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.


Steve Greenfield said...

Someone named "Peter" (dare I wonder, which Peter?) just hijacked the previous article's comment thread (apology not sincere, so not accepted) with a bunch of serious misinformation and sardonic innuendo. So at least we know that much. My comments here are entirely my own as a citizen who watched the meeting, and not as a member of any elected body or service organization, or representing any position associated with such.

I'm going to go out on a limb here in terms of attracting a big freak-out in certain quarters, but I challenge any of the "Village Firsters" to show data indicating that the non-transient population of the Village is currently significant enough to justify having its own government, a government that happens to be paid, and seems to serve primarily to interfere with the ability of the overall quality of life of the Town in which it is situated to progress, and to allow commercial property owners (commonly called "landlords") to pay residential tax rates in perpetuity despite the enormous demands on public services placed on actual residential taxpayers because of the landlords' public safety code-violating slicing of every last cubic yard of potential sleeping space for transients. Its original justifications have long since expired, and its year-round population is miniscule. 100 voters out of what is, on paper, a population of 6,000. I don't care which board is dissolved, but one has to be dissolved, fast. I'll deal with the specific bad information passed along by "Peter" in a second post. I'd love to see a data-driven response to this part.

pete said...

I'll pass on the previous "writer's" characterization of me and my commentary. What I want to state, yet again, is that both boards are to blame for the disastrous "Joint" meeting that many of us witnessed live from our living rooms, or have since seen on rebroadcast (pause-that's me patting myself on the back for my work over the last thirteen years making certain that local public access television is a useful communication device for us).
Toni and Terry knew that the "Albany Lawyer" was coming to begin the process of creating a new government and taxing authority called a Fire District. It's not clear to me that any other board members, Town or Village, knew what was intended. These two "leaders" did this while they attended "consolidation study" meeetings and agreed to not do anything that conflicts with the aims of the study, during the one-year course of the study. Some would call that a lie, others might use other terms.
Yesterday, it was again urged on these two "leaders" that they find a way to resolve this current "crisis of their own making" in a way that doesn't conflict with the aims of this study, by other members of the committee and by members of the audience. And thanks to the committee for going against its previous decision to not allow public comment at meetings of this committee.

Martin McPhillips said...

Yeah, I made a brief attempt to watch the replay of the joint meeting, but the video continues to be the quality of surveillance tapes from the employees lunchroom at a cold storage warehouse.

The video from town meetings is just a tad better than the video from village meetings, but both are so rotten that even someone with an interest in watching is actively disinvited from doing so.

I have brought this directly to the attention of at least one local VIP, but nothing has changed.

As a comparative, when Dan Torres et al. did some videos of discussions among New Paltz high school students, they were perfectly watchable. Clear sound and picture.

In earlier years the town and village meetings were very watchable. Sound and picture reasonably good enough not to have to squint or turn the sound up high enough to catch words out of the static.

Now both are pure crap. At this point it has gone on for so long that it has to be, at the very least, described as intentional by neglect.

The videography is not professional although we are told that it is being handled by professionals. Well, I've said already to the aforesaid VIP that there is cause to terminate whoever is handling the work and get someone who can produce a watchable product.

Period. Paragraph.

Steve Greenfield said...

Pete, oh Pete.

1. Both boards are not equally to blame. Both boards knew the agenda. One refused to hold a meeting that was scheduled and properly publicized under the open meetings laws.

2. Call the lawyer by any name you want, so long as you're honest that you're using a geographical reference rather than a professional reference, and that you're doing so for political reasons, not informational reasons relevant to the matter at hand. He is a fire service lawyer.

3. A fire district is not a new government. I'll repeat that. A fire district is not a new government. It is not even a full taxing authority over its field of specialty, as its budget, unlike the town or village boards, cannot be enacted by the elected fire commissioners -- only the public can do that, as they see fit. Apparently you have a problem with direct democracy, and prefer that decisions be made over fire protection for 13,000 people by five people who got fewer than 100 votes each, none of which were cast by people who live in the areas receiving the great majority of the service.

But by all means, keep making stuff up. Maybe you'll get 96 votes next May and be in charge of the other 13,000's life safety, instead of people who are trained in the topic and elected by, and accountable to the full population of the full service area. How safe we'll all feel.

Pete said...

This lawyer from Albany, this fire service lawyer, this guy whose name may be Hannigan, called himself by way of introduction an "Albany Lawyer". I didn't make it up, he did. Blame him for the "name" I called him.
Both boards didn't agree on an agenda. The Town Board added items other than the Kniffen annexation but didn't get any agreement from the Village Board about those additions. And even the Town Board argued over those additions at their meeting just a week before the "Joint Meeting". I know, I was there. I watched them.
If a Fire District has taxing authority (even if they have to get the public's permission for it, much like the school board does), has its own governance structure, and its own geographic jurisdiction, I'm calling it a government.

