A First Look at the City of Kingston’s Charter.


By Rebecca Martin

We had an informative educational panel on July 13 with Dr. Gerald Benjamin of  The Benjamin Center and Jennifer Schwartz Berky, principal of Hone Strategic and District 7 Ulster County Legislator discussing Charters and Charter Reform.

To our delight, Dr. Benjamin took the time to mark up Kingston’s current charter which we felt was most important for the public to review.  You will find his power point, frame by frame with video that is marked so that you can follow along.  The audio isn’t great, but you can still hear. We do recommend headphones.

Read more…

Council Votes Tonight. Support the City of Kingston 2017 Municipal Budget.

By Rebecca Martin
The 2017 City of Kingston Budget passes unanimously out of Finance Committee on 11/28. Those in favor include Doug Koop, Rennie Scott-Childress, Tony Davis, Steven Schabot and Deborah Brown.
The 2017 City of Kingston Budget passes unanimously out of Finance Committee on 11/28. Those in favor include Doug Koop, Rennie Scott-Childress, Tony Davis, Steven Schabot and Deborah Brown.

This year, we have witnessed many unprecedented, positive changes in the city of Kingston. One of which was a whole new way of engaging the community with a budget forum held at Kingston City Hall in August as well as an online survey where citizens had the opportunity to voice in on the Mayor’s 2017 municipal budget.

Soon after, the finance committee met on a weekly basis for about six weeks to interview department heads who unveiled their department’s needs.  To be thorough, Kingston Mayor Noble also requested a special committee meeting to discuss special events, fees and to respond to any other concerns raised about the budget. I can’t recall a time when I have seen such transparent and collaborative efforts made between all elected and appointed officials in the City of Kingston.

After hours upon hours of research and discussion, the finance passed the city’s 2017 budget out of committee and on to last evening’s council caucus (12/5). Its fate is now in the hands of our entire common council who will vote to pass the budget or not this evening (12/6).

Some say that the 2017 COK budget is the first in decades where a balanced budget has been achieved that also includes a tax cut.  It’s a forward thinking document; one that places the COK on solid footing for the future.

The highlights include a tax levy of $17,650,940, which is a $0 increase from 2016. What’s really exciting is that it slowly addresses the long-standing issue of the homestead / non-homestead, decreasing the homestead tax rate from $10.16 per thousand to $10.10 per thousand and the non-homestead tax rate from $18.31 per thousand to $18.13 per thousand.  Items such as raises were determined through a multi-member committee. It was a long and well-vetted analysis, using comparable salaries from similar communities. The result moves toward fair pay for all (for both male and female employees alike) and gives Kingston a competitive edge when openings become available in attracting the best and the brightest.

The city will continue to provide extensive services at a cost effective rate, too. You’d be hard pressed to find a private hauler for the price that most are paying through the City of Kingston’s Department of Public Works. We know how important that is to Kingstonians.

BRINGING SOME CLARITY AND UNDERSTANDING TO POTENTIAL DEBATE THIS EVENING. 

With ample time for discussion throughout the estimated three-month process, we still expect several items to come to the floor this evening for debate. Below, we’ve tried to pull together a little background to help citizens follow along.

Hiring a part-time clerk for Kingston’s Common Council.

A part time common council clerk position was implemented to assist the council in their administrative needs. This would include creating timely agendas, minutes and even audio recordings of all caucus and council meetings.  It’s the sort of thing that we have been advocating for since we began this work in 2006. It’s an exciting prospect for all citizens. 

1) In the City of Kingston’s charter, the city clerk (who is appointed by the mayor) manages all “records, documents and other papers for the city”.  Their role also includes being the council’s clerk without any detail outside of going to monthly council meetings.  In other words, a single position is to maintain the needs of both the executive and legislative branches of government, the latter to a degree.

2) Some believe that it makes sense for our common council (legislative branch) to have its own PT clerk that can work independently of our city clerk (executive branch).  It may avoid any potential conflicts as to how much time is applied where given that the city clerk position is appointed by Kingston’s Mayor.

What are some of the concerns? 

As we understand it, Ward 7 Alderwoman Maryann Mills wants the council to move the $16,000 allotted amount towards an asset management ‘manager’ position.

