KingstonCitizens.org will host a public educational forum and discussion on “City Administrator and City Manager Forms of Government” on Tuesday, March 25th at the Kingston Public Library 55 Franklin Street, in Kingston NY from 6:00pm – 8:00pm. Panel guests include Meredith Robson, City Administrator of the City of Beacon, NY and Chuck Strome, City Manager of New Rochelle, NY.
Kingston, NY – For the past twenty years, the city of Kingston, NY has what is known as a ‘Strong Mayor’ form of government, where a mayor is elected into office based on popular vote to manage the city’s $36+ million dollar budget, departments, committees, commissions and an aging citywide infrastructure.
KingstonCitizens.org is pleased to present a public educational forum and discussion on two alternative forms of government titled “City Administrator and City Manager Forms of Government” on Tuesday, March 25th from 6:00pm – 8:00pm at the Kingston Public Library located at 55 Franklin Street in Kingston, NY. All are welcome to attend.
Guest panelists include Meredith Robson, City Administrator of the City of Beacon and Chuck Strome, City Manager of New Rochelle, NY to discuss their roles and relationships with the public and elected officials.
The evening will be co-moderated by Rebecca Martin, founder of KingstonCitizens.org and former Executive Director of the Kingston Land Trust and Jennifer Schwartz Berky, Principal at Hone Strategic, LLC and the former Deputy Director of Planning at Ulster County.
Meredith Robson, City of Beacon Administrator: Meredith Robson has served in a variety of governmental positions for over 26 years. She has served in all levels of government, except County government, and her career has spanned three states. She is currently the City Administrator for the City of Beacon. Ms. Robson has been very active in professional associations throughout her career, including serving on the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials Executive Committee and in her current roles as President of the New York City/County Management Association and Northeast Regional Vice President for the International City/County Management Association. Ms. Robson is an ICMA Credentialed Manager and has a Bachelor of Science from Southern Illinois University and a Master of Public Administration from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She has participated in numerous professional development programs, including the following leadership training opportunities: Wallkill Valley Community Leadership Alliance, Leadership Greater Waterbury and Pace University Land Use Leadership Alliance Training Program.
Chuck Strome, New Rochelle, NY City Manager: On November 12, 2002, the City Council unanimously approved the appointment of Charles B. “Chuck” Strome, III as City Manager. Mr. Strome served as Acting City Manager since March 2002 and as Deputy City Manager since 1995. Prior to that, he served as Director of Emergency Services from 1989 through 1992, and then became Assistant City Manager / City Coordinator. Mr. Strome has a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Communications from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and a Masters of Public Administration-Government from Pace University. Before joining government, Mr. Strome held positions at Hudson Westchester Radio where he was News Director, Vice President, and Program Director. Mr. Strome is a member of the International City Managers’ Association, and former president of the New York State City / County Managers Association. He is also past President, Vice President, and Secretary of the Municipal Administrators Association of Metropolitan New York.
About KingstonCitizens.org: KingstonCitizens.org is a non-partisan, citizen-run organization focused on relevant and current issues about Kingston, N.Y and working to foster transparent communication by encouraging growing citizen participation. The founder of KC.org and evening co-moderator Rebecca Martin is a world renowned and critically acclaimed musician who has 25 years of experience as a manager, community organizer and activist.
About Jennifer Schwartz Berky, Principal at Hone Strategic, LLC: Berky, the evening’s co-moderator, has over 25 twenty years of experience in the fields of architecture, conservation, economic development, and urban planning in the non-profit, government, academic and private sectors. Prior to launching Hone Strategic, she served as Deputy Director of Ulster County Planning for over seven years, where she was the lead researcher and liaison to the Ulster County Charter Commission. Before moving to Ulster County, she worked in Washington, DC at the World Bank and Urban Institute, at the University of Rome (Italy) and as a project manager of design and construction for New York City’s major cultural institutions. Berky has lived for extended periods in Argentina, Chile, France, Israel, Italy, and Spain. She earned a B.A. in Art History from SUNY Stony Brook and Masters’ degrees in Urban Planning (M.Phil.) and Real Estate Development (M.S.) at Columbia University, where she is also currently completing a Ph.D. in Urban Planning on the subject of environmental economics.
(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 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.
Did you know that in 1993, the City of Kingston adopted (by a landslide) a City Manager form of government? This is a great old article that helps us to understand what happened back then and also how we ended up with a strong mayor form of government.
How Kingston got its ‘strong mayor’ Commentary by Tom Benton
(originally printed in the KINGSTON TIMES)
This is how it actually went down, nearly 20 years ago. I should know; I was there. In fact, in a way I was caught up right in the middle of it all, though that was not my intention.
Some time around 1992, Kingston Mayor John Amarello got to thinking that the city’s charter, which hadn’t been modified since the late 1800s, could use a little updating. Maybe it was those provisions prohibiting displays of magic and legerdemain (sleight of hand) on city streets that got him thinking, or the ones dealing with where horses could be tied up. In any event, the mayor decided that it would be useful for someone to take a look at the charter to see if some modernizing might be in order.
