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Informing Public Discourse in the Hudson Valley and Across the State

Category: Hudson Valley Region (page 2 of 3)

Elected Officials and Social Media Use: Should There be Rules?

Social Media can make government better, more accessible, more transparent, more accountable, all good things. But when elected officials decide that government social media accounts are theirs to use as they please, we may be in very different territory. Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum reminded us of that this week.

In 2015 the Benjamin Center studied how local governments in the Mid-Hudson region use their websites and social media. We found that nearly 97 percent of the towns, villages, and cities of the region had some digital presence. At the time of the study 60 percent of local governments had a Facebook presence, but barely one fifth were on Twitter. (This was in the sleepy pre-Trump era of Twitter.) In general, we found that the more open governments are with constituents, the more they engender trust.

Even though our study was conducted barely two years ago, it came against a very different societal backdrop. President Obama was behind the push for government at all levels to communicate electronically with the goal of increasing trust and accountability. These days cities like Kingston and Poughkeepsie maintain fairly active Twitter accounts and post frequently. This seems appropriate: In our fast-paced era, when even Facebook seems too onerous to peruse, governments that can blast quick info to constituents (especially missives that can be read on a phone) are reaching people quickly and simply.

But what happens to the trust that openness engenders when the public official steps out of his or her governance role, and uses official social media platforms to advance personal views, or agendas?

Once Donald Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, sheriffs around the country have felt emboldened to use social media to express their own views, sometimes using government platforms as their bullhorn. The latest but hardly the most inflammatory missive came this past weekend when Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum used both Facebook and Twitter to tell citizens to boycott the NFL because, he argued, players taking a knee during the national anthem were being unpatriotic.

This isn’t nearly as disturbing as sheriffs in Oklahoma trying to thwart criminal justice reform through use of official social media communications.  Continue reading

Achieving Excellence: Schools Can Do More By Sharing With Each Other

Increasing Educational Opportunity — and Possibly Property Values — with a New School Model

Public education, like all public assets, is under tremendous fiscal pressure. Slashed school district budgets often lead to schools cutting courses. That can mean anything from not teaching the latest computer science to stinting on the range of languages offered. And if you cannot afford to send your child to private instructors or tutors for these subjects, your kid will be behind the curve vs. children who attend schools that do offer more variety. In New York’s Ulster County, enrollment has fallen in the past half decade and the county’s students have grown poorer, as well as more ethnically diverse. All of these factors put financial pressure on the schools, especially as they seek to give their students the leg up they need to compete in an economy that’s shifted toward white collar service work.

But Charles V. Khoury, District Superintendent of Ulster Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES), who wrote a recent Discussion Brief for the Benjamin Center on solutions to this problem, says he has an idea for maintaining and even increasing the quality and variety of classes for all students in Ulster County. It’s called the Quasi-Magnet Model. Unlike, say, New York City, which uses magnet schools that focus on core subjects like science (and only teaches those classes to students of that particular school), a quasi-magnet system silos areas of specialization—a school within a school—then shares those classes across all districts within the county. Khoury says Ulster County’s eight school districts (or other school districts facing similar challenges) should work together to determine areas where each district could specialize—and then open those opportunities to all students in the county.

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A Congressional Town Hall in a Purple District

The political climate is begging for protest. But what we really need are actual conversations.

On August 31st, Congressman John Faso, in his first term in New York’s 19th District, held his first public town hall with constituents at the Esopus Town Hall in northeastern Ulster County, nearly seven months after he first took office. During ordinary political times this would be a non-event, as riveting as cable T.V. coverage of your town board’s meeting. But these are not ordinary political times. NY’s 19th is a rare district; it is actually competitive. Faso won with 54 percent of the vote in 2016. Now, in the wake of Donald Trump’s abysmal performance as president, eight potential challengers have lined up, seeking to take on the freshman congressman in 2018.

Many Republicans in Congress across the country have been heavily criticized for not holding open town hall meetings to discuss the house majority policy agenda, Donald Trump’s offensive language, behavior and views, or the controversial initiatives of the Trump administration in health care, federal budget cuts, immigration, tax policy and other policy areas. In response, Republicans argued that these meetings were not venues for serious civil exchange, but opportunities for abusive confrontation by organized opposition on the left. Continue reading

Winning the Battle, Losing the War: How Sales Tax Renewal Thwarts Constitutional Home Rule

This post, written by Dr. Gerald Benjamin, was originally published on the Rockefeller Institute of Government’s blog.  It is reposted here with permission, click here for the full text.

On March 27, 2017, the Ulster County legislature unanimously passed Resolution 97 authorizing its chairman “… to request the New York State Legislature to commence the process of extending the Ulster County additional sales tax rate of one percent … for at least the twenty-four month period commencing December 1, 2017.” At stake: estimated annual revenue of $23.8 million for the county, $3.2 million for the city of Kingston, and $835,000 for the county’s towns. For the county and the city, these are big numbers. The potential loss of this revenue if the additional taxing authority were not extended would leave a gaping hole in annual operating budgets.

The county’s request was forwarded to eight state legislators with some part of Ulster County in their districts: Senators George A. Amedore, John J. Bonacic, William J. Larkin, Jr., and James L. Seward; and Assemblypersons Kevin A. Cahill, Brian D. Miller, Peter D. Lopez, and Frank K. Skartados. In response, Senator Amadore introduced a bill (S5568) on April 13, 2017, and Assembly Cahill introduced a companion bill (A7409) on April 25, 2017, as requested, to extend additional sales tax collection authority for another two years.

