“A comprehensive plan is known as a general plan, master plan or land-use plan, and is a document designed to engage the public and to guide the future actions of a community. It presents a vision for the future, with long-range goals and objectives for all activities that affect the local government.”
Local politics can be a bit daunting. Various officials play different roles, and multiple boards are responsible for various capacities and processes. All of these interrelated elements differ for each locality. When it comes to learning about local politics, all you have to do is start somewhere.
In trying to understand a specific development proposal, I learned about all the various boards and their roles in the process. In studying the zoning codes of my block in downtown Kingston, and then my neighborhood and the city, I learned that zoning codes are meant to serve as an important protection for residents and home-owners in any community.
So when I first heard about “Kingston 2025,” the city’s Comprehensive Plan efforts to update the city’s original Comprehensive Plan from 1961, I was curious about how it would impact the development proposal I was already studying as it involves a re-evaluation of the city’s zoning codes along with other planning processes.
In November of last year, when Donald Trump became our president-elect, most of the world felt as if it had shifted in an unprecedented way. Whether citizens supported Trump or did not, there was a common feeling of either joyous or defeated disbelief.
It wasn’t long after that a list of Trump’s initiatives appeared for his first 100 days in office. With the support of a Republican majority in Congress, Trump’s initiatives suddenly seemed plausible. I saw this as an opportunity to look more closely at the checks and balances that exist in local, state and federal government.
We jumped quickly into action, creating a google document (so that citizens could collaborate) that outlines Trump’s initiatives so to better explore their context and, to identify local and New York State policies and laws that could help guide us through this new administration. We hosted very small meetings with a couple dozen citizens to start this important work and realized shortly after that it needed to continue and be open to more citizen’s input.
VIEW: “Trump’s Initiatives: Local/State Policy and Laws”
The result is an educational series that will span 2017. Citizens can expect an array of subjects with expert panelists, a question and answer period, an interactive work session on KingstonCitizens.org’s document “Trump Initiatives and NYS Local/State Policy and Laws” and short tutorials to help navigate the City of Kingston’s municipal website.
Thanks to Peter Wetzler and Julie Hedrick of Church Des Artistes who have donated their beautiful space so that we are comfortable and supported in our efforts each month.
Please review the list of topics, dates, and details below. We are currently booking more guests and will make those announcements as they are confirmed. For now, put all of the following dates in your calendar!
We look forward to meeting more of our neighbors, making new connections and becoming more educated on a whole host of complicated topics.
Knowledge is power.
“Community Educational Forums: An Eight-Part Series”
at Church Des Artistes
79 Wurts Street
Historic Rondout section of Kingston, NY
1:00 pm – 4:00 pm.
Over the course of the series in 2017, citizens can expect an array of subjects with expert panelists, a question and answer period, an interactive work session on KingstonCitizens.org’s document “Trump Initiatives and NYS Local/State Policy and Laws” and short tutorials to help navigate the City of Kingston’s municipal website.
Moderated by KingstonCitizens.org Co-Founder Rebecca Martin.
Participants are encouraged to bring a dessert to share. Coffee and tea provided. We encourage citizens to bring along their personal computer laptop if they have one. All dates and topics subject to change.
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.”
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)
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.
“Infrastructure must be maintained. People come to rely on that service. The general population doesn’t stop to think “If I didn’t have water, how would my life be affected? How valuable is that infrastructure to my quality of life that I have? How much am I paying for it vs. how important is it to my life?”
– Fred Testa, EFC
“Many municipalities say “I haven’t raised water rates. Re-elect me!” Not good. You need to continually keep pace with the cost of running your system. One of the ways you do that is by increasing your rates to recognize that things cost more as you move forward. You also recognize that things may not break next year, but may in five years – and you keep projecting future costs.”
– Candace Balmer, RCAP
Last evening, KingstonCitizens.org hosted a “Water & Waste Water Infrastructure 101” educational panel with guests Water Resource Specialist Candace Balmer of RCAP Solutions and Environmental Project Manager Fred Testa from NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation.
Close to 50 people were in attendance that included elected and appointed officials, representatives from many of our environmental organizations and citizens alike.
