Friday, August 24, 2012

Lost and found, thank goodness

Word on the street is that Jason West lost, and found, his two cats.

My heart goes out to anyone whose pets vanish -- it carries with it a pall of uncertainty which carries a unique kind of pain.  That he has been in touch with the people who found them no doubt brought with it a tremendous sense of relief.

The cats were found without collars by someone who took them to be abandoned or strays.  By the time they saw the posters around town, they had already found a permanent adoptive home for them, but I've been assured the mayor will be reunited with his furry loved ones. 

West is an apartment-dweller, and likely keeps his kitties inside, so they may have looked bedraggled in short order.  I'm familiar with the litter, and I know that they were allowed outside before he adopted them, which can cut both ways:  it may have made them more able to survive out there, but it certainly made them more likely to look for a way to get back out into the world if he'd attempted to keep them in.  Cats who take to outdoor living often don't want to give it up.

I don't know if they had collars or not when they went missing, but the fact that they were found collarless should serve as warning to anyone with naked, inside pets:  sometimes, they get out.

The fact that this community is full of the sort of people who take in stray animals and care for them is one of the most sincerely nice things about this community.

Hopefully the mayor will have the good sense to buy collars and ID tags now, if he hadn't before.  If the collars were lost, and I've had more than one cat myself who was a brilliant escape artist, there are collars which are nearly escape-proof, but they aren't the cheap ones.  Good thing his board gave him a handsome raise a year into his term of office.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

New Paltz has some crap to deal with

It's a small town, so you may be aware of the bizarre and tragic loss of my family's sewer line, and the amazing outpouring of support our friends, family, and neighbors have given to support the FlushAid sewer replacement campaign.  Our sewer appeal has raised nearly $2,000, and the benefit show has eight bands lined up to play at Snug's, last time I checked.  (And it's on my birthday, which is weird and cool.)

Check out the FlushAid page to learn more about the history of that situation, and I thank you in advance for anything you may give, dear reader, but even without an end in sight I know that this problem is bigger than my family, and that we as a community have a long way to go.

I've been concerned about New Paltz sewage since Irene hit.  (That post I linked also shows that I can't always sort out in my mind the difference between our water and sewer problems, which is part of the problem -- we use water for drinking and for feces.)  Our system is collapsing and our governments are only doing to bare minimum to fix it, because the full overhaul it needs is going to take probably a 10-figure number.  The cost per foot is huge, and the combined New Paltz system is in varying states of decay, with many of the mains more than a hundred years old.

If we can't afford to bring it up to modern standards, and we can't prevent more people from moving here, what next?  Is it time to explore other ways to deal with our feces, so that it doesn't float down the Wallkill River every time it rains too hard?  Is it time to seriously focus on raising funds to improve our waterborne system?

FlushAid is a personal appeal, but I think it can grow to address a much bigger problem, one that impacts the entire community of New Paltz.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Taking back our police

This year's graduation weekend seemed louder than most -- I was awakened around 4:30 in the morning by the sounds of partying, partying so widespread that I couldn't even pinpoint its location.  It's rare that I call in a noise complaint, but I didn't want to have to wait until past sunrise to get back to sleep, so I didn't see another option.  I heard the police arrive and start using their amplification system to get the attention of the revelers, and the effect was like throwing water on an oil fire -- the kids got louder every time the cops spoke.  It took awhile to settle them down.

I suppose I could have called the university police instead, but experience tells me that they would have kept me on the phone longer (I wasn't asked my name or specific address, just where the noise was), and they would have been less helpful.  It's not that the men and women who work on that force are less professional, they just have zero obligation to respond to me, because they don't work for me. The town police do work for town residents, and the difference is striking.

Try this experiment, like I did a couple of years ago:  identify an intersection that is patrolled by both town and SUNY police, and try to submit a FOIL request for data about arrests and traffic stops nearby.  When I attempted this, the town police accepted my request, told me it could take up to seven days to process, and had my detailed report in less than two.  Over at SUNY, I spent fifteen minutes on the phone with a sergeant who interrogated me about what I wanted the data for, tried to talk me out of it, and wouldn't even give up the identity of the information officer for the college.  I was so aggravated that I submitted a written complaint about the SUNY officer, and a written compliment about the dispatcher to processed my request for the town.

