Kingstonian PILOT: “Serious deficiencies in the application currently pending before the IDA”

Last evening, the City of Kingston and Ulster County Industrial Development Agency received a letter from Victoria L. Polidoro, Law Offices of Rodenhausen Chale & Polidoro LLP. Polidoro represents several property owners in Uptown, Kingston.

Some of the highlights:

The IDA is Not Authorized to Grant the Application

As a threshold matter the IDA does not have authority to consider or grant the Application for the Project which includes residential housing units. The IDA’s Housing Projects Policy, which was reaffirmed on January 8, 2020, only allows IDA financing it limited circumstances. It provides that:

A. The Agency will only consider the granting of any “financial assistance” (asdefined under the Act) for following projects that provide housing:

  1. (1)  a project that satisfies the definition of a continuing care retirement community project under Section 859-b of the Act; or
  2. (2)  a project by an industrial, manufacturing, warehousing, commercial,research and recreation facility (as defined in the Act) that provides workforce housing for its employees.

The Project will Result in a Loss of Public Parking Spaces

“Using a very conservative estimate, the minimum number of spaces needed to serve the Kingstonian is 313. The proposed parking garage with 420 parking spaces is not sufficient to replace the existing 144 public parking spaces and provide for the additional 313 parking spaces needed by the Project.1 The Project will therefore result in net loss of publicly available parking spaces.”

The Applicants’ Financial Analysis Is Insufficient

Even if the IDA had authority to approve the Application and the Applicant could demonstrate that additional parking spaces would be created, the Application lacks sufficient information on the Project’s finances. The Applicant alleges that the costs of constructing the parking garage total approximately $16.8 million, which, after financing, would purportedly result in annual costs of $1,067,000 over 25 years. However, it is not at all clear if these cost estimates are accurate. The data supporting the Applicant’s calculation has not been publicly posted. We request that the IDA release all data provided and engage an independent consultant to audit the Applicant’s estimated costs to determine their validity.

The IDA Should Not Consider the Application Until the Pending Article 78 is Resolved

The IDA should refrain from acting on the application until the pending SEQRA litigation is resolved, as any decision it makes may thereafter be invalidated.

An IDA Member May Have a Conflict of Interest

“However, even if this does not rise to the level of a formal conflict of interest under Article 4 of the New York State Public Officers Law, it at the very least creates the appearance of impropriety and weakens the public’s confidence in its government. Therefore, we request that this member of the IDA recuse himself from consideration of the present application.

Affordable Housing and the Kingstonian Project PILOT

CLICK TO WRITE  (be sure to add your name and municipality at the end and any other message that you wish to include):  Request that the Kingston Common Council and in particular, the Council’s Finance Committee demand that the Kingstonian developers provide affordable housing guarantees in their PILOT agreement. 

By Rebecca Martin

In our recent post about the Kingstonian PILOT, we reported on the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency’s (UCIDA) consideration of a $30.6 million tax subsidy to real estate developers in exchange for parking spaces. We shared our concerns that a subsidy of this size to the Kingstonian for parking spaces means significantly less money to invest in City schools, streets, public housing, and infrastructure. “It increases the likelihood that already overburdened taxpayers will be forced to cover any fiscal gap with increased school and property taxes.”  We demanded that a true value be placed on the developer’s PILOT before a public hearing is held so that the residents of Kingston are fully aware of the role they are being asked to play.   READ “The Kingstonian Project: There is more at stake than just parking”

The Kingstonian PILOT: Where the public good is a parking garage

It isn’t clear how to affix a value on what will become a privatized parking garage funded by public through subsidies. We’ve got nothing but questions.

  • How many municipal spots will there realistically be for the City of Kingston?
  • What will the fee structure look like?
  • What will community members be asked to pay?
  • Is the parking garage being built for the average Kingston community member or for those with the means to afford luxury apartments?
  • What would the fiscal benefits be if the PILOT was disallowed?
  • Would the revenue stream remain the same?
  • Could the City of Kingston conceivably be better off building its own parking garage for $30.6 million dollars? 

Affordable housing for now, but for how long and at what cost?

Part of what has been portrayed as a public good for the Kingstonian are the 14 affordable housing units that were included last fall after much outcry from the community. Even though the Area Median Income (AMI) is high (presumably determined by the Kingston-Poughkeepsie MSA or some other measurement beyond Ulster County), it’s good to have an affordable component added to the project.  

Typically, not-for-profits (NFP) who are working on affordable housing projects receive state tax credits and in return are bound by rules.  In some cases, those units can remain affordable for up to 50 years. As a private developer, the Kingstonian isn’t relying on the state and therefore, can use the “affordable housing” language without being bound by the same rules.

The PILOT agreement at this point is perhaps the only avenue to provide guarantees that prevent the affordable units from escalating in value. It could outline the units’ starting rent, their size and annual escalator rate.  Without that outlined somewhere, the Kingstonians “affordable housing” could become market rate at any given time. 

In a recent PILOT analysis completed for the City of Hudson by Joshua Simons of the Benjamin Center, the report highlights key variables and standards in the region. Although the project in Hudson is all affordable housing created by a foundation (apples to oranges here), we presume that if the Kingstonian project were to do the same kind of study for its PILOT it would prove to be an anomaly. 

As the terms of the Kingstonian PILOT are not yet fixed, now is the time that our decision-makers and the public can request a full disclosure of the true value of the PILOT (in order to avoid the developer inflating the public benefits) as well as a clawback provision and affordable housing guidelines.

Beyond that, what revenues do the Kingstonian developers stand to gain on luxury apartments over 25 years? Even thought he PILOT process is well underway, we don’t know as the information is deemed ‘trade secrets’ as are the sources of financing which the developer refuses to reveal. 

It’s impossible to understand why decision makers are not insisting on making all of the developer’s information public given the expectation of tens of millions in subsidies. Without it, we can’t be sure that the Kingstonian project would require a PILOT at all. 

RESOURCES

New York State Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program (SLIHC)    NYS tax credits for affordable housing

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC)
Federal program for tax credits for affordable housing administered by the state

Image above provided by The Kingston News “Kingstonian: Listen to the Community” rally

FOIL or foiled?

The legislature hereby finds that a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of government actions. The more open a government is with its citizenry, the greater the understanding and participation of the public in government…

…The people’s right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality. The legislature therefore declares that government is the public’s business and that the public, individually and collectively and represented by a free press, should have access to the records of government in accordance with the provisions of this article.

– from the Legislative Declaration of NYS’ Freedom of Information Law

By Giovanna Righini with Tanya Garment

In 1974, legislation was approved to enact the original Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) in New York State. For the first time, the general public was granted right of access to government records. The law plays an important role in keeping government transparent and accountable and speaks eloquently to this end in its Legislative Declaration.

The process that the public may follow to obtain records is laid out by the New York State Committee on Open Government (COOG). Their website provides a wealth of information, including sample letter templates, information on access to agency records, required time lines, and advisory opinions. Since FOIL is somewhat fluid and, like any law, is subject to interpretation, it requires a good faith effort by both the public and the government to work. The following story details a lack of that effort on the part of the City of Kingston.

On April 15, 2020, Tanya Garment submitted a FOIL request to the City of Kingston for any and all email and text communications between and among Mayor Noble and various specific City employees regarding the proposed merger of Department of Public Works with the Parks & Recreation Department and the Environmental Education and Sustainability Coordinator’s role and office location, from March 1 to April 14, 2020. She made the request in order to find instructions to staff that would help her to understand the steps of the proposed merger’s process, particularly because the proposal would have provided the Mayor’s wife with a job promotion and substantial pay increase.

