Sunday, February 27, 2011

Important School Board Meeting

This Wednesday evening at 6:00 p.m. at the Cioni Building is an extremely important meeting of the School Board. The buildings committee is set to present its recommendation to close both Meagher and Sophie Finn Schools.

I think it is essential that a big attendance on behalf of these schools be seen. The City of Kingston always seems to get the short end of the stick from the School District. We received a secretly higher tax increase than expected or advertised and now they want to close 2 of our schools while leaving the rest of the district intact.

Let's show the school board that Kingston is willing to fight back and be heard. I know we all have busy schedules, but I can think of nothing more important than showing our support to the parents, students, and taxpayers of this district. I hope to see all of you there.

Kingston Needs to Be Patient

In today's Daily Freeman, Mayor Sottile and a few Aldermen announced that they want to "reconsider" Kingston's participation in URGENT. This position is an overreaction and potentially an extremely foolish one.

There is no question that an audit must be done of URGENT. The allegations pending against a former leader of this organization merits a full review. However, if the audit and review shows only dishonesty from one individual, it would be unwise to withdraw from the program, especially in light of the tremendous success the program has had on crime in the City of Kingston.

Arrest after arrest has been made by the URGENT team. I urge my readers to do a search of prior articles over the last 2 years in the Daily Freeman. You will see involvement by URGENT in almost every drug arrest cited therein.

I understand the anger and frustration felt by all involving the allegations against Tim Matthews. I share these feelings. Nevertheless, it would not serve the public to be penny wise and pound foolish. Let's wait and see the results of the audit and investigation. Once completed, if it is shown that only one man was involved, then some simple changes to URGENT regulations to prevent reoccurrence will solve the problem.

If we overreact and destroy URGENT, the only winners will the drug dealers and criminals.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Running for Mayor

This evening on WKNY radio, I announccd my candidacy for Mayor. Below are my remarks from the radio program:

Kingston stands on the precipice of a truly monumental election. For the first time since 1989, there will not be an incumbent running, which guarantees a new Mayor will be serving as of January 1, 2012. It is an opportunity for the people of Kingston to chart a new course and establish a new philosophy of government.

The next Mayor will have to deal with many significant issues and problems facing our city. He will need experience and knowledge in very specific areas. He will have to be willing to make substantial changes to improve our government, yet be mindful of Kingston’s rich heritage and history, so as not to harm or destroy things precious to Kingstonians.

While crime continues to plague our community, the Kingston Police Department has recently suffered a black eye due to criminal charges and pending investigations against one of its most honored members. The fallout of this scandal threatens to undermine the morale of the men and women serving this city regardless of whether the officer in question is convicted or acquitted. It will take time for the department to recover from the headlines of recent weeks.

It is very possible that our Police Chief may be retiring in the near future after a long and stellar career. As such, the next Mayor will have the responsibility to select the person who will succeed our Chief and lead the department into the future.

Our next Mayor must have knowledge, understanding, and a solid background in the area of law enforcement, yet also know the limits of his knowledge and when to allow law enforcement experts to make the day-to-day decisions. There will need to be changes in regulations and procedure to prevent future problems within the department. There will need to be a concerted effort to assure the citizenry that the Kingston Police Department is still an honorable institution existing to serve and protect the public.

However, it is not just the Police Department that must be evaluated and changed. The Fire Department, Department of Public Works, and frankly all of our city departments require a thorough review from top to bottom. Audits of budgets, manpower, and equipment, as well as a review of internal regulations and procedure, are necessary to make sure that taxpayer money is being used properly, efficiently, and without waste.

Over the last several years, the relationship between city workers and the Mayor’s Office has become strained. Numerous grievances and lawsuits have been filed costing the city thousands of dollars and potentially costing the city substantially more in the near future. The next Mayor must represent the taxpayers, but also have respect for the men and women working to keep our City running.

On the economic front, the City of Kingston is in crisis. Our affairs have been mismanaged, our tax base shrinking, and our expenditures growing. Our city is hemorrhaging jobs. Businesses are fleeing Kingston and “For Sale” signs dot our landscape.

The City needs a Mayor who understands how vital it is to both cut taxes and spending, and bring new employers into Kingston. Most importantly, the next Mayor of Kingston must have an economic development plan that addresses the tax burden, the homestead vs. non-homestead tax differential, and the yards of red tape and governmental regulation that face businesses and developers looking to invest in Kingston. We simply cannot continue to force entrepreneurs to wait five or six years and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars without even getting a shovel into the ground.

With these problems and many others facing our city, now is not the time for on the job training, nor is the time to elect a politician simply looking for the next step of a hoped political career. Our next Mayor must be ready to hit the ground running on day one and have a clear and unambiguous plan and vision for our city.

