Saturday, November 6, 2010

Zero tolerance . . . policy or tradition?

Some interesting developments unfolded in the halls of New Paltz High School this week.  Several students were caught violating school policy on drugs, and the district's "zero tolerance policy" rolled into action, with the principal meting out multi-day out-of-school suspensions pending hearings.  Despite the fact that the case is swathed in rumor and cloaked in the secrecy necessary for dealing with kids, it's an opportunity to see how the school's code of conduct and due process work.

By cobbling together scant official reports with the existing rumor mill and some knowledgeable sources, I pulled together some details of the case.  Students generally believe that a dozen students were involved, but none of those questioned were able to provide more than one name.  The official line from superintendent Maria Rice was that the number I had heard was grossly exaggerated, and a source close to the investigation claimed that it was really only five students.  I spoke to the one kid whose name the other students knew, and he confirmed that the accusation was of selling marijuana (and, I'm going to guess, possession).  I was able to gather very little information about the other cases, but it appears that one of the other students may have been caught with a weapon (brass knuckles) and turned over the alleged drug dealer to cop a plea.

Now the fun begins.  At the beginning of the school year the board said that they were going to be looking at the "zero tolerance policy."  I reviewed the code with a board member, looking for a quote about that member's position on zero tolerance.  It took some time for the member to wade through the code of conduct, which didn't surprise me, but what did was what we didn't find . . . zero tolerance.

Wikipedia says that "zero-tolerance policy in schools is a policy of punishing any infraction of a rule, regardless of accidental mistakes, ignorance, or extenuating circumstances."  However, the district's code provides for a wide range of consequences for drug charges, ranging from an oral warning to permanent suspension from school.  (This is the same range of punishment that can be meted out for lying, possessing a cell phone or iPod on school premises, and using an obscene gesture.)  The superintendent is explicitly given the right to consider "extenuating circumstances" and other information when deciding on or approving of a disciplinary action.

With the board member befuddled, I contacted the district office to ask exactly where this "zero tolerance policy" exists.  I got a request to FOIL the info, and I'm considering exactly what to ask for.

The language of discipline in schools has changed.  OSS (out-of-school suspension) was not in my vocabulary as a kid - you were suspended, or you were not.  It was always in school.  If a kid got kicked out, we called it "expelled," and I think it happened once in my school years.  Now we have OSS and ISS, and OSS is considered a viable option.  Let's see how that works, shall we?

This kid is out of school until he gets a hearing in a week or so.  He will get maybe two hours of tutoring a day, and unless his parents don't work, he will be otherwise unsupervised.  So by sending him home, the schools have committed to spending money on a tutor above and beyond what his teachers already cost, right?  And since he's accused of breaking the law, I assume that there is some possibility that in his free time he will roam the community and perhaps do something that will require police activity - also paid for by my tax dollars.  If the student was remanded to the school as a non-dangerous but disruptive student, he could get his work sent to him all day long and require neither tutors, nor police.

Sounds to me like the school district is foisting off its problems on the rest of us.  I've talked about the problems with OSS before, and I think it needs to change.  If a kid is a danger to the schools he needs to be out of there - but that probably means the police need to be involved.  I doubt there is a case where the kid is really a danger and some kind of professional intervention (mental health, police, whatever) is not needed.  Why can't you keep the rest of these kids in the building?  Why are they being sent home?  It doesn't appear to be mandated by law, and so far I can't find the actual "zero intelligence tolerance policy" which is taking things out of their hands . . . so why is the school washing its hands and putting the problem back in our laps?

Considering the number of administrators making more than $150,000 a year, I think they can find a way to do just that.  We're paying them a lot, and I would like to see them use those well-paid brains to come up with a better idea, like keeping kids in school.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Palidino Campaign Stop in New Paltz Met with Protests

"There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual. That is not how God created us." -Carl Paladino

"Perhaps he should have known he'd face trouble in gay-friendly New Paltz." - ABC News

New Paltz Republican Party Chair Butch Dener and NYS Republican candidate for governor Carl Paladino

American Gay Farmer Billiam Equality van Roestenberg and recently married Noa Simons

American Gay Farmer Billiam Equality van Roestenberg and recently married Noa Simons


Activist Tim Hunter "This guitar stops hate"

Activist Tim Hunter sings, loudly

Photos by Daniel Torres

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Village Board candidate profile: Pete Healey

I was really excited when Pete Healey contacted me about being profiled as a Village Board candidate, because his previous year-long stint had a really interesting ending.  The second significant New Paltz write-in campaign in recent history led to Brian Kimbiz taking the seat by one vote, but Pete was quick to point out that he didn't actually lose.

The election that Pete Healey didn't win

As he explains it, the reports of the recount claim that four votes were identified as miscounted, but such was not actually the case.  Although he did not review the files until after his opportunity to appeal had passed, he discovered that one of those four votes was actually a disputed vote, rather than a miscounted one.  The Village's election inspectors ruled that a write-in vote for "Kazmin" couldn't be assigned to any of the three candidates in that race (the third being Patrick O'Donnell, who was elected, served as both trustee and Deputy Mayor, and then stepped down prematurely; this happens a lot in village politics).  During the recount, he explains, the county election commissioners overruled their decision, and gave that vote to Brian Kimbiz, in an action that Healey calls illegal.  Had they not done so, he and Kimbiz would have tied . . . or if Healey had cast a vote for himself, he would have been the victor.

He doesn't shy away from not voting for himself, nor is he apologetic.  "I may not vote for myself again, but I may spend more than five minutes and five dollars campaigning," he said, referencing a quote about his campaign efforts in that race.  His reason for his vote?  "It's an ego thing," he says, explaining that he feels that if he needs his single vote to get elected, that he probably just shouldn't serve.

His reason for not campaigning is more pragmatic:  when Kimbiz was removed from the ballot after many of his nominating petition signatures were successfully challenged, it appeared to be a two-person race for two seats.  He wasn't aware of the write-in effort that Kimbiz launched, and focused on other things.

The push for unification

Pete has been a voice for unification in New Paltz for years, and he's watching the process of the committee charged with studying the issue closely (I can't recall the exact name of it, these committee names all start to sound alike after a time).  They compiled results of a survey which, he tells me, indicate that 75% of respondents are in favor of fewer governments.  As for the 25 people who responded that they strongly disagreed with the idea of unification, "It will be good for them, too."

He views unification as an opportunity to create a government that's inclusive, and he wants the process to reflect that goal.  "We have to find a way to make sure we never have a secretive old fool or a bully in charge," he said, meaning that he wants to prevent a strong executive by including checks and balances on the position's power.  He's frustrated by the roadblocks he sees; particularly he wonders why the Town Council hasn't appointed a co-chair to the advisory panel, a task which they were expected to perform by August.  The working group had been promised the co-chair for the advisory group (if you're confused, join the club; I have to wonder if the structure is so complex for any good reason) last week, but it hadn't happened by the time I spoke with Pete last Saturday.

Pete favors the village form of government, because state law strictly proscribes how a town government functions.  Villages, he says, have the flexibility of a city without the rules.  He intends on lobbying aggressively to see the committee's work to completion, and he is looking to get a pro-unification board elected this May, when four seats in total will be up for grabs.  He believes that "some aspect of proportionality" should be incorporated into the new government, effectively breaking the Democratic stranglehold on New Paltz.

Time for a fire district?

Is a fire district the solution to our endless discussions about funding fire prevention?  Pete says not yet . . . he'd like the unification study to finish its work before that issue is brought to the voters.  "Give us six months," to sort out these questions, he says, and if a fire district turns out to be the best option, he'll be all for it.  He isn't bashful about accusing Toni Hokanson of manipulating the process, either, which is in keeping with Terry Dungan's letter in last week's paper, which accused her of causing the entire funding scrap by withholding the Town payments for fire services.  As he points out, the Town tried to force a vote on a fire district referendum during the alleged joint meeting held back in July.

