Good Evening and Happy New Year. Thank you all for being here.
Before I begin I would like to acknowledge my predecessor, Alex Gromack, and Councilwoman Shirley Lasker for their service to our community. I wish them both well in their future endeavors.
Likewise, I must pause to recall my friend, the late Councilman Ralph Mandia, and Bob Zeiss, whom I wish was here but know he is here in spirit.
Next, to my fellow colleagues on the Town Board Councilman Frank Borelli, Councilwoman Stephanie Hausner, and Councilman John Noto—I look forward to working with you and my eventual replacement on the Town Council in the coming term.
We have a great deal of work to do and the people are counting upon us—I pledge to work with you as together, we roll up our sleeves and get to work on the business of governing our great town.
I want to thank the people of Clarkstown for the trust they have placed in me. I am humbled and honored to be your Town Supervisor.
When I first contemplated running for Supervisor, I thought about what Clarkstown means to me and why I chose it as my home.
While I was born and raised here, I could have chosen anywhere to live—but I chose to make Clarkstown my home—a place with hopes, dreams and aspirations. A home is a place of love and kindness, and yes, as we saw last year, even a place with some politics and drama. But as the old saying goes, home is where the heart is—and for us that is Clarkstown.
Clarkstown is a place with a tremendous history and great promise—we face challenges for certain—but we all share the same desire for our home; our community—that our future will be better than our past.
But sadly, for many, that desire simply seems unattainable.
This past year I had the opportunity to speak with many people in our town. They told me of their hopes and dreams; and their aspirations for our community.
I talked with Rosemary—a senior living in Congers. She would like to remain in Clarkstown and hold onto her home but is afraid because we have a lack of affordable senior housing.
She is afraid that with rising taxes she will outlive her retirement. She was also about to list her home for sale and wondered what the future would hold. While many of her friends have already fled to Florida, her family is nearby and she doesn’t want to leave. She is desperate for a little hope and wants the town to take the necessary steps to create more affordable housing for seniors.
Grace from Nanuet told me she had just listed her house this past October and was sad to be leaving, but like so many New Yorkers she had determined that relocation was necessary for a better quality of life—and thus the Carolina’s beckoned and the promise of lower taxes and a more affordable cost of living. She wished me well and said with a bit of sadness in her voice “It’s too late for me but maybe you will be able to do something to help the people I sell my home too.”
I talked with a young family in the Laurel Plains section of New City that had relocated here less than five years ago because Westchester was just too expensive. Specifically, they researched Clarkstown, our schools, the attributes of the area, and chose it in part for what our community offers and because of the perceived value.
They now worry whether they made a terrible mistake because taxes keep rising and are almost on a par with the community they had looked at in Westchester.
I was saddened as the sun was setting on that late October evening and I listened to that young father with his child at the doorway to his home as he wondered aloud whether they should just get it over with and move now because if things don’t change they almost certainly cannot remain here for the long haul. The memory of that evening has stayed with me, as I felt like not only was the sun setting that evening but for this family the proverbial sun was about to set on their dream home in Clarkstown.
Across our town I heard a similar refrain: “I love living here but I can’t afford to stay”and more importantly “what are you going to do to make it better for me and my family?”
Today, we need not look further than the front pages of our newspapers to understand why people have lost faith in government. Elected officials putting politics ahead of the people; putting their self-interest ahead of your family’s interest.
Today, corruption probes ending with elected officials carted away in handcuffs seem to be the norm.
Meanwhile, the rising costs at all levels of government are killing us.
But this doesn’t have to be.
I have spent the better part of my adult life working with the disadvantaged, persons with disabilities and the most vulnerable in our society and have witnessed exactly how government can help those in the most need.
Unfortunately some in government service have lost sight of that. The purpose of government is not to pick the pockets of its people. The purpose of government is to serve its people — and serve them in the most efficient way possible and to provide an opportunity to make their lives better.
So to Rosemary in Congers, to Grace in Nanuet, and that young family in Laurel Plains, and to all of you this is how we are going to start to reclaim our home:
First, with two credit downgrades in the last 6 months it is clear: our government has become too big, too costly and has too much bonded debt. In the coming months, we will conduct a top to bottom review and audits of every department. We will bring in outside experts to evaluate all aspects of operations. We will use this process to set targets for efficiencies, benchmark operations, and start to reign in the cost of government.
Our mission will be driven by evaluating what works, how to improve it and, most importantly, how to streamline it.
Across our Town families do the difficult work of making ends meet, making the hard choices to do more with less and where to save. Many of our families have already had to adjust their budgets—it’s now time that Clarkstown does the same.
Now, there MAY BE some uncomfortable moments, but there WILL BE savings for the people of Clarkstown.
A budget balanced by fiscal discipline, and NOT by depleting reserves is necessary for our town’s future. We will borrow less and begin to pay down our bonded debt which is akin to a high interest credit card to our families—this will insure our fiscal future.