Over the last month, I have been strongly considering running for the office of Mayor. I have spoken with my wife and family, and have prayed for proper guidance and wisdom in making this decision. This past Friday, I reached my decision.

I am announcing this evening that I am going to run for Mayor of the City of Kingston.

My campaign will deal exclusively with the issues and problems facing our city. I have a comprehensive plan for dealing with these issues in order to both make quality of life better for all of us and to bring new businesses into our great city.

Crime is threatening to overwhelm our city, much like it has Newburgh. No real attempts have been made to seek state and federal law enforcement grants. As a former Assistant District Attorney, I have actually taken criminals off the streets. I understand law enforcement. I also know what the limits of my knowledge are and when to allow the law enforcement experts to make the day-to-day decisions. This combination of skills and understanding will help rid Kingston of the criminal element which is making life so difficult for so many of our friends and neighbors. No other mayoral candidate has the law enforcement and legal credentials that I possess.

My economic recovery plan, which I will be detailing in the weeks and months to come, involves a strategy of multiple facets. There is no magic button to push or one single act which will ignite Kingston’s economic engine. A plan must address multiple areas and change our governing philosophy over the long term. My plan does both.

I believe in less intrusive government. Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is most certainly a part of the underlying problem. I hold this philosophy dear. When I served as 6th Ward Alderman and even prior to that, I submitted budget proposals that would have resulted in tax decreases. I know the city budget extremely well and know areas that can be cut and areas that should never be cut.

I will enact spending cuts in various departments. There are numerous redundancies in our government which serve only to waste money and resources. There are changes in policies that will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime costs. These and other spending cuts must be enacted to first stop the growth of city taxes and eventually lower them.

During my time as Alderman and Minority Leader, as well as my many years involved in local politics, I have become extremely familiar with the various departments in the city. I understand each department’s budget and know where changes must be made.

I will address the crippling effect of the commercial tax levy. Previous attempts to solve this problem have failed because of poor planning. The commercial tax rate cannot be dropped all at once due to the terrible effect resulting to city homeowners. The rate must be adjusted gradually over a period of years to give businesses much needed relief while not socking it to city residents.

I will order the Corporation Counsel’s Office to conduct a thorough review of all city laws, internal regulations, and procedures being used by the City Planning Board. Though New York State has laws that cannot be disregarded, we must make sure that the City of Kingston does not add to the tangle of red tape preventing business owners and developers from investing in our community. As much as possible, we need shovel ready projects in our city.

Further, I will create an Economic Recovery Team made up of Kingstonians with expertise in business, law, real estate, architecture, and other areas of importance to economic development. For years, the city has hired consultants from outside our city. I believe that Kingstonians have the ability to solve the problems facing Kingston. By creating this team and allowing them to study the problems facing our local economy, we can use the combined brain power of our city to create solutions and new ideas to unleash Kingston’s true economic potential.

I have a thorough respect for the men and women working to keep our City running. I am confident that I can successfully negotiate with our unions to find solutions that will preserve jobs, cut costs, cut taxes and increase the quality of services the residents of Kingston receive. There have been numerous grievances filed against the city for alleged violations of the union contracts. As a trained and experienced attorney, I know how to interpret and negotiate contracts. I also have a significant knowledge of litigation and will be able to save taxpayer dollars by knowing which cases to settle and which cases to fight.

I was born and raised in Kingston, and my family has been in this city for over 150 years. I will never lose sight of our rich history and heritage. I know what Kingston can be because I have seen it before. I have lived it, and I have experienced it.

Ladies and gentlemen, as this campaign progresses, I hope you will join with me in this effort to restore our city’s greatness. There are many difficult problems facing our city. Yet, I find myself feeling extremely optimistic about our future because I know in my heart that there is nothing that we as Kingstonians cannot accomplish if we stand together and united. I would consider it an honor if you would allow me to lead this city into our future.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Where are the politicos?

The response from Kingston's elected officials has been remarkably quiet regarding the School District's proposal to stick it to the city and close both Meagher and Sophie Finn schools. Thus far, only Bill Reynolds has joined with me in opposing this measure. Mayor Sottile gave a somewhat tepid response by saying he did not want vacant buildings in the city. I expected more from him. In years past, he was a vocal critic of prior efforts to close Meagher School. I wish he would do so again. I would be happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with him in this fight.

Where are the other politicos? Sophie Finn is in Ward 9. The Alderman of Ward 9, Hayes Clement, wants to be Mayor. Though he has not formally declared, his campaign web site is under construction. How can he possibly seek the Mayor's Office when he has not even stood up for Sophie Finn, a school in his own ward?

Where are the other Aldermen? Legislators? Legislator Madsen lives in Ward 9. Why have we heard nothing from anyone other than myself and Bill Reynolds, as well as a tepid comment from Mayor Sottile?