VIEW 4.15 FOIL Request

On April 20, Tanya was contacted by the City Clerk who asked, on behalf of Kingston’s Corporation Counsel, if the FOIL request could be closed out since the proposed merger had died in Council Committee. Because the Clerk expressed concern about the amount of work it would take to review all the emails, Tanya initially agreed over the phone to retract her request. A few hours later, however, after she’d had time to think about it, Tanya decided she didn’t want to retract the full request but was willing to reduce the scope of it by narrowing the time frame to April 1 through April 14, 2020. She put this in writing to both the City Clerk and Corporation Counsel’s Secretary by email, left a voicemail to that effect for the City Clerk and spoke directly to the Secretary about it. The very next day, her full original request was denied.

Read more…

The Kingstonian PILOT: There is more at stake than just parking

Editorial

CLICK, SIGN AND SEND!  Demand that the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) require the Kingstonian applicant release financial data for independent assessment and to place a value on their PILOT request prior to any scheduled public hearing:   CLICK ON THIS LINK, SIGN AND SEND TO ALL DECISION MAKERS.  Please include your name, where you live and any additional message you’d like to include. 


What the Kingston community needs to know up front

The Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) this week considered a $30.6 million tax subsidy to real estate developers in exchange for 277 parking spaces. In the midst of a financial crisis, the substantial loss of $30.6 million in tax receipts will have a profound effect on the community. A subsidy to the Kingstonian real estate developers for parking spaces means less money to invest in City schools, streets, public housing, and infrastructure. It increases the likelihood that already overburdened taxpayers will cover any fiscal gap with increased school and property taxes. 

What happened at the July 8th Ulster County IDA Meeting Regarding the $57.8 million Kingstonian Project?

The specific agenda item on the Ulster County IDA docket involved the question of a deviated payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) request for the Kingstonian proposal, a $57.8 million dollar luxury apartment project in Uptown, Kingston. If granted, the Kingstonian investors pay for the value of what’s already there and not what they improve for the next 25 years. The estimated amount of the PILOT subsidy under consideration for a portion of a parking garage is roughly $30.6 million in addition to $6.8 million in tax-payer funded grants.  We have not seen a parking assessment (an estimate of how many parking spaces the project will actually need) nor do we know the true value of the PILOT request.

After the developer’s joint presentation with the Mayor of Kingston, the IDA expressed significant concerns, and sent the proposal back to the pre screening process.  The deviation and the delay will allow the developers to go back and discuss the PILOT agreement with the involved agencies (City of Kingston, Ulster County Legislature and Board of Education) to confirm their commitment before returning to the IDA board in August. If the IDA is satisfied with the progress at that point, they will schedule a public hearing.  In the meantime, without the release of vital financial information, the public is unable to assess the true value of the PILOT.  To date, neither the developers, the IDA nor the City of Kingston has agreed to release that financial information.

What’s the IDA and a deviated PILOT? How does it affect the Kingston Community?

Read more…

Kingston Board of Ethics Lacks Quorum For Several Months. Apply to Volunteer

By Rebecca Martin

In the City of Kingston, there are 25 committees, boards and commissions that provide opportunities for community members to serve on a range of topics. They include planning, zoning, water, the environment, fire, policing and – ethics.  One of the historical challenges with the appointments, however, has been a lack of transparency in the process overall, and particularly pertaining to appointment selection.

Kingston’s Charter allows for the Mayor to make all appointments without oversight.  To tip the scales further towards the executive branch, those appointments are guided by corporation counsel and, at times, City department heads – most of whom serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. We have witnessed the challenges that members have faced when seeking independence as a body in their decision making. Removal of members of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission in April of 2019

Early in Mayor Noble’s first term, he created an online application for attracting and recruiting volunteers for Kingston’s boards, commissions and committees. “All individuals interested in serving on a board, commission and/or committee must complete an application and submit it to the Mayor’s office for review. This information will be used in determining which individuals are best suited to serve, based on their qualifications, backgrounds, skills and interests. The purpose of this application process was to enable the City to recruit individuals who have a strong desire and ability to serve, but who may not have had the opportunity before.” 

Although the on-line application was a new approach, and intended to bring some clarity to a murky process, it didn’t address the lack of oversight to appointments.  It also lacks fundamental information and policies such as what vacancies there are, how many terms one can serve, what expertise the City might be looking for, the official response or response time to expect, what the renewal or removal process is or how many terms a community member is able to serve. 

Over the years, we have heard administrations complain of a lack of volunteers to choose from. But with the gaps illustrated above, it should come as no surprise.  We have also heard our current Mayor say that the City has an abundance of volunteers eager to serve and yet, vacancies remain. 

The most recent list of appointments show that some members of the community serve on multiple boards, committees and commissions and, although it lists term expirations, it does not provide information on how long the members have served.  We are aware that there are community members who have served for decades in the same seat (several of the Water Board members is a case in point). It illustrates that even the “updated” process maintains the status quo. 

As of February 2020, the Ethics Board had a vacancy to fill and terms expiring. The board has struggled to maintain a quorum and the last time they met was on March 3 (over three months ago).  As far as we can tell, the minutes from that meeting are still not posted on the City’s website even though the Committee on Open Government states that ”…minutes of meetings of all public bodies shall be available to the public in accordance with the provisions of the freedom of information law within two weeks from the date of such meeting”   In the case of membership missing consecutive meetings, what is the number of allowed absences before they are removed and replaced by a more readily available member of the community? 

According to the Charter, the Board of Ethics for the City of Kingston, “…shall consist of five members…The Corporation Counsel, or Assistant Corporation Counsel in his or her stead, shall serve as counsel to the Board of Ethics. In the event the Corporation Counsel identifies a conflict of interest, or a conflict of interest is identified in writing by the Board of Ethics, outside counsel shall be secured for the Board. There will be a budget line established and maintained for outside counsel in an amount of at least $10,000. Written retainer agreements shall be required for retention of services of outside counsel. Such retainer agreements shall be subject to the approval by the Mayor of the City of Kingston. In the event that the matter involves the Mayor or a member of his family or household as those terms are defined above, the Alderman at Large shall act in the Mayor’s place.”

Now is a good time to help the Board of Ethics meet its monthly quorum.  If you live in the City of Kingston, do not hold office in a political party or elective office in the city and are interested in assuring that Kingston’s elected and appointed officials are maintaining their responsibility to uphold the public trust, please apply (and request a response).

APPLY NOW

RESOURCES
Ethics board Rules and Regulations 

KingstonCitizens.org Request UCRRA to Remove BioHiTech Facility in Local Solid Waste Plan for Ulster County

By Rebecca Martin

On Monday, June 29 at noon, the Ulster County Recovery Resource Authority (UCRRA) will hold their monthly meeting. We have provided the following pubic comment.

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Dear Members of the UCRRA Board,

We wish to commend you for your hard efforts in creating a Local Solid Waste Plan for Ulster County.  From our early conversations with professionals, Ulster County and specifically UCRRA is seen as a leader on managing solid waste. 

However, in regard to the BioMass section of your document (page 111-112), we request that the board consider a resolution to remove the BioHiTech facility in Ulster County from its plan.  

Recently, we have learned about BioHiTech, a “Municipal Solid Waste Processing Facility” with a project that is now online in West Virginia and another currently under scrutiny in the City of Rensselaer. 