1) To date, the City of Kingston is awaiting recommendations from Barton and Loguidice, LLC, the consultant hired to provide the city with an asset management gap assessment several years ago. In 2015, recommendations in three phases were made to move Kingston toward adopting a citywide asset management software system. Long term maintenance and sustainability may be part of phase three, which could give the city a better understanding of the role an asset management ‘manager’ could play, including their qualifications and pay.  Some say that without this critical information, making any determinations on what and how to fund this position is premature.

2) There are also other key variables that would come into play, such as a grant that was written to cover a fleet manager position and that would manage all vehicles in the city. Kingston should learn if they have secured this grant soon and if so, the position might reduce the responsibilities of a future asset manager.

Making Kingston’s Corporation Council a full-time position. 

Historically, Kingston’s Corporation Council has been a part-time position, allowing those appointments to work for the City of Kingston while also maintaining a private practice. Although at a glance, none of which is reflected in Kingston’s charter.

1) Kingston’s Corporation Council is another appointment made by the mayor, serving at his/her pleasure. In the charter, it states that: “The Corporation Counsel shall be the primary legal advisor to the Mayor, Common Council and of all commissions, departments and other offices of the city. The Corporation Counsel shall conduct, supervise or monitor, as required, the prosecution and defense of all actions or proceedings brought by or against the city or by or against any of its officers in their official capacity and appeal from all such orders, decisions and judgments as he or she deems advisable.”

That’s a pretty large list of responsibilities for part-time council. As a side note, and if their position is indeed 20 hours, what happens when/if they have not choice but to go over their allotment of time?

2) Some believe that it isn’t realistic or fair to expect corporation council’s full attention to city matters when they are also being pulled by a necessary private practice.  Others suggest that in addition, maintaining both private and public work in tandem could open up the possibility of conflicts of interest (especially in a small city such as Kingston).

We support the 2017 City of Kingston Municipal Budget. 

We appreciate the mayor, common council, all Kingston city departments and citizens for their hard work since the summer to craft such an exemplary budget for Kingston. Their efforts deserve our wholehearted support.  We encourage citizens to sign-up to speak tonight at Kingston City Hall (420 Broadway, Council Chambers at 7:30 pm) in favor of passing the 2017 City of Kingston municipal budget through council. In doing so, we are placing our best foot forward as we go into the new year.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Why Does Passing The Water Referendum on November 3rd Matter?

Referendum

By Rebecca Martin

As part of our ongoing effort to educate citizens on the upcoming Water Referendum that will appear on the November 3rd  ballot,  we are happy to present this piece, “In their own words” to share insight from residents who live and work inside and out of the City of Kingston.

Our lives are intimately impacted by the decisions made by our elected and appointed officials on all fronts.  In this case, regarding water, by voting ‘YES’ to include the Common Council on all sales of water outside Kingston’s corporate limits, we have a real opportunity to assure better decisions to be made.

Please take note. The Water Sales Referendum will be on the BACK OF THE BALLOT on November 3rd.

Read more…

Water Powers Public Hearing on Thursday, July 23rd at 10:00am

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A great day. The Kingston Common Council sends the Water Powers legislation to the Mayor’s office for a final signature. The decision to do so was unanimous after each reading (there were two).

By Rebecca Martin

This week, many anticipate the scheduled public hearing on the Water Powers legislation on Thursday, July 23rd at 10:00am at Kingston City Hall Council Chambers (this event will be filmed).

It is the final step in the process that would include both “the Common Council and the Mayor of Kingston for any water sales outside of the City of Kingston’s corporate boundaries.”   It is expected that the mayor will sign off on the legislation on Thursday, sending it to the ballot as a referendum in November for the public to decide.

It’s our water. We are INVOLVED.

As it is currently written, Water Powers in the City of Kingston’s charter excludes an elected body (although the Mayor of Kingston does sit on the water board of commissioners)  in decision making on how the public’s water supply is sold outside of the city of Kingston. The public’s most valuable resource therefore is in the hands of about five-six people.

If the public votes in favor of the referendum this November,  water sales outside of our corporate boundary will be made with the inclusion of Kingston’s common council. This action will allow the City of Kingston a ‘seat at the table’  in the case of a SEQR review, something that we did not have and that was terribly frustrating last year.