And so it was that he decided to create a Charter Revision Commission to tackle the task. John — I knew him well enough to call him by his first name — approached me about acting as chairman of the committee. At the time, I was a young attorney practicing in Kingston, very much involved with various civic groups and friendly with many of the business and governmental figures in town. And best of all from the mayor’s standpoint (or so I believe now), I had no political axe to grind. I have never sought or held elective office (unless you count student council in high school) and had no aspirations to do so then. So I think the mayor felt that I would be somewhat free from the rough-and-tumble of local, partisan politics. If I may say so, they don’t get more fractious anywhere than they do in Kingston (with the possible exception of the recent debt ceiling imbroglio in Washington).
With some reservations about the time commitment it would involve, I signed on, so to speak, along with a half-dozen or so other local appointees. Significantly, one of those original members was then-Alderman T. R. Gallo, who resigned from the commission after several meetings (more about that later). We set about our work at frequent evening sessions, studying the charter of Kingston along with those of other similarly sized small cities. As it happened, I was also then the president of the board of directors of the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce. Some chamber members I knew believed that the “city manager” form of local government was preferable to the traditional model, theoretically being more efficient and business-like, and they encouraged me to introduce that concept into our discussions.
A brief overview of the “city manager” form: Traditionally in the U.S., most governments, be they state, county, city, village or town, have followed the federal model, wherein three branches (executive, legislative and judicial) regulate the entity’s affairs. This structure is designed to provide checks and balances on the uses and potential abuses of power. By the beginning of the 20th century, progressives started to wonder whether all that power-balancing was really needed at the smaller and more local levels of government. Couldn’t the legislative body (city council) just hire an executive to conduct the administrative affairs of the community? After all, the council has its own internal checks and balances built in by virtue of its multiple members. It was also thought a hired executive, with specific training and expertise, would provide better and more efficient operation than might be expected from an elected mayor who, well-liked and popular though he or she might be, usually has no real training for the job.
I don’t remember the number of meetings we had, but in the course of many weeks, a consensus began to build in the direction of the “city manager” form. I believe that this was about the time Mr. Gallo bowed out. Be that as it may, after months of meetings and many hours of discussion and debate, the commission ultimately finalized a proposed revised charter for the City of Kingston, incorporating the city manager concept. This was submitted to the city for consideration and potential adoption.
During the spring and summer of 1993, the charter revision commission held a number of public information meetings throughout the city, so residents would have the opportunity to learn about the new proposal. These were well-attended and aroused great interest and passion on both sides. In due course, and in accordance with the required procedure, Kingston’s Common Council approved the submission of the proposed charter revision to the local board of elections so that it could be placed on the ballot as a referendum item to be voted on in the fall of 1993. Supporters of the measure conducted an aggressive grass-roots campaign, handing out flyers door-to-door in Kingston neighborhoods and taking out ads in local newspapers. On Election Day, the revision was approved.
Those of us who had been active in the revision process, including prominent local business figures like Frank Bailey, George Hutton, George Bell and others, were celebratory. But it should be admitted that there was no certainty about how well the “city manager” form of government would work in Kingston. The “city manager” form had been quite successful in some cities — Austin, Texas, for example — but arguably less so in others. And the work of transition still lay ahead, as the new charter structure was to take effect in January 1995.
As it happened, the 1993 vote also brought about the defeat of the incumbent Republican mayor, John Amarello, by the Democratic candidate, T.R. Gallo. It was no secret that T.R. had long dreamed of becoming Kingston’s mayor. His late father was a fixture in Kingston politics two decades earlier. The new charter preserved the office of mayor, but significantly reduced his or her official duties and authority to what might fairly be characterized as “ribbon-cutter in chief.” This was far from what the newly elected mayor had envisioned for himself.
After a few weeks, then-alderman-at-large, James Sottile, responsibly formed an ad hoc committee to work on the transition process and to begin the search for a city manager. Because of my past involvement with the new charter, I was invited to participate in that group as a citizen member at meetings throughout the winter of 1993-94. Some time in the spring, word began circulating in Kingston about a new proposal which would supplant the recently adopted city manager charter by providing for a so-called “strong mayor” — an elected mayor with greater authority than is traditionally found. The document itself soon surfaced as Mayor Gallo began a public petition campaign to place the new charter revision proposal on the 1994 ballot as a referendum item.
To place a referendum on the ballot (an alternative to the mayoral commission procedure) requires the signatures of certain percentage of the affected voting public. Even for a mayor as popular as T.R. Gallo, this was a large undertaking, particularly in the turbulent wake of the previous year and a half of charter debates. As for the proposal itself, it was rather ingeniously constructed by taking the newly adopted charter and merely replacing the words “city manager” with “mayor” throughout. There were some other modifications, of course, but that was the essence of it. And here was the effect: Under the adopted charter, the city manager was given very broad and powerful executive authority, the governmental check on that authority being control and supervision by the Common Council. Under the new proposal, an elected mayor would have the same broad authority, but would be entirely free from any such control or supervision by the council. Strong mayor, indeed!
