Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Lewis Carol

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, January 22 edition

Last December an email from Woodstock Environmental Commission (WEC) member David Lewis was sent to Woodstock councilman Jay Wenk and copied to other members of the town board including the supervisor. Mr Lewis, you will recall, came up short at the 2005 and 2007 Democratic Party caucuses in bids for the party's nomination for town supervisor. His 2007 effort was aided by a $1000 contribution from a political committee, the so-called Committee For Woodstock's Future, which operated in contravention of New York State Election Law. The same committee had made a $1000 contribution to Jay Wenk, and this perhaps explains the fondness between these two fellows. Anyway, it appears Mr Lewis has lowered his sights, at least for the nonce.

From: "David Lewis"
Date: December 3, 2008 11:44:28 AM EST
To: jaywenk
Cc: "Elizabeth Simonson" , "Chris Collins" , "Jeff Moran" , "T. Rosenblum"

Subject: Head of the Environmental Commision

To all Town Board members,

I would like to apply for the head of the evironmental commision, since Mary will be leaving this position vacant this January. Please let me know of any materials that I will need to hand in to apply for this position.

thank you,
David Lewis

The above e-mail exhibits several of the dispositions surrounding Lewis, some charming and amusing, others not. It appears this junior member's haste to climb the WEC ladder caused him to fumble 'environmental' ('evironmental'), but commission spelled 'commision' not once but twice strongly suggests that among "any materials" he might "hand in" with an application to "head" the WEC should include a well-thumbed dictionary. But for heaven's sake, if I had been blasted for every spelling error I've made over the years, and continue to make, there would be nothing of me left, so "To all Town Board members" I recommend that each afford a forgiving smile. There are three board members, Jay Wenk in particular, who might recommend to Lewis the person who writes theirs and Michael Pacut's public pronouncements. Yes, truth and clarity would be maimed, but the 'commision' of embarrassments perhaps held to a minimum.

Of less charm and amusement, Mr Lewis's record of attendance to WEC meetings during his 2008 indicates that of the 19 meetings held that year he failed to attend five of them, was an hour and a half late for another, and at least for the first several weeks of 2008 left the meetings early in order to produce a public access television show. Look, we're all busy and Lewis's absences are entirely excusable, but an organization whose meetings we have failed to attend a little more than 25% of the time might prefer our reticence more than our offer of being its "head."

But of least charm and amusement surrounding Mr Lewis's offer to "head" the "eviromental commision" in the coming year was his explanation, "since Mary will be leaving this position vacant this January."

He is referring to Mary Burke, who has chaired (in case you are wondering what the proper term is) the WEC for several years, and had served on the WEC for years before that. If Burke had made up her mind by December 3, 2008 to leave "this position vacant this January," it makes her December 11, 2008 email to the town supervisor expressing interest in reappointment a very odd, indeed a baffling missive, and it makes her interview with the town board on January 12 in an executive session to discuss her application for reappointment a very odd, indeed baffling use of her time.

There can be only one explanation for why Lewis on December 3, 2008 expressed his certainty of Burke's non-reappointment, and anticipated the January 13, 2009 town board meeting that sacked her for Michael Veitch; at least three members of the town board had made Lewis such assurance. Which is fine. Town boards have the authority and the responsibility to staff the various boards with people in whom they have faith and trust. What is odious, what lacks charm, was the town board's decision to interview Burke for reappointment on January 12, 2009 when they already knew she was a goner. This was not only lack of respect for the time belonging to a woman who served our town for many, many years; it was clumsy and a crummy thing to do.

Nothing amusing about that.

* * *

By the time you read this Barack Obama will be our 44th president. Much has been made, as well it should have, of his African ancestry, for indeed our nation's history with regard to our black brothers and sisters would suggest how very unlikely the day would come when we would inaugurate a president with even a hint of African blood.

I count myself among those very proud to be an American. The pride has always been there, but today is especially strong.

President Obama, however, represents another important demographic; he is our first post-baby boom generation president. We have so far elected two baby boomers president, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

History has not yet had the time to make judgment on these two boomers. I think it is fair to guess that in the absence of a Constitutional bar Clinton probably would have won a third term, yes, even despite his randy behavior. It is just as fair to guess that given the choice today, Bush never would have seen the inside of the White House. Ever. Even so, history will judge.

One thing I am certain of is that a generation so gifted by the sacrifices of its parents, and one so willing to talk the talk of a better, more just world - and I am talking about the boomers - really made a hash of things, no matter what one thinks of the Clinton-Bush presidencies. The boomer generation is at the point of distinguishing itself as the first in America's history to hand to its children an America poorer than the one given them. I am a boomer and by no means excuse myself from culpability.

I don't know if I have ever hoped more for a man's success than I do President Obama's in his quest to restore our nation's finances and environment, our respect and prestige in the world, and our promise to our succeeding generations.

Should Obama make progress and be reelected, it will be this day in 2017 that the 45th president of the United States will be inaugurated. The oldest living boomer will be 72, the youngest 57. For the sake of my generation's redemption in history I hope 45 will be a boomer, and that he or she will follow through with fulfilling every generation's obligation to the next.

Woodstock Town Board Meeting, January 20, 2009

This article appeared in the Townsman, January 22 edition

The issue of elected officials availing themselves of the medical insurance buy-out, first surfaced during the 2008 budget hearings, was resurrected by councilwoman Liz Simonson inviting labor relations consultant Michael Richardson to make a presentation to the town board on the matter. Although it has been a long-standing and uncontroversial policy to offer the buyout to employees of the Town, it has never been the case until the beginning of 2008 that elected officials, including at least two members of the town board, took the buyout, which ranges between $4000 to $5000 dollars per year.

