Thursday, April 30, 2009

Buy-out Blues, Cont'd

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, April 30 edition

Councilman Jay Wenk, who sits for the Pledge of Allegiance but jumps for the medical buy-out, wrote us a letter criticizing my report on the discussion of the issue at the Town Board last week, claiming it was “political.” This is another word for “untruthful” or at least “tendentious.” I thought I should clear this up, and I sent Jay an e-mail. All the questions are based on the official 2003 edition of the Town of Woodstock Employee Handbook.

Dear Jay,

I am responding to your critique on my reporting, including your statement:

"In the interest of truth, he could have referred all questions to page 2 of the handbook where it states, unequivically, under Definitions, that all of us [elected officials] are 'Employees'"

(As a courtesy, Jay, I cleaned up your typos, but left 'unequivically' alone. I know a similar word, 'unequivocally,' but I thought that your spelling might convey a deeper, and more subtle meaning or intention.)

I have the following questions, and if you would be kind enough to answer them I will set the record straight, if it should need straightening.

The same handbook states:
"Method of Payment. Partial payment of the buy-out (1/26th of the annual premium) will be made in the employee’s regular bi-weekly paycheck for each pay period the employee is eligible for the buy-out."
Are you paid bi-weekly, or twice each month?

The same handbook states:
"Sick Leave Buy-out. Effective January 1, 2003, full time employees who have accumulated over thirty-five days of sick leave may, at the employee’s option, sell back to the Town up to twelve sick days per year at 50% of their current daily rate of pay, provided that the sale of such sick leave does not reduce the employee’s sick leave accumulation below thirty-five days. Payment for such excess sick leave shall be made in the first pay period in December.”
Are Councilpersons full-time or part-time? If part time, they should pay 100% of their medical insurance (see next item). If full-time, will you ask for the sick-leave buy-out, too?

The same handbook states:
"Part-time employees working less than thirty hours per week and hired on or after April 1, 1998, who choose to participate in the Town’s health insurance program, if eligible, must contribute 100% of the cost for either family or individual coverage."
Does Liz contribute 100% of the cost for either family or individual coverage?

The same handbook states:
"Use of Personal Leave. The use of personal leave by an employee must be pre-authorized by the employee’s department head."
Who is your department head?

The same handbook states:
"Failure to Successfully Complete Probationary Period. In the event an employee's performance or conduct is not satisfactory, the Town may dismiss the employee from employment or return the employee to the employee’s previous position, as the case may be, at any time on or before completion of the maximum probationary period. Such action shall not be subject to the grievance procedure or disciplinary procedure."
Does this apply to you?

The same handbook states:
"It is the policy of the Town of Woodstock to maintain personnel records for current and past employees in order to document employment-related decisions and comply with government record keeping and reporting requirements…

"The records maintained by the Town include, but are not limited to, the following: Civil Service employment application, Report of Personnel Change forms, copies of job-required licenses and certificates, federal and state withholding tax forms, immigration (I-9) forms, retirement enrollment/waiver forms, health and dental insurance enrollment/waiver forms, disciplinary and grievance notices, letters of acclamation, awards, newspaper clippings, and probationary reports."
Does your file contain newspaper clippings? Shouldn't it, including the Townsman’s, if you are an employee?

The same handbook states:
"An employee who intends to resign from employment must submit a written resignation to the employee’s department head at least two weeks before the date of resignation is to be effective."
In the past elected officials made their letter of resignations to the Town Clerk. Is the Town Clerk your department head?

The same handbook states:
"Before resuming employment, an employee must submit a statement from the employee’s health care provider indicating that the employee is able to return to work either with or without restrictions. Failure to return to work when required may be considered a voluntary termination."
Will this apply to you?

The same handbook states (this is a reprise of an earlier question):
"Payroll Period. All employees are paid on a bi-weekly basis."
Are you paid on a bi-weekly basis, or two times a month?

The same handbook states:
"Effective January 1, 2003, the Town will provide either uniforms or an equivalent allowance of up to $450 per year for the purchase of work clothing, and an annual boot allowance of up to $175 per year. An employee must be employed by the Town for a minimum period of six months before being eligible for the boot allowance."
Since you are (in your opinion) eligible for the medical buy-out will you also accept the work clothing and boot allowance?

The same handbook states:
"The purpose of performance evaluation is to appraise an employee’s past performance and potential. The performance evaluation will take into consideration the employee’s work quality, job knowledge, initiative, attendance, teamwork, conduct, communication skills and such other criteria which properly reflect the employee’s performance."
Who will conduct this performance evaluation?

In addition to the above, if and when you get to amend the handbook (which you described as having "many problems"), the following may be of interest to you:


"Military Leave. This section refers only to an employee’s paid leave for military service under New York State law and does not effect an employee’s entitlement to leave needed for military service under federal statute. The Town of Woodstock recognizes the importance of the Military Reserve and National Guard, and will permit any employee the use of military leave to participate in annual encampment or training duty. The Town will grant such leave with pay for up to twenty-two working days or thirty calendar days in a calendar year, whichever is greater."
Will you stand for this even if they are ordered to Iraq or Afghanistan? What if they volunteer?

Please respond in time for me to correct the record, if it needs correcting. And thank you for pointing out, even if obliquely, that although the employee-elected official ambiguity may appear in your eyes, it had never appeared in mine, and I never thought for a second I was entitled to the buy-out. It's a small thing, Jay, and one I never made a big deal out of, and I blush from your making the fact not only so large but well known.