He also questions the proposed structure, however.  Why not look into combining fire and rescue operations, he ponders.  Most surrounding towns have fire and rescue districts, and he thinks that if a district is pursued that a merger should be the first question to pose.

Because I asked . . .

Pete believes that building in wetlands should be strictly controlled.  Victorian Square, in particular, is a development that he believes never should have gotten out of the planning stages.

Pete is seeking other candidates with a pro-unification stance to run this March.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Paltz Central School District Seeks Community Input

from the NPCSD press release -

New Paltz Central School District Seeks Community Input:
District Issues Open Invitation to Join Comprehensive Facilities Planning Process

New Paltz … The New Paltz Central School District invites district residents, taxpayers, parents and business owners to take part in its Comprehensive Facilities Planning process. To learn more about the process, the public is invited to attend two open enrollment informational meetings this month:

· Thursday, September 23rd at 7:00 PM at New Paltz High School Auditorium

· Monday, September 27th at 7:00 PM at Lenape Elementary Cafeteria

The informational meetings, as well as the entire planning process, will be facilitated by the district’s architecture and engineering consultant, CSArch, of Newburgh, New York. Attendees will learn the goals of the Comprehensive Facilities Planning process, as well as how information, demographics, and ideas from numerous sources will be gathered, compiled, analyzed and shared with the public and the Board of Education.

As part of the process, eight stakeholder groups are currently being formed to represent every facet of the New Paltz Central School District community. Beginning in October, each group will meet up to three times. The forum will provide an opportunity for the public to learn in detail about the state of district facilities, fields and grounds, as well as voice ideas and concerns for the future of district properties.

“The District is creating the Stakeholder Groups to establish open lines of communication and receive clear opinions and ideas from the public,” said Maria Rice, Superintendent of New Paltz Central School District. “It is extremely important that this process is transparent and inclusive so that everyone’s voice is represented in decisions about the future of our school facilities.”

There will be an opportunity to sign-up for a specific Stakeholder Group at the informational meetings. Interested parties can also learn about the process and sign-up to be a part of the Stakeholder Group online at the district’s website at

Stakeholder groups will include:

· Business Community / Service Organizations (Rotary, Lions Club, etc)

· Parents (includes PTA/PTSA)

· Community at Large

· Senior Citizens

· SUNY New Paltz

· Facility Use Groups (including sports organizations)

· Non-profits (Libraries, Mohonk Preserve, Greenworks, Arts Community)

· Municipalities (7 towns within the district, Law Enforcement, Fire Departments, Highway Department)

Individuals who are associated with the school district, including instructional and non-instructional staff, students, the district’s leadership team, the Health Advisory Committee, the Diversity Committee and the Board Facilities Committee will have an opportunity to provide ideas and feedback directly to CSArch facilitators through Input Committees. These individuals, as well as Board of Education members, are not eligible to serve as part of Stakeholder Groups.

The facilities plan is being carried out as part of the district’s Comprehensive Educational Master Plan. It coincides with requirements by the New York State Education Department for every school district to complete a district-wide Building Conditions Survey. Expenses incurred to complete the planning process are largely reimbursable by New York State.

All meeting minutes and recommendations will be documented on a special section of the district’s website pages entitled “4 Our Schools,” set-up specifically for the Comprehensive Facilities Planning Process. Visit the district’s website at

More detailed information about the Comprehensive Facilities Planning process will be available at the Open Enrollment Information Meetings and on the website. Please call Paige Lewis at CSArch Architecture |Engineering |Construction Management at (845) 561-3179 with questions about the process.

also here

Friday, September 17, 2010

South Putt Corners Road - Update

In response to hearing about the positive change in the South Putt Corners road improvement and widening project status on the county priority list, my friend Laura said, "Incredible! Great news for many, and a jolt of restored faith in the public process."

I agree, it is GREAT to be able to tell this success story. Not only has the project been moved up the list, but the timeline is now shorter and the design work will start this year and the entire project will be completed by 2015 (in contrast to the previous 2018 in place before we even got knocked off the top of the list).

This is all a result of activism by New Paltz community members and reaction to it by local and county officials. Bill Weinstein, chair of the New Paltz Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee deserves tremendous credit for crafting and distributing the petition, and for getting all the important players to plead the case - as in the town and village boards and the school district. Thanks to Mike Hein and Dennis Doyle for listening, understanding, and responding.

As far as my own personal dilemma about letting my son walk from the village to the high school - after all my angst, discussion, and blogging about whether or not he should be allowed to walk, he was allowed to walk. On the first day of school he walked - 2 miles each way - on a lot less sleep than he was used to getting (and with a guitar lesson to walk to after school to make things fun.)

And then he decided, after ONE day, that he would prefer the bus and has taken it ever since.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pushing the push-up agenda

If you've ever had the opportunity to spend time with me in town, you probably know that one of the main reasons I walk around outside is to do push-ups.  I participate in a very unusual physical fitness program, and after explaining the details to Police Chief Joseph Snyder, I think it's time for the story to be told.

Personal Integrity, Growth, and Strength
The program is called Push-ups for Personal Integrity, Growth, and Strength, and its basic tenet is simple:  when a police officer passes you on the street, drop and do ten.  The police vehicle or officer serves as a visual cue that it's exercise time, making it easier to remember; in fact, officers and civilians alike enjoy pointing out a passing police vehicle to me so I don't miss out.

However, this program is filled with nuance and depth that makes it a more successful exercise regimen than I have ever tried before.  Let's dissect the name:

  • Push-ups:  Not everyone's favorite exercise, but it can be done just about anywhere.  I've known people to try crunches for cops and leg lifts for law enforcement officers, but push-ups seem to have sticking power.
  • Personal:  This program is completely adaptable to the individual.  I originally decided to do only five per officer on weekends because I figured I would not be able to keep up; five departments have jurisdiction in New Paltz and weekends in a college town are always high energy.  I've dropped that rule, though, and added a few more for myself, such as doing an extra two if the vehicle has its lights on or if the officer is wearing a hat.  (Right now I'm considering actually doing one less if they're wearing a baseball-style hat, because I think they're unprofessional looking).
  • Integrity:  If you start this program, you will be visible and accountable to continue.  However, no one can tell me what my criteria are but me, and it's my job to maintain my own integrity.  I've had officers tell me it's too hot to do push-ups, and others who tell me to do more; I maintain my own code regardless. The integrity portion of the program is the only thing that got me through my first four-cop push-up mini-marathon.
  • Growth:  An officer on foot patrol commented on how I noticed police cars on the street before he did; my perceptiveness is definitely sharpened. I've built rapport with several more members of the force.  My understanding of police work, appreciation of how they're perceived, and even my attitude about the Bill of Rights have grown and matured since I have been actively doing push-ups in this way.
  • Strength:  Physically, since April of this year I have gone from a guy who was shaking on push-up number seven to someone who often does more than a hundred a day.  Because I get a visual reminder to exercise, I'm more successful than I ever was with morning yoga, a daily jog, or any other program.
Different people, different views
Different people who follow the program have different reasons, which is another facet of the "personal" aspect.

The fact that it can be shortened to "Push-ups for PIGS" is funny to many (civilian and officer alike), while putting a positive spin to the word.  ("Cop" was considered negative by some until the 1970s, but is now neutral at worst.)  Chief Snyder loves the "personal integrity" aspect, saying, "We'd have a lot less crime in this country if more people had personal integrity."

Justin Holmes, who coined the acronym based on an acquaintance's phrase and helped popularize the program on lower Main Street, believes it sends a multi-layered message.  "If there is civil unrest, we're here to help.  If there is abuse by our government, we're here to resist," he explained to Chief Snyder and myself.  He and his partner Amanda Catherine Stauble started using the police as a visual cue after they registered for karate classes.  "We had to find a way to keep doing push-ups all week, or the ones in class would have killed us," Holmes recalls.