The inclusion of the common council for water sales would give our  community a ‘discretionary decision’ to make as an involved agency in SEQR (we were only an ‘interested agency’ last fall and as you might recall, we had to fight tooth and nail for it.  That hard won status still gave us little to no authority).  As an ‘involved agency’ we would have a say in determining who the ‘lead agency‘ in SEQR would be, creating an important opportunity for the collective community voice.

Taken from the SEQR handbook:

As an ‘involved’ agency, the City of Kingston would be allowed to 

  • Make certain the lead agency understands the extent of the involved agency’s jurisdiction; and
  • Provide the lead agency with observations and concerns about the proposed action and its potential environmental impact so the lead agency may consider them in making a determination of significance.

When a lead agency has made a negative determination of significance (negative declaration) each remaining involved agency may make its final decision on the action after completing any other required procedures.

When a lead agency has made a positive declaration each involved agency could:

  • Participate in scoping, making the lead agency aware of that agency’s concerns and technical requirements identify potential significant environmental impacts and suggest alternatives and mitigation;
  • Assist the lead agency in reviewing a draft EIS for adequacy, if requested;
  • Participate in any hearings, as appropriate;
  • Provide formal agency comments during the public review period;
  • Assist the lead agency in responding to substantive comments on the final EIS, if requested; and
  • Prepare the involved agency’s own separate SEQR findings before making its final decision.

An involved agency can also influence the determination of significance by the lead agency.  All involved agencies are encouraged to submit comments during the coordination period. Comments that deal with an agency’s specific area of interest or jurisdiction are especially appropriate. 

It’s an important safeguard, particularly when municipal water is involved.

Oversight and Transparency. 

The City of Kingston is fortunate for many reasons – one of which is that it has its own water source.  In amending the charter and including the common council as a determining body in water powers, some are concerned of political antics intruding upon their sales.  But this inclusion isn’t about personalities,  as council members and those in executive office come and go.  This is about making certain that policy and the law are applied for decision making as it pertains to our water and water infrastructure.

In the spirit of community and in seeing our region prosper, with proper oversight, good science, climate change modeling and all other matters we can help to support sustainable economic development while placing the health of our watershed and the impacted communities first.

In less than a year from the time that we first heard and spoke out on our concerns of the Niagara Bottling Company’s proposal in the Town of Ulster, the public will have the opportunity to make itself  ‘involved’  in water sales outside of our ever changing community, a voice in the protection of our water supply today and for future generations.

We’ve come a very long way.

UPDATE: Council Caucus “Water Powers” Referendum Discussion Shows Full Council Support. Mayor Gallo Agrees to Sign off on Local Law Amendment for Referendum if Passes.

By Rebecca Martin

At last night’s Common Council Caucus, Council members discussed Resolution #134 to “Amend Charter to Authorize Public Referendum re: Water Powers”. Alderman-at-Large James Noble and Corporation Council Andrew Zweben were in attendance.

It appears to have been determined that the Charter amendment of Water Powers would be a local law change, which would require two readings and a public hearing to be set by the Mayor within 10 days after the first reading. The first reading would take place tomorrow night if the Council votes to approve the referendum.  A public hearing would occur sometime in or around June 12th. The second reading would then be read at the July 7th Common Council meeting with a full council vote to follow to pass (or not) the referendum through to the November ballot.

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On May 28th, the Water Department Board of Commission Chair Joe DeCicco issued a press release cautioning the public to ‘think carefully before you agree to change the governance (of water sales outside the city of Kingston)’   The press release was issued on Kingston Water Department letterhead, that included all the names of the Water Board of Commissioners,  Superintendent Judith Hansen and Mayor Shayne Gallo.

At last evening’s meeting, Corporation Council Andy Zweben clarified that “The press release that was issued by the Water Department was not authorized by the Mayor, or the other members of the Water Department to the best of his knowledge and does not represent how he feels on this issue.”  Andy Zweeben also relayed that speaking to the Mayor today, he stated that “…if the local law is passed, he will sign it.  They’ll be a referendum and the voters will decide.”

Zweeben also expressed his discomfort with “the speed in which the referendum was moving” (* Please see below). But the Public Safety/General Government Committee has been working on this since March of this year where his office has been in attendance. That’s three months of discussion and it being on the Corporation Council’s radar.   Regardless, we appreciate Corporation Council’s efforts here. Whether willingly or not, they provided the council with the information that they needed to move this ahead.

