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Why I Would Vote Yes

Kingston City Hall, Monday night in a crowded Finance and Audit Committee special meeting, Conference Room 1.  The moment is now.

The Committee Report

The Committee Report

Time to openly vote on moving the sinkhole project ahead, finishing it off, once and for all.  What does Brad Will do?  Chair Mary Ann Mills calls for “Yes”; our 3rd Ward Alderman says nothing.  The vote is called for “No”, the room goes silent.  Only when the report is passed for signatures do we get an indication of Mr. Will’s intent.  Quietly, he adds a column, “Abstain”, and makes his mark.  At some point, before the meeting is adjourned, and without comment, he covers up his abstention, and makes his vote “NO”.

Late that night, he posts on his facebook, “…Why I Voted No”.  It rings hollow. Frankly, I am mystified.

I would vote YES.

My Alderman voted no, he writes, because he “was not confident that the best – and most cost effective – alternative was put forward.”

My Alderman voted no, he writes, because he wants “a short pause of a week or two.”

I have been at the public meetings, the committee meetings, and spent much time with neighbors of the sinkhole, and people that are affected by this every day.  I am one of those people.  Each person I talk to wants the same thing.  Fix it.  Fix it right, fix it now, fix it forever.  Do you know of one person that wouldn’t say they’d spend the million more than a half-measure, incomplete, risky Option B to fix it if they never had to deal with it again?  No.  And I’d vote YES.

August 13 last year, the two engineering firms, GEA Engineering and Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers  submitted a report to the City, outlining the history, problems, and four proposals to fix the problems of our Washington Avenue Sinkhole.  I asked for that report and permission to distribute it to 3rd Ward neighbors, and I did in early October.  Those 44 page reports were handed out at the October 21 meeting, where speakers from those firms laid out four options, A through D, and explained in fairly clear terms how effective, how expensive, and how comprehensive those choices might be.

Recommended by the firms that built the World Trade Center Towers and Memorial:  Option A Shown as our best “home run” chance for a permanent end to the Sinkhole Nightmare, by the foundation designers of New Yankee Stadium and Citi Field:  Option AOffered as our “safest option” by the team that built the ConEd tunnel under the Harlem River:  Option A.

Option A is 7′ thick supporting sides, a 15′ thick roof, and 150′ long, all anchored to bedrock, protecting the repaired and supported tunnel as it travels from one mined end to another.  It’s 50′ deep, twice-compacted soil densification supporting the roadway above.  It is a relined, redesigned shaft, swirling storm water down, exchanging and balancing air to allow water to flow, and not hammer down.  It is a system designed to let overflow cross under Washington and find it’s natural way down.

I’d vote YES.

Washington Avenue Do we want another year? -KingstonBarn Photo

Washington Avenue
Do we want another year?
-KingstonBarn Photo

We don’t have to trust Mayor Gallo on this.  We don’t have to trust City Engineer Ralph Swenson on this.  In fact, long ago, when they found out the real extent of the problem, they both said this is a bigger problem than we can handle.  We need the real pros, they said, and they asked the Council for help.  They went out and got the companies that built Bronx Terminal Market and the South Transitway Tunnel under Boston’s Russia Wharf.  I put my trust in them.

If my Alderman had shown his as-yet-unnamed Engineer “very close friend” as having the same depth of experience and wealth of expertise as these combined companies, we’d have more to hang our hats on.  But, until he does, I’m trusting these guys.

I put my faith in Fran Hart, whose home has been hit hardest of all by the sinkhole, Tannery Brook, and all the efforts to repair the damage done.  She says she doesn’t care about the noise, she can live with the work, she just wants to use her garage, have her driveway and yard back, and get her century-old house back up to livable.  She wants the sinkhole done right.

I put my faith in Richard Van Kleek, who is tired of waiting for it to end.  He doesn’t trust it can be done by the end of the year, but he’s willing to try.  He wants the sinkhole done right.

I put my faith in Art and Barbara Althiser, who have seen their Red Sox win three World Series, but feel like they will never see the end of the sinkhole.