The purpose of the buyout is to give employees an incentive to "migrate" away from the Town provided medical insurance plan, in most cases to a plan available to an employee's spouse. By giving the buyout the Town saves 50% on the cost of insuring the employee.

Richardson, who worked for the consulting company that wrote the Town's employee handbook, a document that describes the contractual obligations between the Town and its employees, stated that it had never been the intention to offer the buyout to elected officials, but added that the town board could make it a policy to do so if it wished. Of the twelve townships in Ulster County Richardson has worked with, he reported none offer elected officials the buyout (several townships don't offer their elected officials medical insurance at all). Richardson described himself as philosophically opposed to the idea, stating, "An elected official should not need an incentive to save the taxpayer money."

Councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum volunteered to work with several Town employees and officials to make up a list of recommendations to the town board with regard to updating the handbook. The board expressed no position on the issue of the buyout.

Simonson also brought up the old issue of a contested sewer bill that had been re-levied on a property owner in the Hamlet sewer district, despite the owner's plea, which was backed up by a statement from the sewer superintendent, that the accidental discharge of water from a broken water pipe did not enter the sewer system. In the past the town boards have charged the full price for the water, but adjusted the sewer portion of the bill to reflect the average use over five previous billing periods. There ensued several minutes of discussion on the matter, it finally being discovered that the practice of adjusting sewer bills under such circumstances had been written into the local law governing the operation of the hamlet sewer district in 2007.

Resolutions saw unanimous acceptance of minutes for meetings held on December 16 and 30 2008, and January 6. The town clerk's report on monthly receipts, and payment of bills totaling $280,071.49 were also unanimously approved. Councilman Chris Collins abstained on the motion to accept monthly transfers, explaining he did not have time to study the sheet.

Officer Kevin Lane will replace Sergeant Greg Van de Bogart as the police department's detective supervisor.

Reports from the skate park and swimming pools task forces were held off until a future meeting.

Sub committee reports were fairly brief. With a meeting scheduled for 4:30 PM at the Town Offices on January 27 to discuss progress with the comprehensive plan, Collins said nothing on that matter. The Ulster County Winter Watch meeting for January had apparently been cancelled, so there was nothing to report on that. He expressed the opinion that if the board did its work with regard to pulling together documents and performing the required environmental review that the Comeau easement, which had been held up in litigation for five years, could be ready for signature by perhaps March or April of this year.

Simonson added up all of the Town's 2008's electric bills, finding a total of $105,000 including $27,000 spent at the sewage treatment plant and $17,000 at the highway garage, to indicate the progress she has made in her several year endeavor to make Woodstock sustainable. While decrying the high cost of powering the geothermal heating and cooling system for the new highway facility she did not mention the progress, if any with the project to install photo-voltaic panels at the site. The Town so far has spent $20,000 in apparatus and $5000 for a consultant for such installation. Next will be reports from Simonson on how much fuel the Town's buildings have consumed in 2008 and then the total fuel consumption of the Town's fleet of vehicles and heavy machinery. It is not clear why the Town bookkeeper can't produce spreadsheets with this information. Simonson's hope for extending cell phone service to the western areas of the town will be discussed at a town board meet scheduled for January 26 at 3:00 PM at the Town Offices, where land use attorney for the Town Drayton Grant will be present to discuss the status of the tower on Overlook Mountain. Simonson also reported that she was unable to find any consultants to help the Town with its cable television franchise renewal except for Sue Buske of the Buske Group. Buske will be providing the Town with proposed rates for her services.

Councilman Jay Wenk's effort to removed buried fuel tanks in the area of the Town wells is described in an eleven-page document not available yet to the public. It appears that he is working on crafting a local law to address the issue with the assistance of George ("Jerry") Washington. The document will be discussed at a future meeting before being forwarded to the attorney for the Town, Rod Futerfas.

The Woodstock recreation commission did not meet in January, so Rosenblum had no report on its latest initiatives. She did report, as liaison to the Library board, a wish that the Town consider creating space to archive art works and precious volumes that are in the Library's possession. There idea appeared to get little traction from the board.

At the next regularly scheduled meeting, February 10, supervisor Jeff Moran hopes to have a list of architects and their proposals for the town board to select from to move the proposal to relocate all Town offices currently located in the Town Hall and Comeal offices to the vacated Elna Ferrite building.

To quickly recap the immediate future meetings dates, the town board will meet Monday, January 26 at 3:00 PM to discuss the 300 foot tower on Overlook Mountain, which according to a memo sent to the Town by its land use attorney Drayton Grant is in violation of the zoning law. The following day, Tuesday January 27 the town board will meet at 4:30 to discuss the comprehensive plan.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Woodstock Town Board Meeting January 13, 2009, Part Two

This article appeared in the Townsman, January 15 edition
(I apologize for the lack of proper sequence; part one is below after the Annual Townsman Quiz)

Woodstock, January 13, 2009

There were sharp disagreements at the public hearing that concerned the upcoming 2009 Farm Festival. Technically the hearing was to focus on a town board decision whether or not to close Maple Lane for eighteen Wednesdays from 2:00 to 10:00 PM from May until October to accommodate the Farm Festival, but comments from members of the public tended generally to express feelings about the Farm Festival per se.