Not everyone sees the program in a favorable light.  I've had people tell me, "Police don't deserve push-ups."  I tell them the same thing I've told a number of officers:  it's not for them, it's for me.  When I do it it's a gesture of respect, but not one of deference.

There are also officers who aren't thrilled; I occasionally get a stony glare among the many smiles and waves I get from passing police (one University Police car gave me a short chirp of the siren the other night).  Most take it as good fun, and I hope that the small number who don't will warm to the idea once they learn more about it.

That being said, most people are very receptive.  I make friends with civilians and police officers alike by doing push-ups for personal integrity, growth, and strength.  Everyone is happy to point out that a bicycle officer just scooted by when my back was turned, or remind me if I owe an extra two for the hat he was wearing. A state trooper parked his car to get out and talk with a group of us one night, after driving around the block three times to see if we really would do a new set each time.  (Actually most of us wouldn't do more just because the officer went around the block, but it was fun so we made an exception.)  A Town officer I had never met before stopped to chat because he liked my form. It makes "community policing" a very real goal.

There's something very special about living in a town where you remember the police officer's first name.  Thanks to my push-ups, I know that New Paltz is that town.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Paltz District 7 Results

New Paltz District 7 Results: Democratic Committee Seat

Kitzman - 67
Torres - 33
Hokanson - 29
Honig - 61

No comment.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

South Putt Corners Road - A Dilemma

I was quoted in the paper this week, "South Putt Corners is an accident waiting to happen." There is currently a petition being circulated by the New Paltz Bike-Ped committee requesting that Ulster County "restore the widening of South Putt Corners Road to its former high-priority status, with work starting in 2011." You can find more info at the above link - including a video - and find petitions at The Bicycle Rack, The Bakery, Bicycle Depot, Rock & Snow, Catskill Mountain Multisport, Bistro Mountain Store, or Eastern Mountain Sports.

Here is my dilemma. I live a stones throw away from the Middle School and my son, who starts ninth grade this September, and who has walked to school for the past three years, really wants to walk to the high school - approximately 2 miles each way. This would be great daily exercise for a kid who abhors organized sports, and even at a slow 15 minutes per mile pace, he could walk it faster than the bus ride.

What would you do? Would you let him walk? If so, would you send him up Main and down South Putt (more time on South Putt but sidewalks on Main) or down Rt. 32 and up South Putt (less time on South Putt but no sidewalks on Rt. 32)? See the poll on right to answer. (If you answer "Other", please provide detail in the comments section.)

Help a gadfly sharpen his saw

I'm much better at observing what people do when they're already in office than talking to them about their plans if they make it.  To that end, I would like the help of my readers in interviewing candidates for the 2011 village elections.

Please tell me what issues you're going to be most interested in hearing about in the coming months.  I will take those data and create a poll so I can get a sense of the priorities of this particular slice of the community.  This will allow me to be consistent as I write about the candidates (which I plan on doing whether or not they talk to me directly), and it will also allow me to make sure I focus on the topics which others find relevant.

A reminder:  anonymous comments are permitted, and all comments are moderated.  If you would prefer your comment not be published, make a note of that in the comment itself and I will honor that request for this post.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mayoral candidate profile: Jeremy Blaber

When I first saw bouncing around Facebook a post in which Jeremy Blaber declared his candidacy for New Paltz mayor, I said to myself, "why?"  He's a Kingston guy, I said to myself, so is this just some kind of stunt to generate some buzz? Luckily for me he was the first candidate to accept my invitation to chat.

It turns out that Blaber, who presently splits his time between Brooklyn and Kingston, didn't choose New Paltz without reason.  He lived in the village for three years before starting a job with the Working Families Party, which took him down to Brooklyn.  He's careful to point out that New Paltz has a very high transient population, and that his own ties here are at least as strong as some other rumored candidates.

So why New Paltz?  He told me when we sat down at the Muddy Cup Cafeteria today that he's probably going to return to the village in the near future, regardless of how his candidacy goes.  However, he plans to "run a very aggressive race" for the job, with plans to spend $10-15K on his campaign.  "I'm not trying to buy the race, but I am serious about it," he told me.

Blaber has reached out to all the possible candidates mentioned in the gossip pages, since (as far as I know) no one else has declared as yet.  He's hoping to run as part of a slate of candidates, and he's searching for the right mix. As for what their party will be called, he thinks he may run a contest for ideas.  All he knows for sure is that he will steer clear of anything that suggests affiliation with Working Families, because that kind of confusion has caused trouble for candidates in the past.

"2011 is going to be an interesting election year, and it all starts with New Paltz," he told me.  He expects the race to be interesting, and he understands that he needs to set himself apart from other younger candidates that may emerge.  Expect a platform of unifying the various factions of New Paltz; better communications with the village board, town council, and residents; and greater inclusion of District 9. In fact, he's planning on starting with a non-partisan voter registration drive targeting the thousand new freshmen arriving on campus this weekend.

Since he mentioned the "U" word, I asked him his views on merging our governments.  Like me, he's not willing to believe that it's a bad thing, or a good one, without more information.  I also asked him about one of my other favorite issues, that of districting up the village board so each member is elected from one district and the mayor is the only at-large official.  He believes it makes for a more accountable and responsive government.

Blaber doesn't expect this to be an easy campaign, and he's planning on winning it "block by block by block."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

David Dukler's Comments at the 09/18/10 School Board Meeting (my new favorite Gadflyl!)

This most recent controversy about personal behavior only reminds us that we are living in the age of “People” magazine, where everyone’s life is put on display, true or not.

Of course, having a standard against which persons serving in the public domain are judged is both necessary and important. Seen in that light, the recent spate of articles in the New Paltz Times regarding Mr. Kerr could be seen as serving the public interest, reporting done to inform the public about the deeds of its public servants. Is this not the role of a newspaper?

We can also reflect on the investigative article that this same paper ran this year on yet another member of the board. The article examined the long career of this member, years which had been accompanied by controversy. It was the result of extensive research, involving many hours of footwork and interviews. What you say! You don’t remember the article? The reason for that is it was never published. This article was withheld from publication by the editor of the New Paltz Times. It is relevant here because at the least, it spoke to a little-known fact that when this individual first ran for the school board, they were in the process of suing the school district. While I have not seen this article, I know enough to infer that much of the information would have given a fuller picture of the controversies and the story behind the story regarding this public servant. Why wasn’t this story published? Doesn’t the public have the right to know about this individual’s deeds, or misdeeds, as well?

Nevertheless the public was informed about this a few weeks ago in a letter to the editor. In it, the writer was responding to the present controversy. Pete Savago had written a letter critical of Mr. Kerr and taking him to task regarding the most recent allegations. The writer of the letter indicated that Mr. Savago questioning Mr. Kerr’s behavior was hypocritical in that Mr. Savago himself had been charged with DWI while serving in the UC legislature. The writer then questioned why the above-mentioned article had not been published, as I have done. What you say! You don’t remember that letter? In fact, these parts of the letter were redacted by the editor so once again, the public was not given the full story.

These actions would suggest that the New Paltz Times is not unbiased in its reporting of the news. Rather, it would seem that they pick and choose the stories that represent their point of view and in effect, use their news pages as an extension of their editorial point of view. The public is not given the full picture, but one that is selectively told by the paper to advance its own agenda.

If, on a local level, we are to remain an informed public, we must demand honest and unbiased reporting from our only source of print news. The failure of the New Paltz Times to live up to this standard as mentioned above, the excellent reporting of school board meetings by Mike Townsend notwithstanding, is a problem looking for a resolution. Without it, the public remains ill-served.


Last night's school board meeting, and the subsequent press coverage, were certainly entertaining.  I avoided taking a position until last night; the fact that I know Mr. Kerr made me want take the time to gather the facts so that I could be sure that our relationship (which I would characterize as an acquaintanceship, albeit a strong enough one that he offered me a ride recently) did not bias my view.

