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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Emergency One

Kingston’s HealthAlliance is in dire straits.  We have two hospitals.  We can support one.  Some are looking to the the Church for support on this front, but substantial help is not forthcoming.

There is no question that the Catholic Church does a great deal of good work.  But, as an internet commentator to today’s story in the Kingston Daily Freeman points out, if they really wanted to keep Benedictine open and operating as a Catholic hospital, it is well within their ability.  The problem here is that it is not within their will.  If it was, we would not be having this discussion.

KingstonBarn Photo

The Church has always had the choice to financially support Benedictine.  Before the Kingston HealthAlliance merger, the number of Religious Order employees working there had been reduced to 4 Sisters.  Since the merger, they have had ample warning and opportunity to bridge the budget gap.  Instead, they forced the Hospital Alliance to fund, build, and maintain a physically separate ambulatory surgery facility, all to salve the collective conscience of a religious organization.  Otherwise, why would Timothy Cardinal Dolan say, “We will continue to attempt, at least temporarily, to keep the Foxhall Ambulatory Surgery Center where it is presently located.”  Why would it matter where abortions are performed?  A better response would be, ‘we will do everything within our power to keep your Catholic institutions solvent, and allow the people of Kingston and Ulster County the Benedictine option if their consciences and choices lead them there”.

We now have yet another opportunity for the Church, by a large infusion of cash, to save two hospitals, a large number of jobs, and minister to a great number of people of all faiths that otherwise will go without.  They can, but, for whatever reason, will not.  This is a business decision taken by the Church authorities, they have plainly said so, and anti-abortion activists, at least those that follow the Church, might follow the lead of their officials and just accept that this newly secular institution will comply with the laws of New York and the United States of America.  The Church’s inaction has spoken louder than their words.

I am not anti-Catholic.  I attended Catholic schools from grade 1 through undergrad.  My degree is from a Catholic university.   My bride and I celebrated our beautiful wedding in a New Year’s Eve mass.  My children were baptized into the Church, and attended Religious Education.  From childhood through my adult life, I have been the grateful recipient of good and charitable works of institutions and people of the Catholic Church, Benedictine Hospital and its Sisters included.

Quentin Champ-Doran photo

I have read that some plan to go to Rhinebeck’s Northern Dutchess.  I have been there.  It’s fine.  But, it’s also at least 20 minutes away by car.  Vassar Brothers and Saint Francis in Poughkeepsie are even further.  Many people don’t have that luxury, either in time, economics, or transportation.  And, believe me, the wait time in Kingston’s emergency rooms are nothing at all when compared to Poughkeepsie.  But, those issues are red herrings, when we consider the stakes

Here we are, at the crossroads of what we want and what we do.  What are we going to do, now that the plan is set.  All indicators point to a done deal, no matter what we feel.  Both hospitals will officially close, and the Benedictine campus will reemerge as the only one in this part of the county.  But, we will still have choices.  Do we abandon Kingston, or do we use our remaining resouces?  Are we going to stop begging the Church to save us?  Can we stop blaming the HealthAlliance board for troubles we had before they came?  Or, do we start to make some positive changes ourselves?  Now is the time for creative thought and action, not wishing, whingeing, and whining.

The alternative to one secular hospital is no hospital at all.  Mayor Gallo’s bold attempts to lure a medical college to the closing Kingston Hospital will certainly turn to dust if there is no where to practice and learn.  Private practices will become even scarcer.  Nursing students will have fewer options, locals will lose their jobs, and this part of Ulster county will become far less attractive to potential residents.  Our home values will fall dramatically.

What if we throw our financial support behind whatever hospital results from this process?  We can still go to our doctors here.  They maintain privileges at the local hospital.  We can patronize the hospital here, the one that employs so many of our friends and neighbors.  If they get enough business, they can hire more.  We have the opportunity to vote with our dollars, and say that we want and need a viable, active, full-service hospital here.

Maybe in this case, people of Kingston and Ulster County can stop worrying about who performs what procedure and where, and start ministering to the people in this area, and try to make whatever hospital results from this process the best hospital we can manage.  How you participate is up to you.

