Category Archives: insights

In Solidarity.

unity-is-strength

 

By Rebecca Martin

Friends,

Over the past four weeks KingstonCitizens.org, which was created almost a decade ago to help to connect Kingston residents to its local government so to encourage transparency and better communication, has become the hub for information for our entire region regarding the proposed Niagara Bottling Company project.

Without a doubt, the project concerns are many. But it is the potential of selling our most precious natural resource, that being the public’s water to a national bottling company, that is our most dire concern.  Sure, we many of us don’t care for plastic bottles. Some may not be fond of ‘Corporate America’ (as Supervisor Quigley proclaimed last week on-air). But the real problem here….is the concept of selling off the public’s WATER to a national bottling company.  You can’t compare it to beer, to milk, to soda. We are talking about millions and millions of gallons of water each day being drained from our water source.  There isn’t any comparison.

Last week, the Town of Ulster amended the proposed Niagara Bottling Company SEQR ‘involved’ and ‘interested’ agencies. The NYC DEP was the only new ‘involved’ agency which is good. The others that include the City of Kingston, Town of Woodstock, Town of Saugerties, Village of Saugerties, Town of Esopus and Town of Kingston were all categorized as ‘interested’.  I suppose the good news is that before October 16th, none of our municipalities were even listed. Good job citizens! Your hard earned efforts to show up at meetings, to write letters and to inquire ‘what can I do?’ made this critical step possible.   But as a municipality impacted by the project, however, ‘interested’ agency is a step, but it is just not enough.

Tonight, the City of Kingston passed through two memorializing resolutions. One of which was to request that the City of Kingston be changed from ‘interested’ agency to ‘involved’ agency. It is most appropriate that it did so.  On November 4th, the Kingston Common Council will vote on whether or not to pass this through.  If it does, a communication could immediately be sent to the Town of Ulster. Hopefully, in time before the Lead Agency conversation in SEQR closes which might be on November 16th.

Why is this important? Looking closely at the difference between ‘Interested’ and ‘Involved’ Agencies in SEQR an interested agency has about as ‘much authority as the public‘.  However, as an involved agency,  the agency ‘has or will have a discretionary decision to make regarding some aspect of the action in SEQR’.

There is some debate as to the Common Council’s authority in the Charter over the Water Board as it is currently described, but there is no doubt that the public has come to the table to say that it wants to have a say in how it’s public water source is sold or how it’s 100 year old infrastructure that was paid for by the public is used. Could the Commission have predicted or anticipated water bottling as it is done today back in 1895 in Kingston when it organized itself as independent?  The purpose of which was to keep politics OUT of the public’s water supply. Now, as it appears, that is working against us.  For any elected or appointed official to deny the Kingston public to have a say through its Common Council  in my opinion is wrong.

I’d like to publicly thank those who were present tonight – all of our Alderpersons who sit on the general government/public safety committee, Alderman-at-large James Noble, Alderpersons in attendance that included Matt Dunn and Brad Will and the Kingston Conservation Advisory Council for submitting such a thoughtful letter in response to the public’s attendance to their recent educational forum where they hosted Superintendent Judy Hansen.

On the subject of ‘involved’ agencies. Are there other neighboring communities now listed as ‘interested’ parties that should also consider passing the same sort of memorializing resolution to the Town of Ulster requesting ‘involved’ agency status?

Absolutely. Do it.

Because this project isn’t just about building a facility in the Town of Ulster. It’s about using a neighboring municipality’s water source. A source that happens to be in the Town of Woodstock, that may not only be a sacred place to all living in and around it,  but could also be feeding its aquifer. A projected 260 trucks going in and out of a plant all day long?  Trucks potentially coming and going in addition from Spring sources from places such as Dutchess County (we have heard, though haven’t confirmed yet that Niagara has isolated a spring the Red Hook area). Air Quality. Congestion. Traffic Concerns. About water discharges that may or may not be questionable into the Esopus Creek?  About climate change and drought? Enough to stop anyone thinking in their tracks without going any further.