In order now for the referendum to be placed on the ballot, the council will need to pass through the resolution for referendum tomorrow, and a public process as described above must take place. All of which needs to be accomplished by the end of August in order for it to be submitted to the Board of Elections.

* Clarification:   Watching for many months in this case, we have seen the Water Powers change go from a local law change, to a referendum to a combination of the two. As citizens, we depend on the good advice of our elected and appointed officials to understand the proper process. 

We received a communication from Corporation Council Andrew Zweeben who said that we had misrepresented what he said at the last Public Safety/General Government committee meeting (see above and below).  On the subject of the speed of the referendum,  what he was referring to was that it was quick to draft an amended local law in just one week (5 days) which is true and he would have preferred more time to do so.  Given the tight deadline to get this passed and onto the ballot in November, it is the case. We apologize for the misunderstanding. 

 

You can view video from last evening’s meeting:
11:16 – 17:08   Resolution 134
“Amend charter to authorize public referendum re: Water Powers”

Tonight (June 2nd),  the Common Council will vote on whether or not to pass a resolution for a referendum. If it does, the first reading of the proposed amendment will take place for the clock to start ticking.

Citizens are encouraged to speak tonight to support (or not) of a referendum for the November ballot.  Public Comment will begin tonight at 7:30pm. Please arrive 10 minutes early to secure a seat and to sign-up.  This event will be filmed thanks to Kingston News.

Kingston City Hall
Council Chambers
420 Broadway
Kingston, NY

WHAT TO EXPECT: Kingston Common Council Caucus (6/1) and Kingston Common Council Meeting (6/2)

 

Monday, June 1st, 2015
Kingston Common Council Caucus
7:00pm
Conference Room #1
Kingston City Hall
420 Broadway, Kingston

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015
Kingston Common Council
7:30pm
Council Chambers
Kingston City Hall
420 Broadway, Kingston

Both meetings will be filmed. 

 

By Rebecca Martin

At last week’s Public Safety/General Government Committee meeting, a resolution for a referendum to be placed on the ballot in November passed unanimously through to the Common Council. The referendum, if approved by a full Council vote, would give the public the opportunity to vote on whether or not to amend the charter to include the Common Council for “Water Supply Outside of City”.

In Section C11-5C (Water Supply Outside of City), it says: (C) Such sales or sales must be approved by the New York State Water Power and Control Commission” (the NYS Water Power and Control Commission today is the Department of Environmental Conservation aka DEC).  The referendum would ask the public to approve or not the inclusion of the Common Council,  “and the common council.”   That simple amendment would give the public a say as to water sales outside of Kingston’s city limits.  Additionally, Kingston would automatically be an “Involved” agency in SEQR in the case one were ever triggered again.

In the meantime, the public’s water would have a layer of protection that would allow for thoughtful policy to be developed for sustainable growth and economic development using this precious public resource.

This is one of many steps that need to be taken in order to help protect Cooper Lake and our watershed as a whole.  But by assuring that the sale of water outside of our small, local municipality includes our Common Council – it is a significant one.

WHAT TO EXPECT: June 1st 

Caucus (Monday, 6/1), which is a public meeting of supporters and members of a specific political party (in Kingston, our nine alderpersons are made up of eight democrats and one republican), occurs each month the evening before the full Common Council meetings. Much discussion is generally had on all agenda items, as well as often, conclusions as to which way council members will cast their vote the following evening. There isn’t a sign-up for public comment during Caucus, however you may contact Matt Dunn, the Council Majority Leader (see email address below), if you wish to be added to the agenda. For those who can attend caucus,  it is always enlightening and in this case, and if added to the agenda, will help you to better understand the dynamics that surround this issue.

 

WHAT TO EXPECT: June 2nd

It is very important that the public plan to attend the Kingston Common Council meeting on Tuesday, June 2nd to speak in support of the public referendum as described above if you are in favor of it.  Please consider to thank the Public Safety/General Government Committee for their leadership role here and on passing the resolution for referendum through to Council. Request that the City take any necessary steps to make a referendum possible for the November, 2015 ballot.  A public comment period begins shortly after 7:30pm. Please arrive 10 minutes early to sign-up to speak.   Keep your comments succinct, respectful and no longer than 3 minutes in length.

