Author Archives: KingstonCitizens.org

HOLD THE DATE! “Exploring the Role of Kingston’s Common Council” on May 28th.

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We are pleased to announce our next Educational Forum to occur on Wednesday, May 28th at the Kingston Public Library from 6:00pm -8:00pm. Our topic that evening will be: “Exploring the role of Kingston’s Common Council” with special guests Alderman at Large James Noble, Majority Leader Matt Dunn and Minority Leader Deb Brown.

Kingston Times: Mayor or Manager?

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“What the manager doesn’t do – can’t do according to ICMA Ethics Rule – is engage in politics. Strome said that separating politics from day to day city business avoids favoritism – like say when areas represented by the minority party get plowed last after a snowstorm – and creates a stable class of professional city employees who don’t turn over with each new administration.  “Just because somebody worked on somebody’s campaign, somebody might feel like they owe somebody a job,” said Strome. That doesn’t happen in a council- manager system…Ellen Difalco (the Mayor’s personal secretary) said Kingston would be unable to afford a city manager. City Managers, according to the ICMA, make a median salary of about $101,000.”

- An excerpt from “Mayor or Manager” in the Kingston Times this week by Jesse Smith.

But, according to City Administrator of Beacon, NY Meredith Robson during the forum in response to Difalco’s comment reminded the audience this:
(view the VIDEO and listen in at 50:33):

“…There is an expense side of the budget and a revenue side of the budget and you’ve got to look at both sides.  Yes, there might be a salary that you pay that you’re not happy about paying, but what the professional brings into the community may save you so much more…..for example…. I worked with three unions to get an overhaul of our health benefits program estimated in savings of about $300,000 a year….we changed what was comp providers, and saved $125,000 doing that.  After an audit of our electric and telephone bills and got $250,000 back. These are just three quick things….in order to get someone who is really going to do the job you are going to have to pay for it…and what they do for a living and what they will bring to the community I suggest would be well worth it.”

 

Professional Managers: Good Reads for Educational Panel on City Manager/City Administrator Forms of Government

Please enjoy these links that explain the different aspects and functions of professional management (City Manager/ City Administrator Forms of Government).

1. Supporting Elected Officials

http://lifewellrun.org/professional-managers/supporting-elected-officials/#.UzG51jkQfcM

2. Key Facts about Professional Local Government Managers.

http://lifewellrun.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/12-147-LWR-Key-Fact-Sheet2.pdf

3. Description of five forms of local government in the US.

http://icma.org/en/icma/knowledge_network/documents/kn/Document/9135/Forms_of_Local_Government_Structure

 

KingstonCitizens.org Upcoming Educational Panel in the Kingston Times.

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VIEW: KC.org Presents “What are City Manager and City Administrator Forms of Government?”

Thanks to the Kingston Times for their article today on the upcoming ‘educational discussion’ that features information on City Manager and City Administrator forms of government.

We are pleased to announce that the event will be streamed live thanks to Kingston News, and that we will hopefully be able to accept your questions via twitter at https://twitter.com/KingCitizens

To clarify, this opportunity IS NOT A DEBATE as written in the article. Our efforts are to offer the public a chance to learn about Beacon, NY’s City Administrator form of government (City Administrator/Mayor/Council) and New Rochelle, NY’s City Manager form of government (City Manager/Council).

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SPREAD THE WORD: Download Flyer for Educational Series and Share.

Help KC.org get out the word on its upcoming public informational event.

Please print and share this flyer. Help more of Kingston Citizens to be in attendance!

DOWNLOAD FLYER: KC.org City Manager/Administrator

Keeping it clean. Who is KC.org and What Are We Doing?

Back in 2006 a group of citizens in Ward 9 started informal meetings for those living in the neighborhood to help educate and inform citizens on relevant topics in Kingston. It was a reaction to wanting to better utilize our alderman, who at the time was Mike Madsen, and our aim was to inspire more citizen input to help him to make decisions on our behalf.  Long before Facebook and Twitter and an onslaught of social media as a way of communicating.

Later on, we created this blog. In 2007 to be exact and since that time, it’s been a whole new ballgame. Its primary role was to create a place for our work in the ward, to encourage other wards to hold discussions online throughout the city and to nurture more citizen journalists.

With all the different  sources today, there is still nothing better than face to face communication. Blogs, social media and that sort of thing are fine, but can be partial to an individual’s point of view.  Who is the author? Supporters? Dissenters? Lurkers?