End of my e-mail to Councilman Jay Wenk. Haven’t heard a word yet. Make of it what you will.

Woodstock Democratric Committee Endorsements

This article appeared in the Townsman, April 23 edition

The Woodstock Democratic Committee (WDC) at its April 20 meeting voted to endorse the candidacies of Cathy Magarelli and Bill McKenna for Town Board in the upcoming September Democratic primary. It also endorsed Republican incumbent Town Clerk Jackie Earley in her quest for a fourth two-year term.

Sixteen of the 18 WDC members were present (Brian Shapiro and Rennie Cantine were the absentees) for voting on the endorsements. Magarelli received 12 votes, McKenna 11, and Earley 11.

There was also a near-unanimous vote to grant Earley and Reynolds the so-called Wilson Pakula, which will permit them as non-registrants in the Democratic Party to participate in the September Democratic Primary.

Endorsements for Town Supervisor, Highway Superintendent and Town Justice were set aside since there are so far no announced candidates for these positions other than the incumbents Jeff Moran, Michael Reynolds and Richard Husted, respectively.

If candidates for these offices should declare themselves in the near future it is possible the WDC will hold another round of interviews with possible subsequent endorsements, as done for the Town Board and Town Clerk positions, according to WDC member Gordon Wemp, who chairs the Primary Oversight Subcommittee.

There was also a vote to replace Sam Magarelli, who earlier this year had resigned his position as WDC chairman, with Sasha Gillman.

Ralph Goneau was thanked by the WDC for his work on a yard sale-fundraiser that netted the WDC approximately $1100.

Committee secretary Tom Oker, who abstained from all the endorsement votes, explained that he felt the process had been too rushed. He cited a motion that had been offered by Marcia Panza, which in essence tried to halt the formal endorsements, but which had been defeated by a 9 – 6 vote.

Chris Collins did not respond to a request for comment on the proceeding. Collins, who had announced his interest in seeking a second term on the Democratic line, did not interview with the WDC, nor was he present when the endorsements were announced.

Simonson, seeking a fourth four-year term, had interviewed with the WDC for the Town Board endorsement, and responded to a request for comment, saying, “The results of the meeting were what I had expected. The only surprise was the complete lack of transparency and disorganization by the Committee.”

Ken Panza, who also had been interviewed for the Town Board position, commented, “As expected, last night the WDC endorsed a slate of committee insiders as town board candidates to rubber-stamp positions advocated by Jeff Moran and Terrie Rosenblum.” He also criticized the WDC for lack of transparency.

Town Clerk Jackie Earley said, “I am absolutely thrilled! I am very fortunate to have been endorsed by the Republican, Democratic and Independence parties the last three elections and I hope continued endorsements means my Office is running well and continuing to be fair to all.”

Bill McKenna was “…Happy to know that my previous work on the Woodstock Town Board is appreciated by the WDC. I am honored by the endorsement.” He also praised the work done for the WDC by Cathy Magarelli, its treasurer, and her husband Sam Magarelli.

Cathy Magarelli’s response to the WDC endorsement was, “…I will accept all the moral support but I will not be accepting any financial assistance directly from the committee. As treasurer I feel the money the committee raises should be used after the primary for the Democratic Candidates running in the November election. I would like the tone on the Town Board to be one of cooperation with a willingness to make decisions in a timely fashion. Let's move forward.”

Woodstock Town Board Meeting, April 21

This article appeared in the Townsman, April 23 edition

The monthly business meeting of the Woodstock Town Board began with several extremely well received presentations before descending into a noisy, nattering series of back-and-forth that appeared to lead nowhere.

Beginning the evening was Alfred J. Sweet, Director of the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, which is celebrating its thirtieth year of existence. Mr. Sweet, who began his presentation with the promise he was not seeking funding from the board, led the officials and the meeting attendees through the fascinating history of the orchestra, its accomplishments, its distinction as Ulster County’s only professional chamber orchestra, the numerous talents it had employed over the decades (some of whom went on to extremely distinguished careers), and the joys and challenges that face any arts organization that tries to keep itself afloat, especially in these times. With its 38 musicians, Mr. Sweet was careful to point out it was not a “symphony” orchestra, which is usually composed of numbers of musicians almost three times as many. He announced the orchestra’s May 3rd performance at 2:00 PM at the Bearsville Theater as one not to miss. Judging by the response there may well be a full house.

Paul Shultis Jr., representing the Skate Board Task Force followed with a final report on improvements to the skate park by the Woodstock Youth Center that will mitigate the sounds that have irritated neighbors. He gave the board recommendations with regard to materials and contractors and left it to them to execute the project, all its cost falling below the $45,000 budgeted f0or the project. When prompted by Councilman Jay Wenk to remind the public the moneys were provided by outside sources, and not Woodstock tax dollars, Shultis thanked the former town Supervisor for securing the funds by receiving a member item provided by Senator Bonacic, and he also thanked Jay Cohen for services he had provided for the task.

Jay Wenk in January, 2007 had sent a letter to Ulster County newspapers criticizing Bonacic for enabling New York State legislation somehow connected to causing unnecessary American casualties in the war in Iraq, a completely unsubstantiated claim that at the time was seen as an attack on the former Supervisor’s good relationship with the Senator, but all that seemed to have been forgotten.