The Future of Tannery Brook-KingstonBarn Photo

Tannery Brook as it runs through Kathy Eberlein’s yard. Neighbors just want it to be done.
-KingstonBarn Photo

I put my faith in Kathy Eberlein, who wants to work in her garden, in Sharon Becker, who wants to keep the bluestone patio and garden her late husband built, and in Joyce Barnes, who is against the project.  They are all willing to let the city work on their properties, just to put an end to flooding for their neighbors on Tannery Brook.  They want it done right.

I put my faith in Renato DiBella, who, against tremendous losses, keeps his business going here when he could just move it out.  He wants his business back.  He wants it done right.

We have lived on their faith for too long.  It’s time to show them some of ours.  For all of these people, and all of the people of Kingston living with the specter of this dangerous hole in the ground, I’d vote YES.

Putting it off for a week or two delays the Common Council vote by at least a month.  A month added to the schedule means we don’t have a chance of finishing by Thanksgiving.  If we don’t finish by then, the ravages of another Winter take their toll.

When the question is called again on Tuesday night, I want my Alderman to stand up, speak for us, and vote YES.

Yes, the moment is now.

-Andrew Champ-Doran
 
Editor’s Note:  Documents referred to in this article, including the GEA/Mueser Rutledge Powerpoint presentation from Monday’s meeting, and the August 2013 Kingston Report can be found on our new page, “The Documents”.
 
 
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Posted by on March 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Bond…School Bond

KingstonBarn Photo

KingstonBarn Photo

The Kingston School Bond Vote is tomorrow.  Simply put, the school district is asking for us to borrow $137 million to fix the tremendous problems of the hundred-year-old Kingston High School physical plant.  If the bond passes, construction is scheduled to begin in 2015, or about the same time as the SUNY Ulster’s Sophie Finn campus is completed right across from the high school.

The Kingston City School District has published some information on their site.

From brick falling out of walls, to antiquated steam heat, to buildings that have to come down, the work has been neglected for far too long.  One friend, a 1950′s graduate of KHS, says some of the existing troubles have been around since she was a student.

How we got to this place has been discussed at length.  Neglect, bad decisions, short budgets, and age have all been a part of the picture.  I won’t go over old ground.  Our decision now is to pass the bond or not.  The question hinges on what we want for the centerpiece of our public schools, and literally, our city.

At $137 million over the life of the bond, this is no small question.  Even with the state kicking in 60% of the tab, the Kingston City School District figures that the annual cost to each homeowner will be about $0.72 per thousand of assessed value, or nearly $100 in our case.  Can we find another eight or nine dollars a month to pay for this?  Probably, but the city and county tax will ask for more, and our insurance bill doesn’t go down.  It’s a lot to ask.

One argument circulating against the project is that our school population may not meet the Superintendent’s ten-year projections.  This does not hold water.  Whether we choose to educate 1600 or 2400 students in dangerous, dilapidated buildings is immaterial.

I have heard people ask why, if they don’t send their kids to Kingston schools, should they care?  They pay taxes, but they get nothing for it, the thinking goes.

What we get is a high school.  What we get is an anchor for the schools, for Midtown, and for Kingston.  What we do now is a decision on whether the anchor gives us a mooring spot or drags us down.

IMG_0579

KingstonBarn Photo

People are looking at all of Kingston when they make the decision whether to move here.  The owners and officers of businesses considering a new home need to know what we have for their families.  One thing I know for sure is that people won’t want to move here, and businesses will not want to locate their families here if there is no decent school to send their kids.

If we don’t pass this now, Superintendent Paul Padalino says, “it’s back to the drawing board.”  There is no cheaper Plan B waiting to take its place.  Construction costs are not going to go down over the next five years.  Compliance with codes, heating, asbestos remediation, and the Americans with Disabilities Act are not optional.  Emergencies are always more expensive than good plans.

I have just one vote, but I am going to cast it for the plan.

-Andrew Champ-Doran

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Heart of the Matter

Desperation.  Frustration.  Resignation.  Resolve.  You can hear all of that when you listen to Renato DiBella.

