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


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 for  the betterment of our future on this front.

As we understand it, the referendum language is to be sent to the Board of Elections by October 2nd from the City of Kingston’s Clerk office. We look forward to sharing it in advance with the public when we receive it.


QUESTION:  Why do you wish to see the Water Referendum pass through this fall during the general election? 

“Our government is based on elected officials representing the people.  The fact that there is currently a disconnect and the residents of Kingston have no representation when it comes to selling our most vital resource outside of our community is a dangerous flaw in our charter. Passing this referendum provides a safety net for Kingstonians, so that we can be represented and our voices can be heard if future proposals that may compromise our water supply should occur. I am very proud to have been a part of the solution to keep the Niagara bottling project away from our water, but this referendum is equally important so the future leaders of our city have a system in place to be at the table from the very beginning.”
Bill Carey, Kingston Resident
Ward 5 Alderman

“As Niagara Bottling Company’s recent proposal to begin bottling water from our area highlighted, our water – one of our most precious, shared natural resources – is currently very vulnerable. As the vagaries of climate change increase, water will become even more threatened and precious both in the Hudson Valley and across the world. We cannot afford to leave this essential natural element that literally sustains all of us to be unprotected or privatized.  This Water Referendum is a crucial step in the process of ensuring that our water remains available to all residents in our area – in the City of Kingston as well as other municipalities with shared watersheds and water rights – both now and in the future.  Requiring Mayoral and Common Council approvals for water sales outside the City of Kingston is a sensible step to improve transparency and sound process  – which was lacking with Niagara – to ensure that future water sale proposals are carefully and fully vetted and in the best long term interests of Kingston’s residents and water customers.  Cooper Lake & Mink Hollow are the source waters for the City of Kingston’s drinking water supply. Woodstock is Kingston’s watershed community. Woodstock also has shared water rights in Mink Hollow Stream and to the waters flowing from Cooper Lake, should the Town ever need to access them in the future. Residents of the Town of Ulster and Town of Kingston rely on the water supply from Cooper Lake as well, through long-term water purchase contracts with the Kingston Water Department. And Mink Hollow is in the New York City water shed. For all these reasons the Land Conservancy is committed to doing what we can to help protect the long term integrity and viability of these critical natural resources in our community.”
Kevin Smith, Chairman, Woodstock Land Conservancy
Eve Fox, Advisory Council Member, Woodstock Land Conservancy

“Passage of this referendum is important, but not necessarily for me. It is important for my child, and future generations. To insure that our precious, natural resources are not commercialized or squandered should be the top priority of all communities. And it should be up to the entire community to decide how to utilize these resources — and not left to a handful of people behind closed doors to decide. What I learned from the Niagara Bottling Plant proposal and the subsequent community reaction is that the needs of the community should be considered first, and not be trumped by corporate interests. Economic development is much more than job creation, it includes fostering community wellness. That means creating a place to live that is not only safe and has a high quality of life, but has essential services to include abundant and clean water for all residents.”
Arthur Zaczkiewicz, Kingston Resident

“In today’s world water is now a precious commodity and a resource to be protected. We all have  read of droughts across certain areas in North America and their communities hunt for clean water along with their ongoing conservation efforts. We here in the City of Kingston are fortunate to have a clean and safe water supply readily available for our citizens. As representatives of the people  it makes sense that the Common Council  have a say in what companies, who are outside city limits, can purchase the water, for what purpose and how much they purchase. Currently the Council does not have that right based on the charter written almost a hundred years ago. That power was given to members of a  Water Board to oversee all water matters which worked for those times. They could never have imagined the future with water being bottled and sold for a profit.  It is now time to rectify it.   All living creatures, all plants, need water to sustain life and we need to protect our natural resource from abuse or profiteering.  It is essential for the life and survival  of the City of Kingston and for its future generations. As I have said in the past, Water is now the new “oil”.”
Deb Brown
Alderwoman, 9th ward
Minority Leader

“Kingston’s water supply is a crucial pillar of our public commons. It’s understanding that we cannot exist apart from the web of nature whose very source is water. So of course, the sale of our water for a commercial purpose threatens our public commons and cannot be allowed.”
David Bruner, Kingston Resident
Kingston Transition


