When Marybeth Majestic ran for Town of Gardiner supervisor in 2015, successfully unseating incumbent Carl Zatz, part of her platform was a change in official “tone” and more opportunities for residents to have their voices heard at the municipal level. In her first year in office she has kept those promises, inviting public input at various stages of Town Board meetings instead of confining it to the “privilege of the floor” segment at the end, in many cases after decisions have already been made.
“I’m pleased with the way my meetings are going,” she says, noting proudly that they have been running no later than 9:20 p.m., even with additional time for public comment. “Everybody on the board gets an opportunity to voice their feelings. It makes it a very democratic process, of which I’m proud.”
“Communication is key in life with everything, I find,” Majestic adds. And so, part of her Year One learning curve has involved getting networked with other local and county officials: meeting with state senator John Bonacic, Ulster County executive Mike Hein and economic development chief Suzanne Holt; breakfasting once a month with the Ulster County Association of Town Supervisors; attending seminars on solar energy and Climate Smart Communities.
She has also been actively pushing for better communication among Gardiner’s own governing boards and committees, “so the Town Board knows what the Planning Board, the Zoning Board and the ECC are doing,” she explains. “Currently the Planning Board minutes aren’t posted on the town website. We’re going to change that. It’s all about keeping people in the loop. Sometimes all it takes is a simple e-mail.”
Outside of public meetings, Majestic has been making a point of keeping an open-door policy for residents to express their concerns as well. “Whatever works best for them: stop in, call, voicemail, e-mail. I’ve never said, ‘No, I have no time for people.’” However, she wants to get the word out more broadly and encourage more civic participation. “I’m surprised by how few people you hear from. Nobody has an idea for me!” She gives an example of a homeschooler living on Sand Hill Road who was troubled that there was no official crosswalk near her home; Majestic was able to arrange to have one painted with just a simple phone call to the Ulster County Department of Transportation.
Majestic says that she would also like to see more Gardiner residents attend Town Board meetings and volunteer to serve on committees. “The way the world is now, we can only make real change on the local level. I would like to hear from people more in a positive way.”
On a more concrete level, Majestic’s first year at the helm has mainly been characterized by low-key progress on “housekeeping” types of issues. Sprucing up of Town Hall itself got underway in 2016, including, she says, “a new front entrance and exciting gutters on the belfry.” More improvements are on deck for 2017: “I would like to complete the repairs here at Town Hall, get it washed and painted.” The supervisor says that Town Board members are in contact with representatives from the Watchtower, seeking to arrange for some possible volunteer labor.
A $50,000 legislative line item grant that her predecessor had been offered by Senator Bonacic for the purposes of expanding parking spaces for the ballfield adjacent to Town Hall will instead be redirected to much-needed work on structures at George Majestic Memorial Park in the Gardiner hamlet, Majestic says. The open-air pavilion in the park needs its deteriorated roof, rafters and posts replaced, and in the pole barn, “The bathrooms don’t have partitions between the stalls. They’re unusable,” she says. The Town Board has also discussed insulation and weatherization of the pole barn, so that it would be able to be used year-round.
A most urgent–– not to mention costly — infrastructure concern for Gardiner is the structurally unsound state of the town-owned bridge on Clove Road, affording access from Route 44/55 to the Mohonk Preserve’s Coxing Kill picnic and swimming area. “That bridge has been yellow-flagged by the DOT for eight years now,” Majestic points out. A red flag would close it to automobile traffic completely. Funding to commence work on replacing the bridge might finally begin to flow in 2017, however: “We’re anxiously awaiting news from Bridge New York, which is a grant program specifically geared to small bridges. We really fit the bill well.”
On the legislative front, the only new local law passed in Gardiner in 2016 was a revamped Parkland Subdivision law. Previously, developers of subdivisions could, at their own discretion, offer “crappy pieces of land” to the Gardiner Planning Board, ostensibly as open space, in lieu of standard cash developer fees. Now, says Majestic, “The developer will first be asked to pay per lot. In special exceptions they could donate land…but now we want the money up front. The Town Board makes that decision, at the Planning Board’s recommendation.”
Two other existing sections of town law are currently under scrutiny, with modifications expected to be voted on in 2017. One involves the drafting of a “solar law” to provide zoning parameters for installations of solar farms; the other is the entertainment law that governs the issuance of permits for festivals and other outdoor public events. “Right now we’re asking too much of the applicant” who wants to organize a festival, Majestic notes, including an engineering report. She argues that what is required needs to be proportional to the size and scale of the proposed event, including public safety concerns such as parking and road closures. Input from festival organizers as well as other citizens will be sought shortly after the New Year, and the supervisor expressed hope that the new law might be passed in time for the Cupcake Festival in May 2017.
The town’s ethics law is also slated for reexamination in the coming year, as most of the members of Gardiner’s Ethics Committee either have resigned or their terms have expired. And the property tax reassessment process that has been in progress for the past year is expected to wind up this spring. After that, says Marybeth Majestic, “Maybe we’ll get around to doing some more fun stuff.”