Two out of three reporters have filed their stories; the only one missing is for our local weekly paper, which comes out a day before its publication date; that story should be available Wednesday next in print.  The articles which are out, one in the Times Herald Record and the other in the Daily Freeman, didn't include my comments, so I will reproduce them here, with helpful links that I couldn't figure out how to include orally:

My comments this evening are focused on the Code of Conduct, and the "zero tolerance" policy that underlies it. The district's code of conduct in its present form makes it theoretically possible for a student to receive out-of-school suspension for using an iPod, and for a number of other offenses including serious ones like drug dealing and bullying.
In today's society, where almost all adults must work to keep their households afloat, OSS is more of a reward than a punishment, and should be reserved for those rare and extreme cases where keeping a child in school poses a danger.  In fact, a few months ago a New Paltz high school student told me that yes, he has deliberately broken rules to earn himself a three-day vacation from school.
Instead of sending kids home where they will be unsupervised, I suggest we revamp the code of conduct to keep most student offenders in the building.  There they can be supervised, and held accountable for their assignments. The district could even explore a community-service component, demanding that troublemakers give back to make up for their disruption.  OSS is an abdication of responsibility which simply transfers a problem out the school's influence. It's one of the strongest reasons why the zero-tolerance policy is ineffective.
I would like to see these changes take place from the top down, starting with the Board itself.  Many people in this room feel that Don Kerr should not be afforded the luxury of being deemed innocent until proven guilty.  If the Board agrees with this position, then Mr. Kerr's punishment should send a strong message. Don't go easy on him - make him continue in the thankless job of Board President, and demand that he give back to this community by paying for all the necessary training out of his own pocket.  After he's been President for a year, I have no doubt that Mr. Kerr will see the error of his ways.
It was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but it was completely true.  The Code of Conduct sucks, and needs a revamp as I've been saying for months (and will be getting one this year regardless).  The President job also sucks, even when the man in the job doesn't have his own deeds haunting him.  He has to set the agenda, run the meeting, and take it on the chin for every action the school does and does not take.  There are two other members who have been President before, and three who according to past practice are unqualified because they have never served as VP or President.  Neither Patrick Rausch nor Bob Rich wanted the job.  That's because they know it's a beast and a half, and takes countless hours of unpaid time to do well.  And that remark about the training? Well, Don's already paying for it out of his own pocket, because they didn't budget for it.

There was over an hour of public comment, and I can't fault either reporter for redacting my viewpoint, but there were other omissions that I think were more glaring:

  • Justin Holmes and several others suggested that this is an opportunity to review our society's inconsistent messages about marijuana use.  His partner Amanda Catherine Stauble probably did the best job of it, however; she explained how as a DARE graduate she watched as several friends discovered that pot isn't as bad as the program claims, and how those lies lead kids into falsely believing harder drugs are no big deal.
  • David Dukler, former school board member, pointed out the biased editorial practices of the New Paltz Times regarding coverage of school board members and candidates. His comments did a much better job than I have of pointing out how rampant yellow journalism is in this community.  Not a surprise that this was ignored; the Record took my inquiries into Edgar Rodriguez' lawsuit against the district and turned it into an article on Steve Greenfield, who wasn't even running. Gotta protect your own, right?
  • There are rumblings of a time- and money-wasting legal action to get Don Kerr to resign.  I say it's a waste because there's no legal recourse, period.  If this was a concern, it should have been addressed when he ran for reelection.  Public comment is appropriate, but please don't piddle away my tax dollars dragging this out any longer.
I would like to address Ed Burke specifically, since he does occasionally comment here.  Folks referred to this as a "witch hunt" because there are people who are using this incident to attack Don, even though they don't particularly care about this issue.  I don't believe that describes you, but please don't be naive.  One of Don's most outspoken critics told me about his own pot use in the parking lot, and the room was packed with people who feel that removing Don from this position will help them keep their unreported cash rents in their pockets rather than paying their share for our kids' education.  It is possible that there are people who agree with you for reasons other than those they state.  It's Don's fault he gave them the ammunition, but that doesn't mean everyone has the kids' best interests at heart.

Note: per this blog's code of conduct I have attempted to contact each person named in this post.  I have not yet obtained email addresses for Patrick Rausch, Bob Rich, or Ed Burke.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Open call to New Paltz Village candidates

If you're thinking of running for office in the Village of New Paltz in the May 2011 election, I would like to talk to you.  Here's what I would like to know:

  1. What are you running for?
  2. Have you announced?  (I will not force your hand; someone already tried to get me to do this to a potential candidate but I'm not that easy to manipulate.)
  3. Would you be interested in providing:
    1. a guest post here?
    2. an interview?
If you would like to contact me and do not have my contact information, feel free to leave a comment on this post.  All comments are moderated and I will be the only one to see them; they will be removed after I have read them.  Just give me an email address or phone number (or Facebook profile) at which to contact you.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Yet again, New Paltz is at odds over . . . what, exactly?

I have been asked to comment on the recent joint town-village . . . thing.  I have some thoughts, but not enough to form a cohesive opinion.  I have also invited one of the involved parties to share their perspective here.

Until one or the other of those things happens, please consider this a forum for debate.  I will try to get comments approved as frequently as I can, but the current local and internet climates preclude me from turning it off altogether.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tale of Two Court Cases

I've been watching the development of Don Kerr's plight with interest.  Much like Bill Clinton, we knew all about Don's legal wranglings when we reelected him in 2009, but the New Paltz Times feature article update on his case has brought a lot of outrage against him to the forefront.  The timing of that article confused me, but the irony of it amused me.  The reactions of the local citizenry has been even more instructive.

Timing is everything
I've always been annoyed by the print world's habit of dating publications in a way that didn't seem to be in synch with the real world.  I understand that you're writing in advance of publication dates, but the science and business of publishing makes it possible to hit the newsstands on the same date listed on your front page.  Our local paper consistently shows up on Wednesday, but has a Thursday publication date.  Until now it was only an annoyance to a pretty pedantic fellow (your truly), but in this case it made them look downright silly.

The paper with the Thursday date gave an update on Don's legal case on Wednesday, only a few hours before the case was closed.  I have to assume that the editor and publisher didn't want to look like asses, so they obviously didn't know about that court date.  The last court date was well over a month ago.  Why did they run a story when they did?

Drawing the line between public and private
When his case first hit the news, Don Kerr claimed that elected officials have no expectation of privacy.  I would say that's true to some extent - if it's said in public or in the public record then no, no privacy.  Whatever the editorial decision drove the comical timing of the original article, covering the story was fair game.  In fact, I would have to say that it's appropriate to cover the publicly- available portion of any relevant court case pertaining to an elected official.  Probably not divorces, estates and the like, but cases which are relevant.  Don was accused of using a substance disallowed by the district he represents, so it's relevant.  Edgar Rodriguez was suing the district he represents, so it was also relevant.  Why one was covered and the other not is quite beyond my understanding.  I can guess, but you can be sure that the guess foremost on my mind would be considered libelous by the owner of Ulster Publishing.

