In Gardiner, two seats on the Town Board are in contention in this year’s election, their terms expiring on December 31. Having moved her household outside the municipal boundaries, Nadine Lemmon is ineligible to run for reelection; incumbent Warren Wiegand is seeking an additional term. The other contenders in this election cycle are Ron Bonagura, Mike Boylan and Michael Reynolds. Hot-button issues with which the winners — along with incumbents Carmine Mele and Rich Koenig, whose terms are up in 2013 — will have to wrestle in the foreseeable future include the siting of two proposed cell towers and tweaking the 2008 Zoning Law based on recommendations anticipated from the Town’s Zoning Improvement Commission (ZIC).
If you’re among those who have pondered the polarized national political climate and wondered where all the moderate Republicans of yore have gone, you need look no further than Gardiner’s Warren Wiegand. The 65-year-old incumbent relinquished his registration in the Republican Party when it moved too far to the right on some issues for his liking, and he now describes himself as an Independent, but remains a staunch fiscal conservative. He has received the endorsement of the Democratic Party in this year’s election and, like the rest of the Town Board candidates, is contesting the too-close-to-call Independence Party nomination results.
Holding a BA from Trinity College and an MBA from Columbia University, Wiegand spent 35 years as a marketing and banking executive, starting out in large companies like General Foods, American Express and Bank of America and later forming his own marketing and communications firm, which he sold in 2003. At that point, he says, he found himself with more time on his hands to get involved in the civic affairs of the community in which he has now lived for 30 years.
Serving on the Board of Assessment Review was his first “chance to roll [my] sleeves up,” after which Wiegand became deeply involved with the Gardiner Library. Pointing out that “We don’t have any schools in Gardiner,” which in most towns serve as a locus for community activities, he saw a compelling need to get the cramped, decrepit 100-year-old library building back onto the tax rolls and to replace it with something that could serve as a community center. As chair of the Library’s Capital Committee from 2005 to 2007, he spearheaded the successful fundraising campaign. “It was a broad community effort,” he notes with pride “Forty percent of the residents of Gardiner contributed — not just wealthy people.” And he remains pleased with the results: At the new Library building, he says, “The programming is unbelievable.”
When it comes to environmental issues, “I’m anything but a fanatic,” says Wiegand; “I’m a practical, analytical business type.” But he values the recreational resources, farms, open space and remnants of local history in Gardiner, calling it a “unique place” where “the needle’s always a little bit stuck. It’s like living in the 19th century.” So he got interested in protecting the town’s rural character and culture and “wanted to have a say.” He volunteered for the original Open Space Committee and became the first chair of the Open Space Commission, working on identifying properties that could be protected.
In 2008, without waiting for the Commission to complete its recommendations, an eager Town Board voted to apply for grants from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets for the preservation of certain properties, notably Kiernan Farm. Wiegand resigned from the Commission in protest. The grant proposal was turned down by the state, but in 2010 the non-profit Open Space Institute offered to finance a Purchase of Development Rights for Kiernan Farm, with the stipulation that Gardiner come up with $50,000 in local matching funds. Wiegand, who had been elected to the Town Board in 2007, saw this as a good opportunity but felt that the economic times were too tough to obligate Gardiner taxpayers to finance the match. So together with fellow Town Board member Rich Koenig, he organized a successful communitywide effort to raise the $50,000 purely through voluntary donations.
That approach typifies Wiegand’s emphasis on fiscal responsibility. “Keeping finances under control is really important to me. Considering the number of people in Gardiner who are seniors, the unemployed, in this environment we have to work hard to keep taxes low.” He feels that the Town Board “sent the wrong signal” to Gardinerites hard-pressed by the recession when it failed to keep its 2011 budget flat. While acknowledging that the two percent increase was lower than that imposed by most surrounding communities, he laments, “We had an opportunity to not raise taxes at all. We got within $50,000, and could have done it by cutting some expenses like repaving and increasing some user fees, but I couldn’t convince the other Town Board members to vote with me.”
Wiegand sees the current proposal to site two cell towers on municipally owned properties, at the Town Hall and the Town Highway Garage, as a wise strategy for diversifying income streams. “The Town desperately needs the revenue. The impact on an annual basis starts at $50,000 a year and goes up from there.” He feels that the objections to the sites based on visual impact have been exaggerated. “Nobody’s going to see these things after a couple of weeks. We have incredibly ugly telephone poles all over Gardiner, and nobody complains about them.” He notes that there will be five or six more public meetings yet on the second siting proposal, and that “The neighbors will have a say. People need to listen to each other and evaluate things from a ‘greater good’ standpoint…I find the NIMBY thing very frustrating. People have been too selfish about this issue. They need to think about public safety.”
Infrastructure spending sits high on Wiegand’s list of legitimate expenses for the Town of Gardiner. He cites maintenance of roads and bridges, including snow removal, as priority items, and notes that less and less help will be forthcoming from New York State. “In trying to balance the federal budget, the feds push cuts onto the state; then the state pushes them to the counties and the counties pass the responsibility onto the towns.” Wiegand’s response is to seek a “proportionate” local approach to problems. “We don’t need a Washington solution or an Albany solution or even a New Paltz solution,” he avers.
With regard to recent disgruntlement with the 2008 Zoning Law, Wiegand says that those who have had problems with delays are mainly “individuals with little experience with the planning process.” He proposes that for each development proposal, early in the process “The Planning Board should have a written plan that they hand back to the applicant, specifying what needs to be done to achieve compliance, how long it should take and how much it should cost.” He expresses confidence in the foundation provided by the Town’s existing Comprehensive Plan, but notes that “Eventually it should get updated.”
Like most of Gardiner’s candidates for office this year, Wiegand believes that the differences among people in the town are relatively minor. “Almost everybody agrees that Gardiner is a great place to live right now. But we can’t have it without making some tough tradeoffs.” He expresses the hope that a broader cross-section of the population will start attending the meetings of the various boards. “I wish that we could get 100 people out to each one,” he says. “Usually only about 20 turn out, all with the same old axes to grind…There are people who make a lot of noise in public meetings, but they don’t represent many people. The silent majority loves Gardiner.”