When I started this process – it was quite like the great unknown. I knew I wanted to be involved, and I knew that I could rally at least 100 people to attend that first common council meeting on October 7th. Little did I know that in doing so, I would step into a work that has required a seven day a week, 12-15 hours a day commitment reading, speaking, writing strategizing, researching and just plain reaching out.

On the subject of Kingston and its citizens, I want everyone to know far and wide that many of us understand that the City of Kingston making the decision to sell off its water not only impacts us here. It impacts us all.  Along in building a stronger citizen base in Kingston, it has been a most rewarding experience to also work side by side with citizens from Woodstock, Saugerties, Esopus and the Town of Ulster.  We want to connect with everyone to not only help to make this situation right, but to eventually enter into another chapter in all of this. Where we work to protect our ground and surface waters State wide and improve how our communities function from every standpoint.

Thank you for lending a hand. I must expect that as we roll along, I will be asking for two. It won’t be long now until we enter into the next phase where both hands will be necessary.

My warmest regards and thank you.

– Rebecca Martin

 

City of Kingston: Water Supply Permit and Water Supply Applications of 1954 & 1929.

FOIL Request DEC
By Rebecca Martin

Recently, we reached out to the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) to see if we could receive a copy of the most recent Water Supply Permit by the City of Kingston.  They asked that we FOIL (NYS’s Freedom of Information Law) for their records, which we did.

According to the DEC Region 3 office, no records could be located in the Environmental Permits Office that was ‘pertinent to your (our) request’.  It appears that the COK will need to apply for a new Water Supply Permit in February of 2015, though we don’t have all the information on this yet. Check back in.

What we do have, is a 1954 application that was filed with a hearing in Kingston on March 31st, 1954 and a decision on April 6th, 1954 for the ‘approval of the installation of a 12-inch supply main from the existing conduits in the Town of Ulster to a proposed connection with the internal water supply system of the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in the Town of Ulster in which Town of Board of Water Commissioners have not heretofore legally supplied water in large quantities.”

That the DEC has nothing new on file, all that can be done at this moment is assume that the last application submitted was in 1954. Lets say for now that is the case.

WATER SUPPLY APPLICATION NO. 2510 “For approval of the installation of a 12-inch supply main from the existing conduits in the Town of Ulster to a proposed connection with the internal water supply system of the IBM Corportaion in the Town of Ulster in which Town of the Board of Water Commissioners have not heretofore legally supplied water in large quantities.”  

What’s in the application?  Here are some items that we’ve found to process and research. Check back periodically as we become more familiar with the documents to share more for your information.

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1. The Water Department says it has full authority to make the decision to sell the public’s water to the proposed Niagara Bottling Company project independently from City Government.

QUESTION:  However, the Mayor of Kingston is a voting member of the Water Commission and appoints each of its members.  What role might Kingston’s Common Council have in influencing the Mayor’s vote on the Water Commission?  How can we work to re-write the charter as it pertains to the Water Department for better checks and balances on water sales and infrastructure needs?

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2.  In “Findings of Fact” point #10 (page 3), it says that in 1954, the Safe Yield was at 8 million GPD.  According to Kingston Water Department Superintendent, in 1961 it was estimated to be at 6.1 million GPD.

QUESTION: That would be a drop of 1,900,000 million GPD in the safe yield between 1954 and 1961.  Today, Hansen admits to using the 6.1 million GPD as a basis for their decision making – but that data is now over 50 years old and is not taking into consideration any modeling for climate change, future growth and future Economic Development for the City of Kingston.

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3. In “Findings of Fact” point #9 (page 2), it speaks to a May 27th, 1929 Decision (see above for a copy of the decision).  It says:  “For approval of its acquisition of an additional source of water supply, for increasing the storage in Cooper Lake, for constructing the Mink Hollow conduits and Cooper Lake conduit, for constructing Binnewater equalizing reservoir, and for reinforcing the distribution system.”  It goes on to say “the project proposed under this application was never fully carried out and the Commission, in its resolution of November 14th 1947 in approving the works as then completed, rescinded such parts of its decision of May 27th, 1929 as referred to works proposed for future construction but not then completed.”

