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.