Category Archives: Elections

MORE ON – Kingston: “Strong Mayor” or “City Manager” Form of Government?

council-manager

(This piece was originally printed in the Kingston Times in August of 2013 after a flurry of firings at Kingston City Hall in Kingston, NY.  This is an edited version).

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“When you find that change is constant, will you shun complacency?” – J. Harris

As a kid, I grew up in a household of ‘activists.’  That’s what my parents were called anyway. It never occurred to me then, or now, that they were anything out of the ordinary. For is it activism or ones duty to shine the light on a problem that lies inside or out of the community?

In the mill town where I am from, my father was a family doctor and my mother a nurse. Together, the two cared for generations of people who one day began to show up at an alarming rate with both common and also extremely rare types of cancers. Wanting to understand this phenomenon led my parents to the discovery of a dioxin contamination that was produced by the mill. A by-product of the bleaching process in papermaking, it’s a severe carcinogen also found in the notorious Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange. All day long, they put out a large pool of muddy dioxin-laced sludge right out in the open. Without good management regulations at that time, it was disposed of by being dumped into the rivers, buried on mountaintops and burned close by. The geography of the area made for a noxious smog that hung over the valley like an impending death sentence. But noone listened.

Years later, my hometown was later dubbed “Cancer Valley”. You’d think it to be enough to wake even the staunchest of cynics. But it wasn’t. The industry scurried about to downplay the statistics and public officials obliged. “Those damn elitist activists.” they’d say with their heads buried in the sands.

How do you get away with such a thing?

The people’s needs are simple. They want a job to best utilize their skill set, a roof over their head, food on the table and a good education for their children. With jobs scarce in most rural places, a lack of alternatives allow for easy management of a problem like this. Vocal residents were diminished by threats from their large employer to pack up and leave.   Residents without options would resort to nostalgia.  “Our town will prosper as it always has”.  Even as it slowly bled to death.

Now thirty years later, the town that I knew is barely recognizable.  The population has aged out. Young families have moved away. Generations no longer generate.  It is necessary today for mill workers to be brought in to keep the mill in business with those who haven’t a connection to the history or the spirit that once was.  The wealthy are no longer professionals. They are those who have the means to gobble up foreclosed properties to use as Section 8 housing.

A cautionary tale.

I turned out to be an artist. Things that the average person fear are just a part of ordinary life for me – and so that “fearlessness” and then a knack for organizing make for one hell of a tool chest in these times.  Four years after moving into this adopted city of mine  (and today, I’m a Kingston resident now for 12 years – the longest I’ve lived anywhere else other than my home town) and shortly after becoming a mom, I became what they call a ‘community organizer’ or ‘activist’ I suppose – and what I found was a gaping hole between the people and city hall that was downright disconcerting. Over the years and with the help of many volunteers and good souls, close to 50 initiatives both large and small to help repair that disconnect were created and diligently worked upon that would serve the public for a long time to come. Those of you who have come along for the ride for the past 8 years know what I’m speaking of.

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I’ve been dismayed by recent events in Kingston.  The decisions and reactions of our mayor have disappointed me, but it’s not something I haven’t already seen in one form or another in Kingston’s recent past.  On first blush, I find my inner dialogue focused on the politicians short comings. But the truth is, that our collective lack of knowledge and disinterest in how local government works is where the problem lies.

Furthermore, the people’s collective resignation of bad behavior from those working on their behalf is mystifying. With such low expectations, what chance is there to develop and attract a greater range of talent and professionalism in high office elected positions?

Starting from the top down, Kingston has what is known as a “strong mayor” form of government. That means that whoever is elected into office essentially has full administrative authority. The people are encouraged to vote ‘across the line’ (promoting lazy voters in my estimation) and your mayor ends up navigating a $36.8 million dollar budget, a population of about 24,000 people and an entire aging citywide infrastructure.

