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June 10, 2021:
Decision 2022 for Webster - Opt in or out on legal recreational marijuana dispensaries in town
It appears the New York State Assembly, Senate and/or Governor's office has, or is about to approve legalized recreational marijuana in New York State. All signs point to this being in effect as early as January 2022. If New York follows what other states have done like Colorado and Illinois, there will be an "Opt in or Out" decision for local governments within this. Simply said, if the Town of Webster wants to participate in the tax revenue from the sale of marijuana at a dispensary(s) in town, the Town Board will need to decide whether to "opt IN" to allowing such a dispensary(s) in the town. Should the Town Board decide to "opt OUT" initially going into 2022, there will be NO marijuana dispensaries allowed to operate in the Town.
Over the next several months, the Town Board will be getting educated on the various nuances of this decision. There will be Town Board workshops that seek to have presenters to show the pros and cons of all aspects of this. There will be at least one public hearing on this issue prior to the Town Board voting on the "Opt in or out". Some will say it is strictly a moral issue. Some will say it is strictly a financial issue with the tax revenue the town could get. Some will say it strictly a crime related issue and/or the difficulty in testing a driver at this point in time for being under the influence of marijuana. Some will say it is an issue directly affecting our children. The reality is that it is ALL of those things and more!
As I write this article, I have to admit I am just starting my research on this issue. I've stated in this column many times that "good decisions for today, and the future are based on being open minded and reviewing the FACTS.... and that bad decisions often are made based on emotion". At the risk of sounding like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth.... there is one FACT I do know about this issue that has me thinking I already know how I will be voting on this "Opt in versus Opt out" issue going into 2022. That FACT is simply this...… if a municipality decides going into 2022 they are OPTING IN to the tax revenue from the marijuana dispensary(s) in their town, they can NEVER in the future OPT OUT. That makes sense since it would be unfair to the business owners who would be getting licensed as a dispensary and putting capital into their business such a buying a building or long-term lease, etc. However, if the municipality decides to initially OPT OUT going into 2022, they can OPT IN in the future if they decide to.
As such, it seems the "logical" best move for Webster would be to OPT OUT going into 2022 and see what transpires in other municipalities in upstate that opt in as of 2022. I further think this will be the best course of action for the town due to preliminary financial estimates of the town's participatory tax revenue from the sale of marijuana would be minimal when compared against the town's overall annual budget of revenue and expenses. Bottom line, the town's finances are "solid" and therefore we will not be forced to consider opting in solely as a "money grab" due to sins of past budgets versus actual financial results of the town.
As stated prior in this article, we'll do our due diligence on this issue over the next several months and the public will have their opportunity to give input. However, it just seems like the "risk-return" on ALL aspects of this decision including but not limited to; moral, financial, law enforcement, health, our children, etc. make it a no-brainer that Webster should OPT OUT initially. If in the future we see that other municipalities are doing GREAT and there has been NO adverse effects to health, children, law enforcement etc. and that the municipality is making a LOT of tax revenue that helps lessen the burden on the citizen's real estate taxes...… we should then consider Opting in. Remember.... once you OPT IN.... you can NEVER Opt out. Kinda like the Hotel California! (LOL) As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 2, 2021
Making Sandbar Park the Waterfront Jewel of Webster
Sandbar Park. What a unique strip of land we have here in Webster. It runs west along Lake Road from Bay Road to the outlet bridge in the winter and a dead end in the summer. On the north side is Lake Ontario and on the south is Irondequoit Bay. Almost 20 years ago the Town of Webster obtained over 12 acres on this strip from a combination of purchasing parcels, and also a donation of parcels from town citizen John Casciani. Soon after obtaining this land, the town worked with New York State to turn into a town park.
Over the past 15+ years since then, not much has changed about the park layout. A few years back, a citizen committee was assembled to look at options for the town to make improvements to the Park. That committee was formed in parallel with the town retaining Passero Associates and Bayer Landscape Architecture to design some plans. A public presentation of that committee, and Passero/Bayer work was done in the Town Board room and approx. 80 citizens attended. Unfortunately, the second high-water event of 2019 (after the first in 2017) put the project on hold. The high-water event and flooding that occurred from it on Sandbar Park also resulted in New York State creating grant money for waterfront resiliency (REDI Grants) and the Town of Webster applied for and obtained almost $3 million in grant money to lift and move a section of Lake Road near Oklahoma Beach, and to build a break wall along the south/bay side.
In 2020 and 2021 the Town of Webster worked with the citizen committee, Passero and Bayer to start the Sandbar Park project back up and marry features of the Park design to the necessary waterfront resiliency that will be done with help from the REDI grants. On May 27, 2021 at the Town Board Workshop, Bayer and Passero presented to the Town Board the preliminary designs and costs of the proposed park improvement. If you'd like to see that presentation the link is: ci.webster.ny.us/CivicMedia.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, ALL Webster residents got a 9 by 11-inch postcard in the USPS mail that promoted four open houses on these proposed plans, costs, and timeline; Wednesday, June 2nd from 7 - 8:30 p.m. at the Rec Center on Chiyoda off Phillips, Tuesday, June 8th, and Thursday, June 10th from 7 - 8:30 p.m. at the Rec Center, and Saturday, June 12th at the Joe Obbie Farmer's Market at Towne Center between 9 a.m. - Noon. These open houses will give Webster citizens the chance to come and see the various aspects of the project including, the waterfront resiliency, park design, new building that will replace the current Bayside restaurant, and cost and funding options on the proposed project. As stated, prior in this article, the last time an open house was done on this project, approx. 80 citizens attended. I would LOVE to see 1,500+ citizens in total attend these four open houses!!! As you have heard me say "an informed community is a better community". Along those lines, government works BEST for the people when it HEARS the people. These open houses are the best way for citizens to give their input on this proposed project, and the best way for the elected leaders of the town to listen to them!
YOUR input in the next few weeks will help the project designers, citizen advisory committees, and the Town Board dovetail to the August - October 2021 timeframe. That is when the discerning of resolutions to finalize plans, bid out the project to contractors, and determine final costs and funding sources will most likely be done. The BEST way for the citizens to review this proposed project and give input is to attend these open houses. However there are other ways to track it such as visiting the Sandbar Park dedicated page on the Town website at: ci.webster.ny.us/522/Sandbar-Park-Project and following on Facebook at: facebook.com/Sandbarparkproject. You can also sign up for Sandbar Park alerts at: ci.webster.ny.us/list.aspx.
I TRULY hope to see and talk with thousands of Webster citizens at these open houses over the next week+! As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail at email@example.com
May 26, 2021
A mission we ALL can get behind in supporting
At 10 AM on Monday, May 3rd, I attended a press conference at Gates Town Hall. Several news outlets were in attendance as the topic was an update on the car jackings that had been going on in Monroe County, and on the investigation on the 71-year-old gentleman who had been shot and killed during one of these car jackings in Gates. I had been invited to the press conference by Gates Town Supervisor, Cosmo Giunta. Cosmo is the 2021 President of the Monroe County Supervisor's Association, and in his invite stated, "he really wanted to see as many Supervisors in attendance as possible to show solidarity on the issue". What immediately struck me when I entered the building that morning was the vast number of law enforcement and elected political leaders in attendance. They brought us all out to be a semi-circle behind the podium, and if you watched the press conference on TV, it showed just how many were there in support.
Gates Police Chief James Van Brederode led off at the podium. Chief is a "good man" who led off with the facts on where the carjacking and murder cases were at. However, he then gave an impassioned, layman’s term explanation of the unintended consequences that have come from the various New York State legislative changes in the past few years such as bail reform. He was in agreement that it is wrong to hold someone in jail because they are poor, while another person of means that perpetrated the same crime was able to get out on bail. However, he did a wonderful job describing how New York State may have "thrown the baby out with the bathwater" in an attempt to right a wrong on that. He described how it has resulted in essentially a "catch and release" situation the past year plus. Simply said, the criminal robs a store in Gates on Thursday, gets an appearance ticket for court in a month or two, and is back on the street on Friday to rob another store in Greece.
Several law enforcement and political leaders also spoke at this press conference. Some described how a confluence of events, social pressure and legislative actions in the past year have resulted in an emboldened criminal and a spike in violence. One person told me offline that there is a community of law abiding citizens who feel imprisoned in their own homes/neighborhoods for fear, real or perceived of the "wild west" that is going on outside on their streets. That leads me to the one speaker that day NOT from law enforcement or politics: Clay Harris. I had never heard of Clay before hearing him at the podium on that morning. What struck me immediately about Clay, was that he is an excellent public speaker. However, it was not so much HOW he spoke, but WHAT he was saying that had me bobbing my head in agreement. Clay is the founder of United Healing through Hope - Monroe County. He is a Christian man who was motivated to start this organization in the past year in the aftermath and social unrest since George Floyd's death while in law enforcement custody in Minneapolis. He stated that morning on the podium that it is his mission... his vocation to STOP THE VIOLENCE in our community. I told him at the end of the press conference that "Webster is IN" on this effort, and that we should get together to soon to see how he envisioned utilizing me within his mission.
Clay and I met for coffee the next week and immediately hit it off. He is a pioneer as far as I am concerned to the RIGHT way to solve societal problems, especially the one of violence. He knows it is too easy to "broad brush" and blame law enforcement, or Donald Trump, etc. for those ills. He knows it is multi-tentacled and knows that it will take years to remedy... but you gotta start somewhere. He preaches that coalescing the leaders of the faith-based community, law enforcement, the judicial system, elected officials and the citizens is the only way to put a dent in the problem today, and eventually remedy it.
I have attended three of his organization's meetings since I first met Clay earlier this month as they are busy organizing a STOP THE VIOLENCE march and rally for Saturday, June 5th between 10 AM and 3 PM. This is Clay's "creation”, and it is a bold endeavor given a short time to organize and execute. At the time I wrote this article, the logistic details were not yet decided on for the march routes and rallying point. As soon as they are known, I will then be executing my marching orders Clay has given me. That is to simply promote and let as many Webster citizens know of this march and rally as possible with the hopes that we get great attendance. Stay tuned for more details as they arise on this Saturday, June 5th event. Let's show the world that the Monroe County community is united in our mission to STOP THE VIOLENCE. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
May 19, 2021:
Transparency in your Webster Town Government
If you are a weekly reader of this column, you have heard me say several times, "An informed community is a better community". There are approximately 15,000 residences in Webster that encompass 45,000+ citizens. Those residences are single family homes, apartments, etc. The citizens include adults and children. When I became Supervisor in 2020, I found that the Town Government mechanisms to communicate to its citizens were comprised of the Webster Herald, social media, Town website, Thursday Town Board meetings open to in-person attendance, and aired on cable channel 1303, Electronic Town Meetings, Town Times that went out 3 times a year, and posting boards at Town facilities like Town Hall, Rec Center, and Library.
Even with all those various means of communication, it was estimated that approx. 15-20% of the adults in Webster actually see and "absorb" the communications the town sends out. That is why one of the biggest initiatives we are trying to accomplish at the Town is to improve the communication to Webster Citizens and get that "see and absorb" rate up over 50%. That effort is not something that can be achieved over night. COVID has hurt the effort. In February 2020, prior COVID, we had a public information forum at Webster Thomas on the water levels on Lake Ontario and Irondequoit Bay. Over 200 citizens attended. I was ecstatic and thought we'd have 5-6 such public forums a year on various topics of interest to Webster citizens and have 200+ citizens attend. COVID hits in March 2020 and that put that effort on the shelf. Hopefully we can come back to it soon!
The reality is that in our society in 2021, many people feel that if they are not seeing and "absorbing" communications from an organization, that the organization is NOT TRANSPARENT. Unfortunately, if your organization is accused of being "Non-transparent", it often is interpreted that the organization is hiding things, or worse yet, has nefarious intentions. Social Media makes it easy to type in the allegation that an organization is not being transparent. People read it, and many will accept that as fact.
A few things to consider as you discern the Town of Webster Government's transparency: 1. Customer Service: We've made it a priority in the past year+ at all the Town departments. Responding to citizen calls, e-mails, etc. in a timely fashion, and with facts on what they inquired about it imperative. 2. When I have been informed of a citizen comment that the Town government is "not transparent", I have sent that person a note in the USPS mail with my business card and a note stating," I would welcome meeting with you at a venue, day and time of your choosing to discuss your concerns on the Town's transparency and hear your ideas of how we can improve it". To date, I have sent over 30 such notes in the past year plus and have had NO response on any of them. I find that sad, but also predictable in the society we live in today. Much easier to hide behind a keyboard and accuse an organization of being non-transparent than to actually meet with that organization's leadership to be "part of the solution process" if indeed what they are accusing us of is true.
The good news, I believe the majority of Webster Citizens will appreciate the Town government's efforts to improve its communication. Any citizens who want to assist in this effort, I would love to hear from you! As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com.
May 12, 2021:
2022 and Beyond Changes at the Highway Department
There may be no more Customer facing department in Webster Government than the Highway Department. Their big yellow trucks can be seen everywhere in Webster. In the winter, they plow the roads and have historically been one of the at it compared to other Upstate New York municipalities. In the Spring and Summer, you will see them out there on various drainage projects in town, delivering mulch, and chip sealing roads amongst other things. In the Autumn, they are out there picking up the leaves. These are just a few of the many things the Highway Department does for the Webster Citizens.
The Webster Highway Department is a great source of pride in this community. One thing I have learned since I became Town Supervisor is that the department is very respected amongst other Highway Department Superintendents in Monroe County. The department has historically gotten work from the county and other municipalities to do road work such asphalt, etc. because of their expertise. That work has brought revenue to the department that helps lessen the need to tax the Webster citizens. I personally think that one of the main reasons the Highway Department is a top-notch unit is the continuity of leadership it has had for the past 50-years. If you're a football fan, you know that the Pittsburgh Steelers have had three head coaches in the past 50-years. That consistency in organization is why they have historically been a winning team during that timeframe. The Highway Department has had three Superintendents in the past 50 years: Cliff Jones, Barry Deane, and Joe Herbst. Joe just retired in February 2021 after 13+ years as Superintendent. After an exhaustive and collaborative search, application, and interview process, the Town hired Pat Stephens as its new Highway Superintendent in April 2021. Pat's engineering and construction background have me very excited for what he will bring to that department for the next several years!!
Another source of pride in the department is the multi-skilled tradesmen employed there. The current Highway garage and admin offices sit on a 20+ acre parcel at the end of Picture Parkway off Hard Road. It was originally built 50+ years ago and 1. is starting to show its age, and 2. has been expanded over the years by construction of additions done mostly by the department staff. They say necessity is the mother of invention and the Highway Department is a living embodiment of that! The town's population is DOUBLE what it was when that facility was originally built and the lane miles of road they have to service is most likely more than double. My predecessor, Supervisor Ron Nesbitt recently wrote that there is a need for a new Highway garage, and I could not agree with him more on that. In April 2021, the Town acquired eight acres across the parking lot to the north of the current Highway garage. This land was purchased from Monroe County after they had perfected a real estate tax foreclosure on it. The town paid approx. $58,000 for those eight acres. To me, this land purchase was "step 1" of the process of building a new Highway garage. Step 2 most likely is looking at other newly built Highway facilities in upstate NY in the past 10-years to get an idea of design and cost on those so we can start discussing what size, design, cost is appropriate for Webster today and for the next 20-30 years.
As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
May 5, 2021:
The "Job Duties" of Town Government
What are the job duties of the Town Supervisor and the four Town Board members that make up the Town of Webster government? Seems like a simple enough question. However, I found that while campaigning in 2019, and during my 16 months as Town Supervisor, you can ask 100 Webster citizens that questions and get 100 different answers! Since there seems to be no succinct job description I have found of Town Supervisor, I would propose it has some tangible and intangible aspects. The most tangible aspects to it are the Town Board meetings where annual budgets, codes, and laws are voted on by the 5-person board. Many of those voted on items are preceded by a public hearing so the governance can get feedback from the citizens on what they are about to vote on. In my opinion, board meetings and public hearings as they are "advertised" in 2021 show a fundamental flaw in the system between "what is legal and what is right way to do things for the overall benefit of the community".
Legally, the law of publishing a board meeting, its agenda items, a public hearing, etc. is based on laws done at the State level 50+ years ago. As such, they are predicated on publishing in a newspaper within a certain number of days of the meeting. The Town of Webster's identified newspaper for such meeting notices is voted on each year at the organizational meeting on or about January 1st. The Webster Herald is the Town of Webster's newspaper for these notices. However, where that fulfills the Town's "legal" responsibility of these notices, I think we all know that newspapers for citizen news consumption is drastically lower in 2021 than it was 50 years ago when the law was made. The result.... few people in Webster know about our board meetings, agendas, and/or public hearings. As such, few people come to our board meetings which are open to the public, nor do they watch them live on Spectrum channel 1303 or at the Town’s website. As you have heard me say many times, "an informed community is a better community". As such, we continue to try and advertise/promote these board meetings in mediums over and above the legal requirement of the newspaper. They are on the Town website, and social media platforms currently. We continue to strive to improve the Town government communication mechanisms to our citizens with the end goal that at least one adult in each household gets the communication and "absorbs it". As we make progress on that goal, I hope to see more attendance at board meetings/public hearings in the future, and viewership of those meetings on TV and website.
The intangibles of the job are too many to write in this article, but a few that I have found the most fascinating are as follows;
1. Are you a leader or someone looking to be liked? I admit, with the benefit of hindsight in my early years owning my company, I made decisions (or avoided them) with a compass more geared toward being liked/not causing confrontation, then what was best for the organization today and the future. As a business owner if you don't evolve from that you will go out of business. However, government almost promotes and incentivizes its elected officials to make decisions based on being liked. At least ten times in the past few months I have been in various meetings of town officials, citizens, etc. where we are discussing decisions that need to be made for the BEST of the community today and the future, and someone says "Tom, you may not want to pursue that right now cuz its an election year". I can't tell you how odd that seems to me. If I'm voted out due to pushing for agendas I think are right for the community during an election year, then it was not meant to be for me being Webster Town Supervisor for more than two years.
2. What is your management and/or change agent style? This is one of those "soft" skill items that is so hard to quantify, but you know it when you start to get to know someone. Do you campaign and/or come into a new position "guns a slinging" and making first 100-day promises of what you're going to change? Another way to look at this is the person who wants to overthrow the government and once they do, has no idea on how to actually govern! If you understand the Town Supervisor position and that you ultimately are just 1 of 5 votes, that would be a colossal mistake. Some people are so interested in winning the battle, they give up any chance of winning the overall war.
Bottom line... in 2021 you need people swimming in the same direction if you are to achieve anything at the town government level. Does that mean those people are all "Yes men and women"? Absolutely NOT!! I've learned so much in the past 16 months from robust conversations and debates with the Town Board members, Town Department Heads, and citizens where we disagreed on MANY things!! However, I'd like to think foundationally there was a mutual respect to those debates that forged trust so we could move to a position of swimming all in the same direction for the greater good. Was there risk to me as Town Supervisor in being more collaborative that autocratic? Absolutely! One of my favorite sayings is "Don't let my congeniality be confused for weakness". Some people ONLY respond to autocratic so they will see my style as weak. I usually have a lot of fun with those type of people in the long run! (LOL) As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com
April 22, 2021
799 Holt Road- 70 acres that is the old lumber yard
In the past few months, I have written articles, had Town Board discussions, and highlighted on the Electronic Town Meeting the West Webster Hamlet, specifically 600 Ridge Road, Webster Furniture Strippers. Over the past 15+ years, a lot of attention from the Webster community has been on 600 Ridge Road due to the condition the property is in, and people wanting to know "what the end game is going to be on that property" as we go forward into 2022 and beyond?
That attention on 600 Ridge Road spurred many people reaching out to me about the property at 799 Holt Road. That property is a 70-acre parcel on the west side of Holt Road north of 104, and just south of the Hojack Trail. It has approx. 500 feet of frontage along Holt Road. Strewn along this frontage are several vacant, dilapidated buildings within 200 feet depth off Holt Road. As such, these buildings are VERY visible from Holt Road, and to Hojack Trail walkers/bikers. For many Webster citizens these buildings are seen as an "eyesore", and that is the main reason I have had many people reach out to me on this property. They want to know "what is the end game on this property going forward into 2022 and beyond"?
The fact pattern on this 70-acre parcel at 799 Holt Road is VERY different to the one at 600 Ridge Road, the Webster Furniture Strippers. For example, the property is privately owned and been listed for sale for over two years. It is current on its real estate tax payments to the County, Town, and School. There is nothing to indicate the 70-acre site has any environmental issues. Where it has approx. 500 foot of frontage on Holt Road, it has significantly more feet depth going west that comprises the 70-acre site. Allegedly some of the 70-acres has wetland aspects. Such wetlands will have an effect to any potential buyer, and what such a buyer will want to propose as future use on the site. Obviously, the current zoning of the site will affect a buyer's future use too.
Over the 16 months I have been Supervisor, I have been in contact with the current owner and their representation of these 70-acres. They have been very cooperative to any town requests to remedy code issues. Most recently the Town Code Enforcement Officer met them in November 2020 at the site to discuss overgrowth of brush. Within two weeks the owner cleaned it up. The big issue is the buildings. The owner and their representation were working in early 2020 to obtain demolition permits and asbestos assessment on them. Their plan was to have a fire department use the buildings in 2020 as their testing and as such they would be burned to the ground. COVID hit and permits got delayed. By the time they were able to navigate the process, the fire departments moved on to other sites as their testing in 2020.
Within my most recent discussions with the owner and their representatives they have conveyed they are looking to demolish the buildings at some point in 2021. They think that the buildings being gone may assist in finding a viable buyer. Based on my previous interactions with them, I have NO reason at this point to doubt them and their conveyed intentions. They have made good on all previous interactions I have had with them. I'm scheduled to talk with them in late June/early July to see where they are in the process of demolishing the buildings. In summary.... if these buildings are gone, my guess is that most Webster citizens will have NO issues with seeing 500 feet of frontage along Holt Road that is foliage/woods. At some point in the future, a buyer will manifest themselves. Then, that buyer's desired usage of the 70-acres will be where attention is turned to as I can only assume they would not be buying it to remain wooded land. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
April 14, 2021:
A "Vision" of the Webster Community in 2041
Vision has more than one definition. If your optometrist determines you are far or near sighted, you know what your "vision" is like when not assisted by glasses or contact lenses. It's hard to see tangible things clearly right in front of your face! Those tangible things we see in real time, today are for the most part universally agreed on. Stand 100 people from all walks of life side by side and put a glass of water on a table and ask them what they see... and they will all say they see a glass of water! Now the "intangible" aspect of how those 100 people perceive that glass of water can run the gamut from "I'm thirsty, I want to drink it", to "that water is for plants to grow", and everything in between.
But what about the definition of vision when it pertains to "seeing something that is currently NOT there tangibly for your eyes to see"? Steve Jobs at Apple had such vision when it came to people in the future having computers at their homes, or in their hands in the form of cell phones. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know Jobs was "visionary" and that those things he "saw in the future" came to be. However, 40 years ago when he was pitching that vision, not ALL were on board. Some thought he was crazy! It’s easier to criticize and shoot down a "vision of something in the future" than to get behind it. Maybe easier is not the right word. Maybe the right word is "safer". There is risk in getting on board to a future vision. What if it fails? The "safer, in the moment" move is to keep the status quo, unless that status quo is universally agreed on to being untenable and change must occur. FDR and Churchill experienced that in the late 1930’s as the status quo of their citizenship was "stay out of any altercation with Germany/Japan", but by 1940/1941 the actions of those foes made the status quo untenable and England and the U.S entered World War 2.
Privately held companies are forced to have vision and take risks on future visions or they run the bigger risk of going out of business. It's a bit of a "salt in the wound" for us Rochester people, but Kodak decided to keep the status quo several years ago and NOT move forward with digital. I think we know how that "in the moment safer" move panned out. Government has two things working against "taking visionary moves"; 1. They can't go out of business like a private entity, and 2. Being an elected official does not mean you are a leader, and often you can be motivated in your decisions by not what is best for your community in the future, but what is best for you to get re-elected. On that latter point, putting your neck out there like Steve Jobs is NOT something most elected officials will do!
So, what will the Webster community look like 20 years from now in 2041? If you'll indulge me for a few more paragraphs, here is one man's opinion on how it could be. It's 2041. The 800-acre industrial campus that used to be ALL Xerox and as recently as 2021 had six million square feet of building space of which approx. Four million was EMPTY has been revitalized either by Xerox and/or by new developer(s). There is 21st century industry(s) that are set up on that campus and 10,000+ "good jobs" are there. One of the determining factors for those companies to come to that campus back in the 2020’s and 2030’s was the "state of the art" community sanitary sewer treatment plant that was built in the early 2020’s by a partnership of the Village of Webster and Town of Webster governments. That sewer plant was built in the early 2020’s with an "eye to the future" and is a Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF) and not your "traditional sewer plant". In layman terms, it has the capacity to break down the industrial discharge of certain industries into clean water.
The Village of Webster Board of Trustees and the Town Board parlayed their partnership on the community/consolidated WRRF built in the early 2020’s into partnering on an action plan on the 800-acre Xerox campus. That plan included moving village/town lines to make the campus easier to parcel out. It also included improving Xerox owned and maintained roads with federal and state grants and getting them dedicated over to the town and/or village for further ease of parceling out. As business started to come to that campus in the mid to late 2020’s from these partnership efforts, property values in the community increased as good jobs were on the campus.
The Village Board of Trustees saw that the four corners/village was the "nucleus" of the Webster community. That Webster community had 40,000+ people in the town that were a different socio-economic make up than what they were in the 1970’s. That community wanted to walk, bike, or drive 1-2 miles to the nucleus to spend their entertainment and goods and services money and NOT have to go 10+ miles away to do it. The Village Board of Trustees saw that and acted on that. They redirected their focus on the "nucleus" of the Webster community; the four corners of Main St. and 250 and the businesses that spawn east and west down Main Street from there. The result by 2030 was NO cars on Main Street from 250 running east for about 100 yards and from 250 running west for about 100 yards. 250 running north and south continued to have car traffic. This "walking mall" had the proper off street public parking to support it. It created a "community center" where many events occurred throughout the year such as the jazz festival that occurred in the late 2010’s when they would close down the street for the weekend. It also brought small, boutique type businesses to that area that prior would not have come. The economic result to the village? In the early 2020’s 50%+ of the Village's budget revenue came from sales tax from the businesses in the village. Much of the other revenue came from real estate taxes to Village residents and businesses. The revitalization of the Village's four corners in the late 2020’s resulted in increase in sales tax revenue to the point where "all other factors being equal" the Village government could reduce or possibly no longer charge Village real estate taxes to the Village citizens and businesses.