Thanks to our sponsors for this event that include the Woodstock Land Conservancy, Riverkeeper and Catskill Mountainkeeper and to Kingston News for providing a live stream of the event and the following video.
0:00 – 1:56: QUESTION, Dan Shapley ”If there is a water quality problem the community is aware of, but isn’t documented on the list it’s not helping getting funding for that project?”
“If the project is going to improve water quality (class b vs. class c) does that effect the score of the project?”
3:00 – 4:04: MODERATOR
MHI (Median Household Income) is $44,000 in Kingston, making us likely to be eligible for funding.
“How is the water supply changing based on growth and change in the landscape? The way we manage, monitor, maintain?”
4:06 – 5:58: Fred Testa, EFC
“State Department of Health has the role of regulating the quality of water.”
6:00 – 6:24:MODERATOR
“Would you say that there is an increasing burden on small communities in the way of managing infrastructure?”
6:26: Candace Balmer, RCAP
“Demographic changes and the financial impact from shrinking communities.”
7:02 – 7:16: MODERATOR
“H0w is the role of the government changed to met that gap? Is it doing so?
7:17: Candace Balmer, RCAP
“Water is free, but the pipes that are bringing it to you are not. It costs more than what they want to deal with.”
8:28 – 12:20: MODERATOR
“In the Kingston system, rates might have to go up to provide for infrastructure needs. In the present, we are struggling to meet that demand. Can we talk for a moment about different rate structures, and what you’re seeing as best practice? Kingston has a descending rate structure today.”
9:25: Candace Balmer, RCAP
“We advocate a level rate structure and per gallon charge so that there isn’t any base usage. It’s called FULL COST PRICING.”
“How does that play out in the community?”
10:18: Candace Balmer, RCAP
“You have fixed costs. If people decide to use less to save money, the department still has to meet those costs.”
11:24: Fred Testa, EFC
“Some small communities have a simple, flat rate. In the old days, things were more simple and it’s not as simple today. In waste water, sometimes the expense on the property owner is based in part on property values.”
12:21 – 13:38: MODERATOR
“You brought asset management which the City of Kingston is undergoing for its waste water infrastructure. Can you tell us more about it and how you might be involved? By the way, it’s the most expensive piece of infrastructure for the COK to run. It was found in our climate action plan that the municipality is responsible for that, and the cost of repairs would be 3 x more than we thought given it’s in the flood plain. Instead of it being $2 million dollars it’s more like $6 million in longterm costs.”
13:40 – 18:56: Candace Balmer, RCAP
“People don’t always understand where their dollars are going, (chemicals, transmission, admin, debt repayment, etc.). It’s about getting the most value for your equipment. It costs more to fix something once it’s broken than when it was planned for so to be replaced in a timely manner. Assets are pipes, buildings, tanks, equipment, security, tools, office/lab. These are things that you have invested in and you recognize that they have a life span and when they break, you want to make sure that you have access to the things that you need to replace them efficiently and think of about financing for these replacements beforehand. The first thing you do is an inventory. You want to identify what your assets are and prioritize your critical assets. Those that you’ll be really in trouble if you don’t have a back-up or money in the kitty for replacement. Many communities don’t have maps. It’s very important to know what and where these assets are. What’s the expected use for life of an asset and how much does it cost? You’ve got to be saving money and setting it aside in dedicated accounts.”
18:29 – 18:56: Candace Balmer, RCAP
“Many municipalities say “I haven’t raised water rates. Re-elect me!” Not good. You need to continually keep pace with the cost of running your system. One of the ways you do that is by increasing your rates to recognize that things cost more as you move forward. You also recognize that things may not break next year, but may in five years – and you keep projecting future costs.”
19:11 – 19:52: Candace Balmer, RCAP
“Long term vs. short plan terming – you want to have the name of what you are replacing in that account so that extra money in water budgets are not transferred. You need dedicated reserve accounts.”
19:57 – 22:58: MODERATOR
“The EFC brought a list of what Kingston has borrowed from the revolving funds since 1994/1998. How does EFC Work with a city like Kingston on Asset Management?