“Why does the Water Referendum matter?  Because when Kingston was faced with a decision last year that would have affected our economic and environmental future, you didn’t have a choice.  You didn’t have a voice.   The City Charter is Kingston’s “constitution.” It is the fundamental structure of our government.  New York State Law says that YOUR VOTE MATTERS on any change to our city charter.  The way the Charter is currently structured, the Common Council that YOU elected to represent our community has no say regarding the Water Board’s decision to sell our water.  This simply doesn’t make sense.  It is not how democracy should work.  The Water Board should be accountable to the public and the Council should have the “balance of power” regarding the significant decisions that govern our City’s future.   In other words, during the Niagara Bottling proposal last year:

  • You had no say about whether to sell our limited supply of safe, high quality drinking water to a billion-dollar corporation for a fraction of the rate you pay.
  • You had no say about the use of your tax dollars going toward the attraction of a polluting industry.
  • You had no say about how this would limit further residential and commercial development in Kingston.
  • You had no say regarding whether this was environmentally detrimental to our community.

If you vote “yes” for the Water Referendum, you will have a say!  Say “yes!” to include Council – and the public – in the sale of our precious water.”
Jennifer Schwartz Berky, Kingston Resident
District 7 Ulster County Legislature Democratic Candidate

“I want to see this water referendum pass because the people must have a say about how this most precious resource is used.  Water is vital to life, and we are blessed to live in an area that has an abundance of water today.  But times are changing, and water shortages are a reality in many parts of the world.  We are also vulnerable to that possibility in the future.  We need to think carefully – and many generations ahead – about protecting our water for the future.  Until now,  a small group of appointed (not elected) officials had the power to make all decisions about the water that Kingston citizens depend on.  The passing of this referendum will ensure that officials elected by the citizens of Kingston will have a say in what happens to the city’s water supply.  And the people should have a say in this important matter.  It was only a year ago this month that the citizens of the area found out that the water of Kingston had been offered up for sale to Niagara Bottling Company – these negotiations started in April of 2014 with Kingston’s Water Department and were kept out of the public eye until September!  I urge everyone who is eligible to vote to pass this referendum so that in the future the citizens will be aware of – and represented in – all decisions about their water supply.”
Karin Wolf
Sierra Club and Neetopk Keetopk

“Water is our most important resource. We cannot live without it. Kingston residents, visitors, and businesses all need access to clean, fresh water in times of plentiful rainfall, and in times of drought. We need to protect and conserve our water, and to plan its use wisely. It’s no longer appropriate for decisions about the potential sale of Kingston water to be made by a group of 5 Water Board members, plus the Mayor. A decision to sell our water has far-reaching consequences, and should only be undertaken after informed and careful thought,  and only if approved by a majority of Kingston citizens through their representatives on the Common Council.”
Lynn Johnson, Kingston Resident
Democratic Candidate for Alderman, Ward 9
Member, Kingston Conservation Advisory Council

“While I live in Woodstock, I am a committee Chair, and I have continued to work with this amazing team to so to stay civically engaged in the protection of our collective public safety, way of life, and our water.   It is encouraging to see that the Kingston Common Council has taken this action.   This Referendum is extremely valuable to the region, because the systems that are in place, in the City of Kingston, for the governance of water that lie in Woodstock township are not currently set up to give the people a voice.   Judging by recent events, it is clear that if we do not take the necessary steps to safeguard the community from similar threats, we could find ourselves in the middle of a nightmare we can’t wake up from.   About one year ago to the day, I was alerted to the plan to the privatization of a small lake in the Woodstock community. My immediate reaction was “Not in my back yard!!” And then I began to understand that it was far more than just my lake that lie vulnerable.   The plan that Niagara Bottling Company, Kingston Water Board and The Town of Ulster Supervisor had for the region was obscenely dangerous to the health and safety of the people in our community and threatened to add billions of gallons of potential waste overtime to the Hudson River via the Esopus Creek and innumerable plastic bottles to the sea of plastic we continue to create and throw “away”.   This is not the kind of decision that should be left in the hands of a few people. Public water should be governed with the inclusion of the people whom the sources serve.  While the plan was never able to see itself to manifestation, it did shed light on vulnerabilities as well as create stress on inter-municipal relationships, and we have been left with much more than leaky pipes to repair.   I see this referendum as the first step of many that can be taken to protect the City of Kingston’s water supply, those who are served by it and those who live in the watershed from which it comes.”
Rachel Marco-Havens, Woodstock Resident Communications Committee
Founder, Earth Guardians NY