In summary..... I am NO Steve Jobs!! (LOL) I also concede that the "vision" I described above for 2041 in Webster may NOT be what the citizens would like to see. However, I have seen the value of "having a vision" and getting people on board to start the foundational work of turning it into a reality. I don't have all the answers, and that is why any efforts done in the next 1-2 years that will effectuate how this community looks in 2041 needs "partnership and cooperation". Is it risk? Do we need to leave our "comfort zone"? Absolutely!! However, change is inevitable, and we can either let our fate be dealt to us as passive observers and complain about it..... or we can drive our fate. I for one am a proponent of the latter. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com
April 7, 2021:
Separating Fact from Myth about Development/Green Space in Webster
My wife and I moved to Webster 24 years ago. What attracted us to the community was the "rural-suburban" feel it had and the 10 – 20-minute driving proximity it had to the rest of Monroe County for our jobs, services, etc. As the years went on and we grew our family, what has kept us in Webster was the GREAT people who live here. The feel I described of "rural-suburban" was something I had no empirical data on back in 1997... it was just a "feel" for my wife and me. We had grown up in Irondequoit, so I suppose that was our point of reference.
Since I became Supervisor, I have been able to obtain factual data on Webster's "rural-suburban feel". For example, Irondequoit covers 17 square miles and has approx. 51,000 residents. That equates to 3,000 people per square mile. In comparison, Webster covers 35 square miles and has approx. 46,000 residents. That equates to 1,300 people per square mile. When I was campaigning in 2019 and going "door to door", I was introduced to how passionate people are about over-development and maintaining Green Space in Webster. The good news from that experience was that ALL Webster Citizens seem to be aligned on these issues. We love our hometown and the "rural-suburban" feel it has! The bad news was the disparity of people's opinions on them. If you are a habitual reader of my weekly column, you know I'm a self-proclaimed "data geek". Data to me are FACTS, and facts are foundational to making good decisions, and/or forming an opinion on a subject that is an educated one. You also know I feel an informed community is a better community. So, without further ado, here are some myth/fact aspects of development and green space in Webster.
DEVELOPMENT: Many Webster citizens reach out to me with concerns that Town Board, Planning Board, and/or Zoning Board of Appeals approve a developer's plan to build with a "magic wand" and do not have to adhere to any guidelines. The reality is that the 2008 Comprehensive Plan, and current zoning laws, and town codes/laws are the guideposts on any and ALL development in town. The process that needs to be followed for a developer to get approval on building a housing track or commercial building is extensive. Public hearings are part of the process. Those hearings, by law are published several days in advance in the Webster Herald, and other Town websites, and social media pages. Unfortunately, where the zoning, codes, laws are specific... there remains a subjectivity to people's opinions as to whether that specificity is enough. For example, the difference between R2 and R3 zoning is that the minimum lot size for the home is 22,000 feet versus 28,000 feet. In each case, the minimum lot width is 100 feet, but the depth minimum differs from 220 to 280 feet between R2 and R3. Those are "specifics/facts" of the zoning, but some people feel that those minimum square feet lots are too BIG (if you want more houses built) ... or too SMALL (if you want less houses built).
GREEN SPACE: Many Webster residents reach out to me with their concerns about over development and the loss of green space in the town. Some have said that the town has not invested in purchasing any land for green space since the referendum back in 2005 that resulted in approx. 1,000 acres purchased at approx. $7 million. The reality is that in the past 15-months since I became Supervisor, the town has purchased or is contract for approx. 60 acres of green space. Furthermore, in the years between 2006-2019, the town obtained several parcels of land that are green space. Currently between Town and County parks, and other land currently designated "green space/no development" approx. 12% of ALL of the 35 square miles in Webster are undeveloped/green space. Furthermore, there is another approx. 20% of acreage in Webster that currently owned by private citizens that is NOT developed. This makes Webster currently one of the most "green space friendly" towns in Monroe County!
In summary, the current zoning, codes, and laws have specificity in them to promote green space. For example, in certain residential zonings, there is "cluster" potential for a developer when building a housing tract where if they can preserve natural features of the land, they can apply to the Planning Board for such a configuration. In the past few months, we have started the process of discerning the current town codes and laws in place. Within that process we are looking to identify obsolete codes and laws and see if there are new ones that need to be proposed. We've also started looking at the 2008 Comprehensive Plan. Bottom line.... we can't formally start a process of updating that Comprehensive Plan until we look at the initiatives that were stated in the 2008 version. Did those initiatives get accomplished, and if not, why? I don't want the process of updating the Comprehensive Plan in the next few years to have a "history repeats itself" aspect. We need to learn from that history so we can produce a better future for Webster! As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 31, 2021
Town Board Meetings opening back up to public in person attendance in April
One thing I heard consistently when I was on the campaign trail in 2019 was that Webster Citizens felt that the Town government did not communicate well with the public. As we know, people's perception becomes their reality. When I became Supervisor in January 2020, I wanted to take action to change that perception. You've heard me say many times, "an informed community is a better one". In the first 2 months I was Supervisor we had a public meeting at Webster Thomas' auditorium for Lake Ontario and Irondequoit Bay property owners to discuss the potential rising water levels in the Spring of 2020. Over 200 people attended. I was hopeful that we could parlay that into having more public attendance at Town Board meetings in the future. Then.... COVID hit in March 2020 and we had to close Town Board meetings to public in person attendance.
We've made attempts to have these board meetings in the last year as accessible to the public as possible. Some of those methods had always been in place such as showing live on Spectrum channel 1303. Other things we did was to make sure board meetings could have call-ins, and live stream on the town website. With the world starting to open back up due to COVID vaccine, we will be opening Town Board meetings for public in person attendance in April 2021. The first of these will be the Town Board meeting on Thursday April 1st at 7:30 pm. Regular Town Board meetings occur at 7:30 pm on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of each month. At these meetings there are things like resolutions voted on and public hearings. On the 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month at 5:30 pm we have Town Board workshops. At these meetings we have agenda topics for presentations and discussion. We publish these meeting agendas in the Webster Herald eight calendar days prior to the meeting. We also post these agendas on the Town's Website and social media platforms.
The Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals meetings will also re-open for in person public attendance in April 2021. The Planning Board meetings are at 7 pm on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month. The Zoning Board of Appeals meetings are at 7 pm on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month. In May 2021 the Assessment Board of Appeals hearings will return to being open to in person attendance. All these board meetings will initially have COVID appropriate procedures in affect. There will be check in procedures, masking, social distancing, and hand sanitizing in place. The foyer outside the board room will be utilized for overflow if needed. There will be a television in the foyer for those to watch the meeting as they wait for their agenda item to come up and they enter the board room.
In summary, as we come out of COVID we need to make baby steps on these town board meetings having in person public attendance. Hopefully we can continue to get public participation in these meetings by either in person attendance, call ins, e-mails in, and watching live on TV or on website. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com
March 24, 2021
The Stimulus Check Conundrum
A few weeks back, the United States Congress approved round 2 of the Federal stimulus packages pertaining to the COVID pandemic. This one is $1.9 Trillion and covers a myriad of items. Two of them are: 1. $1,400 check to each person who qualifies, and 2. State and local government monies. Within the latter, the preliminary numbers reflect the Town of Webster government is slotted to receive $4.95 million, of which $600,000 of that is earmarked for the Village of Webster government. Furthermore, the first half of that money may be delivered to the Town as early as May 2021. Over the next few weeks, the U.S Treasury Department is planning on putting out guidance to state and local governments on "what the money can be used for/or not used for" and other considerations such as timing of the money usage etc.
Conundrum. Some synonyms of that word are "a difficult question" and "dilemma". Each person/family will have their own "conundrum". They may use the money to buy something, payoff debt, or put away for a rainy day in savings. Foundational to each person/family's decision on this stimulus money will be how COVID affected them the past year. For instance, did the person/family lose their job or not.... or did they get overtime and make more money during COVID? Did the small business owner suffer or did COVID actually increase their business's revenue and profit? Finally... as it pertains to a person/family, a lot goes to how they "think about money". Are they more prone to spend all the money that comes into their home (and sometimes due to credit cards MORE than comes in), or are they "savers"?
The reality is that the same decision-making challenges a family has on "what to do with their $1,400 per qualified person", pertain to the Town and Village of Webster governments on the $4.95 million. One thing I like about how the Town Board of Webster has historically approached the annual budget process is to "underestimate revenues and overestimate expenses". That fiscally responsible philosophy was intact long before I became Town Supervisor. There are MANY pros and cons associated with that philosophy that affect the short and long term.... but I'll keep this article topic isolated to how that past budget to actual revenues and expenses will influence how the town uses its $4.35 million from this stimulus package. The 2020 Town budget was done before I became Supervisor. Prior Supervisor Ron Nesbitt and the Town Board approved that 2020 budget before they knew COVID would be present. Their fiscal responsibility within setting that budget resulted in the actual revenues and expenses in 2020 being very close to the 2020 budget. Bottom line.... The Town of Webster government did not suffer "overall" financial hardship in 2020 due to 2 factors: 1. fiscally conservative budgeting and 2. $1.05 million received from Monroe County from the $130 million the County received from the 1st round of the stimulus.
Other Monroe County towns may need the round 2 money coming to them to make up HUGE budget shortfalls due to aggressive budgeting of revenues and/or expenses. That is NOT the case for the Town of Webster. As such, I am proposing a "measured and patient" approach to the decision-making process on what to do with the Town's $4.35 million. Whenever money is involved, there will be MANY opinions on what it should be spent on! (LOL) More details need to be determined on this money from the U.S Treasury Department and/or other governmental agencies. In summary.... let's do our due diligence so that a well thought out decision is made on what to use this money for. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
March 17, 2021
Webster Sanitary Sewer Plant(s)- 2021 and beyond
Let me start by saying that the decisions made in the next 6 - 9 months on the sanitary sewer plant(s) in Webster will have profound effect on taxpayers for the next 20+ years. Before I get into "what those decisions are", a little background on this. My guess is that most citizens are like I was prior to taking office in January 2020 as Webster Town Supervisor. Simply said, I had little to no knowledge of the Sanitary Sewer systems in my hometown. I was happy if the sanitary waste from my home went OUT and did not come back IN! Ask anyone who has had a sewer line back up into their basement and they'll know what I mean on this.
I've learned a LOT in the last 15 months about Webster's sanitary sewer systems. 1st of all, there are two components to the system; 1. Collection, and 2. Treatment. The collection component is the sewer main lines that are strewn throughout the town and village, and the pump stations utilized to get that sewage from the "source" (i.e. your home) to the sewer plants for treatment. Pump stations are needed when flow must be moved uphill, and pitched gravity can't be utilized. If we all lived on top of a hill and the sewer plant was at the bottom of the hill, pump stations would not be needed. There are approx. 400 miles in the town of these mains lines and 20 miles in the village. The town has 20+ pump stations and the village has 3. These mains usually run parallel to your street and each of our homes has sewer lines on our property that feed into those mains.
The treatment is done at two sewer plants in the community: the Village's on Wall Road and 250, and the Town's on Phillips Road north of Klem. Prior to 2018, both plants have not been significantly upgraded in over 40 years. The Town just completed phase 1, a $12 million upgrade to its plant and is in the process of discerning the configuration and cost of phase 2 of those upgrades. The Village is still discerning what upgrades to put into their plant. In layman terms "treatment" at these plant entails raw sewage coming into the plant and leaving the plant as water clean enough to be emptied into Lake Ontario. The details of how they accomplish that is nothing less than an "engineering and scientific miracle"! Both the Village and Town's finished product from treatment empties into Lake Ontario from a common effluent pipe at the Town's Phillips Road plant. That discharge into the lake is governed by a SPEDES permit owned by the town and for which the Village is an "authorized user" of.
So what is the BIG decision that must be made in the next 6 - 9 months? Answer... Do the Village and Town consolidate their treatment into a Regional Sewer plant and invest taxpayer money accordingly on that effort.... or do the Village and Town pursue "separately" upgrades and modernization of their respective individual plants? The reality is that the Village and Town governance has been assessing that question for over 5 years. Over that time, the Village and Town each have had their own outside engineering firms laying out plans and cost estimates for the individual plant upgrades/modernization. At some point a few years back, it was discussed how this is a "unique opportunity" to discern before investing in two sewer plants in the 35 square mile Webster community, the concept of consolidating into ONE regional sewer plant. The Village and Town engineering firms worked together on that effort and in August 2020 a public presentation was done of their findings. Unfortunately, being COVID, that public presentation was a ZOOM meeting and was only attended by less than 40 people.
On September 10, 2020, the Village of Webster Board of Trustees passed two resolutions; 1. approve the forming of a Regional Sewer Plant working group equally represented by Village and Town, and 2. Apply for a separate SPEDES permit from the DEC. This week, that 8-person working group had their initial meeting. It is estimated that the information they discern will put them in a position by no later than June 2021 to present their findings and/or recommendations to the Village Board of Trustees, and the Town Board. If the decision is to go regional, then the 2nd resolution by the Village of a separate SPEDES permit becomes moot. If the decision is to go forward with two separate sewer plants and invest taxpayer monies into each of them, then the separate SPEDES permit for the Village Plant by the DEC will be important. The Village leadership would need to analyze any additional costs they will need to consider within their plant upgrade to be able to get this permit from the DEC.
In summary.... a LOT happening on this "regionalize... or go forward separate" sewer plant issue by the end of 2021! As the information comes in from the Working group and is presented to Village and Town governance, the public will have a front row seat to this. The decision is NOT a referendum voted on by the public, but I would hope that the input and comments from the public are many. Net of any grants obtained, it's OUR taxpayer money that will be invested in this regional plant or 2 separate plants, so the public deserves to be heard on it. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail at email@example.com
March 10, 2021:
COVID turns 1 year old. What's next? Vaccines, etc.
Well, it is officially 1-year. On Saturday March 7, 2020, my wife and I were in Knoxville, TN visiting our daughter who is a student at the University of Tennessee. We went to the Auburn- Tennessee basketball game that day in a "packed" 20,000 seat arena. Flying home to Rochester the next day, I could not fathom what the next 2 weeks was to bring. The weeks of March 9-13th and 16-20th, 2020 were as chaotic as any we have ever seen. Announcements of professional sports leagues shutting down, then schools, then sending workers home as Governor Cuomo's executive orders were coming fast and furious and changing the rules of engagement by the day! Couple all of that with the FEAR of the unknown that pervaded at that time about COVID. How was it contracted? Is it a death warrant if you get it? What is the best way to protect oneself from getting it?
The reality is that we humans are not wired to absorb and accept "the rules changing daily". Change is both inevitable and fought against by all of us to some degree or another. Some of us are more open to change, where others are very thrown off by it and it causes anxiety. The change that has come "fast and furious" in the last year has challenged everyone! I've said since the beginning of this pandemic that I don't know what is worse, the actual virus being contracted, or the anxiety and effect on everyone's mental health on both fear and the lack of human interaction. On the latter point, it pains me that our elderly and most vulnerable have sat in nursing homes alone and isolated from loved ones.
So now we're one year into this "circus" that has been COVID. Quick recap of that year.... mask or not mask... or 2 masks? 6-feet social distance... but is that with masks or not with masks? Mask when standing at a restaurant.... but unmask when seated. Essential or non essential? Is COVID noncompliance per Governor executive orders a crime? Full test or rapid test? Orange and yellow zones. Finger Lakes region versus rest of New York. Positivity rates. Quarantine if you came in contact.... Isolation if you contracted COVID. And finally.... throughout the year, what was alleged as "universally accepted FACT" last week has a different set of FACTS this week, depending on who you talk to or reference.
So what's next? I think the key word as we enter year 2 of COVID is VACCINATION. What spring, summer, and autumn 2021 look like in society will most likely depend on how quickly ALL of us get vaccinated. Whether you believe in Vaccination or not.... whether you choose to get vaccinated or not.... one thing you will most definitely be subjected to in the immediate future is how open society will be for YOU based on whether you have been vaccinated. We have already seen a glimpse of this with the Buffalo Bills Playoff game where they let in 6,000 fans. They had to PROVE negative COVID test within a certain time prior to entering the event. It seems logical the next progression of that as we open venues to 20%, 50%, 100% capacity is that you will need to prove a negative test, or a vaccination.
I along with 100+ other people were on a Zoom meeting/Teleconference this past week with Monroe County Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza. He reported to date 17% of ALL Monroe County citizens have received at least their first vaccination dose. He also stated that the Johnson and Johnson "1 dose" vaccine appears very effective. Finally, he said that based on the supply of vaccine that will be available soon due to FDA approvals of other manufacturers, that it is reasonable to think by JULY 2021 everyone in Monroe County could be vaccinated!!!!!!!! I love his optimism! I also know the logistical challenge that at will be to get 500,000-600,000 people in Monroe County vaccinated in a 5-month period of March-July 2021. Be on the lookout for more info coming from the county on venues that vaccine will be available at, and how to sign up to get vaccinated. Who knows..... by March 2022 maybe I'll be back in Knoxville TN at a basketball game with 20,000 other fans!!! As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
March 3, 2021
Saying Goodbye to Joe Herbst.... Saying Hello to Dennis Kohlmeier
One of the biggest differences I've noted from private industry to government in the past year is the relatively young age that government employees retire compared to private. I turn 56 in March and feel like I have a good 15-20+ years left in my tank to work in some capacity full time! (LOL) The reality is that in government, if you have worked for 20, 25, 30+ years, the New York State pension system that was in place when you started in the 1990’s makes it very enticing to retire. As such, people who started working for the Town of Webster in their 20's will retire in their 50's. What they do next in their life? I suppose it runs the gamut from never working again to starting a 2nd career.
In the past 12 months, we've seen this at the Town of Webster with several employees, including Department Heads like Mark Yeager at Parks and Rec, Barbara Ottenschot Town Clerk/Tax Collector, and Chief Joe Rieger in the Police Department. On Friday, February 26th, Joe Herbst, Superintendent of the Highway Department joined these ranks. It's not my place to tell you Joe's age, but I can tell you, he is YOUNG to me! His energy is "off the charts" and I have no doubt that his next chapter in life will NOT entail sitting still. Joe will be missed by ALL of Webster; from the citizens who benefitted from his leadership of the department and the services it supplies, to the people who worked with him. On a personal note... I'll miss him. He was very helpful to me as the "rookie" Supervisor over the past year+. He also brought a sense of humor that made working with him fun. I won't even try to be coy on this one..... unless Joe permanently moves out of state, I got my eye on him for future endeavors that will have benefits to the Town of Webster!
As I've stated, the retirement of these people is "bittersweet". The bitter being the institutional knowledge we lose when they retire along with the GREAT human beings they are. How do you quantify that latter point as a loss to an organization? The sweet part is the opportunity that come with newness. On Monday, March 1st, Dennis Kohlmeier took over as the Webster Police Department Chief. If you watched the Town Board meeting on Thursday, February 18th, you saw Dennis, his wife, and 4 children as Dennis was sworn in as Chief. A more "pomp and circumstance" type of swearing in will occur when COVID restrictions are relaxed. The process that the Town carried out in vetting and multiple interviews of candidates for this position was extensive. To me, that process not only gave me a chance to get to know Dennis but made me think him being chosen as the next leader of the Webster Police Department was BEST for today, and hopefully 10+ years from now. Simply said.... this man's personal, academic, law enforcement, military, and private industry experience is impressive beyond words. He embodies the leadership qualities that the WPD needs today, especially considering fairly or not, the focus society has put on law enforcement in the past year. Personally, I am looking forward to working with Dennis. I foresee he will challenge me, and I mean that as a compliment. The best relationships are when both parties learn from each other. Not sure what I can teach Dennis, but I'll try! (LOL) I also foresee Dennis challenging the WPD officers and civilian staff to be the best they can be. He is a devout believer in training and education and that will permeate throughout the department. Please join me in welcoming Dennis back to the WPD as it next Chief! As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail email@example.com
February 24, 2021
Bright Future for Lake Road and Sandbar Park
The next few years will be quite active on Lake Road from Pellett road heading west. Three following major projects will be initiated in the order they will be conducted.
PROJECT 1: A Monroe County project that looks to start in the Spring of 2021. It entails the rehabilitation and widening of approximately 2.3 miles of Lake Road between Bay Road and Pellett Road. The proposed work consists of milling and resurfacing the existing pavement, full depth shoulder widening, drainage improvements, removal of an abandoned railroad overpass and replacement of the Shipbuilder’s Creek culvert. Isolated areas of full depth reconstruction will be needed to correct horizontal curvature and ensure the pavement section is adequate for the life of the project. Widening the shoulders will require the relocation and redesign of the storm water system. Drainage inlets will be located along the roadway curb or gutter. A combination of closed systems and a few open ditches will be used. The abandoned railroad bridge currently carries the Hojack Trail over Lake Road. As part of this project, the bridge will be removed, and a new at-grade posted crosswalk for the Hojack Trail crossing Lake Road will be established. The existing Shipbuilder’s Creek culvert will be replaced with a similar 3-sided precast concrete structure founded on rock. The new structure will be slightly wider to accommodate the proposed shoulders.
PROJECT 2: The Town of Webster has obtained approximately $3 million in New York State REDI grants for shoreline resiliency. Two of the main uses of this grant money are for: 1. moving a portion of Lake Road near Oklahoma Beach to the north to create space on the south for a walkway, and 2. building a resiliency type break wall along the bay at Sandbar Park. 60% of the engineering has been accomplished on these REDI grant projects and it is hoped in Spring 2022 they will be initiated.
PROJECT 3: Restructuring of Sandbar Park. This Town project was first discussed 3 - 4 years ago. A citizen committee was formed to come up with some ideas and a public presentation of the various architect renditions was done in late 2018. Then in the spring of 2019 the water levels rose and flooded Sandbar Park and portions of Lake Road. That resulted in both a) the Town Sandbar Park project being put on hold and b) the State offering REDI grants for shoreline resiliency. The citizen committee has been reconvened and is trying to marry architectural plans for Sandbar Park with the road movement and break wall of the REDI grant projects. The rest of 2021 will be an "active and exciting time" for the plans for Sandbar Park. If everything goes well, it is very possible the final plans will have construction initiated in parallel with the REDI granted projects in 2022.
As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Supervisor’s Column for February 17, 2021:
Continued efforts for the Town to communicate better to its citizens.
When I entered office in January 2020, I assumed the first few months would be a discovery phase for me. I needed to ask a lot of questions and LISTEN to the Town Board members, Department Heads, and employees on what they thought were the strengths and weaknesses of how the Town Government operated. The reality is, how could I know what needed to be changed, if anything, if I did not have 1st hand knowledge from the people in the trenches carrying out the Town government's mission.
One thing I heard about early on was the Electronic Town Meetings that had been conducted monthly for the past several years. If you are not familiar with them, they were monthly LIVE 1-hour television shows aired on the Town’s cable channel. Most recently in 2019, they were moderated by Barry Howard, the Webster Chamber of Commerce CEO, along with prior Town Supervisor, Ron Nesbitt. Think of them as Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon! (LOL) They would have 1-3 guests on each show that usually consisted of Town Department Heads or other pertinent non-town government entity leaders in Webster. These shows were intended to be both informative and entertaining to the viewers. After watching a few tapes of the shows, I was so excited to get them started up in 2020! Then... COVID hit in mid-March and that was the end of any plans to start production again of these televised/videotaped meetings. Masks, social distancing, etc. does not play well for the production staff, the hosts of the show, the ability to have guests, and the viewing audience.
After a lot of discussion and planning during COVID, the Electronic Town Meetings will be returning to television on Wednesday, February 24th with Host Barry Howard and yours truly, Supervisor Tom Flaherty. While the show will look a little different due to COVID, the show will still offer residents the latest Town news and information each month. At the onset while COVID is still prevalent, the shows will have NO guests and only Barry and I will be on the dais. We will be at least 6-feet apart and have a clear polyurethane barrier between us, as we will NOT be wearing masks, so the viewing audience has a better visual and auditory experience. The shows will initially be pre-taped and 30 minutes in length instead of the 1-hour LIVE they were in the past. This will help us work out any "bugs" that may come up so that once again, the end production is the best quality for the viewer. The show will air on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on Spectrum channel 1303 and will also be available on the Town’s website: ci.webster.ny.us under Watch Town Meetings. We're also hoping to use some 5-20 second snippets from these shows to put on social media. If there are topics or questions you would like to see discussed on our upcoming shows, please email your ideas to: Communications@ci.webster.ny.us
As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com
Supervisor’s Column for February 10, 2021:
New Town Newsletter Coming Next Week:
Over the past 13+ months since I became Webster Town Supervisor, you have heard me say many times "an informed community is a better community". Our goal as a team at Town Government was to figure out the optimal way to get communications out to the 15,000 residences in Webster that house our 45,000 citizens. Within that effort, we knew that multiple communication means would be needed. Bottom line.... some people like reading newspapers.... some people like Facebook, etc. The trick is to "maximize" all means of communications in a fiscally responsible manner to have the BEST chance that the communication will be "absorbed" by the citizens.
So, what do I mean by "absorbed"? Well, we can send out the Webster Today (the new Town Times) to ALL 15,000 residences with critical communication on town news. ALL of you got it, but did ALL of you actually read it and "absorb" the message? Probably not, because many people may prefer their "news" be from Twitter or Facebook, etc. This effort is a "tall task”, and baby steps are needed to accomplish the end goal. I figure that between the Webster Herald, social media, and the Town Website that the Town government was getting through to about 15-20% of our citizens when I entered office in January 2020.
The next step in the process of improving Town Communication with its residents starts next week. Citizens will be able to receive the latest Town news and information each week in our new Town Newsletter called “Webster This Week". Published every Monday beginning February 15th, the newsletter will offer a variety of town news, events, and community information. The newsletter will be published on our Town website and residents can also sign up to receive it via email.