20:56 – 22:58:Fred Testa, ECF
“We would mostly be urging them to do that. Asset Management plans are a growing phenomenon. It wasn’t done in the past. There is a growing interest to do this and the DEC is starting to work on a plan making it required. What will the rates be? How will they need to be raised in order to avoid crisis? Asset Management will take communities a long way to know what will be happening. They are a live plan. They do no good to put them up on the shelf and not revisited and updated consistently.”
22:59 – 24:06MODERATOR
“The State is trying to incorporate best practices for rating and in awarding funding. Communities should invest where they already exist vs. sprawling. Invest in existing communities instead of newer projects.”
“Can you speak to New Paltz regarding waste water? You spoke about Smart Growth. What does that mean environmentally?”
25:18 – 26:35Fred Testa, EFC
We are looking at a project with new infrastructure or expand new service area. Has the municipality planned for growth in that area? Does it add properties that local growth hasn’t thought about. We are looking to see if the local gov have considered impacts on the communities. Was it planned for? Is a comp plan available to avoid uncontrolled sprawl that have adverse effects.
27:06 – 27:26QUESTION: Rebecca Martin (Kingston)
“Can you speak a little bit to inter-municipal partnerships and how funding increase, or the benefits?”
27:28 – 29:56Fred Testa, EFC
“We want to see that there is capacity at a treatment plant for both, that the communities have already talked. We want to see an inter-municipal agreement. A legal contract drawn up by the parties. Tying in smart growth, the idea is if there is a treatment plant nearby it may be best for everyone to make use of it.”
29:57 – 30:40: MODERATOR
“There was a discussion in Kingston and Ulster in looking at that sort of collaboration in the past. I don’t know where those discussions are today. Also Comprehensive Plans can engage in other communities under municipal law to generate inter-municipal agreements.”
30:41 – 43:04:QUESTION: Ward 3 Alderman Brad Will (Kingston)
“I think this should be mandatory attendance for all muniapl leaders. Looking at the revolving fund loans for Kingston and noticing out of 14 there are 3 that originated from the Kingston water dept, all happening in 2012 under 1/2 million – 6.2 million. In the dealings with the KWD are you in close contact or are there ongoing communications with KWD since 2012?
32:32:Fred Testa, EFC
“I myself haven’t worked with Kingston, but the water district is referenced here – but the COK was the borrower here, not the Water Department.”
QUESTION: Ward 3 Alderman Brad Will
“We have a flooding task force that looked at conditions in the Rondout, historically it’s been very industrial. Are there funding mechanisms to assist with businesses and private property owners to help mitigate flooding problems?”
34:49:Fred Testa, EFC
“Not through EFC. There may be funding through the Consolidated Funding Application.”
35:43: Candace Balmer, RCAP
“There may be funding through Community Development Block Grant for these things.”
35:59 – 38:13MODERATOR and Fred Testa, EFC
“Kingston is going through it’s brownfield area opportunity, a GEIS of great magnitude that will allow business and property owners to move through the SEQR process more quickly. Through the DOS. The program, unfortunately, has sun setted but hopefully there will be more opportunities.” (more on the CFA Program, Green Innovations grant, all happen in June). “Kingston has been on the ball and have qualified for a great number of grants. As have the county. We have a green infrastructure project for Sophie Finn School.”
38:19 – 40:22 Candace Balmer, RCAP
“I want to answer your question, Brad. The CDBG program, one is public infrastructure, planning, public facilities and economic development of small business and enterprise. I don’t know if the economic development section would apply, but it’s worth looking that up. For joint applications, there are strict requirements, but if you were a join applications you could apply for more funding.”
“Kingston is an entitlement city, not entitlement county. Kingston’s CDBG goes through HUD (Housing and Urban Development).”
40:44:QUESTION: Ward 3 Alderman Brad Will
“What is the percentage of applications that are approved through the EFC?”
40:54 – 41:00:Fred Testa, EFC
“Last year we financed every application.”
“The window is closing for the hardship applications. If Kingston wanted to apply for the round that moves forward in 2016 and are not listed this year how would that work?”