“Many years ago, I saw a documentary that showed Bolivian people who were facing legal penalties for collecting rainwater–apparently, the water that fell from the sky legally “belonged” to a private corporation and the Bolivian people were accused of stealing their property. This struck me as absurd and monstrous, but the years since I have seen that attitude creeping into the U.S. system. Water should not be treated as a commodity to be traded on Wall Street and owned by private entities. It is a natural resource and a public right. It belongs to all of us, and that’s why it matters deeply to me that the people of Kingston have the final say in how our water is managed.”
Sara Eckel, Kingston Resident

“I would like to see the Water Referendum pass this Fall because it will bring the public’s voice into decisions about Kingston’s most precious natural resource — drinking water.  Kingston’s citizens are smart, well informed and ready to help plan for a future of clean, abundant fresh water.  The Referendum will help make sure they have the power to do just that.”
Paul Gallay, Executive Director
Hudson Riverkeeper

“I plan to vote in support of the Water Referendum and I urge my fellow Kingstonians to vote “yes” on the water referendum too. The referendum requires Common Council approval on any sale of water rights outside of Kingston’s corporate limits. Currently, the Water Board stands as an independent agency with members appointed for set terms by the Mayor of Kingston.  Long ago, those establishing an independent Water Board intended that the agency operate above politics without the potential for graft, cronyism, and the short term thinking often associated with the rough and tumble of policymaking. Yet, an independent agency insulated from and unaccountable to the citizens it represents breeds its own kind of potential problems. Given the way Water Board members are appointed, politics isn’t eliminated from the process. Instead, the politics take place behind closed doors in the Mayor’s office without a transparent, public discussion of the appointee’s values, commitments, and philosophy. A good mayor will seek Board members from a variety of different and competing perspectives. A problematic mayor will stuff the Board with likeminded friends and political allies. The quality of the Board depends upon the ethics of the mayor.    In a 21st century full of drought conditions brought on by climate change, water has become a crucial resource. The City of Kingston cannot thrive economically without a stable water supply. The people who, in the final analysis, own that water should make any decision that potentially endangers its watershed. If the referendum passes, the Water Board will retain many of the features that have historically accompanied its independent agency status. It will continue to function the way the progenitors of the Water Board intended – free from the short term compromise and deal making characterizing many political decisions with one crucial exception. When considering whether to sell Kingston’s water outside of our community where the public hasn’t any jurisdiction, the Water Board must seek the approval of the Common Council, the most representative branch of Kingston government. If selling Kingston’s water to a corporation like Niagara Bottling Company is truly in the best interests of the community, surely the people will see the wisdom in such a policy. If the selling of Kingston’s water is detrimental to the community, then the Water Board will have to reconsider whether its commitments align with the public good. “
Lynn Eckert, Kingston Resident
Democratic Candidate for Ward 1 Alderwoman


“Having the Common Council involved in all decisions as important as the sale of our water is critical to Kingston’s future. Hopefully, our next Mayor will observe “transparency, accountability and informed public engagement” in all decision making, but ensuring that all 11 of our elected representatives have the information upon which important decisions are made and and a voice in those decisions is fundamental to protecting the public interest and furthering open government in Kingston.”
Kitty McCullough, Kingston Resident Economic Development Committee

“Access to clean water is a precious, life-sustaining human right which we cannot take for granted. Multi-national corporations know that water is the new oil, the new gold, the new hot “commodity”, according to companies like NESTLE and NIAGARA, who are actively engaged in turbo charged water grabs, pollution of streams, rivers, oceans, and the economic exploitation of local water supplies across the country. Ulster County has recently experienced such heinous activities first hand in our victorious fight to prevent NIAGARA plastic water bottling company from setting up shop in our communities. It is vitally important that the Kingston, NY Water Referendum pass on Election Day 2015. We have seen the future and it requires that the citizens of Ulster County protect our water, now and in the long term. If we blink, our water may be compromised. Our relatively pristine watershed provides water to local communities and to New York City. It is beyond valuable. The people of Ulster County deserve the right to protect our water, and the right to determine our watershed’s healthy future. I am forever grateful to the heroic work of all at, and everyone involved in making sure that Kingston, NY has the opportunity to vote “YES” on the Water Referendumon on Election Day, November 3, 2015.”
Anne Hemenway
Earth Guardians NY Events Committee