The difference, of course, is that the town police has a citizen police commission, and five elected officials, overseeing it.  SUNY cops have . . . some kind of structure, which goes up the line to the chancellor or the state police, but with no input from the community.  Which might be fine, if they didn't patrol beyond the borders of the campus.

But the officers want to widen their jurisdiction even more, and statewide their union is holding communities hostage until the state legislature acts.  Here in New Paltz, they are no longer helping out with parade detail, although apparently they will still be handing out speeding tickets off-campus.  I imagine that's a money-maker for their department, while parades are not.

New Paltz Supervisor Susan Zimet is proud that she helped get the SUNY peace officers police powers some years ago.  I think it was a terrible idea.  We have a police force, entirely within the heart of our community, over which we have no control or oversight.  I'm sure the situation is the same for many campuses around the state.  I think it's time we lobby the state to change that.

Colleges don't need police, they need peace officers.  Some municipalities need police, particularly ones with colleges, and those campuses should be paying the town or village (or state, when no local force exists) to provide police protection of their grounds.  This would require a significant increase in our local police force, but it would be paid for by the college, and its existing officers could be folded into our present force.

SUNY New Paltz is a huge benefit to our community, but it comes at a price.  They don't pay taxes.  They don't have to ask for permission when they want to build.  They don't have to participate in the community, and under the past president, the one who mused that the residents of a prison town don't expect to use those facilities so why should we expect access to the college, that participation was muted.  That participation varies by administration, and that's a bigger problem.  The problem of the police is simpler to understand: we should have local control, and towns and villages with their own departments should be lobbying together to take that control back.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Enemies all around us

Trying to make advances in education in New Paltz is about as futile as the attempts of the Dana├»des to fill a tub with water to wash their sins away.  In fact, as this week's budget vote shows, even trying to minimize the cuts to education is mostly unacceptable.

Putting it another way, trying to ensure that New Paltz remains affordable for the people who live here and wish to use real estate as an investment in this community is damned near impossible.  In fact, as this week's budget vote shows, we very nearly saw an unacceptably large tax hike get shoved down our throats.

Two sides of the same coin, and it's the same old coin, despite the extra wrinkles thrown in by the tax cap.  Education is part of the long-term planning we make as a society, but that doesn't mean diddly to someone who is fighting to fend off foreclosure or only bought that house because they were told that rental income is "passive" in some alternate reality.

It's a crappy system.  New York State has abdicated its obligation under its own constitution to provide education, shifting it, as our spineless legislators always do, onto the local municipalities and taxpayers.  But even if the state did its job, that would not make the ballooning costs magically stop ballooning.

This anti-budget message went viral on Facebook.
What I think I'm seeing is related to the so-called anti-intellectualism movement, and might actually help me explain why that idea isn't entirely without merit.

This week's budget proposal exceeded the tax cap, and only 60% of those bold budgets got passed statewide, while something near 99% of the budgets within the cap requirements were approved.  Just as they did with the middle school renovation, the board worked really hard on explaining why they needed this money, how important it is, and what bad things would happen if this didn't pass.

And that's where the problem begins.  I don't think people are actually opposed to education, nor do I think people are really offended by intellectual pursuits, but boy do they hate snobbery.

Now I'm more educated that many Americans, and much less so than many New Paltz residents, and from where I stand it seems that each degree a person earns beyond the first has a chance of injecting some snobbery into their attitude.  The way it's expressed is through an unspoken message, "My idea is correct.  I know more than you do about this subject, so obviously if you disagree with me it's because you don't understand what I am saying.  There is no valid reason for you to disagree other than your own ignorance.  I shall try to explain this in small words your uneducated brain can understand, because once you do you will bow to my superior intellect."