By late August, it appeared that the petition campaign would fall short of the required number of signatures. With time was running out to meet the filing deadline for the fall vote, Mayor Gallo hastily created a his own charter revision commission, whose appointed members immediately adopted the new “strong mayor” proposal without discussion or debate. A single public information meeting (a half-hour in duration) was held a few days later at City Hall and in short order, the “strong mayor” charter was submitted to the board of elections for placement on the ballot. As I recall, all of this took place in the space of less than two weeks.
With Election Day looming, there ensued an intense period of public debate and a visible war of lawn signs. Things took a turn toward the uncivil. At a public information meeting sponsored by The League of Women Voters, I was loudly and aggressively heckled throughout my presentation by a small group of partisans. Such was the tone and tenor of the time.
Many Kingstonians will remember the outcome. In one of the largest voter turnouts in city history, the “strong mayor” charter revision was passed into law. Although the margin of victory was narrow (around a hundred votes, as I recollect), the city manager charter adopted a year earlier was consigned to history without ever having been tried and the era of the strong mayor was ushered in.
Disappointed as some of us were, we all moved on. But the city manager issue has recently resurfaced in comments by some Kingston mayoral candidates. Knowledge of historical precedent can be instructive, so perhaps the foregoing will be useful to some. For others, it might merely be an interesting story. I do note that the county has recently changed to an “executive” structure. If Kingston does decide to revisit the city manager concept, it is hoped that the residents display the political will to give it a fair chance the second time around.
Tom Benton is a retired attorney who owns and operates the Tom Benton School of Music in Woodstock.
Have you checked out how impressive the Town of Ulster’s website is? They’ve created a site that is easy and clear in its design and navigaton, making it simple to get important, up-to-date information. It offers timely agendas and minutes from each meeting and you can subscribe to the site and receive frequent updates on the weeks meetings/events/public hearings.
As you may have read, a recent study revealed that open space in the nearby Shawangunks — Minnewaska, Sam’s Point and Mohonk preserves — feeds over $12 million to the local economy each year. The money comes from the 392,000 or so annual visitors to these areas. This spotlights an important trend: open space has value.
Ward 7 Alderman and Majority Leader Bill Reynolds. Below is his state of the city report read on April 6th, 2010. If you have any thoughts or feedback, please use the Ward 7 Yahoo! Group that Alderman Reynolds is a member of.
Public service is an honor for anyone privileged enough to have been chosen by the voters to represent them. The aldermen here tonight together in this great room with Alderman-at-Large Noble and officials who work in an appointed capacity have lately been particularly honored by the public to serve, because we were elected in the midst of what many are calling the Great Recession. The voters chose us to do the hard work for them, and to do the best we can on their behalf.
That is why I am here to tell the people of Kingston that – we hear you. We understand your fears and concerns. And we will continue to listen to you because we who sit at these desks every month to make new laws and pass budgets don’t have all the answers. We need your help and your input to make Kingston a better place.
Times have been tough, for sure, and they will continue to be difficult for the remainder of the year. We are committed to keeping a sharp eye on the bottom line and to make the best use of taxpayer dollars – and we are prepared to make the tough decisions required to keep living and doing business in Kingston as affordable as possible. We are walking a tightrope for sure – but as long as we remain steady and as long as we keep our heads up, we will make it through this recession.
So, let’s focus on the challenges we face:
We need to rectify the safety net inequity that Kingston shoulders.
We need to continue to hold the line on property taxes and ensure that taxpayers are being assessed equitably. Bearing that in mind, we urge the school district to do the same – a 12 percent school tax increase is unsustainable.
On the heels of the ongoing success of the URGENT task force, we signal our support for the new block-by-block sweep program designed to clean up bad influences that pollute and destroy homes and neighborhoods.
We need to focus on getting our act together now, ahead of an economic upturn, by re-focusing on the basics: cleaning up the city, cracking down on crime and blight, and cutting back on a cost structure that’s outgrown our ability to pay for it.
We must continue to focus on the inequity of our “homestead/non-homestead” tax policy, which is steadily eroding the city’s commercial tax base and private-sector job market. That being said, the immediate source of distress for many taxpayers has been the property revaluation process that was first conducted in 2008. While serious flaws and inequities were apparent in the results produced so far, this is a problem that can and will be corrected with a new revaluation. Speaking of inequities, we had to learn quite by accident that Kingston was paying social services costs for people not living in Kingston. And, while we look forward to the mayor working together with the county administration to be sure the city is reimbursed for lost taxpayer dollars, we remain committed to auditing future claims, and will work together with the city and county comptroller as this process unfolds.
This is terribly important, given the cost – $1.2 million in safety net spending this year, up from $400,000 seven years ago. Not only do we take in the county’s disadvantaged, we take on the entire local portion of the bill.
We remain committed to sustaining an infrastructure that up until recently seemed to be crumbling every week. And, though we have allocated substantial sums to guard against infrastructure decay, we will continue to be sure our infrastructure meets our basic needs.