41:24: 43:04Fred Testa, EFC
I think Kingston has projects listed in the drinking water plant, but not waste water. The City received funding last September for a study 30,000 to study the engineering planning grant WW treatment plant for improvements. They can then give us a listing form, get on the intended use plan and get a score to hopefully be high enough to apply for hardship financing. Projects can apply for up to $25 million, $18 million at 0% The city is not in a position to apply because they are not on the list. Step one. Get on the list.“
“Troubled that we are talking about conventional waste water treatment plants. They don’t include pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, hormones. However newer technologies methods do. Those plants require less maintenance impacting costs. Who do we get to help us to be directed towards innovative approaches, especially considering NYS watershed?”
44:42: Candace Balmer, RCAP
“Most don’t describe technology requirements, though must be technically approvable. In that way, it’s all fundable.”
45:18:Fred Testa, EFC
“If there are new technologies being considered, the DEC which permits waste water treatment plants allows them to discharge treated wastewater as long as it meets cleanliness regulations. If they are presented with new technologies, they are going to want to see proven technical evidence.”
Candace Balmer, RCAP
“If it breaks, they want to see that you can get the pieces easily for repair. That don’t want you to put in something that is problematic in that way.”
Kathy Nolan CM
“What you’re describing is a system that doesn’t have a way to perhaps get started in communities that use better technology. With the Green Innovation funding stream, can we can get a plant funded to be used as a pilot to see how it functions and if it’s possible to create more of them. We keep coming to the same point in the conversation. We need to do something that gets us into the better technology.”
Candace Balmer, RCAP
“Get with your regulator. Have them come with you and chat about concerns. Sometimes it’s an individual look at concerns.”
48:27 – 50: 04QUESTION: Joanne Steel, Mid-Hudson Sierra Club
“Town of Lloyd had a rebed system that was doing very well. Are you familiar with it?”
49:06 Fred Testa, EFC
“That was a wetland. It’s not a rebed for sludge.”
49:17Candace Balmer, EFC
“Though it’s an example of their working with the DEC to get that project off the ground.”
50:11 – 53:53: QUESTION: Mary McNamara (Saugerties)
“In our region there are often neighborhoods where Septic Systems have failed. To accommodate, water districts have been created. It’s to o expense to bring in a clean water program. The nearby surface waters are impacted. I see it more and more. What funding programs exist for individuals?”
51:25:Candace Balmer, RCAP
“Looking at it from a community perspective, what EPA has promoted is decentralized water management concept with responsible management entity. Pay the bills. You can have a management district that manage onsite. Woodstock has a management area where they inspect and repair individual septic systems. There’s a variety of ways. For individuals, there are not a lot of programs. If you are poor or elderly you can get up to 7500 in a lifetime and septic systems are one of them that you can use it for.”
53:34: Fred Testa, EFC
“There is Housing Improvement in CDBG to improve septic systems for private drinking water wells.”
53:54 – 58:05: MODERATOR
“Kingston represents a community that has experienced it all. Now we are dealing with the burdens in dealing with infrastructure. How do we look down the road to address this challenge?”
56:11 – 57:16: Fred Testa, EFC
“You need people to sit down and focus. Asset management approach forces people to look at specific elements of infrastructure and plan accordingly. Infrastructure must be maintained. People come to rely on that service. The general population doesn’t stop to think “If I didn’t have water, how would my life be affected? How valuable is that infrastructure to my quality of life that I have? How much am I paying for it vs. how important is it to my life?”
57:19 – 58:05: Candace Balmer, RCAP
“It takes the community. When we do project planning we get everyone at the table. The regulators, the public, the board. Lets all sit down at what we’re looking at and what it costs.”
The City of Kingston released the final draft of the Comprehensive Plan the other day and is now asking for public comments.
This process was less to be desired – however the steering committee did a really good job to help improve the original draft created by the consultant tremendously. We are pleased and thankful for the work that they did, particularly Julie Noble and Kristen Wilson as well as the work of citizens Jennifer Schwartz Berky and Kevin McEvoy.
VIEW the press release and how comments can be submitted
A public presentation is scheduled for Thursday, January 29th at 6:30pm. Public comments will be heard that evening, and can be sent in advance to Suzanne Cahill, Planning Director at: firstname.lastname@example.org or submitting written comments to Kingston Planning Office, City Hall, 420 Broadway in Kingston.