The proposed facility in the City of Rensselaer initially referred to itself as a “composting facility” in its Environmental Assessment Form for SEQR. Far from it.  As we understand it, this “emerging technology” produces Refuse-derived Fuel (RDF) by first collecting municipal waste. After removing any valuable metals, the plastic and fibers are dried and shredded into confetti.  They are then trucked away to cement plants where it is incinerated to supplement coal in creating energy. The remaining waste is dumped in unnamed landfills or garbage incinerators.

With a population of 9300 residents, the City of Rensselaer community is already shouldering four polluting facilities (a nearby massive asphalt receiving facility, the Rensselaer Cogeneration gas-fired power plant, a major Amtrak hub and the Dunn Construction and Demolition debris landfill (situated next to a pre-K to 12 public school) and across the river, Global oil terminal). “The proposed BioHiTech facility project, situated near a DEC potential environmental justice area, would be built on top of a capped toxic waste site, the former BASF property, where existing contamination affects the soil, groundwater, and nearby Hudson River.  It would accept constant shipments of municipal garbage. Trucks would make about 82 trips in and out of the facility every day, according to the applicant.” This would be tragic for Rensselaer.

So it is of great concern to us that in UCRRA’s most recent plan, it calls to contract a consulting firm to evaluate the possibility of permitting and constructing a local landfill or a BioHiTech Facility within Ulster County.

In section 7.11 Technology Selection, it says, “..three technologies have been selected to pursue in the 10-year planning period. Feasibility studies for siting a local landfill, installing a BioHiTech (biomass) Facility, and waste exportation by railroad will be conducted”

To be clear, we understand that to date, UCRRA has not included incineration as a solution to municipal solid waste within Ulster County. That’s wise given the history of environmental advocacy here, as the outcry would be fierce. Let it be known that we also do not support Ulster County engaging in incineration anywhere. 

On page 74, section 5.2.9 Local Environmental Justice it says,. “Environmental justice means the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment means that no group of people, including a racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal programs and policies. Environmental justice, under the NYSDEC Policy 29 aims to enhance public participation and the review of environmental impacts from proposed construction of facilities in environmental justice communities, and to reduce disproportionate environmental impacts in overburdened communities.” 

If UCRRA is indeed concerned about Environmental Justice communities in Ulster County, then it should also be concerned in its role to potentially exploit communities outside of Ulster County, those who would bear the brunt of our shipment of shredded plastics and fiber for incineration. We encourage you to think hard about how you would feel if you and your family were living near an incinerator burning waste in general, and then the waste of those from another state. 

For all of these reasons, we request that the UCRRA board consider passing a resolution to remove BioHiTech from its current Local Solid Waste Management plan as a potential future option in Ulster County.

In addition, we sought advice from Neil Seldman and made a small donation to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance to review UCRRA’s 2011 and 2020 Local Solid Waste Plans and provide a memorandum to outline the pros and cons for Ulster County. All incineration plans are stated as “a very bad idea.”  He goes on to say that he “will not comment on this very outdated 20th century technology.” Most, if not all of us, are aware of Seldman’s work and hold him in high esteem. We are submitting the memorandum as an attachment to our public comment. 

RESOURCES

READ: Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency Local Solid Waste Management Plan

READ: Institute for Self Reliance Memorandum on Ulster County Local Solid Waste Plan

READ: Riverkeeper Opposes Waste Facility on the Hudson River in Rensselaer

Kingston Council Laws and Rules Committee Continue to Discuss the Executive Branch’s Decision to not Enforce “Building/Zoning” Law

By Rebecca Martin

In April, community members impacted by the proposed Irish Cultural Center (ICC) located at 32 Abeel Street in the Rondout co-authored a letter to the Common Council Laws and Rules Committee ostensibly asking, “Why does the City of Kingston have laws on its books that it won’t enforce?”   The letter was referring to a recent decision by the Building Safety and Code Enforcement Department guided by the Executive Branch’s Corporation Counsel in the City of Kingston, where it was determined that the ICC’s expired permit (the third since 2011) would not be upheld due to the city not having found  “… an instance of its usage” and that it would be “unfair to arbitrarily enforce said article by invalidating (the ICC’s) building permit.”

The Laws and Rules Committee took up the question at its May meeting where they decided to send an inquiry to the Director of Building Safety and Code Enforcement.  In an email, Chairman of the Council’s Laws & Rules Committee and Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura-Morrell asked, “In your letter to the developers, you mentioned that you found no previous instance of its (the article’s) enforcement and therefore you determined that it would be unfair and arbitrary to enforce it in this instance. Can you please expand on why you reached that conclusion?”

The Director replied, “Following a review of a number of files, conversations with current staff and speaking with former inspectors, no one could remember an instance when a permit had been invalidated for this reason. Building Safety issued 1350 permits last year and we have no mechanism to alert us when each permit has reached the six months’ revocation limit. The recognition of a permit’s potential invalidation date is only the first step in the process. An actual inspection of the premises would be needed to verify the presence or absence of construction work. I am of the belief that this code, if strictly enforced, would overwhelm the capacity of the department and frankly is not necessary.”

What is notable here is that the Building Safety, with guidance from the Executive Branch’s Corporation Counsel, provided two explanations.  In his letter dated March 10 to the ICC, the law would not be upheld because the city hadn’t used it before and concluded that it would be unfair to the applicant if it were enforced.  In the June 2 reaction to the chair of the Laws and Rules Committee’s inquiry, the reason was because of a lack of mechanism to alert his department of the six month expiration for each permit that they have approved. 

It’s problematic for Kingston going forward, as enforcement of the law is critical. If the law is flawed, then it should be reformed.  Additionally, in the 21st century, technology must exist to provide a ‘mechanism’ that would allow the City of Kingston Building Department to assure compliance of all of its 1,350 approved building permits. (Note to City: Check out Airtable)

The City of Kingston’s Common Council Laws & Rules Committee will continue the discussion “Building / Zoning Laws” during their remote meeting on Wednesday, June 17th at 6:30pm.

Read more…

Local Women in Civics, Office, Academia are also Authors with New Book Releases in 2020

There are many great woman in our community who make important contributions to our daily civic lives, in office and academia. They are mothers, partners, friends and bread winners. They are also published authors.

Here are three favorites.

Dr. Lynn Eckert is a resident of Kingston and former Kingston Alderwoman and Ulster County Legislature. A political science professor at Marist College, Eckert holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Gettysburg College and a master’s degree from Temple University and a doctorate from The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. Eckert can also be heard on KingstonCitizens.org’s weekly roundtable program “What’s the Process” with Rebecca Martin and Jennifer Schwartz Berky.

Her book, Free Speech Law and the Pornography Debate: A Gender-Based Approach to Regulating Inegalitarian Pornography will be available more widely in July, 2020.

“By examining the highly contested legal debate about the regulation of pornography through an epistemic lens, this book analyzes competing claims about the proper role of speech in our society, pornography’s harm, the relationship between speech and equality, and whether law should regulate and, if so, upon what grounds. In maintaining that inegalitarian pornography generates discursive effects, the book contends that law cannot simply adopt a libertarian approach to free speech. While inegalitarian pornography may not be determinative of gender inequality, it does contribute, reinforce, reflect and help maintain such unfairness. As a result, we can place reasonable gender-based regulations on inegalitarian pornography while upholding our most treasured commitments to dissident speech just as other liberal democracies with strong free speech traditions have done. ”

Dr. JoAnne Myers serves on the board of the Ulster County Recovery Resource Authority (UCRRA), is a commissioner on the Ulster County Human Rights Commission and Vice President of the board of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center. Myers is an Associate Professor of Political Science; Political Science Internship Coordinator; Director of Public Administration Concentration at Marist College.