The newsletter will feature the following weekly topics:
- Going on Around Town – latest information on construction projects and new businesses
- Town Meetings – listing the Board meetings for the week, along with how to participate
- Webster Cares – recognizing our Webster citizens and business owners for their community service
- Town Department News
- Senior Center News & Events
- Community Outreach – news and information from the non-profit organizations in Webster
- Community Events
- Monroe County News
For more information including email sign-up and how to submit community events, please visit our website: ci.webster.ny.us/585/Town-Newsletter
Please direct any questions to: Communications@ci.webster.ny.us
As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Supervisor’s Column for February 3, 2021:
The only constant in life is change- Retiring Town of Webster Personnel
COVID-19 has "changed" us all. It has changed our day-to-day lives in ways we could have never imagined. Things we took for granted were taken away like eating out at a restaurant, working out at a gym, or visiting a grandparent. It has also made all of us rethink our life priorities. For many Town of Webster dedicated employees this meant deciding to retire in the past year. At the time this article was written, approx. 15-20 employees had officially retired since January 1, 2020, and another 5-10 are considering it. God bless em! When they made the decision years ago to be a government employee and not go into the private sector, they most likely discerned the pros and cons of each. A big "pro" of government employment at that time was the "time in service" escalator at various milestone years as it pertains to your pension. Simply said, the longer you work, the bigger your pension is.
Now I don't portend to know the "personal" reasons each of these people decided to retire. Some of them back in 2019 had officially stated they were retiring in 2020 due to hitting a milestone of 20 or 25 years in service. What all of them have in common is that they are "young"... at least my perception of what "young" is! (LOL) They all seem to be in that 55-65 year old range. They all have 20-30+ years in and had an attractive pension system in place when they were hired. Some have told me that they did not want the call at 1:30 AM anymore to "get out there and plow the roads". Some have told me that their children and/or grandchildren situation makes them want to spend more time with them. Some have told me that COVID made them question their priorities going forward.
To me, and the Town of Webster, ALL of these retirees have a bittersweet aspect. The "bitter" part is the institutional knowledge these people take with them that the town is losing. Also, as I got to know many of them in the past year plus, the fine human beings they are will be sorely missed. Some of that "bitter" has been assuaged by bringing them back in a part time status to help with certain projects. I've found that structure to be a "win-win" for the town and the retiree! The "sweet" part is that there is opportunity in change. This opportunity manifests itself most at the top of the Organizational chart with the 14 Department Heads. In the past 13 months since I became Town Supervisor, there have been seven of these Department Heads who are different now, or soon to be based on official retirements. These changes at the top were due to four retirements, one resignation due to what I perceived as "Covid-related", and two Management driven changes. If Organizational Structure is "solid", transition of leadership in these departments is much easier. Solid Organizational Structure assures policies, procedures and job duties are well documented. It also means that the people IN the department have a say in how the department is structured and run day to day. It also means that professional development within the department had been committed to, and very possibly the next Department Head/leader comes from within. Finally, a change at the top gives the opportunity to "assess what works, and what needs to change". Simply said... what worked in 1990 and was implemented then, may not make sense in 2021 and needs to change.
In conclusion, there is one thing that has really bothered me about "how we have sent off" the 15-20 retirees. Simply said.... they got VERY little pomp and circumstance and I don't like that. In one case back in June 2020, I felt like it was an act of Congress to get an "outside in open air, 20-person mid-day coffee and cake" for a retiree on her last day. These people have given 20-30+ years of service to the town. They deserve better. As such, we are committed to holding a BIG retirement gala for ALL retirees since March 2020 once the "world opens back up". Preliminary plan is to have it "outside with open wing tents at the Rec Center". Stay tuned for more info on this since we can't really set a date until the world opening back up supports an event this size. In the meantime, ENJOY your new life recent Town of Webster retirees! As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com
Supervisor’s Column for January 27, 2021:
Our ever-changing perspectives during COVID
It's been almost 11 months since the term "socially distancing" entered our vocabulary with the onset of COVID 19. Doesn't it seem like 11-years!!!!??? It is hard enough dealing with the tangible medical realities of contracting COVID-19. Throw in the intangibles such as "Mask wearers versus NON-mask wearers" and we've had a tough 11 months on our psyches. Truth be told, my wife, three kids still living at home, and myself got COVID back in mid-November 2020. The good news, we all had either NO discernable symptoms, or very mild ones and by Thanksgiving we were all fine. The bad news... 1. trying to counsel my 12-year-old that he won't be seen as a leper by his classmates when he goes back to school. 2. navigating the calls, e-mails, and texts from the Health Department on isolation and/or quarantine times five of us necessitated a master’s degree! (LOL). 3. trying to figure out the most appropriate way to communicate that I had COVID-19 to Town employees and/or citizens when balancing HIPAA privacy laws and my position as Webster Town Supervisor.
"Time and relatable experiences" during COVID-19 the past 11 months has played out differently for all of us. The process our brains utilize to absorb information and make determinations on things has been seriously challenged. One day you THINK you know how COVID is contracted and how you feel about people who got it.... the next you think differently on it as more information becomes available, or your family is touched by it. For example, a mid-20's aged young lady our family knows got COVID in early November 2020. She had minor symptoms and was able to fully perform her job functions from home, albeit not optimally. By mid-November she was officially released from isolation by the Monroe County Health Department. She just assumed she would be able to go back into the office she worked at with 10 other people. However, the owner informed her that the other nine people in the office did NOT want her back in the office! Worst of all, it seemed as though it was a punitive punishment being administered by people 40+ years old on a younger person due to their impression "her going to a Halloween party was irresponsible and she deserved to get COVID". She was essentially labeled as a "pariah". Fast forward to mid-January 2021, ALL the nine people in her office in the past two months have been out of work either due to contracting COVID or one of their immediate family members contracting it. Based on the timing of them getting it, there was NO way it was due to the young lady we know. Wonder if those nine people still see people who got COVID as "pariahs" or "deserved to get it based on their lifestyle"?
Facial masks during COVID, and WHY people wear them may be a great thesis topic for some master’s degree candidate in Psychology in the next few years. Full disclosure.... I am an advocate for wearing a mask and try to make sure I do "when appropriate based on CDC and Monroe County Health Department issued guidelines". I don't wear one when I am on the dais and conducting Town Board meetings. I have been criticized for that. My reason for not wearing the mask at that time is that I am more than six feet apart from anyone else, and I want to make sure my voice inflection can be heard by ALL in the room and those watching on Spectrum cable channel 1303 or livestream on the Town Website since our meetings during COVID are closed to the public from attending in person. What has amazed me are the wide varying reasons people either wear a mask or why they defiantly DON'T wear a mask. Some of these reasons are pure (i.e. health)... some of these reasons are image (i.e. fear of backlash from people if they don't) Some could be perceived as hypochondria (i.e. wearing a mask outside on a walk in a park, or while driving alone in a car..... but I concede that it may be "pure" due to health specifics of that person) Then, you have the "non-mask wearers". I find these people interesting and that thesis I mentioned earlier may take a deeper dive on "why they don't wear masks"? I've heard reasons including but not limited to: a) the government is trying to control us, b) COVID is a hoax, and c) masks don't work on keeping us safe from contracting COVID.
In summary.... by the time we all get a chance to sit back and REALLY assess "why we feel the way we do" on all these COVID related issues, we'll most likely be coming out of it!! That to me is the BEST news. With vaccines already being given to health care workers, and now to the 65+ aged citizens, it is very reasonable to assume that Summer of 2021 will be opening the world back up. God willing, Autumn of 2021 will return schools to normalcy as students will hopefully be able to attend ALL day, every day, in person, and maybe with NO masks! I'll bet my friend, Webster School Superintendent Carmen Gumina would like that! Makes me think this one final thought.... remember pre-COVID when you used to see a person in public with a mask on and wonder "what's their gig?". I wonder when we'll have that feeling again when mask wearers post-COVID become the minority? As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Supervisor’s Column for January 20, 2021:
The need for open mindedness in 2021
This edition of the Webster Herald is dated Wednesday January 20, 2021. By the time you are reading this article, the Inauguration of the forty-sixth President of the United States, Joe Biden has occurred. God willing, it occurred with civility and no repeat of the disturbing events at the Capitol two weeks prior. There's old adage that at family events or other social gatherings "Don't talk about politics or religion". I don't know the genesis of the saying, but I can only imagine some wise person saw the combustible aspect to such topics if the participants in the discussion were a) from polar opposite viewpoints and/or b) impassioned enough in their view to cause an argument or worse! Bottom line.... not a great thing to occur at Thanksgiving or Christmas with family or a get together of friends.
So why do some people get so agitated if they encounter another person who doesn't agree with their point of view? I don't purport to have the answer to that question, but I think some of it may have to do with "open mindedness". When I was campaigning in 2019, I met a gentleman who was a registered Independent. During our conversation I asked how he came to be an Independent. His answer made me a lot of sense to me then, but it really has resonated with me in the past few months as we saw the divisiveness of the country that was on full display during the Presidential Election. Essentially, he described how he did not like the "labels" that were on people when they were in teenagers in high school. You were a jock, or artsy, etc. Then you go to college, into the military, or work and in your early twenties those labels go away, and you become enlightened to the reality that "People are more complex than a ONE label". You can be a jock AND be artsy at the same time. However, then as you enter your late twenties/early thirties and you started to get interested in voting for our government leaders, your options to party affiliation make you revert to the "Label" issue of high school and he just did not want to do that. He wanted to be "open minded" and thus avoided registering in one of the two dominant political parties in the United States.
I don't think we all need to register as Independents to achieve open mindedness. However, I do think you can be Democrat or Republican and NOT identify yourself as that first and foremost as you approach your fellow human being. If we are going to put labels on ourselves or others we encounter, it seems to me some better ones that would promote open mindedness in our dealings are as follows; Mother, Father, Daughter, Son, Sister, Brother, Friend.... fellow human being. See yourself and others as those labels and NOT "Republican or Democrat" and we will go a long way in 2021 to the open mindedness we so desperately need. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com
January 13, 2021
The 2021 Political Process for Webster Candidates
Hard to believe it has been over two months since the November 2020 election. In many ways, election day 2020 started earlier than Tuesday, November 3rd due to early voting venues and mail in votes due to COVID 19... and it feels like it is still going on to some extent with disputes over the results. Since January 1, 2021, and over the next few weeks, positions elected in November 2020 will have already been sworn in (i.e., new House of Representatives and Senators) or will be such as the POTUS on Inauguration day.
The election season for positions that will be on the ballot in November 2021 has already started. If you have heard the old saying "All politics are local", you will definitely be interested in how candidates get on the ballot for Town of Webster positions such as County Legislatures, Town Board, and Town Supervisor. Let's start with the foundational tenet that to be a "viable" candidate on the ballot in November 2021, you most likely need the designation of the Webster Democratic Committee (WDC) or the Webster Republican Committee (WRC). There are other paths to getting on the ballot but based on the size of Webster and number of registered voters, obtaining the number of petition signatures you would need to be "independent or unaffiliated, etc." would be very challenging especially during COVID, where going door to door to get such signatures would most likely not be met well. Currently the number of signatures/petitions needed would be approximately five hundred (500) based on the number of registered voters in the various parties or unaffiliated. There is talk at the State level to reduce that number for 2021 due to COVID challenges of "door to door" signature/petition gathering but as of now there has been no formal approval of that.
The WDC and WRC are currently comprised of 20-50 members each. Considering that there currently are approximately 10,000 registered Democrats and 11,000 registered Republicans in Webster, there is a GREAT opportunity for them to get involved by joining these committees. If you go by the adage, "you are either part of the problem or part of the solution", getting on these committees is one of the best ways to be involved in what "choices" are put forth for the citizens of Webster. The WDC and WRC go through a process in January and February of vetting potential candidates (i.e., Nomination), and ultimately voting at the committee level on who will be the party's candidate (i.e., Designation). Once that candidate is designated it does not mean they go straight to the November 2021 election being on the ballot as that party's candidate. There are two scenarios that occur: 1. Another person in the party can force a primary in June 2021 if they obtain enough signatures/petitions from citizens registered in the party. 2. Primary or not, the designated candidate needs to obtain enough signatures/petitions to be validated to be the party's candidate on the November 2021 ballot.
In summary, the WDC and WRC have a lot of influence on the "choices" the Webster citizens will ultimately have to vote for in November 2021. Our democracy is founded in "choices". Please consider joining the WDC or WRC. The more people on those committees in the future will assure that Webster will always have choices, and that the choices they have will not be determined by too small a number of people. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
January 6, 2021
A different take on New Year's resolutions and the Town of Webster Government
The dictionary meaning of the word "resolution” is a firm decision to do or not do something. A New Year's tradition has been that this is the time when we make resolutions in our personal lives. Often, they are to get in shape, or lose weight. They also tend to fade by February! As such, were they truly "firm decisions to do or not to do something"? Fact is, New Year's resolutions are usually verbal, and a contract made with one's self. Ever try enforcing a verbal contract... and worse yet one you made with yourself? (LOL)
At the Webster Town Board meetings each 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month, we vote on "written resolutions". They are not to be taken lightly since if the motion being voted on is approved by at least three of the five Town Board members, that becomes part of the Town code and/or law. Bottom line.... these truly are the dictionary meanings of "Firm decisions to do or to not do something".
Recently I have been quoted in press releases, the Webster Today (The new Town Times) and social media postings my realization in my first year as Town Supervisor that "Governing in the Town of Webster is a TEAM effort". To accomplish anything for the greater good of the community, you need the team effort of the Town's Department Heads, employees, various citizen volunteer boards, and the Town Board.
During my candidacy for Town Supervisor in 2019, a competing candidate verbally and in writing stated what he/she would do in their "1st 100-days as Town Supervisor" and the wide scale changes he/she would make happen in town. I can only speculate that this candidate for Town Supervisor did not understand that the position is NOT an executive position such as President, Governor, County Executive, or Mayor. Simply said, the Town Supervisor position is a "hybrid" of executive and legislative. The executive part comes in the form of being who the Department Heads report to. The legislative part is that they are only one of the five-person Town Board, and as previously stated.... you need a majority vote of this board to pass resolutions that become Town code/law.
Make no mistake... the Town Supervisor has a LOT of influence. As with any organization, it is a "top-down" culture. If the leader of an organization is committed to Organizational Structure and Customer Service.... it will eventually permeate down through the organization. If a leader does NOT set the tone on culture and what the organization is committed to.... it will be created for them from within and often will be one that is not good.
I knew all this one year ago when I was sworn in as Town Supervisor. As such, I approached my 1st year as Supervisor with two simple mantras that had served me well in my personal and business life..... The 1st was that NOTHING changes day 1. I was in discovery mode and needed to work with the Department Heads to determine what the strengths and weaknesses of the organization were before discussing what changes need to be discussed. The 2nd was that I would "Work hard, tell the truth, and take my chances on how I would be ultimately received and accepted.” I remember many of my initial meetings with Department Heads and board members where I said, "I appreciate you don't know me, so why would you trust me day 1?” Trust and respect are not garnered by having the title "Town Supervisor." They are earned through experiences you encounter with people. They all needed to encounter experiences with me, and me with them to form that trust and respect.
So now I enter year two of being Webster Town Supervisor. My "day to day" learning curve is much less now than it was one year ago... but every day I am learning something new. I'm excited for the opportunities 2021 will bring for the Town. I truly feel that people are "rowing in the same direction" and when that organically occurs.... the TEAM can achieve a LOT. I am "resolved" to lead the Town in a pragmatic manner that makes sure no one feels disenfranchised. Decisions need to be made for the "greater good" and with an eye to the future. Over the next several months, I look forward to articulating some details of that for the Town in this column. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com
December 30, 2020
The Christmas Carol and my 1st year at Town Supervisor
I admit it. My favorite holiday tradition the past 20+ years has been going with my family to GEVA Theatre to see the Christmas Carol. At first it was my parents and mother and father-in-law and my wife Molly, but as time went on and my children got older, they all joined in. It was always great to see how the children interpreted the production differently from the time they were 5, 15, 25 etc. My father passed in July 2019, so we missed him last Christmas for the show, and with COVID in 2020, we ALL missed the show and have been relegated to watching various versions on TV.
Simply said, the Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a "classic" that has stood the test of time. Based in the mid 1840's, the lessons it teaches are still prevalent almost 200 years later. One major aspect of the story that resonates with me as I think back on completing my first year as Webster Town Supervisor is the interaction between Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghost of his 7-years dead partner, Jacob Marley. Marley is bemoaning his links of chains he has to carry in the afterlife that he forged during his despicable life. Scrooge says "Jacob, you were always a good man of business" for which Marley ROARS back at him.... "Business?..... Mankind should have been my business!!!!!" Besides being a GREAT line..... it is something all of us can relate to in one way or another.
No doubt our deeds are part of what determines if we have made mankind our business. However, it can be as subtle as smiling and being kind to people that affect it. Some of us are naturally better at making mankind our business. These people seem to "brighten the room" when they walk into it, and also consistently perform deeds to make the world a better place. Others of us have to work harder at it, but we are conscious of it and our shortcomings on it. That is good because you can't work on bettering yourself unless you admit that you have faults. Finally.... some of us it would appear are heading down the path of Jacob Marley! Yikes!!
So, what does that all have to do with being Town Supervisor? For me, this year has been rewarding beyond anything I could have imagined coming into it. To do the job of Town Supervisor the right way and for the right reasons, I believe that "Mankind needs to be your business". After 25 years owning my business, being Town Supervisor this year gave me the opportunity to REALLY make a difference in people's lives, whether the citizens or employees of the Town. I have always been a disciple of "Servant Leadership". At its core, it means YOU as leader are there for the people and NOT the other way around. In my opinion, to do the job right it is far more than a 9 - 5/40 hours week. Fortunately, having been self-employed for most of my adult life where "there is no clock to punch" so this was not culture shock to me, and frankly, if you like what you do, are you really ever working? I also appreciate that after surveying the situation/culture I walked into in January 2020, the initiatives started this year by the dedicated team of Department Heads and Town Board members, and the time it will take to see those initiatives come to fruition, to do the job the right way for the people of Webster, and assuming no major health issues come up for my family or me....I feel it is a 6 - 8 year position for me. My gut tells me after that amount of time the position would start to become about the Supervisor / done for the wrong reasons, and NOT about the people he or she serves. I also appreciate in November of 2021 the citizens of Webster could vote to end my time as Town Supervisor at 2 years if they vote me out. That is a reality every 2 years currently.
In summary, as Tiny Tim says... "God Bless us all, everyone". Merry Christmas everyone!!! As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
December 16, 2020
2020- The year in review. Glass half empty or half full?
I got the December 14th Time Magazine at my house this past weekend. The cover said "2020- The worst year ever". At the time of my writing this article, I had not read the article yet by Stephanie Zacharek who cited those cover words, but I did see that she is a film critic by trade so that may bias her as to 2020 and her experiences with it.
Fact is.... 2020 has been a tough year, but has it been the worst year ever? The answer is so individually subjective based on where you are at in your life. For my 3 children still in high school and middle school, 2020 has been the worst year ever in their lives. Between losing the sports they love to play and losing the human interaction of in-school learning and socializing, their "less than 20 years on this earth" qualifies 2020 as legitimately being their worst. However, the 70-year-old who served two tours in Vietnam and has beaten cancer may not view 2020 as "the worst year".
"Worst year ever" also calls into play our individual perspective on life. Do you inherently lean optimism, or do you lean pessimism? If you are of the latter persuasion, 2020 could easily be considered by you as being the "worst ever". However, I find pessimistic people to suffer from recency bias. Simply said.... whatever is going on NOW is the "worst" to them. Now I admit, I am a self-proclaimed "eternal optimist". People have said to me what a terrible year to be the new Town Supervisor when 2+ months into my term COVID hit. Frankly, I have never felt that way. Quite the opposite, I feel that my personal and professional experience leading up to March 2020 prepared me to lead during the crisis that was unfolding before our eyes back during the 1st half of March 2020. Also, 2020 has brought me much closer to my two brothers, and we were already pretty close to begin with! We committed to getting together either in person or by zoom every week, and that has been a GREAT experience.
At the risk of sounding like a "glass half empty person"......The biggest challenge I have had as Town Supervisor in 2020 with COVID is the inability to "meet people face to face". In early January 2021 the next edition of Webster Today (The New Town Times) will be mailed out to ALL businesses and residences in Webster. Within it will be a recap of what the Town Government either accomplished in 2020 or started the process on. Those accomplishments are a "WE thing". It takes a team of Department Heads and the Town Board to achieve things. You'll notice in that edition that in January and February 2020 I was "out and about" as Town Supervisor meeting with people. I really thought and continue to think that what I want most to accomplish as Webster Town Supervisor is to be "present and accessible". I don't want to sit behind my desk at Town Hall. I would rather be out at various community events meeting with people. That is how I get the best gauge on what people's thoughts, questions, concerns etc. are. The COVID shutdown in March 2020 put an end to being "out and about" in the community. Even as we started re-opening in June 2020, the challenges of social distancing and mask wearing made me as Town Supervisor have to avoid meeting people face to face and getting out there in the community. The bottom line is that if you are a Webster citizen who does not get the Webster Herald or is not on Facebook, it would be easy to think that Town Supervisor Flaherty has been MIA in 2020. As previously stated in past Supervisor Corner columns, we are working diligently to shore up that "Communication gap" the Town of Webster government currently has with its citizens.
In summary, 2020 has certainly not been a "great year", but I personally and professionally don't feel it has been the "worst ever". I'm proud of the manner in which the Town Government Department Heads, various citizen boards, and the Town Board took a "failure is NOT an option" attitude to accomplishing things in 2020 when it would have been very easy to give the excuse of COVID as to why things were not getting done. A major lesson I learned owning a business for 25 years is that how you handle adversity will ultimately determine your success or lack thereof. No doubt, COVID is a big adversity item, but we made a decision at Town government in 2020 to not let it define us and make us victims. We did our best to address this adversity and adapt to the realities that COVID presented to put us in the best position for success. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail email@example.com
December 10, 2020
Remembering Pearl Harbor as we enter 2021
This past Monday, December 7th marked the 79th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 that ushered the United States into World War 2. The vast majority of us were not alive when President Roosevelt addressed the nation with those words that will live on forever.... "Today, December 7th, 1941, a day that will live in infamy”. Most, if not all the women and men that were there in Hawaii on that fateful morning are no longer with us. For these reasons it is more important than ever that we remember and honor that "greatest generation" who rose from the gut punch of the Pearl Harbor attack and coalesced to protect the freedoms we enjoy in the United States today.
Why do I underline we? 2 reasons...... 1. because the passing of almost 80-years means the greatest generation is no longer part of "we", and 2. "we", the living in 2020, whether 20, 50, or 80 years old owe the greatest generation for all they did. We as Americans need more than ever to coalesce and galvanize as we enter 2021. If we don't, we do a great disservice to those women and men of the greatest generation who sacrificed so much during World War 2 to make sure the United States could remain the land of the free. Many of them made the ultimate sacrifice. ALL of them had just come out of the Great Depression. That must have hardened them to the point that when "duty called" to defend this country's liberties from the threats of fascism, dictatorship, and genocide.... they answered the call with no complaint. Most were so young, still in their teens, or just into their early twenties, that maybe they did not completely understand the gravity of what they were doing and the consequences if they were not successful.
If you have not figured out yet, I am in awe of the greatest generation. We owe them a debt we can never repay. One way we can honor them is to take the baton from them and strive to make the United States the best country in the World in 2021 and beyond through our deeds and how we treat each other. They were "selfless" and did things for the greater good. We need more of that from Americans in 2021. The reality is that America is "flawed". It has been since the day the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776! It's "flawed" because human beings are "flawed" and unfortunately our human flaws translate to the flaws in the country. However, even with all its flaws (and ours as humans) we should not throw the baby out with the bath water. Too many people have sacrificed to give us the opportunity to make this country even greater than it is. But to do so, we need to coalesce as a country. We need to recognize we have more in common that we have differences.
I know a united country can feel like an impossibility when you see the divisiveness that is going on in the country currently with events like the presidential election and COVID. However, I remember how the people of this country coalesced in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks in 2001. For as awful an experience that was, looking back now it was great to see the country come together. For several months, if not a year after those attacks, Democrat or Republican did not matter...... black or white did not matter..... what mattered was that we were Americans.
So, thank you Greatest generation. We will fly flags at half-mast this week in commemoration of Pearl Harbor. Hopefully, we can honor you properly and into perpetuity with our deeds in 2021 and beyond to caretake the liberties in the United States you fought to retain for us. Those liberties should be for ALL Americans. We have work to do, but I have faith in the human spirit of Americans that it can be achieved. As always feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
December 2, 2020:
Continuing an Annual Webster Tradition – With a Twist
What started as a simple question from 8-year-old Blake Richey has turned into one of the biggest events to be held in the Town of Webster this year. The 2020 Webster Holiday Parade of Lights – with a Twist, will be held this Saturday, December 5th, from 3 to 8 pm on the Xerox Campus. Webster’s Holiday Parade of Lights is normally hosted each year by the Webster Fire Department. The very popular parade normally features dozens of first responder vehicles, floats from community agencies and local businesses, marching bands and more, all wrapped in twinkling holiday lights. Originally scheduled for early December, it was cancelled due to COVID restrictions.
In its place a new re-imagined 2020 Webster Holiday Parade of Lights will be held on Saturday Dec. 5 from 3 to 8 p.m. Community members will be invited to this COVID-safe “reverse parade” where emergency vehicles, area businesses and community groups will be parked in a Xerox parking lot, and spectators will drive past them, enjoying the lights and music from the safety and warmth of their cars. I am grateful for Syed Ahmed Mustafa, President/CEO of Northeast Quadrant Advanced Life Support and Chairman of the Webster Emergency Responder Council, taking the reins and pulling a team of people together to hold this event this year. I think that this is something our citizens and businesses really need this year.
As a long-term resident of Webster, my family and I have enjoyed the Holiday Parade for years, and I know this parade is something the community looks forward to every year, as do the first responders and community groups that march in it, and local businesses that benefit from the foot traffic. For many in our community the Holiday Parade is a cherished tradition and I am glad the Town was able to help put on this meaningful community event. The event is being planned in collaboration with the Town of Webster Parks and Recreation, Webster Economic Development Alliance, Webster Chamber of Commerce and the Webster Village Business Improvement District. Local businesses and civic organizations are encouraged to participate in what will be a safe and creative way to reach out to their customers and remind community members that their shops are open for business.