KingstonCitizens.org has requested a longer public comment period in order to help organize public ‘break-out’ groups to help the public understand the Comp Plan process prior to the public meeting organized by the City of Kingston. Citizens can contact their Common Council Liaison to the Comp Plan Steering Committee Deb Brown (Ward 9) at 845/338-0763 to request more time and guidance too.
Attached is the recent Comprehensive Steering Committee meeting held at Kingston’s City Hall led by Consultant Shuster Associates. A new 85 page Comprehensive Plan draft was distributed to the committee (according to some, about a week ago). It is not available at this time for the public.
The Steering Committee is now set to read the document and make new comments by October 3rd. Shuster Associates hope to pass off a final pass to the Committee to present to the public by years end.
As Deb Brown (Ward 9 Alderwoman) is the Liaison from the Common Council to both the CP Steering and Zoning Committee, it is reasonable to request that any interested public have access to the draft plan to review accessibly on the City of Kingston’s website.
We’ll be updating this page to highlight important moments for the public.
Brought to you by KingstonCitizens.org. Filmed by Kingston News.
Alderman at Large James Noble: Any other questions? If not…
Emilie Hauser: Is there public comment?
AAL James Noble: Public comment?
A new draft of the City of Kingston’s Comprehensive Plan will be revealed at a public meeting scheduled for THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18th at 6:00pm in Council Chambers at Kingston City Hall. Kingston News will stream the meeting live and make it available online made possible by KingstonCitizens.org
What is a Comprehensive Plan?
What is a comprehensive plan? According to a Land Use series written by Iowa State University’s University extension, it is:
“A comprehensive plan, also known as a master or general plan, is a collection of information and materials designed to guide the future development of a city or county. Such a plan can provide a community with a firm foundation for policy and action that will allow it to function more efficiently and effectively. It can strengthen communities’ policies and legislation, and it also can promote a more certain future.
Although a comprehensive plan can do all of this and more, many places have outdated plans that serve little function. Some cities have more current plans but fail to rely on them in making development decisions.”
Next to a good consultant, the most critical part in how a Comprehensive Plan is created is through ‘significant public participation.’
“The creation of a useful comprehensive plan involves a great deal of research, calculation, and discussion. The development of many of the plan elements requires a high degree of technical knowledge. For this reason, the process is best guided by trained professionals. Even cities with a planning department often hire a consultant to create their comprehensive plan. Either way, the plan should include significant public participation. Numerous public meetings should be arranged and special effort should be made to encourage attendance and disseminate information about the process.
The entire process can take years to complete. Once the plan is finished, the planning commission and the city council should formally approve the document. Although the comprehensive plan does not contain actual laws or regulations, this formal approval will lend strength to future legislation that is based upon the plan. Likewise, future work by any city agency or body should be compared to the comprehensive plan and should be consistent with it.
Finally, it is important to realize that once in place, the comprehensive plan is not an infallible or unchange- able document. Times and conditions change, and some of the forecasts the plan was based on may prove inaccurate. The plan should not be changed out of convenience but can be updated when necessary so that it continues to provide an accurate picture of how the community wishes to progress.”
The City of Kingston last created a citywide master plan in 1961 led by the consultant Raymond & May and that also included the work of a young Daniel Shuster as project planner.
In today’s world, generally a citywide Comprehensive Plan can conservatively costs upwards to $200,000.00 or more with many years of strategic public outreach depending on the size of the community.
In 2010 towards the end of then Mayor James Sottile’s second term, the City of Kingston’s planning office found an opportunity to bond monies that resulted in $96,000 to undertake a citywide Comprehensive Plan for Kingston. It passed unanimously through city council.
After sending out an RFP (Request for Proposal) the city received around sixteen (16) proposals from consultants all around the area and beyond. After whittling it down to just four (4), do you know who was selected? Shuster and Associates led by an older Daniel Shuster! The same consultant that the city hired back in 1961 on the cusp of urban renewal when a great portion of the Rondout was allowed to be torn down.
A Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee was created early in the process and community members selected were either professionals in their field or community members by Alderman-at-Large James Noble and City Planning Director Suzanne Cahill. Since then, there has been what some consider a very light effort to engage the pubic with a single online survey and public visioning event . Several committee meetings over the years have taken place, also open to the public (though the public was encouraged to attend and listen rather than participate).