Her new book “The Good Citizen: The Markers of Privilege in America” was released in early 2020.

“Using applied political theory, JoAnne Myers presents five markers by which citizens become second-class citizens―property, productivity, participation, patriotism, and reproduction. Citizenship is a highly contested status since it grants members political rights and responsibilities. It is contextualized by cultural, political, historical, economic, situational, and place. In the United States, we think of citizenship in principle as democratic, but citizenship is not just a binary status: norms, policies, and laws can mark some citizens as “other.” In The Good Citizen: The Markers of Privilege in America, Myers argues that being marked as not having or achieving these markers is how citizenship is controlled and regulated. To illustrate this argument, each chapter begins with a practical question or myth to ease the reader into the marker being examined. She later articulates the ways in which law and norms and biopower regulates and controls citizens in three policy areas. Myers moves beyond theories of citizen marginalization based on identity politics and intersectionality to provide a new understanding of citizenship practice. The Good Citizen will be of interest to scholars and researchers of politics, sociology, or legal studies of citizenship, and anyone concerned with distributive justice.”

KT Tobin lives in New Paltz and is the Deputy Mayor of the Village. She is responsible for designing, managing, and producing Benjamin Center projects focused on regional issues and concerns. Before returning to work at her alma mater SUNY New Paltz in 2008, she was the Assistant Director at the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. Tobin holds an M.S. in Social Research from CUNY Hunter and a Ph.D. in Sociology from SUNY Albany. Her dissertation research, entitled “Gender: Impacts on Participation in Local Government,” studied elected women in the Mid-Hudson region.

Her recent collaboration “Suffrage and Its Limits: The New York Story” will be available in September, 2020.

“Suffrage and Its Limits offers a unique interdisciplinary overview of the legacy and limits of suffrage for the women of New York State. It commemorates the state suffrage centennial of 2017, yet arrives in time to contribute to celebrations around the national centennial of 2020. Bringing together scholars with a wide variety of research specialties, it initiates a timely dialogue that links an appreciation of accomplishments to a clearer understanding of present problems and an agenda for future progress. The first three chapters explore the state suffrage movement, the 1917 victory, and what New York women did with the vote. The next three chapters focus on the status of women and politics in New York today. The final three chapters take a prospective look at the limits of liberal feminism and its unfinished agenda for women’s equality in New York. A preface by Lieutenant Governor Katherine Hochul and a final chapter by activist Barbara Smith bookend the discussion. Combining diverse approaches and analyses, this collection enables readers to make connections between history, political science, public policy, sociology, philosophy, and activism. This study moves beyond merely celebrating the centennial to tackle women’s issues of today and tomorrow.”

KingstonCitizens.org launches roundtable program called “What’s the Process?”

The local volunteer community group, established in 2006, will host a weekly roundtable program to help provide City of Kingston and Ulster County residents processes relevant to local issues.

Kingston, NY – KingstonCitizens.org will launch a new weekly program “What’s the Process” on Sundays at 5:00 pm.  The first in the series will air on Sunday,  May 3 at 5:00pm on KingstonCitizens.org’s Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/KingstonCitizens/ with a discussion on remote public meetings, the basics of the Open Meetings Law, and the Governor’s Executive Order guaranteeing the public’s right to continued access to their government during the COVID-19 crisis.

The program will be recorded and broadcast each week and will tackle local City of Kingston and Ulster County topics with a range of guests. Co-hosts include co-founder and Director of KingstonCitizens.org Rebecca Martin, Associate Professor of Political Science at Marist College and KingstonCitizens.org advisory board member Dr. Lynn Eckert and urban planner and KingstonCitizens.org co-founder and advisory board member Jennifer Schwartz Berky.  The three women bring a combined 60 years of experience in municipal, county, state and federal government procedure and process.

“I don’t think there has ever been a more important moment, at least in my lifetime, to have a place for discussion of local issues and their processes as well as to provide opportunities for different points of view.” said Rebecca Martin. “With many of our local papers struggling to stay afloat, our regular program can provide insights and nuances so community members can understand how to be effective in their civic engagement efforts.  “What’s the process?” or “Where are we in the process?” are questions that I would like every community member in Ulster County to grow accustomed to asking their elected and appointed officials.  I think we can help with that.”

“We need thoughtful, in-depth discussion of the local policy decisions that affect our lives and community now more than ever.” Dr. Lynn Eckert said. “Those in power think that we’re not watching and that they can behave in ways that abuse their position. We need to stay focused on solutions that are in the public good while holding those accountable who are engaged in petty or vindictive actions or feel-good symbolic statements. Real substantive political change takes hard work, not self-promotion, and it involves a constellation of community members, not just elected officials, party leaders or select activists. It takes all of us.” 

“KingstonCitizens.org was founded over 10 years ago to help fill a void in our community. People across the political spectrum and diverse walks of life told us they felt left out of the process. They didn’t understand how to engage with local government or make their voices heard,” said Jennifer Schwartz Berky. “In the past decade, we have seen a powerful change in the public’s engagement in Kingston and Ulster County. KingstonCitizens.org has been a force for generating greater transparency in local and county government and growing the ranks of our informed, engaged community. This new program will continue to help fill that void in these challenging times.” 

For more information, please sign-up for KingstonCitizens.org newsletter http://eepurl.com/gYWIan or contact rebecca@kingstoncitizens.org

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About KingstonCitizens.org  Established in 2006, KingstonCitizens.org is a non-partisan, grassroots, volunteer organization committed to nurturing transparency in local government through citizen engagement and participation.  

About Rebecca Martin   A native of Maine, Martin co-founded KingstonCitizens.org in 2006 to understand the inner workings of her new hometown’s local government and to create a platform for citizen engagement. Since then, she has organized more than 100 different initiatives and projects, including serving as ‘ground zero’ for information and civic engagement during the Niagara Bottling Company’s attempt to purchase a significant share of Kingston’s municipal water supply.  KingstonCitizens.org later advocated for a Water Powers Referendum, which amended Kingston’s City Charter that passed by a landslide. Martin previously served as Executive Director of the Kingston Land Trust where she led the non-profit group’s Urban Agriculture initiatives, Kingston’s Rail Trail Committee and programming, and an effort to protect African-American history and burial grounds in the City of Kingston. As a musician, Martin tours the world performing her original music. Since 2017,  Martin has worked for Riverkeeper and is currently Campaign Manager for the Water Quality Program.

About Lynn Eckert  Dr. Lynn Eckert is a political science professor at Marist College in Poughkeepsie.  She earned a bachelor’s degree from Gettysburg College in 1992 and a doctorate from The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2001.  Eckert is also a former Alderwoman serving Ward 1 in the City of Kingston, NY and Ulster County Legislator.   Her partner is Amy Eckert, a writer, and they have three children, Raymond, Lucy and Ella.

About Jennifer Schwartz Berky  Jennifer has lived in the Hudson Valley since 2004, where she has worked with numerous communities and organizations to plan and implement projects in historic sites and neighborhoods. Prior to this, she was a cultural heritage specialist and planner at the World Bank, where she was involved with World Heritage sites and cities and community-driven development programs in over 30 places abroad. Jennifer was also a design and construction project manager for many historic buildings and cultural institutions in her native New York City.  She has Masters’ degrees from Columbia University in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development, a BA in Art History from SUNY Stony Brook, and studied conservation at UNESCO’s ICCROM program in Rome, Italy.  She is fluent in French, Italian and Spanish.  In addition to her work as a planner and historic preservationist, Jennifer has an active civic life as a county legislator, leader, volunteer, and board member in numerous community and sustainable development organizations. 