Almost twenty people spoke on the matter, with fourteen expressing their strong support for another year of the event that attracted a number of venders of produce to set up at the Houst parking lot, coupled with entertainment and vending of other products on the adjacent Mower's field.

Robin Cramer, Misty Lucas and Matthew Ballister, each a shop owner in town, were critical of the Town "subsidizing" an event that had what they described a negative impact on their businesses.

Cramer asked the board to consider another location for the Festival, claiming event attendees take up available parking that makes it harder for people to shop at stores "that pay rent." She thought it highly unfair to give preference to an outside entity by letting them "cherry pick" the best time of the year for retail. When suggested by councilwoman Liz Simonson that the matter was a Chamber of Commerce issue, Cramer shot back, "I ripped up my membership. The Chamber does not represent me." She expressed her hope that the town board "will take local businesses into consideration."

Lucas presented a letter signed by a number of merchants pointing out that while the Town "subsidized" the Festival there were by her latest count 12 retailers that have gone out of business. She criticized the expenditure of $5000 in taxpayer dollars to pay for police traffic control. She also cited the parking as a problem. Speaking on behalf of businesses she concluded, "Forgive us if we are nervous about what is primarily a social event."

Ballister opened up his remarks by saying "The Festival is great, but not good for everybody." He reminded the board, "Last year the Festival was promoted as a benefit to everybody. It's not." Claiming as a resident taxpayer the event was costing him money to benefit venders that do not contribute to town organizations, such as little league baseball, he declared, "There is a really big wrong here. You can't bring another town into town once a week." He also pointed out the unfairness to businesses that had been forced to pay in-lieu-of-parking fees only to see those spaces taken up by Festival goers. Councilman Jay Wenk asked if he could come to Ballister's store and see the impact the Festival will have on his business. Showing some impatience Ballister reminded Wenk, "You were supposed to do that last year, remember?"

Barry Samuels, president of the Chamber of Commerce, defended the Festival. After expressing his support he suggested, "Let's try to solve the problems rather than it be either-or. Businesses should be proactive to attract business."

Other responses to the complaints by Cramer, Lucas and Ballister ranged from the suggestion by Dee Dee Halleck that Ballister should "set up a juice bar" at the Festival, to Peter Walther's declaration that "People have the right to use the streets and parking has always been a problem." Michael Veitch, Festival safety officer, announced that volunteers were being trained as traffic controllers and that the police service, and its attendant cost, would no longer be necessary.

Richard Goldman, attorney, landlord of four businesses (one recently shuttered), and officer of the Farm Festival, spoke of a "Good, productive first year." He thought that the "Petitioners should have come to us. We are all on the same side." He said the Farm Festival organization was actively thinking up strategies to get Festival goers into the local shops. "We need input from the businesses." He specifically invited Cramer, Lucas and Ballister to "sit down and work collectively on the issues."

The hearing was closed an hour after it had begun.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Annual Townsman Quiz

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, January 15 edition
This blog will be updated January 29

It's now time for the Annual Townsman Quiz. The respondent who correctly answers the following questions will receive membership on the Woodstock Ethics Board, although a prize of less certainty is not known to exist. Ready for fun? Here we go!

1) How long before the Woodstock town board adopts a resolution pertaining to world or national issues not in their purview, for instance a resolution calling upon President Obama to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan or calling upon Israel to stop defending herself?
a)When Ed Sanders says it's time.
b)Three months before the local Democratic caucus.
c)Two months before the local Democratic caucus.
d)One month before the local Democratic caucus.

2) After more than three years of deliberation, when will councilman Chris Collins present a proposed comprehensive plan?
a)He won't; the evil town supervisor will fire bomb his house first.
b)Three months before the local Democratic caucus.
c)Two months before the local Democratic caucus.
d)One month before the local Democratic caucus.

3) Councilwoman Liz Simonson will finish entering the Town's energy consumption data into the Clean Air and Climate Protection (CACP) software provided her last spring
a)When hell freezes over.
b)Three months before the local Democratic caucus.
c)Two months before the local Democratic caucus.
d)One month before the local Democratic caucus.

The press will report Councilwoman Liz Simonson's completion of entering the Town's energy consumption data into the Clean Air and Climate Protection (CACP) software provided her last spring in a
a)10 point headline.
b)20 point headline.
c)40 point headline.
d)60 point headline.

4) Councilman Jay Wenk will stand up during the pledge of allegiance when
a)The Karmapa apologizes for KTD, levels the monastery and renovates the Meads Mountain House into a state-of-the-art Wenk Museum and Archive.
b)President Obama declares Jay Wenk's birthday a national holiday.
c)Congress admits Wenk as the fifty-first state.
d)He can.

5) Watching councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum on the town board is like watching someone
a)Shovel **** against the wind.
b)Spit against the wind.
c)Blowing in the wind.
d)On a long and winding road.

6) Supervisor Jeff Moran will see his proposal to examine the feasibility of using the Elna-Ferrite building for municipal offices when
a)Hell freezes over.
b)Simonson completes entering the Town's energy consumption data into the Clean Air and Climate Protection (CACP) software provided her last spring.
c)Congress admits Wenk as the fifty-first state.
d)**** happens.

7) In the coming year most town board meetings will end around
a)10:00 PM.
b)11:00 PM.
c)12:00 AM.