Martin McPhillips said...

"...decisions [will] be made over fire protection for 13,000 people by five people who got fewer than 100 votes each"

Terry Dungan was elected mayor of the village of New Paltz in May 2007 by a vote of app. 514 to 379. Shari Osborn and Jean Gallucci, running unopposed for two seats, received several hundred votes each. (I don't have their totals immediately at hand.)

Those numbers for a May election of consequence are consistent with school board and budget votes, which include all of New Paltz, town and village, and Gardiner. Most years the school budgets are passed by a vote in the neighborhood of 950 to 450 (896-471 in 2008, for instance; this past May the school budget was approved 1,354 to 959, an uptick in turnout probably related to the very large turnout for the Middle School vote two months earlier, i.e., people were paying more attention than usual).

In an off-year village of New Paltz election in May 2009, with two names on the ballot for two trustee seats, one candidate whose name appeared on the ballot was elected, along with a surprise write-in candidate, with just under a 100 votes each.

The election was considered a fait accompli -- two candidates for two seats, which is why not a lot of voters turned out. The write-in upset was a surprise.

pete said...

Martin is right about the sound quality at meetings. Neither the town board nor the village board are willing to buy decent microphones (though the Town Board has proposed doing so!). The old Town Board vidographer had a good set-up, though it was ugly.
The previous "writer" who has disagreed with me about the Fire Department has a problem that could be resolved if he just talked with his daughter's English teacher at Duzine when school reconvenes. In his first post, there is a 124 word sentence that begins with "I'm gonna go out on a limb" and ends with "potential sleeping place for transients". I didn't count the single-letter words (but I did include the words in parenthesis). English teachers can help with this. I used to write run-on sentences, too, but I can't remember one that long.

George said...

It undercuts your argument to trumpet the wonders of direct democracy and then dismiss its results. It's not Terry or anyone other elected officials fault that so few people vote. Do you think that a fire district election will suddenly inspire the voters? When it doesn't, and the district board takes any action, can we dismiss them because of how few votes put them in office?

Martin McPhillips said...

Gerald Benjamin, at last night's village board meeting, made a very strong case against turning to a fire district to administer the fire department.

Steve Greenfield said...

This is an utterly useless forum. Sorry, Terence, but I shan't be posting here in the future. See, Pete, "shan't," didn't even hafta talk to a teacher. However, for all your criticism of my writing style, you said nothing about upholding the standards of fire protection that are required in the 21st century. The argument about the low Village turnout being due to the same number of candidates as seats, particularly in comparing it to the School Board, totally fails. The previous year, the School Board had 3 people running for 3 seats, and all three got roughly the same number of votes as the top vote getters in the previous three elections, when seats were contested. Nice try, though. But even if you were correct, which you're not, it wouldn't change the basic question: can five people with no training at all in fire department operations and administration, elected by 100, 200, 300 (pick a number you like) people, make sound choices about the provision of fire service to 13,000 people, substantial wildlands, and 12 miles of Thruway? At the very least, regardless of who turns out, don't you want people who understand what the equipment does, and how much training it takes to get certified to operate it, to be responsible for the budget? Is this like watering the flowers on Main Street, or is this a situation where people's lives are at stake? In other words, what are the consequences of guessing wrong? And George -- I did not dismiss the results. My point is that direct democracy is not functioning in the Village anymore, not that it's bad when it's working. The reasons it's not working too well is because of steady demographic changes towards transiency in the Village, largely driven by market forces that, with a 99% occupancy rate, will not weaken.

Well, Terence, I tried. You have, too. But for whatever the reasons, this isn't the place. Beam me up, Scotty. I gotta hafta go learn English.

Martin McPhillips said...

Yeah, like I said, Gerald Benjamin's brief comment to the village board last night pretty much disspelled the idea that there is any advantage to having a fire district overseen by a fire commission. (It comes relatively early, during the public comment part of the meeting, if anyone is interested in catching the replay.) He also pointed out that fire commission elections have routinely poor turnout. So not much happens, vis a vis public participation, from that angle.

Also, school board elections are always accompanied by the budget vote, which piques voter interest. Those votes also, as I pointed out a couple of comments up, encompass two towns, New Paltz and Gardiner (and parts of others), and competitive village elections show roughly the same sort of participation, proportionally.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the entire New Paltz Village or Town Governments should be eliminated, the one left stand should be responsible for it all. We have too much government intervention in our lives, let us consolidate and be done with the nonsense. If you can't take the heat get out of the kitchen!