Webster’s Holiday Parade of Lights will be held Saturday Dec. 5 from 4 to 8 p.m. in the Xerox parking lot on San Jose Drive. A pre-event viewing time from 3 to 4 p.m. will be reserved for those with special needs and those living in our senior living communities. Spectators will be directed to approach the event via Salt Rd., turning west on to San Jose Drive and then into a staging parking lot from where they’ll be directed to the parade site. To help manage the traffic flow, visitors are asked to sign up online for one of the eight 30-minute time slots. Visitors can register on www.EventBrite.com website searching 2020 Webster Holiday Parade of Lights or by clicking this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2020-webster-holiday- parade-of-lights-guests-tickets-127079737917
As of Wednesday, 12/2, more than 2,600 cars have registered to attend the parade, which will
feature more than 60 first responders, town and village vehicles, area businesses and community
Special thanks to the following organizations for their donations:
- Reliant Credit Union for providing us the VIP Gift bags
- Xerox Corporation for giving us the space to hold the event
- ADMAR Construction Equipment & Supplies for providing us the generators and lights
- McMahon LaRue Associates P.C. for mapping the parade route for us
- The local media that helped us spread the word about this event
- The First Responders, Businesses & Community Organizations participating in the “parade”
As we all know, having an idea is easy, the hard part is the execution. So many have donated their time, expertise and contacts to put on this free event that it is impossible to list them all in this article.
I believe this special event will serve as a bright spot as we wind down a very unique 2020 and
will serve as one more reminder that Webster is indeed the Place Where Life is Worth Living. I
look forward to seeing you there. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com
November 25, 2020:
A special Thanksgiving to Webster's First Responders
Being positive and thankful can be challenging at times. I love the phrase "Have an attitude of gratitude”, but sometimes it seems easier to focus on the negatives in life and fall prey to them. COVID has challenged even the most positive dispositions in us. On Thursday, November 19th at the Webster Town Board meeting, the most poignant presentation occurred that I have witnessed in my first year as Town Supervisor.
We are fortunate to have an incredible first responder network here in Webster. There aren't many other towns where the police department, fire departments and emergency medical services work as well together as they do in Webster. On November 17, 2019, a team came together and were able to save a life. A few days, ago, the patient's wife emailed the President of Northeast Quadrant Advanced Life Support the following email the following with redactions to protect privacy:
Hello-my husband and I live in Webster. Tomorrow, 11/17/20 will mark one year to the day when my husband went into cardiac arrest around 4 pm. The EMT who responded worked on him for 25 minutes before they got a pulse. No one thought he would survive but after two weeks on life support, to the amazement of all of us and the doctors, he woke up. This year certainly has taken its toll on so so many families during this pandemic and we are sure the EMT workers have seen many heartbreaking events. So we wanted to share some good news and with all of you. Due to the heroic efforts of your team my husband's life was saved! He certainly has had many hurdles to overcome but continues to make progress. So thank you so much!!! All of you!!! For all you do for the community and families in need. During these stressful times we thought some good news would put a smile on some of your faces!
It is not very often that first responders get to meet their patients, and there is probably no meeting more significant than meeting a patient whose life you saved from cardiac arrest. At the November 19th, 2020 Town Board meeting, the very grateful patient and his family got to meet the amazing team of first responders who are responsible for him being alive today. They included the following; Webster Police Officer Sam States who was first on scene and, recognizing the patient was in cardiac arrest, applied an AED which delivered a shock. CPR was promptly initiated. NEQALS Deputy Chief and Paramedic Matt Lloyd arrived on scene 2nd , closely followed by NEQ EMT Chris Devlin and West Webster Fire Department EMT Caleb Stammler. Shortly thereafter West Webster firefighter Cameron Antonelli, Lt James Kommeth and Capt Brian Zimmer arrived, as did NEQALS Deputy Chief and Paramedic Julie Jordan.
In summary, I want to wish everyone in Webster a happy and safe Thanksgiving. I hope that ALL Webster citizens give thanks this time of year for the job our first responders do. These women and men embody all that is good in our society. I've always said you need to be cut from a different cloth to be a first responder. It is not a profession as much as it is a vocation for these amazing people. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
To view the presentation at the Town Board meeting, please visit: http://ci.webster.ny.us/CivicMedia?VID=Town-Board-Mtg-November-19-2020-295
November 18, 2020:
Interested in helping out your hometown?
I always loved that John Kennedy phrase, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. Another phrase I am quite fond of is, "think globally, but act locally". Not exactly sure who coined that one! The more active involvement by people in any organization by definition makes for a better organization! That goes for the Town of Webster government too. Did you know there are several citizen boards you could serve on? Here is a rundown of them, along with some key aspects to each.
Planning Board: In accordance with the provisions of § 274-a of the New York State Town Law, this board shall have the authority to review and approve site development plans for the following uses; 1. All principal uses permitted in the Town of Webster Zoning Ordinance, with the exception of single-family detached dwelling units, 2. A change of use in any preexisting structure involving any permitted principal use, provided that the change in use is not to a single-family detached dwelling, 3. Site plan modifications, additions, or structural alterations to any of the permitted principal uses, with the exception of single-family detached dwelling units., 4. Accessory uses: outdoor, in-ground community swimming pools for multifamily dwellings, apartment buildings or townhouses. Members are appointed to a seven-year term by the Town Board.
Zoning Board of Appeals: is granted two appellate functions: the review of applications for use and area variances, and the power to render interpretations of the zoning regulations. Members are appointed to a five-year term by the Town Board.
Board of Assessment Review: Your home is assessed at $200,000 for real estate tax purposes and you think that is too high. If you pursue your assessment being lowered, you will most likely have this board hear your case. The BAR constitutes what is known as a quasi-judicial body and the members of the board are charged with judicial responsibility to get all the facts, and apply appropriate laws and reasoning to the facts in a fair and judicious manner. Members are appointed to a five-year term by the Town Board.
Conservation Board: serves to advise the Town in the development, management, and protection of its natural resources. Board members will review proposed development applications for environmental impacts and advise the various Town Boards on their findings, including the Town Board, Planning Board and Zoning Board. Responsibilities include conducting site visits and staying current on the Town Comprehensive Plan, the Town Code and SEQR guidelines. Members are appointed to a two-year term by the Town Board
Library Board: A library trustee's commitment is to both the physical property and resources of the library and the services it provides. The library board has the responsibility to see that its library provides the best possible service to its community. The responsibilities of trustees include; 1. Create and develop the mission of the library, 2. Regularly plan and evaluate the library's service program based on community needs, 3. Exercise fiduciary responsibility for the use of public and private funds, 4. Adopt policies and rules regarding library governance and use. Trustees are appointed to a five-year term by the Town Board.
Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Athletic Review Board (PROSAR): serves to advise and assist in the preparation of plans and programs for carrying out the functions of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Such Board shall also review such plans and proposals for the acquisition and development of parks and recreation lands and facilities as may from time to time be referred to it by the Town Board or the Planning Board, and make such recommendations to the Town Board and Planning Board in connection therewith as it deems appropriate. This Board consists of 11 members and members are appointed to a three-year term by the Town Board.
We've made great strides in 2020 to make these boards both a) more transparent to potential interested candidates as to the description of what these boards do and what the responsibilities are, and b) ease to apply. If you're interested in becoming a member of one of our Webster citizen boards, please do the following:
1. Review the responsibilities for the Board you are interested in, on the Town’s website: https://www.ci.webster.ny.us/121/Boards
2. Review the attendance commitments for board meetings and training.
3. Upon review, interested residents can complete the online application form to submit their resume for consideration.
Application link: https://www.ci.webster.ny.us/FormCenter/Boards-10/Citizen-Board-Application-Form-59
4. The application form will be open until Friday, December 11, 2020.
5. Applicants must be 18 years or older, and a Webster resident.
6. At the end of December, the Town Board will appoint new members to fill any vacancies.
7. Applications will be kept on file for one year, as mid-year vacancies can occur
As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com
November 11, 2020:
A Veteran's day message from General David Petraeus
With all the turmoil we have encountered in 2020, I feel this Veteran's Day is more special than any one in my lifetime. Frankly, I don't have the skill or background to write an article that does Veteran's day justice. Therefore, I hope you enjoy an excerpt from General David Petraeus' "The 0.45%"............
I remember the day I found out I got into West Point.
My mom actually showed up in the hallway of my high school and waited for me to get out of class. She was bawling her eyes out and apologizing that she had opened up my admission letter. She wasn’t crying because it had been her dream for me to go there. She was crying because she knew how hard I’d worked to get in, how much I wanted to attend, and how much I wanted to be an infantry officer. I was going to get that opportunity.
That same day two of my teachers took me aside and essentially told me the following: “David, you’re a smart guy. You don’t have to join the military. You should go to college, instead.”
I could easily write a tome defending West Point and the military as I did that day, explaining that USMA is an elite institution, that separate from that it is actually statistically much harder to enlist in the military than it is to get admitted to college, that serving the nation is a challenge that all able-bodied men and women should at least consider for a host of reasons, but I won’t.
What I will say is that when a 16 year-old kid is being told that attending West Point is going to be bad for his or her future then there is a dangerous disconnect in America, and entirely too many Americans have no idea what kind of burdens our military is bearing.
In World War II, 11.2% of the nation served in four years. In Vietnam, 4.3% served in 12 years. Since 2001, only 0.45% of our population has served in the Global War on Terror. These are unbelievable statistics.
Over time, fewer and fewer people have shouldered more and more of the burden and it is only getting worse. Our troops were sent to war in Iraq by a Congress consisting of 10% veterans with only one person having a child in the military. Taxes did not increase to pay for the war. War bonds were not sold. Gas was not regulated. In fact, the average citizen was asked to sacrifice nothing, and has sacrificed nothing unless they have chosen to out of the goodness of their hearts.
The only people who have sacrificed are the veterans and their families. The volunteers. The people who swore an oath to defend this nation. You.
You stand there, deployment after deployment and fight on. You’ve lost relationships, spent years of your lives in extreme conditions, years apart from kids you’ll never get back, and beaten your body in a way that even professional athletes don’t understand. And you come home to a nation that doesn’t understand. They don’t understand suffering. They don’t understand sacrifice. They don’t understand that bad people exist. They look at you like you’re a machine — like something is wrong with you. You are the misguided one — not them. When you get out, you sit in the college classrooms with political science teachers that discount your opinions on Iraq and Afghanistan because YOU WERE THERE and can’t understand the “macro” issues they gathered from books with your bias. You watch TV shows where every vet has PTSD and the violent strain at that. Your Congress is debating your benefits, your retirement, and your pay, while they ask you to do more.
But the amazing thing about you is that you all know this. You know your country will never pay back what you’ve given up. You know that the populace at large will never truly understand or appreciate what you have done for them. Hell, you know that in some circles, you will be thought as less than normal for having worn the uniform. But you do it anyway. You do what the greatest men and women of this country have done since 1775 — YOU SERVED. Just that decision alone makes you part of an elite group.
Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.
You are the 0.45%.
General David Petraeus West Point Class 1974
As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
November 4, 2020:
The importance of Organizational Structure and Customer Service
When I first met my fellow Town Board members, and the Town of Webster Department Heads back in December 2019, I felt it was important to let them know that "nothing would change" when I took the office of Town Supervisor on January 1, 2020. There were two reasons why I felt this was important for them to know; 1. My years of experience owning my own company and having been on several non-profit boards had shown me that "I don't know what I don't know" and I would really need the first few months in my new position to be in "discovery" of the Town of Webster Government's current strengths and weaknesses, and 2. The best way to have people work with you when you are NEW is to not come in and immediately rock the boat with "change for the sake of change."
By late January/early February 2020, I had enough individual interaction with the Department Heads to request that we have a meeting with their respective staffs under their management to go over two foundational tenets I feel very strongly about; 1. Organizational Structure and 2. Customer Service. Since it was going to be my first "formal" meeting with the Department Head and his or her staff, I wanted to make sure it was "short and sweet". I said at each of these meetings that as time goes on, they would see me constantly coming back to Organizational Structure and Customer Service as the most important things we commit to in ALL we do. I further told them at that meeting I would NOT get into the "nitty gritty" detail of those two things because we would be in the meeting ALL day! (LOL) I figured those details would come in time as we crossed bridges of experience where I could further elaborate to them on how they pertain to that specific experience.
Since I have limited space to write this article, and I do not want to put you all to sleep, here are my readers' digest descriptions of why Organizational Structure and Customer Service are so important to ANY and ALL organizations.
Organizational Structure: On the surface, it seems pretty basic. You may have seen the visual Org Chart where the position on top is the CEO in a private business, and then the positions that report to the CEO under that, and the positions that report to that 2nd level position under that, and so on. However, that just scratches the surface. Defining each position's duties and responsibilities so they are unequivocal in their interpretation is extremely important. Often organizations fall into the trap of depending on "the person" that is in the position and fail to document these duties and responsibilities. The person leaves the organization and out the door walks all their institutional knowledge with NO documentation of what he or she does. Often that is when you find out that the "person" was actually doing duties and taking on responsibilities of other positions. They just "filled the void" when the person(s) in those other position(s) was NOT doing their job. That's a sign of a GREAT person.... but not of a good organization that allowed that to occur. Also, properly constructed duties and responsibilities of a position should take into account "checks and balances" to assure that NO position has isolated, unchecked authority that could minimally cause errors to go undetected, and more seriously allow malfeasance to occur and not be detected. Finally, a well-defined Organizational Structure assures continuity of the organization as individual people come in, and also leave positions. At the end of the day, we all are "caretaking" our position and eventually someday someone else will be caretaking it. If we don't look at it that way, it can go off the tracks and have the person think they are bigger or more important than the position.
Customer Service: Simply said.... the 46,000 citizens of Webster are the Town of Webster Government's customers. That is a fact that needs to permeate documented policies and procedures of the Town.... but even more important it needs to be in the philosophy of the employees of the Town that is demonstrated in how they approach their job, and their interaction with the community. As in any organization, this philosophy needs to come from the top down. It is incumbent on me as the Town Supervisor to set that tone. I could write 10,000+ words on why I feel customer service is so important, but to keep it short, I'll focus on these 2 aspects: 1. The customer is NOT always right.... but they deserve the respect of being given timely and honest responses to their inquiries and/or complaints. I've found that often the thing a citizen may be contacting me to complain about ends up being an opportunity for me to talk with them and give facts of the situation. More often than not, the person ends up staying "I was not aware of that" and their initial angst is assuaged by getting facts about the situation. 2. an organization's customer service philosophy and system should be built to make things EASIER for the customer, and NOT be driven by what makes things easier for the employee/organization. You would think this would be common sense... but I can't tell you how many times I have asked over the years "why do we do it that way"? and the answer comes back either "we've always done it that way and/or because it is easier". My follow up question is "easier for the customer or easier for US as the organization?????" More often than not as we proceed forward on those items, we end up changing a policy/procedure due to it having previously been NOT Customer friendly.
In summary, I am very encouraged by the progress we have made this year on Organizational Structure and Customer Service. The biggest reason for that is the people we have at the Town. They genuinely want to do a good job and that makes it so much easier to forge ahead when things need to change. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com
October 28, 2020:
How our decision making is influenced in 2020
One thing I think we all can agree on is that 2020 has been a unique year. It's hard to compare crisis times against each other due to the recency bias we as humans have. That recency bias makes us feel like the current thing we are going through is the WORST thing we have ever had to endure. For me personally, I felt that after 9-11 as a young father concerned about whether the world was about to end, and also again in 2008 when the financial world collapsed, and I owned a mortgage company. For people a few years older than me, I can't imagine what it was like for you in the late 1960's with Vietnam, and Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy being assassinated. Finally, for any of the greatest generation who may still be with us, the depression and World War II must have been incredibly stressful times to live through.
So how do "the times we live in" affect our decision making? To me, decision making is broken down into two categories; 1. overt, and 2. opinion forming. An example of each is that when you are driving in your car and come to a T in the road, you have to make an overt decision (i.e. action) to turn left or right. Conversely, opinion forming by each of us is much more complicated based on the factors of influence we encounter each day. Interestingly enough, you would think opinion forming by definition does NOT mean an overt action needs to be made such as the turning left or right at the T in the road example. The fact is opinion forming often is the predecessor to overt actions we each do. Bottom line.... in the next few days several governmental positions will be determined by the election and each of our individual opinion forming led to the overt action of who we vote for.
There are so many factors that go into our individual opinion forming, that ultimately drive our overt-action item decisions. Three that I see having great influence in 2020 are as follows:
1.TANGIBLE FACTS/DATA: This is something I really try to gather, question, and absorb on my path to opinion forming and decision making. I find it interesting that in business, if you do NOT subscribe to this process, you ultimately will go out of business from making uninformed decisions. However, it seems in politics, certain politicians are rewarded with getting elected and re-elected by skirting the facts/data, or outright just stating things as facts that are not supported by tangible data. One thing I experienced as a business owner and in my first year as Supervisor is that a high-level person such as a CFO or Department Head has said to me individually, or in meetings with other high-level people in the organization "We've had a LOT of this occurring lately/the past year and we need to do something about it". I always answer that comment with "define a LOT?" Out of 100 transactions has it happened on 5, 10, 50, etc.? Often, once we go out and gather the data/facts, the desired "do something about it/make an overt decision" is rendered moot since it does not happen as much as the person thought it did.
2. TRADITIONAL NEWS MEDIA AND SOCIAL MEDIA: We all know that the traditional media of newspapers, TV, etc. is changing before our eyes in the past 10+ years. I am not talking so much about whether or not the traditional media has become more or less biased in the last 10+ years... I am talking about how people GET their news, and what news they determine is credible. Social Media has changed the landscape. Has it changed it for the better as to people's opinion forming, and subsequent overt action decisions? I'm going to stay away from answering that, but suggest that if you have not watched the 90-minute documentary on Netflix called "The Social Dilemma", that you do and make your own determination on it. One thing social media has definitely changed is the concept of slander and libel. Slander is when you SAY something untrue about someone and libel is when you WRITE something untrue about someone. In the past slander and libel were often tied to news media outlets and/or civil lawsuits if one or both could be proven, and if proven it harmed the person or organization the untrue statements were made on. social media allows ANYONE to go on and "say or write anything" on a person or organization, regardless of whether factual or not and do so with impunity from liability for being sued for libel/slander.. Worse yet, often the biggest spreaders on social media of lies are anonymous in that they can set up accounts on Facebook, Twitter, etc. with alias names. Unfortunately, some people read this stuff on social media and accept it as fact... even though it is NOT. That in and of itself will lead to bad opinion forming and/or overt action on certain issues
3.INDIVIDUAL PERSONALITIES: Human beings are complex. Some are more averse to change than others, and let's face it... "change is inevitable". Some fear what they don't know or understand and will shy away from trying to get to know and/or understand something. They will just jump to the final conclusion it is WRONG in their mind. Others will be open minded and try to get educated on what they don't know or understand before making a conclusion on how they feel about it. Some want the safety of tribalism. That can lead to the unintended consequence of "100% of my tribe is RIGHT, and 100% of your tribe is WRONG". As humans, we have the amazing ability to "justify" even if logic dictates otherwise. A great example of this it is that some people can be pro-life and pro-death penalty... while other people are pro-choice and against the death penalty.
At the end of the day, how we are each "wired" within our individual personalities will have an effect on how we assess our opinion forming, and ultimately decision making/overt actions. This is influenced by how we as individuals look at tangible facts/data, and traditional news media/social media as we form those opinions and ultimately make decisions/take overt action. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
October 21, 2020
Please exercise your RIGHT to Vote
If you have read my previous 40+ Supervisor Corner articles this year, you know I am a self-admitted "stats geek". To me, data is foundational to facts, and facts assist so much in good decision making for today and the future. My first introduction to registered voter stats in Webster was while I was campaigning for Town Supervisor in 2019. I found that there were approximately 31,000 registered voters in Webster and that approx. 30% of them registered as Democrat, 30% Republican, and 40% as unaffiliated, Conservative, Independent, or other party.
I also found that historically in the 5-year period of 2014 - 2018, approximately 35% of those registered voters voted in the "non presidential" Town Supervisor years of 2015 and 2017 (i.e. about 11,000) and in presidential or governor/senator/congress years of 2016 and 2018, about 55% voted (i.e. about 17,000) I was very happy to see in the 2019 Town Supervisor election I was in, 13,800 voted or about 44% of the registered voters in Webster. 2019 was also the first year New York State offered "early voting". In Monroe County there were eight locations in October - November 2019 where you could vote early. About 1,200 Webster citizens early voted in 2019 which is about 9% of the total 13,800 voters that year.
So now that I have put you to sleep with these historical stats...... I would be remiss if I didn't say that it boggles my mind that ONLY 35 - 55% of registered voters in Webster ACTUALLY exercise their right to vote!!!! I appreciate there are things that come up last minute that may make a registered voter unable to get to the polls on Tuesday, November 3rd. However, now that early voting is available, I hope that we see a big spike in people actually voting over the next few years, starting with 2020!! Here is some info on the early voting venues, days, and times for October - November 2020. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com.
Early Voting Dates & Times for the November 3, General Election:
• Saturday, October 24, 2020 - 9am-3pm
• Sunday, October 25, 2020 - 9am-3pm
• Monday, October 26, 2020 - 9am-5pm
• Tuesday, October 27, 2020 - 11am-8pm
• Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - 9am-5pm
• Thursday, October 29, 2020 - 11am-8pm
• Friday, October 30, 2020 - 9am-5pm
• Saturday, October 31, 2020 - 9am-3pm
• Sunday, November 1, 2020 - 9am-3pm
Early Voting Locations that will be open each date and time listed above:
• David F. Gantt Community Center - 700 North St, Rochester, NY 14605
• City of Rochester Recreation Bureau - 2nd Floor, 57 St Paul St, Rochester, NY 14604
• Genesee Valley Field House - 1316 Genesee St, Rochester, NY 14611
• Edgerton Recreation Center - 41 Backus St, Rochester, NY 14608
• SUNY Empire State College - 680 Westfall Rd, Rochester, NY 14620
• Town of Chili Senior Center - 3235 Chili Ave, Rochester, NY 14624
• North Greece Road Church of Christ - 1039 N Greece Rd, Rochester, NY 14626
• Marketplace Mall (North Entrance) - 1 Miracle Mile Dr, Rochester, NY 14623
• Irondequoit Public Library - 1290 Titus Ave, Rochester, NY 14617
• Harris-Whalen Park Lodge - 2126 Penfield Rd, Penfield, NY 14526
• Perinton Square Mall - 6720 Pittsford Palmyra Rd, Fairport, NY 14450
• Webster Recreation Center - 1350 Chiyoda Dr, Webster, NY 14580
October 14, 2020:
FAQ's on the Ash trees being cut down in Webster
The Emerald Ash Borer, better known as the EAB, is native to South-eastern Asia. Unfortunately it has made its way to North America and has wreaked havoc on our beautiful Ash trees in Monroe County. The infestation is moving west to east and we noticed it in Webster in the spring of 2020 when several Ash trees did not bud with new leaves. Over the past several months, the Town of Webster government has been working diligently to address the situation. Below are the most commonly asked questions we have been getting from our residents:
Why is the Town cutting down these Ash trees? These dead and dying ash trees were brought to the Town government's attention by concerned Webster citizens who were near a tree that was threatening their home or grounds. Out of concern for the safety of our residents, the Town Board made this a priority and took quick action to address the problem. In our research we discovered that it could cost an individual homeowner between $400 - $2,200 to take down one of these trees. Although the cost would be prohibitive for the Town to cut down every dead Ash tree, we are focusing on addressing the threat located within Park Districts or Town-owned land.
How many trees are being cut down? Approximately 420 trees have been identified to be cut down between September and November 2020. Not all of these trees are being cut down to the stump and some will only have the top canopy cut that is causing the risk to residents' homes and grounds.What is this costing the Town? The winning bid was for $86,000 for 280 trees. Within the bid specs and the subsequent contract, there was a provision to have additional trees added. Residents have identified an additional 140 trees that will cost another $56,000. In such, a total of approx. 420 trees will be cut down or canopies cut at a cost of approx. $142,000. Trees on Park District land will have the cost passed on to the Park District.
Will the wood from these cut down trees be removed? In an effort to keep the cost to taxpayers down, we are having the tree contractor leave the cut logs "felled in place". In such, these pieces of cut wood will be left on the Town-owned land or Park District land the tree was on.Will stumps be taken out/grinded? No. In an effort to keep the cost to taxpayers down we are not have the firm cutting down these trees remove or grind stumps
How do residents let the Town government know about a possible tree that needs to be addressed? There are 2 ways; 1. If you are aware of a tree that needs to be brought to Town government attention, visit the Town website at http://ci.webster.ny.us/568/Tree-Maintenance and complete the form. 2. If you just have a general question, please call 585-872-7037.
Will these 420 trees be the last of the ones cut down in Webster Town-owned land or Park District land? No. Most likely we will have a 2nd round in 2021. The trees are dying fast from the EAB and once the leaves bloom again in the spring of 2021, it will manifest some additional dead ash trees on Park District land or Town-owned land.
I want to thank the residents and the key Town of Webster employees who have worked in concert to make the best of a troubling situation. Bottom line.... NO one likes to see trees die and be cut down. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
October 7, 2020:
Peaceful Protest.... or Harassment challenging the right of quiet enjoyment?
This past Friday night, October 2nd, over 100 people, and the cars they came in, converged on a residential neighborhood street here in Webster. Their target was the Monroe County District Attorney, Sandra Doorley, and in such, they set up right in front of her family's home. They banged drums, chanted for Ms. Doorley to resign her position as D.A., and used a lot of loud profanity in doing so. They came across the Bay Bridge in cars, set up around 9:15 p.m., and left by 10 p.m. My guess is that few if any of the attendees live in Webster.... and frankly I'm not sure how many actually live in Monroe County.
So.... was this a peaceful protest exercising the right of free speech? Or was it a show of force in numbers, representative of more gangland rules of intimidation and threats? Ask 100 people that question in society today and you might get a 50/50 answer. However, from my perspective as a Webster citizen the past 23 years and now its Town Supervisor, I did NOT like that this "event" occurred. Now, before I go on, out of full disclosure, I grew up across the street from Sandra Doorley's husband and have known his family and him my whole life. I consider Sandra and her husband personal friends the past 30 years, and our daughters went to school together and Irish danced together.