Bankruptcy is not an option for Kingston, for a whole host of reasons not the least of which such a move would require state legislative action and, quite frankly, you have to be bankrupt after all to declare bankruptcy. Kingston is still well below its tax and bonding limit, although by no means are we in a position to brag about such a thing. But to declare bankruptcy, as I have said publicly, would be equal to raising the white flag.
That said, the financial situation we face remains serious. Correcting it will depend on how we approach labor contract negotiations. And while we are pleased two out of three of our unions provided give backs for the 2010 year, we may still need to work with them to be sure we’ll be able to provide required services to the people while holding the line on taxes as we work to assemble a 2011 budget. The mayor has indicated he will include members of the Common Council in discussions and negotiations with the three unions. That’s the right approach.
Some of the things we could look for would include new flexibility in the way departments are staffed and job responsibilities defined, with a particular emphasis on putting more police officers on the street at critical times each day, and cross-training more firefighters to act as building-code enforcement teams during otherwise idle periods. We will need to look at realistic contributions by employees toward their health-care plans, recognizing that we must work together to reduce costs. We just received word, for example, that the premium increase for the Empire Plan for 2011 may be more than 13 percent.
This is not a happy or uplifting speech, I know, but there are times that require us to set aside happy talk and speak to stark reality. That also means making the hard decisions. When you say you want to cut costs, you have to mean what you say and follow through on your words. Cutting costs isn’t easy and it isn’t painless. You have to back up your words with action, otherwise the things you say and the promises you make will sound hollow and broken.
That isn’t to say I’m not optimistic about this city’s future. I have always and remain very optimistic that Kingston will one day reach its full potential. When the cost cutting is over, we will need not only to streamline government but aggressively market this city so we can continue to brag about it being one of the top art destinations in the country, as not only one of the more affordable places to live in the region, but a place where several types of architecture: beginning with stone houses, through all the great design eras – all exist in one place. We need to continue to show the world what sets Kingston apart from so many other places in the region.
We will work together with a vibrant group of citizens organizations such as the nascent Kingston Digital Corridor, KingstonCitizens.org, Friends of Historic Kingston, the Business Association of Kingston, ASK, the Neighborhood Watch group, and KURA just to name a few. We were happy to listen to and work together with our business groups in establishing the Main Street Manager, embodied by Nancy Donskoj who has done an excellent job showcasing our city’s assets and opportunities.
I am convinced that with the right combination of marketing and a more sensible tax structure we’ll be able to move this economy forward. We have some way to go for sure, but Kingston has been through tough times before. We’ll get through the Great Recession and be stronger and smarter when it’s over.
We have created a two part posting to share both the majority and minority leaders state of the city reports for citizens who were not present this evening.
We’ll begin with minority leader and Ward 1 Adlerman Andi Turco-Levin (R). This was her state of the city address presented on Tuesday, April 6th 2010. If you have any thoughts or feedback, please visit the Ward 1 Yahoo! Group where Alderman Turco-Levin is a member.
– Rebecca Martin
Minority Leader’s Report 2010 Efficiency and Planning
Mr. President, my fellow Council Members, and to all of you here tonight, we want to thank you for this opportunity to share our hopes, visions, and recommendations on how we can move our City forward.
Let’s also take a moment to recognize the hard work of our police and firefighters who keep us safe, to the volunteers of this City who keep our kids off the streets and out of harm’s way from gang violence and drug dealers and also to the private citizens who work to unite our communities. A heart felt Thank You.
As you know, we are currently forging through very difficult times, not only from an economic point of view but from a quality of life standpoint. What I hope to outline here tonight is a way for us to recognize how we got here, what we can do to prevent us from continuing in the same direction, and what we can do in order to steer our City towards growth and economic stability. As with any journey, a roadmap is the key for success. It outlines boundaries, and allows you to navigate a course to reach your final destination. We have no roadmap. The fact that Kingston has not had a complete comprehensive plan done since the 1980’s is evidence. From one side we wish to welcome development, yet we get mired down with variables leading to lengthy delays, then ultimately leaving us with nothing as the end result.
From the former uptown parking garage to the scarred waterfront once with promise of the Noah Hotel, now a vacant lot collecting graffiti and trash. Had a long range plan been in place for the City of Kingston some of those hurdles may have been avoided and the outcome much different from what we have today including more super sized drug store chains.
Getting through difficult issues on a day to day basis is not working.
This approach is not successful in life, and it doesn’t work in government either. Shortsighted planning has no benefit, especially for the future of our City and what we leave to the next generation of our children who we hope can stay here, earn a living and raise their families too. It affects every aspect of our City’s well being.