Hypocrisy and outrage
I've been watching my Facebook feed and I've seen a lot of outrage over the Kerr case.  One person in particular was quite strident, so I reached out to her.  She had privately taken me to task for covering the Rodriguez case when That Paper would not, because she believed I was being overly intrusive by obtaining publicly-available court documents in that case.  I'm afraid my message to her (redacted below to remove personally-identifying information) was a bit strongly-worded:

I believe you're a hypocrite and I'd like to give you the chance to prove me wrong.
I would like to invite you to make a guest post on the New Paltz Gadfly regarding your feelings about Don Kerr. Be aware that I will be commenting to compare and contrast your reaction to this case with your reaction to my posts about Edgar Rodriguez.
I welcome the opportunity to a lively and public debate with someone who sees things differently than I, and I expect that the local court of public opinion will weigh in heartily.
How about it? Care to take a more visible stab at the Kerr situation?
Not surprisingly, she declined the challenge.   Apparently when Edgar is in court suing the district it's none of our business, but when Don gets pulled over for doing something that could send a mixed message it is.  I'd still like to invite someone to post on Don's situation and how they feel about it - even if that person isn't actually a hypocrite.  Agree or disagree, I will treat you with courtesy and only attack your ideas, not you personally.  I know that asking people not to resort to name-calling renders a lot of people ineligible, but I'm hoping someone can find intelligent ways to debate the topic, rather than taking cheap shots like calling Don a "lovable oaf."  Violence may be the first refuge of the incompetent, but name-calling is the first refuge of the incompetent pacifist.

Positive signs on the School Board
Edgar Rodriguez voted against Don Kerr's presidency because he thinks Don's approach to drug problems doesn't acknowledge the realities of addiction.  I didn't see that it made it to That Paper, but Don is also interested in addressing the over-the-top zero tolerance policy.  I like this; the current code of conduct rewards students for bad behavior by sending them home.  This means kids with drug problems and criminal proclivities have plenty of free time to pursue those interests, and the district washes its hands of the problem.

I fully support Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Kerr in their fight to create a rational disciplinary policy for the New Paltz Central School District.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wow, It Has Been So Long - I Heart You New Paltz

I have not posted in months but this fabulous picture motivated me to fill you alls in on where I am at…

Butch Dener, Chair of the New Paltz Republicans and Andrew Cuomo. You do recall the hard time I gave him about cross endorsements, right? Butch says he is NOT endorsing Andrew, and supports and will work hard for Rick Lazio.

Anyway, you may have noticed that I am on the school board now, and just recently was elected Vice President. Plus, besides that, I have a pretty cool job that takes up a lot of my time. (Here is a like to a report we just recently released.)

Anyway… I miss the Gadfly, and Gadlfy-ing. Here are some things I would blog about if I had time:
1) The things the press writes about, as in cherry picks (e.g. THE LAW, as in Don Kerr, no trial etc, etc )and the things it does not write about (e.g. MULTIPLE LAWSUITS against the school district and SUNY New Paltz, as in Edgar Rodriguez, all suits LOST, etc, etc )
2) Pesticides. The push statewide outlawing the use of pesticides on school grounds. Our village passed a resolution in 2007 to outlaw them on village property. We need to press the Town to do the same, pronto. Children are dying, I kid you not.
3) Climate Smart Communities. Yays to both Village and Town for passing the Climate Smart Communities Pledge. Now, both governments, please put your money where your mouth is and follow through on the pledge’s commitments. The Town voted to fund ICLEA and the Village to put in more crosswalks, yay, but this is just the beginning.
4) Wetlands Law. Seriously? We don’t have a Wetlands and Watercourse law in the Town or Village. Shameless. This is not a tree-hugger issue. Every 1% loss of wetlands within a watershed can increase total flooding by almost 7%. This is an environmental AND ECONOMIC issue. Please press the town to move forward, email Toni Hokanson (supervisor) or Dave Gordon (town lawyer) to move forward and get this Town law passed so that once the Town passes a law the village can adopt it as well, with a village overlay district.
5) Crosswalks. Oh, did they make the community work hard, but yes, we will be getting more across Main Street. The village board , sans Patrick O’Donnell, voted to fund $3000 plus for up to three more crosswalks across Main Street. The county and DOT is paying for most of it. Don’t get me started on how much MORE we need our Town and Village government need to promote walkable and bikable New Paltz. (Patrick did vote for the sidewalks, it was the Climate Pledge he abstained on.)
6) On topic.. the DOT South Putt Improvement Project has been bumped WAY down on the priority list. I have a 9th grader who WANT S TO WALK THE TWO MILES TO SCHOOL but I have to forbid it, as it is NOT SAFE. I repeat, he wants to walk FOURS MILE A DAY instead of TAKE THE BUS and I have to FORBID IT. SOOOOOOOO not COOl, IT IS KILLING ME. It is a county road, let’s make them take responsibility for it.
7) The NP Govt Efficiency Project . SIGN UP to submit your name to be a part of the decision making team. Email me at for details. Brittany Turner and Pete Healey have complained about transparency in this project. Personally, my impression is that they have not made a lot of decisions yet & my primary concern is speed, this is taking way too long.
8) The freaking POOL. Seriously? My friend Marianne recently wrote - “Unexamined privilege is ugly”. The situation at Moriello, once again/still, with the swim team, the rates for non-NewPaltzians, how we FUND this privilege, access for all, etc, etc, needs to be examined, everything. It still does not sit right with me.
9) I have to give a shout out to my two fave NP bloggers – Lagusta and Martin – when the Gadfly is dry, check them out, you won’t be sorry.
10) So, so, so, so, so many school board issues. DARE is dead. The MS remains a mess, I am ashamed about the status of that building and am working hard - as are my fellow board members - to rectify. A lot of work needs to be done, and yes, I signed myself up to do it. I am there. Please reach out if you have ANY thoughts on this or other topics.
Okay, just for kicks, here are some more picks from Andrew Cuomo’s rally in NP today:

Lastly, check it out, I will be on WDST tomorrow morning chatting with the super cool Greg Gattine at 8:15 am. Call me Gadfly, call me Pundit… I just – seriously – want to make the world, or at least NP, a better place.


Monday, June 21, 2010

New look for the Gadfly

Longtime readers will remember some unfinished business about sprucing up the look of the Gadfly.  The contest itself was not well-attended at first, but after a second call two of this blog's three readers submitted entries.  Choosing a winner was unfortunately sidelined by my attempts at journalism (which are overdue an explanation), but Google just added a bunch of new features and layouts which kicked the idea back into the light of day.

John Bligh contributed the winning design, and even updated it after he saw the new blog layout.  Fill in your own symbolism in the space below:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Doesn't New Paltz just love poison ivy?

Poison ivy is considered a noxious weed in the eyes of the law, and village code specifically demands that property owners get rid of it.  Most noxious weeds are aggressive invasive species, but this nasty stuff is a long-term local.  The plant is only somewhat shade tolerant, and naturally exists as a ground cover in wooded areas or along the edges of forested tracts.  Unfortunately, the poison ivy in New Paltz has found its niche in difficult-to-reach places or those that exist in some sort of legal limbo.

I've known more than one hard-core organic environmentalist who reaches for the Roundup when faced with Toxicodendron radicans.  This plant's defense mechanism makes me certain that the Universe has some kind of plan, and it's a plan that includes a touch of sadism.  It can take several days to develop a poison ivy rash, and it spreads from the most sensitive areas which touched the plant to the least over a period of time.  The worse cases can lead to painful, oozing blisters; the fluid they weep does not spread the rash but it looks and feels horrible.

The urushiol which causes the reaction is not actually on the surface of the plant, but it's so fragile that it can be damaged without much effort.  Fur and feathers serve as protection for the animals that pass through patches of the plant, but the chemical is lying in wait for a hairless human to pet that friendly dog or cat.  In fact, the urushiol can remain active for a year or more on the dead plant, so steering clear of the hairy vines is a good idea year-round.

The plant loves real estate development, because it thrives in disturbed areas.  It grows as a ground cover, climbs up trees and utility poles, and can even become a freestanding bush.  It can tolerate near-drought conditions, but is also fine living on a flood plain or in brackish water.  The berries are popular with birds and other animals, and can germinate just fine after passing through the digestive tract.  It's really well-adapted to surviving here, and in fact has become more prolific since the Huguenots' arrival here.

Repeated exposure to urushiol is likely to chip away at the immunity of anyone lucky enough to have it. Identifying poison ivy can be tricky, because not only does that plant have different forms, the leaves aren't always the familiar almond shape.