If you cannot be in attendance next week but wish to share your thoughts with city officials regarding this matter, with “REFERENDUM:  Water Supply Powers” in the subject.

 

Mayor Shayne Gallo
sgallo@kingston-ny.gov
(845) 334-3902

Alderman-at-Large James Noble
jnoble39@aol.com
(845) 331-4696

Matt Dunn, Ward 1 and Majority Leader
ward1@kingston-ny.gov
(845) 541-8880

Brian Seche, Ward 2 
brian@seche.net
(845) 335-5971

Brad Will, Ward 3
bbieber693@gmail.com
(845) 616-8664

Nina Dawson, Ward 4
ward4@kingston-ny.gov
(845) 616-8592

Bill Carey,  Ward 5 
kingstoncarey5@yahoo.com
(845) 339-1361

Elisa Ball, Ward 6
ward6@kingston-ny.gov
(845) 430-8521

Maryann Mills, Ward 7
mmills1299@aol.com
(845) 331-7682

Steven Shabot, Ward 8
ward8@kingston-ny.gov
(845) 338-5060

Deb Brown, Ward 9 and Minority Leader
djbrown72@hotmail.com
(845) 338-0763

Additional Reading from KingstonCitizens.org:

Resolution for Referendum Passes Unanimously Through Kingston Public Safety Committee

Moving Towards a Referendum

Powers for Sale of Water Outside of Kingston Put to Referendum? We Say Yes!

Checks and Balances. Amend Charter to Include Kingston Common Council in Certain Water Sales.

Niagara Bottling Proposal Timeline: 116 Events

 

Resolution for Referendum Passes Unanimously Through Kingston Public Safety Committee.

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By Rebecca Martin

“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” – Jacques Cousteau

Tonight, Kingston’s Public Safety/General Government Committee passed a resolution unanimously for a referendum that would include the Kingston Common Council for any water sales outside of Kingston’s City Limits.

WATCH VIDEO OF LAST NIGHT’S REFERENDUM DISCUSSION

Why is this important?

First,  a referendum would allow the City of Kingston residents to vote on whether or not it should have a voice in water sales outside of our community. Cooper Lake, our reservoir that resides in the Town of Woodstock, is Kingston’s responsibility to manage for its residents and our neighboring communities.

As we learned with the Niagara Bottling proposal, the water department that was organized in 1895 designed to keep politics out of water couldn’t have imagined the politics that would emerge through the interpretation of their original intention. Or climate change. Or water bottling companies. Or fracking. Or any other large extractions of water that would bring great profits to some while potentially decimating the locals ability to grow and to prosper.

Today, we are living in a very different time with the opportunity to reform the way our natural resources are managed. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to municipalities who are also impacted by our decisions and counting on Kingston to be good stewards as we proceed into the future.

Second, throughout the Niagara Bottling proposal, we were told that the City of Kingston hadn’t a seat at the table in the SEQR process because of the Charter. The Town of Ulster, who was hoping to attract Niagara to their community, relied on Kingston’s water in order for them to do so. It took many months of hard work to make the SEQR process a public one and even then, the city of Kingston had no right to be an ‘Involved’ agency.

We will support our Common Council to correct that in November and are pleased to speak more on the subject here all summer long to help the public to make an informed decision.

While we are all at it – the Kingston Water Department needs to do an up-to-date safe yield using climate change modeling.  Simply put, a safe or dependable yield projection is the amount that you can safely remove from a reservoir that can be naturally replenished within a certain amount of time.   6.1 million GPD (gallons per day) was what it was over 50 years ago. We are using close to 4.5 million GPD now.  It’s a ‘come to Jesus’ moment and time to apply modern strategies to our knowing.

A big thanks to Common Council members Bill Carey, Deb Brown, Matt Dunn, Brad Will, Steve Schabot and Brian Seche for three months of discussion. Your support tonight as a result is greatly appreciated.

Thanks, too, the Kingston’s Corporation Council for their support in helping us find a way to move this referendum through to the next step.

What’s next? This evening’s vote will result in a public referendum in November provided that the full Common Council votes in favor of the amendment in June, and the Mayor signs the legislation.

Please stay tuned and involved. There is more work to do.

 

RECOMMENDED READING:

Water Follies by Robert Glennon  (thanks Candace!)

 

Moving Towards a Referendum.