KingstonBarn Photo

KingstonBarn Photo

He’s owned DiBella’s Pizza at the corner of Washington Avenue and Marius Street for the last sixteen years.   Thank you, Mr DiBella.  Thank you for working for your business, your employees, and your neighbors.

He has fought for and worked in this neighborhood all of that time.  In the beginning, he took out a small business loan from the City with just two employees.  He finished paying it off three years ahead of schedule, and grew his business to eleven employees.  No plaque, no recognition, no official thank you.  He hasn’t asked for any.  He just keeps it going, hiring people from all over the neighborhood.

His fight is bigger now.  Extraordinary circumstances have become ordinary days.

Most of you know that the sinkhole on Washington Avenue has been the city’s biggest problem for the last two years.  We have put nearly four million dollars into repairs and fixes over that time.  People who live and work in the area of the hole, and have been affected by traffic and repairs and surveying should be commended for their patience.  The people that live closest should be nominated for sainthood.  They have put up with broken sewer lines, water stoppages, cracked foundations, sewer gas smells, loss of yards and privacy, and homes with little or no value on the open market.  DiBella’s has been there a long time, but, without the business the closed street has taken, they have to move.  Other people want to move, but can’t.  Some don’t want to, but can’t see the end.  All of them just want their lives back.

These people have paid so much in dues that we owe them change.

Mostly, the people here feel that they have not really been listened to.  “If this had happened on Albany Avenue or Broadway, this would have been done by now”, one said.  We can’t leave them feeling like their complaints are the problem.  Their complaints are just describing the symptoms of the illness.

They have been to their Aldermen, their Mayors, their Assemblyman, and their Governor.

Renato DiBella soldiers on.  So do his neighbors.  They all know each other.  Their lives have crossed for years.  He is one story in this neighborhood, and he is going to stay here.   He still owns the building, and has other properties nearby.  His family lives here.

The sinkhole is a big problem, and it belongs to the entire city.

KingstonBarn Photo

KingstonBarn Photo

What can we can do for each other?  How can we turn this into a model city?  Well, we can advocate for others in city hall.  We can make a difference if we speak to the common council at meetings, or just be there to hear a neighbor who does.    Can it be as simple as cutting our own bushes back at the corners so people can see oncoming traffic?  None of these things will increase taxes, but they will add value to real lives.  Do we really need “official” Make a Difference Days?  Renato passionately explained that it is expected and ordinary that we all come together in a crisis and, of course, it is valued.  However, it is how we come together and connect on ordinary days that makes a difference.

I want to represent and champion Kingston neighbors like Renato while serving on the Kingston Common Council.  KingstonBarn came from the desire to bring people together, and find out what we can do to help Kingston.  We can stay positive and work together.

I believe together we can make our ordinary days extraordinary.  It is my desire, my passion, my heart.  It is a mission which can inspire and unite all of our 3rd Ward residents and the Kingston City community.

We don’t have all the answers, but who would we be if we stopped trying to find them?

-Andrew Champ-Doran

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Vote for Andrew Champ-Doran

ANDREW CHAMP-DORAN for ALDERMAN  WARD 3

ANDREW CHAMP-DORAN
for ALDERMAN WARD 3

Election Day:  Tuesday, November 5.  Here in Ward 3, we vote at the George Washington School.  The polls are open from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM.  I am asking for your support and your vote.  Make a plan to get out and vote.

Regular readers of this blog know my belief that we can accomplish something if we work together.  You know that I am willing to do the work.  The people here are certainly willing to make things happen in the City of Kingston.

My work has garnered the endorsements of the Republican Party, the Independence Party.  I have been endorsed by Mayor Shayne Gallo, the Kingston Professional Fire Fighters Association, Republican Alderman Nathaniel Horowitz, and former Democratic Alderman Lenny Walker.  My greatest honor, though, is the support and advice you have given me.  I promise to do everything I can to earn it, every day.

Don’t forget to flip the ballot over and vote on our 6 ballot measures.  If you didn’t get my earlier post about that, here’s a link to the League of Women Voters Guide that explains them all.

Please read this letter, and I’ll see you at the polls.