Police Accountability Resolution Resolves Little

Editorial Board 

At the next Laws and Rules Committee meeting on April 15, council members will be considering a long list of complicated and important legislation. One is a police accountability memorializing resolution, itself the result of a long and challenging process.  Its complainant-sounding language has sparked a host of questions for us:  How were all stakeholders identified and engaged to bring us to this point? Who was at the table and was there consensus? Who was responsible for crafting the memorializing resolution language? 

Back in January, newly elected council president Andrea Shaut created a special policing committee led by Alderwoman Rita Worthington, D-Ward 4, and joined by Rennie Scott-Childress, D-Ward 3 and Alderman Jeffrey Ventura Morell, D-Ward 1. The three lawmakers would be given time to delve into matters relating to policing more deeply before sending their research and information to the council’s Laws and Rules Committee and ultimately, to the full council for any formal action.

Right now, we have a tenuous public safety situation in Kingston. The most efficient way to handle policing legislation or reform is to bring all the parties to the table, having them speak to one another in constructive ways. Has that been done? There are already points of agreement. While no one meeting will resolve the complex nexus of issues at play, a continued, ongoing, purposeful dialogue would decrease tensions and build a stronger community. We have already had some community meetings but the most productive kinds of dialogues would involve a skilled moderator/facilitator steeped in knowledge about the complex relations between the police and communities of color. 

The incident at the center of the outrage in Kingston may stem from an incident in 2015 (prior to most of our current council members that are in office today) when police wrongly arrested a young man on the suspicion that he knocked over a cyclist. The situation escalated when one officer approached the man who became nervous and began recording the interaction. The interaction intensified culminating with the officers tasing the young man multiple times while arresting him. When arriving at the police station, officers realized that the man did not commit the crime. Despite his innocence, the police charged the man with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. A jury later convicted him of that first charge and he was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge. A later investigation by the Police Commission found that both officers involved in the incident followed procedures. 

The incident described leaves out one contextual issue crucial to understanding the anger, distrust and resentment that lingers in the aftermath of the incident. The young man was black while the police officers were white. Some will argue that race has nothing to do with determining the culpability of the officers while others will say that it is the dispositive issue. 

We all operate within an historical context, one we can’t change and shouldn’t ignore. Given the history of the United States, it is unfortunately a deeply racist context in which we live. Racism is structural meaning that despite the best intentions of individuals, we inherit norms, institutions, rules, and material conditions that shape an unequal landscape where blacks and whites are treated differently: they are perceived differently and punished differently. We can understand that racist structure and fight against it but not without a recognition of the unequal racist history that acts as an albatross around all of our necks.     

The concept of implicit bias tells us that despite our best conscious intentions, we discriminate against people of color in unintended and unconscious ways. We may not desire to discriminate, and indeed, when conscious we may actively fight against racism. Implicit bias occurs when we are forced to make split second judgements of the sort that override and preempt conscious, deliberative thought. Once more, we are all subject to the invisible mechanisms of implicit bias irrespective of our race, gender, sexual orientation or class. Jesse Jackson sadly recognized the effects of implicit bias on himself when recounting the fear he experienced at seeing two young black men in hoodies walking behind him. Later, he realized that he too was part of the very culture that perpetuated racism even as he attempted to dismantle it. When people suggest that it is impossible to not be racist in American society, they are relying, in part, upon the notion of implicit bias. As we know, there are plenty of people who are consciously and proudly racist. Nonetheless, if the concept of implicit bias is operative, even those of us who strive to dismantle racial injustice contribute to it. 

The outrage over the tasing incident is fair and should be acknowledged. The results of the police commission investigation—where they cleared the officers involved in the Kingston incident of wrongdoing—has led to this festering of distrust and anger. Our political leadership hasn’t helped redirect the anger toward positive ends either.  

But to say all police are bad is as unfair as to say that all advocates are good. In fact, we have some advocates in Kingston who seem more intent on feeding the anger without supplying the requisite skill, knowledge and fortitude to resolve problems that are rooted in the City Charter. We also have a mayor who abdicated his moral responsibility in speaking out against the criminal charge or creating a more proactive police commission.

Our leaders need to create a space—a context—in which to have a directed, purposeful discussion, one that recognizes the role of structural racism as well as the fear that this young man must have felt knowing his innocence yet dealing with officers who thought they’d caught the “bad guy”. The young man at the center of this incident knew the history of police relations with the African-American community. He genuinely feared for his life. All police officers need to understand that fear: they need to acknowledge that white and black bodies have different histories and differing collective understandings based upon their lived experiences. 

At the same time, most of our officers risk their lives and strive to operate in the public interest. As a community, our first step should be toward understanding what occurred, why it occurred, correcting harms, and creating a system that does better. Attempting to understand this 2015 incident is complex and nuanced. Contradictory elements simultaneously swirl as we try to come to grips with structural racism, a community’s legitimate historical fear of the police, and officers who are genuinely committed to doing good. 

Nor should we conflate a critique of these particular police actions with a dislike or disregard for the Kingston police force. On the contrary, critiquing this incident is a sign of respect given the serious and vital role that police officers play in our society. We critique because we respect them enough to engage in an arduous communal activity and out of an acknowledgement of the noble and substantial role that they perform. 

In Kingston, we need more leaders to acknowledge that the way this young man was treated was an injustice. The fact that officers may not have violated police regulations in dealing with this young man doesn’t mean that no harm was done to him or that they couldn’t have tried to de-escalate. Nor does it mean that we don’t have to change our policies so that this doesn’t happen again. At the same time, the police risk their lives for us everyday. We appreciate and respect their efforts, but sometimes they get it wrong, and when they do, we should redress the harm. Police officers are under enormous stress and often make split-second decisions that can cost or save lives, including their own. They are called into situations to protect and defend the vulnerable. Under such stressful circumstances, mistakes can be made and better options overlooked. 

Without a statement acknowledging the anger and unfairness that many Kingston residents experience, we now have even greater distrust and resentment. Pretending that nothing unfair occurred has made a bad situation even worse, where no one group feels heard or respected. We need to balance the sense of racial injustice felt by many residents of Kingston with the police officers who feel that they are disrespected even as they risked their lives to help others. 

We purposely have avoided mentioning the names of the young man and the officers involved in the 2015 incident that is described above. While each will seek individual justice, the incident also tells us something important about us all as a community. We need to reflect upon how to do better. Do we need to make changes to the charter to allow for a more robust and transparent police commission, one that seeks to hear from community members and police officers in a way that upholds fairness and due process? We do. So why settle for a memorializing resolution on policing?  The hard work begins with dialogue and ends with real institutional change through amending the charter. To amend the charter is long, arduous and complex, but it’s time. 

ADDITIONAL READING: “The Need for Charter Reform becomes Obvious and Urgent

Victory Over Proposed Athens Construction and Demolition Waste Facility

Project abandoned but other fights loom for neighbors up and down the Hudson River

Courtesy of Keep It Greene

ATHENS, NY—March 20, 2020  Yesterday, the Division of Materials Management Officer at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) confirmed that Athens Stevedoring and Environmental Development LLC had withdrawn its application for a proposed Construction and Demolition waste processing facility in the Village of Athens and was no longer interested in pursuing the project.