The problem is, there are other points of view, and this approach dismisses those views as ignorant.  Given the amount of time that the board spends researching these subjects, it's understandable that they and their supporters (which include me) believe that this budget was the best possible option.  But to approach the problem as if you already have dismissed all of the arguments and this should be a foregone conclusion forgets one fact:

Their vote does not depend upon your knowledge.

Do I think it's sad that Highland's budget was defeated by people who can't spell?  I sure do.  But it wasn't defeated by people without education, it was defeated by people who vote.  The voters have the power to deny you what you want, and as Robert McNamara notes in The Fog of War, the best way to deal with that dynamic is to empathize with the enemy.  (I'm using "enemy" loosely here to describe the people who have the power to deny, in this case the school district voters.)

How much empathy was shown for the naysayers?  Did we:

  • imagine the fear of someone on a fixed income who sees a tax increase which is twice the Social Security hike for the year?
  • ask for their help in lobbying for a new way to fund education?
  • talk to them about why we insist on negotiating multi-year contracts with the unions, which tie the hands of future boards by making up to 75% of the school budget contractual and thus untouchable?
  • work with them to find ways the community can help make up for the quality programs that are being cut?
New Paltz sees itself as a battleground, and thus it is.  There will always be people without children living here, and people who only use properties to make money, and their views will always be exercised in the voting booth.  It may not be fair that this is the only local budget subject to such scrutiny, it's the system until we can get it changed, so maybe it's time to start empathizing with the enemy rather than just drawing new battle lines.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dirty politics

Land is, by definition, dirty, and it's generally accepted that money doesn't mix easily with politics. So when there's a suspicion of shady land dealings by elected officials, it's fair to call it "dirty politics."

The scenario:  New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet and council member Kevin Barry had a meeting with schools superintendent Maria Rice, to discuss how the district could solve its facilities problems by expanding the high school campus.  I'm told that Rice claims that Zimet and Barry initiated the meeting, but that they disagree and claim it was Rice's idea.

The problem:  Barry owns a tract of land adjacent to the high school property, and could stand to gain if the district took his suggestion, and also decided that buying his land was the best way to do so.  Barry did disclose being a part owner of the parcel on this town financial disclosure form, and has voluntarily agreed not to sell it while in office.

The analysis:  I've been reviewing information about the underlying state ethics rules, and it seems pretty clear that Barry has created an "appearance of impropriety," which means that it looks like he's up to something.  Obviously, his promise not to sell while in office simply means he could resign if he got a good enough offer.  Or transfer his interest in a way that wouldn't legally be considered a sale, but would still allow him to profit.

But despite there being an appearance of impropriety, I don't believe that there's been an ethics violation.  Since an appearance of impropriety exists, Barry should recuse himself on this issue.  But it's not a town issue, so it will never come up.  In fact, even if Barry were actively trying to convince the district to buy his land, I don't think it would be an ethics violation, because his personal interest (selling the land) does not in any way conflict with his public interest (the residents and taxpayers of the town), at least not in the direct ways that the law requires.

There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about Barry's behavior in this case, but so far as I can tell he's done his homework, and hasn't done anything wrong in the law's eyes.  As I like to say, and all attorneys know, if you want to be able to wriggle out of something, make sure to put it in writing.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Kerr innocent of pot charges

At a press conference yesterday afternoon, Don Kerr said of the news that a grand jury will not indict him, "I don't feel exonerated, because I never felt onerated in the first place."

It may be hard to swallow for some people, but this means that Kerr is innocent, because under our system of justice, innocence is presumed unless guilt is proven.  The grand jury who reviewed testimony in this case didn't find that there was enough evidence to even bring a case against Kerr, which falls very far short of guilt indeed.

When the story of Kerr getting arrested for accepting a package containing eight pounds of pot first surfaced, a client of mine was quick to condemn him, and when I pointed out that it's best to let the courts, rather than gossip, try to convict him, I probably went too far, because I have never worked for that client again.