Greg Stanton, who was appointed by the Town Board earlier this year to head up a task force to address the problem of roadside litter, gave an ebullient report that almost had people on their feet. Seeking to create what he termed an “innovative, environmental and sustainable program,” and working with the New York State Department of Transportation, plus private businesses that include the Ulster Savings Bank, County Waste, Dick Benoit and members of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce and Arts, Stanton put together a program involving at least 100 volunteers set to go off on Saturday, June 6 (rain date June 13). “Our goal is to collect at least three hundred bags of litter” from off the roads of Woodstock. Describing the venture as not only a beautification program, but also one to bring out all the pride and joy one should feel living in Woodstock, Stanton attracted several volunteers on the spot. 679 3469 if you want to volunteer. Jackie Earley, the Town Clerk offered to be a contact person as well (679 2113 ext # 4)

Candace Balmer, an employee of RCAP Solutions, an organization dedicated to the preservation of water resources, and with expertise in areas concerning municipal water and sewer systems, offered her services, quickly accepted, to help the Town identify water-sewer infrastructure needs and to pursue grants that may defray a considerable portion of their costs.

The tremendous good feeling created as a result of the presentations by members of the community was then quickly dissipated with desultory sniping and bickering on a discussion of the Time-Warner contract. Supervisor Jeff Moran’s announcement of his close work with County officials to expand broadband services in the more rural areas of the town, and his optimism that “Hopefully there will be good news soon” on the matter as a result of discussions with Time Warner Cable Company was met with criticism and sneers from Councilwoman Liz Simonson, who feels the Town should stop everything and hire a consultant. Moran thought by May 12 something definitive concerning expanding service into news areas, not all areas he was careful to point out, will be known. Action was deferred until then.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Primary Example

The following opinion piece and one article appeared in the April 16 edition of the Townsman.

The Woodstock Democratic Committee (WDC), according to a recent opinion, has decided to take the “fun” out of selecting candidates for local election on the Democratic Party line this coming November by substituting a September primary for the traditional caucus, which generally had occurred on the hottest night of either July or August. Everybody knows what a bore primaries are; just look at that ho-hum game of tiddlywinks we were forced to endure last year between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Was anything more tiresome? If we had just sat back and let the Iowa Caucuses settle the matter, think of all the money that would have been saved and used to prop up the housing market.

According to the recent opinion, the WDC caucuses in 2005 and 2007 were “spectacles entirely worth the money.” Reading this one would think the 2005 and 2007 caucuses were similar in nature. Let’s revisit them.

What would become the memorable 2005 caucus began in 2004, when lo, it came to pass that a September primary was required to settle which among 300 or so candidates should fill the 18 chairs of the WDC. This was the first time in Woodstock’s political history such balloting was needed. The voters’ participation was so overwhelming it must have taken twenty seconds to count the 123 or so ballots cast in the important contest. You probably don’t even remember this because there were no editorials lamenting the cost of the primary to the poor Republicans and non-enrollees that could not participate.

Anyway, probably the most stellar cast of characters ever elected were seated on the WDC as a result of the September, 2004 primary, and they promptly set about doing what we expected of them, which was to raise money for the 2005 caucus to be held at the Bearsville Theater on a queasy and sultry night in August of that year.

Now talk about a spectacle! The WDC chairman at the time, let’s just call him The Pale Rider, presided with a countenance meandering from a nunnery to Robespierre, while the parliamentarian, none other than His Worship, cloistered himself in a back room with his well-thumbed edition of the Mugabe Rule Book, and occasionally with that strange whinny that portends a cold wind issued interpretations that made a game of tag among unruly boys seem by comparison well-ordered and fair.

Meanwhile the ballot box, that hitherto revered icon of American Democracy, somehow developed legs that would be the envy of Fred Astaire, and danced up and down the stairs depending on who was at the door. I dare say that had it not been for the invention of the sneaker the poor fellow whose job it was to lug the crate – for it had long lost its distinction as a ballot box – would probably no longer have feet for purposes other than sweetening his breath. Oh my goodness, what a night, and talk about getting your money’s worth, this blessed event lasted until four in the morning and the few faces you saw walk out of the barn when it was finally over you have not seen since your last all-nighter.

As an example of just how superior this caucus was to all others, it began with approximately 500 participants that on the first ballot placed Chris Collins a distant fourth out of five candidates for town board. The last balloting, which started at about 2:30 AM, and then required the services of the Animal Control Officer to chase down the dancing crate in order to tally its contents, declared Collins the winner out of the 46 ballots cast by those who didn’t have to get up and go to work the next day. Not a second passed before the Parliamentarian whinnied that the caucus was adjourned. He apparently was given the authority to whinny the caucus to an end since The Pale Rider had long retired to his nunnery with the gavel that is ordinarily wielded for such purpose.

It was a show that Richard Daley The Elder must have applauded from his special place in heaven.

Sadly, for those who prefer spectacle over democracy, The Pale Rider, His Worship and the poor scamp with the worn-out sneakers, and others of their tribe, were removed from the WDC by the 2006 September primary, which you probably don’t recall since nobody made the effort to fuss over the poor Republicans and non-enrollees that couldn’t participate in the vote.