The project had only recently come to light when, in January 2020, Keep It Greene member and Athens resident Diana Abadie made an unnerving discovery. “There’s a spot right on the Hudson River adjoining the boat dock where I often drink my morning coffee,” Diana recalls. “I noticed a for sale sign and when I called, the owner of the property told me that he was selling to a barge and trucking company.”

A series of Freedom of Information Law requests revealed specific plans to import 8,400 tons of Construction & Demolition Debris (C&DD) waste per week that would be stored, processed (i.e. crushed and sorted), and then exported by hundreds of trucks six days a week from a 6.1 acre waterfront site in the Village. Keep It Greene worked with Friends of Athens, KingstonCitizens.org, Hudson Riverkeeper, and the Village of Athens Mayor and Board of Trustees to inform the community and encourage them to organize. After an outpouring of support from the public (an online petition garnered over 2,000 signatures in only two weeks) and support from State Assemblymember Chris Tague (R) and Congressman Antonio Delgado (D), Athens Stevedoring withdrew its application and abandoned the project.

“I am very proud of how our entire community came together to make their voices heard,” said Village of Athens Mayor Stephan Bradicich.  “I have no doubt that the large and unified opposition to this project played a large part in stopping the effort.”

Although the threat to Athens may have passed, the neighboring Town of Catskill is confronting another C&DD project from Peckham Industries: an unlined landfill on the shoreline of the Hudson River that would receive 600,000 tons of waste. Although Peckham’s application to the DEC was recently returned as incomplete, the community anxiously awaits further developments.

According to Geologist David Walker, Ph.D of Keep It Greene, it’s no coincidence that these two similar projects landed in the same vicinity. “Athens and Catskill are just pieces of a larger puzzle. There are idle quarries along the Hudson River awaiting some new purpose, and New York City is the source of an enormous C&DD waste stream (twice the tonnage of its municipal waste). With barging cheaper than trucking to transport tons of materials and the Hudson Valley located closer to New York City than alternative sites, such as Seneca Meadows or Rensselaer, the area has been—and will continue to be—targeted for many more of these projects.”

In the weeks and months ahead, the coalition of environmental and community activists who fought the Athens C&D project plans to reach out to other communities fighting similar battles. “Instead of playing ‘Whack-a-Mole’ as these threats arise, we need to organize and push for proactive, comprehensive C&D waste management,” says Catherine Censor, president of Friends of Athens.

It’s a strategy that Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper, endorses. “The system worked here because these communities got the facts and got active. This should give everyone in the Hudson River watershed the confidence to fight misbegotten projects like these in their own communities.”

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About Keep It Greene and Friends of Athens

Keep It Greene: A non-partisan, grassroots, volunteer organization located in Greene County, NY.

Friends of Athens: A 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to historic preservation, civic improvement, and beautification of the natural and cultivated landscape in and around the Village of Athens, New York.

The State Preservation Office does about-face for Kingstonian project amid political pressure

By Editorial Board

Rendering by Mackenzie Architects

Without any significant changes proposed by the developers, the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has chosen to unsee the adverse impacts that it had identified in September 2019 in the course of its review of the Kingstonian. The only rational explanation for this unexpected and illogical about-face is that this is the result of political pressure exerted by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and by extension, Governor Andrew Cuomo. 

According to a February 14 letter to the ESDC from John Bonafide, Director of the Technical Division Bureau at SHPO, “After considering the material presented at our meeting and the subsequently submitted information, we have found that the evolution of the proposal has addressed many of the open preservation issues raised by this office.” However, the only change that has been made since his office last reviewed the project in September is that the Schwenk Drive portion of the development grew another story. Impacts that were identified in the agency’s September 19 letter, such as the project’s size, its monolithic scale, and its eradication of Fair Street Extension, have not been mitigated in the least. 

SHPO’s comments on the Kingstonian are part of a consultation mandated by Section 14.09 of the New York Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law. It is required for projects that are funded, licensed or approved by state or federal agencies. The Kingstonian is set to receive $3 million in funding from the ESDC. The majority of the project site lies within the National Register-listed Stockade Historic District.

We do not know yet how this will impact the active Article 78 suit filed by a consortium of Uptown business entities against the City of Kingston and the developers. SHPO’s latest findings do not detract from the main premise of the lawsuit—that the Kingston Planning Board failed to take a “hard look” at the facts of the project during the State Environmental Quality Review. 

SHPO’s findings also do not negate the project’s pending review by the local Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, whose responsibility it will be to scrutinize the design details big and small, something that SHPO does not do in its review. 

As KingstonCitizens.org has reported in the past, the developers of the Kingstonian are the beneficiaries of substantial taxpayer-funded state grants. In addition to the $3 million from the ESDC, they have been awarded $3.8 million from Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative Grant. They are also likely to seek an unknown sum of municipal tax breaks through the Ulster County IDA. In addition to all of that and perhaps of most value, they have a political leader like Mayor Steve Noble for a partner, who over the course of the past year, has seemingly gone out of his way to use the powers of his office to influence the outcome of the project’s regulatory review, whether by having his corporation counsels mislead and bully individuals, removing members of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, or by seeing to it that the zoning law is disregarded. 

From the recent effort to merge departments and provide his spouse a new position with increased pay to creating positions for housing initiatives, this mayor’s determination to muscle through his agenda with or without the Common Council’s consent—and sometimes at the expense of others—is infuriating. The pressure on the Council to unquestionably support the Kingstonian is great. We hope they hold the line for our community. 

Note: For an excellent in-depth background on the developers of the Kingstonian and the origins of the project, listen to the August 16, 2019 episode of “The Source with Hillary Harvey” on RadioKingston.

The Need for Charter Reform Becomes Obvious and Urgent

Editorial Board

In a surprise February 3 press release, Mayor Steve Noble announced a major proposal to restructure the Departments of Public Works (DPW) and Parks & Recreation, which would greatly expand the current role of the Superintendent of DPW to oversee both departments. The Mayor’s proposal also creates a new Deputy position who would oversee several divisions, including parks maintenance, recreation programming, environmental education programs, along with sanitation. He even had a person ready to provisionally fill this new position immediately: his wife, Julie Noble, who is currently a city environmental education and sustainability coordinator.

Not surprisingly,  his proposal has not been received well. There have been cries of nepotism and ethics charges have been filed. Members of the Common Council, who had little or no warning of this proposal before it was announced to the public, have expressed unusual hesitation. However, there may be a silver lining in this mess.

READ: Kingstoncitizens.org’s “City Government is not a Mayor’s Oyster: The Restructuring of DPW, Parks & Recreation and Nepotism”

Kingston’s city charter in its current form gives the Mayor considerable power. He alone appoints all commissions and boards. He hires and fires officials, not all of whom have the credentials necessary for the particular role. The silver lining? His egregious heavy-handedness has a lot of people talking about the need for charter reform. The Mayor himself has supported charter reform in the past, and at the Common Council’s Laws & Rules Committee on February 19,  he admitted that the charter was outdated and expressed his desire to work in partnership with the Council to update it in a comprehensive manner.   

VIDEO of Laws and Rules Committee meeting on February 19, 2020. 

Why charter reform now?

According to the New York Department of State’s ‘Revising City Charters In New York State’ technical series, a city charter, …is the basic document that defines the organization, powers, functions and essential procedures of the city government. It is comparable to the State Constitution and to the Constitution of the United States. The charter is, therefore, the most important single law of any city.”