Shortly thereafter, the Ulster County Legislature in Kingston passed a second resolution (Resolution 222) specifically requesting enactment of the Senate and Assembly bills. The county legislature is closely divided politically, but again sponsorship was bipartisan, and the vote was unanimous. County Executive Michael Hein signed off immediately, and the results were sent to both state legislative houses the next day.

Read more.

New Benjamin Center brief considers “quasi-magnet” high school model for Ulster County

This press release was originally published by SUNY New Paltz here. 

The Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz has released a new policy brief, “Sharing Educational Programs: A Quasi-Magnet Model for Ulster County High Schools,” authored by Charles V. Khoury, District Superintendent of Ulster Board of Cooperative Education Services (Ulster BOCES).

This brief is the eighth in a series produced through “A 2020 Vision for Public Education in Ulster County,” a collaborative effort between the Benjamin Center and the Ulster County School Boards Association that seeks to promote countywide, regional thinking in the service of enhancing educational delivery and outcomes.

Khoury’s paper explores a potential model for sharing educational programming among the eight Ulster County districts, and argues that this model would expand educational opportunity for students in the final stages of their secondary education.

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On Local Government. Exploring Municipal Charters and Reform

ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Exploring Municipal Charters and Reform

A public educational forum presented by KingstonCitizens.org
Moderated by Co-Founder Rebecca Martin

This event will be filmed.

Thursday, July 13th, 2017
5:30pm – 7:30pm
Kingston Public Library
55 Franklin Street
Kingston, NY 12401

With very special guests:
DR. GERALD BENJAMIN
Associate Vice President for Regional Engagement
SUNY at New Paltz
JENNIFER SCHWARTZ BERKY
Ulster County Legislature and
Principal/Founder
Hone Street Strategic

A municipal charter is the “basic document that defines the organization, powers, functions and essential procedures of the city government. It is comparable to the Constitution of the United States or a state’s constitution. The charter is, therefore, the most important legal document of any city”

Join KingstonCitizens.org as we explore the function of a Municipal or City Charter’: What are they? Why do communities adopt or revise them? What are the basic forms of government under Charters, and more.

A question and answer period will follow.

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Increasing Preparedness for Psychosocial Response to Pandemic Disasters, Infectious Diseases, and Bioterrorism

Guest post by Amy Nitza, Director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health

Our national politics today seem to respond only to military and ecological disasters at home and abroad. Epidemiological disasters and bioterrorism and our local and national responses to them – how they’re handled, with what consequences on the physical and mental health on our first response workers, and on our resources – deserves sustained attention. This year’s The Institute for Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) conference, Psychosocial Response to Pandemic Disasters, Infectious Diseases, and Bioterrorism, is an important opportunity for our region to increase its preparedness for this type of emergency.

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Volunteerism in Ulster County Is Robust, But Is It Sustainable?

Volunteerism is alive and well in Ulster County, but we face major challenges in the years ahead if we are to sustain key services in our communities.

In a recently published Benjamin Center Discussion Brief on The Who-What-Where-When-Why of Volunteerism in Ulster County we report that nearly half (45 percent) of adult Ulster County residents volunteer, twenty points higher than the national rate. In the context of falling national rates, the reasons for this breadth of volunteerism in our home county are documented with the use of national and local survey data, and are further explored and informed through interviews with nineteen leaders in volunteer-reliant organizations.

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Celebrating Women’s History: Announcing our upcoming New York State 2017 Women’s Right to Vote Centennial Conference

This year we kick off women’s history month with the centennial anniversary of the 19th amendment, ratified in 1920, rapidly approaching. That victory, of course, finally won women the vote across the United States just one hundred years ago. Yes, it took much too long for women to be able to vote in our democracy. Less widely known and acknowledged, however is that three years earlier that hard-fought suffrage victory was foreshadowed in New York, when women here won the vote at the state level. The state effort was equally hard-fought. It is a source of pride that New York’s 1917 referendum legalized full voting rights for women, preceding the national action and making ours the only east coast state to enfranchise women before 1920.

This spring we seek to share this pride with all New Yorkers with a conference that celebrates the victory of women’s suffrage in New York. At this event, we will look back on how women in New York State won the vote, consider women’s contemporary status and engagement with public life and leadership, and envision women’s future in politics. The Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexualities program in collaboration with our partners the Departments of History, Political Science, and Sociology at SUNY New Paltz; The Rockefeller Institute of the State University of New York; the FDR Library; and the League of Women Voters of New York State have worked together to plan this examination of the history, the present situation, and the future of women in the public sphere. Continue reading

Three Proposals That Assure Independent Oversight by Elected County Comptrollers

Proposed budgets in 2016 two upstate counties, Ulster and Onondaga, delivered bad news to comptrollers, county elected officials charged with fiscal oversight.  In Ulster, County Executive Michael Hein sought a 22% cut (from $890,000 to $695,000) in Comptroller Elliot Auerbach’s budget. Meanwhile, in Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney took $479,000 (27%) out of Comptroller’s Bob Antonacci’s budget. Were these decisions political payback that reveal a need for structural changes in county government, or simply tough-minded management?

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