Secret agenda? You be the judge
This is in response to Town Supervisor Helsmortel’s Jan. 29 letter to the editor (“Nothing secret about town board agenda”), in which he defended the board’s actions and denied any “secrecy.” When one intentionally hides resolutions to be voted on at an official board meeting from the public, what else can it be but a secret agenda?
I would first like to focus on Mr. Helsmoortel’s criticism of Gaetana Ciarlante (vice chairperson of the town Conservative Party) for “twisting” the facts. Instead of being critical of her, it would be more productive to praise her for her regular attendance at the meetings and her desire to keep an eye on government operations.
With that said, following are the pertinent events of the Jan. 21 board meeting for evaluation— then you be the judge!
- Prior to the Jan. 21 board meeting, the board’s agenda, which contained resolutions/motions that would be discussed and voted on at the meeting, was posted by the town on its website in accordance with the Open Government Law.
- Copies of the agenda containing those resolution/motions were also made available for the public review during the meeting. (Point of interest: while there is no law per se that requires any board to have an agenda, the Open Government Law, Sec.103-e, states, in part, “to the extent practicable, resolutions scheduled to be discussed during an open meeting must be posted online on the Town Web site prior to the meetings…” )
- During the meeting, the board voted on all of the motions that were listed on the agenda that had been made public.
- Upon completion of that voting, the board then proceeded with votes on an additional five motions, motions that had not been listed on the “public” agenda.
- There was no official vote to amend the agenda to add these five new motions (which, in my opinion, would have been proper), nor were copies made available for the public to review. This, of course, “raised a red flag” with members of the public who were in attendance, and rightfully so, as their actions gave the impression of impropriety.
Armed with this information, I submitted a FOIL request and was surprised to be provided with copies of two separate agendas containing resolution/motions for that night. One agenda was for the public and the other, the second agenda, was for board members only. This raised my suspicions, so I requested a meeting with Messrs. Helsmoortel and Bruno regarding my concerns. At our meeting I was assured by both men that there had not been any attempt to deceive the public, and that all five board members were polled (outside of the view of the public), with all agreeing to add these new resolutions/motions. (Point of interest: it is legal and acceptable for a board to add resolutions/motions to be voted on during a meeting. Items of an urgent nature do come up from time-to-time and it becomes necessary to place them on an agenda for a vote.)
The supervisor advised that the new resolutions/motions were timely, appropriate and necessary (personnel issues, and approval of a resolution for the Complete Streets Policy and Transportation Advisory Council and approval Local Law #1 of 2015). However, if it was not practicable to post the addenda to the agenda in the newspaper or on the town website prior to the meeting, then copies of the handwritten paper containing those additional enumerated items should have been made available for members of the public attending the meeting to review; and, further, the board should have made a motion, seconded and voted on in public to add these new resolution/motions so there might be a permanent record of the board’s actions. None of this was done.
I feel confident that for the future, the board will adhere to an open forum procedure in order to keep the public properly informed—the people have a right to know! Perhaps a deadline for board members to submit their proposed resolutions might make it easier to avoid similar incidents in the future.
Finally, I want to thank Gaetana Ciarlante for bringing this to light— she’s an asset to this community.
I rest my case, now it’s time for you to be the judge!
Chairman, Town Saugerties Conservative Party
The jobs picture
In Geddy Sveikauskas’ recent column about the economy around Ulster County and the Mid-Hudson Valley, he describes some interesting trends regarding the demographics on where residents from the cities of Hudson and Kingston commute to work. In Sveikauskas’ analysis, he cites comparative data between 2002 and 2011 that calculates the percentages of Kingston workers who worked inside and outside of Ulster County, and the percentages of Hudson workers who worked inside and outside Columbia County. In 2002, Sveikauskas found that slightly more than two-thirds of employed Kingston residents worked inside of Ulster County. By 2011, however, nearly half of all Kingston workers commuted to jobs outside of Ulster County. In nine short years, these numbers statistically indicate that that an additional 17 percent of workers from Kingston had employment outside of Ulster County. During the same period of time; 2002-2011, Sveikauskas found that in 2002, just over two-thirds of workers from Hudson worked inside Columbia County while the rest worked outside the county. By 2011; however, less than 40 percent of Hudson residents worked within the county.