It seems obvious that many of our City’s woes stem from the erosion of our tax base, lack of well paying jobs and the steady decline with quality of life benefits. To turn this trend around I believe the first line of defense would be to ask that a long range planning committee be formed in order for us to identify what is needed to create a 25 – 30 year plan on how our City grows into the next generation. In it we can explore how we grow our business zones, protect historic districts and quaint neighborhoods, all while keeping a healthy balance, and an eye on environmental responsibility. One of the things that people love the most about our City is our heritage, yet we do nothing to protect it, in fact it seems that even the provisions in place are not enforced. Not only is this an important task to insure our City’s character, it is an untapped source of revenue which will strengthen our financial footing as well. Perhaps the Economic & Finance Committee should form a task force designed to look at our City’s Codes and Laws and update them to reflect today’s living standards, incorporating ways to create revenue at the same time. A simple permit fee to remove a shade tree could create funding for much needed sidewalk rehabilitation. As it is now, the $250 fine when a tree is removed without a permit is not enforced…you do the math. Simply enforcing our codes can provide a revenue stream which can help restore many of the services to our residents which seem to dissipate on a daily basis.
Part of this plan needs to include public safety for pedestrians and bicyclists which will also encourage less motor vehicle traffic in our urban areas. This is just one of the many issues that come to mind so let’s move on to the next topic.
Efficiency (and Planning) will be what pulls us through. The current union contracts are crippling our City where ALL parties need to rethink everything from the ground up. This may not happen until contracts are open at the end of next year, but it MUST happen. Looking at how things are done now and how things should be done efficiently in the future, which include the merging of services has to be our plan in order to sustain the City without the unlawful burden on the taxpayers. We ask that union leaders understand the challenges that we face with the budget process in the upcoming months. The unity of working together is the only solution that will keep us stable. Cooperation from every component will make the difference between survival and bankruptcy.
Other departments also need to be realigned in order to reflect tomorrow’s government model. Economic Development needs do more than secure grant money. Instead let’s come up with an outline on how to encourage small business with tax incentives and perhaps outline areas that could benefit from programs that attract these small businesses. Let’s give them a reason to come here.
The last issue that we need to address is crime, quality of life, and the confidence our residents have in us to provide it for them. Our police department works hard fighting to keep our streets safe and gang activity at bay, not an easy task. The City needs to stay on solid ground in order for us to turn this trend around and take back our neighborhoods. Fighting crime is important, just as important is engaging our young people early and giving them something to do instead of getting into trouble. Continually cutting programs that offer these options for them is backwards thinking. Funding police, very important, but we also need to take steps in prevention and this is where the cuts from the Recreation Dept. become the issue. These programs provide a safe place for them to grow, play and learn. Cuts from this department show in the deterioration of our City Parks, their Programs, and the mental well being for all our residents young and old.
There are great things coming with new faces on our Common Council, looking at things with a new perspective for change and expecting accountability. I also want to compliment the Mayor & the City’s Comptroller for uncovering overages in what we spend in Safety Net funding. This action can save us millions of dollars in the future. By working together without party lines getting in the way of progress and compromise we can hopefully turn a corner and see positive change. We also need do a better job of letting the community know what is happening in City Government. Let’s encourage the flow of information by setting up a Kingston311.com information website. It’s based on NYC’s information hotline where residents can ask questions on things ranging from City Codes to Recycling Schedules. We don’t have the funding for a hotline, but a website with vital information would be a welcome resource for our Citizens without much cost and could even become a source of income in the future.
In summary, we need to look at the Big Picture from top to bottom and re-think how things are done with a long range plan. Without it we have nothing, no public safety, no funding for police and fire, no infrastructure, no technology, no youth programs, no business…All of these components lay the foundation for economic stability ending our financial crisis. Planning and Efficiency is our mantra. If done right we will see a stronger community with less spending, more revenue which ultimately leads to lower taxes. We will have a City which offers quality of life for its residents, economic strength for our businesses, and a solid and affordable education for our children.
We look forward to working with all members of the Council and Administration towards this goal. The city of Kingston is the Jewel of the Hudson. Let’s put some polish on her and make her shine.
Imagine the joy in my heart when I noticed that the city of Kingston finally posted the Common Council’s agenda to the meeting calendar page. For those of you who have been following this work for years, you’ll remember how we petitioned the council to do so, and asked month after month for over a year with no response.
Alas – it is up, and citizens should follow along. Important to note that the agenda often changes after caucus the evening before, so it may include or exclude points depending.
This month, the Common Council Meeting on April 6th at 7:30pm at City Hall will include the Majority and Minority Leaders State of the City reports. This is an important meeting to attend – so make plans to be there if you are able to.
With the abrupt change made this week to the recycling schedule (that is now bi-weekly) we grew deeply concerned. Not because we think weekly pick-ups are ‘the way to go’. But because the change was made without any effort to inform or educate the public. As it is, through the hard work of Julie and Steve Noble and Jeanne Edwards, Kingston was sort of on the up and up on improving it’s recycling numbers. That might be history unless something is done and soon.
Sure, not every municipality offers recycling to their residents. That may even be where we are heading. The fact of the matter is, Kingston has offered it as a service and we have come to expect it. If more people now feel inconvenienced and decide to trash their plastics and all, we are not only heading in the wrong direction but we are also encouraging a whopper of an expense in the long run.
Why? At this time, Kingston pays UCRRA (Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency) $71 a ton to then ship our garbage up the river some 250 miles. That’s what makes it so expensive. Weigh that against the national average, which is around $42.08 per ton.