With that being said, I admit in my bias that I did NOT like that happening to my friends. I further did NOT like that experience having to happen to their neighbors. It is easy now that the event is over to say that there was NO property damage or people that got hurt. But as the event was unfolding, the anxiety and fear created for the people in that neighborhood must have been terrifying. In the aftermath on Saturday morning October 3rd, I visited the neighborhood to talk with Sandra, her husband, and neighbors. Sandra and her husband were not home but I got a chance to talk with some of the neighbors. Bottom line.... they were shaken up by this experience and wanted to know a) how it could be allowed in the 1st place, and b) how "law and order" could prevent it from happening again.
One interaction I had that has "stuck with me" and motivated me to write this article was with a young woman who lives in the neighborhood who has a 3 and 2-year-old and is expecting her 3rd child in a week. Simply said, her husband and her did not move to Webster to endure things like this in front of their home. She went on to describe how she tried to sooth the two children through the noise going on outside. I have seven children and the youngest is now 12... but I couldn't help but think of when my wife and I had "4 under 3 years of age" and how such an event in our Webster neighborhood would have upset us.
So, what is the answer to avoiding having such events in Webster in the future? I have been in communication with Webster's Police Department leadership team on this since Saturday. At the time I sent this article to print, they were scheduled to meet with other law enforcement agencies to devise a strategy on "how to handle these things in the future". The answer is NOT as simple as you would think. On one end of the spectrum, if Webster's current laws and codes warrant us arresting the attendees of these events in the future, is that something the attendees WANT to get more exposure and thus spawn on MORE of them? On the other end of the spectrum, I don't want a repeat of last Friday night in our town and am hopeful that the Webster Police and other law enforcement agencies will help in figuring out the best way to assure it does not.
In summary, make NO mistake, a daytime, planned "protest/march" at the Webster Village park just north of 250 and Main St. a few months ago is a far different "event" than a surprise, unpublicized, in the dark on a residential street event that occurred last Friday night. I completely understand that some reading this article will be 100% against what I am saying. To those people I would propose the old adage "Two wrongs don't make a right". If you truly believe there is a "wrong" that needs to be fixed, don't undermine your efforts and go out and do another wrong. You can talk to me till you're blue in the face and you'll never convince me otherwise. If that upsets you, we’ll just have to "agree to disagree". As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com
September 30, 2020:
Shared Services amongst Government Entities - Saving Taxpayer’s money
As the saying goes "a penny saved is a penny earned". We often think of this as being isolated to our home/family budgets, or to private businesses. Unfortunately, we don't think of it as much as we should in government spending. To some extent, we all are a little cynical when it comes to government and taxes, especially living in New York State. Some of that cynicism is based on sayings like "death and taxes... the only certainties in life". However, some of that cynicism is based in fact and we in government need to "own that". For instance, COVID-19 hits and closes down businesses, and puts people out of work wondering where the money will come from to feed their family. However, in government, it is somewhat "business as usual" with real estate taxes, income taxes, sales taxes etc. that citizens pay staying at their current rates or going up!
In the nine months I have been Supervisor, I have become very aware of the Town of Webster's approx. $30 million annual budget, of which about half is collected from real estate taxes and half from other sources such as state aid, sales tax, etc. Within that awareness, there are factors in play that make it challenging to keep the next year's budget, 2021 at less than a 2% rise from the current years. As with any financial model, the only way you can save money or push more to the bottom line is to increase revenues, and/or decrease expenses. The former is one we are looking at ways to do without increasing the real estate taxes to our citizens such as increasing our sales tax base. The latter is more challenging when a large percentage of the budget is personnel and union contracts have COLA built in for annual raises.
So how do you cut expenses without cutting services... or better yet improving services to the citizens? One answer is maximizing the New York State Shared services program. The program was launched in 2017 and its two core principles are 1. two or more government entities join together to save money on a particular service, and 2. he annual savings produced are matched by the State dollar for dollar. As an example, if the Town of Webster joined with another town (or several towns, villages, etc.) to form a consortium of cyber security and/or IT hardware, software, etc. purchase and/or annual subscription discounts, if the savings to the Town of Webster was calculated at $5,000 annually, the state of New York would pay the Town an additional $5,000 that year for the savings!!!
In 2018, the program was expanded to include fire districts and school districts giving the Town of Webster even more potential "partners" to team up with within the effort to SAVE money and get "dollar for dollar" monies from the State on the annual savings. Besides the program being relatively new, the reason it most likely has not been pursued as much as it should be is that the Council of Governments (COG) ceased being active in the past several years. Why has it stopped? I am not sure since it is intended to be NON-partisan. I commend County Executive Adam Bello for reconvening the COG in 2020. It gives a forum where Town Supervisors, Village Mayors, City of Rochester, Monroe County, and school district officials can meet and collaborate for the betterment of the community as a whole. A recent COG meeting was the forum the County Executive utilized to have a person from the Department of State present and do a Q and A on the shared services program. It was obvious that the attendees were both a) excited for the possibilities and b) thankful that the COG was the impetus for educating all of us on this and hopefully spearheading us to maximize its benefits for our constituents.
The Town of Webster getting benefit from the shared services program in 2021 is remote. The plan is "County led". By November 10, 2020, the County Legislature needs to vote on the preliminary shared service plans proposed for calendar year 2021. Then three public hearings will occur after culminating with adoption by end of December 2020 by the County Legislature. That gives us approx. 40 days to identify a partner (or multiple) on a specific project, services, etc. to write up a proposal for 2021 savings from the shared service. However, I see a LOT of potential for identifying various partners in 2021 to work on proposals with that will hopefully result in savings in 2022 and matched dollars from the State. The Village of Webster government is the most logical partner for the Town government to work with to identify such opportunities. Also, the two fire districts in town and the school district are viable partners. I'll leave you will one last old saying.... "failure to plan, is planning to fail". If we want to maximize 2022 savings and state matching, we need to get on this ASAP in early 2021 with potential partners and projects. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
September 23, 2020:
WEDA, the best organization you've never heard of
While campaigning in September 2019, I met Pete Chatfield while going door to door. Pete told me that if I really wanted to get an idea of ALL that was going on in Webster, I should meet his son Matt. One week later, Matt Chatfield and I met for coffee at the Village Bakery. At that meeting, I found out Matt was the Executive Director of an organization called WEDA, which is an acronym for Webster Economic Development Alliance. Matt described to me how the organization was formed several years ago and has five board members: Town Supervisor, Village Mayor, Superintendent of Schools, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, and the President of the Business Improvement District (BID).
Matt showed me a brochure that highlighted what WEDA's mission is, and what it had accomplished in the past five years as to securing state and federal grants for Webster projects. As our meeting culminated, I stated to Matt "WEDA is awesome! Why haven't I heard of it prior and that I speculate that most of the Webster citizens do NOT know about the organization and what it does and has accomplished!"
When I became Town Supervisor in January 2020, I became one of the five board members of WEDA. I've attended the monthly meetings of WEDA, and it has helped me immensely in getting to know the Village Mayor, Darrell Byerts, School Superintendent, Carmen Gumina, BID president Elena Bernardi and Chamber of Commerce CEO, Barry Howard. How did it end up that WEDA would put these five people in the same room at least once a month? I found out that years ago while finalizing the by-laws of this organization, Chamber of Commerce CEO, Barry Howard, had the foresight to assure that the five entities that made up the governance of WEDA would ONLY have their "top person" representing this. The initial draft of the by-laws stated the top person of each of these entities, "or a designated representative". Barry was VERY smart to demand the top person be the representative.
WEDA is a unique organization that none of the other 900+ towns in New York has. In fact, many Town Supervisors I have talked to said they can't believe that organization exists that unites government, school, and businesses for the purpose to do what is "Best for Webster" and use that united force to drive projects, and the grants and funding needed for them. To get five entities to share in the funding of WEDA is foundational to the unique nature of it. WEDA's annual budget is under $80,000, yet the organization has brought in grants to Webster 15 times the annual budget on average the past six years.
Since 2014, WEDA has secured $7,465,000 for the following projects in Webster:
• $815,000 for bicycle, pedestrian and beautification enhancements on North Avenue in the Village of Webster;
• $1,480,000 for sidewalks on Ridge Road from Jackson Road to Five Mile Line Road;
• $118,000 for design and engineering of a new public park on Webster’s Sandbar waterfront;
• $1,425,000 for the realignment of Lake Road and construction of waterfront promenade at Sandbar Park;
• $711,000 for shoreline protection and flood prevention at Sandbar Park/Bayside Restaurant;
• $73,000 towards the construction of a permanent dock for a West Webster Fire Boat on Irondequoit Bay;
• $476,000 for sanitary pump station flood resilience improvements on Lake Road;
• $350,000 for East Main Street revitalization efforts in the Village of Webster;
• $1,838,000 for roadway improvement within the Xerox industrial zone;
• $50,000 for the development of a Community Revitalization Strategy;
• $87,000 for the Study of a Chilled Water System in Webster’s Industrial Zone;
• $42,000 towards reactivation of a vacant former Xerox facility on Salt Road
In the next 15 months as we go into 2022, the governance of WEDA is looking to produce a strategic plan to have WEDA utilized even more in the future for the "Best for Webster". There may be volunteer opportunities opening up within that effort on various committees. Stay tuned for more details on this AWESOME organization! As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com
September 16, 2020:
The facts on Webster Furniture Strippers- 600 Ridge Road
As a resident of Webster for the past 23 years I had been surprised to see how the corner of Gravel and Ridge had not been developed, and frankly has eroded over the years. When I was campaigning in 2019 for Town Supervisor, several citizens voiced to me their concerns about this corner. I also read in the 2008 Town Comprehensive plan that there were big plans for the development of this corner.
So why has that corner fallen into disrepair over the past 15-20 years? When I entered office in January 2020 it was one of the first issues I sought to tackle. From my research, the answer lies in the strange story of 600 Ridge Road, which previously housed the business Webster Furniture Strippers. I say it is a "strange story" because it something that could not and would not happen at our homes or in private business. It is a story that shows how the government can at times not be smart on getting resolutions on issues.
600 Ridge Road's owners ceased paying their town, county, and school real estate taxes about 15 years ago. The law requires the County of Monroe to reimburse the Town of Webster and the Webster School District for those unpaid taxes. After three years of not paying taxes, the building goes to a Monroe County tax foreclosure auction. At that auction, the County is asking for a "minimum bid" of the unpaid taxes. If no 3rd party makes that minimum bid, the County takes title/ownership to the property and can market it for sale in any way they deem proper and at any price.
Here's where the story gets "strange". Within this process, the County does a basic review of the property before they take title to see if there are any potential environmental issues. That "basic review" is foundational in looking at what the most recent use of the building was. The County saw that the building was used for furniture stripping with various chemicals used and determined they did NOT want to take title to it. In such, the property stays in the ownership/title of the current owner who has essentially abandoned the property by demonstrating they have not paid the taxes on it the past three years. Then, for the next 10-12 years, the town, county and school district send tax bills to the owner, and the owner continues to NOT pay them, and the county reimburses the town and school for their unpaid taxes.
Simply said.... the situation will go on like this into perpetuity or until the building falls down and someone or some municipality is forced to do something to get to "final resolution". This goes into the category of "you can't make this stuff up!!". So how does this situation get remedied and NOT have the can kicked down the road for 10+ more years? I have been working with the Webster Town Attorney, the DEC, and the real estate division at Monroe County to resolve this. The first part of the plan is to get the DEC reports on the building in the last 30 years and if they show that the environmental issues at the site are "minimal or non-existent", the County may take title to the property and market it for sale. At that point, a developer most likely would want to buy it if they saw the cost to take down the building was NOT going to have hundreds of thousands of dollars of environmental remediation. If the DEC reports are not definitive enough to have Monroe County take title, we will move on to plan B which most likely entails a phase 1 or 2 environmental study of the property to determine the true environmental risk and what needs remediation.
Bottom line.... I am not comfortable just throwing my hands up and saying "oh well... nothing we can do. It's Monroe County's decision". Fact is, the property is IN Webster. It is an eyesore at best, and a safety risk at worst. It also is impeding the development of that corner and all neighborhoods that spawn off of it. I am emboldened in the effort to get this situation resolved. Stay tuned for more details on this as they arise. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
September 10, 2020:
We should all learn from Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I'm into my ninth month as Webster Town Supervisor and have tried to use this Supervisor's corner forum to focus on Webster-centric topics. Back in early June I deviated from that in the wake of the events in Minneapolis with George Floyd and the aftermath of protests nationwide including here in our county. My article then was focused on "walking a mile in someone's shoes" and understanding that as a 55-year-old white male, it is difficult for me to understand what it is like to be black, and what our black brothers and sisters in the human race encounter in everyday situations compared to what I encounter.
Last week, it hit closer to home for all of us with the news coverage of the events surrounding Daniel Prude's death back in March 2020 here in Rochester. In such, I am going to deviate again from Webster-centric topics to discuss this global issue with the preface of "I do NOT have the answers, but I do know what won't work in the effort to move society along". The bothersome thing I have seen is that it feels like we are being forced to "choose sides". Either you are FOR Black Lives Matter, or you are FOR the police. I for one am not comfortable in that since I have friends and family of color and it sickens me to think they experience a different America than I do.... but I also have friends and family in law enforcement who are phenomenal human beings doing probably the most difficult job in society in 2020 and being spit on.
History is a great indicator of what works and what does not work in moving society along. I have no greater admiration for any historical leaders than that of Nelson Mandela in South Africa and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in the United States. Simply said, these men had a grace that transcended the experiences they had encountered. Frankly, I do not think I have 1/100th of the courage and leadership mettle these men had. For all they had experienced, and with all the pressures on them to do otherwise, they chose and embodied "togetherness and peace" as the path to healing and making the future better for the human race. If you read one or two biographies in the next few months, I suggest you read about these two amazing human beings.
Choosing sides of Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter is NOT the answer. It is too simplistic to stereotype every Police Officer as racist and abusive, and frankly it is NOT accurate. Far from it in my experiences. The vast majority of law enforcement are dedicated to "serve and protect" regardless of whether the people they encounter in that mission are men, women, tall, short, black, white, etc. However, it is ignorant as a white person to not see tangible evidence that systemic racism has been out there as recently as 50 years ago with deed restrictions on Monroe County properties stating "no African Americans can own or live there". I'm sure there is more recent evidence of this too. Bottom line.... we can do better as the human race than to "pick sides" and think the side picked is 100% RIGHT and the other side is 100% WRONG. Dr. King and President Mandela knew that. Let's follow their example if we really want to see positive change in the future. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com.
September 2, 2020:
Webster Sanitary Sewers.. a decision for the next 20-30 years
In the 25 years I owned my business, I became comfortable making decisions on a daily basis. Some of those decisions I knew had more at stake than the average run of the mill ones. Those with more at stake usually had ramifications for years to come. After eight months as Town Supervisor, I can see that the Town Board makes decisions at every board meeting. These decisions are called resolutions, ordinances and laws and are voted on by the five of us. Some are housekeeping (i.e. run of the mill) where others have major implications to the future of our community.
On September 10th, the Village of Webster's five trustees will have such a major decision to make/vote on. Simply said.... the Village sewer plant will either have $10+ million invested in it in the next 2-3 years, with another $5+ million in 7-8 years after that, or the Village and the Town will "regionalize" into ONE sewer plant and the Village and Town governments will work as a TEAM to invest in that regional plant in the next 2-3 years.
A few frequently asked questions I have encountered in the last eight months on this, and the answers as I see them:
1. Why is this the Village government's decision? That is because the Town wants a regional plant. Based on the Village's vote, the Town will either move forward with phase 2 of their plant or move forward with a phase 2 that supports the regional model.
2. Why does the Town government want regional? The cost to the Town residents and businesses will be less annually, and long term as to bonding/grants in a regional model. It is important to remember that Village residents and businesses ARE TOWN RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES and I truly believe that the regional plant will benefit ALL Town residents and businesses, including those that live and operate in the Village
3. Is this decision being "rushed"? The discussion and engineering analyses paid for individually by the Town and Village and an engineering analysis of a regional plant jointly paid by the Village and Town started in 2016. That is five years. Within this process, the Town invested $12 million on phase 1 of their sewer plant update and did so with a) $3 million of grant money, and b) with a structure that supported the regional plant should the Village decide to go regional. That phase 1 will be completed in December 2020 so as we look in 2021 to phase 2, it is incumbent that we know if that phase 2 will be configured for Town-only or regional.
4. What are the main objections to regionalization? From what I have seen, people in the Village have concerns that the regional plant will actually save money annually and in the long run for Village residents and businesses. Those objections may be genuine in the person's mind because "there are a lot of #s flying around out there". However, the accountant in me has felt from the beginning when I first met on January 20, 2020 with Mayor Byerts, Deputy Mayor Ippolito and Deputy Supervisor Cataldi that the law of economies of scale would prove that a regional plant was more cost effective to the citizens of Webster than two individual plants that the Village was about to invest over $10 million in theirs and the Town just invested $12 million in theirs. Over the last seven months, nothing I have seen changes my mind on that, and in fact the more data I got from engineers, state funding and grants just cemented my opinion on this more.
I also saw over the past seven months that some intangible factors were in play on the objections to a regional plant. Some of it has to do with nostalgia and trying to keep the status quo. Some of it has to do with fear of the unknown. Some of that has to do with generations going back 50+ years on how the Village government sees the Town government and vice versa. It certainly does not appear that the two governments have worked as a TEAM in the past for the greater good of the community. A regional plant has to have at its foundation a "trust" level between the Town and Village governments and the past has not fostered that. I'm realistic that in my eight months as Town Supervisor no matter how hard I try to foster trust, it is not going to get people to a point of totally divorcing themselves from emotions of distrust that were cultivated for 30+ years.
If the Village board of trustees does vote for regional on September 10th, the immediate next move would be to form a regional plant steering committee that to me MUST be equally represented by the Town and Village. To put it more succinctly... the Village may only have 1/4 of the volume of a regional plant, but they will be 1/2 of the steering committee. As that steering committee figures out the details of the final configuration and cost splits, it is important to understand that this regional plant will be a "separate entity" from the Town or Village governments. I have heard the question "will Village employees at the Village plant be hired by the Town at the regional plant? The answer is actually that the regional plant will need to hire the employees currently at the Town plant and the Village plant. This is NOT the Town running this regional plant. It is the governance/board of the regional plant that is ultimately decided on by the equally represented Town and Village steering committee. I would not be surprised if the end result is that the regional plant is a utility. I will not bore you all in this article with the details on the pros and cons of operating as an Enterprise fund-based utility.
In summary.... I don't envy the five Village board trustees. I know they are getting pressure from several sides on this. I've gotten a chance to get to know them the past eight months and they are wonderful people. Fact is, they were elected to lead, and leadership is not easy. It's having the ability to put your human emotions in check to do what is right for the community today, and 20+ years from now. This is one of those defining decisions to their legacy. I have told each and every one of the Village trustees that I want the Town government to work as a TEAM with them in the future and break the cycle of the historical petty, Hatfield/McCoy rivalry between the two governments. The loser in those battles is the Webster citizen and business. Those past battles also "cloud vision" and Webster needs vision now in 2020 more than ever.
Moves made by a TEAM effort of the Town and Village governments in the next few years could lay the foundation to what the 770+ acres Xerox campus looks like in the future, and what "the hub/nucleus of Webster".... our Village will look like in the future. The Village should be a thriving center to this 46,000-person town. Town residents want to walk, bike or drive 1-2 miles to the Village to spend their discretionary money more than they want to cross the Bay Bridge and go 10+ miles to do so. Town residents in 2020 are a different socioeconomic make-up than the population in 1990 before all the $300,000 houses were built. The Village needs to take advantage of that so they "win" and so does the Town resident with the goods and services of a robust hub. Currently, the Village government budget revenue is made up of 60% sales tax. A focus on revitalizing downtown will bring more sales tax revenue. If all things are equal.....each dollar increase to sales tax is one dollar less taxed to the Village citizens in their real estate taxes. I'll bet the Village Board of Trustees in the future will have a lot more fun spearheading initiatives to downtown revitalization than running a sewer plant. And as I said prior... it won't be the Town government running that regional plant, it will be the separate entity regional plant governance. The future of Webster looks bright... all ya gotta do is imagine what it could be and take the proper proactive steps to make it happen. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
August 26, 2020:
COVID 19 and Paying your Webster School Taxes in September 2020
Hard to believe we are coming up on six months since "all of our worlds changed" and terms like social distancing, masks, etc. started dominating our lives. COVID-19 has been challenging for all of us and those challenges are very individualized based on your personal and professional life.
One thing I have struggled with as Town Supervisor during COVID-19 is the "lack of being able to be out there amongst the people". In February prior to the home quarantining, I was enjoying going to different events and getting to meet and know more Webster citizens. I felt that was helping me get a pulse on what topics and issues were really amongst the majority and not just the echo chamber rantings of social media "keyboard warriors".
With Town hall opening to the public "without the need for an appointment" as of July 20th, we have seen the daily visits by citizens go up from approximately 50 a day to 60 in 5 weeks. The good news... people are feeling more comfortable getting out. The bad news.... 60+ visitors a day to town hall and the interaction with the 40+ employees who work there causes challenges in COVID-19. Sanitizing, social distancing, plexiglass barriers, masks and answering health questions are mandatory. Some citizens completely understand and comply with NO question.... some are annoyed by it but comply, albeit begrudgingly .... and some overtly fight it by saying they won't wear a mask, sanitize their hands and/or answer the health questions. Simply said... the receptionist position is a LOT more complex today than it was prior COVID-19.
September historically is the month where many Webster citizens go into town hall to pay their school taxes in person. Based on the math I have done, it averages about 100-150 people a day coming into town hall in past Septembers to pay their taxes. As such, I cannot stress this enough...... putting an additional 100-150 citizens a day into town hall over the current average of 60 will put stress on the safety system in place, to the point where it most likely is NOT manageable for either the town staff or citizens. So it pains me to say this... but for our citizens and town staff physical and mental health and safety, PLEASE PAY YOUR SEPTEMBER SCHOOL TAXES IN ANY MANNER AVAILABLE OTHER THAN COMING INTO TOWN HALL TO DO IT IN PERSON!!!!!!
The means made available in COVID-19 are "unique" from past years and include the following: USPS mail, online via credit card with the 3% fee waived by County Executive Bello, drop box in vestibule of Ridge Road entrance to town hall, and at the M+T branch at 935 Hard Road. For more details on these payment options, please visit the town website at www.ci.webster.ny.us and hit the "department" link on the homepage and then "Receiver of Taxes".
As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail email@example.com.
August 19, 2020:
Unions and the Town of Webster Government employees
Prior to becoming Webster Town Supervisor, I had been in "private industry" for 30+ years. For the first eight years out of college, I was an "employee". The next 25 years I was in "management/ownership". The common denominator of my private industry experience was that there were no labor unions at the companies I worked for or owned.
The Town of Webster government has 14 departments that encompass over 100 full time W-2 employees and another 100+ part time W-2 employees. Many of the full-time employees are in a labor union. The three labor unions are white-collar, blue-collar, and Police. For example, the white-collar union encompasses administrative employees, the blue-collar union encompasses Highway Department and Sewer Department employees, and the Police union encompasses the Police Officers. For the most part, Department Heads are considered "management" and are not in the union.
When I became Supervisor in January 2020, the blue-collar and white-collar union contracts for the 3-year period of January 2020 - December 2022 were already in place, as they had been negotiated in 2019. The current Police union contract expires on December 2020, so I have recently entered into negotiations with the Police union reps on the contract for January 2021 and beyond. Assisting me on this negotiation are various members of Human Resources, Finance Department, and the Town Board liaison to Police.
A few things I have noted in my first eight months as Supervisor as it pertains to unions: 1st... I'm a habit-based person. It has not been my habit in the past to have to "bounce things off the union" before I move forward on management decisions that affect employees. I've apologized to the various union reps on this and have asked them to be patient with me as I "build that habit" of including them in communications early in the process.
2nd.... COVID-19 is something that is "challenging" the Town Board on both the 2020 budget to actual, and on budgeting for 2021. This is due to the "unknowns" created by the pandemic on both lost revenues and added expenses due to COVID-19. Labor union contracts need to be referred to, prior to any moves the Town Board seeks to make to react or better yet be "proactive" to COVID-19 created issues if the Board ever seeks to reduce expenses/taxes to the town citizens via payroll and/or benefits moves toward the Town government employees.
3rd.... This may be my "first rodeo" on union negotiations, but it certainly is NOT my first foray into negotiating "win-wins" between ownership/management and employees. The KEY is the "win-win" aspect of this. In layman terms.... Every dollar that the Town "wins" is a dollar the employee is conceding in pay and/or benefits. Conversely, every dollar the employee "wins" in pay and benefits is a dollar the Town concedes. The Town concession means getting that dollar from revenue sources or from taxing the town citizens.
In conclusion, it is imperative that Town government leadership and union leadership understand the delicate balance on this. If one side gets too much... that balance can have short- and long-term ramifications.
As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
August 12. 2020:
The Xerox factor in the Village and Town of Webster and how it affects our future
Having lived in Webster for the past 23 years, the Xerox campus out on Salt Road was something I certainly was aware of. I knew it was built in Webster over 50 years ago. I knew it was a key component in the Bay Bridge being built. I knew it brought a lot of jobs to Webster and assisted in the population growth of the town as farmland was sold to developers who then built subdivisions. I knew that with Xerox moving their corporate headquarters out of Rochester in the past 20 years, that the Webster campus was profoundly affected with shuttering of buildings and losses of jobs as the company's focus changed.
Over the past seven months as Town Supervisor, I have learned just how big a shadow the 700+ acres of the Xerox campus cast on the Village and Town of Webster today... and more importantly for the future. Currently, the campus has over six million square feet of building space on it. However, only about two million is occupied. The other four million have been vacated over the years. Luckily, most of those "empty buildings" at least still show well on the exterior so it does not look like a total ghost town. Allegedly, Xerox had a national developer looking to buy the whole campus in the past few years. It appears that never materialized. Maybe it was due to Xerox' attempt to buy Hewlett Packard in the past year... or the rumored Hewlett Packard seeking to buy Xerox when the former fell through. Welcome to the world of big corporations! Any sale of the 700+ acre campus would need to go through the Xerox board, and if the Hewlett Packard deal hit the board's desk, it would take preference over that 700-acre campus sale. If a seller drags its feet, the buyer will move on to something else.
