Thursday, April 23, 2009

Village of New Paltz -- April 22, 2009

The Village Board had another rousing meeting last evening. While the agenda was lengthy, the majority of the board meeting was spent discussing the proposed budget, which must be adopted by April 30.

It was long. Really, really long. I stuck it out until 10:30pm and then proceeded to watch from home, but it went on until about 2:00am. Luckily, I was accompanied by the lovely Lagusta, which makes everything more enjoyable (as does the alliteration of "luckily," "lovely" and "Lagusta"). There were also antics in the hallway that proved to be far more interesting than the meeting itself, but I digress.

If you really need a play-by-play, you can probably see a repeat of the meeting on New Paltz Public Access Channel 23 this weekend (at least, the 4 hours that the Village actually pays to have taped. You'll get the idea).


The Butterfly showed up. It's true. Only about 20 minutes late (she got there before me), she came, participated (if weird outbursts and ADD qualify as participation) and stayed almost until the end. Good job, Butterfly! You get a gold star.


"Candidate expected to assume The Gatekeeper's seat" also showed up. I won't say his name because, really, does it even matter? Take him out and plug in any one of those idiot nobodys… digressing again. Anyways, he stayed and, more impressively, stayed awake for almost the entire meeting. David Lewis could learn from his example.


The VB spent a pretty sizeable chunk of time going over paperwork from Ulster County regarding the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) for Woodland Ponds. Most of the questions during this portion of the meeting could've been easily answered by a representative from the county, which is where I really started to get worked up.

See, in Dutchess County, the majority of County Legislators believe it is part of their job to attend local meetings in addition to their county meetings. So, for example, a legislator would routinely attend village, town and school board meetings in addition to county committees and the legislature. I know, the whole thing is kinda crazy (don't even get me started on the regular communications and newsletters that are sent in-district to keep constituents informed about what their legislators are actually doing!).

Just imagine the improved functionality and transparency of our government if our county legislators showed up at local meetings even once a year, let alone once a month, where their direct interests aren't being served? Given that their attendance at county meetings is inadequate, though, I'll just stick with my dreams of a perfect world where government actually communicates internally, not only from the top down, but from the bottom up, too. And if actual voters get some information occasionally, well, the more, the merrier.


The ever-present salary question rose from the ashes, as it tends to do in budget season annually. Ever since Jason West was elected Mayor, the issue of salaried elected officials has become pretty contentious.

I have strong personal feelings on this issue, believing very firmly that people should receive adequate, fair compensation for the work that they do and that we should make it feasible for regular people to govern, which includes attention to financial support. I also feel very strongly, however, that elected officials must lead by example. In situations where layoffs, reduced hours and shortened work weeks are being discussed increasingly, no one has any business hiring new staff or raising their own salaries.

We should protect existing employees first and ONLY then, if there's extra left over, should anyone else be considered. The audacity of even suggesting a pay increase (no matter how insubstantial) is abhorrent, especially during a spending freeze with a proposed budget reflecting monumental tax increases and rumors of layoffs. I am rarely in favor of the VB's tendency to nickel-and-dime, especially when the focus ought to be on reducing the budget $250,000+ (hint: you'll never get there cutting $100 here and $300 there), but this is one area where that tendency is not only appropriate, but necessary.

Last night, the Village Clerk and Treasurer grew increasingly emotional and frustrated as their supply budget had been stripped to the point where they were unsure if they will even be able to afford paper. How, in light of such petty, shortsighted revisions can the VB seriously consider any discussion of a pay increase for themselves? While The Butterfly's argument was right, in principle, her insensitivity and unwillingness to see the significance of her raucous grandstanding was completely inappropriate and unbefitting of an elected official. The Butterfly gave the strong impression that she is somehow doing this work in order to be compensated, rather than doing this work because the voters put their faith in her to act as their representative and voice on the VB. To cheapen the magnitude of that decision is disgraceful and I am disappointed to have chosen this individual to represent my interests.

Many of us attend government meetings regularly (or watch them on TV and online). These meetings often run far longer than they need to as a result of the theatrics and long-winded tirades on irrelevant matters. We don't get paid to attend, either, but we're there because it's important. Our time is not respected by our elected officials. We certainly do not request any compensation for doing our civic duty: being active and attentive to the important issues in our community through watching meetings, sharing feedback and researching different topics (which is much easier and much cheaper for elected officials than ordinary people). I'm certain The Butterfly is there for the same reasons, but she needs to start acting like it.