KC.org retired a few years ago, but is now reinstated because there seems to be a need. In light of transparency as we work to accomplish our ‘face to face’ with upcoming educational forums in a nonpartisan way, we have met with many elected officials and volunteers past and present. We plan on meeting with the Mayor, too, to discuss this work and to get his feedback.  That’s the beauty of KC.org.  No matter what ones personal views are on the issues or on the current colorful personalities on the scene today, it’s a refuge to fall back on so one can focus on education, consensus and ultimately change.

Are you interested in this work?  Don’t be shy.  Get in touch. We’ve got a job for you.

- Rebecca Martin
rebbytunes@earthlink.net

Why Elected Officials Can’t Craft Their Own Job Descriptions.

1920583_250773298438676_1910868062_n“HISTORY (Kingston City Charter): Adopted by the Legislature of the State of New York as Chapter 747 of the Laws of 1896; became a law 5-19-1896 with the approval of the Governor; amended in its entirety by the Common Council of the City of Kingston 11-2-1993 by L.L. No. 5-1993; approved at a general election 11-2-1993; and further amended by the Charter Revision Commission 9-7-1994 and approved at a general election 11-8-1994. Amendments noted where applicable.”

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Because we’re paying close attention to the Charter and Code right now, here is an example of how not to go about updating an elected official’s job description.

Recently (maybe even this past week) the Mayor’s office  generated a definition of the Mayor’s role and posted it on the City of Kingston’s website.   

We’re all for updating job descriptions of our elected officials, but there are some glaring problems here that the public should understand.  By having a better sense of these processes, the people can take control of what is theirs  - that being city government and how Kingston is managed.

1. HOW DOES THE MAYOR’S NEW DESCRIPTION RELATE TO THE CHARTER and/or CODE?  The Mayor’s text is not what is written in the charter - and based on what he has crafted, one would need to carefully cross reference as to how it relates to aspects of the code.   Take for example his description, “The City Charter names the Mayor as President of the Police, Fire, Public Works and Water Boards“.

Here’s the tricky part. If you look at the administrative code online, it looks to be so.

However, acccording to this DOCUMENT also provided on the city of Kingston, NY’s website (but not reflected in the code), it shows that in fact the President of the Board of Water Commissioners since 2012 as being Joseph DeCicco and not the Mayor of Kingston.

Why is this important?  When an elected official of the highest office doesn’t himself know how the city’s framework is structured, then how would the average citizen?  That said, to everyone’s defense – if the code online isn’t up-to-date, then there isn’t any way of knowing unless you are a sleuth like me.

The charter is the law.  Text is….well, text.  Do we think the description in the charter is light?  Absolutely. Are we concerned that the code online may not be up-to-date to keep up with the changes that occur from year to year? Even more so.  We support an update of it all for elected city positions so that they are more current and detailed – but done so in the proper manner.

2. THE PROCESS IN UPDATING THE CHARTER.   To undergo Charter revisions is a process that requires a commission, public hearings, a council vote and then a referendum on the general election ballot. The Code, along with the Charter, would have to also be addressed.

Although Charter and Code work together, they function very differently. The Charter is a “..document which delineates the legal boundaries of the city, defines its organization, powers, functions, and procedures. Generally, the Charter is the place where you will find matters of a more permanent and historical nature, such as the composition of city council, the various departments, and the procedure for assessment and collection of taxes. The Charter is the basic framework of the city.”

Code is the “…official collection or compendium of laws, rules or regulations of the city consolidated and classified according to subject matter.”  Code, therefore, is constantly changing and should be updated on a regular basis for the sake of clarity and transparency.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Kingston’s code is kept current online – and that’s a very large problem that should be addressed by the council immediately.

You’ll notice at the top of this post the history of when the Charter was amended.  First in 1896 and then not taken back up until 1993 with further amendments in 1994.

In 1993, a commission of volunteers led by Tom Benton worked hard for two years to update the charter in its entirety, ushering in a City Manager form of government.  It went to a referendum and passed by hundreds of votes – a big deal in Kingston.

But City Manager was not something that then Mayor T. R. Gallo supported.  So in 1994,  we’re told that a lawyer out of Poughkeepsie, NY was hired and replaced the term ‘City Manager’ with ‘Mayor’.  The amended document was brought to a new commission that this time, Gallo as Mayor selected who reversed City Manager to a Strong Mayor form of government. This all went down in a five minute meeting with a unanimous vote in favor.  That’s stunning. With an election just around the corner, they had little time to get it on the ballot as a referendum. A public hearing was organized within a two week window following the commission meeting,  then swiftly moved through council. The newly amended charter was placed on the ballot where the referendum passed by a slim margin.

Can you imagine the way the volunteers felt, who put so much into this process with thousands of hours of research and public outreach?   Here’s hoping that history will teach us something.

