The Ulster County Board of Elections will move into a new headquarters at 79 Hurley Ave. currently occupied by the Daily Freeman newspaper by 2022. Staff from the paper will move to another location in Kingston.
County Democratic Election Commissioner Ashley Dittus said the move will bring together all the agency’s staff and functions in one location in the portion of the building that presently holds the paper’s newsroom. The board’s 12-person staff is currently split across a public-facing office at 334 Wall Street and a non-public space at the Golden Hill complex that has two staffers and houses voting systems, pole site equipment, handicapped accessibility materials, signage and even the stan like those found in a bank-teller line that are used at the polling sites. The board is slated to start moving voting equipment after the November elections with clerical staff moving in by the start of 2022.
The move was necessitated by the pending demolition of the former Ulster County Jail to make way for a new affordable housing complex by the end of this year, she said The Board of Elections signed a five-year lease with Higginsville Hay LLC, the Freeman building’s owner.
The new location will make things much more efficient for the agency, she said.
“It’s very difficult to manage staff members who don’t see every day,” she said. “Having a site large enough for us to work together allows us to work on stress points before and after elections.”
This location is still in the county seat while offering plenty of parking for staffers and walk-up voters, especially those with limited mobility and a loading dock that allows for voting machines to be moved in and out quickly before and after elections. She expects having everything under one roof will save on moving costs for the 200 voting machines in the county and make behind-the-scenes elections functions like counting absentee ballots faster.
The building will offer improved security as elections are growing ever more technologically sophisticated, she said.
“We’ll be having the New York State Board of Elections count absentee ballots before Election Day and this will allow us to lock up ballots facilitating early voting out in the field,” Dittus said.
The Freeman’s staff will move to a new location in Kingston according to Patricia Doxsey, a longtime reporter at the paper and president of the Kingston NewsGuild Local 31180 TNG-CWA union, which represents reporters, copy editors, sales reps, sales reps and circulation and buildings and grounds employees.
“Thanks to strong contract language negotiated by the Kingston NewsGuild the Daily Freeman will continue to have an office presence in Kingston,” Doxsey said.
The Freeman’s parent company Alden Capital, operating under the trade name MediaNews Group, has eliminated office space across many of the more than 200 newspapers the company owns with reporters working from home, she said. The newspaper, founded in 1871 moved to this location in 1974 from its former home in the Rondout Area now occupied by Mariner’s Harbor.
Doxsey issued the following statement on behalf of the Kingston NewsGuild,
“The Kingston NewsGuild is saddened but not surprised by this move. Over the last several years, the Freeman’s staffing levels have been dramatically reduced by its hedge fund owner Alden Global Capital as it has aggressively sought to squeeze every nickel from the newspaper seemingly without regard to the impact of its actions on the community the newspaper serves. It is obvious that our staff, which at one time numbered more than 100, but now consists of only 14 rank and file employees, no longer needs the significant space the Hurley Avenue location provides.”
Kevin Corrado, the Freeman’s publisher, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the move.
As for the board’s current offices at 334 Wall Street, which the county recently signed a five-year lease on, Dittus said possible uses include the county’s Public Defender’s Office or the District Attorney’s Office.