“We need the decision makers to be forward minded people who think about our children’s children and sustainability especially during the times of depleting resources on our planet.”
Jorge Nelson
Lake Hill Resident Events Committee

“I was very active with during the Niagara Bottling proposal crisis. From September 2014 to February 13, 2015, the date when Niagara withdrew their proposal to buy a large portion of our limited municipal water supply, I stopped taking our water for granted. I learned too much to continue to be complacent about our water. I now understand that we, the people, should all be good stewards of our water. I want Kingston’s Water Referendum to pass because I believe that the power to make decisions about selling our municipal water supply should be shared among appointed (Water Department staff/board) and elected officials (our Common Council members), and that any such decisions must be weighted in favor of our common good. The world is a very different place now than it was in 1895, when the City of Kingston’s Charter first defined who had the power and responsibility to protect our municipal water supply. 120 years ago, people could not have imagined plastic water bottling plants or corporate grabs of our natural resources. Today, these are real and present dangers. Amending our City Charter to empower the Common Council to represent the public and to be actively involved in decisions related to water sales outside of the City is the right course to take.”
Debra Bresnan, Kingston Resident Communications Committee

“Catskill Mountainkeeper supports this referendum because it insures greater participation of affected communities in decision making about their water resources. Vital drinking water resources are increasingly coming under threat from human activities and the consequences of human activities, and our ability to protect water resources is enhanced through improved transparency and inclusiveness.”
Dr. Kathy Nolan
Catskill Mountainkeeper

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

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)


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.



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.




MORE ON – Kingston: “Strong Mayor” or “City Manager” Form of Government?


(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.

Take a look sometime at the City of Kingston’s charter and read Article IV: Mayor “General Powers and Duties.”  The executive duties are light at best.

Compare that to municipalities with a City Manager (Oneonta, NY) or City Administrator (Beacon, NY).  Pretty astonishing don’t you think?

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.

– Rebecca Martin


Cast an Educated Vote on November 2nd, 2010. Here’s How.

By Rebecca Martin

Last week, I poked around in search of a list of all the candidates running for office this election cycle to share on  What I learned was how difficult (and that day impossible) it was to find – and with only 1 1/2 weeks away from an important election.

Once, the League of Women Voters provided an impressive run down  of all of the candidates and their platforms. Also included were candidate questions and answers as well as a thorough text of each candidates past record to help citizens be better informed. Where was it?

Sure, I could have put together a list of each individual candidates websites.  But a one sided point of view wasn’t going to help you in your decision making process.  In some circles, voters are told to ‘vote across the line’. All that is is a party tactic that encourages voters to not be educated ones,  further diminishing the process.

I came across the phone number of Dare Thompson (what a great name, yes?), the president of the League of Women Voters and decided to call her to see what I could find out.  Luckily, she was home – and we had a wonderful discussion.  Dare was surprised that the ballot that once existed on the Ulster County Board of  Elections  site was not working correctly. When we finished our conversation,  she contacted them immediately and was able to work with them to straighten it out.  No one had caught that error until that moment. What does that tell you?

It’s repaired now, and you can easily access the names of everyone running on the ballot. The process here does ask that the resident do some investigative work, and there is still time to do it. Research the names on the ballot. Not only the candidates you are not familiar with, but those that you think you know as well.

Here’s how:

1. Visit –

2. Click on “Look up your polling site and view a sample ballot”

3. Put in your zip code, street number and street name.

4. You’ll be taken to a page where you’ll find all important voting details.  Look for the ‘Sample Ballot’ box on the left hand side and “click here” to see a sample ballot. The list of candidates you will have to choose from are there. Print this out, and do some research while there is a little time left.

If you have any additional tips for readings in finding good information, please include it in the comment section of this post.

Be on the look out for an interview with Dare Thompson on shortly…

Board of Education Budget Public Hearing and Upcoming School Board Elections

In Saturday’s (5/1) Daily Freeman Life Section Legals, there is a notice of all that is upcoming for our schools Budgets, Operations and Management.

