Election Day for the Village of New Paltz – which happens in May, not November — is fast approaching, and as of presstime, incumbent mayor Jason West had not yet tipped his hand as to whether he will seek reelection. But the race is heating up fast, as a third contender has now announced his candidacy and is collecting signatures on a petition to have his name added to the ballot: New Paltz Central School District Board of Education member Tim Rogers.
Rogers was elected to the School Board in May of 2013, and also served as a member of the Town of New Paltz Planning Board from June of 2012 until the end of 2014. His name has been much in the news recently, after the Town Board voted not to continue his tenure at the end of his Planning Board term, citing the fact that he voted to approve the same model of sewage treatment plant for the proposed Park Point development that he voted to oppose for a potential site adjacent to New Paltz High School as evidence of a conflict of interest.
That decision has generated a fair bit of heat in this publication’s Letters to the Editor section as well as on social media, with many Paltzonians praising Rogers’ past performance. Some have accused Town Board members Jeff Logan and Kevin Barry, along with town supervisor Susan Zimet, of voting Rogers off the Planning Board in retaliation for his involvement in the School Board’s adoption of a resolution excoriating the town for choosing a plant site that close to the high school. The Town Board has repeatedly stressed that the controversial site is only one of several options under consideration.
Councilman Dan Torres supported Rogers’ reappointment to the Planning Board. And complicating the entire controversy during this election cycle is the fact that the person appointed to take Rogers’ place on that body is one of his opponents in the mayoral race, Amy Cohen. How much this particular contretemps will fuel the pre-election debate remains to be seen. But it is clear that Rogers has other issues that he would prefer to prioritize — in a nutshell, “a higher-quality village government.”
“There has been too much emphasis on contentiousness and ‘the political climate.’ We are easily distracted with petty details, but we’re also great at recognizing important things like family, friends and community. The preoccupation with personality differences feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more it’s the focus, the realer it feels,” he told the New Paltz Times. “It is okay to disagree, as long as we’re honest and putting New Paltz first. I regularly learn from others with different vantages. I’ve no intention to get distracted by previous Town Board decisions. I merely want to do good work for New Paltz, complete tasks and assist with efficient government functionality. The specialness of New Paltz is bigger than any of us individually.”
Rogers, who grew up locally and then lived in New York City for 20 years working in finance before returning in 2012, is “excited by the prospect of improving my understanding of local government and municipal finance…. Having an MBA in finance from NYU and an investment management career allows me to look at projects using a financial lens. But I’m also an optimist and an environmentalist committed to using defensible analysis to defend policy and improve process.”
He said that he has “learned a great deal” from his time on both the Planning Board and School Board, and “look[s] forward to applying those insights to village government. I did not anticipate becoming so involved, but I’ve enjoyed looking at our local issues with my financial background and believe I’m offering a useful perspective.”
“Boards are comprised of individuals with different styles and strengths,” he continued. “I wrote a letter in this paper last spring thanking Patrick Rausch for 16 years of service on the School Board. While Patrick and I disagreed at times, I also found him incredibly insightful other times. He reminded me there is room to disagree on details, because when we stepped back, we both cared deeply about public education’s broader mission.”
As to what would be the “mission” of a Rogers administration, the candidate emphasizes housing, zoning code and infrastructure issues as needing attention. “I would like to see more Village Board support for our village staff. We have several individuals who take pride and do great work in the treasurer’s office, public works and building department. I’d like to review with them whether there are ways to improve or update their operations. But better village planning and cooperation with the town regarding infrastructure solutions for sewer, stormwater, drinking water and potential development are the most important big-picture tasks. However, planning is futile without code enforcement. Village building department code enforcement is a process that needs better board supervision and quite possibly an overhaul.”
Rogers cites a situation that has occupied much of the Planning Board’s energy recently as an example of New Paltz’s intractable problem of substandard off-campus housing for SUNY students: “I’ve spent countless hours during the last year trying to understand the housing complex at 2 Mohonk Avenue, after its developer pursued an action against the village challenging our zoning laws. This housing is unsafe for residents and volunteer firemen and desperately needs remediation. Additionally, the project compromises our community character and tax base. I’m also concerned about the effects on its student residents. They have been misled to believe they were renting safe and legal housing while pursuing school, and instead are being distracted because our village code has not been enforced.”
One potentially costly item likely to require attention early in the next mayoral term is the decision of how to make Village Hall more energy-efficient, and here Rogers feels that he is on firm ground given his professional experience. “Using my investment knowledge of energy markets, I’ve attempted to raise awareness about fracked natural gas use in our community. I find this especially important considering our local laws prohibiting natural gas exploration and disposal of its waste,” he said. “A thorough and independent cost analysis must be performed whenever considering any investment to convert or upgrade heating and cooling mechanicals. The Village Board has been considering a mechanicals upgrade costing approximately $100,000.”
With each of the three announced mayoral candidates so far emphasizing different aspects of what it takes to run a Village well, upcoming debates should be wide-ranging and touch on many issues that are important to different segments of the New Paltz electorate. And all three have expressed a desire to keep issues, not personalities, the focus of discussion. Sounds like a hopeful place from which to start a campaign.