Are Kingston and our schools not worth fighting for? There is a meeting on March 2nd where the plan to close the 2 schools will be formally given to the Board. I urge city residents to attend this meeting in droves. Let's show the School Board that we do not want Meagher or Sophie Finn closed. If they must close a school because of underpopulation, then close the one with the smallest population so as to move the fewest students. That would be Zena, though I expect that's off limits since the daughter of a prominent school official teaches there.

Here is my alternate proposal. Take the 9th grade out of the high school and put them back into the Junior High Schools. Take the 6th grade out of the Jr. High School and out them back into the elementary schools. This is where these grades belong anyway. This eliminates the underpopulation problem and also deals with the overpopulation problem at KHS. We will saves tremendous amounts of money by not having to expand KHS or even build another building to deal with overpopulation. Then, let's see how things go over the next year or so. If there continues to be problems with under utilization, then we will have to consider closing an elementary school, perhaps Zena.

Since the bulk of the population is in Kingston, it makes no sense to bus them elsewhere and huge costs to the taxpayers. GW, Meagher, and Kennedy have the 3 highest populations of students that walk to school. Closing one of them will escalate busing costs dramatically.

Another way to save money is to cut down the RIDICULOUS salaries being paid to administrators. People are receiving over $150,000.00 per year with some even being over $200,000.00 per year. Here's a flash . . . they are not worth that kind of money. Their jobs are not worth that kind of money.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What are the most important issues in Kingston right now?

There have been a lot of comments and polls on various blogs about candidates for Mayor. Certainly, this is fair commentary for a blog. I would like instead to focus for a while on the issues facing Kingston as opposed to the personalities.

So, I am opening this thread to one question. What are the most important issues in Kingston right now?

Please comment on the important issues facing Kingston. If possible, offer some solutions or suggestions. I will start.

One of the problems facing Kingston is the amount of city spending. I suggest the next Mayor order a complete audit of personnel, budgets, and equipment. Any positions that are duplicative or unnecessary should be downsized or eliminated. All spending that is not absolutely necessary must be suspended. Some could be reconsidered when the economy improves. For now, we have to realize that the economy is poor shape requiring drastic measures.

There are numerous other problems and just as many suggestions and solutions. Let's heara few.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Changes Needed

I recently read the report from the New York State Comptroller's Office regarding the allegations of overtime "double dipping". I still believe that it is inappropriate to discuss details of a pending criminal investigation, but there are a few lines of the report that really caught my eye.

The report states:

"Record keeping weaknesses at the City Police Department contributed to the payment of these overlapping hours by the City."

It also states:

"City Police Department officials did not maintain records to document the starting and ending times for shifts worked."

These are 2 troubling statements. Anytime you are dealing with the taxpayers' money, you must be extra careful and maintain a solid paper trail. Whether Matthew is convicted or acquitted, changes need to be made within the department. There must be clear and unambiguous records dealing with payroll and overtime. This is for the protection of the taxpayers and quite frankly for the officers themselves.

I have said from the beginning that I think the Kingston Police Officers do an excellent job. There may turn out to be a bad apple now and again, but the department as a whole is still to be commended. Clearly, however, there needs to be changes in how overtime is managed, reviewed, assigned, and documented. Our next Mayor must make it a priority to review the budgets, rules, regulations, and paperwork for each and every department to make sure our tax money is being properly used and spent, or better yet saved.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Meagher and Sophie Finn in Trouble

The Master Plan Facilities Committee proved once again to be nothing more than a joke by recommending closure of both Meagher and Sophie Finn schools.

For a brief period the committee was expanded to about 50 people and I was asked to be a member. I agreed with the understanding that the committee would consider ALL options. This turned out to be a false promise from the School Board.

Almost from the moment the "expanded" committee began, the School Board interfered and limited discussion. I and another member proposed considering a proposal to remove the 9th grade from the High School and return the 6th grade to elementary schools. The savings to the taxpayers would have been significant. I even produced studies proving that 6th graders did best in elementary schools.

The School Board refused to even consider the idea. Thereafter, a directive was issued to the "expanded" committee informing them they could not even consider any proposals other than closing a school or converting to a ridiculous format whereby kids would go through K-2 and then go to another building for 3-5.

I said publicly that the committee was a joke and that the Board had already made up its mind. Now, they have proven this to be so. Rather than continue to allow people such as myself to speak out at the meetings, the Board cut down the "expanded" committee to only those people the Board trusted to do as they were told. People like myself who disagreed were shown the door.

Once again, it is the City of Kingston that gets the shaft. Two of the city schools are to be closed and our kids sent throughout the county by bus.

I am urging city residents to rise up in protest against the School Board. The School Board elections are coming in May. Let's make a concerted effort to get out and vote the incumbents out of office. We can only replace 4 this year, but can get 3 more next year out of office and take control of the School Board. Then, we will have the votes to reopen Meagher and Sophie Finn Schools. Perhaps then we can finally see a School Board that listens to the public and does right by our city.

