You Had To Be There

What were they thinking?

As predicted herein (an easy call), the Ulster County Legislature on Tuesday night unanimously approved $6.2 million in funding to build a county fire training center in the town of Ulster. But not before moving the issue on the floor from the “non-consent” folder to “consent.” Consent portends a unanimous vote agreed to by Republican and Democratic caucuses before the meetings. Arriving on the floor Tuesday night as a non-consent only served to heighten anxieties of some 100 volunteer firemen in attendance too long denied the basic tools to do their jobs

How long? Memories vary, but 40 to 50 years is a working number. As taxpayers, some firefighters expressed concern about the price tag, a potential deal-breaker.  “Six million dollars?” one said on the way out the door. “They could have gotten it for a lot less 10 years ago.” Or 20.

For the record, the Hein administration negotiated some $2 million in grants to offset what was then a projected $4 million expected cost. With bonding, the payout would come to about $60,000 a year, say officials, or about one percent of bond payments on the new county jail.

Rich Gerentine of Marlborough, retiring this year after 28 years in office, year, spoke to his undying devotion to volunteers, sentiments expressed by several other legislators. I wonder if any firefighters asked where Gerentine, a former legislator chairman, was on this subject 10, 20 years ago.

The other issue was one of those hometown, routine matters that it appears nobody back home paid much attention to.

On the agenda was Kingston Mayor Steve Noble’s nomination of former Alderman and architect Brad Will’s to the county planning board. Routine stuff. The legislature has never denied this kind of “home rule” request in recent memory. This one they sent back to committee.

Will’s recent history is troubling or should have been. City ethics panels twice found Will in violation of ethics rules in voting on projects where he was the architect, the reconstruction of the uptown Pike Plan and the proposed Irish Cultural Center in Rondout.  One such lapse (to be generous) might be forgiven, but two? Noble had to know that whole story; he was mayor when Will resigned in 2016 as alderman.

“With all the qualified people in Kingston, why would the mayor put forth somebody like this?” asked one speaker. Someone else charged “cronyism.” At City Hall? P-shaw!

The other side of this issue is that legislators typically treat local nominations to this county voluntary board or that as “home rule” matters, subject to little scrutiny and usually unanimous approval. Chairwoman Tracey Bartels, for one, worried that rejecting the city’s recommendation might set a “bad precedent.”

I like the way Bartels thinks, but she might have it backward here. A good precedent would be a more careful examination of hometown nominees seeking service on county boards. This one didn’t pass the smell test.

 

UPDATE:

Contacted on Thursday, the mayor said he “has no reason” to withdraw Will’s nomination.

“I nominated Brad because I felt he was qualified,” he told me.

Reminded of Will’s record, Noble replied, “That’s in the past. He has paid his dues to society.”

I still think the mayor should reconsider this one.