This precipitated the 2007 caucus. Even though more than 600 Democrats participated in this caucus the dreary proceeding was over before the sun went down. The lithe and frolicking ballot box was replaced with two five-hundred pound voting machines, which took all the fun and spectacle, not to mention the fancy foot work, out of the occasion. Participants had the option of sitting through the windy speeches, or just showing up (as most did) to cast a prosaic vote. Such a bore. To say that everyone was delighted by the outcome would be a stretcher, but considering the one fellow who went on to be elected to sit on the Town Board, and I do mean SIT, stretcher might not be the worst thing (maybe a recliner would be better), and anyway, nobody complained that the process was unfair.

It was conducted sort of like… like a primary.

So now we’re stuck with something awful, aren’t we? Gosh, people eager to serve in office will have to gather signatures and submit them by the end of July, and then explain to Democrats for a WHOLE MONTH why they should be nominated for the November contest. This is more than awful; it’s serious. The next thing you know we’ll be expected to show some respect for the offices they choose to run for.

What a blow to The Pale Rider, His Worship, the poor scamp with his worn out sneakers and the Committee For Woodstock’s Future.

Woodstock Town Board Meeting, April 14

This article appeared in the Townsman, April 16 edition

The three members of the Woodstock Town Board, councilpersons Jay Wenk, Chris Collins and Terrie Rosenblum came under heavy fire for taking the so-called medical buy-out in lieu of the Town provided health insurance.

According to the Town’s Employee Handbook it is very clear that full time employees, part time employees working at least twenty hours a week and hired before 1998, and all elected officials are entitled to Town provided health insurance. It is also clear that town employees who can provide proof of comparable health insurance provided by other sources, for instance if a Town employee’s spouse provides he or she with health insurance through their place of employment, then the Town employee may receive the buy-out, which is calculated at 50% of what it saves the Town by not insuring them. What is ambiguous, or at least since January of 2008, is whether elected officials and employees have the same status with regard to the buy-out.

If precedent is any guide, no elected official had ever received the buy-out prior to January 1, 2008 when the current Town Board took office.

There were several speakers from the public, all of who spoke negatively to a resolution read but not seconded by Supervisor Jeff Moran that sought to end the ambiguity by explicitly allowing the buy-out option to elected officials.

“Taking tax payer’s money is not what you were elected for,” said Sam Mercer, long time observer of local politics.

Former Town Board member Bill Kronenberg, who lately has made only infrequent visits to Town Board meetings, call the practice “Unethical and absolutely wrong… I am appalled… As good Democrats I think you should think about this.” Kronenberg, who is a life-long Democrat was addressing a board consisting of all Democrats.

Steven Grenadir pointed out the conflict, or at least the appearance of a conflict on interest in Town Board members accepting a buy-out that only gets larger if they decide to offer more generous health plans to the employees.

Iris York noted, “It appears to be double dipping.”

Ken Panza, who has announced his decision to run for Town Board this coming election, stated he would not accept the buy-out even if he were entitled to it.

The response from the Town Board varied, beginning with Rosenblum’s reminder that by accepting the buyout she was saving the taxpayers the increased expense of her taking the Town’s health plan.

Collins claimed that he had been a cancer patient, and that some of the buy-out money he used to pay for costs his health plan with Ulster County Community College would not cover.

Wenk was circumspect, opposing the resolution because he felt it addressed only one of the many problems with the Employee Handbook, which has not been updated since 2003. The other problems were not identified.

Councilwoman Liz Simonson, who takes the Town provided insurance, made it very clear she would not support the resolution.

The resolution died on the table. Since not one of the three members taking the buy-out offered to forgo it until the ambiguity was resolved it appears they will continue to receive it.

In other business the board was urged by David Boyle to sign the franchise agreement with Time-Warner, which would open the residents of Woodstock to the educational channel with a head end in the Onteora School District facility in Boiceville that has been available to residents of Olive, Hurley and Shandaken since January.

David Corbett, with assistance from fellow Comeau Trails Task Force, gave a power point presentation on the condition of the trails on the Comeau property. It is the opinion of the task force that significant risk to the public and severe damage to the environment is exacerbated by increased traffic and the Town’s lack of attention to the trails. The task force will be back in sixty days with proposals for remedying the situation.

Paul Shultis Jr., representing the Skate Park Task Force, presented the board with samples of the sound-deadening material that will be used to mitigate the audial impact of the skate park on adjacent neighbors. He also announced that the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) had granted the variance that will allow the replacement of the existing fence with a ten-foot high fence, and he provided estimates from three different fence companies. With the help of volunteers Shultis expects that the project can be completed for under the $45,000 that had been provided by a member item from Senator Bonacic in 2007. Shultis, a member of the Woodstock Planning Board, also announced that the special use permit for the skate park had been extended, and will be reviewed by the Planning Board once the project is done and new sound measurements can be made.

Simonson, heading up the effort to enhance the public’s safety by expanding the upper Comeau parking lot, announced that the ZBA, which had consulted with the Ulster County Planning Board, could not grant a variance for the expansion. The expansion will require a zoning amendment. No particular course of action was offered aside from a vague reference to a “packet’ of zoning amendments that have apparently been in the works.