KingstonBarn photo

-Andrew Champ-Doran.

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Posted by on August 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Put It There!

In an editorial appearing in today’s online Daily Freeman, the writer boils the questions facing Mayor Gallo and his plan to park a permanent Police precinct in the middle of the Midtown melee down to two: • How much will the move cost Kingston taxpayers?  • Will it reduce crime?

Well said, Freeman.  Read the rest of their editorial by clicking in this link.  Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo’s plan for Midtown

If you recall last year’s outrage over the Safe Harbors of the Hudson proposal at the King’s Inn site, you will also remember a large number of online commentators demanding a police station or substation for that area.  At least a couple of those demands came from political candidates for local office.  Candidate Gallo’s position was that the city was into the site for over $600,000 in actual costs by then, plus the unpaid taxes, and that we could not give away the property.  We needed to at least recoup our losses, according to then-Mayoral Candidates Gallo, Turco-Levin, Polacco, and Cahill, as well as Alderman Noble and Hoffay.

Well, here is the perfect site, and the perfect opportunity to build what the people of Kingston have demanded.  It is across the street from the former Kings Inn, so we don’t lose that asset, it is at the intersection of all quadrants of Kingston, and it serves what is arguably one of the most crime-ridden corners of the City.  With this building’s active police presence, we could see the start of residents and businesses returning to Midtown Broadway.  Their assets and quality of life would be protected in a way that can not be accomplished from the current location off of lower Broadway.

Mayor Gallo, Chief Tinti, and Jen Fuentes (among others) have lobbied successfully to secure the donation, and are currently working just as hard on grant solutions, both public and private, to fund retrofit and move costs.  I am sure the promised proposal will include estimated costs, and I am hopeful the grants can be won to fund the project.

If the money is not available through those channels, I propose we vote a bond issue on the matter, maybe as early as November.  Urgency and importance can not be over-stated.  I believe this Police project is analogous to fixing the sinkhole on Washington Avenue.  If this problem is not fixed soon, it could have the same results, metaphorically.

If the City can not fully fund this police station by one method or another, then I suggest letting the donation of the building go unaccepted.  Presumably, even though the building has been closed since 2009, Bank of America have been paying their taxes, and we can’t afford to lose the revenue to act as realtors on a property that hasn’t sold for 3 years (unless, of course, there is a valid offer on the table).  If BofA are not paying taxes, the City can seize the property soon enough.

I applaud and support my Alderman, Nathaniel Horowitz, for his positive efforts to move this plan forward.  With some good-faith bargaining from the Common Council and the Mayor’s office, we can turn one liability into a big asset that marks the way for a Midtown revival.

-Andrew Champ-Doran

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Puzzling School Problems

A special meeting to vote on the Kingston School Districts radical redistricting plan was set and announced in Monday’s Daily Freeman. At the same time, Superintendent Paul Padalino announced that $152,000 in transportation cost savings would be derived from his plan.  Just one piece of the puzzle, according to Dr. Padalino.  That is no small amount of money, to be sure, but it’s nowhere near the nearly $5 million annually promised by the Superintendent as he unveiled parts of the plan.  Without at least a decent estimate of the rest of the projected economic benefits available to the public, I thought it imprudent for the Board to vote on the plan.

Since then, I’ve found the Redistricting Recommendation to the Board of Education  page on the School district website.  Click on the link here and you can follow to the “Frequently Asked Questions”, where you find these estimates.

What is the breakdown of the savings gained through this redistricting plan?                                      30 FTE teachers – $3,000,000                                                                                                                     4 Teacher Assistants – $200,00                                                                                                                   3 Administrators – $450,000                                                                                                                      12 FS/Lunch Monitors – $360,000                                                                                                                 3 Clerical – $150,000                                                                                                                       Buildings (cost of operation) – $600,000                                                                                                  Total – $4,760,000 X 5 = $23,800,000

Since this is for consideration of the 2013-2014 school and fiscal years, the $4.76 million does not close this year’s estimated $6.2 million budget gap, and Dr. Padalino recognizes that, saying the plans and savings are “a piece of the puzzle, not the entire solution.”

