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 

VIDEO: Special Kingstonian Meeting 6/3/19

“The purpose of tonight’s meeting is for the planning board to determine specific areas/studies which we believe will be critical for the decision making process with regard to the Kingstonian” – Wayne Platt, Chair of the Kingston Planning Board

At last night’s special Kingstonian meeting, the mood was oddly calm.  In about 1 1/2 hours, the planning board and applicant moved through their plans of what studies would be required in order for the board to make a determination of significance (pos or neg dec).  Outside of the planning board chair, only two members of the board posed any questions to the applicant, though they voted unanimously to pass a resolution for studies.  The applicant will provide its studies to the planning board for distribution in early July. A meeting will be scheduled for September for the planning board to make a determination or, to request more information from the applicant.

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VIDEO: SEQR 101 Public Educational Forum

By Rebecca Martin

On Tuesday, May 21, KingstonCitizens.org in partnership with the Kingston Tenants Union hosted a public educational forum on SEQR 101.  Video from our event was created by The Kingston News brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.

The event’s AGENDA is available with valuable links to resources on page two.

Thanks to Jennifer O’Donnell for bringing her knowledge and experience on the subject to our community.

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VIDEO: Kingstonian Proposal Informational Meeting at the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The Kingstonian proposal will appear on the Kingston Planning Board Agenda on December 17th at 6:00pm.

 

By Rebecca Martin

In what was a ‘coordinated review’ of sorts, project spokesman Joseph Bonura and members of JM Development Group LLC gave an informational meeting at the City of Kingston’s Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC). It’s smart, because by meeting with our HLPC early – they will benefit by getting feedback on the proposal before their review process begins. This not only saves time in the long run, but it puts their best foot forward by starting off with a more realistic project in one of our historic districts. Already the project has improved by doing so – and we would expect that it will continue to go in the right direction with the input and guidance of our historic professionals.

The Kingstonian project will be on the agenda of the next Planning Board meeting on Monday, December 17th (new business) Items #11 and #12.  AGENDA

Video from last evening was made by The Kingston News, brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org.

 

VIDEO: Kingston Common Council Sends Streamlining Historic Commissions and Legislation Back to Committee.

Click on image to review the legislation packet from last night’s Council meeting. Scroll down to see Resolution #107 and accompanying legislation.

By Rebecca Martin

In what might might very well be in my top 10 most perplexing processes I’ve witnessed in 12 years at KingstonCitizens.org,  good sense prevailed and Resolution #107 of 2018 “Common Council of the City of Kingston Establishing a Public Hearing Regarding the Possible Merger of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Heritage Area Commission” (with accompanying legislation from 5/16/18 to be sent out to Involved Agencies)   was referred back to the Laws and Rules Committee for proper vetting with a  7 / 2 vote.

In favor: Morrell, Worthington, Carey, Davis, O’Reilly, Schabot, Shaut
Against: Scott-Childress, Koop

The good news is that I think Kingston is venturing into a new kind of conversation to better understand Historic Preservation in Kingston with a secondary goal to identify best practices so to make the review process for development more efficient.

Thanks to council members for a thoughtful and robust debate.

It’s also a moment for the executive branch to contemplate better boundaries for its corporation counsel.  I hope that the Kingston Common Council will also consider advocating for a budget line to provide its own council on retainer for second opinions. With a new budget cycle coming up, it’s the perfect time to be putting that forward. I think the public might readily support that this year given this flub. The council should have staff, too. What happened to the council clerk position that began last summer and ended in the fall?

A refreshed value may be placed on the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC), with the council allocating a council liaison and/or, assigning the HLPC to a council committee (perhaps Laws and Rules) for an ongoing dialogue to allow relationships to be built and for council members to have the opportunity to get to know Historic Preservation items and issues in real time, as well as to come to a new appreciation of the work that our commission is doing on Kingston’s behalf. That seems entirely possible to me now.

Below is video from the recent council caucus and meeting with excerpts. Thanks to my partner Clark Richters of the Kingston News for his great work in recording video for this, and all of the meetings that we cover. I couldn’t do it without him.

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VIDEO: City of Kingston Police Commission Meeting 11/15/17

The following video was captured from yesterday’s City of Kingston Police Commission Meeting on November 15th, 2017.  Brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org thanks to the Kingston News.

Thanks to the City of Kingston for moving the meeting to council chambers so to accommodate more citizens that evening.

Video #1:  City of Kingston Police Commission: PUBLIC SPEAKING (Click on image to review video)

 

Video #2:  City of Kingston Police Commission: Debate
(Click on image to review video)

Video #3:  City of Kingston Police Commission: Fabian Marshall Describes Incident
(Click on image to review video)

A More Democratic Approach to Public Meeting Discussions in the City of Kingston.

By Hillary Harvey
hillary@kingstoncitizens.org

The Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) recently chose to change its format to allow the public an opportunity to participate on applications in real time, creating a more democratic format for both the applicant and the public. The changes provide a model of a more participatory meeting format that all City of Kingston boards, committees and commissions  might consider applying.

Currently, in the City of Kingston, the majority of committees and subcommittees offer public speaking at the discretion of the committee chair.  It is possible to reach out to the chair ahead of a meeting to let him/her know that citizens would like time to present comments or questions.

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