Landfills are close to capacity. Perhaps not this year or next, but in the very near future our garbage may be shipped even further away. Now does that make any sense?
So please, hold onto your recycling until your new scheduled pick-up day. Give your bottles and cans an extra wash out to prepare them to sit for a week longer. That only takes a few seconds of your time. If you simply can’t wait, delivering your recyclables, yard waste and brush to the transfer station is free.
Encourage your Alderman to help solve this problem through good discussion and solid examples by looking outside of Kingston to see what might be useful to us.
It’s empowering to learn more on the Council-Manager form of government. Below was taken from the ICMA’s website. Visit this LINK to get resources and to learn more on the subject.
Certainly, if this is too radical for some then we should at least begin a discussion on term limits (see: Rotation in office) on all elected positions in Kingston right away.
It’s up to the citizens now to move towards a government that works. What do you want to do that is productive and helpful?
I suggest we begin at the core right here at home.
– Rebecca Martin
The collection of articles, statistics, and other information—grouped below as ICMA’s Council-Manager Form Resource Packet—will assist you in helping residents, elected officials, and business leaders within your community gain a better understanding of the value that professional management brings to our cities and towns.
ICMA’s origins lie in the council-manager form of local government, which combines the strong political leadership of elected officials (in the form of a council, board, or other governing body) with the strong professional experience of an appointed local government manager or administrator. Under this form, power is concentrated in the elected council, which hires a professional administrator to implement its policies. These highly-trained, experienced individuals serve at the pleasure of the elected governing body and have responsibility for preparing the budget, directing day-to-day operations, hiring and firing personnel, and serving as the council’s chief policy advisor.
Although ICMA actively promotes the council-manager form as the preferred structure, the organization also supports professional management in all forms of local government.
We invite you to use these materials as part of your council-manager form adoption and retention efforts. Click on the link to the packet components and you will be taken to ICMA’s Resource Center, where you will find a description of the material and one or more downloads. In addition to the materials contained in the Council-Manager Form Resource packet, scroll further down this page for a list of other resources, or contact Jared Dailey, assistant program manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information on form-of-government issues.
Launching an educational or promotional effort in support of the council-manager form can be difficult, but we hope you find these materials useful. Thank you for helping ICMA advocate the value of professional local government management and good luck with your efforts
Is the city of Kingston ready for a slightly different form of government?
We have been doing some research and would like to share and open a discussion on the ‘Weak’ Mayor/City Council/City Manager option. In this LINK, please scroll down to read one definition of “Weak Mayor/Council” and “Council/Manager. We invite you to do a little research on your own and report back here. With everything seemingly on the table these days, we figure – why not? Having a highly qualified city manager on board might be a very welcome change.
This is the third of three pieces to help residents get to know their incoming Alderman with insight on those helping to shape our neighborhoods and common council in 2010.
Arthur Zackziewicz: What do you see as the top, long-term challenges facing the City of Kingston?
Hayes Clement: An unsustainable tax burden – on both homeowners and businesses. We’ve got to fundamentally reorient the mindset of local governments – city, school and county — from their current holy grail, keeping your annual tax increase as small as possible, to one that actually plots a path toward reducing your taxes, as difficult as that is in New York State.
City Hall, for one, has made real progress on the budget front this past year, but still more discipline, creativity and tough decisions are going to be required to bring spending into line with the simple economic realities of where we stand today: a declining population, shrinking household income levels and very shaky employment and housing markets. Old news? Not if you were a stranger to Kingston and had been ordered to describe the city using only our annual budget as your guide. Some of our expenses, particularly in the realm of employee benefits and pensions (fully $11 million of a $35 million annual budget), are truly sobering. And that’s before you even get to the “real” money – the equivalent tabs for public schools and county government. At the end of the day, when potential newcomers consider the total tax burden attached to setting up home or shop in Kingston, the results of the exercise too often shout “no way” – especially for prospective business investors.
Our “homestead/non-homestead” tax policy, which taxes commercial properties at significantly higher rates than homes, is in dire need of rethinking. It is steadily eroding the city’s commercial tax base and private-sector job market – literally emptying entire blocks of storefronts — and practically begs business owners to consider greener pastures, an especially dangerous gambit when that greener pasture might be found just a few hundred feet down Albany Avenue in the Town of Ulster.
The immediate source of distress for many tax payers remains, of course, the citywide property revaluation conducted by the city and GAR Associates several years ago. While serious flaws and inequities are apparent in the results produced so far, I consider this a near-term, not long-term, problem and one that has to be fixed, also in the near-term, in favor of over-assessed property owners.
A disproportionate share of poverty and its related problems. For years, we’ve all heard or read the complaint that indigent families in need of public assistance are routinely “dumped” in Ulster County by other less charitable (and less law-abiding) communities, from as far away as Pennsylvania. Based on my own conversations with veteran social-service and law-enforcement professionals in the area, I think the accusation is a credible one — certainly credible enough to warrant a full investigation by County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach and local Department of Social Services officials. If an investigation yields substantive evidence of the illegal practice, the county should forward the matter to the state Attorney General or other officials for help in halting the practice and seeking financial redress. If an investigation yields nothing, a finding to that effect might at least help dispel a pervasive local suspicion.