To the People of Ward 3 and the City of Kingston,

I am honored to continue in the race for Alderman of our Ward 3.  I hold the Republican and Independence lines on the Ballot on November 5, and I am working to earn the chance to represent the people here.  I am out every day, trying to reach everyone in the Ward, regardless of party affiliation or voter registration.  It is what I have done from the start.  It may not be the way to win a one-party primary, but I don’t believe you can effectively represent people if you are unwilling to talk to 3/4 of them until after an election.  For me, it has always been about all residents of our Third Ward, not political advancement or motivations.

Service as 3rd Ward Alderman is not a stepping stone to higher office.  It is the job I want to do.  I am asking for your vote.

I am proud and humbled by the support and endorsements I have received from a broad spectrum of people and organizations. I believe it is a testament to the quality of being able to work effectively with many different personalities which resonates with my supporters.

For my part, I think we have a real chance to move the Common Council again.  We can work to come up with creative solutions, or we can sit back and bemoan the problems, and attack the people trying to do something.  I have been working with officials and people to help with our problems in schools and hospitals, our commercial and residential corridors, and general quality of life issues that affect all of us.  Our infrastructure is old, and it’s not going to maintain or improve itself.  If we abandon the Washington Avenue sinkhole, we abandon the sewer line for over one third of Kingston.  How many years, and how many millions of dollars would that cost to replace?

We have a tiller fire truck that is in need of replacement, and an engine that broke down again, this time at a fire in the Third Ward.  If we don’t do what it takes to replace those as soon as we can, the fire rating we are awarded will drop, and the insurance rates of everyone in this city will skyrocket.  The cost for you and me to own our homes, and the cost of rentals, will most assuredly increase.

I have promised you updates and regular communication, I have promised to answer your questions with honesty and as completely as possible, and I have promised to listen to you and everyone else in the 3rd Ward.  I have consistently held to those commitments.

Simply put, I am interested in building a better Kingston as 3rd Ward Alderman.  Vote for Andrew Champ-Doran.  I’ll work hard for you.

Andrew Champ-Doran    Candidate for Alderman  Ward 3
 

The Champ-Doran Family

The Champ-Doran Family

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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KingstonBarn on Kingston NOW

Over a year ago, KingstonBarn was born out of a need for civil discourse on the events and problems that affect us here in our home.  The goal was to create a jumping-off place for thought and discussion that might lead to answers.  I have been pleased with KingstonBarn’s progress.  Readership is up, as are the frequency of comments.  I haven’t published all of the comments, because I ask people to submit their real names, but even the anonymous contributions have been thoughtful and helpful.  I try to pass them along informally to the subjects and in conversations, so I want you to know that you, Anonymous, are still participating.

KingstonBarn is earning some recognition, and this is about an experience I had recently with the group of barn builders over at Kingston NOW.

In May, at the opening of State Senator Cecelia Tkaczyk’s uptown Kingston office, I had the pleasure of meeting Jimmy Buff, Producer and Host of Kingston NOW, a show I have been watching on the web since last year.  I’m a fan, and I told him so, to which he said, “So, you’re the one.”  Perfect timing, I must say.  After briefly discussing KingstonBarn and Kingston NOW, Jimmy asked me to come shoot a segment for the show.  A little further in the conversation, he also asked that I discuss my upcoming candidacy for 3rd Ward Alderman here in the City of Kingston.  You can click on the embedded video and see the show as it appears on YouTube.  My segment occupies the middle six or seven minutes, but the whole show is worth a viewing at your leisure.  If you prefer, you can click on Kingston NOW’s YouTube Channel.  That way, Kingston now can track their number of views.

Since August of 2011, Kingston NOW airs locally Wednesdays on Time Warner’s RNN, Channel 22.  Executive Producer Jeremy Ellenbogen tells me they have over 100 shows to their credit, with nearly that many appearing on their YouTube channel.  To now, the show has focused largely on local issues, shooting most segments in Ellenbogen’s 721 Media Center right here on Broadway.  After RNN moved their Kingston operations to their Rye Brook home base, Ellenbogen says, “they requested we do a show so they could keep a foot in Kingston.” Adding “it’s been great for us as well,” he says this remains the only locally produced regular program about our area.