Those who have followed KingstonCitizens.org know that for the last decade, reforming Kingston’s charter has been a major goal of ours.  That’s because in 1993, after many years of hard work by citizens with support from folks like the local Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters, there was a referendum to change Kingston’s form of government to a City Manager form.  It passed overwhelmingly. However, Kingston’s newly elected and popular Mayor, T.R. Gallo (who had also served briefly on the charter commission but stopped showing up some say in protest of the City Manager discussion) was unhappy with the new charter as it would diminish the powers of his office.  Swiftly, Gallo put together his own charter commission only a few months into the new charter’s passage. As Tom Benton describes it in his commentary “How Kingston got its ‘strong mayor’” in the Kingston Times, “As for the proposal itself, it was rather ingeniously constructed by taking the newly adopted charter and merely replacing the words “city manager” with “mayor” throughout. There were some other modifications, of course,  but that was the essence of it. And here was the effect: Under the adopted charter, the city manager was given very broad and powerful executive authority, the governmental check on that authority being control and supervision by the Common Council. Under the new proposal, an elected mayor would have the same broad authority, but would be entirely free from any such control or supervision by the council. Strong mayor, indeed!”   Kingston voters approved a “strong mayor” form of government by a narrow margin.  “…The city manager charter adopted a year earlier was consigned to history without ever having been tried and the era of the strong mayor was ushered in.”      This is the reason why—by design and by accident—Kingston’s executive branch has the power that it has without sufficient checks and balances.  

Charter reform introduced by Kingston Common Council in 2019.

As recently as  June 2019, Ward 9 Councilmember Andrea Shaut—who now serves as the Council President—introduced the subject of charter reform to the Laws & Rules Committee, which she then chaired. It was her desire that there be a collective effort to educate themselves and the community about the value of revising the charter to reflect the current needs of Kingston. 

While it was a welcome first step, her Council colleagues did not see a pressing need for action and the effort did not advance.  We are optimistic that its time has arrived.

READ: KingstonCitizens.org, “Education is Key. Common Council Takes Up Charter Revision Discussion”

Next steps

There are a host of reasons, all simple and sensible, why we have always thought that Kingston should return to a City Manager form of government.  Because it is unconstitutional to require that candidates for Mayor to have certain qualifications to hold the office beyond being a U.S. citizen and above a certain age,  our local government is led by individuals who learn on the job (hopefully) and who can restructure the administration to suit their agenda and biases. With a City Manager or administrator form of government, there are still officials popularly elected to represent the community.  The advantage of having a City Manager is that they have skills and experience specific to government administration. If they do well in their position, they can remain no matter who is elected. The same would be true for any department head.  

As practical-sounding as our opinion may be, it’s only one in a city of 24,000 people. To change the form of government is serious business. It has to be a community-based conversation guided by an unbiased facilitator. The product of this effort would be a revised charter for voters to adopt by referendum.  

We appreciate the Mayor and Council members’ support of charter reform. If they are at all serious about it, then we believe that the Mayor’s proposal to merge departments should be thrown out. An acting Superintendent of Parks & Recreation can be appointed and they can spend the next few months working with the Superintendent of the Department of Public Works to identify any tasks under Parks & Recreation that are better suited for DPW. Together, they can submit a list of recommendations to the Mayor for his consideration. 

It’s been 25 years since our city charter was last examined in a comprehensive manner. It is the responsibility of the community at large to insist that it happens. The time has never been more right.

Kingstonian Zoning Petition Back at Ulster County Planning Board

By Rebecca Martin

“When you read the negative declaration by the planning board (for the Kingstonian Project), they almost don’t seem to get the gist of that letter from the Office of Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation (OPRHP) relative to why there is an impact on the stockade district.”
Dennis Doyle, UCPB

On February 5, the Ulster County Planning Board reviewed the Kingstonian Group Development LLC zoning map amendment for a second time. According to Ulster County Planning Director Dennis Doyle, the letter was referred back because the city’s request had been submitted to the county during the project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). With a determination made, the Ulster County Planning Board (UCPB) would take another look including at the new affordable housing provision.

The following is video from the meeting filmed by The Kingston News and brought to you by KingstonCitizenes.org. The blog image captures the required modifications and UCPB advisory comments.

RESOURCES

VIEW: Adverse Impact Letter from Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP)
VIEW: City of Kingston Comprehensive Plan (CP)

2:26 (loosely transcribed) Kingston’s Comprehensive Plan and its affordable housing requirement is for any new or expanding building or development. It wants to abandon the Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) in favor of a citywide standard. The UCPB recommends it should be simplified and “a standard set of rules regarding the provision for all multifamily residential applications in the city should be promulgated regardless of location.

5:54 (loosely transcribed) Kingston’s City Zoning Enforcement Officer (CZO) rendered a ruling about whether or not the MUOD permitted new construction and if so, required affordable housing. The statutory language of adaptive reuse would require 20%. ZEO determined that it doesn’t apply. That if new construction is permitted, it does not require affordable housing. Really the city can’t rely on MUOD to provide affordable housing anywhere in the city because of that ruling. That’s a real problematic way to move forward if we are going to let the MUOD continue. The applicant has involuntary offered affordable housing in the project and if you do the math, it’s about 10% of the project.

7:41 (loosely transcribed) County recommendations. Overarching recommendations rest on the City of Kingston’s own planning documents. We find the map amendment to be inconsistent with the purposes of the MUOD and the CP. and therefore, it should not be implemented without clarification of the ability of the District to be used to issue special permits for new construction. Additionally, if such new construction is allowed by special permit, a provision of affordable housing shall also apply.

8:35 (loosely transcribed) Doyle outlines the county’s original recommendations: Option 1, To follow the recommendations of the CP and abandon the MUOD in favor of establishing City-wide affordable housing regulations for all multi-family development, etc. Option 2, To modify the existing MUOD by specifically allowing new construction under the special use section and add the applicability of the affordable housing provision to this use. This is more of a band-aid approach to achieving the goals of the CP for the more limited area of the MUOD. If you are going to amend the map, then you must amend the language in the statute.

9:53 (loosely transcribed) The negative declaration issued by the Kingston Planning Board addresses the issues of whether or not there is a material conflict with adopted plans or goals. The Kingston Planning Board said that they found no conflict. But they do specifically note the 14 affordable housing units is a welcome inclusion. The lead agency determination regarding the zoning petition and its lack of conflict with community plans and goals as officially approved is the critical question before the Common Council and before the County Planning Board. The Common Council is somewhat bound by the lead agency’s determination. But that bounding is in response to the voluntary inclusion of affordable housing as part of the project.

11:15 (loosely transcribed) The neg dec addresses something called community character and historic resources. OPRHP has issued an adverse effect for the project. “The lead agency determination regarding Community Character the zoning petition and its lack of conflict with community plans and goals as officially approved is the critical question before the common council.” When you read the negative declaration by the planning board, they almost don’t seem to get the gist of the letter from the OPRHP relative to why there is an impact on the stockade district….but they never succintinly address the tie in between moving the project elements down slope or cross slope to tie into the schwenk drive commercial area as compared with the traditional ending of that at the Montgomery Ward building or at the top of the hill.

13:16 (loosely transcribed) Required modifications: the place where we are as pertains to affordable housing. ZEO provision says affordable housing is not needed with new construction yet the applicant voluntarily provides it. If that’s the case, then the voluntary provision by the applicant should be enshrined in the city’s planning approvals – as it could be voluntary today and during planning approvals, disappear tomorrow. The UCPB all agreed.