In Sveikauskas’ analysis of where Kingston residents commuted to work, he found that there was nearly a 50 percent increase of workers who commuted outside of Ulster County and a 50 percent increase of Kingston residents who worked within the five boroughs of New York City. And in Hudson, the increase of commuters to NYC was even more prevalent, as approximately 375 percent more residents commuted to NYC in 2011 as compared to 2002.
After I read Sveikauskas’ essay, I drew some conclusions. Manufacturing and tech industry jobs have left Upstate New York even more so since IBM’s closure of its Kingston-based plant in 1994. As these jobs left the area, so did the number of recent post-college graduates who grew up in Hudson and Kingston. When older residents retired and moved out of New York State in search of lower taxes and warmer weather, transplants from New York City and other areas moved in to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life. And as property taxes continue to rise, fewer residents can afford to live in the area without finding employment outside the immediate area. These trends in Upstate New York are emblematic of similar trends in other parts of the country, as data from the last 10-plus years shows that most of the well paying jobs are now concentrated within major metropolitan areas, larger cities and within the areas surrounding state capitals. Obviously these trends illuminate the need for economic development in Upstate New York. Government leaders in Albany and Kingston have introduced government-based stimulus programs and tax-based incentives as a means to bring economic development to Upstate and Western New York. Ideally, these measures will work and reduce the numbers of residents who have to commute outside their native counties for work. Nothing is going to bring IBM back into Kingston, but that does not mean that government should not stop trying to bring economic development and quality jobs back into Upstate New York.
Ulster County Legislature
Taxes, not capacity zone, to blame for higher electric bills
If we want to cut electricity bills significantly and for the long term, we should concentrate on pushing politicians to reduce skyrocketing electricity taxes. (Re: Hudson Valley electric rates higher than last year, Saugerties Times, Jan. 28.). In fact, taxes are a much larger contributor to high electricity bills than the Lower Hudson Valley capacity zone.
A study by the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance found that New York’s wholesale electricity market prices (that is the price of fuel itself) went down by nearly 30 percent since 2008, but state energy taxes shot up 168 percent and transmission fees rose 55 percent over the exact same time period. The upshot: consumers have been getting whacked for years and New York now perennially has some of the highest electricity costs in the country.
The cost increases from the capacity zone are modest — the Public Service Commission estimated between 5 and 10 percent — and only temporary, as the zone works to incentivize greater local energy production. Plus, local generation is more reliable than electricity transported over long transmission lines, a major plus on brutal winter days we often see in February.
The purpose of the capacity zone is to encourage investment in new plants closer to where we need power, instead of transporting power through local towns and villages, which the public has strongly resisted everywhere such new lines have been proposed. In fact, two local power plants, Bowline and Danskammer, are both in the midst of modernization and expansion to serve the region’s power needs.
The bottom line is Lower Hudson Valley capacity zone is working, encouraging upgrades to our local energy infrastructure, which makes the grid more reliable and at lower overall costs. This means a stronger regional economy.
For real energy and economic relief, we need to keep the capacity zone and cut energy taxes.
Executive director, Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce
Melanie Strell kindly wonders why Hugh Reynolds used “Hi Ho Silver, Oy Vey” as his headline directed towards Sheldon Silver’s recent woes. I don’t wonder at all. He wanted to call attention to Mr. Silver being Jewish.
I’ve found Reynolds to be offensive on more than one occasion; his remarks about Maurice Hinchey stand out for me. However, this one transcends civility. It borders on an anti-Jewish attitude and warrants an apology. Frankly, it was an editorial failure.