These are difficult tasks while maintaining services—but we will proceed in a deliberate and measured way. In fact we have already started the process—the town attorney’s office has been restructured and I have made the difficult decision to let some fine attorneys go because we simply can no longer afford the cost—we can and must do better. I have already consolidated positions in the Supervisor’s office—we will do more with less. We have numerous department heads whom have or shortly will retire—we will reduce starting salaries for their replacements and seek whenever possible to restructure and consolidate to eliminate some of these high salaried positions.
In the course of our evaluation of departments we will ask the questions that have not been asked previously, namely “why do we do what we do? “And “what are we trying to accomplish?”
I had the opportunity to attend an executive education program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University this past March and they called this process “Question Zero”—namely to ask the correct first question to guide all of the remaining questions. We will start from the beginning asking WHY we operate as we do and we will start to do what we have never done — benchmark government operations to insure we are getting the best possible value for the people.
It is time to ask why it costs Clarkstown more than other towns to provide the same services.
As we benchmark our operations we will learn ways to save. And the result will be a path to innovation, greater efficiency and savings. It will not be easy—but most good things in life never are.
We will be changing many aspects of town operations with an immediate overhaul of our vehicle use policy to purchasing, building operations and more. Our new vehicle policy will severely limit take home vehicles, cars will be pooled and whenever possible vehicles eliminated.
As you may recall Councilman Borelli and I proposed to potentially consolidate or co-locate purchasing with the County and I am delighted that this initiative is now moving forward.
I have already had discussions with the County Executive and we will move quickly to ascertain where savings can be found.
One of the things that I am proudest of is the innovation that our solar field at the landfill has brought to our town. This first of its kind in the state project brings along with it real savings. But we can do more.
We will move forward and seek to reduce operational costs by looking at greening our buildings and converting our streetlights to LED’s. I have already had discussions with our state representatives to seek grants and we will look at public private partnerships to reduce the burden to the town as we did with the landfill.
These changes can dramatically reduce the cost of day to day operations with reduced cost for electric and natural gas.
Further, as we complete our department reviews we will look at restructuring, not just our departments but also our boards and commissions and seek to reduce redundancy and find additional savings.
Ethics reform is something that is rarely mentioned at the local level, but is just as important. During the coming days we will conduct a full review and commence an overhaul of the town ethics code to bring it into compliance with State law.
More importantly we will also look at benchmarking our code against other municipal codes to insure the highest standards are set. We will implement changes in our code of ethics that will insure we are setting the highest standards along with tough penalties.
We will seek to make our government more transparent and responsive to the people. I will open up government to allow better access to documents via our Open Government Software which will give near real time access to residents for our financial documents. Within the first one hundred days of my administration we will be introducing a local law that will create a volunteer “Audit Committee” which will bring in fiscal experts to serve as a resource to myself and the town board and insure that our internal controls measure up and our audits are accurate. We will use our television channel to inform people of what’s going on and I will talk with every segment of our community to hear their concerns directly and be their voice in government. This will include tele town hall meetings, enhanced social media outreach and open house days in the supervisor’s office to make government more accessible to all.
Quality of life issues are also a concern. The scourge of illegal housing and downzoning in our county is a problem that requires a coordinated response. Our first responders place themselves in harm’s way and we must make sure that what is done for one is done for all.
Therefore, we will look to strengthen our Zoning Enforcement with the creation of a “Civil Compliance Unit” and a more creative and muscular approach to code enforcement.
I will be seeking to work closely with our County Executive and the illegal housing task force, our first responders and our town judges to insure that loopholes are eliminated; and violators will be found and prosecuted. We will seek to appoint members of the fire and emergency services to our land use boards to bring that important perspective to zoning and land use.
While we have much to do—I have only touched on a few areas—I would be remiss if I did not address the issue of housing.
Last year we stopped the sale of Middlewood, our only town owned senior housing complex, and we will proceed with the needed upgrades to insure that it remains a viable asset for years to come. However, we must do more and I will work to create through grants and public private partnerships another Middlewood so that those seniors who need a home can find it and remain here.
This is a time of great promise and opportunity; much is expected and much will be done.
I look forward to working with our employees to collectively find solutions to save money and improve services and ask them to join me in doing the same.
Clarkstown is a deeply historic place and I am honored to now lead it as its 45th Supervisor. I was born here and am proud to be raising my three children here. I am proud to call Clarkstown my home. You can be too.
On March 19th we will celebrate our 225th anniversary as a municipality— the history that this community has experienced in truly remarkable. Whether it’s George Washington’s numerous visits or the other presidents and great leaders who passed through— Clarkstown has hosted some incredible people and moments in time. But despite the visits of these great leaders they were just that — visitors passing through.
What has made our history so remarkable and continues to make it special is our people— from the people who built this town to the over 86,000 who choose now to call it home— that is what makes Clarkstown great. And if we are to fulfill our promise — if we are to make our future better than our past— then we must give our home a government as good as the people it serves.
That is my pledge to you tonight and for the lifetime of my administration. Now we must roll up our sleeves and get to work—business as usual is over—the time for reform is here and our best days are yet to come.
Thank you and God bless you, and God Bless this wonderful place we call home—Clarkstown!