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!
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!
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
“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.”
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.
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
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
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“.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
Alderwoman Deb Brown firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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 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: email@example.com
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.
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.
(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).
“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.
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