Despite strong objections from the Supervisor, claiming the action would be premature, councilman Collins, with the seconding by Wenk and the approval of Simonson, offered a resolution to declare the town board lead agency for execution of the Comeau Easement. The lead agency will be responsible for conducting an environmental study of the action (only vaguely described in the resolution), and eventually making a determination of its environmental significance. After much wrangling the resolution was unanimously adopted. Most curious, especially in the case of Simonson who has been on the Town Board for more than eleven years, the resolution did not include a provision for circulation among involved agencies, so it will be interesting when the board comes to make an environmental assessment. Also curious were veiled references among board members to the uncertainty that the Woodstock Land Conservancy, as stated in the easement document adopted by referendum in 2003, will in fact be the body enforcing provisions in the easement.

Supervisor Moran announced that U.S. Census workers will be in our area between April and July to identify the addresses of all housing units for the 2010 Census. Census employees will wear official identification and carry hand-held computers to collect the data. A Census Bureau Partnership Specialist will be in our area to answer questions during the information-gathering period.

Purchases of copiers and highway equipment were unanimously approved, as were resolutions authorizing the Supervisor, Highway Superintendent Mike Reynolds and Town Clerk Jackie Earley to attend seminars having to do with their respective offices.

Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum, who up until recently had worked as a part-time emergency dispatcher for the Town, resigned the position. The resolution accepting his resignation included a message of thanks for his service.

Larry Allen was hired as a Water/Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator, effective April 7, 2009.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

An Unprintable Letter?

This paper, as you should know by now, is a voice for moderation. It is our policy not to print every single letter heaved over the transom, and the office is, I can attest, littered with unprinted, and in some cases unprintable communications. We have many rows over what to and what not to print, and the following letter almost ended friendships. However, we finally decided fine, we’ll print the thing but instead of in the letters section we’d fill this space instead. Here it is, and you may decide on the matter of our taste:

Dear Editor,

I know we’re just a small town, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come up with big ideas. Well, I got one, and anybody who’s got an IRA that stinks like what I got in this morning’s mail should perk up.

With everything that has been happening lately I think it’s time to take another look at witch burning and see if it did any good. One thing for sure, the effort of our fore-bearers has certainly paid off when you see exactly just how many witches we have left around here. Okay, so we can’t get old Mrs. Daunch out of the post office, but aside from that.

And forget about the namby-pambyism keeping the murderers alive in prison, because everybody I talk to is thrilled about sending an AIG executive up, CO2 emissions and all. That blather that we live in an era “too advanced” forgets, like the writer in this paper just recently pointed out, that we burned more witches during the Age of Reason than at any other time in our history. So if it was good enough for Salem it should be good enough for us. Those were the same people that founded Harvard, after all, by the way.

Getting back for a moment to those CO2 emissions, we could recycle some of the energy into home heating. Yeah, I’m one of those suckers that signed up for ‘price protection’ last summer, so you can sign me up for this one, too.

Unfortunately, Obama speaks complete sentences, so it’s easy to pick up on his dithering over this one. Maybe one of the geniuses in congress can shove AIG burning into his energy plan to get him to move, but let’s not count on it. We need to persuade him that although double talk is fine for maintaining the mismatches in our society, gosh almighty, isn’t it time to start a ball rolling even if it isn’t necessarily along the lines of past-practice?

If you’d do another headline about bonuses it would be great! If the people of Connecticut jump down Senator Dodd’s throat, well shame on them; Dodd has done more for the cause than any other genius in Washington, a town noted only too much for its willy-nillyism. Tell your readers to get off their duffs and send a telegram to Connecticut right now saying ‘MORE BONUSES.’ This worked five hundred years ago when the Pope used to get hundreds of e-mails saying ‘MORE INDULGENCES.’ No reason not to use the tried and true.

Okay, some people say it’s just too extreme or dangerous. Baloney! Most of this stuff would go off in very nice communities, some of them even gated. In any case there are enough swimming pools around over there to handle any mishap.

Let’s stay focused on what we are trying to accomplish, namely, Smoke The Bonus Takers. It’s an easy thing for most of us to understand who have never in our entire working lives got one, unless you’re counting that ‘Secret Santa’ crap you got at the office Christmas party.

Think about it. After the first dozen or so are up in fumes, how many bonus-takers do you think will stick around? Think of the trickle down effect; I bet the waitress will fly out the door after you to give back the tip you left. Admit it, times are tough, you couldn’t use it?

Let’s agree that too much time has been wasted wondering Where The Money Went. Believe me, our sterner ancestors didn’t dither over such questions during the Plague. They took action and burned witches and the Plague ended. If this isn’t enough to get you out of that chair and into the street, well what ever will?

Look, we’re sick and tired of half-solutions. If this newspaper won’t stand up and say, “We’ve had enough,” then I guess we’ll have to wonder just where do you really stand, won’t we?


“Smokin’ Mad “ Bill Krimmy

Good For The Cats

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, April 2 edition

Believe it or not, this article begins my second year of wasting perfectly good ink on this weekly billboard. My apologies are also extended to the trees, which have made the ultimate sacrifice for my prattling. My conscience is somewhat eased by the knowledge that I address you, the world’s most ecologically advanced community, who will not irresponsibly throw this paper out, but will insist on an additional use for it, and when your cats or birds have daubed my work with their flourishes we can all agree, How Much Better It Is.

There is no one who will recognize the improvement more than certain local “players” and politicians. I know for a fact that some of them, who do not have cats or birds, read this paper while sitting in the smallest room in their houses, and when done it is then quickly behind them. This, too, can be considered “recycling” and we should commend them for it.

