Monkey Joe’s might seem like an odd venue for plotting a transition to power over the first capital of New York State. But for Steve Noble, it’s all he’s got. The 33-year-old mayor-elect is still working at his city job in the Parks & Recreation Department. The coffee roaster is right across the street from his office at the Andy Murphy Neighborhood Center and close to City Hall, making it convenient for lunchtime sit-downs with the department heads and union leaders whose boss he will become on New Year’s Day.
“It’s been a challenge trying to get all this done on my lunch break and after work,” said Noble. “I’ve been keeping Monkey Joe’s in business.”
Noble spoke to the Kingston Times six days after the Common Council voted to overturn a budget veto from outgoing Mayor Shayne Gallo. Had Gallo’s original plan become the final budget without additions made to it by the council, Noble said it would have virtually crippled whole sectors of city government. The adopted budget, Noble said, offers him enough flexibility to begin a restructuring of city government — a process that he expects will take up much of his first months in office.
A lot of that restructuring, he said, remains a work in progress. In the weeks since his election, he’s been meeting with department heads and other key staff to determine where changes can and should be made. He’s also asked department heads to come with objectives and action plans for the coming year.
“Every department has their own operational issues,” said Noble. “And you have to understand how they work before you start making changes. You don’t want to be making decisions about issues you’re not educated on.”
Noble did offer up a few details on proposed personnel changes, including making the corporation counsel — the city’s top legal advisor — a full-time position. Currently the $73,000-a-year position is a part-time post. Outgoing Corporation Counsel Andrew Zweben is a veteran municipal affairs attorney who manages his own private practice in New York City in addition to his duties in Kingston. Gallo — who launched a number of legal actions during his tenure — had touted cost savings from Zweben’s in-house work on complex issues that would previously have been contracted. But Noble said that the approach has drained resources from everyday legal concerns.
“I think the Corporation Counsel’s Office has been overwhelmed and somewhat slow in getting some of the small things done,” said Noble. “Agreements, leases, basic stuff like that.”
Noble said he hopes to hire an attorney a few years out of law school to take on the Corporation Counsel’s job on a full-time basis. Noble said he’d done the research and believed that the salary was enough to attract well qualified early-career candidates seeking experience. While Noble seeks a full-time candidate, part-time Assistant Corporation Counsel Dan Gartenstein will stay on for at least three months to help in the transition.
Noble said he also envisioned changes in the Economic Development Office. Currently the office is headed by Gregg Swanzey, whose primary focus is on obtaining and managing grants. Noble said grant management would remain a priority in the office, but he also planned to use the office to follow through on his campaign promise to emphasize small business by assigning staff to work with existing businesses and attract new ones. Ideally, Noble said, operations would be split between two staffers: one for small business liaising, the other for grant writing.
Perhaps the biggest personnel change touted by Noble is a change in how non civil-service staffers are hired. During his campaign Noble pledged to improve the both the quality and diversity of the city’s workforce by expanding outreach beyond the small circles of friends and supporters who typically come into City Hall with a new administration. In announcing openings for a new corporation counsel and his own confidential secretary, Noble asked for resumes to be sent to city Civil Service Administrator Jackie DeCicco even though the jobs are not covered under civil service law.
Noble said he plans to use a similar process, with DiCicco acting as a citywide human resources officer, for other positions outside the civil service system. He and his staff will develop detailed job descriptions and qualifications, similar to those used to guide civil service hiring, said Noble. DiCicco would then identify qualified candidates for further review.
“She knows what to do and she knows how to keep the process fair,” said Noble.
Noble said another early-term priority would be a complete overhaul of the city’s parking management system. The changes could include the replacement of parking meters with kiosks, where users could use debit or pre-paid cards to buy time, or the establishment of different parking districts around town. Noble said he also wanted to create an easy-to-understand and standardized system of snow emergency parking regulations.
“Right now there’s so much confusion about parking,” said Noble. “Whatever else we do, we have to communicate better.”
Noble said he had not yet decided whether to ask the council put his current post, environmental education operations specialist, back into the city budget. The position, which includes hands-on supervision of youth programs, along with grant management and other administrative duties, was eliminated under Gallo’s recommended budget. The post was restored by the council’s Finance Committee, then eliminated again and replaced with a part-time position when the full council approved the budget. The money that funded the position, however, was moved into the city’s contingency fund.
The council typically gives the mayor leeway in shifting money between budget lines, meaning Noble would likely be able to restore the post if he chooses. But Noble said he would leave the decision in the hands of Parks & Rec chief Kevin Gilfeather.