Kingston mayor’s restructuring plan puts wife in line for new job, big raise

Steve and Julie Noble, seen here in 2015 after Steve Noble won the Democratic mayoral primary. (Photo Phyllis McCabe)

Mayor Steve Noble is seeking the Common Council’s support for a plan that would fold the city’s Parks and Recreation Department into the Department of Public Works. Noble’s proposal also calls for the appointment of his wife, Julie Noble, and his former confidential secretary, Lynsey Timbrouck, to senior positions in the department. The merger proposal comes as longtime Parks and Rec chief Kevin Gilfeather gets set to retire in April.

If the plan is approved as proposed by Noble, Julie Noble would get a raise of more than $20,000 a year.

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The proposal calls for DPW Superintendent Ed Norman to take on oversight of Parks and Recreation. A new position, deputy superintendent of environmental services, will oversee city parks, recreation programs, environmental education and DPW’s sanitation division. Another new post, recreation director, will lead new and existing city recreation programs.

Noble said the reorganization of the departments would be accomplished by shifting funds within the current budget and would not require additional expenditures or changes to the contract with CSEA, which represents workers in both departments. Noble said the new arrangement, announced Monday, would create efficiencies by forming a single pool of workers and equipment to perform maintenance duties in city parks as well as non-park open spaces. Noble said the merger would help streamline operations as the city embarks on a series of capital projects — like the ongoing Kingston Point Rail Trail — that will increase the amount of city-managed open space.

“I think it’s going to lead to better parks, better recreation and better public works in the long run,” said Noble.

Noble said he would appoint his wife Julie, who currently serves in Parks and Rec as an environmental education and sustainability programs coordinator, to the new deputy superintendent post.

Julie Noble, who holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies, has been employed full time by Parks and Rec since 2007. In 2015, the year before her husband took office, Julie Noble was paid $42,543 for her work as an environmental educator. Last year, following her promotion to sustainability coordinator, her salary, including overtime, totaled $53,628. As deputy superintendent she will be paid $73,185. Timbrouck, who was paid $40,309 a year as Noble’s confidential secretary, will earn $46,180 as recreation leader.

Julie Noble’s appointment is provisional, meaning that there will eventually be an open competitive civil service examination for the job. She will need to be among the top three high-scorers on the exam to remain at the post. (Timbrouck was selected off of an existing civil service list). In a prepared statement that was part of the release announcing the plan, Julie Noble touted her experience working directly with DPW on interdepartmental projects and coordinating the city’s recent switch back to dual-stream recycling.

“There is so much opportunity in aligning departments and I look forward being part of, and building, a team that will improve efficiencies, streamline communication and collectively move this city forward.”

Noble, who praised his wife’s work on behalf of the city in his New Year’s Day address to the Common Council, defended the appointment. Noble said the restructuring of the department meant that Julie Noble would not report directly to him, but instead to DPW chief Ed Norman. Noble added that his wife was eminently qualified for the post based on her experience managing city projects and programs involving recycling, climate change, transportation and environmental education. She currently coordinates the city’s Climate Smart Community program and chairs the Conservation Advisory Council. She has worked for Parks and Rec since 1999, when she was in high school, and was hired full-time in 2007.

“I think that the public will see the value of the work that she has done and the leadership that she has provided,” said Noble of the appointment.

Common Council Majority Leader Rennie Scott-Childress (D-Ward 3) said he supported the reorganization effort as a way to improve efficiency and eliminate duplicate services in city government. Scott-Childress added that he did not see an immediate issue with Noble’s appointment of his wife to the deputy superintendent post.

“As long as they satisfy the requirements of our ethics law, I don’t see a problem with it,” said Scott-Childress. “Julie is a professional and she has done a lot of good work.”

But Alderwoman-at-Large and Common Council President Andrea Shaut said she was “blindsided” by the mayor’s press release, though she had been aware of the proposal itself. Shaut, who has previously spoken about the need for better coordination between the mayor and the council, said the council would take a careful look at the proposed restructuring.

“We all want what’s best for Kingston and that’s how we’re going to approach this,” said Shaut. “We are not going to be pressured to rush this through.”

Regarding Noble’s decision to appoint a close family member to a senior post, Shaut said hiring authority belonged to the mayor, not the council. Previously, Noble recused himself from contract talks with the CSEA, the union which represents his wife, citing a potential conflict of interest.

But Shaut suggested that the city’s ethics board might be called on to weigh in on the issue. 

“We don’t have any power as far as hiring, nothing with teeth,” said Shaut. “I hope that the public will weigh in on this and that the mayor will listen.” 

There are 15 comments

  1. Troy

    I support our Mayor, and I support our City, but on this the public needs to respectfully request that either his wife step down from the offer, and that they either hire a qualified candidate from Kingston who is not a relative; or search for the appropriate person to fill the job.

    We’re all smart enough in 2020 to know that it doesn’t look good, ethics questions included.

    Let’s nip this in the bud and do so politely.

    1. Lisa

      I 100% agree with your post Troy. I have supported the mayor in the past, while not necessarily agreeing with all of his positions, this definitely being one of them. How does he not know that this appears as nepotism?

