Beginning with the Village of New Paltz election this past spring, followed by the town’s election this fall, New Paltz voters chose a number of new board members, thus signaling their dissatisfaction and frustration with dysfunctional government and with politicians who spend more time feuding amongst themselves than working on the business of people. In this season of giving and receiving, there are positive signs that the voters may have given themselves a most important gift — the gift of good government — by electing individuals who pride themselves on fact-based decision making, who understand the importance of listening to various points of view and who treat one another with civility and respect.
Within weeks of the newly constituted Village Board getting down to work, it was heartening to see three unanimous votes which laid the groundwork for the purchase by the village of a large parcel of undeveloped land that will now bring the long envisioned Mill Brook Preserve to reality. Mayor Tim Rogers demonstrated a detailed understanding of the issues involved and indicated a refreshing willingness to work cooperatively with town officials as the work moves forward.
Another positive sign has been the frequent reports provided by Mayor Rogers on the progress being made to bring non-functioning fire hydrants in the village back on line. The village trustees openly acknowledged that this has been a problem and there is a refreshing transparency in the way discussions are being held.
The board also recently held six special meetings over six consecutive weeks, demonstrating that its members take their responsibilities seriously and are not afraid of hard work.
Perhaps a better test of the ability of the newly constituted Village Board to work together effectively involves the opportunity for the town and village to share a new municipal building, to be constructed on the site which currently houses the soon-to-be-demolished old Town Hall on Route 32 North. The mayor and the trustees did not initially agree with one another on many of the details, and the village and the town were clearly not on the same page as substantive discussions about creating a shared municipal space began in September. However, it turns out that this most important issue, which will have implications for how the town and village function for decades into the future, has provided the perfect opportunity for our elected officials to learn how to work together; and so far things appear to be on track.
Since September there have been no fewer than six joint meetings of the two governments on this project and several meetings of an executive committee made up of elected officials and citizen volunteers. Neil Bettez, the incoming town supervisor, was invited to join that committee, and one can already see the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation that exists between Bettez and Rogers. At a December 1 joint meeting, it was quite remarkable to see how many sticking points had already been ironed out, the way in which the individuals around the table allowed one another to speak without interruption and the efficient way in which the agenda items were addressed.
There are hopeful signs that the new town government, which will begin to function officially on January 1, will be equally effective in the months to come. Town Council members Dan Torres and Martin Irwin were clearly on top of all the key issues and took the lead on behalf of the town in the December 1 joint discussion between the two governments. A December 16 informational meeting provided additional evidence of the ability of these two individuals and their counterparts on the Village Board to cooperate. There’s a newfound willingness to acknowledge other people’s thoughts and ideas and give credit where credit is due.
I promised myself that this column would focus only on the positive and on the future, however, I have decided to permit myself one small indulgence and mention a particular behavior that has frosted my pumpkin for the past several years, almost above all else. The behavior I refer to is that of the arm extended, fingers splayed, palm facing the person attempting to speak, in order to stop that individual in their tracks. Each of the boards had its very own human stop sign. I can’t envision any member of our newly reconstituted Village Board or Town Board engaging in this behavior, but should the urge one day come upon you, please don’t do it. Much as their point of view may differ from your own, every board member and every member of the public has the right to be heard. That’s one of the advantages of living in America.
The citizens of our community have spoken and our newly elected officials give every evidence of having listened. There is good reason for us all to feel hopeful about a Happy New Year.