I’ve asked Camille for a copy of it and will post shortly.

In the meantime, there is a public hearing that is upcoming and too important for citizens to not know about. If you are interested in being present, I hope that this heads up allows you the time to coordinate your schedules.


– Rebecca Martin

Wednesday, May 5th 2010  5:30pm at the BOE, 61 Crown Street Kingston
– The Board of Education of the City School District of the city of Kingston will hold a public hearing on the budget at the Cioni Administration Building for the purpose of presenting the budget for the 2010-2011 School Year (Budget) to the Public. Budgets to view will be available on May 4th in each school building.

Tuesday, May 11th 2010   6:30pm  at Miller School
Meet the Candidates night.  For a list of candidates, visit the Board Of Education’s WEBSITE or, read the Daily Freeman ARTICLE from the other day.

School Board Elections are Tuesday, May 18th. More information posted shortly.

After The Election: Recycling Campaign Lawn Signs

After an election cycle, have you ever wondered what to do with those campaign lawn signs that you agreed to place on your property? Do you call the candidates and offer them back? Take them apart to recycle them? Re-use them for lawn sales?

I decided to take a look on-line to see if New York State had any lawn sign recycling program in place.

Nope. At least not so far as I could see. There are, however, several municipalities who have created such a thing (in Florida for example and of course California).

I wonder if those running for office would agree to do away with lawn signs. Not plausible? Then how about holding onto them to re-use in the case that they run again in the future. Most everyone has an attic, right?

Here is a good link to ‘Planet Green’ where you can read more about the recycling possibilities.

– Rebecca Martin

How To Follow General Election Results In Kingston And Ulster County

If you’re like me, you have children and a strict routine to follow on any given night. No general election parties for you!

Here are a few sites and tips to get up to the minute results so you too don’t have to wait for the Wednesday morning paper:

1. Board of Elections – Election results page (there will be a link to today’s election results sometime this evening. Check in periodically today).

2. Adam Bosch will probably do an up-to-the minute report on the Times Herald Record web page

3. Check out Public Access Channel 23. They are back on the air and in the past have reported accurate results.

If you have any further tips, please note them here in the comment section of this blog post.


– Rebecca Martin

Citizens Unite

I had the pleasure to take part in the audience of the Adlermanic event this evening at 721 Media. Almost all of the candidates (all but three, Shirley Whilock a democratic running in Ward four, Mike Gill a republican running in ward seven and Todd Langon a republican running in ward eight) were present in a well organized, effective discussion on some of the most pressing issues in the city of Kingston.

The mix of new and old candidates really brought home a feeling that was quite refreshing. I was reminded in this forum that everyone up there were just ordinary people wishing to do a public service  and certainly, did not have many (if any) of the answers to the problems that we face.

Thing is, there can be no solutions without more citizens productively involved.

So how do we bridge this gap? Most all were as stumped by the questions as the audience who asked them. The old rhetoric in these unprecedented times are about as meaningful as a lie.

I’d like to suggest that the citizens lobby and ask their newly elected Alderman in November to call monthly meetings in their wards to work to bring together the constituents to discuss all that’s on the table. They want input on the budget? Than bring the budget to a productive place to discuss the options so that we can wood shed and come to city hall public meetings and be on record in a way that is creative and meaningful.

There are citizens in Kingston who pay more in taxes than they do their mortgage payment– and they are pissed as hell about it. Who could blame them?  It’s particularly unnerving, for whatever the reasons noble or not, that our services are about to be cut though we will continue to pay for them. The city will see and use these savings elsewhere. But how does the homeowner benefit?

You could have the same discussion with those who own buildings that house important business in the city of Kingston and who are taxed higher than those who also own similar types of properties with empty store fronts and who are taxed lower.

On the subject of taxes, here’s a savings. While we operated our Ward 9 debates at City Hall, on a cool late summer night (in the 60’s)- the air conditioning was blaring making those present needing extra clothing to keep them warm. When asked to turn off the AC and to open the windows instead, we were told that the system was on a timer that only the city’s engineer could address.  I’d like to see that whole system tweeked. I can only imagine how expensive it is to cool that entire building down.

…And, alderman, let’s organize and communicate while there is still the opportunity to do so.

Citizen’s unite.