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CITIZEN ACTION: Attend the Kingston Public Safety/General Government Committee Meeting TUESDAY, MAY 26th at 6:30pm at Kingston City Hall (Conference Room #1) where a Public Referendum will be discussed on Including the Common Council in Municipal Water Sales Outside of Kingston’s City Limits. VIEW FACEBOOK INVITATION and please share.

By Rebecca Martin

In the news now for a couple of months, it has been reported that members of the Common Council led by the Public Safety/General Government Committee that is chaired by Alderman Bill Carey of Ward 5, wish to explore options to include the Common Council in sales of municipal water outside of Kingston’s boundaries.

In this week’s Kingston Times, our own Mayor is called a ‘formidable opponent’ against the work of creating a referendum.

“…the charter change would need approval from State Lawmakers, since they passed the enabling legislation to create the water department. Such approval is unlikely to be granted.” Said Gallo.

He also shares the concerns of the water department’s founders about political interference with a vital resource. 

“They may be well-intended,” said Gallo. “But it would do nothing but politicize the issue, which is what the state legislature was trying to avoid when the created a separate system.”

Kingston Times READ ARTICLE.

What the Mayor is referring to, is how the Water Department was set up in 1895 to protect the public. 120 years ago – and long before water bottling and other enormous water uses that may or may not benefit the people was in their purview.

We’re not asking that a referendum be placed on the ballot to change the organization of the Water Department/Water Board of Commissioners. We are requesting that a referendum be moved forth that simply includes the Kingston Common Council in sales of the PEOPLE OF KINGSTON’S PUBLIC WATER SUPPLY outside of the City of Kingston.  In essence, to allow the residents of Kingston to have a say in how its municipal water is used outside of the community. Reform that would protect the public, in line with adhering to what those long ago intended.

By implementing better checks and balances in this way, that we have all learned are necessary thanks to the Niagara Bottling proposal (a project that wanted to set up in the Town of Ulster using Kingston’s municipal water source from its reservoir located in the Town of Woodstock to bottle and to sell in the NE), the public would have an important seat at the table.

As to politicizing the issue,  do some of our elected officials not trust the public to choose what is right for their community?  We don’t agree with the Mayor’s take here. His opinion is but one, and although it is important, it should not trump all else. Lets get the language right, and let the people decide. That is democratic.

It is disingenuous for the Mayor to suggest that the process isn’t already political. What about appointees to the Water Board of Commissioners? Did you know that the Mayor has the sole discretion to appoint members without any oversight? Not only could the Mayor’s appointments be considered political, without full fair and open discussions about the appointments with the public, the lack of transparency and direct Democratic accountability could also be viewed as unethical.

Please see the Niagara Bottling TIMELINE for a refresher on exactly how politics in this case were used to work against the public good in our opinion.  Thankfully, we learned our rights and implemented them.   We will do the very same thing in this case.

You can also view a video from early in the Niagara effort where the Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley gives an Oscar winning performance.  (No politics at work here)

 VIDEO  / TRANSCRIPT

In ‘Revising City Charters in NYS’ it lays out the requirements for ‘Charter Revision by Initiative and Referendum’.   You can read the document by clicking on this LINK.

On Tuesday, May 26th at 7:00pm (Kingston City Hall, Conference Room #1) the Public Safety/General Government Committee will meet to discuss such a referendum. Members of the council have requested our Corporation Council to be prepared with information on the steps the Council must take.

This is another one of those moments where we are asking the public to attend and witness.  Committee meetings do not have a public comment period like the council meeting does. Your presence next Tuesday will be meaningful in support of our council members as they work to move the referendum out of committee and on to the next step.

 

ADDITIONAL READING FROM KINGSTONCITIZENS.ORG

Powers for Sale of Water Outside of Kingston Put to Referendum? We Say Yes.

Checks and Balances: Amend Charter to Include Kingston Common Council in Certain Water Sales.

 

 

 

Powers for Sale of Water Outside of Kingston Put to Referendum? We Say Yes!

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During the Niagara Bottling proposal, Kingston citizens and the Kingston Common Council came up close and personal to a glaring problem that it had not ever contemplated.

The Town of Ulster, a neighboring municipality,  wanted to bring a national bottling company to set up shop in Ulster using Start-Up NY tax abatements (and at least one other grant source) to bottle and to sell municipal water that, ironically, was not theirs.

