Tom Hoffay, Deb Brown taking over city’s legislative branch

Along with six new members, the Kingston Common Council will have two new caucus leaders when it convenes for its first session of 2012 on Jan. 3.

Tom Hoffay, who just won his second full two-year term representing Uptown’s Second Ward, will lead the council’s seven-member Democratic majority. Deborah Brown (R-Ward 9) will take the reins of a minority of two, joining fellow freshman Ward 3 Alderman Nathanial Horowitz. The leadership change follows the departure of longtime Democratic majority leader Bill Reynolds, who opted not to run for another term in the Seventh Ward and Andi Turco-Levin, who gave up her First Ward seat after one term to run for mayor.

Tom Hoffay. (Photo by Dan Barton)

While caucus leaders hold no special powers under the city charter (they are entitled to an extra $500 on top of an Alderman’s $8,000-a-year salary) they can work to set an agenda, encourage or discourage caucus members’ legislative efforts and serve as the caucus’ liaison to the mayor’s office.

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For Hoffay, who comes to the post with wide experience in politics, including stints as Democratic Party chair of both Kingston and Ulster County, the first challenge will be dealing with what he called a “sea change” in city government. In addition to a new mayor and six new council members, next year will bring a new city clerk, who serves as the conduit for communications between the public, the mayor’s office and all city departments. There will also be a new corporation counsel to give legal advice to the lawmakers and new faces at the city’s economic development office, the police department and other city agencies.

Hoffay said the first order of business in 2012 would be working with the council president, Alderman-at-Large Jim Noble, to get new members oriented on everything from where to pick up their mail and the functions of various committees to how to submit legislation.

“When you couple the changes at City Hall with the changes on the council you have to be proactive in some ways just to say ‘we have to keep things running here,’” said Hoffay. “Some serious work needs to done just to keep things running smoothly.”

Mind on the money

Also high on Hoffay’s agenda is continuing the push by the council to assume better oversight of departmental and City Hall spending. Earlier this month, the council passed a budget with a 1.7 percent tax levy increase. But to achieve it, they took $985,000 from the city’s reserve fund. With the cash reserves depleted, it will be critical, Hoffay said, to keep a close eye on spending to avoid a larger tax increase next year. Hoffay said that he also wanted to continue the council’s recent work setting policy. Over the past few years the council has passed policy measures creating a conservation advisory council and pledging to help reduce the city’s carbon footprint. Fine tuning and continuing the effort will open up more grant opportunities for the city, Hoffay said. He added that the council will also need to amend policies to deal with the state Department of Conservation’s increasingly hard-line stance on wastewater runoff from the city’s sewage treatment plant.

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