8) A motion to adjourn a town board meeting means
a)It's time for three members to sneak in a resolution not on the agenda.
b)Trouble for ethics board members.
c)The sun is coming up.
d)All the above.

9) The proposed RUPCO affordable housing project behind Bradley Meadows will
a)Go up in flames.
b)Go down in flames.
c)Burn down the town.
d)Burn up the town.

10) Old buried fuel tanks in the aquifer area will be removed after
a)There is cell phone service in the western end of town.
e)Simonson completes entering the Town's energy consumption data into the Clean Air and Climate Protection (CACP) software.
b)Collins presents a proposed comprehensive plan.
c)The next ice age.

11) In the coming year the flashing red light on top of the three hundred foot tower on the top of Overlook Mountain will signify
a)A potential site for a cell phone antenna.
b)A violation of the zoning law.
c)Area 51 is relocated to Woodstock.
d)Jay Wenk's ego.

12) The Committee For Woodstock's Future will identify its officers
a)When David Lewis, Craig Barber and Jay Wenk realize they took money from a political entity not in compliance with New York State Election Law and insist on it.
b)One month after the next local Democratic caucus.
c)Two months after the next Democratic caucus
d)When there is cell service in the western end of town.

So that's it! Mail in your entry not forgetting to include your address. Winning contestants will be notified on April Fools Day.

ADDENDUM: I had reported last week that the Town switched its account from Bank of America (BOA) to TD North "pursuant to a complaint loudly publicized last month against Bank of America by Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich and echoed by councilwoman Liz Simonson. " Simonson did indeed at the December 16 meeting of the town board echo the governor's complaint that Bank of America was treating a local company unfairly, but according to a letter received from councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum, "the transfer of funds from BOA to TD North had nothing to do with Liz's objection to what BOA did to some company out west. Pam [the Town's bookkeeper] and I had been talking with TD North for many, many months before Liz's statement and the clincher for switching was that BOA was charging our employees who did not have a BOA account $8 to cash their paycheck."

Needless to say I owe the governor of Illinois an apology.

Woodstock Town Board Meeting, January 13, 2009

This article appeared in the Townsman, January 15 edition

The Woodstock town board's public hearing on a proposed franchise renewal with Time-Warner cable company seemed to be headed toward a repeat of the much heard concern that the agreement didn't provide enough funding for the public access studio, but then collided into the concerns of a cohort from upper Mink Hollow Road decrying the lack of cable service to that area.

The hearing began with Richard Spool, long time public access channel volunteer, appealing for a better facility, claiming it was necessary to attract more users, particularly youth. His comments were echoed by Russel Richarson, director of the Onteora School District Indy Program, who said he would like to see a speedy resolution so that the new educational channel, which will soon broadcast into the school district municipalities of Hurley, Olive and Shandaken, will also be seen in Woodstock. Time Warner has stated that it will not send the signal into Woodstock without first a signed renewal. Dee Dee Halleck, public access television activist, praised the efforts put into the studio by volunteers, but still found the facility lacking. Ellen Povill, also a station volunteer, urged the board not to rush into an agreement, hoping that further negotiations will result in the Town getting a better studio. There were some calls for an audit of Time Warner's books to ensure the Town had been receiving all the franchise fees it is entitled to. Station volunteer Gordon Wemp advised the board to "Be specific about what you want. Time Warner is not holding us hostage; we are holding ourselves hostage. Get on with it."

David Nelson Epstein, an Onteroa teacher who has been active with video arts programs for youth, asked the board to resolve the issue quickly so that students could have their productions seen in Woodstock. "It is not the eleventh hour, it is now the fourteenth hour."

The discussion took a dramatic detour when Mink Hollow Road resident Bill Dubilier complained "We desperately want cable," and insisted on an agreement that would bring service to his remote location. Federal law mandates cable service to areas where at least 35 potential hook-ups exist. The proposed agreement under consideration reduces that number to 20, but it is unclear if that would qualify sparsely populated upper Mink Hollow Road for service. Other areas in the town not served include upper Hutchin Hill Road, West Saugerties Road, upper Silver Hollow Road and the Shady side of Meads Mountain Road.

After hearing Dubilier's passionate plea councilwoman Liz Simonson, who has served on the town board for eleven years, and councilman Jay Wenk became militant, Simonson saying, "We should be tough negotiators and demand service for the whole town." Wenk went so far to say, "We must hold their [Time Warner] feet to the fire and defy the law as much as we can."

Supervisor Jeff Moran expressed his opinion that asking for service extension may be more important than seeking public access funding. Simonson at first appeared to agree, but then quickly added that public access television was also important as was auditing Time Warner. The hearing was recessed after the board seemed to agree that consultant services would probably be necessary. No time line was offered and it is unclear how long it will be before Woodstock receives the educational channel broadcast from Onteora.

The public portion of the town board meeting had begun at 7:40 PM, when long time resident and volunteer fireman Jim Hansen was recognized during the public-be-heard segment. Hansen presented the board with a petition signed by 96 residents (he claimed two more petitions were also circulated but not in his hand) calling upon the town board to "do everything possible to assure Ametek [former Rotron] that it is welcome in the community." Hansen was reacting to a discussion entertained by the town board several weeks ago that had given a public platform to several individuals unhappy that some components manufactured by Ametek are used in military equipment. Their hope had been that the town board would pressure Ametek to reconsider its business plan. "To give Rotron [Ametek] a hard time at a time like this is ridiculous," said Hansen, citing the number of jobs (estimated at around 400) provided by the company and also the fact that Ametek staffs and operates the town's emergency medical response team during its working hours. "We are advised to think globally and act locally," said Hansen. "The operative word is 'think.'" Councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum in a letter to the editor had already distanced herself from the proposal to pressure Ametek.