Which schools close, and why, are not part of this small discussion today.  Tremendous controversy has surrounded the discussion of every school on the list since the subject of closings was broached nearly three years ago.  As late as this week, Esopus and Rosendale officials started floating secession proposals while discussing the closing of Anna Devine Elementary.  The truth is, all school supporters have equally valid and compelling reasons why their schools should not close, and consensus in this forum is not likely.

Facing the facts of a shrinking school population and tax base demand that we shrink the physical plant and work force to match, we are left with the reality that some buildings must close.

What concerns me most is that the vast majority of savings put forth result from firing 52 people.  The teachers, being the largest part of the workforce, and the largest part of the budget, account for over half of the projected savings from the closings.  Three Administrators (I am guessing Principals) will be eliminated from the system.  eighteen Clerical Workers, Teachers Assistants, and FS/Lunchroom Monitors finish out the list.  Only $600,000 come from closing the buildings.

Most people, when asked in poll after poll, think we should be cutting the size of government.  In fact, over the last 42 months, our nation’s economy has netted over 4 million new private sector jobs, but lost over 800,000 government jobs. These are the government jobs we are losing.  They work in schools, they collect garbage, and they put out fires.  They answer emergency calls, patrol our nights, and supply our water.  They fix our streets, register our vehicles, and defend our shores.

Whatever you believe about private sector vs. public sector, you must agree that jobs are the lifeblood of our economy.  Combined with the 92 cuts for 2012-2013, the 52 scheduled for next year cry out that we are hemorrhaging.  We can’t change past wounds to our district’s health, but we can do something to stanch the flow in the future.

In discussion last week, Dr. Padalino said that he and the Kingston Teachers Federation are working out the specifics of the Teacher Evaluation Systems.  He expects those talks to wind up shortly after the coming school year begins.  After that, he is optimistic that there are no major impediments to negotiating the Kingston Teachers Federation contract.  That contract, as well as the Administrative Supervisory Personnel Association (School Principals and Administrators) contract, have been expired for over a year. Dr. Padalino is calling the coming contract negotiations the “next piece of the puzzle.”

When hired, The Superintendent was offered a contract that included major concessions from his predecessor’s.  He takes nearly 15% less salary, pays 50% more for his insurance costs, has fewer vacation and sick days, receives no pay for unused sick time upon separation, and trades the district-provided car and use allowance for a mileage reimbursement.  At the time, he says, aware of the economic realities of our time and place, he accepted without negotiation.  In doing so, Dr. Padalino began his journey to improving what we have and turning around what has been headed the wrong direction.

The KTF, the ASPA, and the Superintendent can now take the next step together.  We can not lose any more people.  For every job saved, you help save a home.  For every home saved, a neighborhood is one family closer to a comeback.  If a neighborhood comes back, more kids come back to school.  And, if more kids come back, we can hire more teachers and staff to guide them on their way.  You helped earlier this year, by negotiating a return of $1.1 million, almost 4% of your insurance premium.  Taxpayers, you included, thank you for that.  But, as with the transportation savings, there is still a long way to go.  You are the people who can save your colleagues’ jobs, you are the people who can do the most to prevent even more closings.

Dr. Padalino says that he thinks the union membership and its leaders are aware of the same economic realities he saw when he accepted his position.  We all expect both sides to bargain in good faith, with real concern for the students, the employees, and the taxpayers.  In short, everyone has a stake.  In recognition of that, I encourage all parties to bargain openly.  Do not bargain through the media, but keep us all apprised of progress and terms under discussion.  It will go a long way toward rebuilding a badly damaged two-way trust.  Let’s start building here.

-Andrew Champ-Doran                             

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Meet Before High Noon

This week’s Daily Freeman headline, Ethics veto threatened: Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo calls the measure ‘unconstitutional’, casts the Mayor as Gary Cooper, standing in the middle of the deserted dirt street, waiting.