QUESTION: There appear to be some significant items here, though more research is necessary. TBA.

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4.  In “Findings of Fact” point #14 (page 3)  it states that the maximum demands of the new plant of IBM were expected to be at 1 million GPD.  Following this statement, in point #15 it states that the ‘officials of the City of Kingston should be made aware of the fact that by meeting the demands of the new plant the limit of the capacity of its water supply facilities will be closely approached.’

QUESTION:  This is more of a thought process rather than a question.  At 1 million GPD, the Water Power and Control Commission (today known as the DEC) in essence is a warning to Kingston City Officials that the amount given to IBM on a daily basis is placing them at the potential risk to push the limit of the Safe Yield.  

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5.  In “Conditions” (page 4) “A” – it states that ‘under the decision and approval the City of Kingston is authorized to furnish a water supply to the new plant of IBM Corp.  NO AUTHORITY, however, is given hereby to the city for the sales of water to any others from the supply main to be installed to such a new plant without further consent approval of the Commission.”

QUESTION:  What this means to me, is that that 12-inch supply main that was created to bring water to IBM in the Town of Ulster cannot be used for any other corporation without the approval of the Commission (the DEC).   How might that be applied in Niagara’s case? 

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6.  In “Conditions” (page 4)  #1  it states that “Under this decision and approval the city of Kingston is authorized to furnish a water supply to the new plant of IBM Corp. NO AUTHORITY however, is given hereby to the city for the sales of water to any others from the supply main to be installed to such a new plant without further consent approval of the Commission”

QUESTION:  Once more, it appears that the City of Kingston hasn’t the authority to sell water to any other corporation through the existing 12-inch main except IBM without the consent of the Commission (DEC).  How might that impact the sale to Niagara today? Was Kingston Water Board aware of this, taking it into consideration before offering it’s ‘will share’ letter?

 

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7.   In ‘Statutory Determiniations” (page 5) in the “Fifth” it says that said plans are ‘just and equitable to the other muncipalities and civil divisons of the State affected thereby and to the inhabitants thereof, particular consideration being given to their present and future necessities for sources of water supply.”

QUESTION:  What Science does the Water Department have to determine that ‘particular consideration’ was given to Kingston’s ‘present and future necessities for sources of water supply’ in the supplying Niagara Bottling Company with 1 million GPD – 1.75 million GPD where they, unlike IBM will use the full amount to bottle and to sell? 

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HYPOTHETICAL:  It occurs to me as a thought process:   the 12-inch supply main installed for IBM can move 1 million GPD of water which Niagara wishes to utilize, probably in the first 4-5 years.   In their proposal, an additional 12-inch supply main is mentioned for future expansion. Although they are only requesting an additional 750,000 GPD from that pipeline as I understand it,  what’s to say that they wouldn’t push to get the additional 250,000 GPD that the main would have the capacity to bring. Are these numbers accurate?

What I Saw, Did You Know? KingstonCitizens.org Wants To Hear From You.

 

research

By Rebecca Martin

Over the past couple of weeks, our readership has grown exponentially given the concern of the proposed Niagara Bottling Company project and the amount of information provided here.

With it, citizens have done an impressive job in learning more (and very quickly I might add)  to craft thoughtful speeches, ask insightful questions and to do it all with a pointed focus, grace and eloquence.

I have received hundreds of emails from citizens during this time period who wish to share their experience or to relay important information on the proposed water sale.

It’s completely inspiring, but has been somewhat of a puzzle to figure out the best way to relay the many points of view of the public for the public.

KingstonCitizens.org introduces  “What I Saw, Did You Know?”   It’s a place where citizens can share their experience and relay recently acquired knowledge for others to benefit.

Here’s how it works:

1. CATEGORY: For now, our category is the proposed Niagara Bottling Company Project.

2. WHAT I SAW: Write one page on a meeting you attended, a visit to a site, an article you read, a conversation with an elected official or citizen (it can also include what you heard). Keep it clean and above the belt (if you can).

3. REPORT: What one new thing did you learn that you’d like to share with the public. Please provide links in your piece as back up to your research.