Monday, February 14, 2011

$300,000.00 ??? I don't think so.

A few weeks ago, a local blogger posted that Tim Matthews was suspended for claiming overtime for which he was not entitled to the tune of over $300,000.00, a claim which if true is absolutely staggering.

Thereafter, Matthews was charged with stealing $9,000.00 from an evidence safe, a serious charge, but nothing in the area of six figures. Still, the report from the State Comptroller was pending and surely this would provide the other $291,000.00, right? Wrong.

According to today's press conference, the audit found 57 hours of overtime which Matthews is alleged to have unjustly received. If you use the top possible hourly wage ($52.00 an hour), this amounts to $2,964.00 in total. In reality, it is likely less than this, but still in the ballpark.

Therefore, the total amount alleged against Matthews is approximately $11,064.00, which is a hefty sum, but nowhere near the $300,000.00 claimed by the blogger.

Here's another wrinkle to consider. Whenever, a police officer or fireman gets overtime, their contract sets a minimum of four (4) hours. So, if an officer or fireman actually spends 15 minutes of overtime, he or she gets paid for four hours of overtime even if they were working somewhere else for 3:45 of the four hours. This odd and truly bizarre contractual provision could lower the amount even further and might even eliminate the entire 57 hours alleged by the Comptroller.

The charge of stealing $9,000.00 remains and is a a serious matter. (Anything over $1,000.00 is a felony). Yet, the allegations reported on the blogs of theft in excess of over $300,000.00 are clearly untrue. Holly Carnright is right to investigate and prosecute this matter. Allegations of theft by a police officer of $9,000.00 are very serious. Please note that D.A. Carnright has never speculated or guessed at numbers. He has been a complete professional in his handling of the matter. He has waited for the facts before taking action, as any good prosecutor should.

The thing that bothers me is that people all over town have been throwing the $300,000.00 number around. Yet, it appears to be untrue. The only source I have found for the $300K number is the blog. This is why bloggers, though not journalists, must exercise restraint before printing pure rumors. The facts need to be determined. It was perfectly okay to report that Matthews was placed on administrative leave pending an audit. There was an e-mail out there confirming that. The bad judgment was printing the unconfirmed rumor regarding the dollar amount.

Being involved in politics as long as I have, I have heard my share of rumors. I must confess that I sometimes actually enjoy sharing some of the rumors with my friends and fellow politicos, if only to just compare notes. This is perhaps a negative character trait of mine. Nevertheless, certain rumors or stories are not to be printed or shared without confirmation, especially when they involve potential criminal liability or have serious ramifications upon innocent parties.


I have two additional things to add. First, I want to be clear that I do not think that the blogger in question acted with malice. In other words, I do not think he was trying to make things worse for Detective Matthews. Rather, I think he jumped the gun on the story and should have waited for more detailed information. He just wanted to report it first.

Second, there are other aspects of this investigation continuing to swirl. When all is said and done, the amount will be substantially higher than $11,000.00, but not $300,000.00 or anywhere near that amount.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Mayor Orders Audit

The Freeman is reporting that Mayor Sottile has ordered the City Comptroller to conduct a complete audit of payroll records for all police officers who work as security guards at Kingston High School.

I have no problem with this. It is the proper reaction. However, I must ask why this was not done in the first place prior to any allegations being brought forth. The Mayor should require an audit of all departments each year to determine that everything is being handled appropriately. Why do we wait for allegations and scandal?

This is not the first time this has happened. We learned some time ago that the City of Kingston was being ordered to pay safety net costs in excess of the actual obligation. Why did the Mayor not order an audit or review of these bills and costs prior to paying them?

As a side note, we do not pay the safety net bills in a timely manner anyway. They are allowed to sit for a year and then the County assesses the city's property taxes accordingly the following year. This is why you will never see the safety net costs in a city budget. They are hidden in the tax assessments each year. That is another scandal ..uh .. story.

Whoever the next Mayor is, he should require frequent audits or reviews of city accounts, especially when they deal with other municipalities or government agencies. Our elected officials must be proper stewards of the people's money.

Holly vs. Sennett

The talk around town is that the 2011 District Attorney's race will be Holly Carnright vs. John Sennett. Personally, I think Holly will and should be re-elected. He has proven himself to be a competent D.A. who is not interested in personal glory.

Sennett is a good attorney. I have faced him in Supreme Court and seen him at work. However, having listened to his statements on his WKNY radio show, I find him to be too far to the left to be an effective District Attorney. During one of his shows, he suggested that the Constitution was not binding on the law. He also stated that the United States is a socialist country regardless of the specific terms of the Constitution. I have no personal beef with Sennett, but I cannot support someone as far to the left as he.