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Consolidation

by Hugh Reynolds
March 03, 2011 12:05 PM | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This may be one of those chicken-and-egg things, but the retirement of Ulster County mental health commissioner Ed Brown at the end of this month seems to have created the opportunity to merge Brown’s department with the smaller public health department. Or so says county executive Mike Hein in announcing plans to consider a merger between the two health-care agencies.

Did Brown quit a $101,000 job because word got around about the merger? Or did merger talk become a public issue a week after Brown’s announcement because Brown quit?

Hein likes the idea of merger in principle. His limited experience with it hasn’t been very good. Recall the negative publicity surrounding the merger last year of three small agencies, consumer fraud and youth-human rights (five people all-told)...

This one is big-time. The current county budget shows 115 people in mental health (with 15 vacancies) and 30 in public health (with seven vacancies), with combined appropriations of more than $17 million.

Indicating which way the merger study will go, Hein tabbed wunderkind public-health director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck to “lead both departments.” The study to justify merging the departments has yet to be completed.

This one won’t be easy. While public health and mental health should be treated as co-equals, the disciplines and culture of the two departments are very different. And there is little question that the plan is more about cost-cutting than providing more efficient health services. County unions, with perhaps 130 jobs in play, will certainly take notice of this latest plan to “do more with less” (Hein). People are often laid off after mergers.

The plan seems off to a positive start, however. Veteran legislator and former health committee chairman Rob Parete gave it a thumb-up, noting that other counties have enacted similar consolidations, while ubiquitous freshman Walter Frey promises — on what authority is not clear — that the Republican-dominated legislature will cooperate.

Gullibles beware

A bunch of newsroom denizens were discussing as we are wont to do a series of fake letters issued last week regarding Kingston’s uptown Pike Plan.

“There is nothing like a hoax to bring out the gullible,” observed publisher Geddy Sveikauskas, on the way out the door for a bagel break.

Indeed.

Named for Woodstock artist John Pike, who legend says sketched out the concept of sidewalk canopies in the stockade district on a napkin over lunch, the whole thing has fallen into serious disrepair. After years of planning, the city, with federal funding and state approval in hand, says it will begin rehabilitating the 35-year-old Pike Plan this month. Pike died in 1979.

But not everyone under the canopies agreed that creating (essentially) a new and improved Pike Plan was the way to go. Critics, many of them Pike-Plan business owners, wanted the now-ugly mess torn down. Come to think of it, if their rear-guard action had lasted another year or two, it might have fallen down itself.

The hoax was so ingenious as to be convincing. A letter on (copied) city stationary from “mayor Jim Sottile,” a staunch Pike-Plan proponent, told readers he had “reconsidered” his stance and was now in favor of demolition. Interestingly, the mayor’s “letter” advanced most of the arguments of anti-Pikers. It was almost as though they had written it themselves, which they had.

The mayor responded with understandable fury. He was four-score for reconstruction, he said, and moreover he was sending the cops after those behind the fake letter.

A day later, on February 24, art began to imitate life. Another “letter” from the mayor admitted he had “overreached” in the first letter in calling the cops, but reiterated the mayor’s commitment to demolition.

With a neat twist of the tongue (in cheek), the fake “mayor” declared,” I want my legacy as mayor to be known as the one who finally restored the historic integrity to our beautiful city. I jokingly think of this as The Sottile Plan.”

These people should be writing material for Letterman.

Gilding the lily, the hoaxers then produced a letter from “a state historic preservation agency” commending Sottile’s decision to “honor the historic integrity of the stockade district” by tearing down the Pike Plan.

It was “signed” by Jonathan Marks Sanford, an apparent play on Sottile’s JMS initials.

What to make of this?

Not much. It got the mayor’s blood boiling for a bit, gave newshounds another tail to chase, but like eating Rice Crispies, it took more energy to chew than it created.

It does suggest, however, that opposition to Pike-Plan renovation will not go away quietly.

RRA revisited

A propos the “Sottile letters,” I sometimes wonder whether some of the press releases we get aren’t written by jokesters. Witness “the future looks bright for Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency” passed out by the legislature on February 17.

This one has the state Department of Environmental Conservation positively gushing after a recent tour of the agency’s Route 32 facilities and at New Paltz. They must have served free lunch because all the big shots were in tow, from legislative chairman Fred Wadnola to minority leader Jeanette Provenzano. DEC Region Three director Willie Janeway brought some top staff for the tour.

Declaring she was “delighted” with the “positive reception” from DEC, Provenzano said she was “anxiously awaiting their official report.” Legislative committee oversight chairman Kevin Roberts said he was “thrilled,” which I think is even more exciting than “delighted.”

Isn’t the RRA the same agency that fired its director for various offenses last October, the one that the county comptroller says has been living year to year and could be out of business in a few years if it doesn’t develop long-range strategies to deal with emerging technology in waste disposal and recycling? Isn’t it the one that has taxpayers on the hook for almost $32 million of debt? If not, why are four county legislators asking the attorney general to launch an investigation?

Maybe those DEC guys thought they were in Dutchess. Or maybe the all-forgiving, see-no-evil legislature (at least the aforementioned) just can’t put enough lipstick on this pig.

Here and there

Well before winter’s demise, candidates in New Paltz, most notably former mayor Jason West, have started declaring for village office in May. West, once the brash young man at 24, was unseated by current mayor Terry Dungan. At the same time, another brash young man, Jeremy Blaber, 22 of Kingston, announced he wasn’t running for mayor (of New Paltz) after announcing umpteen times that he was. I think Blaber ought to look up the word credibility before he tries to go further in politics.

In Woodstock, intrepid reporter George Pattison found most of the familiar faces on the fence. A few more days in the sixties (the temperature, not the era) could change that.

The controversy swirling around Kingston’s police department did not directly lead to chief Gerry Keller announcing his retirement at the end of the year, I’m told by reliable sources. The chief supposedly advised confidants in early January that 2011 would be it. Mayor Jim Sottile’s announcement last month that he would not seek another term sealed the deal, they say, Keller being none too keen on breaking in another chief executive.

A footnote on a recent column on Hizzoner’s retirement: I did not use the word “flawed.” I didn’t think of it. We are all, after all, flawed in some ways and there, I’ve said it again. I tried to balance the piece between the mayor’s attributes and failings (flaws, if you will).

Kudos to Kingston’s Mariner’s Harbor in Rondout, which will mark its tenth anniversary on Monday. Surviving in a business for a decade in these times, much less prospering like Mariner’s has, is no small feat.++

Hugh Reynolds column appears weekly.

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