One thing is indisputable, though, in terms of poverty’s migration: Once here, the great majority of Ulster County “safety net” recipients settle in Kingston, for obvious reasons (public transportation, proximity to service agencies, etc.) but with serious financial consequences for Kingston tax payers. Alone among 62 counties in New York State, Ulster County requires that the home city or township of a safety-net recipient bear half the cost of those benefits, with the state providing the other half. In every other county, the funding formula splits the cost 50-50 between the state and the county, regardless of the recipient’s city of residence. The consequences of this for Kingston start with a sizable and growing financial burden — $1.2 million in safety net spending this year, up from $400,000 seven years ago — that by every right should be spread county-wide but, instead, is borne solely by Kingston tax payers. Not only do we take in the county’s disadvantaged, we take on the entire local portion of the bill, solo, for meeting that challenge. For Kingston at this stage, the money, the jobs and the sheer tally of local lives all caught up in the safety net are of such a scale that “poverty” is not just a local problem anymore, it’s a local industry, too . . . . and a growing one. Many of its enterprises are well-respected and successful; its “executive ranks” include some of the best and brightest leaders in Kingston; and most of its clients are deserving and law-abiding neighbors, no doubt. But none of that obliges Kingston to politely ignore the obvious: “Poverty, the industry” also reaches deep into the city’s real-estate market, driving demand for subdivided houses, changing the character of entire neighborhoods, and often undermining public safety, quality of life and, ultimately, our ability to attract other new residents and businesses. In the wake of recent and disturbing street crimes, the plainly visible deterioration of more Kingston neighborhoods, and Ulster County’s continued refusal to do the right thing and cover its safety net obligations, it’s time for Kingston to take a compassionate but clear-headed new look at local poverty, and confront a delicate but urgent question: How big a burden can one struggling city be expected to bear on behalf of other communities, and at what cost to its own quality of life and its own future?
An aging infrastructure. It’s awful to contemplate, but today’s woes might pale in comparison to the fiscal challenges coming at us in the next decade, with millions of dollars in capital improvements required to make over crumbling streets and sidewalks and, more ominously, rebuild much of our century-old sewer system. Getting through it all, at the lowest possible cost, will require, for starters, that the mayor and Common Council maintain both our strong municipal bond rating and the credibility with lenders that comes from setting conservative annual spending plans and sticking to them.
Embarrassingly low standards – when it comes to so many aspects of our shared civic life: the quality of services we demand for our tax dollars, the caliber of behavior we’re willing to tolerate on public streets, the general appearance and cleanliness of entire blocks and neighborhoods, to name but a few. I’m always struck by an insight you often hear from plugged-in Kingstonians, the very people you would call the city’s boosters. It goes like this: “Sure that’s a problem here, but we’re in far better shape on that score than Newburgh.” (or Poughkeepsie, or Middletown – take your pick) It’s a response that’s accurate for just about any problem being discussed, no doubt, and let’s hope it remains so. But if “not-as-bad-as-over-THERE” is going to be our benchmark for survival, let alone success, we’re all in deep trouble.
Upstate New York has enormous challenges on many fronts, but Kingston has unique assets that set it far apart from other cities in the region. We lose sight of this all too quickly, especially in an economic climate that serves up setbacks and disappointments on a weekly basis. It’s a mistake. The best-laid plans for more prosperous times are usually laid well ahead of their arrival. We need to focus on getting our act together now, ahead of an economic upturn, by re-focusing on the basics: cleaning up the city, cracking down on crime and blight, and cutting back on a cost structure that’s outgrown our ability to pay for it. If we do this, and steadily raise our expectations to better match our gifts, we can lay the foundation for a safer, more affordable and more attractive Kingston that can very logically become the gotta-visit, the gotta-move-to community in the Hudson Valley, a Kingston that legitimately plays in the same league as a Savannah, Ga., or a Burlington, Vt., or an Asheville, N.C. – take your pick — when it comes to luring new investment, not a Kingston that measures itself by the yardstick of Newburgh.
AZ: Despite the challenges, Kingston is often described as a “vibrant city” that has much potential. Do you agree? What are some of the city’s most promising opportunities?
HC: Of the many opportunities open to Kingston, I think a few stand out as particularly plausible over the next 2-3 years:
• We can make better strategic use of UPAC as the potential economic anchor for Midtown, ensuring that its doors remain open and able to deliver 1,200 regular concert-goers to new and existing restaurants and bars throughout the calendar year. Redevelopment of the adjacent King’s Inn site as a large mixed-use live/work loft-style complex for artists, musicians and production technologists would bring a healthy new sense of life and activity to the area and help drive awareness of an already significant, but hidden, professional music scene in Kingston.
• We can leverage the experience and hard work of the KingstonDigitalCorridor.org initiative in other fields of potential economic growth, using local entrepreneurs to sell Kingston peer to peer within their industries. One example: a targeted, grass-roots effort aimed at luring select art-supply manufacturers and working artists from Brooklyn or other locales, drawing on the embedded experience and customer traffic of R&F Paints, Bailey Ceramics and the Shirt Factory.