In other business, David Gross was reappointed to the Woodstock Environmental Commission, with councilman Chris Collins abstaining in the vote. Ann Brandt was reappointed by a unanimous vote. Long time member and chairperson Mary Burke was denied reappointment in favor of Michael Veitch, with councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum voting nay. A new chair was not appointed. Jim Dougherty, Joan Krotenberg and Toby Heilbruhn were appointed to the ethics board, replacing the two members that had been unceremoniously dumped, and Terri Reynolds who apparently failed in her bid for re-appointment.

By a unanimous vote the Town of Woodstock will not honor the County's request to be a co-applicant in support of a Local Government Efficiency Grant Program, intended to "support the purchase and installation of an Automatic Vehicle Location System (AVL)" in all municipal and county vehicles. Moran expressed continuing dissatisfaction with the County's handling of the take over of the elections process, which had added a considerable expense to the Town's election budget. In an amusing side bar, considering that Simonson has been working several years on a project to "green" the Town's fleet of vehicles, she "guessed" the number of Town-owned to be around 25. The Town fleet consists of 41 vehicles.

A meeting was scheduled for Monday, January 26 at 3:00 PM to discuss with the Town's land use attorney Drayton Grant the process for "legitimizing" the three hundred foot tower on top of Overlook Mountain. The tower lost its utility status, and therefore its exemption from the zoning prohibition, when it ceased broadcasting a television signal. "We got a tower that ain't coming down," averred Simonson, who hopes that legalizing the tower will entice cell phone service providers to the facility and send a signal to the western areas of the township not currently served. Simonson said obstructing cell service installation on the tower was the zoning revision in 2005, prohibiting such array in elevations 1200 feet above sea level (the tower in question is approximately 3000 feet above sea level), forgetting that her amendment to the zoning law in 1998 prohibited such array in zoning districts designated R-8, which was and is the designation of the tower's parcel. There is no study confirming that the tower would provide service of any significance to the western areas of the town, except for a report submitted by the tower owner.

On Tuesday, January 27 at 4:30 PM at the Town Offices there will be discussion on councilman Chris Collins' progress with the comprehensive plan.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the town board will be on January 20.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cable Fantasies

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, January 8 edition.

My reporting in the December 24 edition on the cable tv franchise renewal with Time-Warner apparently struck a nerve in Woodstock resident Dee Dee Halleck, who has graced the area's editors with her riposte to "several confused and incorrect statements" and a recommendation that "instead of accomodating to [sic] Time Warner's shoddy deal, Woodstock should sue the company for attempting to hold our citizens hostage by denying the long required educational channel until the proposed franchise is signed."

That's enough to fill the rest of the decade, but Ms Halleck is not easily surfeited:

"In terms of finding a town to make a comparable assessment, I suggest you visit the facility in Falmouth, Massachusetts ( either in person or via their web site. Falmouth Community TV has a slightly larger subscriber base, but they also have an expanded summer population that is quite similar to Woodstock."

I visited the town of Falmouth and the Falmouth public access web sites, and even spoke with a Victoria (508 457 0800) at the studio.

This is a portrait of Falmouth:

Total area 54.4 sq mi (141.0 km2)
Population (2000) 32,660
Assessed value $11,400,000,000 (Eleven billion plus)
Estimated median household income in 2007: $44,797
Estimated median house or condo value in 2007: $492,649

This is a portrait of Woodstock:

Total area 67.9 sq mi (141.0 km2)
Population (2000) 6,241
Assessed value $1,280,000,000 (One billion plus)
Estimated median household income in 2007: $49,217
Estimated median house or condo value in 2007: $369,000

So Ms Halleck is slightly close; Falmouth is only five times more populated and only ten times wealthier. At least we beat them area-wise and with the median household income.

But what I learned at the Falmouth public access tv web site and in speaking with Victoria is more illuminating.

According to Ms Halleck, "They [Falmouth] negotiated with their cable corporation for funds to build an entire building specifically designed for their needs. Their comfortable studios and meeting rooms also provide a gallery space for local artists. They have seven paid staff and a crew of volunteers. Falmouth Community TV Director Debbie Rogers 508-457-0800 could answer any questions you might have about their procedures and discuss their own quite successful 'tough' negotiations."

According to the website and Victoria, users ("members") of the station pay $30.00 annually for the privilege (family rate available), sponsors (area businesses) kick in a tidy sum, and the rest, according to Victoria, comes from a 3% franchise fee. Using rough calculation, if Falmouth has five times the number of subscribers than Woodstock and grossed $10,000,000, the 3% franchise fee amounts to $300,000.

Not to bore you, but this is what I reported December 24 regarding franchise fees:

"Municipalities may impose a franchise fee of up to 5% of the company's gross revenue, which Woodstock has since at least 1986. The cable subscriber pays the fee in his or her monthly payment to the company, which then remits the sum to the Town on a quarterly basis. Last year Woodstock's general fund received $110,000 from the cable subscribers."

I'll repeat it for the hard of hearing: The cable subscriber pays the fee in his or her monthly payment to the company…

To put it another way, the check may come from the cable company office, but the money comes from the subscriber's pocket.