Cooper Lake – the water body in the midst of the debate – is a reservoir owned by the City of Kingston located in the Town of Woodstock. The proposal didn’t just involve the forementioned,  but a hand full of other municipalities due to proposed wastewater discharges from the site into the Esopus Creek.

As for Kingston, outside of the Kingston Water Department (KWD), the residents (whose water and infrastructure it was) were not an ‘Involved’ agency in the SEQR process due to the KWD being independent and the charter being worded as it currently is.  It took months of hard work to simply be included as ‘Interested’ agency which in the end, gave us all little to no say at all (particularly in determining  ‘Lead Agency’ where you must be ‘Involved’ to be included in making that decision). A tremendous effort ensued, and the public prevailed.

Recently, we created a post called CHECKS AND BALANCES: AMEND CHARTER TO INCLUDE KINGSTON COMMON COUNCIL IN CERTAIN WATER SALES.  Since that time, we have learned that an amendment to the charter would require a referendum. If the council and citizens can swing it, by the fall of this year.

In Section C11-5C (Water Supply Outside of City), it says: (C) Such sales or sales must be approved by the New York State Water Power and Control Commission.” (that today is the DEC).  What may be proposed in a referendum are to include four simple words to this section:  “and the common council.”  That right there, would give the public a say as to its water supply outside of Kingston’s city limits.  Additionally, Kingston would be an “Involved” agency in SEQR in the case one were triggered. In the meantime, the public’s water would have a layer of protection that would allow for thoughtful policy to be developed over time for sustainable growth and economic development using this precious public resource.

VIEW our event page to stay informed on the upcoming Water Referendum.

 

Checks and Balances: Amend Charter To Include Kingston Common Council in Certain Water Sales.

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By Rebecca Martin

In yesterday’s Daily Freeman, there was a report on the desire of Council members to have ‘Authority over City of Kingston’s Water Supply” that could be subject to public vote.

At a recent Public Safety/General Government committee meeting, Ward 5 Alderman and chair of the committee Bill Carey introduced a resolution to amend the City Charter.  But City of Kingston Assistant Corporation Council Dan Gartenstein told the Committee that “they could not make the change through a resolution. He said the state’s Municipal Home Rule Law would require a public referendum be held because the council essentially would be expanding its powers.” Currently, the only public official who has any authority in the matter is the mayor, who sits on the city’s Board of Water Commissioners.

What we have learned over the past decade is that Government is more efficient when proper checks and balances are in place. In Kingston, one of the hardships of the Niagara Bottling project was the council not having a voice in the sale of an enormous amount of the community’s municipal water, leaving many questions in the way of science and modeling, climate change, safe yields, economic development and other critical aspects nearly impossible to challenge.

The Public Safety/General Government Committee was looking to explore an avenue that would include the Common Council in future certain sales of water.  Given the time it would take to update the charter in its entirety (which we would advocate for) a simple amendment as we understand it would give the council – and in turn the citizens – a seat at the table as Involved for any large sales of water outside the City of Kingston.

The Steps

1. All that appears to be required that is most minimal, targeted and yet comprehensive would be to adopt a local law to amend Section C11-5C (Water Supply Outside of City) of the Charter in the following way (and only adding four words that are underlined below):

“C:   Such sale or sales must be approved by the New York State Water Power and Control Commission (today is known as the DEC) and the Common Council.”

2. We found that based on Section 23 of the Municipal Home Rule Law (that list local laws requiring referendum) that it doesn’t appear that a local law passed by the Common Council to amend the Charter to provide for some form of Council approval of certain sales of water would be subject to a mandatory referendum. Section 23 of the Municipal Home Rule Law has the list of local laws requiring referendum, and we didn’t find anything close.

3. If this is correct, the Public Safety/General Government Committee could request that the Council adopt a local law that would amend the section. Once moved out of Committee, the Council would read the amended local law at their next meeting and vote the following month, giving the public 30 days in between for a chance to weigh in.

VIEW: Laws of 1896 and 1895:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stand United To Problem Solve.

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By Rebecca Martin

The Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) recent denial of significant incentive funding for the proposed Niagara Bottling facility is now well known. Although we do not know at this time how their decision will impact the outcome of Niagara in the Town of Ulster, we continue on in our effort for a proper, thorough SEQRA process.