4. WHO ARE YOU?:  Imagine a world where anonymous was no more?  I would really love if you’d tell us who you are, your city/town and email address. That way, you can be contacted by another citizen who might wish to connect. I totally understand if you’d rather not. In that case, please share your city/town and email address.

5. SUBMIT: to rebecca@kingstoncitizens.org   I’m starting a whole new section and will post for readers.

 

It takes a village as they say.  Help me in expanding our knowledge on all of the implications of the proposed Niagara Bottling Company project.

 

Kingston Water Board: Members and Term Limits

Kingston-Water-Department-4

By Rebecca Martin

Are you as curious  as I to know who sits on the Kingston Water Board?

Call me old fashioned, but I have a great deal of respect for those who volunteer for boards, councils and commissions in Kingston.

However, this five member board believe that they alone have the authority to decide whether or not Kingston’s water source can be sold to the Niagara Bottling Company. Five people who view themselves as independent of Kingston City Government.  (?)

Joseph DeCicco, President
Al Radel
Robert Niedzielski
Raymond McSpirit
Dennis Croswell
Shayne Gallo, Mayor

In 1895 by a special act of the NYS legislature to provide potable water to the residents of the City of Kingston, it says that the Water Board is a “financially and administratively independent department within the City of Kingston and is governed by the Board of Water Commissioners. The Board is a continuously sitting body and each member is appointed to a five (5) year term by the Mayor. The Mayor is a voting member of the Board.”

A five year term.  I’d like to see how long each member has served. I have a hunch that some of them have been sitting around that table for longer than five years.

What was relevant in 1895 – over 100 years ago – probably isn’t all relevant today.  Back then, in being independent the idea was to keep politics out of water.  How’s that working for us in 2014?

Have a look at the Town of Ulster Supervisor Jim Quigley addressing the Water Board after everyone left.  VIEW

Furthermore, to assume that back then it was ever anticipated  that bottling and selling surface and groundwater and shipping it far and wide – or climate change would be in their purview is just plain silly.

Reform is a good thing, folks.

This builds a stronger case of the need to update Kingston’s charter.   I like the idea of exploring new forms of government too while we’re at it, such as City Manager Form of Government where a professional with a background in public administration could be hired.  KingstonCitizens.org recently hosted a public educational meeting on the subject and it was enlightening.

Here’s how I feel about THAT.  But we’ll take this all up again at another time.

For today, it’s important for Kingston citizens to look at every aspect of the proposed Niagara water deal and that includes who this Water Board is.  Their backgrounds and for how long they have served should be made priority.

 

 

No More Plastic Bottles. Take the Tap Challenge!

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By Rebecca Martin

Tonight, it occurred to me. How many of us in Kingston are drinking water out of bottles?

What if everyone drank from the tap in Kingston instead?  How many  millions of new gallons would we be consuming?

Take the tap challenge!

 
1. DRINK FROM THE  TAP! Cooper lake is a beautiful water source. However, there is chlorine, fluoride and other things it picks up along the way to our taps through treatment and old infrastructure.  Recently, we invested in a filtration system in our home and it’s been terrific. It can be as elaborate or as simple as you can afford and do a really great job at removing some or all of the stuff our bodies don’t need.

Kingston tap water is quite acidic. Always add a little lemon. It changes the quality to alkaline! Amazing, isn’t it?

A SOLUTION:  We found a really great company called HUDSON VALLEY WATER RESOURCES. Their offices are located in New Paltz, but Joe the owner lives in Kingston! He is a real pro – and a pleasure to work with. Give him a call and get your water tested.  If you have other tips on local water filtration companies or ideas, post them in the comment section. It’s helpful to have resources on this front.  You know what else, by drinking more of Kingston’s tap water – we’ll be providing Kingston’s water department with more business.  That’s a win/win.

I love these stainless steel water bottles. Get yourself a big one and keep filling it up (and add lemon!)

2. POLAND SPRING IS NESTLE.  The next time you pick up a bottle of Poland Spring water, look at the dozen sources it is taken from and then shipped all around the world.  Think twice about buying Poland Spring or any brand that is taking water away from the community where it lives.