Host Jimmy Buff is the lynchpin to the success of the show.  At the center of a professional production team, he is unusually curious, and seems genuinely interested in his guests’ views.  He is well prepared, has notes, but will pay attention to the interviewees, and isn’t afraid to let conversations take a natural path.  He listens, and he is generous with his guests.  Buff lets the subjects speak for themselves.  He doesn’t cut them off, but he won’t leave them hanging, either.  Both extremes are real fears for novice guests like me, but he makes it seem just a conversation that simply ends too soon.

Anybody who lives, works, or spends time in Kingston is a part of our community, and the crew over at Kingston NOW are community builders.  Watch it, share it, and help spread the word.  This is too good to keep just between us.

Kingston NOW is one of the jewels of our city, and it’s expanding beyond our local boundaries.  Ellenbogen says they will be branching out, covering other happenings in our part of Ulster County and beyond, but they will remain focused on and anchored in their home port of Kingston.  Thank goodness for that.

Andrew Champ-Doran

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Some Paneling Would Work Well In Here

In the Daily Freeman’s Thursday article “Kingston panel, if formed, would field public’s infrastructure concerns“, Mayor Shayne Gallo proposes a committee of our lawmakers to define and address some of the infrastructure problems that affect residents and visitors of our city.

Repairs underway at Gilead -KingstonBarn photo

Repairs underway at Gilead -KingstonBarn photo

This seems to be an excellent opportunity for the Kingston Common Council to add value to their already important work. We have an aging infrastructure that is badly in need of attention, and residents need to know what’s going on with the essential systems that support our everyday life.

One problem here is that sewers, buried cable, the undersides of bridges, and road beds are invisible until they fail, so it’s hard to know where to pay attention until a catastrophic failure happens. We don’t have to go very deep into the past to find examples; the Twaalfskill at Gilead and Wilbur, the sinkhole on Washington between Linderman and Donovan place, and shutting gas off to a third of the city on a cold winter night. Others, like the recently de-certified berm behind the Kinston Plaza, are coming, and maybe this committee can play a crucial role in getting the jump on those.

When I told Ward 2′s Thomas Hoffay that I was considering a run for Alderman in the 3rd Ward, he told me to always remember that the Common Council is a co-equal partner in government with the Mayor’s office. Wise words, Mr. Hoffay, and advice I take to heart.

Some will see this as adding another layer of government between problems and solutions, but I see it as an opportunity to use the vital resources of people already intimately involved with the problems that affect the neighborhood. Take advantage of the Aldermen communicating between City hall and the residents of the wards. Put to use the warnings of people that “smell that awful smell”, or notice that 3 or 4 of the street lights are out, even though they’ve already called Central Hudson.

Of course, the question of paying for it remains a tough one.  As my old news editor used to say, “Sewers ain’t sexy, but you gotta have ‘em.”  How do we cover our needs without raising our taxes?  Well, the DEC, seems to make funds available for emergency fixes.  Maybe they have ready money for prevention.  It’s only one thought, but I am sure that prevention costs are less than the cure.

This panel has the potential to reach out to neighbors after the initial problem is fixed.  Under standards set by the Common Council, City agencies can help the people nearby put their homes, land, and lives back in order. This could help solve some liability issues, avoiding some of the lawsuits that often come along as a result.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but only if we use the ounce.  This committee’s job would be to identify the ounces and the pounds.

The Sinkhole at Washington -KingstonBarn photo by Quentin Champ-Doran

The Sinkhole at Washington -KingstonBarn photo by Quentin Champ-Doran

Andrew Champ-Doran

*****************

Since logging the above, Alderman-at-Large James Noble has announced a three member subcommittee to address the issues noted.  Appearing in today’s Daily Freeman, “Kingston panel to focus on infrastructure” outlines Alderman Noble’s plan to move forward with this important work.  Well done.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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It’s All Wrong But It’s All Right

Governor Andrew Cuomo has given us quite a lot to think about in the last couple of weeks, and not all of it is pleasant.