READ  Tom Benton’s account in a commentary written for the Kingston Times.

3. ELECTED OFFICIALS CAN’T CRAFT THEIR JOB DESCRIPTIONS.   Although it would be convenient, elected officials can’t write their job descriptions as law for reasons stated above.   

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Important processes such as this are very public ones.   KingstonCitizens.org will host a second educational forum at the end of April to discuss the in’s and out’s of the Kingston, NY City Charter and Code.

- Rebecca Martin

REFERENCES

1. GOOD READING: A thorough list of documents to outline  the”Charter/City Manager Committee” in Oneida City.   Transparency here rules!   VIEW PAGE

2. CHARTER DEFINITION – MAYOR: The Kingston, NY City Charter definition of MAYOR. Be sure to cross check it with the Administrative Code.  ASK YOUR ALDERMAN to look into the update process of the city code. When was it last done? Why are there inconsistencies as pointed out in this post?   VIEW PAGE

3. THE MAYOR WRITES HIS OWN?  The current Mayor of Kingston Shayne Gallo recently took a stab at writing his own job description. You’ll see some of the charter language here, but there are many liberties taken – which an elected official cannot do.  In addition, there appear to be inconsistencies with what commissions the Mayor is ‘president’ and which he is not.  When code that is available online isn’t up-to-date, one might never know.  VIEW PAGE

“State of the City Address”. A Mayors Obligation and How Kingston’s City Charter is Similar in Nature to the Constitution.

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No matter how busy the Mayor’s office is today, a “State of the City” address isn’t an elective. It’s an obligation.

According to the City of Kingston, NY Charter in Article IV: Mayor, Section C4-4 Annual Message it is written that “The Mayor shall prepare and present during the first month of each fiscal year of the City an annual message to the Common Council. The annual message shall describe the condition and state of the city and shall identify matters and issues the Mayor believes should be addressed by the Council in the ensuing year.

…and no matter how sympathetic to the Mayor one may be (and in all fairness, I am – as I think it’s far too large a job for only one person – hence, my desire to learn more on City Manager/City Administrator Forms of Government),  it may not be legal for an elected official to not follow the charter as written. That certainly should be looked into.

Have a look at “Revising City Charters in NY State” and read the introduction and history of this important document.  The charter is  “the basic document that defines the organization, powers, functions and essential procedures of city government. It is comparable to the State Constitution and to the Constitution of the United States. The charter is, therefore, the most important law of any city“.

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The city of Kingston’s Common Council, on the other hand, has its own set of rules outside of Kingston’s charter.

The “Council Rules for Government” is a document that is not currently available on the City of Kingston website  (as far as I can tell, and it should be accessible to the public in the same way the Chater is). I am happy to have received a copy and to make it public here.

In the way of the “State of the City Address” for council members, have a look at page 48, Rule XVII State of the City Address.  For some reason, the council found it sound to require “…unanimous consent of the Majority (and Minority) party, the Majority (and Minority) Leader may deliver a State of the City Address at the regularly scheduled Febraury Common Council meeting each year.”

What does that mean? If one alderman decides to vote ‘no’ (as what did occur last week with Ward 2 Alderman Brian Seche),  the entire opportunity for the public to hear from their council majority/minority leaders is thrown out the window?

Maybe now is the time to look closer at these documents. The public should  take the time to read and get to know both the charter and the council rules so that it collectively understands how its city works from the inside out.

Here are some suggestions:

1. OUR MAYOR: Write and call the Mayor’s office and request that the law be respected, and that the annual ‘State of the City Address” be delivered.

Mayor Shayne Gallo     845/334-3902    sgallo@kingston-ny.gov
Assistant, Ellen DiFalco

2. MAJORITY/MINORITY LEADERS: Write to both our Majority Leader Matt Dunn (Ward 1) and Minority Leader Deb Brown (Ward 9) in support of their performing a ‘State of the City Address” whether it be official, or unofficial.

Alderman Matt Dunn    ward1@kingston-ny.gov
Alderwoman Deb Brown   ward9@kingston-ny.gov

3. ALDERMAN-AT-LARGE JIM NOBLE: Write to Alderman-at-Large Jim Noble and ask him to explain the meaning behind the rule that requires a vote for our Majority/Minority leaders to speak to the public annually on the State of the City.

If a vote is necessary, then ask that the council take up the “Council Rules of Government” and change the ‘unanimous’ to ‘majority’.

Given what happened last week, it’s astonishing that one single vote can derail this opportunity for citizens.