  2. Hardly Noble

    Noble: high moral principles and ideals; a person of noble rank or bearing

    NOT. Using your authority to pad your own purse? Seriously? And Kingston is not up in arms over this? This is unethical, and even if not illegal, the appearance of impropriety is mind-boggling. Perhaps it is HUSH money!

  3. Dwayne

    Wow. I’m not a Kingston resident and have no dog in this fight, but the proposed plan stinks to high heaven. I work for another Ulster Co. municipality and have always felt that it’s critical to avoid even the slightest appearance of impropriety. I’ll be shocked if the proposal is allowed to go through.

  4. sally

    For almost every position at the City, a civil service examination is required. If you, or someone you know, feels that their skills outmatch the candidates presented for this position, feel free to pay the $25 to take the examination. The City is required to select a candidate from the applicants who scores the highest, one of whom will absolutely be Julie Noble. That is a merit based test run by the State. The City of Kingston is lucky to have this job go to someone qualified. If she was Melania, that would be a different story, but this is a qualified, vetted candidate. I feel bad for Julie Noble, as people are requesting she put her career on hold to appease their ASSUMPTION of impropriety. Same with Miss Timbrouck. Growth within a workplace is common, and having government jobs go to experienced workers means less lag time in hiring. Nepotism is awarding positions to your friends, who do not deserve them. I also can’t help but laugh at Kingston residents crying nepotism, while the majority of people in this area wouldn’t even have their jobs if it wasn’t for their families doling out positions for them at their real estate firms, and so on…. No one had a problem with Shayne Gallo offering handout and gifts to his friends, waiving fees whenever he saw fit, and creating positions for his marketing friends…. interesting.

    Additionally, Shayne Gallo did not take a pay increase because he knew he couldn’t justify it, based on his incompetence as a leader. He is very lucky to have narrowly escaped the Me Too movement… Mayor Noble is a strong leader, and doesn’t just parade around town looking for ego validation. I do not agree with all of his choices (the Kingstonian is a travesty), but I do not agree with his critics, who often can not point to a single solid piece of evidence for why they dislike him…

    1. wowjustwow

      Private businesses hiring friends or relatives isn’t the same thing as elected officials, whose salaries are paid by tax dollars. And as a long-time Kingston cit employee, shouldn’t Julie Noble have taken a civil service test before she was hired?

    2. BS

      Except for the look of impropriety and the ethical part, that you seemed too overlook in your comment. The common term is; “Arm’s length”, meaning beyond first relationships (ie: partners, siblings, children, parents), as too avoid ethical conflict, and nepotistic impropriety. This clearly is nepotism, which is an ethical abuse of governmental powers.

  5. Inconvenient Truth

    “The most perplexing part of this whole thing is the Mayor’s intention to fill the new positions with a family member and a friend—the very definition of nepotism. The Deputy Superintendent of Environmental Services, a position intended for Julie Noble, would report to the Superintendent of Public Works, who serves at the pleasure of the Mayor without any protections in place for his own job. If he takes issue with the Mayor’s wife down the road, who is more likely to have the Mayor’s ear? Needless to say, this structure creates a conflict of interest and could violate the City of Kingston’s ethics law (see 49-3 Standards of Conduct).”
    Kingston Citizens:
    http://www.kingstoncitizens.org/2020/02/city-government-is-not-a-mayors-oyster-the-restructuring-of-dpw-parks-recreation-and-nepotism/#comments

  6. John Smith

    Ed Norman’s City owned DPW truck was vandalized last month. Can someone please look who is investigating this matter (He used to work for Chief Tinti) The truck must have been fixed using taxpayer money, unless Ed fixed it himself. Appears a slight bit shady.

  7. Peter

    Julie Noble looks qualified for the new position, however, having a lot of ” deputy” positions seems like a waste.
    Can positions be combined after Kevin Gilfeather retires. What are Lynsey Timbrouck’s qualifications, not discussed in the article. Passing exam and qualifications most important.

  8. Leslie

    Mrs Noble is more than likely going to be appointed on what is called a “provisional” basis. Having worked in Human Resources for NYS, I know that Mrs Noble could very well sit in this provisional status for years before a Civil Service exam is scheduled. There are many ways to play games with getting someone permanently appointed from a provisional status. I have seen it done. I would be curious to know if Mrs Noble’s current position was reclassified (Title Changed) or if this is truly a brand spanking new position. Makes a huge difference.
    I have included a link to the NYS Dept of Civil Service’s Rules and Regulations for Appointments and Promotions, Section 4. If anyone has the inclination to dig and do the research on this position. Remember the Freedom of Information Act applies.
    Since I fortunately do not reside in the City of Kingston and as another individual so aptly stated, “I do not have a dog in this fight” but I sure hate the games government officials play. I watched it for too many years!
    https://govt.westlaw.com/nycrr/Document/I4e7eaf24cd1711dda432a117e6e0f345?viewType=FullText&originationContext=documenttoc&transitionType=CategoryPageItem&contextData=(sc.Default)

  9. JaneR

    In my experience, combining Parks and Recreation and the Department of Public Works, guarantees either expensive privatization of recreation activities, or a combination of the later and zero city recreation activities, even as residents continue to pay for them.

    No question that these appointments are unethical. I understand if everyone is too worn out to work to remove Noble from office, but at least a board of ethics review.

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