There is nothing I would like more than a resurgence of Xerox at the campus with them filling the empty four million square feet of buildings with new employees and business functions. The reality is that is probably not going to happen. While Xerox still owns the campus, it puts the Village and Town of Webster into a form of "purgatory". I've heard at least a dozen times in the past seven months on development plans that people don't like where it is proposed to "put it on the Xerox campus"! Problem is that campus is privately owned by Xerox and the Village and Town don't have the ability to make Xerox "put something on their campus". As Xerox contracts at the campus, it affects what real estate taxes can be collected from them. It affects the sanitary sewer plants and their future planning. Currently that campus makes up over 55% of the flow handled by the Village sewer plant. It only affects about 3% of the Town's sewer plant flows. The uncertainty and possible continued contraction at the campus is one reason why a regional sewer plant makes sense so that the Village sewer plant is not so tied to that 700-acre campus. Bottom line... if NO flows come from Xerox in the future, and the Village keeps its own sewer plant, Village citizen's sewer fees would more than double.
People have said to me, "just call or meet with Xerox leadership and find out their plans". I wish it were that simple. I appreciate Xerox' position on this 700-acre campus and why they keep their cards held close to their vest on future plans. Frankly, I believe they may have NO future plans right now and are content to stay in a "holding pattern" (i.e. purgatory) until something comes up. That may be good for Xerox, but it is NOT so good for the Town and Village of Webster. So what do we do? Well. I'm not a big fan of throwing up your hands and saying there is nothing we can do! To me, the best plan is to put the campus in a position where Xerox can sell it. To do that, it will need a TEAM effort of the Village and Town governments on several items including but not limited to regionalized sewer plant, road upgrades on campus with maximized state and federal grants, extending a road east to west through campus to make it easier to divide it for sale, and getting Town/Village border lines that run through the middle of some buildings on the campus currently in a schematic that makes more sense.
In conclusion, one of my favorite sayings is "God helps those who help themselves". In my opinion, it is incumbent on the Village and Town Boards to be a team on this effort to move the needle on what the 700+ acre campus at Xerox will be in the future. This is no time to be nostalgic to the good old days of Xerox. The leadership needs to look to the future. They need to rise above any " non-team" and/or competitive aspects and/or bad blood that may have existed between the Village and Town governments that existed in the past. If we work as a team, and leverage county, state, and federal government leaders to help on this team, we can help create the future at that 700-acre campus instead of sitting around feeling like a victim and waiting for our destiny to be dealt to us. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com
Supervisor’s Column - August 5, 2020:
The Town government structure and Town Board meeting structure:
Seven months into my new gig as Webster Town Supervisor. Learning something new everyday. I actually am enjoying it immensely. It is extremely interesting and diverse with the fourteen departments the town has. It also is gratifying to be able to help people. The "helping people" can be convoluted if the county, state and/or federal government agencies have to be interacted with to get a resolution, but I'll save that for another article in the future.
I've been surprised by the misconception that several citizens in Webster have about the governmental structure of the town. I'm a firm believer that "knowledge is power" and that "an informed community is a better one". As such, I'm hopeful this article may shed some light on two of these misconceptions.
1. County, state, and federal government have the 3 branches; executive, legislative, and judiciary with all their commensurate checks and balances. However, Town government really only has 2 branches. The Supervisor is NOT an Executive position like a County Executive, Governor or President. The Supervisor is just one vote of the five Town Board members that make up the legislative branch of town government. I see the Supervisor position as a "hybrid" executive-legislative one due to the organizational chart of the town departments reporting up through the Supervisor. However, any resolutions, ordinances and/or laws voted on have to be a majority vote of the five Town Board members.
2. The Town Board meets the 1st and 3rd Thursday of each month for "formal" board meetings at 7:30 PM. On the 2nd and 4th Thursdays they meet at 5:30 PM for an "informal" meeting called a Workshop. To be honest with you, I enjoy the workshops more than the formal meetings. The formal meetings demand that the board members be on top of their game as they will most likely be voting on resolutions, ordinances, and/or laws that will affect the town today and for 20+ years. Workshops are more "free flowing" of conversation between the board members, and any other department head and/or citizen involved in the meeting.
Often the workshop agenda items will make their way to formal Town Board meetings and/or public hearings if traction is built. In my first seven months as Supervisor, I have heard or seen several things done in town that when I ask "why"... the response is that "it's always been done that way and/or that the law/resolution/ordinance on that was passed 10, 15, 20+ years ago". That answer always makes me curious to see if maybe the practice needs to be discussed at a workshop to see if there are aspects to it that are obsolete in 2020 and the future from when they were adopted years ago.
As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Supervisor’s Column, July 29, 2020:
Some more interesting Town of Webster statistics
A few months ago, I did a column about some interesting statistics I had found out about the Town of Webster since I became Supervisor. At that time, I admitted that I was kinda a "stats geek" and that I hoped you'd all indulge me. I actually got a lot of positive responses to that column with some even asking me to do a follow up describing other interesting stats I had found out about the town.
This edition of "interesting Webster stats" will focus on some dollar and cents items. Bottom line... we're in the 2021 budget season for the town government. On the surface, this budget process will be unique to what has occurred in the past 25+ years due to two reasons; 1. a new Town Supervisor who had not previously been on the Town Board and involved in the process, and 2. the uncertainties of COVID-19 and the unresolved 2020 budget to actual items on lost revenues and/or additional costs that may or may not have state or federal reimbursement potential. The good news.... have no fear of my being the "rookie" Supervisor.
My background is financial based, I have had to do budgeting at my own business for years, and the current Town Board are seasoned professionals who have helped me immensely in my first 7 months.
The COVID-19 thing. Well that is problematic to even the most experienced of budgeters. So here is where Webster statistics and facts may assist. These stats do not take into account if you live in the Village, commercial properties, fire district charges and other special districts and/or exemptions a citizen may have. Webster residents who pay real estate taxes due to owning real estate have three basic taxes they pay: Town, County, and School. These taxes are attempted to be collected from citizens in an equitable manner based on the assessed value of their real estate. The current average town assessed value on a residential home is approx. $200,000. Due to the last town-wide revaluation having been done in 2004, that means a $200,000 assessed valued house would most likely sell today for $250,000. Webster's aggregate assessed value of ALL real estate is approximately $3 billion.
The Town of Webster budget is approx. $30 million. These monies provide services for all 46,000+ citizens including but not limited to: road maintenance, plowing, leaf pick-up, sewer, parks, recreation, etc. It is covered by $15 million from real estate taxes collected from its citizens on real property they own, and another $15 million from "other revenues" including but not limited to sales tax, special district charges, and state aid. Simply said... if all other factors remain equal, if the town government can figure out how to get MORE of these "other revenues" it would be able to tax its residents LESS. The $15 million in real estate taxes is divided by the total assessed value of ALL real estate, $3 billion, to come up with the approximate $5 per $1,000 of assessed value tax rate.
New York State initiated a "2% tax cap" years ago. Essentially it means that if the Town Board decides to propose a 2021 budget that is 2% higher than the 2020 budget, it requires a super majority vote (i.e. 4 to 1 at least approval versus the normal 3 to 2 approval). In round numbers.... 2% of 2020 budgeted taxes of $15 million to Webster citizens is approx. $300,000. Unfortunately for the town budget, capital projects, their debt and interest payments on them count in the 2% cap. This is not the same in the School tax budget and gives the schools much more latitude to build new facilities and stay below their 2% cap.
So grab a seat, make some popcorn and get ready to watch a very unique 2021 budget process for the town. Last week this article was dedicated to the milestone events in the process and reflected how PUBLIC the process is. You can literally watch on TV or live stream all of them. You can also be as much involved in the process as a citizen of the town as you want to be.
In conclusion, I want the Webster citizens to know my philosophy on budgets and where my struggles will be within this process. I lean more proactive than reactive. I think 10-20 years out for the community and not one year at a time. I am not influenced by "it’s an election year" as to budgeting and why to stay under the 2% cap. I'd rather advocate for what is the best fiscal move for the community for years to come, and be voted out, than kowtow to political pressure to do something that will help me get reelected. That's the benefit of being 55 years old when holding my first elected position, and a position I do NOT look to use as a springboard to a higher elected position. My next job after Supervisor will be back to private industry. So, what does that all mean? Well, I’d rather spend $5 today and have it affect the 2% tax cap, than spend $10 tomorrow out of the town's fund balance to fix something the $5 upfront would have taken care of. You see, if you pay the $10 "reactive" fix it out of the fund balance, it does not affect the 2% tax cap. However, it is still $10 of taxpayer money. My philosophy will be problematic in the COVID-19 world we live in, and the financial uncertainties it has in July 2020. I need to be mindful of that and proceed cautiously in the 2021 budget process. As we have learned with COVID-19.... what is the RULE today, may be very different in a week, a month, etc.
As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com.
July 22, 2020:
Below is the process for the Town 2021 Budget:
July 15, 2020:
How changed laws and current times in 2020 are affecting Webster Police and Webster Town Court
The first six months of 2020 have been unprecedented on many levels. Much of what makes it unique is the combination of multiple events in a short period of time. For instance, we've had pandemics before where we have had to shut down mass congregation venues, albeit not since 1920. We've had law enforcement changes before. We've had social unrest and protesting. However, we've never had all three of those occur in a short period of time in parallel. In such, the results of them happening like this are new experiences for society and most likely ones never envisioned.
We all know about the pandemic and the social unrest and protesting. The opinions on both run the gamut on issues including but not limited to; are we being too cautious with wearing masks, and closing businesses, or are we being too cavalier? Is the social unrest and protesting warranted and being done by good intentioned people who truly have been disenfranchised for far too long, or are political special interest groups taking advantage of a situation? I don't have enough space in this article to write all the words that would do all the opinions justice on these.
However, I do want to present the third parallel event of the last six months and how it has and will continue to an impact on how the Webster Police and Webster Town Court operate going forward. Law and Order. It is a foundational pillar of society. How does it work? This is an oversimplified description: the Police arrest the accused and investigate crimes of said accused. The District Attorney's office prosecutes them based on evidence obtained from the Police within their investigation. Private Defense Attorneys or the Public Defender's office defends the accused. Various venues of the judicial system (i.e. Judges/juries) hear the cases depending on the crime and where it occurred.
As of January 1, 2020, new laws went into effect in New York State that have an impact on the law and order system in the state, and in such, in Webster. Two of these are as follows:
1. Bail Reform: depending on who you talk to, this is either the best thing to happen or the worst in years. The people who feel it is the "best thing" see it more as reforms to keeping socio-economically challenged arrested people from having to sit in jail with no chance of being bailed out, while a person of means who does the same crime will be out on bail. The people who see it as "the worst thing" cite the term appearance ticket as the lynch pin to why it is bad. Simply said, crimes committed in 2019 and prior that would have been jailable offenses for a judge to set bail on, are now given appearance tickets where the arrested person is back on the street within hours of the arrest. The severity of the crimes that appearance tickets apply to have surprised many in law enforcement, and the judicial system. New York State Assembly, Senate and Governor are now looking at some of the unintended consequences of the law that went into effect on January 1, 2020 and trying to remedy that. The most recent revision to address more serious crimes being held in jail/for bail and not get an appearance ticket went into effect on July 2, 2020.
2. Discovery: Earlier I described how the Police arrest the accused and investigate the crime. The results of those investigations that are handed over to the D.A's office and the defense for the accused are called Discovery. Changes to discovery in 2020 made it such that the time frame the Police have to get their evidence to the prosecution and defense is shorter. The effect is that Police may take longer to arrest an accused person because that arrest date starts the clock on the time frame they have to hand in discovery.
In a way, it is changing the sequence of events for the Police from arrest first and investigate second to being vice versa.
In summary, I am working with the leadership teams at the Webster Police and Webster Town Court to determine how to best handle these law changes in 2020 and the effects they have on them. Many questions to answer on this. One big one is how we will do security at the court when in the past some of the accused based on the severity of the crime they were accused of were brought in from jail in handcuffs to court accompanied by jail guard, and now they will be walking through the front door with no handcuffs, no guard due to an appearance ticket having been issued for their crime.
As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 8, 2020:
The unique configuration of the Department of Public Works (DPW) in Webster
My guess is that if you asked 100 Webster citizens to describe what the Department of Public Works does, you'd get 100 different answers. Truth be told, if I were asked that question a few years ago I would have struggled with the answer. Understanding the unique nature of the Webster DPW compared to other towns in Monroe County is foundational to describing what they do. The DPW in most towns oversees the Sewer and Highway Department functions. They also oversee the town-owned facilities such as town hall, court buildings, etc., as to their mechanics and maintenance. They issue building permits, do inspections of projects the building permit was issued on, oversee code enforcement, animal control, and the Fire Marshal, and have engineering experience to assist the Planning Board on reviewing developer's engineering drawings. Usually there is a DPW Commissioner that oversees all the various functions the department is involved in, and has Deputy Commissioners that report to her or him to handle major segments like Sewer and Highway.
Webster is unique in that it has three separate departments for Highway, Sewer, and DPW, with each of those Department Heads reporting to the Town Supervisor. This configuration evolved over the years for a myriad of reasons. For one thing, Webster has a sewer plant, pump stations, and collection system of main lines. All other towns in Monroe County now only have pump stations and collection systems. That fact alone makes sense as to why the Sewer Department in Webster would be segmented off from DPW. Another reason for the uniqueness is that Webster has an appointed Highway Department Superintendent where many towns in New York elect their Highway Superintendent. In Webster, the Highway Department among many things maintains the roads, plows the roads, does leaf pickup in the autumn, and handles drainage issues for storm sewers and retention ponds
Two of the main challenges of this three department configuration are as follows; 1. Possible customer service issues: If a citizen calls, e-mails, or stops in a Town facility to inquire on an issue they are encountering, they may be reaching out to the wrong department. For example, if their storm sewer is backed up after a heavy rain, it would be understandable to have them reach out to the Sewer Department for remedy. Unfortunately, storm sewers are handled by the Highway Department and not the Sewer Department. 2. Potential lack of project oversight leadership: ALL major projects in Town such as housing subdivisions have involvement of DPW, Highway, and Sewer staff. There may be a list of 25-30+ different tasks, inspections, etc. that need to be done in making sure the project is built to the standards laid out in the plans and approved by the Planning Board. Those tasks and inspections often are sequential in nature and need quarterbacking. Since none of these Department Heads reports to the other, a void can occur. Currently it is on the Town Supervisor to make sure these three departments work in concert on this.
These challenges are something the three Department Heads and I are addressing currently to make sure that Webster's unique DPW, Sewer and Highway Department configuration do not have unintended consequences to the Webster Citizens. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail email@example.com.
July 1, 2020:
The greatest influence on my conduct as Town Supervisor
The date of this Webster Herald edition is July 1, 2020. For me, it marks the 1-year anniversary of my father's passing. I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about my father, Bob Flaherty, and the legacy he left. It might help to explain the manner in which I approach being Town Supervisor as it pertains to addressing both people, and the issues I come in contact with.
My dad was not a political person, although he was extremely involved in Irondequoit where he lived for over 55 years. He had an ability to look beyond Republican or Democrat and accept people for what was in their heart and their intentions. He backed Republican Supervisors in Irondequoit in the 1990s like my father-in-law Bill Dillon. However, he was very fond of Dave Seeley, the current Democratic Supervisor in Irondequoit. From my relationship with Dave, I think the fondness was reciprocated.
He was my main influence in the simple mantra of "work hard and tell the truth and things should work out". If you think about it.... laziness will be vetted out over time, as will lying, or being two-faced. But working hard and telling the truth will ultimately be respected by all. He saw it as foundational to trust. As to "trust", my dad approached people with a "blank canvas" and no preconceived bias, regardless of gender, age, race, or education. He believed and embodied the idea that you "get what you give" and he gave everyone respect immediately. I truly believe he detested the thought of anyone being disenfranchised and took extra efforts to make sure it did not happen on his watch. People saw it, experienced it, and loved him for it.
He worked hard.... he played hard. His family and friends were so important to him. We marveled at the "balls he kept in the air" even into his late 70's before he got sick. He was still working full time in the Insurance business, owned and managed real estate, and was omnipresent working and helping his adult children at their house projects. He was a reliable and a positive influence on any situation he was put into.
Maybe the most amazing thing was that he always was joking around to the point where you thought he still acted like a mischievous teenage boy even in his 70's. I saw first-hand when people mistook his congeniality for weakness, and that did NOT work out well for them. He felt that life was full of serious issues and stresses that had to be dealt with every day.... but he was going to go about tackling them all with a smile on his face, a joke, and a beer. He talked a lot which is something I definitely inherited from him!
He took a lot of ribbing as the "verbose Irishman". He did not mind the reputation as long as it was not a reputation of "he talked a lot but got nothing done". The man got a LOT done. He had two cents to his name when he married my mother in 1959. When he passed, he had amassed a small fortune and it was all the result of hard work, ethics, and being smart. His humble beginnings showed when he would go an extra five miles to buy gas for three cents less a gallon. His austerity was toward himself, however, and there was no one more generous and giving of his time, talent, and treasure than him.
I could write 10,000 more words, but I think you get the gist. So, thank you dad for the influence you had on me becoming who I am today. For the Webster community, when you see me doing my job as Supervisor, you now have a better perspective of where I come from as it pertains to dealing with people and issues. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 24, 2020:
Sidewalks going in on Ridge Road:
While campaigning in 2019, I heard several people say they wish we had more sidewalks in Webster. Some even said that the Town government was against installing sidewalks in Webster. One of my favorite lines is "don't let the facts get in the way of a good story". When I entered office in January 2020, I got first-hand knowledge that the facts on how the Town government was approaching sidewalks did not match the story. I immediately became aware of a 3+ year effort that the Town Board had been involved in to have sidewalks installed on Ridge Road, in the 1.5 miles between Five Mile Line Road and Rachel Drive in the Village. The "effort" was one of my first educations as Town Supervisor as to the process it takes to have sidewalks put in.
I am pleased to announce that the Town Board's efforts on this project long before I became Supervisor, and several other key Town of Webster personnel has finally culminated. In the next several months you will start to see the construction of these sidewalks. So why did it take 3+ years? If the Town Board wanted sidewalks on Ridge Road, couldn't they just wave their magic wand and make it happen? Well, unfortunately I am learning we don't have a magic wand as a Town Board, but man that would be cool if we did! Life would be a lot easier. What I found out was that the cost and the land use were the two stumbling blocks that made the process take over three years.
On the cost side, the $2 million+ project will be 75% - 80% funded by State and Federal grants. That grant process is long and arduous. Had the Town Board opted three years ago to bypass that grant application process, the sidewalks would be in by now. However, Webster taxpayers would have footed the whole $2 million bill instead of the $400 - 500,000 it will now cost. On the land use side, these sidewalks over a 1.5-mile swath will cross over lands owned by the Town, State, County, and private owners. Unfortunately, we could not just say "hey, we're putting in sidewalks so we're going to go through your land to do it and there is nothing you can do about it". The time and cost to obtain the rights to put those sidewalks on that land, was combined with a legal process of easements and rights-of-way, and I'll spare you all the boring details. Trust me, it is no easy task.
So have some patience the next few months as you traverse Ridge Road between Five Mile Line and Rachel Drive. Installation of the sidewalks may cause some traffic issues. Can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. But oh, will that omelet be nice once it is done! I for one look forward to being able to walk from Wegmans on Holt Road down Ridge Rd. to Town Hall on Hard Rd., and all the way to Five Mile Line Road on these new sidewalks. I am thankful for the efforts of previous Town Supervisor Ron Nesbitt and the Town Board members for "staying the course" on what was a difficult and challenging process the past three years. They brought $2+ million dollars of quality of life improvements to Webster and did so with the citizens paying for a fraction of the cost through their town taxes. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com.
June 17, 2020:
The "jewel" that is the Webster Rec Center
With Phase 3 going into effect in the Finger Lakes region on Friday June 12th, many of you may have had a chance to go to a restaurant for the first time in 3 months. Since Webster town government does not operate any restaurants, Phase 3 did not change much of how the town facilities were operating. However, with Phase 4 on the horizon most likely on Friday June 26th, plans are being put in place to reopen the Webster Rec Center.
First of all, if you have never visited the Webster Rec Center on Chiyoda Drive off Phillips Road, I strongly suggest you do in the near future as "the world continues to open back up" from COVID-19. The facility is much more of a Community center than anything else. There is a myriad of recreation activities to be done there including but not limited to basketball, pickleball, aerobic classes, and a nautilus type gym with treadmills and ellipticals. Also, the facility is where the town's Senior citizen activities are based out.
If you have a membership at a gym, you may have run into the frustration I have heard from so many during COVID 19 the past 3 months. That frustration is that it is bad enough you can't enter the gym to work out, but it is worse that the gym is still charging monthly membership fees during the shutdown. I am proud to say that the leadership at the Webster Rec Center immediately ceased charging monthly dues to gym members when it was shut down for COVID-19 on March 16th.
I met with Chris Bilow, our new Webster Parks and Rec Commissioner this past week to go over the details of reopening the Rec Center. Not surprisingly, Chris and his staff have an excellent plan. They are awaiting details from Phase 4 and any Governor executive order on the "details" of a gym so as to be COVID-19 safe. For those of you who are members of the gym aspect of the Rec center, by the time you read this article, you may have already heard from Chris and his staff on the details of reopening. For those of you who are not current members of the gym aspect of the Rec center, I invite you to tour the facility and consider becoming a member. Even if you are not interested in a gym membership, a tour of this truly magnificent facility is something you should plan to do. I think you'll find there is something there for everyone. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 10, 2020:
An informed Community is a Better Community
"Communication". Is there a word more overused today than communication? Whether in your personal or professional relationships, most people's biggest complaint is either a lack of communication or a feeling that what is being communicated to them is confusing. Also, most people when asked think they are good communicators, and it is other people they have personal and professional relationships with who are NOT.
Historically, it's interesting to ask the "Who, What, Where, How, When and Why" does the Town of Webster government communicate to the 15,000 households in the town... and conversely ask the same questions about the 15,000 households communicating to the Town of Webster government? Let's start with the latter.
Webster citizens can have a myriad of opportunities and reasons to communicate with the 10+ departments and 3-4 Boards associated with the town government. For the town departments These include but are not limited to; coming to town hall to pay their real estate taxes, apply for a building permit for a deck on their home, going to the Library to take out a book, going to the Rec center to exercise or for Senior events, etc..
For the various town boards, they include but are not limited to; participating in a public hearing, applying for a zoning variance with the Zoning board of appeals, Presenting a sketch plan to the Planning board, etc. From what I have gleaned in my first 5+ months as Supervisor, the means and reasons a citizen reaches out to Town Government departments and boards has not changed much in 50 years except for the onset of e-mail and websites. Simply said,.... most citizens reach out and communicate with the Webster town government when there is a service, they need that the town government supplies said service. This has led to a customer service philosophy at the town of "we'll provide the service when asked" (I.e. reactive).
Unfortunately, the means and reasons the Town government communicates to the 15,000 households has not changed much in the past 50 years too. Oh, don't get me wrong. Efforts have been made to improve this communication via websites, text or e-mail alerts citizens can sign up for, live televised, streamed, or taped board meetings, Facebook and Twitter to name a few. However, at the end of the day most likely only 15-20% of the households in Webster get our communication in a manner in which they absorb the message and it is valuable to them. One goal I have said to ALL department heads is that I'd like to see us move the needle to the point that in a year or two we feel like we have the means to communicate with ALL 15,000 households in town, and in such a manner in which the absorb the message and feel it is valuable to them. Foundational to this is changing the customer service philosophy to be one of "letting the citizen know of the services, so they can determine if they need or want them" (I.e. Proactive)
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, "an informed community is a better community". As always please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com.
June 3, 2020:
Walking a mile in a fellow human's shoes
In the first five months of being Town Supervisor, I have tried to keep the topics broached in this column isolated to "Webster-centric" ones. However, the events of the past week in Minneapolis and this past Saturday night in Rochester make me think it is worth branching out on this article's topic.
Race. What should be a simple thing in that we all are part of the human race, is far from it. Six Billion+ humans on the planet belong to this race. We ALL have heads, torsos, arms, and legs, etc. We are the SAME. However, over the thousands of years of evolution, and based on the geography/climate that various tribes of humans lived in, skin pigmentation differs among the human race. Now, other features are different among all of us such as height, weight, eye color, etc. but those differences don't separate us as the human race like skin pigmentation does.
So why is skin color such a divisive topic in the United States in 2020? Has it gotten better in the past 60 years since Dr. Martin Luther King so eloquently gave his "I have a Dream" speech? Ask those questions to 100 people and you'll get 100 different answers.
What I do know is that I am a 55-year-old white guy. As such, I have never walked in the shoes of a 55-year-old African American guy. I cannot say that I can relate to what the experiences of the African American Community are. What I can say is that, as the Town Supervisor and on a human level, I have compassion, empathy and understanding.
I feel blessed that from an early age I got a chance to go to school, play sports, and be friends with African Americans. I truly believe that experience formed my view of people and how to evaluate my experiences with them. There is a famous line in the movie Mississippi Burning by actress Frances McDormand... "you're not born with Prejudice, bigotry and racism. It is taught". How true that is! Put 20 babies on a desert island, 10 white and 10 black and raise them to the age of 18 with NO real emphasis on the color of their skin. Do you think they would differentiate, judge, or profile the others based on skin color? I highly doubt it.
Yet here we are in 2020. Whether you are 30 years old, or 80 years old reading this article, your experiences over the years have "taught" you how you feel about race. The best thing about being "taught" is that no matter how old you are, you should always be learning. If you are predisposed based on your experiences to profile someone on their skin color, I implore you to consider that "you've never walked a mile in their shoes". Opening your mind to that concept may just start the needle moving in the right direction on race relations in this country.