One does not have to enter into a "tough" negotiation to obtain the blessing of 3% of your cable bill going to support public access ($64,000). Time-Warner would happily agree to a provision that does not affect their bottom line one iota. Woodstock can require that 3% of your cable bill go to public access, just as Falmouth has, and budget the remaining 2% to the Town to sweep streets, plow roads and empty the trash. The Town would merely have to raise $64,000 in taxes to maintain its level of services.

Ms Halleck suggests "instead of incriminating the efforts of citizens to uphold those regulations" the newspaper (me) should talk to the folks that operate our public access channel. I have. It was my initiative that ended the stupidity of town board appointed committees to oversee the studio, which then permitted those who care the most to run the station. They have done an outstanding job, and among the letters of gratitude I wrote before leaving office December 31 2007 were one to each of them. How lamentable that Ms. Halleck should not have received one for all she has said, if for the little she has done for the station's day-to-day operations.

"There has been no official audit of the Time Warner revenue reports, something suggested as a regular procedure by the cable consultants," says Ms Halleck. She is either comical or sly, for if you carefully parse her sentence it's meaning is contrary to what I believe she means, which is, Time-Warner's revenue reports should be audited. Well, audits cost at least a few thousand dollars, and according to councilwoman Liz Simonson, the last time (1999) the Town paid for one it turned out that Time-Warner's accounting was practically to the dime.

But Time-Warner, you see, is very, very evil. It is apparently a company that wants to make money. To my December 24 report, "Time-Warner installed a complete fiber-optic system replacing the old co-axial cable, making Woodstock in 2001 one of the first communities in Ulster County to have access to high speed internet by cable, Ms Halleck shoots right back, "Time Warner installed this to reap the lucrative fees that have made Woodstock one of the most profitable areas with a similar population." This is another odd sentence, which I will leave for you to parse, but I think I get it; we were duped.

A consultant that Ms Halleck highly touts apparently recently negotiated a franchise renewal for a Healdsburg CA that "requires their cable provider to rebuild their fiber/coax to 750+ Mhz at the time of renewal." Woodstock's upgraded 750+ Mhz fiber optic system was completed by 2001. It cost the Town a letter of thanks from their supervisor.

Ms Halleck's dissertation on the evolvement of the educational channel spawned by the Onteora school district is so hot and gristly I'm afraid to stick my fork in it. Let her show us the letters and documents substantiating her meaty contentions.

In fact, if Ms Halleck would show the Town ONE, JUST ONE of these legendary, signed franchise agreements that gifts public access stations in municipalities our size (and wealth) with hundreds of thousands of dollars of free money from the greedy cable companies (and not the subscribers), JUST ONE, I would insist in this space that Woodstock accept no less.

Ms Halleck is apparently a reader, and I will keep you updated.

Woodstock Town Board, January 6

This article appeared in the Townsman, January 8 edition

The annual organizational meeting of the Woodstock town board began with the announcement that receivers of water/sewer bills had been inadvertently overcharged, and that rate payers may either ask for a corrected bill, or if they make a payment then receive a credit toward their next bill due in late March. Higher rates, which had been scheduled for 2009, were mistakenly used to calculate the billing for the period beginning last September and ending November 30. The new rate became effective December 31, 2008. With that out of the way the board plunged into business that was completed in an hour and fifteen minutes.

The Townsman and the Woodstock Times again were designated the Town's official newspapers, meaning that legal notices of the Town will continue to be posted in both.

Pursuant to a complaint loudly publicized last month against Bank of America by Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich and echoed by councilwoman Liz Simonson, Town moneys will be moved from that bank to TD BankNorth.

Several boilerplate resolutions were unanimously adopted, but one of the most routine of all, mileage reimbursement for use of private vehicles to conduct Town business lost Simonson's vote. She felt that the drop in gas prices made the 55 cents a mile too generous, and was not swayed by the argument that wear-and-tear on a vehicle should also be factors to consider.

Rules of Procedure adopted July 8, 2008 remain applicable for the year 2009.

Richard Heppner was appointed to another year as town historian, and will also serve on the Commission for Civic Design.

Tony Padalino was reappointed to the ZBA, his term to expire on 12/31/13. Howard Harris will remain as chairman.

The resolution to reappoint Teri Reynolds to the ethics board (EB) caused a severe hic cup. Since the summary dismissal of two members last December, Fran Breitkoph and Alison West, and with the December 31 expiration of Ms Reynolds' term the board now has only two sitting members. There are four applicants for the three vacant seats. Councilman Chris Collins, claiming that "very cloudy issues came up about the ethics board," and that the Reynolds appointment "could affect or exacerbate…conflicts within the ethics board," held out and finally prevailed in delaying any appointments until all the applicants had first been interviewed. There was considerable re-hashing of the sudden action on the part of Collins, Simonson and Jay Wenk that dismembered the EB last December, the tone of which could not auger hopes for a congenial town board in the coming year. Collins' foreboding was apparently based on a "minority report" sent to the town board from EB member Laurie Rosenberg. A Freedom of Information request was made for such letter.

Using the same logic, Mary Burke's reappointment to the environmental commission was also delayed until applicants could be interviewed for her vacant seat.

There were apparently no applicants for the vacant planning board seat, and Paul Shultis, Jr. was reappointed unanimously, his term to expire 12/31/15. Simonson had voted no when Shultis was first been appointed in 2002.

Mark Peritz will chair the planning board for the coming year.