A citywide plan is a whole lot to do for $96,000. Luckily (and not surprisingly to all of us watching) the meat of the plan was supplemented by the hard work of dedicated citizens on subjects that encompass: Historic Preservation, Urban Agriculture, Bluestone surveys, Rail Trails, City Parks, Complete Streets, Climate Action Plan, Flooding Task Force and more. Some of which were not funded at all by the City of Kingston. They were gifts to you and me. You can find all of these studies on the Kingston 2025 webpage.
I believe the initial proposal for the consultant was two years which we are well over by now with the plan not complete and, there is still zoning to do. Currently, a volunteer group has been assembled to take on this enormous and critical task. Who are they and how were they selected? When do they meet?
Though perhaps unpopular, maybe we should have a conversation with our elected officials about the prospect of leveraging this effort for further funding so to get it right. After all, what’s another couple of years? We’ve waited this long.
PS – Lets make certain that in the new CP it is required that the city stay current with this document and update it at least every 5 years where necessary. Doing so will not only keep Kingston current, but save taxpayers a great deal of money to not have to orchestrate an overhaul as we are now in the foreseeable future.
A new draft of the City of Kingston’s Comprehensive Plan will be revealed at a public meeting scheduled on THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18th at 6:00pm in Council Chambers at Kingston City Hall. Kingston News will stream the meeting live and make it available later online
(This piece was originally printed in the Kingston Times in August of 2013 after a flurry of firings at Kingston City Hall in Kingston, NY. This is an edited version).
“When you find that change is constant, will you shun complacency?” – J. Harris
As a kid, I grew up in a household of ‘activists.’ That’s what my parents were called anyway. It never occurred to me then, or now, that they were anything out of the ordinary. For is it activism or ones duty to shine the light on a problem that lies inside or out of the community?
In the mill town where I am from, my father was a family doctor and my mother a nurse. Together, the two cared for generations of people who one day began to show up at an alarming rate with both common and also extremely rare types of cancers. Wanting to understand this phenomenon led my parents to the discovery of a dioxin contamination that was produced by the mill. A by-product of the bleaching process in papermaking, it’s a severe carcinogen also found in the notorious Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange. All day long, they put out a large pool of muddy dioxin-laced sludge right out in the open. Without good management regulations at that time, it was disposed of by being dumped into the rivers, buried on mountaintops and burned close by. The geography of the area made for a noxious smog that hung over the valley like an impending death sentence. But noone listened.
Years later, my hometown was later dubbed “Cancer Valley”. You’d think it to be enough to wake even the staunchest of cynics. But it wasn’t. The industry scurried about to downplay the statistics and public officials obliged. “Those damn elitist activists.” they’d say with their heads buried in the sands.
How do you get away with such a thing?
The people’s needs are simple. They want a job to best utilize their skill set, a roof over their head, food on the table and a good education for their children. With jobs scarce in most rural places, a lack of alternatives allow for easy management of a problem like this. Vocal residents were diminished by threats from their large employer to pack up and leave. Residents without options would resort to nostalgia. “Our town will prosper as it always has”. Even as it slowly bled to death.
Now thirty years later, the town that I knew is barely recognizable. The population has aged out. Young families have moved away. Generations no longer generate. It is necessary today for mill workers to be brought in to keep the mill in business with those who haven’t a connection to the history or the spirit that once was. The wealthy are no longer professionals. They are those who have the means to gobble up foreclosed properties to use as Section 8 housing.
A cautionary tale.
I turned out to be an artist. Things that the average person fear are just a part of ordinary life for me – and so that “fearlessness” and then a knack for organizing make for one hell of a tool chest in these times. Four years after moving into this adopted city of mine (and today, I’m a Kingston resident now for 12 years – the longest I’ve lived anywhere else other than my home town) and shortly after becoming a mom, I became what they call a ‘community organizer’ or ‘activist’ I suppose – and what I found was a gaping hole between the people and city hall that was downright disconcerting. Over the years and with the help of many volunteers and good souls, close to 50 initiatives both large and small to help repair that disconnect were created and diligently worked upon that would serve the public for a long time to come. Those of you who have come along for the ride for the past 8 years know what I’m speaking of.
