

So what can we do? Well, if this bus ran on biodiesel I think it would address that concern, and more! It could pick up oil from local grease traps, reducing the strain on our sewer system, and the price for a ticket could be reduced to a very attractive rate - perhaps a nickel would be sufficient. Additionally, the wonderful publicity of such a loop bus might very well rival that which was received by the gay marriages (and would likely be less controversial, to boot). If there's money to put towards creating this bus route, I'm sure that some can be found to make a bus that has a chance of achieving the stated goal.

The bus was a great idea. Let's try to green it up a bit and it will be a fantastic idea.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Was I invited to this party?

When I was approaching the age of 18, I was seriously thinking about how I would register myself to vote. I had grown up in a dyed-in-the-wool, old-school Republican household, but my older sister had outed herself to me as a Democrat a few years before. For the most part I found politics to be incredibly dull, but the way my father ranted at the evening news and my sister's passion for debate suggested there was more to it than my teenaged mind could yet comprehend.

Ultimately I opted to join no party, because it seemed like such a Big Deal to join either one. (I don't know if there simply were no other parties at the time, or if I was just ignorant of them; I knew that Anderson had run an impressive third campaign for the Presidency, but it never occurred to me that there were more options to choose from.) Even as a freshman in college I understood that a political party said something about your philosophy, and my own philosophy, that of a young man who hugged trees and hated everything else, didn't seem adequately represented.

I eventually joined a party and was quite content with it until I discovered it had a zillion different agendas that had nothing to do with my environmental positions. It was my fault for checking the box without doing my homework, and it actually served me well until it started fielding major candidates. I decided in the autumn that the party I was registered with had neither the power to accomplish anything of interest, nor the focus to accomplish much that I cared about, so I decided to change my registration to Republican.

Why Republican? Well, blame my father for that one - pretty much all my positive associations with the Republican brand come from him. Dad taught me that you don't solve problems by throwing money at them, that people need to live within their means without expecting a handout, and that we should have learned something from Prohibition before we started the War on Drugs. He believed that it's better to assume people are smart and ethical enough to make good decisions - but that you have to let them make bad decisions, too, without expectation of a handout from the government if you screw your life up.

The Republican party doesn't actually fit my own philosophy any better than the Green did, but it matches in different ways. I think the Green foreign policy platform is just as insane as the Republican energy policy. Truth is, there isn't a party out there that fits how I look at the world perfectly. From what I've read in this very blog, one either picks a party that fits one's philosophy or tries to mold one to that image. The former is impossible for me, and I don't care enough about politics to waste any effort on the latter. As my friends know, I expect to drift from party to party for the next couple of election cycles, seeing what different registrations feel like.

Of course, as long as I stick to New Paltz, my party affiliation is completely irrelevant. In fact, not only is mine irrelevant, I don't really care about anybody else's, either. People who are a party first and person next annoy me to no end. Political parties are a tool, and party loyalists lose track of that fact.

I've been actively lobbying a friend of mine to switch from a smaller party and become a Democrat for a few months now. My reasoning is that if, as I'm told, political decisions only get made in the Democratic caucus, that my friend, a politically active individual, should be in the thick of things trying to make changes. However I don't expect my advice to be heeded, because my friend doesn't wish to offend the head of the party by switching.

I understand that this isn't a big town, and people know each other, but are you going to political meetings to change the world or have drinks with friends? This is a college town - there are plenty of chances to have a drink with friends. I don't understand why someone would care about politics, and then associate emotions with it. Political activity is a tool that can accomplish many things, but so is a drill press - and I don't have a drink with my drill press.

Bill Mulcahy's letters to the editor suggest that so much is wrong in New Paltz because the Democrats control Town Hall. I sometimes agree with Bill's assessment of the problems, but I think it's because we elected five individuals that don't represent our interests. I don't care about their party affiliation, I care about who they are and what they do in the job. Yes, a party can suggest something about how a person would do a job if elected, but until I meet an honest politician I will think that party affiliation is an awfully speculative method of choosing a candidate.

I like the way the Village does it - parties really don't matter in those elections as much. I liked the last town council election even more - you can bet that every vote had thought put into it, if only to remember how to spell the candidate's name. I wonder if we can abolish petitions entirely in the Village and make all races entirely write-in campaigns? Sure would make the candidates work for every vote.

I know, if we did that we wouldn't get as many candidates that open doors for people, but hey, that's politics.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Bright Lights Big Village

I was at a party last night in High Falls and upon returning to New Paltz around midnight I was shocked at the panoply of lights emanating from the village. It hit me when we were on Springtown Road, I think. Now, it has been a while since I have taken a late night ride into town from the mountainside. When I moved to New Paltz twenty years ago I lived on Libertyville Road, so I know I must have two decade old memories of what New Paltz looked like at midnight entering from that side of town. I guess I have not driven into town, that late, in a long time because I nearly jumped out of my seat when I saw all the lights. When did this happen? (Am I old?)

After I expressed my shock and disbelief to my fabulous friend and driver, she just had to chime in and say, "Wait till you see it when Woodland Pond opens up -- for height across the landscape, faculty tower will pale in comparison. And these lights, well, they will have a lot of new friends..."