That we, the highly educated and progressive citizens of New Paltz, are so quick to throw the rights of another human being under the bus sickens me.  This community is rife with hypocrisy.

One man whom Kerr singled out to thank, and whom is not guilty of such hypocrisy in this case, is Martin McPhillips.  "I don't know the man, and apparently he doesn't like me, but he stood and and said something doesn't smell right here, and I appreciate that."

At the core of this story is the fact that our federal government provides incentives to police for drug offenses, whether or not they are violent.  There are no laws which allow for the seizure of assets from a man who beats his kids, or a woman who writes bad checks.  Our elected officials don't lose their ill-gotten gains if they're caught with a hand in the cookie jar.  But drug offenses are big money for law enforcement.

Kerr was quick to praise the New Paltz police for its professionalism in this case, and I certainly agree with his assessment.  However, I'd like to see our town take a stand and reject this unbalanced incentives, and instead focus on crimes that matter.  Violent crimes.  Crimes which cause the loss of life, liberty, or property.  Abuse.  Driving under the influence.  Graffiti.  Theft.  Vandalism.  Not all drug offenses are dangerous crimes, and not all dangerous crimes are drug offenses.  Let's start focusing on the stuff that matters, instead of targeting a man who did a damned fine job as school board president.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Now is not the time for village raises

I won't be able to attend the village board meeting tonight, but I've given it some thought and I don't believe it's appropriate to be putting raises for our elected officials in the next budget.

What I do believe is that costs go up, and the jobs have gotten more demanding.  Having a discussion about those salaries is probably long overdue.  For the mayor's position, this also entails whether or not we need a full-time mayor.

However, each of our five representatives ran for office well aware of the salary that came with the job.  Being sworn in, in my mind, carries the moral weight of signing a contract.  In this case, they are four-year contracts, with both duties and compensation spelled out.  They knew what the job would take, and how much it would pay, and they agreed to do that job, for four years, two in the case of Stewart Glenn.

If Mr. Glenn, or Ariana Basco, Sally Rhoads, or Jason West believed these positions were underpaid (and they may well be), the time to discuss it was when they were running for office a year ago.  I don't recall Mr. West or Ms. Basco mentioning it when they visited my home, nor did Ms. Rhoads or Mr. Glenn mention the salaries during the campaign, to my knowledge.

So instead of slipping in a pay raise in a year during which no one is running for office, I would like to see an open discussion about compensation, with an understanding that any raises be put into place such that they start at the beginning of a new term.  Yes, that means any incumbents who are running will have to justify those increases, which is entirely appropriate.

There are lots of reasons to increase pay for our elected officials.  Slipping it by during the low point of the accountability cycle is not the way to do it.  If the arguments are good, they will stand up under full public scrutiny.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New Paltz school land vote

Today, New Paltz voters get a chance to decide if the schools will be able to buy some land.  Community sentiment seems largely against the project, and some of the details I've learned today give me pause, while others really clear things up in my mind.

First, the bad.  Whether the reasons for speed are good ones or not, this thing is moving too fast for people to digest it.  Yes, most people prefer to vote uninformed, but they rely on those few who pay attention, and many of those are voting no because they don't know enough.

A real estate broker I know wonders about the soil test on this parcel, which was an orchard, I believe.  Normally, she tells me, soil tests happen before the contract is signed, but in this case it's to be part of the contract.  That makes her nervous, and me too.  I don't know what happens if it turns out to be contaminated.

Another of my friends, a student at the high school, pondered instead using the capital reserve fund for middle school renovations.  I think I can answer that, but first let me explain where this money is coming from.

The capital reserve fund was authorized by voters in 2005 -- the board can sock away up to $5 million for projects like renovating the middle school, although the most they've saved is $1.2 million.  This is money not used in past years, for things like snow plowing, which the voters told them it's okay to save, rather than giving back to us.  In my estimation, this is democratic (we voted), transparent (we know what it can be used for), and conservative (they can eliminate borrowing costs by spending money they have rather than money they don't have).