I’ve been dismayed by recent events in Kingston. The decisions and reactions of our mayor have disappointed me, but it’s not something I haven’t already seen in one form or another in Kingston’s recent past. On first blush, I find my inner dialogue focused on the politicians short comings. But the truth is, that our collective lack of knowledge and resignation in how local government works is where the problem lies.
Furthermore, the people’s collective acceptance of bad behavior from those working on their behalf is mystifying. With such low expectations, what chance is there to develop and attract a greater range of talent and professionalism in high office elected positions?
Starting from the top down, Kingston has what is known as a “strong mayor” form of government. That means that whoever is elected into office essentially has full administrative authority. The people are encouraged to vote ‘across the line’ (promoting lazy voters in my estimation) and your mayor ends up navigating a $36.8 million dollar budget, a population of about 24,000 people and an entire aging citywide infrastructure.
Here’s the thing. He or she isn’t required to have any specific qualifications for a job like this because qualifications is unconstitutional for any elected official. Did you know that? In essence, that means that anyone at all can be your mayor, whether they are experienced in city management or not. Think about that for a moment and try not to panic.
The city charter currently allows ‘mayor’ to appoint department heads and membership to the city’s internal committees without much or in some cases any oversight. They might choose to cast a net to hire the most qualified candidates locally, or enlist those whose merit lies mainly in having helped them to become elected into office. As we have recently witnessed, the latter approach has led to an unprecedented number of firings.
What would be in the public’s best interest is to have an ongoing community discussion on the choices that exist for how a city like ours could be run.
Twenty years ago for a hot minute Kingston actually had a city manager form of government. It was a hard earned effort that was forged by a group of active citizens with the support of the chamber of commerce.There is an article written by Tom Benton that the Kingston Times published describing how it all came to light. Prior to that, the mayor’s role was considered a full time position, but with only part time pay. More of a role had by a retiree with some clout in the community as I understand it.
City Manager wasn’t long lived here in Kingston – as T.R. Gallo, who petitioned at the last minute to reverse the ‘City Manager’ outcome before he himself ran for mayor, strengthening its role to what it is today.
If set up correctly, a city manager could diminish the power of party politics by placing more responsibility on a larger body of elected officials and therefore, placing more control in the hands of the people.
I like that.
How about requiring those newly elected council members to take a course in civics and in Kingston government? (new school board trustees get mandatory training.) Furthermore for our council, what about term limits with a maximum of two terms? It should be a common man’s position. Like jury duty. There is no better way to learn how your local government works than by landing a role in it for a short time. If you find that you have a knack for public service? Run for higher office.
Kingston is in the midst of rewriting its citywide Comprehensive Plan, a process that hasn’t been undertaken since 1961. They are calling it “Kingston 2025” and it’s meant to act as a road map for creating a resilient and sustainable community over the next 12 years. That’s entirely possible given the efforts of a good number of initiatives that have been underway for some time. Kingston citizens, get in there. Give your input and ask that once the new plan is in place, that it is looked at again for proper updates under each new executive office term. That’s every four to five years.
City government is ours and as soon as we are afraid of it, we no longer live in a democracy. What is necessary to make things run smoothly in todays climate is organization, cooperation and different points of view. Be inquisitive, stay current and together make the changes that are needed and available to us.
Last night, the Common Council approved a resolution for Complete Streets in the City of Kingston, which serves as an important component in support of the Climate Smart and Green Jobs Community Pledge. Thanks to Kristen Wilson, David Gilmour, Emilie Hauser and the entire team of the “Healthy Kingston for Kids” project for their hard work and tenacity.
The Business Alliance of Kingston has taken the time to post the results from the visioning session at Kings Inn last month. There are pictures, explanations and more to what each group created together.
The City of Kingston just might very well be moving in the right direction.
Below is a CP Fact Sheet that came straight from the planners office and describes what’s going in front of the Council Tuesday night. A helpful tool as you prepare to speak during the public comment session – or just to understand what the steering committee is asking the council for as you follow along.
On Tuesday, August 3rd at 7:30pm the common council will vote to support (or not) a grant proposal pitched by city planning coordinator Suzanne Cahill through the Financial and Economic Development Committee. The meeting will take place at Kingston’s City Hall at 420 Broadway.