The services of attorneys Rod Futerfas and Drayton Grant were retained at a rate of $150.00 per hour for the year 2009.

The Catskill Center for Photography, Maverick Concerts, Performing Arts of Woodstock, the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum, Woodstock Arts Board, the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, the Woodstock Historical Society, the Woodstock School of Art, the Woodstock Guild, Ars Choralis, and the Woodstock Poetry Society will each receive $200 from the Town. The organizations use the donation as proof of the community's support when seeking grants.

A very clumsily produced resolution made in the supervisor's absence at the December 30 year-end meeting that parked in a repair reserve the $186,600.00 received from sale of the California Quarry parcel to the Open Space Institute, which had been no one's intention, was rectified by the supervisor who persuaded all but Simonson to put it into a buildings reserve for the capital upgrade to town buildings. The former resolution was unanimously rescinded.

$12,000 was restored to the landfill repair reserve as established February 12, 2002. The remaining $30,000 had been appropriated last November to offset the 2009 tax levy.

Town board subcommittees were established.

Supervisor Jeff Moran will head the infrastructure subcommittee to oversee the proposed improvements to the Woodstock Town Hall. Moran will also liaise with the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce and Arts.

Councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum will liaise with members of the recreation commission, summer recreation program, library board and police department.

Councilman Chris Collins will continue to advise on the proposed comprehensive plan, the proposed wellhead protection overlay district amendment, the proposed wetland and watercourse amendment, and he will liaise with "the arts."

Councilwoman Liz Simonson continues on subcommittees to research alternatives to Town vehicles that contribute to green house gasses and global warming, to propose means and methods for replacement of polluting vehicles with 'greener' vehicles, to audit energy use of Town buildings, and to continue her endeavor to bring cell phone service to the western areas of the town.

Councilman Jay Wenk will continue to recommend courses of action to address the potential danger of buried fuel tanks, particularly in the area over the town aquifer, and liaise with the seniors.

The Town's lengthy procurement policy was re-established.

Supervisor Moran's appointment of councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum as deputy supervisor for all the year 2009 (there had been an understanding that each councilperson would serve in the role for six months, Simonson and Collins already having served their terms in 2008 and Rosenblum and Wenk expected to share 2009) was considered by Collins to be an "insult to Jay [Wenk]" and elicited Wenk's declaration, "I take offense," and on that note the meeting adjourned.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Book Of The Year

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, December 31 edition.

For our community that went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama there is much to look forward to beginning January 20, Reverend Rick Warren not withstanding. But for many of us, even those not victimized by Bernie Madoff or a mortgage broker, 2009 is not going to be an easy row to hoe. Markets plummeting with our retirement portfolios, unemployment rising with our blood pressure, and prospects looking flat as this year's holiday sales all paint a grim picture of the coming year.

So what good fortune it was to stumble over The War-Time Guide Book For The Home, a 1942 publication by the Popular Science Publishing Company. I think this volume came into my possession after cleaning out a great aunt's basement thirty years ago, and has sat in mine all this time.

While reading through the Guide it is obvious not only the shortages caused by the WW II effort, but also the privations caused by the Great Depression made this a handy compendium for do-it-yourselfism, and who knows, the day soon may be upon us when we have to make our own laundry soap, fix our own rotted window sashes, or make up our own "rodent paste" (ycch!).

Directions for "blackout protection" may seem a little quaint, but I suppose the same technique used to stop light from getting out the windows could be used to stop heat, too, and make us all more fuel efficient.

Speaking of blackouts, how about a recipe for ginger wine? It's here:
Sugar, 9 lb
Whole bruised ginger, 4 oz
Raisins, 7 oz
Lemons cut and sliced, 4
Water, 3 gal
Heat all but lemons. Cool and add lemons and then yeast.

Mmm, can't wait.

What the heck was going on in 1942 here on the home front that we needed to fireproof clothing? Dunno, but there are directions on page 29 (warning: suitable for white clothing only). Maybe it was for town board members, for knowing Woodstock I'm sure somebody was furious at them in 1942 for allowing Rotron to make war parts that injured Germans.

Little pomade for the hair? Page 63 (Hint: lots of Vaseline).

A little section called Food In The Woods begins with:

"By foraging through the woods in the summertime, a substantial amount of huckleberries, wild blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries may be gathered. Acorns and hickory nuts also can be found available without much trouble. A piece of fresh sassafras root, sliced into boiling water, will make an excellent tea." It goes on to mention, "Although most of the vegetation dies in the winter, clumps of wintergreen may be found in swampy country. By looking in tree hollows, it is often possible to find a wide variety of nuts stored there by an ambitious squirrel. The lowly cat-tail…"

I think you get the picture. But doesn't it amaze you to consider that just 66 years ago the idea of looking in tree hollows for "a wide variety of nuts" was a serious recommendation? I have no idea what that generation did with wintergreen, and I won't bother reporting to you what one can make with the "lowly cat tail," but my guess is the biggest Wal-Mart hater in the world would probably swallow his pride and shop there before doing it.

I am glad I found this guide; it tells me of the bone and sinew that made up our parents and grandparents as they lived through an era a lot scarier than the one we live in now, and if not scarier certainly less gourmandizing (Acorns? Ginger wine?). It tells me that as grim as it gets we will somehow manage. After all, they did.

Town Board 2009 Dreams

This article appeared in the Townsman, December 31 edition.