So why not the middle school?  I'm thinking they don't have enough money to begin to fix those problems, and they're looking to a future without that building.  I don't know that I like that attitude, but the community has spoken pretty loudly in the past.

The rationale behind the land grab is to allow for consolidation, building new near Lenape and pulling back from the middle school.  It could make for a leaner district.  Voting no won't get that money back, because we already told them they could take it.  I'm not saying there aren't good reasons to vote no, but that's not one of them.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Are you voting April 10?

The school district's special vote to allow the purchase of land is coming up.  I think the paper has done a pretty good job of laying out the reasons why they want to spend this money in this way right now, but from the letters and what people are telling me, either people aren't understanding or they really just don't agree.

From what I understand, this land purchase would be made with money the district already has, but can't use -- it's a reserved fund balance.  The first question on the ballot will be to take care of the accounting, and allow the money to be used on real estate.  The second actually gives them the green light to do it.

The board believes that this is the best way to give the community what it wants.  More land will allow the district to consolidate by adding buildings there, replacing the decrepit middle school.  That addresses the safety concerns of that old building, or at least opens the door to doing so, and it does it with money that can't be used to save teaching jobs or programs.

I think this is about communication more than anything else.  I don't think this is a case of the board overreaching, but they are definitely hellbent to go through with this despite the strong negative reaction provided in their survey.  Yes, a lot of land will come off the tax rolls.  Down the line, maybe that prime middle school property will be put back on.

What do you think the tax consequences will be in the short and long runs?  If you're voting, would you be willing to share your reasons for your vote?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cleaning up town hall

Anyone who had occasion to visit the town clerk's office in the decades prior to December, 2011, will be impressed by how the office now looks.

In addition to the lack of clutter out front, the clerk now has her own office in the back, in a room I am told was "floor to ceiling" packed with boxes, clothing, and a stunning amount of rubbish.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Looking at the police

The New Paltz Police Commission and town police department have been in the news a bit lately.  The very existence of the commission hangs in the balance.

Let the board budget

Town board members are concerned that the commission hamstrings their ability to budget.  I don't know the specifics, but if the commission's recommended police budget can't be changed before it's incorporated into the annual town budget, that would be bad.  I don't want my elected officials to feel like they can blame volunteers if a budget decision proves unpopular.  We should do whatever it takes to give our elected representatives the confidence they need when they vote on any aspect of the town budget.

One area where nobody feels they're in control is that of contractual increases.  Multi-year contracts get negotiated, and future budgets must simply accept their terms.  So why do we do it this way?  Why not instead only negotiate one-year contracts, as part of the budgeting process?  Because it's too hard?  Or because that way you can sell a bill of goods down to your successors and they will be able to throw up their hands and say, "It's the best we could do, because our hands are tied by the terms of this three-year-old contract."  Is there anything in any law that would prevent our representatives from only negotiating single-year contracts, for police and all town employees?  Is there anything to prevent the town from passing a law requiring only single-year contracts?

What role for the commission?

As for the police commission, this is a body which could do real good in the community if it didn't have to focus on the budget.  I see real value in a group of citizen volunteers actively independently investigating allegations and publishing their findings.  I've heard (and suspect it's true) that most complaints against officers are baseless; I think it could only help if we could see how often this is the case.

When I interviewed for a seat on the commission a couple of years ago, one council member said to me, "I don't care how many guys they're beating up in an alley."  That official's priority was fiscal.  So I say let's take the budgeting side and give it to the people who don't care who is getting beaten up (if anyone is), and let our citizen volunteers focus on protecting both citizens and officers from poor treatment and misinformation.

The commission could do quite a bit to enhance police-community relations.  Officers have frequently told me that people know their "television rights" and not their "real rights."  So let's educate people on the difference.  Teach them how to behave during a police encounter, such that they exercise their rights without inadvertently escalating a situation.  I had the now-Lieutenant once tell me not to film an intoxicated individual.  I wasn't and didn't even have a camera, and frankly making a video of a guy puking on himself is pretty mean, but it's neither illegal nor is it unconstitutional.  I personally believe he give an inappropriate order; the chief and I disagree on that point.  The commission could preempt a lot of issues like these by clarifying departmental policies and educating the public about how officers will behave.  Education and transparency make for a safe community.

