To some, New Paltz town supervisor Susan Zimet represents a strong woman in local government — someone unafraid to stand up and speak for her beliefs. As an activist, she’s fought hydraulic fracturing in New York State and hounded Albany for tax reform. The town budgets her administration submits routinely come in at or below the two percent tax cap.
But in her current role as supervisor in New Paltz, she’s met with some disappointment: consolidation of the town and village governments hasn’t yet materialized, and her 2014 run for New York State Assembly against Kevin Cahill ended abruptly.
Some taxpayers see Zimet as a divisive figure. Recently, a proposal to locate a town sewer plant next to New Paltz Central High School mobilized the supervisor’s political opponents to speak out.
In January, people vented their anger about the proposal to the Town Board. Zimet responded using racially charged language to compare dissenting citizens to a lynch mob. It was a verbal gaffe that made regional news headlines. She later apologized for her remarks and said they were taken out of context.
Early this month, news broke that Zimet had taken a second job as executive director of the Hunger Action Network of New York State (HANNYS) in Albany. The not-for-profit organization’s mission is to eradicate hunger and poverty through legislative action, logistical support to pantries and additional services to needy New Yorkers.
“My job with Hunger Action was negotiated with the understanding that I would continue my term as supervisor,” said Zimet this week. “So the [New Paltz Times] was wrong when it said it was full time. We have many negotiated details that go into effect when it becomes full time.”
That being said, in the February 5 edition of the New Paltz Times, Zimet answered the question: How will you juggle the demands of the two full-time positions? She gave a detailed answer, but failed to mention that the job was part time.
Mark Dunlea, whom Zimet was hired to replace at HANNYS, said in the January 4 issue of The Record News, that it is important for the executive director to be based in Albany because of the organization’s focus on the state legislature.
When asked how often the new job would require her to be in Albany, Zimet said “it will vary,” and added “it is a critical time right now while the legislature is in session and the state budget is being worked on. Advocating to make sure that the budget allocates resources to address this critical issue adequately is of top priority.”
Zimet earns $53,000 a year as town supervisor. It’s unclear what her salary is with HANNYS. “It is between me and my board,” she said. An online job posting indicated that the salary would be $50,000 to $60,000, commensurate with experience.
In an informal web survey conducted by New Paltz Times, 85 percent of 172 respondents said it simply isn’t possible to be successful as the New Paltz town supervisor working a second job. Fifteen percent answered yes.
A sample of commentary
Letters to the editor received by the New Paltz Times have called for Susan Zimet to resign and focus on one or the other job. Most of the 27 people who commented on the survey also had some worries.
“She is setting herself up for failure, setting up the town for additional poor government,” said commenter Jim Gordon. “This is a classic lose-lose-lose situation and Susan should resign as supervisor.”
Carol Himmel, of New Paltz, thinks Zimet will find a way. “Yes! If anyone can do it, Susan can!” she wrote.
Commenter Richard Combs wrote that taxpayers might be getting a raw deal. “The taxpayers are paying her to be here full time. She needs to choose what she wants to do.”
“…Resoundingly, no!” said Jesse Chance. “There is no way she can adequately do either job while working both full time. Her comments and actions have made it clear she has no intention of devoting much time to her supervisor position and yet clearly intends to draw a full-time salary.”
Theresa Fall and KT Tobin simply said: “No.”
Additional comments can be found at www.ulsterpub.wpengine.com/2015/02/12/poll-can-a-successful-supervisor-hold-a-second-job/.
Zimet committed to staying as supervisor
Zimet has worked both as supervisor and for HANNYS for a couple weeks now. She said that the workload has been manageable. “Town hall is running smoothly,” the supervisor said. “The staff is terrific and the board members have been great.”
Letters calling for her resignation haven’t changed her mind, either.
“People are entitled to voice their opinion. I was elected by the people of New Paltz, and I will continue to serve those people to the best of my abilities,” she said.
Since he became deputy supervisor in 2014, Jeff Logan estimated he’s put in 12 to 22 hours each week at Town Hall — not including board meetings and other Town Board obligations.
While he’s read the letters calling for Zimet’s resignation, Logan said no one had reached out to him in person with concerns about the supervisor’s new job.
He might not agree that the supervisor should step down, but those comments “are the opinions of individuals within our community, and I respect their opinion,” he added.
Logan pointed to a long list of accomplishments made by the Town Board since Zimet became supervisor — lower taxes, tightened finances and sticking up for taxpayers. In the past, they’ve set the bar high, he said.
“I have every expectation and belief that Susan will continue to meet and exceed that bar,” Logan added. “As the Town Board, we can only require the supervisor (chief fiscal officer) to prepare the budget, control all the funds and hold the yearly reorg meeting (GML Town Law ss. 29). It’s a little more complex, but [those are] the requirements in a nut shell. There is no provision for hours worked just as [there are] no provisions for hours worked by Town Board members, town clerk or town highway supervisor.”
Councilman Daniel Torres pointed out that the decision is ultimately up to the supervisor. “Susan was elected to be a full-time supervisor, and she is compensated at a full-time rate. I believe she has a responsibility to serve as a full-time supervisor,” Torres said. “If she is unable to provide the people of the Town of New Paltz with the service that they rightfully expect and deserve, then she may need to consider if she can fulfill both roles.” ++
To learn more about Susan Zimet’s new job with the Hunger Action Network of New York State in Albany, visit https://ulsterpub.wpengine.com/2015/02/06/susan-zimet-accepts-new-full-time-job-in-albany-will-remain-full-time-supervisor-in-new-paltz/.