100 days and counting

Saugerties supervisor Kelly Myers (photo by Samantha Moranville)

They come from varied backgrounds, and some have been there before. But the one thing the five town supervisors and mayor profiled in this report share is a commitment to their communities. In the case of the mayor of Kingston, there are a few more zeroes in his budget and a four-year term to figure things out.

Newly seated town supervisors in Woodstock, New Paltz, Saugerties, Lloyd and Gardiner and first-term Kingston mayor Shayne Gallo marked their first 100 days in office on April 9. Historically, the first 100 days of an administration have been a benchmark either for a positive start, as with Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, or for a bad finish, as famously with Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. Most performances fall between these dramatic extremes.

For newcomers like Paul Hansut of Lloyd, “it’s been challenging, working with somebody else’s budget.” For returnees like Susan Zimet of New Paltz, the job hasn’t changed much, but she says she has.

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For Zimet, a Democrat, and Hansut, Republican majority leader of the legislature last year, the differences between town and county government are significant. “Here, it’s hands-on. I can handle problems as they come up,” Hansut said. “Up there in Kingston I felt like I was just another number,” one of 33 county legislators. Zimet, more outspoken during her eight years in the legislature and a candidate for state senate during that tenure, concurred.

Shayne Gallo’s brother, T.R. Gallo, was mayor of Kingston from 1994 to 2002. But Gallo, an attorney, said it was his experience at city hall as an assistant corporation counsel and civil-service administrator and in the private sector that has stood him good stead through the first quarter of this year. “We spend $700,000 a week in city government, most of it on personnel. We’re trying to run it like a business,” he said.

While the extended hours he puts in as chief executive can be trying, Gallo particularly enjoys the ceremonial part of his job. “I really look forward to attending public events, gatherings, meeting with people,” he said. In his official capacity as mayor, he has performed four marriage ceremonies since January, two this past week.

Republican Kelly Myers of Saugerties was a village board member when she challenged six-term supervisor Greg Helsmoortel, taking almost 60 percent of the vote. Administrative duties, she said, “were definitely heavier than I anticipated.” She said she routinely works twelve-hour days. “I have to stay alert and work on it [routine administrative tasks],” she said, “Otherwise my priorities get put on the back burner, and that’s not what I came here for.” Like other supervisors, Myers is seeking to improve economic-development opportunities, provide basic services, and hold the line on property taxes.

Jeremy Wilber, a Democrat, was Woodstock town supervisor for eight years. Taking a four-year hiatus, he returned to office in January. “It was like what Columbus said of his second voyage, ‘The isles I alighted upon were a little different, but the oceans were quite the same,’” Wilber said.

Like Zimet, Wilber says he returns to office a changed person. “Twelve years ago, I came here to root out all evil, only to discover to my dismay it left me little time for anything else,” he said. “This time I’m just trying to deliver town services as cleanly and efficiently as I can.”

Gardiner supervisor Carl Zatz, another returnee and a Democrat, agreed that time out of office gave him perspective, “gave me a chance to recharge my batteries.”

After being succeeded as supervisor by Joe Katz, Zatz figuratively never left. “For a few people, it must have looked like a typo on the campaign signs,” Zatz joked.

The Gardiner landscape has changed since his first term of office began some ten years ago, Zatz said; “Save the Ridge” was all the rage. A comprehensive zoning revision divided the populace. Issues and people have moved on. This term Zatz says he’s more focused on “community building.”

Politics in his community is changing, he said. “There was a surge of Democrats,” he said. “Now there are more Republicans getting involved.”

 

‘Sometimes it’s small things…’

Wilber believes Woodstock weathered the economic downturn which began five years ago better than some other towns. “In terms of property values, it looks like we’re about 30 percent off the peak, which comparatively speaking isn’t so bad,” he said.

Zimet and Wilber, perhaps in fair warning to new supervisors, admitted the job got to them after a while.

“I walked around with Woodstock between my ears for eight years,” Wilber said.

“It was a tough four years,” Zimet said. “I was exhausted.” Zimet lost a bid for a third term by 18 votes.

“I’m very grounded this time,” Zimet said. “I know what I have to know. I know what I have to do.”

Hansut, a retired Poughkeepsie city police detective, said he hopes to bring more transparency and involvement to town government. “Sometimes, it’s small things,” he said, “like having department heads face the audience when they give their monthly reports at town-board meetings. People can interact with them better that way.”

Hansut, who served two terms as a county legislator, believes his experience as a career police office and a county official is beneficial to the town. “Police officers are involved in solving problems, in mediating situations,” he said. “When I call somebody for help on a county level, we’re on a first-name basis, we connect.”

Hansut, who ran for the traditional two-year term as supervisor, said he supports extending the terms of supervisor, town clerk and highway superintendent to four years, “for the usual reasons, pro and con.” Voters will decide in November.

Myers admits her time is limited by a two-year term. “Taking out holidays, weekends, vacations and all that, I figure I have about 450 days to achieve my agenda, unless voters elect me to another term,” she said.

Wilber, 61, a playwright and amateur actor, spent some of his time away from town hall writing two novels. He said he likes his old job, but isn’t sure he’ll do another eight-year stretch.

“One of my last acts in December 2007 was persuading the community to spend $1.6 million to renovate the town hall,” he said. “That project is fairly under way. We hope to finish it in five months or so…The next big project is the Community Center. I have come to no conclusions. We are seeking community input. I’ll go term by term. If the town hall comes in on time and on budget and if people are willing to march forward on the community center, I’d consider another term.”

All public officials are operating under more stringent conditions, what with state mandates to hold tax increases to two-plus percent and a soft economy. Zatz said the landscape in his town has changed remarkably in that respect since he was last town supervisor.

“What’s really difficult now is paying for things you absolutely need when you don’t have the money,” he said.

Gallo, like the others, looks to the state for mandate relief, but isn’t optimistic. “I think the governor gets it, but it doesn’t seem to filter down to the legislature,” he said.

“The difference between us [local officials] and them [state legislators] is that we’re connected directly to our constituents. We see them every day; deal with their problems, their concerns. That’s not the case with the legislature.”

Zimet is pushing a grass-roots movement. Perhaps as a result of her county experience, the New Paltz supervisor plans to reach out to other supervisors on matters of mutual interest, like property-tax reform. “Home rule is a powerful force in New York, if we work together,” she said.

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