Cameras here and there

Commission members recently requested access to the car-cams which record police activity.  They are presently used for training purposes, not discipline, the chief told them.  What a missed opportunity!  Let's get these tapes into commission hands as soon as possible.  In fact, let's raise the transparency bar, and make all police video recordings available unless there is a reason not to.  Specifically, I would like to see a policy in which every video is posted online.  The chief and perhaps some others would be able to keep any specific footage from public view, but the individual who makes the call must be identified, along with the reason for the redaction.  That name and reason (which could be as simple as "evidence in an ongoing investigation") would be posted online in place of the video, and the footage would be reviewed annually to determine if the reason still held.

Sound like a lot of work?  Shouldn't be.  The officers know what goes down and could flag some encounters for review, and the rest would be posted automatically.

On a related note, police have recommended cameras in public places to help with safety and investigations.  I don't mind being constantly under observation if the police don't.  After all, as the owner of Jack's Deli remarked in this week's New Paltz Times, if you don't have anything to hide, there's no problem.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

So, it comes to this

It's never a surprise when a new executive accuses her predecessor of screwing up -- Terry Dungan trashed Jason West, Toni Hokanson pointed the finger at Don Wilen, and so on -- so the accusations supervisor Zimet is leveling against her predecessor will only be noticed by those few who have an ax to grind against one or the other of these two women (or, in a few special cases, individuals who can't stand either of them).

Whether or not Hokanson did wrong, most ordinary citizens won't care much; outside of the wine-sipping political pundit class, people in New Paltz spend more time living in the present than obsessing over minutiae. And that's a shame, because it means someone is getting away with something.

It could be Hokanson, Zimet, or both. The way the budget never got to a public hearing is unconscionable, and at the time the blame game was between the supervisor and the rest of the town council. Either incompetence by the lame duck or political aggrandizement by the council members who were sticking around probably contributed.

Of course, Zimet is a savvy politician and knows that she needs to get ahead of a story or she'll be blamed for the town's financial woes. Is she exaggerating when she talks about what a pickle the town is in?

Truth is a funny thing. Towards the end of the article linked above is an account of two town employees damaging the roof of the police headquarters, and the town paying the landlord for the damage. Hokanson said the employees went up there on their own, and that building owner C2G (her employer, now and then) was paid $2,500. Zimet claims her predecessor ordered the town employees onto the roof, and that the payment for damage was $14,000.

So who were the employees? I'd like to just ask them if they went up there on their own or not. And can we see the check written to C2G, please? It's either going to be for one amount or another, right? Unless the artificially complex financial system of our town government precludes simply writing a check, of course.

To do: FOIL the above information to see what's what. Truth shouldn't be that tough to sort out. If it is, we've got a problem, Houston.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

How Occupy fell short

This post isn't about the Constitution.  I want to make that perfectly clear.  There are people in New Paltz who believe so dearly in the piece of the truth that they have in their hearts and minds, that no other pieces of truth could possibly exist.

This post is about another piece of truth regarding Occupy New Paltz.  It's the truth about perception and outreach.

Occupy is a different kind of protest.  Back when protesters were fighting against the Vietnam conflict (it wasn't a war; Congress illegally gave up the requirement of declaring war with the War Powers Act), it was easy to understand.  Agree or disagree, everyone knew that the hippies were protesting the fighting.

Our problems are more complex now.  Occupy realized that, and wouldn't simply fire off a few bullet points for the media.  It's an inclusive process that's consensus-based, and completely puzzling to anyone who hasn't made decisions that way.

But there have always been parts of the Occupation were clear.  It started on Wall Street, and spread to other places of power; centers of government and finance were targeted.  "Occupation" is a word that aptly describes how this protest has targeted specific physical locations because of their symbolic meaning.  You might not be clear what Occupy is protesting exactly, but the locations send an unmistakable message.