On a "Webster-centric" note....At the end of the day it is important to remember we are all one Webster community. We need to support and lift up our neighbors and value what each of us brings to this town. We have so many wonderful locally owned businesses that we want to see thrive, not destroyed. We have dedicated Police Officers putting their lives on the line daily to protect our community. Our Webster community is strongest when we work together, and it is my hope that we will not lose sight of that. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 27, 2020:
COVID 19 and Challenges to both the 2020 and 2021 Town budget
In early May, Paul Adams the Town Finance Director and I completed the 1st quarter "budget to actual" meetings with thirteen (13) Department Heads. The good news was that January-March 2020 did not manifest any major issues that would portend the overall calendar year 2020 budget being exceeded. In fact, budgeted sales tax revenue actually came in higher on the actual. The bad news.....the 2nd quarter (April- June) is where the true effect of COVID-19 will start to show. What will be the effect on lost revenue? I have to believe sales tax revenue will be down since New York on "pause" essentially shut down commerce. At the Parks and Recreation Department, membership fees for the gym at the Rec Center run at about $17,000 a month and they have ceased since March 20th.
How about additional expenses to the Town created by COVID-19? How do you quantify lost productivity from personnel sent home by State Executive orders that can't perform their jobs from home, but continue to be paid their regular full-time hourly or salary rate? Will we be challenged with paying overtime when they return due to the backlog of work?
Amidst all this uncertainty of the 2020 Calendar budget to actual, in June we will be starting the 2021 budget process. The process starts with each Department Head completing their initial "ask". If their department budget in 2020 was $1 million, their "ask" for 2021 may be the same $1 million. If that occurs with ALL of the departments, then we have the same budget in 2021 as we had in 2020 and would come in far below the 2% tax cap. However, what if each Department Head's initial "ask" is 20% more than their 2020 budget? For example, the $1 million budget for the department in 2020 is proposed to be $1.2 million in 2021. Well...if the Town Board agrees to all of their "asks", in aggregate the Town taxes would go from approx. $15 million collected in Real Estate taxes to $18 million. The tax rate per thousand would go from a little over $5 to over $6. A $200,000 assessed house would have their town taxes go from approx. $1,000 to $1,200.
Now, if I have not put you to sleep yet with all these numbers (LOL), there is little to no chance that the Town Board would ever approve a 20% increase year over year in Town taxes. The 2% tax cap per New York State gives us guidance that $15 million collected in Real estate taxes in 2020 should have approx. no more than a $300,000 increase in 2021 if you want to stay below the 2% cap. The Town Board has the right to approve a budget that exceeds the 2% cap, but there better be VERY good reasons for it, and I can assure you the process will give the public several chances to chime in.
Two (2) last things to leave you with as we venture into the 2021 budget process.....1. You may be scratching your head if you have a $200,000 assessed house from when I said your Town real estate taxes are $1,000. You know it's more like $6,000-7,000, but that includes School taxes, County taxes, fire district taxes, and possibly sewer, park and/or drainage district charges. 2. Budget increases really come down to three (3) expenses; Personnel, equipment, and facilities. Balancing the cost-benefit relationship of these expenses with the services provided the town citizens is always the goal. As always, please feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com. ENJOY THE SUNSHINE! We definitely deserve it after the past few months.
May 21, 2020:
Separating Fact from Fiction on Development
In the past few weeks, The Town of Webster Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals held their first meetings in over two months since COVID-19. I got involved with these initial "remote" meeting planning and production due to challenges of holding such meetings due to COVID-19. Simply said, these meetings are meant to be public, and COVID-19 has essentially ceased our ability to bring the public into the Town Board room, so we have had to put together a structure of teleconferencing and videotaping them. Also, we had to figure out how to do these meetings with several of the board members not in the room. Personally, I think the May 5th Planning Board meeting and May 12th Zoning Board of Appeals meeting went very well considering the two month layoff and navigating a remote schematic for the first time.
While helping in preparation for these meetings and watching them on Spectrum channel 1303 live, I could not help but think of the manner in which these boards operate in concert with other Town boards. Furthermore, I thought that probably less than 10% of the citizens in town actually understand what these boards do and/or how a proposed project's path to getting approved and "breaking ground" occurs. Truth be told, prior to my taking office in January 2020 as Town Supervisor, I was in that group of citizens who did not completely understand it! I'm hopeful that over the next few months we can put together a forum and/or tutorial for Webster citizens that better explains the path a proposed project must take to get to approval.
For now, I'd like to separate a few facts from fiction/perception that may be out there on development in Webster and how the various boards rule on it. FICTION: If a proposed project is on the Planning Board agenda as sketch review, it does not mean it will be approved and ultimately get built. In the past few weeks such a proposed project was on the Planning Board agenda and I got several calls/emails to my office outraged that we were going to allow it to be built. I was able to explain to these people that the proposed project had a LONG road ahead of it to ever get approved and built based on zoning issues, variances needed, etc. I further explained that if a developer wants to get on the Planning Board agenda for a sketch review of building the new Buffalo Bills 80,000 seat stadium in Webster, they are well within their rights to have their sketch reviewed by the Planning Board but they will never get approved for it. We try to counsel such developers to not get on the agenda when their project is a long shot based on zoning, variances, etc. but some developers want to still be heard. In such cases, the Planning Board may refer them to go to the Zoning Board of Appeals to get the 1, 2, 3+ variances their project would need and then come back to Planning. They may also refer them to the Town Board for zoning or special use permits before the Planning Board will approve. Bottom line....many of these proposed projects hit a brick wall and can't move forward due to a myriad of reasons.
FACT: The Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Town Board, and Conservation Board, along with Town department heads on the Project Review Committee (PRC) work in concert to make sure any proposed project has its T's crossed and I's dotted before approved, building permits are issued, and ground can be broken to start construction. I could write thousands more words describing this process, but I'll leave that to the forum/tutorial we plan on putting together for citizens in the future. One thing that I think is important to understand is that these boards and PRC have over 40 people on them in aggregate to make sure checks and balances are in place for responsible development based on current zoning, codes, etc.. Projects do NOT just get rubber stamped and in fact is quite the contrary. The amount of input from intelligent, varying expertise people is quite impressive. These board members have helped me immensely in getting up to speed on "how it all works" and I hope in the future we can give the citizens of Webster a forum/tutorial that helps all understand.
An informed community is a better community! As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 14, 2020:
Mask Distribution event shows the greatness of Webster
A smile can change your attitude for the better. Whether you are the one smiling, or someone smiles at you, a stressful situation can be disarmed with a simple smile. One of the unfortunate by-products of all of us wearing facial masks due to COVID 19 is that these smiles can't be seen. In such, an already stressful time for all of us is robbed of one of the simplest, but most effective ways to "calm nerves" and connect as people.
On Saturday, May 9th at the Webster Town Courthouse, 60,000 FREE masks were distributed out to Webster citizens. Town Employees and elected officials manned the event that brought almost 5,000 cars through the distribution lines between 10AM and 2PM. By the time you are reading this article, another similar distribution event would have occurred on Wednesday, May 13th between 10AM and 2PM at the Town courthouse.
The Saturday May 9th distribution event was one of the most unique experiences I have ever seen. The full spectrum of human nature was on display. The volunteers acted quickly and in an incredible team-oriented fashion to adapt traffic patterns when it was seen that we were going to be handling much more cars than anticipated. All of this while withstanding blizzard like conditions at times! However, the interaction we volunteers had with the people in the cars was what struck me the most and what I will remember. Oh sure, you had the negative side on human nature on display such as people complaining about being shorted 1 mask, or the masks being wet from the snow, etc. But the far majority of people were extremely grateful for us giving them free masks and doing it under less than ideal weather conditions.
Some of these people did not have masks on in their cars so I could see their smile. Those smiles energized me to forge on as I was getting fatigued. As I was wearing a mask, I wanted them to see my smile but initially was challenged to figure out how to convey it through the mask. About an hour into the event, a couple most likely in their 80's came through the line with masks on and said thank you and both at the same time "gave a double thumbs up gesture" to me. Yup... all 4 of their hands thumbs up in concert! That was all it took. They showed me how I could smile at people while having a mask on. The rest of the event, when I gave that thumbs up gesture, I got smiles from people in cars not wearing masks, and for the people wearing masks, often got a return thumbs up!
We're two months into this COVID 19 situation. I think we all know we will not magically return to life as we knew it anytime soon. We'll open back up in phases, and foundational to that opening up will be us wearing facial masks. Let's try to keep our connection as people and respect that all of us are experiencing unprecedented stresses. If we can't smile at each other to reduce that stress, maybe a thumbs up to each other will be a reasonable facsimile for the time being. We'll get through this! As always, if you want to reach me, please call 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com.
May 6, 2020:
A Saturday in the life
Saturday, May 2nd was shaping up to be a great day in the Flaherty household. With the weather looking to be in the 60's and sunny, I'm sure like all of you, we were excited to do some outdoor "work and fun". I like to take Saturday mornings between 6 AM and 10 AM to do catch up work on Town of Webster items. Over a few cups of coffee, I find that time before the kids get up to be one of my favorites of the week. Whether returning phone calls or e-mails, it is always therapeutic to "catch up" and know you'll be going into the next work week somewhat caught up.
If there is one thing I have learned over the years, you have to accept that your "plans" may be changed due to unforeseen events. Having seven children showed me that any plans you may have had for a day could be altered for a myriad of reasons. Seems like someone was always spraining an ankle or something that made me have to deviate from the day's plan. Also, having been the owner of a company for 25 years, things came up all the time that made you have to change your plan.
So on Saturday, May 2nd, after I had done my 6 AM to 10 AM catch-up, I had planned on number of work and play things to do including; volunteering at the Food Drive at Holy Trinity that had been coordinated by County Legislator Matt Terp, walking a few miles with my 81-year-old mother, and doing some projects with my two college age daughters who had just gotten home this past week.
Then, at about 10:30 AM I got a call from Art Petrone, Deputy Commissioner of Public Works, letting me know that the sewer plant had an issue that had resulted in 10 feet of waste water in a basement of one of the plant's buildings. The timing of such an event is never ideal but it was particularly interesting in that Art had presented to the Town Board on Thursday, April 30th the laundry list of things he thought needed work on at the sewer plant. He had a disclaimer in that presentation that "this is what I see on April 30th.... the list could increase as unforeseen events occur". Unfortunately, unforeseen events can occur when a facility starts to age. It is why the Town Board decided a few years ago to do a $12 million Phase 1 project at the sewer plant.
That project will be complete in the next few months. We are now looking at options as to entering into a Phase 2 project at the plant, or to do repairs as they manifest themselves. The Phase 2 option will most likely tie into whether the Village of Webster Board votes to keep their own sewer plant, or to pursue a regional plant with the Town. The grant and financing options vary greatly between two separate plants and one regional one. The repair option becomes more of a "read and react" as functions break down. The danger of that with a sewer plant is that "the flow can never stop".
I spent some time over at the plant on Saturday, May 2nd assessing the situation with the flooded basement. I was still able to deliver some food to the food drive, albeit not work at it, and I was still able to walk with my mom. My time at the sewer plant showed me the great teamwork in place there. Sewer plant employees, outside engineering firms and electricians converged on site to minimize the damage. Bottom line, the situation could have been a lot worse if not for the quick actions taken by this team. As I got a chance to talk to many of them, it became apparent to me that they too knew that "best laid plans can often be changed", and no use crying over spilt milk (or in this case, waste water). Gotta move fast and clean it up, whether it happens on a weekday at 1 PM or a weekend at 3 AM.
I'm glad I got my schedule changed on Saturday since it showed me what a great team we have in this town at the Sewer Department. The Town Board and I will continue to work with them to try and get the plant in a position to have less repairs based on aged items, while balancing fiscal responsibility to the citizens. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 29, 2020:
COVID-19 as we enter May 2020
It's hard to believe we are only in week 7 of COVID 19. It feels more like 7 months! So much of what has transpired since mid-March came so fast and furious. It challenged our normal time frames mentally and psychologically of hearing about change, processing it, and accepting and adapting to it. It has been analogous to the five stages of grief, but with the difference that you were dealing with all five stages at one time.
The past few weeks have settled us into the "new reality". This has come with a new dynamic too with two distinct ends of the spectrum of thought. Some feel that the shutdown measures of the government are too draconian for the number of cases and deaths that have occurred. They have taken to the streets in protest to "open back up immediately". On the other end of the spectrum, some feel that we should not open things back up to the way it was prior March 2020 for 2+ years. Search the internet for podcasts and articles and you will have your full on both ends of this spectrum of thought. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
New York "on pause" is currently through May 15th at the time I write this article. Governor Cuomo's executive orders that "shut down" the state were broad brush and painted Monroe County in the same light as New York City. As we all know New York city is the epicenter of COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths in the United States.... and Monroe County is very different demographically from New York City. We can armchair quarterback and second guess the Governor's broad brush shut down of the state all we want, but the dye is cast. We need to look beyond it now to the future and "how we will open back up".
The good news is that occurrences of the past two+ weeks portend that the opening up of New York State will be handled very differently than the broad brush close down. Random Antibody testing has shown that Upstate New York is less affected than New York City. The Governor has named Bob Duffy to head up the effort to assess how to open up Monroe County and contiguous 8 counties. Simply said... I'm hopeful that regions/counties in New York will be given the latitude to open back up at their discretion based on the COVID-19 results in their specific community. Two things on this... 1. I would assume the Governor will need to issue another executive order that articulates this county/region specific opening up latitude, and 2. You can rest assured, the opening up will not be all at once to return to prior March 2020 conditions. Such things as public building occupancy maximums, social distancing, and facial covering conditions will most likely be tied to a phased in opening up schematic. Stay tuned for more details as they arise. As always, feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com with any questions or comments. STAY POSITIVE WEBSTER! WE WILL PERSEVERE!
Supervisor’s Column for April 22, 2020:
The Challenges of Conducting Board meetings during COVID-19
One of the most important functions of Webster Town Government is to conduct various board meetings that are open for the public to attend, and be active in. COVID-19 has created challenges to these meetings being open to the public, and for the public to be active in them. I'm proud to say that the Board chairmen, Communications Director, and IT Director have met that challenge "head on" and have come up with a manner in which to hold these meetings in May 2020 to maintain the integrity of the letter and spirit of open meeting laws
To understand the challenge faced and its remedy, I would like to first describe the various board meetings. There are town board meetings of the supervisor and 4 elected council members. These include regular town board meetings the 1st and 3rd Thursday of every month at 7:30 PM, and Town board workshop meetings the 2nd and 4th Thursday of every month at 5:30 PM. Regular meetings are where resolutions, ordinances and/or laws would be voted on. Public hearings occur at these too. Workshops are less formal and where discussion occurs between board members and public on issues important to the town. Planning Board meetings are held the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month, and Zoning Board of Appeals meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month.
All of these board meetings are conducted at the Town Board meeting room in the Court building across the parking lot from town hall. Except for the Town Board workshops, they are all televised live to be viewed by the public on channel 1303 on Spectrum and on various streaming services. All of these board meetings agendas are posted in the Webster Herald and on various town government websites and social media platforms. Simply said... all these board meetings are open to the public and the public should be made aware of them and what agenda items they may be interested in are going to be discussed.
The biggest challenge COVID-19 posed to these board meetings was the potential of having to close them down to the public to attend in person. In late March and for the better part of April, the town addressed that challenge by just canceling all board meetings except for the regular town board meeting on April 2nd and 16th. Even on those two regular board meetings, COVID-19 posed challenges of social distancing the board members in the room along with other department heads. This was remedied with some creative positioning of tables in the room to keep us all at least 15 feet apart, and teleconferencing of some board members from their homes. We also used some call in and e-mail in techniques to implore public interaction in the meeting.
On Thursday April 23rd at 5:30 PM, the Town Board workshop will be conducted for the first time March 12th. On Tuesday May 5th, the Planning Board will meet for the first time since March, and on Tuesday May 12th the Zoning Board of Appeals will meet for the first time since March. These meetings will be conducted with a hybrid of board members in the room and ones teleconferencing and/or video conferencing in. These meetings will be conducted with a mindfulness of the letter of the law and spirit of public interaction. in such, means will be made available for the public to do so. As always, if you have any questions for me please call 585-872-7068 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. STAY UPBEAT WEBSTER! WE'RE GONNA GET THROUGH THIS.
April 16, 2020:
The "Art" of Communication and keeping people informed in 2020
When it comes to "means of communicating", society has changed a lot in the past 35 years since I got out of college. I remember my awe when I first saw a fax machine send a paper memo from the office I worked at in the late 1980's in Rochester to another office 3,000 miles away in California and print it out there within minutes. Prior to the fax machine, such a written communication would have had to be USPS mailed and received 3-4 days later.
In 2020, the fax machine is a dinosaur, and if you still use one, you are often looked upon as a dinosaur yourself! During my 30+ years in private business, I became a student of the "art of communication". It's an art, not a science since you can never truly master it, and it is always changing. The two constants are that there is a party who is looking to communicate a message, and a party that the message is intended for. I'll refer to these 2 parties as the communicator and the intended recipient.
As a private company CEO, I saw the intended recipients as two distinct categories; 1. the employees of the company, and 2. the customers and service providers of the company. The message content which the company as the communicator sent to the intended recipient categories was often very different. However, the means by which we communicated was not. I found that there were two genres of these means; 1. overt, and 2. passive.
Overt was "sending the message out" such as USPS mail, phone call, text, or e-mailing the intended recipient. Passive was "putting the message out there" and the intended recipient could look at it at their leisure 24/7 such as Facebook, or a website. When possible, we would try to make sure the message was sent out or on ALL overt and passive means of communication. That way, the intended recipient would have the best chance of seeing it, and actually absorbing the message based on what their personal preference was on means of consuming their news. I think this last point is critical within the "art of communication". The communicator often makes the mistake that the means that THEY like to consume their news is the way the intended recipient does too. Simply said.... just because I may like Facebook doesn't mean the 45,000 Webster citizens in 15,000 residences in town do too. It would be a huge mistake to tie the town government's whole communication structure to its citizens (I.e. intended recipients) to Facebook if only 1,500 of the 15,000 residences are on Facebook. We'd be communicating to 10% of the households if we did that.
One of my goals as Town Supervisor is to maximize the overt and passive communication means that the town government utilizes to communicate with its employees and its citizens. An informed staff is a better organization, especially if ALL staff get the same message at the same time. In that same spirit, an informed community is a better community and most likely a more involved community. I'd love to see public meetings in the future have 500 people attend and need an auditorium, instead of having 10 citizens attend in our town board room.
Within this effort, we are in the process of revamping the communication structure to the 230+ employees of the town of Webster. We are also starting the process of trying to communicate to 15,000 households in Webster. COVID-19 has shown us that we most likely hit less than 20% of those households currently on town communications through newspaper, website, Facebook, signed up for text or e-mail alerts, etc. The strategy to hit all 15,000 households will be multi tentacled and need cooperation of ALL departments at the town of Webster, and input from its citizens. If you'd like to hear more on how we tentatively plan to accomplish this, feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com or call me at 585-872-7068. STAY HOME AND STAY HEALTHY WEBSTER!!!!!
Supervisor’s Column April 8, 2020:
The Town of Webster 2020 budget and COVID-19
There is no doubt that when the Town Board and the department heads collaborated in mid-2019 on the Town's 2020 budget, they never imagined the effect COVID-19 would have on it. They used the time tested and traditional means to come up with the budget such as historical department expenses, and the 2% tax cap. Simply said.... the board and department heads did a great job of producing a final 2020 budget that balanced the departmental needs to perform their services, and the fiscal responsibility the town taxpayers should expect from the board members. That is not an easily accomplished balance as the town department heads often are challenged with the same dilemma, I encountered in 30 years in private industry; "American business in the last half century is expecting more, but with less resources". Those resources can be personnel, newer equipment, and/or newer facilities.
Between March 13th and April 7th, I convened the department heads in Webster eight times to give COVID-19 updates so they could go back to their staff with the information. Initially these update meetings were all in person, but as time has gone on with the social distancing mandated by COVID-19, they became more teleconferences. Also, the first few weeks were "changing by the minute" as to what we were presenting to the department heads due to daily federal, state, and County Executive orders. As things smoothed out the past 2 weeks and we entered our "new norm", I presented to the department heads the 3 main things we will be focusing on in the April 6 - May 1st time-frame; 1. Safety of our employees, 2. Maximizing Productivity, and 3. Researching and pursuing every means of reimbursement possible.
The safety aspect is based on the fact that more than half of the town’s 230+ full time and year-round part-time employees are out of work right now due to mandated facility closures and non-essential staff designations being told to go home. The staff that is still working we want to BE and FEEL as safe as possible. I capitalized "be and feel" as they can mean different things to an employee in the Sewer department versus one in the Assessment office. We are trying to respect that. On productivity, we are trying to "think outside the box" and try to make lemonade out of the lemons that COVID-19 has dealt us. The taxpayers deserve to have this productivity maximized so that when we return to full staff and all facilities open, we don't enter a phase of heavy overtime to catch up. On reimbursements, the 2020 budget to actual in the town will ultimately come down to how successful at this we are. We have people NOT working who are getting paid. We have budgeted revenues in 2020 such as rec center fees, and sales tax that will be significantly less than what we anticipated. No doubt that the 2020 budget will not balance to the actuals on revenues and expenses due to the 1, 2, 3+ months we are affected by the COVID-19 shutdown. I'm confident that between the Finance Director, Town Attorney, and other department heads that we will maximize these reimbursements from federal, state and/or county agencies so as to minimize or eliminate the effect on the 2020 budget and the taxpayers of the town. Hopefully, upon execution of that... we'll be entering the 2021 budget development season!
As always feel free to call me at 585-872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org STAY SAFE AND HEALTHY WEBSTER!!!
Common Sense and Enforcement during COVID-19
I wanted to do this week's article on something totally independent of the COVID-19 situation we are currently in. However, no matter how hard I tried to come up with a pertinent topic, the reality is that COVID-19 is the dominant influence in all of our lives at this point. My article in last weeks' edition was already inaccurate by the time the Webster Herald hit the newsstands and people read it. I have done a follow up to that article that you can find on the Webster Herald Facebook page and Webster town government website.
As of the April 1 edition of the Webster Herald, The COVID-19 situation has been prevalent in all our lives for about 3 weeks. Doesn't it feel like 3 years!!!!!! Some milestones have been the week of March 9-13 when sports leagues shut down, March 16-20 when facilities like the Library and Rec center in Webster were shut down by government mandate, and March 23-27th when employees and businesses had to be quantified as "essential or non essential" to determine who can stay open and who has to work from home. Wow!!! That was quite a whirlwind of 3 weeks! For those of you familiar with the 5 stages of grief, we as a community had to process almost ALL the stages at once in parallel.
The week of March 30-April 3rd seems to be where the community is starting to enter the "acceptance" stage of COVID-19. The stage where we understand that life will not be normal for at least the next 2-6 weeks. Social distancing is a term none of us had heard of 1-month ago and now it dominates our day to day. This acceptance stage has brought with it an interesting dynamic to citizens contacting Webster Town government officials such as me.
The contact has been about questions, comments, and concerns about social distancing they have seen or heard about at places like the parks, and certain stores in town. Often within the contact, they have asked "What is the town of Webster government going to do about it?" Essentially this means they are asking about enforcement. All of these contacts have validity, but the COVID-19 situation has created government mandates so fast that the mandate really never considered the subjectivity of it.
A store may be considered "essential" within these government mandates and thus is allowed to be open, but what about the "non essential" items the store sells? Should the store be allowed to sell them? Should a person leave their house to go to that store to buy non essential items? What is a non essential item? Should the police be called, and if so, what enforcement would they legally be doing? How should they dispense out this enforcement when the court system has been shut down by mandate until April 30th? Ask these questions to 100 people and you may get a 100 different answers.
The problem is that much of the COVID-19 government mandates depend on individual citizen common sense to be carried out since the enforcement in many ways has not been clarified. As we know, common sense is a subjective thing. My 14-year old son who is a freshman in high school is a great kid, but his common sense is different from mine at 55 years old.
In conclusion, The Town of Webster government will trumpet loud that social distancing is so important during this COVID-19 situation to assure we "flatten the curve". However, there is something my parents taught me long ago..... I can only control my actions. How other people act is on them and should not have an influence on how I conduct myself. I hope that the majority of Webster citizens got this same lesson from their parents and practice it at this most critical of time.
Follow up to Supervisors Corner article in Wednesday March 25, 2020 Webster Herald
The news cycle in 2020 is "fast-paced." Daily newspapers like the Democrat and Chronicle often have articles that by the time the reader gets the paper, the articles are old news. COVID-19 has exacerbated that. County, state and federal mandates, executive orders, and stimulus packages are coming so fast and furious, that news is now changing by the minute. That is very challenging for a daily newspaper, but it is exponentially more challenging for a weekly paper like the Webster Herald.
I have gotten a lot of calls, text, and e-mails, and seen a lot of social media posts related to my "Supervisor's Corner" article that was in the Webster Herald's Wednesday, March 25 edition. The reality is that I wrote that article later in the day on Friday, March 20 so as to meet deadlines of printing the weekly paper. By the time it was published and people actually read it... 6-7 days had passed since I wrote it. Frankly, the number and frequency of mandates, executive orders, and unemployment changes per the stimulus package that had come in since March 20 had rendered most of the decisions articulated in that article moot! Simply said... the decision-making process was taken out of my hands by a "higher power" in the form of county, state or federal government.
I'm writing this follow-up to that article on Saturday, March 28 at 9 a.m. over a cup of coffee at my house. Therefore, if you are reading this 1 hour, 1 day, or 1 week from now, there may have been several new "twists and turns" within COVID-19 per county, state, and federal mandates. The one thing that was not rendered moot in the last 7-10 days by county, state, and/or federal mandate were the two (2) following foundational principles to the initial decision to NOT pay people who were NOT working:
1. Failure is not an option: There is a scene in the movie Apollo 13 where Ed Harris's character comes into a conference room in Houston's NASA headquarters and drops a bunch of "junk" on the table and essentially says to the 10 engineers in the room, "You need to make this into a contraption the astronauts need so they can get back to earth." The engineers initial reaction is "can't be done." The Ed Harris character replies by saying failure is not an option, so change your paradigm from CAN'T to "How can we". The result was the engineers figured out a way, made the contraption from the junk, and the astronauts got home. The parallel to the Town of Webster was that I wanted the 15 department heads to have a "How can we" attitude to figuring out jobs our employees could do as of March 23 that would benefit the Town of Webster today and in the future. This was to be done even if those jobs had to be done from their home and were outside the normal scope of what the employee did. Those department heads were more likely to "find a way" than to just accept that Governor Cuomo's 100% non-essential mandate and/or other mandates that closed facilities meant that their employees would be home NOT working and getting paid to NOT work. I feel that "challenge" to them was met and I'm proud of what the department heads have accomplished in this effort with the help of the town's IT department. I truly believe more of Webster town employees are home working due to these efforts than any other town in Monroe County.
