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Gather-Mix-Repeat

Gather-Mix-Repeat

Sometimes, the answers are simple.

Gerald Berke wants to know what’s going on in his city.  He shows up at meetings and events, reads the papers, listens to the radio, and pays attention to local blogs.  He asks questions, and he wants answers.  Berke gives feedback.  He considers this his town, too.

He is an interested, well informed, thoughtful, involved, and sometimes opinionated resident of Kingston’s 4th Ward.  When he got the chance recently at a Kingston Citizens forum to ask Aldermen James Noble, Matt Dunn, and Deb Brown anything about the Common Council’s workings, he got right to it.  His problem is simple.  He doesn’t know when his Alderwoman is holding her ward meetings.

She does hold meetings, Saturdays, at her neighborhood diner.  I asked, and she told me she brings in guests to answer questions and meet with neighbors.  Alderwoman Deb Brown holds monthly meetings, and jokes they are well attended because she brings food.  The 7th’s Maryanne Mills and the 5th’s Bill Carey are regulars with their meetings, and others’, too.  Elisa Ball meets constituents at the Quick Check in her ward.

Kingston City Hall

Kingston City Hall

As Mr. Berke said, though, people don’t always know.  Ward Meetings:  Where and when are two questions that come up a lot, and the answer often changes.

Let’s keep it simple.  We don’t have to make a law or pass legislation.  We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.  We only need to agree.  How about a monthly “Ward Meeting Day”?

We agree that we can do this on a particular day, the same every month.  Whether it’s the fourth Thursday at 7:00 or the last Saturday at Noon, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s consistent.  It should be after the committee meetings have been held, and before the Caucus and Common Council meetings, so the Aldermen can present what’s before them to their wards, and the people can tell their Aldermen what they want done with the issues.

We agree that every Alderman can find some free venue in the ward to hold the meetings.  While campaigning last year, I found people at George Washington School and the Hudson Valley Senior Residence more than generous, and happy to provide a space for the meetings here in the 3rd.  Other wards might find a church hall,  a community center, or theater willing to open their doors to their neighbors.

We agree to have guests at meetings that can help answer the questions of the day, or explain what they do.  The Mayor, Police Chief, Alderman at Large, City Engineer, Firefighters Union President, Development Director, Assessor…the pool of potential official speakers is deep.  Many already do this, and tell me they’d be happy to do more.

We agree that this is a back and forth, where people can talk about their solutions as much as their problems.  It’s an open forum, and the agenda is flexible.

We agree to publicize the whole event, city-wide, for cheap to free.  Use your Facebook, Twitter, and email lists.  Ask residents to share listings with friends and neighbors.  Use the City’s improving website, get it to KingstonHappenings, and ask every local blogger to do his part.  For people without regular internet use, we can take advantage of calendar listings and stories in the papers, Public Service Announcements on the radio and TV, and post listings on local bulletin boards.  Heck, find out if we have some printing money in the budget, hire a local printer to produce schedules on quarter sheet cards, and put some of the franking fund into a one-time Every Door Direct Mail blast.

We agree to take November and December off, and give us all one less thing to worry about for our holidays.

We agree that most members already do some version of this, so it shouldn’t be considered a giant leap forward.  It is just one more step in service to the people of your ward and our city.

Mine the collective intelligence of the people of our city, and strike the rich veins of individual gumption we find there.

Simple.  Agreed?

-Andrew Champ-Doran

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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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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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