Speaking of inane reading, I recently perused a biography of Queen Victoria, she of the “Victorian Age.” It is curious that an “Age’ given down to us as a symbol of sexual repression should be named for a woman who married at twenty and was gestating her fifth child by twenty-six! Those of us of a certain age have during our lives witnessed the “sexual revolution” and supposedly now live in a time of sexual openness, and yet barely ever do we see a family with more than 1.3 children.  (I have to admit that the sight of those .3 children does disturb me.)  It appears that History tries to obscure more than it tries to inform.

In a similar vein, more witches were burned during the Age of Reason than any other period in Western history.

In another similar vein – and you knew I was getting to this – the Age of Woodstock signifies peace, love and environmentalism?

Peace and love can reside only in our heart, and it’s either there or it ain’t. With many people in our community it is. From them emanates the aura and charm and beauty of our town, indeed like the warmth that radiates from a potbelly stove. It is expressed by good works, volunteerism and keeping the radio down when the windows are open. And then there are some who have not peace and love in their hearts, and who don’t pretend that they do, and who are sour, mean, self-aggrandizing, but at least honest. They can be loved because they are not duplicitous. If you accept an invitation into their world, you will not be shocked to find it hard and cold; they never pretended you would find it in any other condition. The really annoying people are those who lecture us on peace and love. They are the fewest among us, but talk the loudest. Their public declamations and letters to the editor berate us for not joining in their sentiment of peace and love. How sad for them, and what a strain on our ears, that peace and love are not sentiments; they are dispositions. It’s there or it ain’t.

That being said, in my opinion there is enough peace and love in Woodstock to qualify us for the reputation. Admittedly, sometimes it may seem like a close call.

But as far as environmentalism, we’re definitely stuck in Hummer mode.  I do wish the town board would get out of its own way and make progress with cutting our waste of energy. It would be a good example for the rest of us. The Town certainly sets a terrible example by operating buildings that squander tax dollars by converting them into BTUs that fly out municipal windows into the ether. It makes Bernie Madoff look like a good investment; certainly the same return. I will offer advice not worth the paper it’s printed on, but since the paper will be used for additional purposes anyway I’m not loath:

I don’t know if centralizing Town services into the Elna building is a good idea or not. I first have to know the cost. I will never know the cost if the Town Board won’t provide an estimate. It is said such estimate would cost about $15,000. Get it.

Then we can compare that cost with the cost of renovating Town Hall (which we know to be in the area of $2 million). Then the community can make a decision based if not on facts then at least on good, educated guesses. Right now we’re just shooting in the dark.

We get tons of excuses for not getting the Elna estimate. They are stupid reasons, every single one of them, believe me. Again, this is not an endorsement of the Elna proposal. This is a plea for information.

Just get it. It wouldn’t necessarily lead us to purchasing and renovating Elna. It wouldn’t necessarily lead us to renovating the Town Hall. The community, once it has the facts can and will decide which building it wants for a Town Hall.

Woodstock belongs in the 21st Century. We really can be a part of the Age of Woodstock. Act. Lead. Please.

Here, kitty kitty kitty…


Woodstock Democratic Committee Interviews

This article appeared in the Townsman, April 2 edition

Woodstock, March 30

            The Woodstock Democratic Committee (WDC) held a meeting the evening of March 30 at the Catskill Center For Photography for the purpose of interviewing announced candidates seeking the Democratic Party line in this year’s November election.

            The WDC may or may not endorse candidates for this coming September’s Democratic primary, the first for Woodstock local elections, which replaces the traditional caucus system for selecting candidates. The Committee earlier this year decided that with the growing number of Democrats participating in caucuses the primary system would offer more opportunity for Democrats to engage in the political process.

            Whether the WDC endorses or not, candidates who want to be on the September primary ballot first will have to secure at least the required minimum number of signatures of registered Democrats, approximately 150, during a petition period of several weeks that will begin in about three months.

            Jackie Earley and Michael Reynolds, since neither is a registered Democrat first will have to obtain from the WDC a “Wilson Pakula,” which would allow them to compete in the Democratic primary. Earley, first elected Town Clerk in 2003 and Reynolds, first elected Highway Superintendent in 2005, are each seeking reelection, and were interviewed by the Committee. “Wilson Pakula” refers to election law legislation adopted in New York State in 1947, which allows political parties to admit or deny candidates not registered to their party access to their ballot line in primaries and general elections. The WDC has not formally announced whether it will grant the waiver, but inside sources indicate it most likely will, citing a long history of endorsements of non- enrolled Democrats in political caucuses.

            Earley is being challenged by Democrat Jane Valand, a political newcomer, who won a seat on the WDC in 2008. Reynolds has no announced opposition.

            Town Supervisor Jeff Moran, who was called away by a death in his family and could not be interviewed, has no announced Democratic opponent, and neither does Town Justice Richard Husted, who was interviewed.

            With the exception of incumbent Councilman Chris Collins, the several announced candidates for Town Councilman were on hand. Included were former Councilman Bill McKenna, incumbent Councilwoman Liz Simonson, WDC member Cathy Magarelli. Planning Board member Laurie Ylvisacker, and Ken Panza. WDC Chairman Sam Magarelli was interviewed, but concluded his interview with the announcement he would not run for the position.