Here’s the thing.  He or she isn’t required to have any specific qualifications for a job like this because qualifications is unconstitutional for any elected official. Did you know that? In essence,  that means that anyone at all can be your mayor, whether they are experienced in city management or not.  Think about that for a moment and try not to panic.

A mayor can hire department heads and appoint membership to the city’s internal committees without much or in some cases any oversight. That’s how our charter currently reads. They might choose to cast a net to hire the most qualified candidates locally, or enlist those whose merit lies mainly in having helped them to become elected into office. As we have recently witnessed, the latter approach has led to an unprecedented number of firings.

Take a look sometime at the City of Kingston’s charter and read Article IV: Mayor “General Powers and Duties.”  The executive duties are light at best.

Compare that to municipalities with a City Manager (Oneonta, NY) or City Administrator (Beacon, NY).  Pretty astonishing don’t you think?

What would be in the public’s best interest is to have an ongoing community discussion on the choices that exist for how a city like ours could be run.

Twenty years ago for a hot minute Kingston actually had a city manager form of government. It was a hard earned effort that was forged by a group of active citizens with the support of the chamber of commerce. There is an article written by Tom Benton that the Kingston Times  published describing how it all came to light. Prior to that, the mayor’s role was considered a full time position, but with only part time pay.   More of a role had by a retiree with some clout in the community as I understand it.

City Manager wasn’t long lived here in Kingston – as  T.R. Gallo, who petitioned at the last minute to reverse the ‘City Manager’ outcome before he himself ran for mayor, strengthening its role to what it is today.

If set up correctly, a city manager could diminish the power of party lines by placing more responsibility on a larger body of elected officials and therefore, placing more control in the hands of the people.

I like that.

How about requiring those newly elected council members to take a course in civics and in Kingston government? (new school board trustees get mandatory training.) Furthermore for our council, what about term limits with a maximum of two terms? It should be a common man’s position. Like jury duty. There is no better way to learn how your local government works than by landing a role in it for a short time. If you find that you have a knack for public service?  Run for higher office.

Kingston is in the midst of rewriting its citywide Comprehensive Plan, a process that hasn’t been undertaken since 1961. They are calling it “Kingston 2025” and it’s meant to act as a road map for creating a resilient and sustainable community over the next 12 years. That’s entirely possible given the efforts of a good number of initiatives that have been underway for some time.  Kingston citizens, get in there.  Give your input and ask that once the new plan is in place, that it is looked at again for proper updates under each new executive office term. That’s every four to five years.

City government is ours and as soon as we are afraid of it, we no longer live in a democracy. What is necessary to make things run smoothly in todays climate is organization, cooperation and different points of view. Be inquisitive, stay current and together make the changes that are needed and available to us.

- Rebecca Martin

 

Cast an Educated Vote on November 2nd, 2010. Here’s How.

By Rebecca Martin

Last week, I poked around in search of a list of all the candidates running for office this election cycle to share on KingstonCitizens.org.  What I learned was how difficult (and that day impossible) it was to find – and with only 1 1/2 weeks away from an important election.

Once, the League of Women Voters provided an impressive run down  of all of the candidates and their platforms. Also included were candidate questions and answers as well as a thorough text of each candidates past record to help citizens be better informed. Where was it?

Sure, I could have put together a list of each individual candidates websites.  But a one sided point of view wasn’t going to help you in your decision making process.  In some circles, voters are told to ‘vote across the line’. All that is is a party tactic that encourages voters to not be educated ones,  further diminishing the process.

I came across the phone number of Dare Thompson (what a great name, yes?), the president of the League of Women Voters and decided to call her to see what I could find out.  Luckily, she was home – and we had a wonderful discussion.  Dare was surprised that the ballot that once existed on the Ulster County Board of  Elections  site was not working correctly. When we finished our conversation,  she contacted them immediately and was able to work with them to straighten it out.  No one had caught that error until that moment. What does that tell you?

