Category Archives: insights

Kingston Times: Mayor or Manager?

Kingston Times 3

“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.”

 

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

City_Manager

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.

 

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.

***

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

 

Don’t Be Greedy, Be Grateful.

By Rebecca Martin

The weekend brought out shoppers in droves, and I couldn’t help but ask myself where all the holiday money was coming from. With jobs scarce and credit cards maxed, what gives? Didn’t I just read something about a double dip recession? You’d think whatever we had left, we’d be socking away.

To make matters worse is that the bulk of the shoppers were at the mall. Corporate chains devour our local dollars and continue to obliterate our communities unique main street (and yes, even main street carries the majority of its items made in China.  I will get into that at some other time). Even the most aware are in search of a bargain during the holiday season. For that, I say bah humbug. What’s it going to take to turn this ship around?

Raising a young child and struggling with our odd urge to consume as a society, I developed a recourse to my sons wanting with a catch phrase that seemed to say it all.   “Don’t be greedy. Be grateful”.   Saying this over and over again for the past several years is paying off.  At five years old it’s all I have to say to him when he wants something that he really doesn’t need. He’s even saying it back to me when the same applies in reverse.

So, in the spirit of not being greedy but grateful, consider this:

1. 12.4 % of New York State Residents struggle with hunger.
Local Support:
The Queens Galley

2. Nearly 2.7 Million New Yorkers live in Poverty. That’s approximately 14.2% of the population.
Local Support:
Family of Woodstock

3. Nationwide, millions of dogs and cats are abandoned in rural and urban areas.
Local Support:
SPCA of Kingston

4. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older (about 1 in 4 adults) suffer from a mental disorder.  This translates to about 57.7 million people. In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the US and Canada.
Local Support:
Chiz’s Heart Street

5.  Of the almost 3.5 million violent crimes committed against family members, 49% of these were crimes against spouses.
Local Support:
Family Domestic Violence Services

6. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Adolescence who are rejected by their families are 8.4 times more likely to report having an attempted suicide attempt, and for every completed suicide attempt, it is estimated that 100-200 are made.
Local Support:
The Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center

7. Residents of many US Cities lack adequate access to parks and open space near their homes. Community gardens increase residents sense of community ownership and stewardship, provide a focus for neighborhood activities, expose inner city youth to nature, connect people from diverse cultures, reduce crime by cleaning up vacant lots and build community leaders.
Local Support:
The Kingston Land Trust

8. Buy a subscription to our local paper.

9. Support the O + Festival by making a donation.

Others:
Catskill Animal Sanctuary
Woodstock Animal Sanctuary
Office for the Aging

If you don’t find something here that is important to you, take a moment and ask yourself what is. You’re bound to find an organization doing great things locally that could use a hand. Google it – and better yet, share it with us in the comment section of this post.

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…


Strike the Pike?

This is an interesting development.

Sometime back, I learned of what  I believe to be a $1.3 million dollar amount  (in state/federal funding that has grown since) slated to be used to restore and upgrade the current Pike Plan located in Uptown, Kingston.  This sort of ‘canopy’ was popular in and around the 1970′s, when Main Streets were looking for ways to compete with the fairly new “mall mentality”.

Today, Kingston’s Pike Plan is seen by many as nothing more than an idea that didn’t stand the test of time and is now backfiring. Its canopy covers both sides of Wall Street’s sidewalks between John and North Front, and creates a dark and decayed feeling that many feel is hurting what business we have in the Uptown area.

Those in support of the development say that the Pike Plan is ‘historic’ and worth preserving.  The Uptown area where it is located is deemed historic, it is true. But there is nothing historic about the Pike Plan.  Furthermore, I have been told that the canopy is one of the last (if not the last) left in the Country.   That might seem like a good thing, except the reasons they were torn down to begin with was mainly due to their being a deterrent to foot traffic and to business in general.

I learned that the ever impressive KURA (the Kingston Uptown Resident Association) has serious reservations of this project moving forward.  The letter was written to the Mayor by Gerard T. Soldner, President of KURA.  His findings are significant.

I wish those who are so keen on this project might have had the same enthusiasm for saving what was truly historic – the old Trolley Barn on Broadway and W. Chester Street. Their lack of vision now provides residents with another drug store chain. The third within a one mile radius.

Are those at the helm  following the money, or are they doing what’s right by the uptown  residents, businesses and citizens of Kingston overall?

I’m not so certain. But what do I know?

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Since this was posted, we made a few changes to it by adding a ‘visual’ of the letter written by KURA. We expect to also include the petition of businesses and building owners concerned with the current Pike Plan effort.

Some additional reading in no particular order. More to come:

- Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters – Ulster Publishing
- Pike Plot, The Hudson Valley Chronic
- KUBAs Pike Plan Meeting – Neighborhood Watch
- RUPCO: More than a Roof Overhead

Ward 9 Alderman Hayes Clement Says “You Oughtta Be In Pictures, Kingston”

Here is a great op-ed piece written by Ward 9 Alderman Hayes Clement for the Kingston Times this week.