            Magarelli, former Ulster County Legislator and more recently the coordinator of the extremely well received Annual Volunteers Day celebrations, was seen as a formidable candidate, and there were expressions of regret from some that he had decided not to compete. He strongly endorsed his wife, Cathy for the town board seat, saying, “Cathy will provide fresh energy, new approaches and a respectful attitude. She can help to bring about long awaited change.”

            Cathy Magarelli issued a statement saying, “My goal is to work with the people of Woodstock in a way that unifies us. While it is important to take the appropriate amount of time to study the issues, it is important for the town board to act in a timely manner. Woodstock has significant problems with its facilities.”

            Bill McKenna, who had served on the Town Board 2004-2007, issued a statement saying, “I first of all want to make sure the Town is addressing the new financial climate by implementing the most prudent budgeting, and also I want to end the gridlock that has gripped the board these last couple of years.”

            Other candidates were given opportunity to make statements, but have not. There was no explanation for why Collins did not attend the meeting, despite having announced his intention to seek a second term.




Thursday, April 2, 2009

Three Superiors

The following opinion piece appeared in the March 26 edition of the Townsman.

It is said that a sign of superior intelligence is the ability to entertain two opposing thoughts or ideas at the same time. We recently saw a demonstration of this by three members of the Woodstock Town Board, who with one hand held as sacred the right of free speech, and with the other tore down signs calling for their impeachment.

It is nowhere said that possession of superior intelligence implies modesty – one might think it should, but it doesn’t – so it can be expected when those so gifted insist on press conferences for demonstration of their wit that we respond with some sense of awe. The subtlety of three elected officials together engaged in an act of petty vandalism will never be compassed by the inferior mind, certainly not this one, so awe, although I agree perhaps vaguely inappropriate, is the only word to describe the residue of my impressions of such display and – more to the point – ostentation.

The inferior mind, however, does not imply a lack of curiosity – one might think it should, but it doesn’t – and after councilman Jay Wenk removed twice the sign calling for his impeachment (he had to do it again for the tardy camera), with councilman Chris Collins steadying the ladder, and councilwoman Liz Simonson carrying to the scene additional tatters of the First Amendment, my extremely stunted mental capacity began to wonder about a matter that has the true interest of our community, namely, RUPCO.

It is generally known that the three Superiors are less than enthusiastic about the RUPCO application to build 53 units of affordable housing. Unfortunately for them, their hands are tied by that controlled and ordered force we call ‘Law,’ in this case the zoning law, in this case the zoning law that was written by His Worship in 1989 and which specifically allows for such development in the proposed location.

Recent extensive reporting has clarified the following:

1) Last year the Ethics Board received a complaint from someone alleging a conflict of interest on the part of two Planning Board members, a conflict the complainant felt egregious enough to force the two members to recuse from RUPCO discussions and determinations. With one member already recused, this would have left the RUPCO application to be determined by the remaining four members of the PB, including one that had made public statements against the project and who was nevertheless appointed PB chairman by the three Superiors of the Town Board. It would require four votes to approve the RUPCO application. Do the math.

2) The Ethics Board in late 2008 returned a decision that the two members did not have a conflict, and so they have remained in the mix.

3) In December of last year the three Superiors suddenly yanked two members off the Ethics Board, and declined to re-appoint a third.

4) In February recent, the Ethics Board, its five members stocked with three new faces selected by the Superiors, in an action comparable to the sudden and arbitrary protuberance of a plumbing mishap, issued a determination that the two PB members in question should recuse.

[UPDATE: After a discussion with the attorney for the Town the Ethics Board declared the new determination to be a mistake.]

Here’s the quiz: Is there a connection from all this to the three Superiors?

There is no definite answer. We can rely only on past practice, and the example of the three Superiors saying one thing and doing another.

In this instance they have spoken against, but have practically guaranteed the approval of the RUPCO application.


The most casual observer knows the RUPCO case will end up in court. If RUPCO is approved, then it will be up to SAGE (the society opposing the RUPCO application) to prove to a judge that the PB failed either to consider the environmental impacts, or failed to properly apply the law, or both. I will not guess this outcome, but I will recall for you that the Woodstock Planning Board has been upheld in all its past controversial decisions (KTD, Highway Garage, Cell Tower).

If RUPCO is denied, then it will be up to RUPCO to prove to a judge that the PB did not base its determination on facts or the law but rather on arbitrary and capricious motives.

So the judge will look for facts. The judge will need a forensic linguist to sort through it, but eventually will decipher Councilman Chris Collins’ February 12 written statement to the PB as derogatory to the RUPCO application. The judge will wonder over the three-vote appointment to the PB chairmanship one who had spoken against the project. The judge will ponder the strange circumstances of the unceremonious dumping of two members of the Ethics Board. The judge will ring up the courthouse maintenance man for a plunger when he/she stumbles upon the odd, sudden eruption of last February’s decision of the new Ethics Board. The judge will think about the backlog of cases piled up on the desk…

This RUPCO is so done.

Those who have hoped for more from the three Superiors will be left with the full implication of electing superior minds.

* * *

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT! The New York chapter of the ANTI - ANGST LEAGUE is proud to announce the opening of its new Sign Therapy service in Woodstock. Sign Therapy addresses the needs of those who have been victimized by signage intended to hurt their feelings. As a community promotion, Sign Therapy will be offered free to Liz, Jay and Chris, to Bush, to Israel, to KTD and to the Company 1 Firehouse. Contact the Committee For Woodstock’s Future for more info.

