Monday, June 22, 2009

Graphic Gadfly Goodness!

It's time for this blog to look a little more like New Paltz.

It's time for this blog to find a way to allow people who don't prefer writing to express gadflyish views.

So, we're having a contest to design a banner for the New Paltz Gadfly. Here are the rules:
  1. The banner should be appropriately sized to look good replacing the text at the top of the page. I can't give you the specifics, which is one of the reasons why we're having a contest in the first place.
  2. The graphic should include "New Paltz Gadfly" in it.
  3. Don't include anything that will become dated quickly, such as the names or images of current elected officials. Try to make a design that will make as much sense in ten years as it does now.
  4. If you submit a design, you agree to allow your submission to be used on, and elsewhere for the promotion of, this blog.
  5. Entries will be posted without entrant names so that readers may comment. Anonymous comments won't be permitted on those posts.
  6. The winner's name and entry will be announced after the contest ends. The names of the other entrants will be added to their entries at this time, if and only if they agree.
  7. Contest entries must be emailed in png, gif, or jpg format to no later than June 30, 2009.
And prizes?
Acclamation, acclamation, and more acclamation. If you have an idea for a prize that you would want, send it along with the entry. If it's doable, your prize may just be the prize, even if you don't win!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Jason's List for New Paltz

100 Ideas for New Paltz

For the few dozen elected officials and appointed volunteers, I hope that this blog creates conversations whose high level of debate informs their work. For those of us not engaged in governance directly, I hope this blog creates a space where we as a community can write to each other about our vision for New Paltz beyond the next election cycle. I hope we can help each other clarify what steps we should take together in order to build the best community we can for those who come after us a generation from now. It’s the least we can do in gratitude to those who came before us and from whom we inherited the New Paltz we’ve come to love.

And thanks to New Paltz Gadfly, whose blog and the debates there gave me the idea to set this forum up.

Jason - thanks right back at you, great, great site!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Survey Says: Not New Paltz

The Town has posted the "Draft Public Input Element" as part of the Comprehensive Plan process here. Two points will be awarded to the first Gadfly reader who identifies kt's participant quote on page three.

Putting aside for the moment the merits of surveys in general, as promised, here is my analysis of the Town comprehensive survey results - in terms of whether or not the resulting sample is representative of Town Residents.

As I said in my previous post on this topic, "Done well, random sampling methods include contact with a small number of people, the results of which can represent the entire population under study. The answers obtained from a scientific probability survey are not just answers from those individuals who responded but more importantly, because of the design and methods by which the data is collected, can be used to generalize to the population as a whole. We want a methodology that ensures results are an estimate of what would have been obtained if all adults in the New Paltz were interviewed."

With that in mind, I compared the demography of the survey results with that of the Census. (Admittedly, somewhat old since the last Census was in 2000.) My analysis finds that:

As far as the number of adults in household and age categories(except for age 65+), the data is not comparable to Census. With respect to the presence of children in HH, those age 65+, and college (only) graduates, the survey is representative. However, there are some significantly underrepresented groups: Renters, Residents not in the labor force, Households earning less than $50,000 per year, and Residents with less than a college degree. Correspondingly, these group are overrepresented (which skews the results towards the views of these groups): Homeowners, Employed persons, Households earning more than $50,000 per year, and Residents with post-graduate degrees. Also worthy of note, since certain questions were absent from the survey, we have no comparison to actual population for Gender and Race/Ethnicity.

Based on this, my conclusion is that, whether you like the content of the survey or not is irrelevant, as the survey results are not representative of the population of the Town of New Paltz.

kt Tobin Flusser

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Wake up and smell the comprehensive plan

It seems that it's comprehensive plan season, with both the town and the village looking at the master plan which should be guiding all of our planning and zoning decisions.

The last time the village's master plan was updated, the zoning was never actually changed to conform to the new plan, so it didn't do much good. The town's plan isn't really cut out to deal with the types of development pressures we've seen in recent years, notwithstanding the Great Recession that we're now enjoying.

I don't know if surveys were in vogue when either plan was last updated, but they certainly are now. Margaret Human expressed in this week's paper that the town's process is hampered by the reliance on surveys. Meanwhile, the group looking at whether or not they are actually an official body that's been charged with looking at the master plan is debating the role that surveys should play in the village's process.

I can understand how statistical modeling can make it viable to gather data from large numbers of people, such as during the census. Using a questionnaire can also be useful to standardize responses so that they can be analyzed meaningfully. Statistics have their purpose, but if they're given undue weight in a community this size, they could do more harm than good.

The trouble with a survey is that the questions, to a large degree, presuppose the possible answers. A group of a half a dozen or so volunteers, no matter how talented, shouldn't be burdened with coming up with truly fair questions, and I have no faith in an outside consultant capturing the breadth of New Paltz.

Public input into these processes should not be limited to that sort of questioning - it's important for people to have other ways to express opinions. I think the best public participation comes from really controversial public hearings, such as the one on Crossroads (cue "where are they now?" music).

Most public hearings aren't even attended by crickets, so it's important to highlight the potential dangers of comprehensive plan updates. People who do not come and speak at these public hearings will not have any say in changes that could include:
  • Severely limiting your rights to develop your land as you see fit.
  • Endangering the wetlands and sensitive natural habitats.
  • Keeping out businesses that will keep our taxes down.
  • Letting in excessive commercial development that could lower property values.
  • Taking of your land in all but name.
  • Turning New Paltz into another Long Island mall town.
Extreme? Sure. But language like that will bring out interested people from all perspectives, and guarantee the level of participation that Margaret would like to see - a heck of a lot more than the usual suspects.

By all means, do some surveying, but don't give the information to the politicians and don't trust the figures if they feel wrong in your gut.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why hire a special prosecutor?

On the request of Justice Jonathan Katz, the Town Council is tonight interviewing candidates for a new special prosecutor position. I sent this email to the Council today.

I am opposed to the town hiring a special prosecutor.

The role of any government is to provide those services that cannot or will not be fairly made available through other means, including security, planning, and education. Governments tax their constituents in order to have the necessary resources to perform these functions.

When I asked the Supervisor about the special prosecutor, she told me that many other area municipalities have them, and that it's been generating a lot of revenue for them. This is the wrong answer.

If a government wishes to tax its citizens, it must do so in a transparent and equitable fashion that allows for full participation by the citizenry. The Supervisor's response makes it clear that she wishes to sidestep traditional revenue channels in an election year. It was not her stated intention to reduce crime or increase the responsiveness of the justice system; she wishes to raise money for the Town.

I submit that the only moral way to raise money is through the transparent budgeting process. This would include, for example, posting the full proposed budget on the town web site, which should be easy enough to do given that the site was designed specifically to make it possible to update content quickly.

If the Town wishes to become more just, may I suggest that in addition to hiring a special prosecutor, that it hire a special public defender? The one assigned by the County is overworked, unfamiliar with cases, and simply unable to adequately represent his clients due to the workload placed upon him. Such a new position would show that the Town Council is interested in justice, not secret revenue-generating schemes.

As you interview candidates for the special prosecutor position today, consider why you were elected. If you believe that New Paltz desires a straightforward government that does not seek to modify behavior or balance budgets through financial tricks, then please think twice about hiring a special prosecutor.
I tire of governments finding sneaky ways to balance budgets, be it like this or with parking meters, fees, or anything else that really amounts to modifying behavior via money. Taxes in New Paltz are high, but my problem is more that the true tax rate is well obfuscated by tactics such as these.