The adoption of the provision described in the story would effectively ban any elected member from running for reelection, unless they could afford to do so entirely on their own.  Quoting from the Hoffay measure, ‘a city officer or employee, the mayor and department heads shall not directly or indirectly ask anyone to contribute to the political campaign of a city officer or employee running for any elective office or the political campaign of anyone running for elective city office.”

As a result, if I am Alderman Dunn or Mayor Gallo, I can’t set up a “Friends of Matthew Dunn” or “Committee to Reelect the Mayor” fund, as that would be indirectly asking for funds for a campaign.  I could not ask anyone to put up a yard sign, or carry a petition on my behalf, as that would constitute a contribution, “to the political campaign of a city officer or employee running for any elective office or the political campaign of anyone running for elective city office.”

This limits those that can run for any city office to people who do not work for the city in any capacity, and to those who do not currently hold office, and eliminates the ability of any of those people to even support anyone for any city office.  That not only severely curbs their freedom of speech, but imposes a de facto one-term limit on every elected office for the city.  Mayor, Alderman, City Court Judge; none are exempt. Term limits should be left for the voters to decide.

I understand the conflict of interest inherent in sitting elected officials becoming elected officers within the party committees, and legislation against that conflict is supported by the Mark Davies email cited by Alderman Dunn.  I do not read that email statement, though, as support for no committee membership, no campaigning, or no support of another campaign.  That would be a misdirected stretch, at best.

Knowing that conflict is often more interesting than agreement might make it easier to see why words like “Veto” and “power”, make better copy than “pass” and “compromise”.  This is the point, though, where we often pull the wrong thread, and the process unravels.  It’s wiser to follow the right thread all the way through.

Here is a link on the City of Kingston’s website to the two legislative proposals:  Ethics Legislation and Financial Disclosure Proposed by Mayor Gallo Ethics Legislation Proposed by Alderman Hoffay  Click on the individual links, and compare the two at the source.  I’ve read them both, and I’ve formed some opinions about the legislation before the Public Safety/General Government/Audit Committee.

Get rid of the provisions causing the problems.  The rest of the law does not hinge on the inclusion of these few provisions.  While we don’t need one or two party strongmen directing the ballot, the Political Activities by High Level Officials prohibitions, as they appear in the Hoffay/Dunn legislation, are written too broadly, and are a liability.  Does the Common Council want to spend so much time and effort and goodwill in the lengthy process of debate and passage, only to find out their reward is a losing legal challenge?  Of course not.  Other (more likely and equally bad) outcomes would be a Mayoral veto, or that the bill dies in committee, and another piece of important legislation meets its inevitable all-or-nothing fate.  The common sense approach would be move quickly on the rest, and leave the argument behind.  If, after passage, the Common Counsel find a need for some provisions of this sort, craft and pass an amendment to the law.

Beyond that, there is room only for agreement.  In spirit, the two bills are essentially the same.  Both define conflict of interest and present a clear path for recusal.  Both call for tighter controls on officials commensurate with increasing rank.  Both want to close the “revolving door” some government officials and their lobbyists share.

Mayor Gallo’s proposal is more detailed and precise, as are his definitions.  His calls for a two year period between leaving the city position and dealing with city officials again, as opposed to the one called for in the Hoffay/Dunn proposal.  The list of city officials covered by Gallo is more extensive, and restrictions they face generally seem a little tighter.  He also includes copies of all disclosure forms to be completed by the employees.  For those reasons, I support the Gallo legislation.  It is ready now.

Alderman Dunn is working in the right direction on this legislation.  The intent and instincts are clearly right, but the execution, in these minor instances, threaten to sidetrack the debate, and eventually the whole bill, into the thick bog of committee consideration until it can no longer emerge.  Dunn wants us to keep in mind the purpose and intent of the laws we are considering.  He is right.  We need to open up our government, and increase the integrity we’ve let slide in too many offices for too long.   He has already agreed to post all of his committee’s agendas on the city’s website before the meetings, and he’s done so.  I applaud that, and the willingness of the parties involved to keep working on this much-needed legislation.  With care, what we get will be far better than what we have.

This is a negotiation, not a standoff.

-Andrew Champ-Doran

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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