A SOLUTION:  If one must buy bottled water in Kingston, then go to BINNEWATER ICE who are truly a  local family business.  Offices with water coolers, lets get rid of Poland Spring. Call Binnewater instead.

Because after all, those looking to profit only sell what we will buy. Lets all think about that and take steps towards the tap.

Jobs: Urban Agriculture and Niagara Bottling Co.

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By Rebecca Martin

Niagara Bottling Co. wants to come to the area (tax free) to bottle and to sell 1.75 million gallons of Kingston City Water (Cooper Lake) per day. The Water may be tax free too. It is unclear whether or not that to be the case at this time.

The City of Kingston’s Water Department has provided a ‘will share’ letter to the project, but has not yet negotiated a rate (probably because they can’t without the Common Council’s permission).

With an estimated 260 trucks per day coming and going out of the site! That’s a lot of trucks.

According to their proposal, ALL FOR 160 JOBS when the facility is working at full capacity.

LOOK HERE. Based on an Urban Agriculture study that was created specifically for Kingston, the City of Kingston has approximately 800 acres of zoned ‘vacant’ land in Kingston. With just 35 acres working for us inside the city, we would create approximately 156 jobs. Kingston is way ahead of the curve on the Urban Ag front in the Hudson Valley, too.

We can do this, Kingston.

 

READ THE REPORT
ON URBAN AG IN KINGSTON

 

A New Draft of Kingston Comprehensive Plan Effort “2025” Revealed on September 18th at 6:00pm.

By Rebecca Martin

A new draft of the City of Kingston’s Comprehensive Plan will be revealed at a public meeting scheduled for THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18th at 6:00pm in Council Chambers at Kingston City Hall.  Kingston News will stream the meeting live and make it available online made possible by KingstonCitizens.org

What is a Comprehensive Plan?

What is a comprehensive plan? According to a Land Use series written by Iowa State University’s University extension, it is:

“A comprehensive plan, also known as a master or general plan, is a collection of information and materials designed to guide the future development of a city or county. Such a plan can provide a community with a firm foundation for policy and action that will allow it to function more efficiently and effectively. It can strengthen communities’ policies and legislation, and it also can promote a more certain future.

Although a comprehensive plan can do all of this and more, many places have outdated plans that serve little function. Some cities have more current plans but fail to rely on them in making development decisions.”

Next to a good consultant, the most critical part in how a Comprehensive Plan is created is through ‘significant public participation.’ 

“The creation of a useful comprehensive plan involves a great deal of research, calculation, and discussion. The development of many of the plan elements requires a high degree of technical knowledge. For this reason, the process is best guided by trained professionals. Even cities with a planning department often hire a consultant to create their comprehensive plan. Either way, the plan should include significant public participation. Numerous public meetings should be arranged and special effort should be made to encourage attendance and disseminate information about the process.

The entire process can take years to complete. Once the plan is finished, the planning commission and the city council should formally approve the document. Although the comprehensive plan does not contain actual laws or regulations, this formal approval will lend strength to future legislation that is based upon the plan. Likewise, future work by any city agency or body should be compared to the comprehensive plan and should be consistent with it.

Finally, it is important to realize that once in place, the comprehensive plan is not an infallible or unchange- able document. Times and conditions change, and some of the forecasts the plan was based on may prove inaccurate. The plan should not be changed out of convenience but can be updated when necessary so that it continues to provide an accurate picture of how the community wishes to progress.”

Kingston 2025

The City of Kingston last created  a citywide master plan in 1961 led by the consultant Raymond & May and that also included the work of a young Daniel Shuster as project planner.

In today’s world, generally a citywide Comprehensive Plan can conservatively costs upwards to $200,000.00 or more with many years of strategic public outreach depending on the size of the community.

In 2010 towards the end of then Mayor James Sottile’s second term,  the City of Kingston’s planning office found an opportunity to bond monies that resulted in $96,000 to undertake a citywide Comprehensive Plan for Kingston. It passed unanimously through city council.