2. Work is cathartic to the employee: Maybe I just come from a different era, but I always felt that working gave a sense of pride for people and was "good for the soul" to take the person's mind off of hard times they may be encountering. COVID-19 is hard times for sure. I felt that the mental health of the town's employees was improved if we could find ways to have them work, and do so in a manner that would make them feel they were contributing to the greater good of the Town of Webster today and in the future. Statistics show that people out of work are more likely to be depressed. Couple that with the stresses of COVID-19 and it could be a real bad result for "idle time people." I'm proud of the efforts of the department heads and the 230+ town employees that are trying everything in their power to work.
I'd like to think that we have tried to be sensitive to the specific individual situations of our employees within this overall desire to "have them working." We want our employees and their families first and foremost to be safe. If they, one of their family members, or someone they caretake for is at high risk if they contract COVID-19, we are trying to be respectful to that.
As always, please feel free to call me at (585) 872-7068 or e-mail me at email@example.com with any questions, comments, or concerns you may have. STAY WELL, WEBSTER!
March 25, 2020: Leadership and Decision Making during turbulent times
The week of March 16-20 was challenging to all of us within this COVID-19 situation. Fear and anxiety ran rampant and threatens to be a bigger problem than people actually contracting COVID-19. Some feared getting COVID-19. Some feared their loved ones who had compromised immune systems and/or respiratory issues getting it. Some feared the financial ramifications of lost income from the private business they own or work getting shut down.
One of the bigger challenges to me as Town Supervisor in making decisions for the 15 departments and 230+ Town of Webster employees was the quickly changing landscape of the “rules of engagement”. One day Governor Cuomo mandates that 50% of non-essential staff needs to be out of the facility they work out of and positioned to work from home... then two days later, it was 75%... and finally, on Friday, March 20, it ended at 100%.
At my private business I owned for 25 years, we were built to work remotely. Unfortunately, the Town of Webster government is the 180-degree opposite and is built to NOT work from outside the facility out of which you work. This made Governor Cuomo’s mandates to “get them out of the office and working from home” exponentially more challenging. The IT staff at the town did an amazing job getting as many employees able to work from home by Monday, March 23 as possible.
Another challenge to this was the potential that Webster town employees may end up being home, NOT working, and getting paid their normal salary/hourly wages. This weighed on me. I knew that many of the 45,000 citizens in Webster were hurting financially from the business they owned or worked for closing. It did not sit well with me that these same hurting citizens had paid real estate taxes to the Town of Webster and now those tax dollars were being used to pay town employees who were not working. Some said to me, “The payroll is in the budget, so what is the big deal?” Depending on how you do the math, the town annual budget is between $25 and $30 million, of which approx. $15 million is collected from real estate taxes. The annual aggregate payroll to all town employees is almost $15 million, so to me it IS a big deal if employees are getting paid to not work. Once they come back to work in 2, 3, 4, etc. weeks, there will be a backlog of work and we’ll have to pay overtime, which will just further hit the taxpayers in the 2021 budget or from the general fund balance. It was not an easy decision, but leading means you have to make tough decisions and sometimes you will not know if they are the right or wrong decisions for a long time.
The decision was ultimately made to not pay town employees who were home and not working. It was made knowing 18 other towns in Monroe County did NOT make that decision and are “paying all their employees even if they are home not working”. It was made with the town board being split on this concept, but with the understanding and respect of even the town board members against it. It was made being mindful of factors including but not limited to full-time versus part-time status, unions, and the current state of emergency we’re in at the state and county level. It was made while collaborating with the department heads to find ways to have these employees WORK so they can get paid as of Monday, March 23, even if the job we come up with for them during this COVID-19 situation is NOT what they normally do. As long as the job they will be doing will benefit the town and its citizens today and in the future, I can get behind it. It was made knowing I could NOT go in front of the 45,000 citizens of Webster and say with a straight face, “We’re all in this together...” if the facts were we were not and private company citizens were not getting paid to be home not working... but Town of Webster employees were.
People’s opinion on this decision will vary. Some will think it is great while others will think I am the devil incarnate. If I had my druthers, all decisions made by the town board and/or me would have 100% consensus, but that will never happen and people in leadership positions need to be cognizant of that. However, I hope that people in leadership positions make measured and pragmatic decisions based on a moral compass and the good of the whole community.
In closing, I heard a story this past week about Cathie Thomas, the Webster town supervisor 20 years ago. It essentially was that she was counseled on a decision she was about to make that it would cost her votes and she replied, “I don’t make decisions based on whether it gets me or costs me votes. I make decisions that are good for the community as a whole.” I think I would like Ms. Thomas and hope I get to meet her someday.
March 19, 2020: Multi-faceted Approach to Communication:
As we enter into uncharted territory with the Covid-19 virus, communication with our residents becomes vitally important. Residents can find the latest Town and County updates, via the following media platforms:
On the Town Website: ci.webster.ny.us
- On the main page, there are blue tabs on the right side that can direct you to the following resources:
COVID-19 Town Updates: ci.webster.ny.us/561/COVID-19-Updates
- Here residents will find the latest information from the Town regarding services and facilities, along with updates from the Monroe County Dept. of Health and the CDC.
NOTIFY ME: ci.webster.ny.us/list.aspx
- Here residents can sign up for direct notifications to your email and/or phone via our “Notify Me” system. We recommend residents sign up for “Emergency Alerts” and “All Town-Wide News & Updates”.
All of the latest Town and County notifications will also be posted on our social media pages:
We will continue to provide timely updates to residents and encourage you to sign up for notifications and follow our social media pages. If you have any suggestions for additional modes of communication, please feel free to contact me at: 585-872-7068 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 11, 2020:
Webster Library in 2020
One of the treasures we have here in Webster is our public library. If you have not visited it lately, I strongly suggest you do soon. It is in the middle of town on Hard Road, south of Route 104 and north of Ridge Rd. It has approx. 45,000 square foot of space to house books, meeting rooms and other special items.
Being a public library, you can take out books and other materials at NO cost/rental fee as long as you have a library card as a member. The only cost you might incur is a late fee if you bring back the book after the due date. I know personally I paid a lot of those in my younger days!
Something I have learned in the past few months is that the library has "gone digital" in much the same way as the rest of the world. This transition has its pros and cons, both today and in the future. Digital books that you can take out and read on your Kindle or tablet are starting to grow in proportion to hardcover and paperback books that people take out. If that trend continues, and there is nothing that portends it won't, the number of hardcopy and paperback books the library will have to buy annually and store on shelves will decrease. In such, it is not hard to imagine that in 10+ years the library will need far less space than its current 45,000 square feet. Less space will mean either less rent or building ownership cost.
However, the cost of hardcover/paperback books versus digital in 2020 is surprisingly different to the point it could be concerning in years to come, with regards to the economics of funding a public library from municipality tax money. Currently in 2020, the publishers are charging the library approximately $18 to buy a new hardcover or paperback book that will sit on the library shelves for years to come, and potentially be taken out by an infinite amount of people to enjoy. Conversely, the publishers are charging the library approximately $65 for digital books. Worse yet, the library does not OWN that digital book. It is essentially renting it, as it can only be taken out 24 times by the public. Therefore, if the book is popular, the library may need to "rent it" 3 or 4 times at an aggregate $200+ to meet the demand of its members.
The publishers will sell these digital books to individuals and bookstores for significantly less than the $65 charged to a public library. They also govern the supply of the books they will rent to public libraries for what I can only assume is to make sure they have a market of individuals and bookstores to sell to. I appreciate that publishers are "for profit" businesses, but this has a feel of subsidizing their profits through government monies since Public libraries are funded by municipal tax dollars.
March 5, 2020:
On Thursday February 27th at 7PM, the Town of Webster hosted an informational meeting at Webster Thomas. This open to the public meeting was to give updates on Lake Ontario and Irondequoit bay water levels. The updates centered on 3 governmental agencies; 1. Federal with the International Joint Commission (IJC) , 2 The state of New York and REDI grants obtained by the town of webster for resiliency at the Sandbar, and 3. The Town of Webster and what they did in 2017 and 2019 to assist property owners on the water, and what lessons were learned from those years that we will use to assist better in 2020. The meeting had over 200 people in attendance and was advertised by a combination of USPS 1st class mailed invites to people who own property in Webster on the water, publication in the Webster Herald, and various town websites and social media sites
The meeting was purposely structured to have less than 30 minutes on formal presentation and give an hour or more for attendee questions and comments. That structure was executed flawlessly as the meeting went slightly over 90 minutes and less than 30 of those minutes were in formal presentation with powerpoint slides, and over 60 minutes were attendee questions/comments. We tried to assemble a panel of people from the state, county, and town that would be best suited to answer the specificity of the questions from the attendees. The meeting was not televised live, but taped and is now on the Town Website should anyone want to view it in the future.
Two(2) final comments on this February 27th meeting; 1.The IJC update given at this meeting has already proven to be dated. In the past few days, a bill has been entered in the United states congress that if it becomes a law, would give citizens who own waterfront property the ability to sue the IJC for the damages they have incurred. 2. One of the central themes of the meeting was VOLUNTEERISM. In the coming months there will be opportunities for groups and individuals to volunteer their time to the efforts of placing sandbags and other resiliency items on properties that will be potentially affected by high water levels in 2020. We envision these efforts would start in Mid April, but factors such as weather will go into that. I will be reaching out to various webster civic groups to see if they would be interested in helping. Individuals can go to the town of webster website for more info on this if they are interested in volunteering. The issues that these property owners have with the IJC and the State of New York are things that I plan on advocating for as the Webster Town Supervisor. However, in my opinion the best deployment of time and resources in the next few months for these property owners is to galvanize the community in helping them. That's what good neighbors do.
Finally, I'd like to say this.......This "open to the public" forum is something I would like to do more of in the coming months/years on a variety of topics/issues that affect Webster citizens. . Venues like the webster thomas and webster Schroeder auditoriums assure that if attendance is 200+, we can accommodate with no problem. Frankly, the "more the merrier" if you ask me!! An involved community is a better community. The webster town government is NOT the answer to solving all that is wrong in the world. However, I think it can be utilized to bring people together in town for. Stay tuned for more of these "open to the public forums" and I look forward to a robust attendance
February 27, 2020:
The old adage goes that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. Where death is pretty simple to define, taxes are not. That is because taxes come in so many different formats including but not limited to Federal income, State income, sales, and of course Real Estate. In Webster, property owners pay 3 different real estate taxes; School, County, and Town, and a 4th if you are in the village. To add to the mix, you have fire district fees, and sewer fees to name a few that really are tantamount to taxes.
Of all of the things I have learned about Real Estate taxes in my first 2 months on the job, the most confusing aspect to me has been the STAR program. STAR is an acronym for School Tax Relief. It is a program started in New York State several years ago as an attempt to give Homeowners some relief from their annual School taxes. Seems simple enough. However, there are two different options where you can benefit from STAR; exemption and registration, and a homeowner can only enjoy one of them
The Exemption option utilizes a maximum household income as a qualifier. Initially if your income was under $500,000 annually, you qualified. A few years ago, the New York State budget lowered the income qualification to $250,000. The current New York State budget being proposed for adoption in April 2020 has in its draft an additional lowering to $200,000 annual income max to qualify. These reductions in maximum household income limits to qualify reduce the number of homeowners who qualify for this STAR option. How does a homeowner save on this option? Ultimately it reduces the homeowner's school taxes by giving a reduction to their house's assessed value. For example, if the house is assessed for $200,000 for county and town taxes, it may be lowered to $180,000 for the calculation of school taxes. The homeowner's benefit is the difference in school taxes between what it would have been at a $200,000 assessment, and the lowered $180,000 assessment.
The Registration option ostensibly is simpler in that the homeowner gets a check from New York State that is essentially a partial refund of the school taxes they paid. It is approximately equal to the same savings offered by the exemption. How "simpler" it actually is? Hard to say. The reduction of the income limit on the Exemption option over the years has moved people into the Registration option, and it appears New York State wants to do that. Is that good for the homeowner? Hard to say as each homeowner's situation can be unique as to their assessed value and annual income. In conclusion, one thing is for certain (besides death and taxes).... as a homeowner, just when you figure out all this STAR stuff, you may have to turn your attention to other potential exemptions you may have including but not limited to veteran, age, etc.
February 20, 2020:
Last week, I got the opportunity to drive "shotgun" for an hour and half in one of the town of Webster's plow trucks. No matter how much I pleaded with Joe Herbst, Webster's Highway Superintendent, he would not let me drive. For that, all Webster citizens owe a thank you to Joe. The experience was "eye opening" to say the least. I got a perspective of what these talented plow truck drivers have to navigate within the effort to keep our roads clear of snow.
I drove with Tony on a sub division route. At some point in the future I hope to do a main road route. Some things I learned about Webster sub divisions is that there are currently 271 lane miles that need to be plowed. Within these 271 miles, there are 194 cul de sacs. Each cul de sac accounts for 0.2 lane miles. Therefore there are approx. 39 lane miles of cul de sacs out of the total 271 lane miles in the sub divisions or about 15%. Now here is the kicker.... the cul de sacs take about 50% of the time to make one plow run on all 271 lane miles in the sub divisions. Joe Herbst wants to be able to do one plow run of the sub divisions FASTER than his crew currently does it. If they do it faster, it saves the town money, makes the roads clear of snow quicker, and assures our drivers are not overworked. So how do we achieve the goal of doing a plow run faster? To me, the answer is one of two things; 1. find more efficient ways to plow when factoring in the cul de sac challenge, or 2. "Throw money at the problem" and buy more plow trucks, hire more plow drivers, etc.
Bottom line...… I don't like the answer of "throw more money at it". I did not like it as CEO in private industry and I certainly don't like it as Town Supervisor with the fiduciary responsibility to safeguard town funds and try to keep taxes low to its citizens. I feel trying to find ways to become more efficient is ALWAYS the first thing we should look at. I used the plowing example and the cul de sac challenge because in my first 50 days in office, I have seen several such challenges in almost ALL of the Town government departments where "Throw money at it" versus become more efficient needs to be assessed. I feel like we always need to exhaust strategies to become more efficient before resorting to spending money. Luckily, I have experienced town department heads who share in this philosophy. They understand that "throwing more money at the challenge" is not the first option, and often many not be an option at all. Webster citizens can be assured, the department heads and I are aligned in our efforts to improve services to the town while not spending more money while doing it if the opportunity for increased efficiency can be found.
February 12, 2020:
One of the main things I have been introduced to in my first 6+ weeks as Supervisor is the structure of the Webster Village government and the services they provide to approx. 6,000 village residents. Within that structure, there is a unique relationship with Webster Town government and the services the town provides to the approx. 46,000 residents. To me, the "uniqueness" is 3-fold;
The first is that The 6,000 village residents are included in the 46,000 town residents. In such, many services provided by the town are provided to village residents. In such, when Town government is discerning decisions that will be voted on by the town board, the village residents will most likely be affected by those decisions as they are town citizens too
The second is that when the Village government is discerning decisions that will be voted on by the village board, the 6,000 village residents no doubt will be affected by those decisions, but the 40,000 citizens of the town NOT living in the village most likely will not "directly" be affected.... but may have some "indirect" effect.
The third is that on paper what makes the MOST sense for the 46,000 citizens of Webster is that the Town and Village governments should work as collaboratively and harmoniously as possible for the good of the WHOLE community, while navigating the challenge that the two governments operate independently of each other. From the papertrails I have reviewed on several topics and stories I have been told by both town and village officials and citizens..... the history of the town and village has NOT always gone as collaboratively and harmonious as the ideal would have it. Perceptions become reality in people's minds, even if the fact pattern does not support those perceptions
Over the next 2-3 months, the 46,000 citizens of Webster today, and 20+ years from now will be directly affected by the town and and village government's decision on Sewers in this community. Simply said.... the Village government will vote on whether to continue on with their own sewer plant, or whether to join with the town on a regional/consolidate sewer plant. Mayor Byerts, Deputy Mayor Ippolito, Deputy Supervisor Cataldi and myself have been meeting the past month within the effort to work collaboratively and harmoniously for the good of the whole community on this issue. My goal in this process is to make sure the town and village have the facts on the dollars and cents of the 2 options the village government will ultimately vote on. As we progress in this process, we will "increase to number of people" in these meetings beyond the 4 of us. Already we have met with engineering firms who have conducted studies at town and village expense in the past 2-3 years so that we could get an understanding and agreement on the dollars and cents they came up with from their paid for studies. Our next endeavor will be to meet with the DEC and the State grant and financing agency to get facts on what the 2 options would mean to them. By March, The Mayor, deputy mayor, deputy supervisor and me need to determine how many more people to expand these meetings to. Since the village government is making the vote, Deputy Supervisor Cataldi and I will defer a lot of that decision to Mayor Byerts and Deputy Mayor Ippolito as to how many of the 6,000 village citizens should be included in this vetting and discernment process.
In summary, I am an accountant by trade so I am biased. almost 100% of the time, consolidation makes more dollars and cents sense today and 20 years from now than 2 separate entities. However, I am keeping an open mind to the facts as them come in from engineers, DEC, state finance and grant agencies etc. Also, even though I am new to this process, I am sensitive to the NON dollars and cents aspect to this decision by village government that may influence the decision. I do have trust in the Village government that they will make a fiduciary decision based on the present and future of the community and not on what has happened in the past.
February 5, 2020:
I'm a self proclaimed "data junky". I went to college for Accounting and then was in some form of a financial business for the past 30+ years. In such, I came to depend on data as both a) being facts and b) thus being foundational to decision making. Data can also be misleading if not looked at from all sides. For example, saying that you attended 100% of the board meetings this year when there has only been one meeting is not really statistically relevant.
With the spirit of data in mind, I'd like to tell you some of the things I have learned the past year campaigning and now being in the Supervisor position about our great town of Webster! The town is 35 square miles and has approx. 45,000 people. Therefore there is approx. 1,300 people per square mile. For a point of comparison, Irondequoit has 51,000 people and is 17 square miles or approx. 3,000 people per square mile. There are 31,000 registered voters. Approx. 1/3 of them are registered Republican, 1/3 Democrat and 1/3 unaffiliated or other party. 13,000 people voted in the November 2019 election or approx. 42% of all registered voters actually voted. I'd like to think that the early voting opportunities now available to webster residents will increase voter participation in 2020 and beyond. I think we all can agree that maximizing voter participation is a good thing. Hard for me to hear a citizen complain about something and then find out they did not vote.
I was surprised to find out that 76% of the November 2019 13,000 voters were over 50 years old. My surprise comes from the fact that there are approx 8,500 students in the Webster school system and about 6,500 live in Webster. I have not done a deep dive on this, but I felt it safe to assume that the majority of these 6,500 student's parents are UNDER 50 years old. I sure hope they vote!
The 2020 town annual budget is approx. $30 million. That's the money we have to provide the services to the 45,000 townspeople such as sewers, highway department, etc. Of that, approx. $30 million, half comes from real estate taxes, and the other half from federal, state, county monies, other taxes such as sales, mortgage, and fees. The approx. $15 million collected in taxes is spread over an aggregate assessment of $3 billion on 17,000 tax parcels of which approx. 12,000 are people's residences. The simple math of $15 million taxes needed from $3 billion in aggregate assessment means about $5 per thousand. So, if your house is assessed for $200,000, the town portion of your real estate tax bill is about $1,000.
There are a lot more data points I have picked up in these past few months, but I'll conclude at this point before I have you all fall asleep from reading this. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have on the data points I presented in this article
January 29, 2020:
One of the things I truly believe in is that "you are part of the problem or part of the solution". I used to tell the staff at my company that there was no talent in pointing out the problem, but that talent lies in proposing some solutions to the problem. WIth that in mind, I have been blown away by home many boards, committees, associations and clubs there are in Webster. The people on these boards and committees are giving their time, talent, and treasure to several causes. They by definition are "part of the solution". I would welcome getting a chance to meet all of these organizations. It gives me the chance to learn more about their mission and it gives them a chance to query me on things important to them to see where we match up.
The more involved the citizens are in a community, the better the community. Involvement in various organizations usually results in participants understanding that facts drive good decision making, and opinion drawing. They tend to be more understanding of other organization's challenges based on what they have experienced with their own, and less apt to just blindly accept as unequivocal truth a rumor they heard. The social media society we live in has wonderful aspects to it in the access to information we now all have. One of the unfortunate by products of this is that anyone can be a "keyboard, faceless warrior/troll" and put rumor and statements out to the world that are not based in fact and have them accepted by many as fact. Before social media, such people either were not heard, or if heard it was by a few people at the corner bar or diner and most likely the person was not take that seriously. Now that person's vitriol can be seen and heard by thousands and potentially drive decision making and opinion drawing. Very scary.
As previously stated, good decisions and opinion drawing are based in facts. The keyboard warrior/troll poisons the well to being able to make good decisions and draw opinions. My experience has been that involved people who are giving their time, talent and treasure to various causes tend to not be these keyboard warriors/trolls, and they also are not as willing to accept their bombastic statements as fact. In summary, if you're already involved, THANK YOU! If you are not involved, please consider doing so. It is so rewarding for both the community and you personally. Finally... please reach out to me to have me as a guest at your organization's meeting.
January 22, 2020:
My friends and family have been asking me how the first couple weeks on the job have been going. My answer has been "challenging.... and pleasantly surprising". The challenging aspect has been that the position is robust as it pertains to all you need to know to be effective. To me, being effective means you support and advocate on behalf of the organizations employees and customers. The town of Webster has 45,000 customers in the form of its citizens. Between full and part time, the town has approx. 200 employees operating under more than a dozen departments. Bottom line... it is incumbent on me to learn and absorb all aspects of the position of Town Supervisor as quickly as possible so that my effectiveness can be sooner than later.
The pleasantly surprising aspect has been in what I have encountered with the department heads and employees of the town. The stereotype of government employees not having some of the characteristics of private industry employees could not be further from the truth in Webster. I've found several of the department heads to be type A personalities who work way more than 40 hours a week, own their department with the pride and attention to detail commensurate with high success individuals. These people would be successful in any line of work including had they chosen entrepreneurial business ownership. I cannot emphasize how critical that is to my potential success in the position of Town Supervisor. In any organizational structure, if the CEO, General, or whatever title is on top has great leaders, department heads, great things can be achieved. The top of the organizational chart has a lot to do with the culture that evolves at the organization. However, that person at the top can only do so much and if the department heads don't genuinely buy in to the culture, it will not happen. I'm very excited at what I have seen so far and feel confident great things will happen in 2020 and beyond for Webster.
Something i found on the campaign trail in 2019 and has continued to manifest itself since I was elected in November and took office in January is that there are a lot of talented citizens in Webster who have conveyed to me they want to help their hometown out. I want to tap into these people's talent and enthusiasm for the greater good of the town today and the future. I'm new to the position and still vetting how such citizens can be involved. Some of it is easy to assess as there are boards and committees they can be appointed to. However, I think there is an opportunity for several ad hoc committees to evolve in the future to research topics that are hot buttons to the town. A potential example of this would be an adhoc committee to research and make recommendations to the town board on amending zoning laws that have been in affect in some instances over 40 years. Webster and the world in general is very different in 2020 than it was in 1980. Do some of the zoning laws put in place in 1980 that made sense then not make sense in 2020?
As the saying goes, "Rome was not built in a day". I'm anxious to move forward with ideas and plans for Webster. I have also learned over the years that I need to be measured in that. I need to continue to learn from the great department heads Webster has. every day brings a something new I learn that will be foundational to any plans ultimately proposed. I promise you all I will continue to be a sponge and get in a position of being efective as soon as possible.
January 15, 2020:
As a 54 year old husband, father of 7, and business owner the past 25 years, I have seen a lot. The past year of campaigning for and now being the Webster Town Supervisor has accentuated something I am very familiar with. That being that "various forms of misinformation or being devoid of information" is the biggest hurdle to effective communication, decision making and/or determining one's opinion.
As I met with Webster citizens the past year, I found that many had a perception that Webster Town Government was not being transparent. The more I looked into it, the more I started to understand how that perception could be just a "form of misinformation/devoid of information". Now don't get me wrong, one thing I learned a long time ago is that you don't argue against perceptions by defending what you did in the past. You CHANGE perceptions by what you DO in the present and future. Hopefully this column can act as a start to that change
At the top of Webster Town Government is the 5-person Town Board. As Town Supervisor, I am one of those board members. We minimally meet 24-times a year for regular board meetings, on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of each month. These meetings are open to the public and are in the Town Board meeting room in the courts building behind town hall. These meetings are also by law given public notice by publishing in the local newspaper. (I.e. the Webster Herald) ALL decisions made by the board occur at such meetings including resolutions, ordinances, and laws. Based on the last 3-4 sentences.... Webster town government IS transparent. So why the perception it is not?
The first challenge is that the "relatively universal" law of publishing/posting government meetings in a local newspaper was adopted when newspapers were the main means of citizens consuming information. Reality is that in 2020, "print media" is having its challenges as other digital means of information consumption become more utilized by people. I'm not certain the current subscription levels of the Webster herald, but my guess is that a minor percentage of the approximate 45,000 citizens in town and 31,000 registered voters subscribe and/or read the "print version". That can lead to a majority of the population being "devoid" of the information about Webster Town government notices and just how accessible and transparent it can be.
One thing I learned as a CEO of a company was that you have to accommodate the demands of the customer base. Where I may like having a print version to read my news (which in fact I do cuz I'm old school) I have to be aware that a majority of people may not and want it in some digital form. I don't foresee the posting/publication laws changing any time soon from newsprint, However, as Supervisor, I will work to make sure that an expansion of these postings will be done in a variety of digital ways so that a majority of the townspeople will know when these town board meetings are, and what topics will be discussed at them.