The Mayor defended the New York Conference of Mayors (NYCOM) on two separate occasions, once as it related to their annual kumbaya get-together for elected officials and also as it pertained to the Village's general membership with NYCOM. According to The Mayor, the trainings and resources offered by NYCOM are incredibly informative, educational and valuable and it is simply impossible to create good government without affiliating with NYCOM.

Wow. Where do I start? NYCOM is a bunch of attorneys. We see how great the attorneys over at Greenwald Law have been for the VONP (including, most recently, work that was done at $225/hour instead of the regular rate of $175/hour). We've got at least two people on the VONP Board who are literally OBSESSED with issues of liability. Their obsession has gotten to the point where the quality of life in the VONP is adversely affected by their overzealous and belligerent pursuits to eliminate any activity that may lead to "liability", no matter how insignificant. "Liability" is quickly becoming their favorite word. Now, all anyone has to say is "liability" instead of "no"; the outcome remains the same, but no one has to be the bad guy

Either the VONP is giving NYCOM's attorneys some competition in the litigation market, or NYCOM is somehow responsible for this crazy attitude towards wily residents who go out of their way to sue the VONP without cause (like the Caribbean Latin American Support Project, who was told they cannot use village facilities without a $1,000,000 insurance policy*).

If The Mayor and his actions are an example of NYCOM's wonderful explanation and execution of good, efficient government, SHOULDN'T WE BE RUNNING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION?!?! Things have gotten so bad that not only are The Gatekeeper and Renegade criticizing The Mayor for his secretive and self-destructive actions, but even The Financier and The Butterfly are starting to chime in. He had withheld information that each of them found pertinent to last night's meeting, had budgeted for things that do not exist and, in some cases, must go before the public at a referendum and made haphazard changes on his budget worksheets to the point where no one else on the Board was able to follow his thought process (as if it were so easy to do to begin with!). If this is what we get through our allegiance to NYCOM, we're probably better off affiliating with the Chuck E. Cheese Confederacy of Dunces. It'll probably be cheaper.


The overall lack of awareness on the VB continues to be troubling. The VB has been working on this budget for months and there are still frequent questions about what is kept under what line, what different words mean, why things are categorized the way they are, etc. My personal favorite was, "What is public finance, anyways?!". If you want to get paid to be there, you ought to do something worth being paid for. I'd suggest starting with paying attention and learning your job. This is getting incredibly tiresome.


I had an outburst during the meeting. It was due to the VB's interpretation of Open Meetings Law and I'm surprised I've been able to contain it for this long. I think my TV generally bears the brunt of it, as demonstrated by scratches and chips around the frame.

Anyone who has watched a meeting of the current VB has probably noticed the interesting phenomenon of pointing, smirking and whispering. The VB is incapable of doing their jobs in open meetings, since the majority of the VB refuses to communicate outside of regular meetings and they do little preparatory work leading up to these meetings. The VB is also completely unprofessional, incapable of keeping snide remarks, underhanded comments and knowing glances to themselves.

The VB has no respect for the public. In any given meeting, at least one VB member will glance coyly at the camera and proceed to whisper, point and gesture without giving any indication what the conversation is actually about. The Financier is famous for this during Bills & Claims, as she will point to figures without saying the numbers aloud and will refuse to indicate what the claim is actually for. Trustees who are not adjacent to the Financier are SOL, as she is far more concerned with being sly than being accountable.

It is no secret that the VB's executive sessions are routinely used for business that is expressly prohibited from discussion in executive session. So, instead of using executive session for private, confidential discussion, they use that time for conversations bound by open meetings law. It only makes sense, therefore, that the VB use the public meeting for private, confidential discussion.

If a VBmember has something to say that cannot be done in an open meeting, they have two options. In situations where it is legal, enter into executive session. In situations where it is not, shut your damn mouth and do it outside of the meeting. I guess the Renegade's quote, "We act formally when we should be informal, and informally when we should be formal," has been proven yet again.


*There is more coming on Insurancegate, but I'm doing a little research first. If my suspicions are correct, I'm going to want backup documentation.