With 2008 behind them members of the Woodstock town board hope 2009 will see the completion of their respective projects, some of which have spanned years.

Among the oldest of the endeavors, dating back to January 2006 is councilwoman Liz Simonson's self-appointed task "to research alternatives to Town vehicles that contribute to green house gasses and global warming, and to propose means and methods for replacement of polluting vehicles with 'greener' vehicles." In the three years since the Town has purchased more than half a million dollars in trucks and cars, all similar to the vehicles purchased in the past.

In the last year Simonson has shared responsibility for improving parking on the upper Comeau, the present situation described by many parents of soccer kids as very dangerous. She has recently been told expanding the parking will require a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, since the area is not zoned for parking. "I can see that this is going to take a long time," says Simonson. Variances can be granted in less than a month's time from date of application.

In addition to the so-called "green fleet" project, Simonson in 2007 encouraged the town board to join ICLEI (once acronym for the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, but now calling itself Local Governments for Sustainability), a membership association of local governments committed to advancing climate protection and sustainable development. After unsuccessful attempts, reported at several town board meetings, in late summer Simonson was at last able to download ICLEI produced Clean Air and Climate Protection (CACP) software, an application that will help the Town:
_Create emissions inventories for the community as a whole or for the government's internal operations.
_Quantify the effect of existing and proposed emissions reduction measures.
_Predict future emissions levels.
_Set reduction targets and track progress towards meeting those goals.
Simonson on December 16 reported continuing to enter data, a process she described as "a very hard job," not helped by losing the aid of a high school student who originally had signed on to assist.

Simonson has also vowed since the beginning of 2007 to bring cellular phone service to the western areas of Woodstock. Despite having what she described as a productive conversation with C. Powers Taylor, owner of the three hundred foot high tower that beams a red warning light from atop Overlook Mountain, there has been no further word on a scheme to hang an array on the tower, except to announce that interest in the site by NEXTEL, a wireless service provider, has apparently dried up.

Simonson also had announced earlier this year her intention to tweak the zoning law to make some sandwich boards legal, this after the Town in 2007 had begun and then after her insistence abandoned cracking down on the illegal postings.

Councilman Chris Collins since joining the town board in 2006 has been the point person for developing policies with respect to land use. His major area of concern has been updating the Town's comprehensive plan, a document meant to articulate the development goals of the community and guide land use decisions for the next ten to twenty years. He has been working with a thick draft document dating back to 1999. Despite Simonson's observation earlier this year that the draft document was dated and that perhaps it was time to start all over, Collins has soldiered on. He now proposes treating an executive summary of the cumbersome draft as the comprehensive plan document. A date for another discussion on the matter has been tentatively set for January 12.

Collins, with Simonson's help, is also seeking to amend the zoning law by adding a provision regulating development near wetlands, watercourses and water bodies. An initial 28-page proposal was heavily critiqued at a public hearing held earlier this year, and a revised document will be discussed on February 10.

Although the town board adopted in 2007 an amendment creating an aquifer protection area surrounding the municipal wells, the law was never filed and therefore never entered into the code. The status of this regulation remains unclear and lately not discussed.

Councilman Jay Wenk will continue to labor with his endeavor to remove buried oil tanks in the area of the aquifer that feeds the municipal wells. At the board's December 16 meeting he reported that the idea of converting residences using oil to propane ran up against the unfortunate fact that most of the residences have their furnaces located in the center of their abodes, and that the fuel lines come through the poured concrete slabs. Altering these lines for replacement furnaces "will be more costly than I had thought." A similar report was made to the town board in 2002.

Wenk was more successful in getting the board to reiterate a "no idling" resolution that he had authored during his first term as councilman (1990-1993). The resolution encourages motorists not to idle their engines more than a few minutes, and is entirely voluntary.

Wenk, on record as declaring "there is absolutely no question that some of our employees and departments are working in unsafe and dangerously crowded conditions," has vowed "to avoid past mistakes and oversights" in getting the matter "resolved by the present [town] board." He says he will rely on new consultants for this endeavor, having decided after a year that he didn't have confidence in the current one.

Wenk also opposes the use of five-pointed stars on Town winter holiday decorations, claiming they have religious significance, but has not yet disclosed what he proposes to put in their place.

Terrie Rosenblum completes her first year on the town board, serving as liaison to the Woodstock Library and the recreation commission. Among her endeavors for the coming year is to refine the Town's website so as to be better used as a sounding board for citizens concerns, ideas, and comments. Also, picking up on a refrain heard in this year's unusually well attended fire commissioners vote, she wants to find "new and exciting innovations that will make room for more of our talented citizens to participate in volunteering for town projects. For example: expanding our performance and public spaces, especially if we are successful in consolidating the needs of the towns departments."

Rosenblum, perhaps with a nod to the cuts and bruises from serving on a board that has seen its share of contention, says, "I have the honor of serving on the Town Board because of the people who believe in me, and who I never want to let down…and am equally aware that not everyone voted for me, and that I have the responsibility to hear, consider and dialog with those who think or behave differently than I do." She also promises to "continue to strive to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am."

Supervisor Jeff Moran, also completing his first year in public office, is on vacation and could not be reached for this article. In other venues, however, he acknowledged the challenge of shepherding taxpayers' dollars and maintaining municipal services while the Town sails into what could be an economic storm.

The annual organization meeting of the town board is scheduled for January 6 at 7:30 PM at the Community Center, where the above endeavors will begin to take shape.