Again, whether you agree with that message or not, it's there.

So then the routing of the Occupations began.  Nationwide, they were ousted from the parks and the public spaces.  When Occupy Poughkeepsie was shut down, some Occupiers came to New Paltz, where village officials initially opened their arms.

I heard that there was some kind of action at a local bank, and I caught glimpses of a couple of signs in Hasbrouck Park, but I was puzzled by the choice.  What in New Paltz can represent the problems with American society that has left so many unemployed, with so few consequences for the money lenders and corporate bigwigs who drove the economy into the ground?

However, I understood that New Paltz may be the place to be because no one else would have them.  I remarked to my wife back in December that this could become the epicenter of the movement, because they would be allowed to stay.

But as a guy who doesn't venture out much in the winter, I can't say I've seen much that looks like activism.  Or protest.  The park is a poor location for visibility, and the number of people was always terribly small, so the challenges were large.  But primarily this is a question of PR, and I guess no one involved at this location had any skills in that area.

We needed to know why they were here.  Not guessing and rumors, but clear action of some kind, in-your-face action that would distinguish this protest from a bunch of people camping out in the park.

I'm here to tell you that it's still not happened.  There's a bit more talk about the legality of the protest, but no one has explained to me why New Paltz had an Occupation.

When I say "me," I am referring to every New Paltz citizen who doesn't spend his or her life focused on politics and activism.  There's more than a couple of us, I think it's fair to say.

It could be that the Occupation accomplished a lot, but I don't know about it.  And why should I know?  Because the ordinary citizens of this town need to be behind something like this if it's to succeed.  Politicians are weak, and bow to political pressure.  If the average Paltzian had been swayed to at least passively support the Occupation, it would still be there.  And no one would be spending time and money in court.  Including my tax money, when the village gets sued, which I think it will be.

Occupiers, please understand:  I want to support you.  As of now, though, I haven't the foggiest idea how or why.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Word to the wise

If I (or any New Paltz resident) asks for your campaign lawn sign and place it on my lawn, and then ask for a replacement when it goes missing, don't say to me, "I always assumed you were voting against me."

The cognitive dissonance of that statement is so very, very strong that I wonder how you can put your pants on in the morning, much less run a village.  March of 2015 cannot come soon enough.

Friday, January 20, 2012

We are the 99%, at least in spirit

At the New Paltz School Board meeting this week, there was a report by a representative from Alliance for Quality Education, a group focused on restoring millions of dollars' worth of state aid to local schools, and to make sure that the aid is distributed equitably.

I heard AQE's director, Billy Easton, speak at an event at Rondout Valley High School a few weeks ago.  He was on fire as he showed how the cuts disproportionately harm the poorest districts.  In fact, in the latest round of state aid shuffling, Rondout Valley is losing another half-million dollars.

Listening to the AQE rep speaking in New Paltz, I was amazed by the difference.  The fellow was hesitant and apologetic as he explained that our district isn't really one of the ones that AQE's mission will help.  Finally, Superintendent Maria Rice said it for him.

"We're a wealthy district according to state standards," she said.

Sure enough, while Rondout Valley lost half a million, board members here reported that the new state aid allocation will have them "about even," in Kt Tobin's words.

We may well feel like we're part of the subjugated majority in New Paltz, but there's at least one group out there which thinks we get too big a handout, and wants to take some away.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Occupying New Paltz

Like most New Paltz residents, I haven't visited Occupy New Paltz in Hasbrouck Park, nor do I think there's anything wrong with that.  They're the ones hanging out in tents in the cold; I tend to agree with Jason West that it's their job to reach out and explain to me why.

West is reportedly disappointed with that lack of outreach (but given that the same reporter claimed there was only one protester left, which has been denied by Amanda Sisenstein, the group's informal liaison, at a recent village board meeting, I wonder if that reporter even shows up for the things he writes about).