He has told us that municipalities and school districts are not consolidating services and constituencies fast enough, and costing the taxpayers money.  He’s told us that the schools are going to see no more money from the state in the coming budget.  He’s told us the budget is coming out, and we will all have to tighten our belts a little more.  New York, he says, can’t afford to do any more.  Sure, there is a tax cap, but the Governor assures us there is no mandate relief in site for our counties, towns, or schools.

“Do more with less,’ just about sums it up.Do more with less

It’s disheartening, then, to see this headline in the Kingston Daily Freeman:  NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo allows state police superintendent to draw $85,000 pension, plus $136,000 salary  According to the AP story, Governor Cuomo has filed for a waiver to pay State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico his NYPD pension while he is earning the full salary and benefits afforded his current position.  Cuomo’s reasoning for breaking his previous pledge not to do so? “…it had become “financially impossible” for him to keep his post without it.”  Somehow, while working that old saw, the top people in our state government cannot manage to do more with less.

I don’t know Mr. D’Amico’s age, his abilities, or his financial situation. It’s really none of my business. I would not presume to tell him which of his necessities or luxuries to forgo, but I am sure he’s earned whatever he has.

I do assume that, after being nominated for the post by the Governor, and gaining confirmation by the Legislature, Joseph D’Amico is qualified for the job.  He has already lasted longer than his three predecessors combined.  That is not the question.  Being paid by the state to work while taking your full retirement benefit is.

If you cannot afford to retire, keep your job. This is the choice millions make every day, and they make a whole lot less than $85,000 per year. If you cannot afford to do the job for what it pays, your choices are a little broader. Negotiate for more, don’t take the job, or find one that can support you.  The answer, from the Governor’s point of view, should not be to give a back-door pay increase, but to do it openly if he feels it’s warranted.  How can we hold our local police and fire personnel to higher standards than the state holds theirs?

indianapublicmedia.org photo

indianapublicmedia.org photo

I am not implying any malfeasance, criminal activity, or cover-up.  What Governor Cuomo has done is perfectly legal, and, judging by the numbers, is in keeping with past practice.  I am saying that this gives at least the appearance of impropriety, and will most likely infuriate the taxpaying and voting public when they find out about  the “double dipping”.  Telling said public that that we are down to 44 waivers for double dipping from the previous 110 is not likely to improve their mood.  Our own Mayor Shayne Gallo can serve as an example to Governor Cuomo.  Do more with less, and do it above-board.

This is too important to be left as a policy with a work-around.  This must be dealt with as a law.

As a solution, I propose the following: The State Legislature should craft and pass a bill outlawing the practice for all public employees. Except in cases of extreme hardship (say, currently earning twice the federal poverty line or less), no public employee, elected, appointed, or hired, may draw funds on the NYS Pension Plan during their time of employment.  Should you retire, begin drawing funds, and then resume work as a public employee, payments are suspended until you leave such employment.  Your private employment after leaving government service does not affect your State Pension, unless you work for a registered lobbyist.

If, however, the Governor feels that the pay for any job is not high enough to keep the proper personnel, he should be free to take the matter up with the legislature, and have them include the increase in the next budget.

The legislature should not be allowed to exempt themselves, their staffs, or anyone from the law.  Legislators and the Governor would, in this one case, avoid the appearance of unethical behavior for passing such a bill.  Waivers would become a thing of the past, and we would all be a little better off.

You can help.  Our own New York Assemblyman Kevin Cahill has spent a great deal of effort on opening up the workings of our government to it’s people.  I am sure he would be interested in hearing from you in support of such legislation.   Newly minted State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk has said she is looking forward to working with us, as well.  Just scroll over the name and click.  You will end up at the official contact page, and you can let your legislator know what you want.

Cahill and Tkaczykregisterstar.com photo

Cahill and Tkaczyk
registerstar.com photo

Some will say that this approach is naive.  It may be, but I am sure that it far more naive to expect that our elected officials will make a move to change the way things are without our encouragement and support.

-Andrew Champ-Doran

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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