“You Oughtta Be In Pictures, Kingston”

Common Sense: Open Arms to the Film Industry in the City of Kingston

By Rebecca Martin

Come on city officials. It’s one thing to have a lack of ideas on how to create jobs in the area, specificially in the city of Kingston. It’s a whole other ball of wax to be potentially chasing away the lucrative film industry from coming to set up shop here. Good grief.

Lets get real about our budget woes. It’s a tricky, inflated pandoras box not because of the growing costs of city services. It’s due to unrealistic contracts and pensions. So collecting a few thousand dollars from a film production company who stands to pour tens of thousands into our local economy (not to mention a good amount of free press) doesn’t make any sense what-so-ever.

In today’s Daily Freeman, the always sensible Ward 9 Alderman Hayes Clement is quoted as saying, “By all means, continue to charge, as the city has, for all direct costs associated with film shoots, such as police or other municipal workers. But beyond that, we should be looking at local film producation as an opportunity to market Kingston and develop a new local industry, not as an opportunity to generate fees for City Hall”.

You can count on me being at the front of the line to speak in support of welcoming film production to Kingston. I’m sure there will be dozens of others who will be happy to speak in favor as well.

That IBM chip on our shoulder has got to soften. Those days are over, and Kingson better get with the program to reinvent itself if it wishes to be successful and competitive. We sit in an opportune position right smack dab in the middle of New York City and Albany. It’s a bedroom community waiting to happen if I’ve ever seen one.

Cool Communication – The Town of Ulster

Have you checked out how impressive the Town of Ulster’s website is?  They’ve created a site that is easy and clear in its design and navigaton, making it simple to get important, up-to-date information. It offers timely agendas and minutes from each meeting and you can subscribe to the site and receive frequent updates on the weeks meetings/events/public hearings.

Check it out: Town of Ulster Website

Kudos to the Supervisor and his crew. 

City of Kingston, let’s follow their lead here. How hard can it be?

KingstonCitizens.org: Where We’re Going, Where We’ve Been

By Rebecca Martin

This morning, KingstonCitizens.org was mentioned in Nancy Donskoj’s Main Street Manager blog. It was nice that some of the other blog efforts were being shared with her base. Thanks to all who do so much to help with outreach and community building mentioned here or not.

The piece got me thinking about KC.org in general and  how it all began, transitions, where we are now and where I believe we are heading.

KingstonCitizens.org  was an extension of a concept that came out of the Ward 9 community group that formed many years ago.  Our group met face to face each month which helped us to get to know one another and the strength of our voices and ideas.  A google group (now a Yahoo! Group) for online and ongoing communications allowed our dialouge to continue until we met again. This was an immediate tool that helped foster transparency, as our ideas were shared with a growing group of neighbors in the company of our Alderman. An Alderman, remember, is meant to reflect the collective voices (and not just those who live to their left and right) of his/her constituents when they sit on the common council to vote on their behalf. The idea was to enable citizens to become better informed to aid in that process so to make the greatest impact. Besides witnessing the new excitement and sense of possibility in my new friends and community members,  it was also a very large experiment to see if government actually did what it professed to do. What I learned from a front row seat was that at times it did, though more often it did not. It was evidence that citizens needed to take on a reasonably consistent and a more responsible role in what was happening around them.  That is if there was ever going to be a time for what was completely outdated and out of whack to come back to a current and balanced place again.

I like getting to the bottom of things no matter how difficult or uncomfortable that may be.  It’s a personality trait that embodies Mt. Everest highs and Dante’s Inferno lows.  But I don’t mind.  There is no end to unraveling a lifetime of experiences to get back to an authentic place and in learning from the cues to be more trusting, accepting and simple.

But I digress. Back on point.

The online Ward 9 Community group was a useful tool, so with the help of Beth Bengston-Gillis, Mark Greene and Arthur Zaczkiewicz, KingstonCitizens.org was launched on July 4th, 2007.  Back then, it was an HTML site. Remember those?  It was created years before we had heard of Wordpress or Ning and whatever else has come along since. Mark Greene had designed the most beautiful logo and ‘portal’  that allowed citizens to connect to any of the  nine online Yahoo! groups representing each of our nine wards. In that way, we were able to provide a current and organized place for citizens to gather, discuss and take productive action in their immediate neighborhoods.  Their updated Alderman and ward-centric information was posted at each of the group pages as it still is today.

A year or so later with the discovery of Wordpress, we joined the ranks when veteran journalist and my partner in the effort at that time Arthur Zaczkiewicz decided to write a blog as an extension of KingstonCitizens.org and to help fill in some of the blanks that indeed needed filling.

Today, our blog remains a useful tool for all Kingston citizens, public officials and local papers alike. It has never been our aim to ‘break stories’ or to participate in taking a stance on any political platform. We intend to find ways to nurture those who came on board long ago while collecting newly energized citizen voices to share their views and ideas with us all to keep the forward momentum.    We wish to grow our effort as a citizen journalism site and we would love it if you would join us.   All you really need to bring to the table is your willingness to share in the same spirit as is KC.org.

I’ll be happy to get your on your way.

Contact me at rebbytunes at earthlink.net

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