After sending out an RFP (Request for Proposal) the city received around sixteen (16) proposals from consultants all around the area and beyond. After whittling it down to just four (4),  do you know who was selected? Shuster and Associates led by an older Daniel Shuster!  The same consultant that the city hired back in 1961 on the cusp of urban renewal when a great portion of the Rondout was allowed to be torn down.

A Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee was created early in the process and community members selected were either professionals in their field or community members by Alderman-at-Large James Noble and City Planning Director Suzanne Cahill.   Since then, there has been what some consider a very light effort to engage the pubic with a single online survey and public visioning event . Several committee meetings over the years have taken place, also open to the public (though the public was encouraged to attend and listen rather than participate).

A citywide plan is a whole lot to do for $96,000. Luckily (and not surprisingly to all of us watching) the meat of the plan was supplemented by the hard work of dedicated citizens on subjects that encompass: Historic Preservation, Urban Agriculture, Bluestone surveys, Rail Trails, City Parks, Complete Streets, Climate Action Plan, Flooding Task Force and more. Some of which were not funded at all by the City of Kingston. They were gifts to you and me.  You can find all of these studies on the Kingston 2025 webpage.

I believe the initial proposal for the consultant was two years which we are well over by now with the plan not complete and, there is still zoning to do. Currently, a volunteer group has been assembled to take on this enormous and critical task. Who are they and how were they selected? When do they meet?  

Though perhaps unpopular, maybe we should have a conversation with our elected officials about the prospect of leveraging this effort for further funding so to get it right.  After all, what’s another couple of years? We’ve waited this long.

PS – Lets make certain that in the new CP it is required that the city stay current with this document and update it at least every 5 years where necessary. Doing so will not only keep Kingston current, but save taxpayers a great deal of money to not have to orchestrate an overhaul as we are now in the foreseeable future. 

A new draft of the City of Kingston’s Comprehensive Plan will be revealed at a public meeting scheduled on THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18th at 6:00pm in Council Chambers at Kingston City Hall. Kingston News will stream the meeting live and make it available later online 

Other relevant articles on KC.org

On a Comprehensive Plan in Kingston

Kingston Times: Mayor or Manager?

Kingston Times 3

“What the manager doesn’t do – can’t do according to ICMA Ethics Rule – is engage in politics. Strome said that separating politics from day to day city business avoids favoritism – like say when areas represented by the minority party get plowed last after a snowstorm – and creates a stable class of professional city employees who don’t turn over with each new administration.  “Just because somebody worked on somebody’s campaign, somebody might feel like they owe somebody a job,” said Strome. That doesn’t happen in a council- manager system…Ellen Difalco (the Mayor’s personal secretary) said Kingston would be unable to afford a city manager. City Managers, according to the ICMA, make a median salary of about $101,000.”

- An excerpt from “Mayor or Manager” in the Kingston Times this week by Jesse Smith.

But, according to City Administrator of Beacon, NY Meredith Robson during the forum in response to Difalco’s comment reminded the audience this:
(view the VIDEO and listen in at 50:33):

“…There is an expense side of the budget and a revenue side of the budget and you’ve got to look at both sides.  Yes, there might be a salary that you pay that you’re not happy about paying, but what the professional brings into the community may save you so much more…..for example…. I worked with three unions to get an overhaul of our health benefits program estimated in savings of about $300,000 a year….we changed what was comp providers, and saved $125,000 doing that.  After an audit of our electric and telephone bills and got $250,000 back. These are just three quick things….in order to get someone who is really going to do the job you are going to have to pay for it…and what they do for a living and what they will bring to the community I suggest would be well worth it.”

 

KingstonCitizens.org Hosts Public Educational Forum and Discussion on City Administrator and City Manager Forms of Government on Tuesday, March 25th.

City_Manager

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.

For more information, contact Rebecca Martin at: rebbytunes@earthlink.net

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Our Panelists

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.

Our Moderators

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.

 

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

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(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).

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“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.

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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 disinterest in how local government works is where the problem lies.

Furthermore, the people’s collective resignation 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.

A mayor can hire department heads and appoint membership to the city’s internal committees without much or in some cases any oversight. That’s how our charter currently reads. 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 lines 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