In New Paltz, poison ivy grows in places far and wide.  Most residents make a sincere effort to get rid of the stuff, at least when it's close to the sidewalks.  Many people don't want to use chemicals on it, and they don't provide a guarantee that you'll get it all.  On residential property it's very fond of hosta patches, under bushes growing on retaining walls, and anywhere the homeowner may not notice it or would have a difficult time reaching the stuff.

Just as deer seem to know when hunting season has begun, poison ivy almost deliberately grows in areas that exist in some kind of legal limbo.  I've been watching a two-story plant thrive on a utility pole until some well-meaning individual cut through the two-inch thick main vine, and then return as a healthy bush.  Central Hudson owns the pole, but I'm told it's not entirely clear who is responsible for the plant's removal.  Growing in the middle of an intersection on the pedestrian island is also a very clever idea:  who owns that land?  Do they even know about the noxious weed on their land?

Some of the most healthy poison ivy exists in public spaces such as Sojourner Truth Park and along less-traveled paths on campus; our beloved Wallkill Valley Rail Trail provides the perfect environment for flourishing poison ivy.  I don't know if the village and college have any legal requirement to remove this plant, but I know that it's a Herculean task that we probably aren't paying them enough to do.

The only solution I've seen to the New Paltz poison ivy dilemma was suggested by Jason West:  send in the goats.  It's safer than chemicals or hand-pulling, and more effective than either.  I've heard several suggestions about where to obtain these goats for free or for money, and even contacted one of the farmers, but I haven't confirmed that anyone is enterprising enough to hire out their goats.  If there is, I sure think New Paltz could keep them busy.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Village volunteers: appreciated or not?

I've been pondering municipal volunteerism in New Paltz a lot recently, particularly in the village.  A community of this size relies quite a bit upon volunteers.  They run into burning buildings, preserve what's left of our non-human environment, interpret and enforce our laws, and expend a tremendous amount of effort on tasks that are at the same time mind-numbingly dull and critically important.  If you know someone who is volunteering for one of our local governments, please seek them out and thank them for their efforts.

It's getting more difficult to find people to fill the seats of the various boards and commissions in the village, and there are probably several factors for that.  Dual-income households don't have as much spare time for volunteering after job and family obligations are fulfilled.  Not only that, but parents spend far more time shuttling their kids from one activity to another than they once did.  Homeowners, the people who arguably have the most to gain by volunteering, are in a minority in the village.

Mayor Dungan has been working to resolve that last problem with his rental reforms.  The argument as I understand it is that tougher enforcement of safety standards in rentals will make some properties into less attractive investments, which will reduce housing prices for the many apartment residents who wish to own homes.  Likewise, the opening of Woodland Pond may exert some downward pressure on housing prices.  Whether either of these things will come to pass remains to be seen.  The impact on the local volunteer pool, if it does manifest, probably won't be felt for several years.

Troubled waters
In the meantime, there's a dearth of volunteers right now, and I don't think all the reasons are demographic.

At a recent village board meeting, Dr. Thomas Rocco indicated that he was prepared to resign if he didn't get what he wanted for the task force he chairs.  Was this a petulant outburst?  Hardly. Dr. Rocco wanted a survey his task force had spent months preparing to get into the village's water bills. The request had been made originally more than three months ago, but the March bills were sealed before the survey could be inserted.  Three months later, the night before the next round of bills were to be sealed and mailed, Dr. Rocco was utterly frustrated that they were at the same crossroads.  He indicated to the village board in public session that he didn't believe it was a good strategy to leave village volunteers wondering if their efforts were appreciated.

Concurrent to the problems expressed by Dr. Rocco is the resignation of Planning Board chair Ray Curran.  What few may to remember about Mr. Curran is that he was a minority voice for environmentally-sensible development, and that he took the chairmanship reluctantly upon the death of George Danskin.  Since I have never been chairman of that board, I have to wonder if I would have done any better.  Why should a man be expected to put more hours in as a volunteer than he does at his paid job?

The question of the proper funding and support of our firefighters has been discussed ad infinitum.  It seems to be Patrick O'Donnell's sole purpose as a village trustee.  Regardless of your position on the funding question, can you doubt that the firefighters themselves are more than a little disheartened by the whole thing?

I don't think it's just that we have a smaller pool of potential volunteers.  The people who do step up are asked to do too much with too little.  Instead of broad support of volunteers by the municipal government, we see these fine people and their work reduced to pet projects of one or two board members.  Occasionally, such as during this contentious time for the Planning Board, the political will exists to get some level of consensus.  Mostly, though, volunteers are left to sink or swim with little or no support.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New Paltz School Board and Budget Election Results 2010

Uncertified - Read at Poll Close by Maria Rice

School Budget - Passed
Yes 1354
No 959

Bus Proposition - Defeated
Yes 1030
No 1237

School Board
Coxum 732
Profaci 932
Tozzi 371
Swigart 331
* Rich 980
* Rodriquez 984

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bullet (vote) for my BOE candidate

After getting a lot of insight about my Board of Ed endorsements, and listening more to the buzz leading up to the election, I'm going to have to take a bullet . . . vote for my preferred candidate, Dominick Profaci.

I'm not going to vote for Mary Ann Tozzi, primarily because she's unwilling to look at administrative salaries like Maria Rice's for cost savings.  I applaud Ms. Rice for foregoing a pay increase, and I do not blame her or any of her incredible staff for taking the highest salary they can negotiate.  However, even asking these good people to squeak by on a mere $150,000 a year could go a long way to finding the money for maybe a dozen teachers.

My neutral assessment of Bob Rich is also shakier, but the reasons why are entirely hearsay and inappropriate to share at this time.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The other election

In the midst of all this School Board stuff, I just learned that at least one candidate has declared for Village Mayor.  Any comments about who you'd like to see in the race?  Only a year left, no time to waste!  If you haven't declared by now, you may already be late!

Some of the people I would like to see run for mayor of New Paltz include Michael Zierler, Jason West, Anton Stewart, Rachel Lagodka, Ira Margolis, Justin Holmes, and Theresa Fall.  I don't know if I would vote for any of them, but if they ran I expect I'd have a better idea.  I have other thoughts but can't remember which side of the gerrymandered village line they live on, so I'll wait and see.

Of course, one of the criteria I'm going to evaluate mayoral candidates on in the coming year is their willingness to wear a top hat, and how good they look in one.

Friday, May 14, 2010

One gadfly's endorsements for New Paltz school board

Since I've been paying attention to how transparent the candidates have been during this School Board election, I almost didn't stop to consider which candidates I want to vote for.  I am not a big fan of politics, but since I've been vocal about how consistently bad the coverage of this race has been, I might as well offer an opinion.