It’s repaired now, and you can easily access the names of everyone running on the ballot. The process here does ask that the resident do some investigative work, and there is still time to do it. Research the names on the ballot. Not only the candidates you are not familiar with, but those that you think you know as well.

Here’s how:

1. Visit – http://www.co.ulster.ny.us/elections/

2. Click on “Look up your polling site and view a sample ballot”

3. Put in your zip code, street number and street name.

4. You’ll be taken to a page where you’ll find all important voting details.  Look for the ‘Sample Ballot’ box on the left hand side and “click here” to see a sample ballot. The list of candidates you will have to choose from are there. Print this out, and do some research while there is a little time left.

If you have any additional tips for readings in finding good information, please include it in the comment section of this post.

Be on the look out for an interview with Dare Thompson on KingstonCitizens.org shortly…


Tuesday, September 14th is Primary Day

Tomorrow is primary day.   Here is helpful information on where to go to vote and the candidate choices in Ulster County.

Where to vote?
LINK

New Voting Machine Demonstration.
LINK

Democratic choices and websites
LINK

Republican choices and websites
LINK

Working Family choices and websites  
LINK

Independence Party
LINK

Kingston Library Upcoming Trustee Election and Budget Vote on June 1st, 2010.

Were you aware that the Kingston Library has an upcoming election and budget vote?

Attached is the proposed budget, trustee bios and a letter to all Kingston citizens from Kingston Library Director Margie Menard.

Please mark your calendars to vote!

-  Rebecca Martin Continue reading

Board of Education Budget Public Hearing and Upcoming School Board Elections

In Saturday’s (5/1) Daily Freeman Life Section Legals, there is a notice of all that is upcoming for our schools Budgets, Operations and Management.

I’ve asked Camille for a copy of it and will post shortly.

In the meantime, there is a public hearing that is upcoming and too important for citizens to not know about. If you are interested in being present, I hope that this heads up allows you the time to coordinate your schedules.

Thanks.

- Rebecca Martin

Wednesday, May 5th 2010  5:30pm at the BOE, 61 Crown Street Kingston
– The Board of Education of the City School District of the city of Kingston will hold a public hearing on the budget at the Cioni Administration Building for the purpose of presenting the budget for the 2010-2011 School Year (Budget) to the Public. Budgets to view will be available on May 4th in each school building.

Tuesday, May 11th 2010   6:30pm  at Miller School
Meet the Candidates night.  For a list of candidates, visit the Board Of Education’s WEBSITE or, read the Daily Freeman ARTICLE from the other day.

School Board Elections are Tuesday, May 18th. More information posted shortly.

After The Election: Recycling Campaign Lawn Signs

After an election cycle, have you ever wondered what to do with those campaign lawn signs that you agreed to place on your property? Do you call the candidates and offer them back? Take them apart to recycle them? Re-use them for lawn sales?

I decided to take a look on-line to see if New York State had any lawn sign recycling program in place.

Nope. At least not so far as I could see. There are, however, several municipalities who have created such a thing (in Florida for example and of course California).

I wonder if those running for office would agree to do away with lawn signs. Not plausible? Then how about holding onto them to re-use in the case that they run again in the future. Most everyone has an attic, right?

Here is a good link to ‘Planet Green’ where you can read more about the recycling possibilities.

- Rebecca Martin

How To Follow General Election Results In Kingston And Ulster County

If you’re like me, you have children and a strict routine to follow on any given night. No general election parties for you!

Here are a few sites and tips to get up to the minute results so you too don’t have to wait for the Wednesday morning paper:

1. Board of Elections – Election results page (there will be a link to today’s election results sometime this evening. Check in periodically today).

2. Adam Bosch will probably do an up-to-the minute report on the Times Herald Record web page

3. Check out Public Access Channel 23. They are back on the air and in the past have reported accurate results.

If you have any further tips, please note them here in the comment section of this blog post.

Thanks.

- Rebecca Martin

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