At that same meeting, former trustee Robert Feldman complained about the protest.  That's great.  Feldman couldn't be bothered showing up to finish out his term as a trustee - twice - but he finds the time to show up and whine.  Does anyone listen to this guy anymore?

I wasn't able to attend that meeting, so I spoke to a trustee who does show up to do her job - Sally Rhoads.  Sally is also one of a minority of trustees who still take my calls; apparently in the politics of the village the idea is to be responsive until you're elected, and then to become much too busy to talk to voters and taxpayers.

Sally and I discussed various rumors and conjecturing going on about the local Occupy protest.  Are they stealing resources?  Making a mess?  Causing problems?  She told me that these were the kinds of questions the board had, as well.

  • Electricity is being used by the protesters, taken from an outlet in the gazebo.  Apparently that outlet was once locked, but not in my memory.  Sally wasn't aware that park users regularly plug in cell phones and other devices to that outlet until I told her.  The board feels that paying for the electricity is appropriate.
  • Fire safety is a concern, given that electric and/or kerosene heaters are being used around nylon tents.  Firemen are nervous and the board wants the heaters to go.
  • Noise complaints were talked about, as well; apparently loud music has been heard in the early morning hours.  It's not clear if the police were ever called about that.
  • Sexual assault of one or more Occupiers hit the news early on; according to Rhoads, the perp never identified himself as part of the movement, and was effectively stalking them.  As noted in a letter to the New Paltz Times, the Occupiers turned him in.
  • The gazebo has been taken over, which was not part of the original plan, and it concerns the board.  In the above-referenced article West mentions that people feel like it's an intrusion to visit, so it's safe to assume that those few people who might want to enjoy the gazebo at this time of year don't feel welcome in their own park.
  • Trash isn't being picked up timely, and my sense is that if sanitation doesn't improve the board will have to act.
  • Being in the park after dark is now, pardon the pun, a grey area.  The board is allowing Occupy to stay there, but according to Rhoads if someone else were to hang out in the park or pitch a tent for the night, it wouldn't be okay.  I haven't spoken to the police about their approach to this yet.
  • Drunk and disorderly people in the park have apparently been our usual locals, who aren't used to their gazebo being Occupied.
So the movement continues, but it's not clear exactly what it is that's being moved.  Many progressive people I have spoken to, including explicit supporters of the Occupy movement, are puzzled by Occupy New Paltz.  Given the questions asked by the village board, even the members who claim to have visited, our governing body has nary a clue what they're doing in the park and are simply reacting to complaints and rumors by asking village resident Amanda Sisenstein to get answers.

So like most things in New Paltz, we have gone off half-cocked on this protest.  Maybe it's a good thing, but even our elected officials can't provide any specific reasons why.  There are many complaints, but those complaining are equally ignorant.  Maybe the idea of having a nationally-known protest visit our park gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling of radicalism, but thus far the only thing it's accomplished is the creation of rumors and the Occupation of the village board's agenda.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Salary comparison: New Paltz and Lloyd

This week's New Paltz Times conveniently has the salaries for officials in New Paltz and Lloyd town government on opposite pages.  It's an interesting comparison.

  • New Paltz pays its supervisor $19,312 more than Lloyd
  • Board members earn $9,469 in Lloyd, $469 more than here
  • They pay their highway superintendent $19,000 more
  • Lloyd's town clerk makes an extra $7,755
  • Our justices get $2,614 less each than theirs
In all, New Paltz pays its town elected officials $14,547 less than its neighbor to the east.  The supervisor and highway superintendent are pretty much a wash; for some reason, each town values one of those positions significantly higher than the other.  Given that the highway superintendent's budget is part of the budget which the supervisor presents, it seems that New Paltz has had a strong supervisor for many years, while Lloyd's town council is comprised of people who watch out for the salaries of other positions instead.

Of course I'd rather see elected officials get paid minimum wage (with overtime, of course), complete with filling out time sheets, and I'd do it at all levels of government.