It's really not that easy to get a sense of people from the sound bites they issue. I have to assume that the three candidates that haven't served on the board have no clue what they're getting into, and that the three who been around the District are good at saying what they think people want to hear.  All in all, though, I've made my choices and offer my thinking:

Candidates I don't support

  • Michael Swigart.  Mike's very forthright, and I really appreciate understanding his positions.  I trust him to say what he's actually going to do, and his plans involve increasing class size, which I believe is the wrong approach.  Cutting teachers is not the way to cut the fat from the budget.  Mike is also a fan of building new, and I believe he's probably going to redouble the efforts to do so.  The renovation project did go through as it was proposed, but keeping the middle school where it is continues to be a big priority for a lot of people.  He was a lone voice calling for a full district building analysis for a long time, and this is an idea which is gaining ground.
  • Edgar Rodriguez, and not because his lawsuit.  Edgar is promoting this idea of dropping twelfth grade, when finding ways to educate our kids better in the time we have makes more sense than just booting them out earlier.  I'm actually a big supporter of kids leaving school when they've gotten all the education they can handle, but this idea abdicates the responsibility we have towards education.
Candidates I do support
  • MaryAnn Tozzi, who will bring the blue-collar perspective that the Board needs.  She's got a kid in the district but also has a tax bill to pay.
  • Dominick Profaci, who is the only candidate in a long time to point out what the real problem is - tying school funding to property values.  He believes the BOE should be trying to change that, and I couldn't agree more.  We don't need property tax reform, though, we need property tax abolition.  Our present system punishes people for wanting to stay in the homes and pits lifelong residents against their grandchildren in a struggle over limited resources.  There's got to be a better way.
The other two candidates simply didn't move either way.  Juliet Coxum's reported desire to have the board set up "ad hoc community committees with community members to help them make decisions that affect the schools" sounds like a lot of bureaucratic busywork to me.  Bob Rich has a track record in building consensus for capital projects.  Neither one elicits a strong opinion from me, though.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What I actually think about Edgar

It should not come as any surprise that I have been accused of besmirching Edgar Rodriguez' character, although in fact what I did in that post is lambaste our local paper for withholding information relevant to an election.  I did have an excellent discussion with one of his supporters which helped me articulate my position on Edgar's candidacy, and although I had no intention of actually talking about any of the candidates, addressing those allegations is more important than avoiding campaign politics.

I like the fact that Edgar is a gadfly.  He asks difficult, uncomfortable questions.  He makes it difficult to rubber-stamp things.  He gets people angry with him because he stands up for what he thinks is right, and he takes flak for it.  Without question, Edgar Rodriguez is the gadfly on the school board.

So here I am asking uncomfortable questions about a fellow gadfly.  I'm the lone voice asking these questions, unable to get any newspaper to nibble and likewise unable to get anyone to publicly support my position.  I'm making people uncomfortable and I'm not going away.  Edgar and I have that in common.

There are differences, of course.  Edgar has a thick enough skin to run for office, and I do not.  Edgar's knowledge about the educational system absolutely dwarfs my own.  And Edgar is suing the school district.

This is where the maligning comes in - or at least the accusation of it.  I reviewed the court documents and didn't even want to write about the information available in the public record, because I didn't know how to do it in a manner which would respect the privacy of him and his family.  I wanted a professional to find that balance, a person who was not emotionally involved in the Middle School debate like I was.  Frankly, I didn't feel qualified because I was too close to the situation.

I will attempt, as best I may, to offer only those details which explain my position.

The case involves, as I see it, parents who wanted the best for their child, and encountered instead what they perceived to be behavior targeting them for their family's Hispanic roots.  I'm a white guy and I will not profess to fully understand just how terrible a feeling that must be.  As has been pointed out, my monthly struggle to make the mortgage payment comes from privilege, and I have never had someone target me for a visible characteristic such as gender or skin color.  I can understand the desire to protect one's child, and I have no problem with pursuing any legal means necessary to seek justice.

When Edgar informed his fellow board members that he wouldn't meet with them until they took the Undoing Racism class, it didn't make sense to me.  I looked to the other Latino member of the School Board (forgive me, I don't know if Latino or Hispanic is preferred so I'm interchanging them), Dan Torres, for guidance.  His public comments indicate that he has never experienced the type of racial tension which had been implied.

In the context of the incredible strain of a lawsuit, Edgar's seemingly inexplicable outburst makes more sense to me.  If he sees racism where another person in the same circumstances with a similar ethnic background does not, logic suggests that it's not racism, just the ordinary tension that comes from being a good gadfly.  From the outside looking in, it appears to me that the stress of this suit has made Edgar much more likely to perceive a racial bias instead of just a personality conflict.  Racism has finally gotten to the point where most of the people in this country think it's a really ugly thing, and flippantly accusing people of it is as egregious as committing the act itself.  So far as I know, he has never produced any proof, and he has never apologized for his comment.

Had I been aware of this case before I voted for Edgar last time, I don't know that it would have changed my mind.  I would have asked him then, as I ask him now, to tell the public that he feels he can effectively govern.  I'm a strong advocate of transparency in government, and this issue is one that I think think the voters have the right to consider on election day.

I understand Edgar's desire to keep the matter private, but I question his judgment both in that decision and in his later outburst.  His track record worries me, but some of the candidates this year down right scare me, so I would much rather Edgar explain why I'm off base in questioning that judgment.  The fact that he wasn't supportive of the Middle School shows, as was pointed out to me, that he is in touch with the community.

There are plenty of people who will be disappointed that I am not resoundingly rejecting Edgar as a candidate.  Both supporters and detractors love a good fight, but I'm tired of fighting.  If Edgar shows me that he can distinguish between bona-fide racism and the tension that results from asking questions no one wants to answer, he will have my support.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Is the New Paltz Times protecting Edgar Rodriguez?

Back when the Middle School debate was in full swing. Edgar Rodriguez came out with some pretty strong accusations of racism, which prompted me to dig deeper.  It turned out that this wasn't the first time Edgar had felt discriminated against by the district; in fact, he's got an ongoing lawsuit against both the school district and high school principal Barbara Clinton.  I reviewed the documents available and decided not to blog about it because it was complex, dealt with family issues, and I didn't know that I was divorced enough from the issues to write about it neutrally.

Asking the New Paltz Times for help

I sent an email to Deb Alexsa, editor of the New Paltz Times, on December 26, 2009:

I can't recall if you covered this in any depth back when the District Shared Decision Making Committee was contemplating its belly buttons, but this might be a good time to consider a piece about Edgar Rodriguez' legal actions against the NP school district.
The files on his civil suit, as well as the content of a Commissioner's Hearing that related to the Committee, are available in Bev Cleary's office.  They spent considerable time stripping out the non-FOILable information, so I'd love to see someone get some use from it.
I decided that the cases (the civil suit is still ongoing) were too complex to touch upon in my blog.
My response came shortly thereafter when Mike Townsend interviewed me about the topic.  I didn't know much, but Mike later told me that he'd interviewed many people and wrote (if I recall correctly) a six-page feature story about the lawsuit, which publisher Geddy Sveikauskas decided not to run.

The Middle School issue came and went, and here we are in a School Board election with Edgar running.  I sent Deb another email on April 30:

Hi Deb,
I know that Mike Townsend researched a feature piece about Edgar Rodriguez' school district related lawsuits, and that it was ultimately shelved.  Not knowing what the story covered, I would very much like to see it in print now.  If I had been aware of even the small amount of info I've reviewed myself, it may have changed my vote in Edgar's last run, and I would like the rest of the citizens of New Paltz to have the opportunity to review it through the practiced eye of a trained investigative journalist.
Would it be possible to let me know if the piece could be updated and included in the next issue or, if not, a specific reason for not running it?
If Ulster Publishing elects not to publish the article, perhaps it could be made available to another publication?
Thanks for letting me know.
Terence P Ward
I got no response, when in the past Deb has always replied to me quickly (even when my emails were less than complimentary).  I waited until the next paper came out and, seeing the story wasn't there, I sent a letter to the editor:

Edgar Rodriguez is willing to ask the tough questions, and it's a trait to be valued.  What's not clear to me is whether or not he is also willing to answer the tough questions, because nobody is willing to ask him any.  It never comes up at School Board meetings, and the New Paltz Times buried the story.  All I know is that there's a six-inch-high stack of papers at the district office that relate to his lawsuit against the district - and that's only including what they're legally required to provide to the public.
I was hoping the New Paltz Times would run the story on this ongoing legal action some time ago, because I can't make heads or tails of it and I think it's information that we should all have in front of us as we make our decision on May 18.  Maybe the details about the lawsuit will make Edgar a more appealing candidate for some of us; others may find that a full understanding doesn't sway their poll decision in the slightest.
All I'm asking is an open discussion about the nature of this lawsuit so that we can make an informed decision about this candidate.  Is that unreasonable?
Terence P Ward 
New Paltz
This time Deb replied to me almost immediately:

Hi Terence,
Mike wrote this story some time ago and our publisher dealt with it because I was on vacation. When I returned, he said it wasn’t worth running and not to put any extra time into it. Why doesn’t someone just ask him the question at candidate’s night? I can’t run your letter because it is the week before the election and negative letters about candidates are not allowed.
Maybe someone would ask at candidate's night, I mused, but I was looking for broader coverage.  My reply:

Honestly, Deb, if you had given me this same response as quickly to my inquiry about the story, I wouldn't have bothered with the letter.  How about I remove reference to the specific candidate and issues, and send in a letter asking why the publisher deemed a six-page feature story on why one of our district trustees is suing the district not worth running?
If Geddy is going to make controversial decisions, he should at least benefit from the publicity the way Rupert Murdoch does.  If you tell me directly not to waste my time, that's fine too - no need to ask the question if it won't make print.
Her reply was short:
Not sure what you mean about your inquiry about the story. I wouldn’t run the letter this week. 
Maybe I was unclear, but I was asking for a way to frame the letter so that it didn't appear to be picking on a candidate.  Or, as I said to my wife who teaches journalism, "Why can't we write a story that covers every candidate that is currently suing the school board?"

I'm still looking for answers on Edgar, why he is pressing this lawsuit and how he feels he can be impartial in this situation - if he does.  I have a lot of opinions about Edgar's hopes and plans, but all I want to know now is why the New Paltz Times and its parent Ulster Publishing continue to bury a perfectly good story.  Rumor has it that Mike Townsend pitched a different angle to Geddy again this week but it was again quashed (I have not spoken to Mike so I can't confirm that).

If anyone is interested, contact the District Information Officer Bev Sickler to arrange to look at the publicly-available lawsuit documents.  Copies of pages are a quarter each but you can look as much as you like for free if you fill out a Freedom of Information request.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What's next, rubber bullets?

I don't like tasers and I don't believe they have any business in New Paltz.  I told Toni Hokanson that I think approving the use of even one of these devices by our police is her Hurricane Katrina - and that her vote may have been different if she weren't coming off an unopposed election.

I volunteered to be tased to prove a point - that our police and government officials wouldn't use this device on an ordinary citizen in a demonstration for liability reasons, any more than they would demonstrate how to stop someone with a gun.  I've had friends in the law enforcement community, and other trained in a variety of martial arts, demonstrate any number of disabling techniques on me safely, but guns and tasers can't be demonstrated safely.  My offer was ignored because the Town Council understands that they couldn't have agreed without making community taser opposition more visible.

Through a variety of lively debates I've explored this issue with people in law enforcement, who generally support their use because it minimizes danger to the officers.  I'm all for keeping our cops alive and well - they keep graffiti off my house, muggers away from my person and generally exist to make sure we treat each other with some level of respect, even if we don't want to that day.

What concerns me was confirmed in the Phillies taser attack - a rowdy fan was running around the field and got tased for being an idiot.  In the past, this type of fan has been wrestled to the ground and arrested.  According to the story, "the Police Department's internal affairs unit would open an investigation to determine if the firing 'was proper use of the equipment.'"

Good for them - because it wasn't.  The only reason a taser was used in this case is because the cop had one.  No indication that the officer would have been in danger, just an indication that it was just too difficult to chase after the punk.  The taser, once equipped, is a very easy piece of technology to use.

I'm amazed that we spend so much time debating relatively minor issues like who's smoking where and how noisy they are when doing it, while blithely letting our police get armed with a device that has been documented in its use for torture and can also be fatal.  Those college kids who are so noisy will be quieter if they're twitching on the ground, I'm sure; likewise the middle schoolers will think twice about sneaking a taste of a hookah if they know what the consequences may be.  I'm not saying that any of our individual officers are likely to use this device in an intentionally harmful way, but in the heat of the moment it sure is an easy solution to reach for.

Police Chief Snyder is proud of his new black-and-white police cruisers, because of the "old time" feel they have.  They evoke feelings of community policing, which he claims to support.  I'm not sure how well tasers fit in with friendly officered fellows who put a scare into troublemakers and make sure runaways make it home safely, but they definitely fit with our police force's paramilitary-style uniforms and AR-15 rifles.

I guess it depends on what kind of community you think you're policing.  If you believe that New Paltz is not a community that needs tasing, join the Facebook group or just stand up and say something.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Come On Feel The Noize!

80's Hair Metal Band Quiet Riot

There has been a big buzz (pun!) about the proposed noise ordinance in the Village of New Paltz. The ordinance is unfair. This gadfly feels that it clearly represents the wants of a small portion of the community,and definetly targets college students. I understand that some people are kept up late at night by keg parties, band practices, and general silliness. I agree that Main Street is totally out of hand at times, but this proposal is far too extreme.

The new proposal requires a permit from the Village Board to attract public attention using any noise (2-5 F, 2-9 A, B). This one is pretty convenient at keeping activists on the hush. If we want to protest the noise ordinance, do we need to get a permit from the Village Board, to protest the Village Board? The proposal also specifically states the words "where keg beer is served". That is clearly pointed in the direction of young people in the community.

And has anyone done any analysis as to how this would effect business at K&E Beverage and our wonderful local wine shops? Probably not.

A noise ordinance is necessary; but not this one. A petition that has been circulating puts it as "not disagreeing with the idea of a mutual quiet time". The problem is that the proposed ordinance does not necessarily foster a "mutual quiet time". It instead targets certain age groups and activities. The Village needs to remember that we are a community, which means we all need to get along with one another. It's all about mutual respect for your fellow community members. Quoting the petition again, "The law needs to be fair and equitable for all members of the community".

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A little-known but serious pest problem in New Paltz

Now that the weather's starting to get nice again, I'm starting to notice a pattern over the years, and it's not one that I care for.

The flowers are pushing up from the thawing ground, and soon temperatures in the 80s will push forth green on every stem and surface.  Perhaps before the buds are really visible, I'm sure to get a knock on my door from some kid who wants to mow my lawn.  If I agree, there will be more offers to help with manual labor.  Trimming and removing shrubs, planting shrubs, washing the house and the cars, raking leaves, shoveling snow . . .

So what's the problem?  Kids just multiply, and with them come problems.  If you let a couple linger in your yard, pretty soon they're joined by friends, all of them playing music, smoking when you're not looking and flicking the butts in your bushes, sweating and swearing and generally clogging up the works.

I know that not everybody in New Paltz has a problem with teen infestation, but we sure do.  At first we thought it was a holdover from when the house was rented to college kids, but we soon realized that this was different - college kids don't offer to work, for one thing.  I spoke with the folks at the New Paltz Youth Program, Prevention Connections, and Family of New Paltz, but all I've gotten is a sad shake of the head and a shoulder shrug.  I was pretty desperate when I finally contacted the DEC, but that's where I finally found some help.

According to Mark Christiansenhausen, coordinator of suburban primate ecology, most teens in this area started out living with a family in New Paltz, and may still return to that nesting area for feeding.  Mostly they're migratory and avoid adults, but my house is a special case.  Apparently the choice of paints, combined with the old beams just under the soffits, creates an odor that's very similar to that of fried chicken, pizza, soda, and cupcakes.  Until the degassing of the paint is complete (probably another ten years because of the lead content), kids are just going to keep turning up in our yard and make excuses to hang around.  The fact that the yard slopes towards the house doesn't help matters, either.

However, Christiansenhausen did offer a ray of hope, funded by Federal dollars.  This coming Tuesday he and a team of DEC ecologists are coming to the house and hanging an effigy teen on the roof.  It's hoped that the smell of rotting kid corpse will make the bizarre combination which creates junk-food smells a fair bit less attractive.  By winter, when the effigy will be completely dessicated, all we'll have to do is fumigate the garage and we might be rid of this strange pest problem once and for all.