16:47 (loosely transcribed) Advisory comments. As stated previously, the UCPB’s overarching goal was to provide for inclusion of affordable housing. The voluntary provision offered by the developer is offset by the ruling of the ZEO that none is needed. While the board will not require a specific change, the required modification is to ensure that the affordable housing element as offered is not voluntary and is enshrined in the City’s planning approvals in a manner that defines affordability. The UCPB’s advisory comments are to strongly urge the city to abandon the MUOD district and adopt a city-wide solution to affordable housing and its design; Address more fully the adverse effects letter from OPRHP regarding their concerns about district impacts associated with the project tying the historic stockade area to the commercial area along Schwenk Drive as part of any map amendment; Note the need to clarify or include lower Fair Street in the rezoning depending on its ownership/interpretation; Note: the inclusion of a deviated PILOT by the Ulster County IDA in a Neg Dec. No discussion of a PILOT appears in the economic data released to date; Appreciation for the referral by the city to the amendment and inclusion of the affordable housing.

The UCPB said that the rezoning offers the city a clearer recommendation or response to the adverse effect letter. As part of the re-zoning they should look at this, understand and reexamine and clarify the negative declaration in terms of why it’s not an adverse effect in regards to zoning….there are state monies involved here. The state monies will require that they clear up that adverse effect letter otherwise, they’ll run into issues with the state funding. Discussion regarding Fair Street ensued. SHPO calls Fair street historic in some instances.

24:33 (loosely transcribed) On the project being a public/private partnership. We’ve seen a lot of positive economic data put out by the applicant. The negative declaration indicates a deviated PILOT by the UCIDA, meaning that it’s not a standard PILOT under the unified tax exemption policy and we don’t know what it will be. No discussion of the PILOT appears as the economic data released to date. We want transparency here – what the applicant is asking the public to participate in as the project goes forward. The IDA has a matrix, and they are going to propose that the IDA goes outside of the Matrix. In a public/private partnership, you should put everything on the table to fund your garage. The board agreed that it should be included in their comments as it’s in the Neg Dec determination and therefore a part of the SEQR process after discussion.

30:54 (loosely transcribed) Why was this matter sent back to us? Because they completed the SEQR process and we asked that they do so once the SEQR process was done. We asked to resubmit with the affordable housing provision. One of the UCPB members felt the language needed to be stronger. Dennis was concerned about changing the language from before. Public/Private partnerships should be much more up front about what they are asking the public to participate in. So far, we have seen no indication of what the public is being asked to participate in. It’s like traffic or anything else. There should be more transparency as a recommendation.

The UCPB approved the items.

City Government is not a Mayor’s Oyster: The Restructuring of DPW, Parks & Recreation and Nepotism.

By Rebecca Martin

On January 25th, Kevin Gilfeather announced his retirement as Superintendent of Kingston’s Parks & Recreation Department after 23 ½ years in the position.  Just six days later, Mayor Steve Noble, who for many years worked under Gilfeather as one of two environmental educators, submitted the following communication to the President of the Common Council with the hope of getting special business added to its February agenda. It read:

Dear President Shaut, 

With the impending retirement of Kevin Gilfeather, Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, I have been working with my staff to develop a long-term plan that supports the continued operations of our incredible parks and programming and identifies opportunities for improvement. As part of this process, I have been in discussion with not only the leadership of Parks and Recreation, but also of the Department of Public Works. While each Department serves critical and unique functions, I believe wholeheartedly that these departments can and should work closer together for the benefit of our community. By collaborating together, we have the opportunity to improve our system so that the services to our community and taxpayers are delivered in an economical, efficient and sustainable manner. I am respectfully requesting that this matter be referred to both the Finance and Laws and Rules Committees. I will be in attendance at both of these meetings to present my proposal and answer any questions the Council may have. Additional documents supporting this proposal will be sent under separate cover, prior to these meetings, so that the Council members may familiarize themselves.  

Mayors and citizens alike can submit communications, by letter or email, to the Common Council requesting that it take up a certain issue. From stop signs to Department requests, the Council President will assign the matter to whichever Council Committee she deems appropriate.  In Kingston, these communications are made publicly available as hyperlinks in the online agenda for the Council’s regular monthly meeting. This helps the public to anticipate forthcoming issues that may be taken up by the Common Council. 

In this case, the Mayor’s communication arrived without any detail as to what he had in mind, only the promise that “additional documents supporting this proposal will be sent under separate cover, prior to these meetings, so that the Council members may familiarize themselves” and a request to be added to both the Finance and Laws & Rules Committee agendas. 

Then, late in the afternoon of the following day,  the Mayor got more specific in a press release, announcing his plans to “integrate leadership teams” of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and Parks & Recreation Department by creating two new positions and expanding the role of the current Superintendent of DPW.  Serving as the new Deputy Superintendent of Environmental Services would be his wife, Julie Noble, who would be “provisionally selected” until she sits for a New York State civil service examination. According to a recent news article,  Julie Noble’s new salary would rise by as much as $23,000. The Mayor’s plan also calls for the creation of a new Recreation Director position, which would be filled by his former Confidential Secretary.  (Please see clarification below)

The Mayor’s announcement occurred before the Council knew the details of his proposal. His press release was likely news to most of them, as it was to the public. 

The Mayor’s rush to accomplish his desired Department restructuring creates a messy situation for everyone. It might very well jeopardize a possibly sensible idea. Examining its merit is the responsibility of the Common Council, beginning with its Laws & Rules Committee and later, the Finance Committee. According to Kingston’s Charter, reorganizing Departments calls for a local law process.  

The most perplexing part of this whole thing is the Mayor’s intention to fill the new positions with a family member and a friend—the very definition of nepotism. The Deputy Superintendent of Environmental Services, a position intended for Julie Noble, would report to the Superintendent of Public Works, who serves at the pleasure of the Mayor without any protections in place for his own job. If he takes issue with the Mayor’s wife down the road, who is more likely to have the Mayor’s ear?  Needless to say, this structure creates a conflict of interest and could violate the City of Kingston’s ethics law (see 49-3 Standards of Conduct).

We reached out to Council President Shaut today to ask if the Council had received any more information outside of the posted agenda packet from last evening’s Council meeting on the Mayor’s proposal and whether or not the item would be sent to two Council Committees at once. 

“The Mayor has not submitted any more detail to the Council at this time. The Mayor did request the communication to be sent to both the Finance Committee and Laws & Rules Committee for February,”  wrote Shaut.  “Originally, I did assign it to both Committees for the month; however, after learning more about his request and the fact that it does need to be a local law process,  I have determined it would be inappropriate to discuss at Finance before it is vetted by Laws & Rules.”  

Shaut also included her response to the Mayor’s communication.  “After gathering more information on the specific process that will need to take place with the Council regarding your communication of a collaboration between DPW and Parks & Rec, I am taking off the communication to the Finance & Audit Committee for the month of February. According to our Charter, restructuring departments can only happen through a local law by the Common Council. The appropriate Committee to address your proposal first would be Laws & Rules. The Finance Committee’s decisions will happen only once, and if, the Local Law is shaped.”  

The Council President’s clarity in these communications helps to outline the proper process that should be followed. 

City government is not a Mayor’s oyster. It belongs to the public, and a good government has a strong system of checks and balances to protect the public interest.  In this case, the merging of Departments, the immediate creation and filling of new positions, and the reorganization of current DPW staff should be placed on hold until after the Common Council has had the opportunity to weigh the Mayor’s proposal and hear from the public.

Clarification:  Although the executive branch has not provided more detail about plans to restructure the DPW and Parks & Recreation, we have learned in the meantime that Lynsey Timbrouck who would be hired as the Director of Recreation took the civil service exam in 2018, prior to any knowledge of Gilfeather’s plans to retire. On the exam, she scored a 90, making her 2nd on the list.