CITIZEN REQUEST
Please send this crafted letter (and add text of your own) to request “60 Day Public Comment Period and Additional Hearings to Allow Public Input on Draft Scope

IMPORTANT CITIZEN SEQR INFORMATION
SEQR Positive Declaration Review Timeline. Sign-on to be kept up-to-date

 

Start-Up NY and Niagara Water Bottling Facility

The REDC effort foreshadows further actions to come. Our united citizen effort to influence the REDC will no doubt seek the same outcome of tax incentives offered by the Start-Up NY program. There is much more to say about why Niagara Bottling is not a good match for Start-Up NY  which we will get to in much greater detail shortly. 

KingstonCitizens.org as well as the SUNY Ulster Environmental Club (a group populated by SUNY Ulster students) will be presenting to the SUNY Ulster Board of Trustees on Tuesday, December 16th.  Their petition requesting SUNY Ulster Community College to “rescind their proposed partnership with Niagara Water Bottling Company” regarding Start-Up NY will be part of their presentation.

Let us lift the students by boosting the numbers of this important petition.  I’d like to see it over 1000 by the time Tuesday rolls around:

SUNY ULSTER STUDENTS PETITION DONALD KATT, PRES OF SUNY ULSTER
We request SUNY Ulster Community College Rescind Their Proposed Partnership with Niagara Water Bottling Company

 

Stand United to Problem Solve 

What is certain at this point is that the political leadership around the County has listened to the concerns of the larger community. It is proof that citizens carry a great deal of influence as we should.

The Niagara proposal had an initial appeal to some of our elected and appointed officials; it would help the Kingston Water Board finance much needed infrastructure repairs and upgrades, and begin to address a troubled underutilized property in the Town of Ulster that also carries a regional impact. These are not small problems. But the Niagara proposal, with its request to consume over 25% of a finite resource ended up not to be the best solution to them as perhaps reflected by the REDC’s change of heart.

It has been made crystal clear how the public felt about it.

So while we maintain our vigilance, we must also recognize the serious problems that we face that include Kingston’s aging infrastructure. The current water rate structure and it being updated to reflect sustainable (and perhaps more lucrative) measures (currently, the more you use, the less you pay. The less you use the more you pay).  The Kingston Charter being updated.  The health and protection of an important water body and the land that surrounds it. Providing support in ways to utilize the Tech City property for sustainable enterprises.  

It is our aim to stand united to problem solve and to support our elected and appointed officials to do the same.  We have been heard, and for as long as that continues we offer a positive attitude and collaborative approach toward the political leadership that seeks real solutions for the problems affecting the region.

 

READ

Village of Red Hook Receives $3.8 Million Loan for Water Repairs from Assemblymember Kevin A. Cahill.

Insightful Letter to the DEC from Town of Woodstock Supervisor Jeremy Wilber

By Rebecca Martin

The attached letter was written by Town of Woodstock Supervisor Jeremy Wilber who shares solid arguments as to why the DEC should be Lead Agency in SEQR for the proposed Niagara Water Bottling project.  In contrast for me,  it raises more concerns as to Kingston Corporation Council Andy Zweben’s recent letter also to the DEC. Where are his loyalties placed?

Luckily, Kingston’s Common Council are asking the same questions and will vote on a Memoralizing resolution in support of the COK being an ‘Involved Agency’ in SEQR on Tuesday, November 4th.

Read more…

KingstonCitizens.org Upcoming Educational Panel in the Kingston Times.

Kingston Times 1

 

VIEW: KC.org Presents “What are City Manager and City Administrator Forms of Government?”

Thanks to the Kingston Times for their article today on the upcoming ‘educational discussion’ that features information on City Manager and City Administrator forms of government.

We are pleased to announce that the event will be streamed live thanks to Kingston News, and that we will hopefully be able to accept your questions via twitter at https://twitter.com/KingCitizens

To clarify, this opportunity IS NOT A DEBATE as written in the article. Our efforts are to offer the public a chance to learn about Beacon, NY’s City Administrator form of government (City Administrator/Mayor/Council) and New Rochelle, NY’s City Manager form of government (City Manager/Council).

Kingston Times 2

Why Elected Officials Can’t Craft Their Own Job Descriptions.

1920583_250773298438676_1910868062_n“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.”

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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.   

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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

REFERENCES

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