• We can devise a “green” strategy that focuses on job creation. Ongoing efforts by City Hall and the Conservation Advisory Council continue to help reduce our collective impact on the environment. That’s great. But we should give equal priority to devising a front-and-center role for Kingston in the region’s Solar Energy Consortium, both as a pilot site for solar installations on public buildings and, better yet, as a target locale for consortium-backed startups, via tax breaks and other incentives. What better way to demonstrate the urban applications for solar power or the benefits of recycling on a mammoth scale than through the conversion of empty commercial buildings into manufacturing sites for solar technology?
• We can finally develop a new comprehensive plan for Kingston, one that untangles, updates and spells out zoning laws, zoning overlays, historic designations and reasonable design standards for Midtown and Uptown, much as we’ve recently done for Downtown. This is essential not only to protect the heritage, charm and integrity of our neighborhoods (the biggest and best currency we’ve got when it comes to economic development!) but also to attract new investment. The developers who reject Kingston as a place to invest don’t do so because we’re overly fussy about historic preservation; they by-pass Kingston because our planning process is perceived as non-transparent, unpredictable and ad hoc. Making it less so will only help preserve our heritage and grow our tax base.
• We can radically improve the first impression we make with visitors — by easily extending the popular U.S. 209 rail trail from Hurley all the way into Uptown, and further remaking the Washington Avenue corridor with open green space and proper landscaping in place of abandoned gas stations. (Our own civic pride could use the visual boost, too.)
AZ: Some residents have expressed a need for Kingston to file for bankruptcy as a way to get some fiscal breathing room and allow contracts to be renegotiated. Do you support such a move? Why or why not?
HC: Bankruptcy is probably not an option for Kingston, practically speaking, since taking that route would require approval by the state legislature and only after our “taxing capacity” was exhausted. By the predictable logic of Albany, Kingston’s municipal tax levy is still well below what we could legally force property owners to cough up in order to remain solvent, so until taxes are raised to Mt. Everest levels and we’re scrounging for the last nickels and dimes beneath homeowners’ sofa cushions, don’t count on Albany to entertain the notion of a Kingston bankruptcy.
And I’m fine with that. I didn’t seek a seat on the Common Council in order to help preside at a municipal bankruptcy. And I think every member of the Council would consider that particular outcome a singular mark of failure on his or her resume.
That said, the financial situation we face is extraordinarily serious. Correcting it will depend, in large part, on how we approach the renegotiation of union contracts for police, fire and DPW and City Hall professionals set to expire at the end of 2011. The mayor has indicated he plans to include members of the Common Council in various stages of discussion and negotiation with the three unions, and I think that’s the right approach, particularly since contract wage and benefits agreements for city employees and retirees represent fully 75% of the city’s $35 million annual budget. Whatever terms finally emerge from the negotiation process, it won’t qualify as a success overall, in my book, unless several key “wins” are achieved for tax payers:
• New flexibility on the part of both union members and management in the way departments are manned and job responsibilities are defined, with a particular emphasis on putting more police officers on the street at critical times each day, and cross-training more firefighters to act as building-code enforcement teams during otherwise idle periods.
• Realistic contributions by employees toward their health-care plans
• Salary and pension schedules, going forward, that recognize and respect hard – often hazardous – work performed by professionals, but also bear some semblance to the realities of the typical Kingston tax payer who’s struggling to foot the bill.
AZ: Residents have expressed publicly and privately that your election into office reflects a need for new thinking and new perspectives in city government. Do you agree with this? If yes, how do you implement some of that fresh perspective?
HC: * I certainly like to think my election signals openness to new approaches on the part of voters. I’m sure my two other fellow freshmen on the Council agree. Delivering on that promise will depend, in large part, on our powers of resistance – namely the ability to resist giving in to conventional wisdom and the accepted pattern of how things are, once we’ve been on the Council a few more months. Complacency, or even abundant patience, are not what you want in a Council member these days.
AZ: Could you list three of the best reasons to live and work in Kingston?
HC: Small businesses that give great service, break the generic cookie-cutter mold and prove, despite all the challenges, that Kingston can attract and sustain entrepreneurs. My list of favorites includes Eng’s, Seven21 Media, Oxclove, Signature Fitness, Fleisher’s, Tonner Doll, Madden’s Wine & Spirits, Savonna’s, Monkey Joe’s, Stone Soup, Smith Printing and BestPlaces2Move.com.
* Our proximity to the Hudson River, the Catskills and New York City – for my money, perhaps the three most extraordinary features of the North American landscape.
* The quality and variety of our amazing – and reasonably priced — housing stock. Where else but in Kingston could you visit one street, Fair, and in the space of a 10-minute walk observe at least one example of every single significant period in American architecture, starting in the late 1600s with a stone meeting house and proceeding through all the great design eras — Gothic, Greek Revival, Victorian, Italianate, Colonial Revival, Tudor, and other more obscure styles – all the way to a 1960s ranch house?