$10,000 Legal Opinion!

This article appeared in the Townsman, March 26 edition

The recent discovery that the Town of Woodstock paid approximately $10,000 in 2008 for a legal opinion concerning its right to improve the upper Comeau parking lot without violating the provisions of the thus far unexecuted Comeau Easement has directed more focus to the document, which legality had been upheld by a decision rendered last November by the New York State Appellate Court.

The Easement was developed from response to the unpopular proposal in 2002 to locate the Town’s highway facility on a portion of the Comeau property, a proposal soundly rejected by a referendum in March of that year. Subsequently, a committee was appointed by the Town Board which purpose was to propose a means of “best protecting” the property.

After a lengthy deliberation the committee proposed putting a conservation easement on the property. The document delineated “open areas,” “forested areas” and “governmental areas” and placed unique restrictions and/or conditions on each one. For instance, forested areas were to remain such, with pruning and cutting permitted only for the purpose of enhancing the forest’s health or protecting the public’s safety. Governmental areas, which include the existing town offices plus an additional one-acre envelope, the parking lots, the Historical Society building and a two-acre area at the bottom of the property set aside for future needs, are permitted to expand their uses up to a certain, defined point. Lands already cleared would be maintained as meadows. The Woodstock Land Conservancy (WLC), the proposed co-signer of the document, would be the agency that would enforce the Easement provisions.

The Easement was overwhelmingly approved in a 2003 referendum. It was not until late last year that its long journey through the courts was finally brought to an end by the Appellate Court decision. Since that time the Town and the Conservancy have yet to execute the document.

On May 20, 2008 the Town Supervisor, Jeff Moran, in response to a number of soccer parents concerned with unsafe conditions, asked for a resolution from the Town Board to permit expansion and improvement to the upper Comeau parking lot and Comeau Road in order to accommodate the large numbers of vehicles chaotically thrown together during soccer meets. After a meeting that continued until almost 1:00 AM the resolutions to protect the public’s safety were tabled in deference to Councilman Chris Collins’ concern, echoed by Councilpersons Jay Wenk and Liz Simonson, that the improvements might jeopardize the then still pending litigation over the Easement. According to minutes of the meetings, “Collins stated he is willing to take action only with written permission from Steve Barshov.” Barshov, of Sive, Paget & Riesel, is the New York City attorney representing the Town in the Easement litigation.

The $10,000 six-page Barshov opinion, dated July 14, 2008, gave a clear go-ahead for the parking lot improvement, but equivocated on the question, “Could improvements or alterations to the Comeau property undertaken now create complications for the Town in the future when implementing the Easement after the current litigation is ended?”

One of Barshov’s suggestions was for the Town Board to discuss the proposed improvements with the WLC. The WLC, however, in response to a similar overture in 2007 when the Town wanted to install a structure for the soccer league that is larger than what would be allowed by the Easement, took the position that it would not involve itself in these kinds of discussions until the easement was properly signed and executed. In that instance the Town went ahead and installed the structure without seeking permission or legal opinion.

(The Town is currently in the process of seeking a variance from the zoning law that would permit expansion of the upper Comeau parking lot. A Zoning Board of Appeals decision is expected later this month. A recent determination of the Ulster County Planning Board has thrown a cloud over the issue, and the variance is by no means a done deal. Meanwhile, the WLC in a communication last year addressed to the Town before receipt of the Barshov opinion, reaffirmed its position not to intrude on matters involving proposed Comeau improvements until the Easement is signed.)

The $10,000 legal opinion is a pittance compared to the amount, some estimate to approach $175,000, spent defending the Easement against the lawsuit brought against the Town by Vincent LaBabera. Now that the lawsuit is dismissed, and attention focused on actually executing the document, attention has been drawn to the language of Section 7.02 of the Easement, which reads:

“This Easement can be terminated or modified in accordance with the common and statutory law of the State of New York applicable to the termination and modification of easements and covenants running with the land.”

This language is of interest because legislative bodies, which includes town boards, have the power to condemn conservation easements, as much as they have the power to condemn property when such condemnation is necessary to effect a public improvement or provide for the public’s health, safety and welfare. For instance, if a future town board wanted to permit a highway facility on the Comeau property it could do so after a minimum of three members of the board voted to initiate a condemnation proceeding against the Easement.

When asked for comment on the $10,000 legal charge, Councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum responded, “…We [do not] get any additional benefit by using a Park Avenue lawyer whose practice is based in NYC. “ Rosenblum further stated she felt the Town’s land use attorney, Drayton Grant, would be capable to answer such questions as had been addressed to Barshov.

Supervisor Moran responded, “I would characterize the work performed by Mr. Barshov in this instance as approaching the very high end of expensive, given what the Town is accustomed to paying Town Attorney Futerfas and Town Land Use Attorney Grant. While I did not agree that such a communication was necessary in the first place, I respect Councilman Collins’ wish to operate within both the letter and spirit of the draft agreement. I was, however, greatly surprised at the length of the response and the concomitant cost of same to the Town, and would urge the Board to deliberate very carefully before again engaging a Park Avenue law firm, and incurring the high overhead costs that necessarily entails, for legal work within the Town of Woodstock.”

Councilpersons Jay Wenk, Chris Collins and Liz Simonson offered no response.