- Rebecca Martin

RESOURCES

GET TO KNOW Kingston, NY City Charter   READ

GET TO KNOW Revising City Charters in New York State  READ

GET TO KNOW The Council Rules of Government  READ

KingstonCitizens.org Hosts Public Educational Forum and Discussion on City Administrator and City Manager Forms of Government on Tuesday, March 25th.

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KingstonCitizens.org will host a public educational forum and discussion on “City Administrator and City Manager Forms of Government” on Tuesday, March 25th at the Kingston Public Library 55 Franklin Street, in Kingston NY from 6:00pm – 8:00pm.  Panel guests include Meredith Robson, City Administrator of the City of Beacon, NY and Chuck Strome, City Manager of New Rochelle, NY. 

Kingston, NY -  For the past twenty years, the city of Kingston, NY has what is known as a ‘Strong Mayor’ form of government, where a mayor is elected into office based on popular vote to manage the city’s $36+ million dollar budget, departments, committees, commissions and an aging citywide infrastructure.

KingstonCitizens.org is pleased to present a public educational forum and discussion on two alternative forms of government titled “City Administrator and City Manager Forms of Government” on Tuesday, March 25th from 6:00pm – 8:00pm at the Kingston Public Library located at 55 Franklin Street in Kingston, NY. All are welcome to attend.

Guest panelists include Meredith Robson, City Administrator of the City of Beacon and Chuck Strome, City Manager of New Rochelle, NY to discuss their roles and relationships with the public and elected officials.

The evening will be co-moderated by Rebecca Martin, founder of KingstonCitizens.org and former Executive Director of the Kingston Land Trust and Jennifer Schwartz Berky, Principal at Hone Strategic, LLC and the former Deputy Director of Planning at Ulster County.

For more information, contact Rebecca Martin at: rebbytunes@earthlink.net

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Our Panelists

Meredith Robson, City of Beacon Administrator:   Meredith Robson has served in a variety of governmental positions for over 26 years.  She has served in all levels of government, except County government, and her career has spanned three states.  She is currently the City Administrator for the City of Beacon. Ms. Robson has been very active in professional associations throughout her career, including serving on the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials Executive Committee and in her current roles as President of the New York City/County Management Association and Northeast Regional Vice President for the International City/County Management Association. Ms. Robson is an ICMA Credentialed Manager and has a Bachelor of Science from Southern Illinois University and a Master of Public Administration from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  She has participated in numerous professional development programs, including the following leadership training opportunities:  Wallkill Valley Community Leadership Alliance, Leadership Greater Waterbury and Pace University Land Use Leadership Alliance Training Program.

Chuck Strome, New Rochelle, NY City Manager On November 12, 2002, the City Council unanimously approved the appointment of Charles B. “Chuck” Strome, III as City Manager. Mr. Strome served as Acting City Manager since March 2002 and as Deputy City Manager since 1995. Prior to that, he served as Director of Emergency Services from 1989 through 1992, and then became Assistant City Manager / City Coordinator. 

Mr. Strome has a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Communications from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and a Masters of Public Administration-Government from Pace University. 

Before joining government, Mr. Strome held positions at Hudson Westchester Radio where he was News Director, Vice President, and Program Director. 

Mr. Strome is a member of the International City Managers’ Association, and former president of the New York State City / County Managers Association. He is also past President, Vice President, and Secretary of the Municipal Administrators Association of Metropolitan New York.

Our Moderators

About KingstonCitizens.org: KingstonCitizens.org is a non-partisan, citizen-run organization focused on relevant and current issues about Kingston, N.Y and working to foster transparent communication by encouraging growing citizen participation.  The founder of KC.org and evening co-moderator Rebecca Martin is a world renowned and critically acclaimed musician who has 25 years of experience as a manager, community organizer and activist.

About Jennifer Schwartz Berky, Principal at Hone Strategic, LLC:  Berky, the evening’s co-moderator, has over 25 twenty years of experience in the fields of architecture, conservation, economic development, and urban planning in the non-profit, government, academic and private sectors. Prior to launching Hone Strategic, she served as Deputy Director of Ulster County Planning for over seven years, where she was the lead researcher and liaison to the Ulster County Charter Commission. Before moving to Ulster County, she worked in Washington, DC at the World Bank and Urban Institute, at the University of Rome (Italy) and as a project manager of design and construction for New York City’s major cultural institutions. Berky has lived for extended periods in Argentina, Chile, France, Israel, Italy, and Spain. She earned a B.A. in Art History from SUNY Stony Brook and Masters’ degrees in Urban Planning (M.Phil.) and Real Estate Development (M.S.) at Columbia University, where she is also currently completing a Ph.D. in Urban Planning on the subject of environmental economics.

 
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