Current town councilman and former member of the Onteora school board Bennet Ratcliff has tossed his hat into the ring for Woodstock town supervisor. Ratcliff, also chair of Woodstock’s Democratic Committee, will likely face a Democratic party primary in June against current town supervisor, Bill McKenna, who has announced that he will seek a fifth term in the town’s top administrative position. As of this writing there are no other announced candidates for the position, neither Democrat nor Republican. McKenna is scheduled to discuss his candidacy in next week’s edition.
“My calculation is really about my running to help create a better Woodstock…a Woodstock where people can live affordably, work successfully and enjoy the Catskills,” says Ratcliff. “And share in a community of the arts, that makes Woodstock special. I don’t calculate what others are doing, whether it’s the current supervisor or another town board member. I’m running because I think we can create a better Woodstock by working together, and that’s what I want to do as supervisor.”
On challenging the sitting supervisor McKenna, Ratcliff says “I’m glad Bill’s joining the race and look forward to hearing from voters. Campaigning is an opportunity to work together with everyone in the town on setting a direction for Woodstock’s future.”
Ratcliff, in his upper 50s, lives with his partner Jacqueline Kellachan in Bearsville in a blended family with three boys, three girls, two dogs and a cat. He moved to Woodstock in 2015 after a career as an international and domestic political consultant. He graduated from Princeton and did post graduate work at the University of Grenoble in France.
Ratcliff is open minded about being a Woodstocker for a relatively short time. “A newcomer?
I think that everybody has an opportunity to offer something to Woodstock but sometimes people feel like they’re not welcomed. I make sure everybody knows, I’ve been here, not even ten years but I began by volunteering on a school board committee, and then I ran for schoolboard office,” he says.“I think that Woodstock, as a community for the arts, is for everyone, if you’re young, old or new or been here for a long time. And I think that new and old ideas are sometimes the same ideas, they just need people to come together to work on them.”
Ratcliff and McKenna have often appeared to have a rocky relationship that has led to public confrontations over issues such as the town’s noise law, the renovation of the town offices at the Comeau property, tree plantings and the environment, and the need for affordable housing.
Ratcliff maintains that more open government is the way forward.
“I think that the town government will work better when we work together. I think we need better integration of the volunteer committees with each other and with the town. And with the people who would like to be engaged in a collaborative environment, with listening to people, in making a decision and then enacting that decision. And that’s the primary way I’m viewing the office. We need a more transparent budget process where people can engage and understand where their tax dollars are going… We can collaborate on things that we want and we can put our cards on the table where we disagree and then come to some sort of agreement. That’s what we should be doing with things like STRs (short term rentals) and the noise law. We’re not and I want to lead those initiatives…And strengthening our environmental protections. We have to do these things together or we’re going to continue spinning our wheels.”
Ratcliff cites specific issues, and he says all should be looked at with what he calls “an equity lens,” to make sure all populations are fairly represented.
In November, 2021, Woodstock voters approved a $1 million bond to supplement $1.9 million in capital reserves to fund the town office renovation project at the Comeau property. The town has committed to a $3 million project cap. Bids approved from the various contractors total $2,877,402, though changes at various stages can change that amount.
“My concern with the Comeau project, has always been the concern that we’ll be able to apply for and receive State Historic Preservation status. And I believe that if the revised plan is followed it will add to the Eames House, not in a way that will destroy our possibilities of obtaining that status. For me, that’s my real focus.”
Ratcliff disagrees with McKenna’s plan for financing the Comeau renovation project with funds the town has saved rather than borrowed money.
“The voters voted to do the bond, and I think we should use bond money for that. I know that there have been other pieces of money that the supervisor has decided we use. I would rather use the bond money and not the $200,000 in state money for the reed beds (at the town’s wastewater plant) or the $100,000 that Senator Hinchey got for the entire town. But those are not so much campaign issues as those are current governing issues.
“I certainly think that the beautiful building and structures that we have there need to be taken care of and preserved, and I really do believe that we should focus on what do we need to do to that beautiful house so that everyone can use it.”
He supports the Woodstock Home Share project as an important piece in dealing with a lack of affordable housing.
“Focusing on building affordable housing is one (solution). But right now we have the program called Woodstock Home Share and we need more people to know what it is, need more people to take advantage of it and it needs to be fully funded. We need to be at every farmer’s market, every senior event, every public gathering…to let people know here’s what Home Share does. Here’s how it works. If you are an older person or a person who has special needs or a disability and you have a home with space for somebody, they’ll match you up with people who need affordable housing. There are contracts to be filled out, there are specific things that the persons agree to do, both as the homeowner and as the person who is the home sharer. They live within their contract and work together and that’s a way we can provide affordable housing right now. Things don’t need to be built or permitted. These houses are there. These people are there, people who have homes and people who need affordable housing. The Home Share program needs more funding, it needs more promotion, it needs a more robust front face to the community so more people know that this is available. That’s one thing to do.
“Another thing to do is to look at every single property that the town of Woodstock owns and assess its value for affordable housing. Not just one property out on Zena but what about properties here in town. What are their values and can they be used for affordable housing?”
Ratcliff believes Woodstock has a stronger role to play in protecting the environment, especially regarding the town of Saugerties review of the proposed Terramor glamping project on the Woodstock border.
“I think that the town of Woodstock needs to enforce its own laws. I think that we can and should enforce the wetlands and water course protection standards on the land that is in Woodstock. And we need to send a letter to Terramor requesting that they come forward for a wetlands permit because it says clearly that anyone whose altering wetlands in Woodstock needs to come forward for a permit.
“There is a huge contiguous wetland in Saugerties and Woodstock. If you’ve got two kids in a bathtub and one of them pisses in one end, you don’t say hey, well the other end is just OK…
It’s the same thing. This is a huge body of water and when they tear up Saugerties side of the wetlands to put glamping tents, they’re going to be killing the Woodstock side of the wetland.”
Should the town consider legal action through the courts?
“The town should enforce its own law. There’s no reason to write a law if we’re not going to enforce it…Terramor came forward to Saugerties and said, hey we want to build something here, what do we need to do? And they started going through the permitting process.
Terramor didn’t come to Woodstock and say, oh by the way, this is going to destroy your wetland, what do we need to do? And they should and if they continue to ignore us, and they do not come forward and apply for a permit, then we should seek relief in the courts.”
Where would he like to see the town after two theoretical terms, which would yield four years of a Ratcliff administration?
“I think that the town government will be a more friendly, efficient and service oriented place where residents and visitors can come. I believe that the community itself will be a place where people will be working together to achieve mutual goals. That’s what I see.
“I’m hopeful that in four years there will be a Department of the Arts. You know we call ourselves the Colony of the Arts. But we offer almost no budget from the town to support our arts community or our artists. It was a shame that The Center for Photography at Woodstock pulled up stakes and left, but they’re receiving grants now from the state and others in Kingston, and they’re working with the Kingston Arts Commission. So I would hope in four years that not only do we have a new arts and recreation effort with expanded services for seniors and kids and others but we also have an arts department that supports artists and the arts.
“I’m asking for the job of supervisor because it’s a lot of work and I want to work together with people to create a better Woodstock where all of us can participate. That’s why I’m running.”