Junior Mayor for the Day

IMG_7302Christian served as Junior Mayor for the Day last week. His parents won him the opportunity in the Ossining MATTERS online auction. What a remarkable young man! He arrived with a prepared list of questions. I think we addressed them all and much more.  We traveled across Ossining visiting many of the people who make our local government function so well, and admiring highlights of our beautiful Village.

 

Christian’s day as Junior Mayor began by joining in as members of the Baker-Collyer Christmas Cheer Fund and Rotary unveiled a new plaque in the lobby of Village Hall honoring 100 years of the Fund. Later in the day we had lunch with the Rotary, and Christian was presented with a plaque of appreciation. He asked to be the guest speaker. What 10 year old kid has the confidence and ability to stand up and speak to a room full of adults he doesn’t know? This kid! Afterward, he and I talked about the important contributions of so many members of our community that make Ossining a wonderful place.

 

Knowing that Christian is a strong math student with an interest in structural engineering, we headed to the John-Paul Rodrigues Operations Center, the epi center for that work in municipal government. Superintendent for Water & Sewer, Andrew Tiess gave Christian an in-depth understanding of how the Ossining Water System works. He now has a keen appreciation for how his love of math may be applied to a career that serves his environment and his community. This part of the day was a highlight for Christian. Village Engineer & Interim Manager Paul Fraioli talked about some of the big projects that the Village has undertaken.

 

Later in the day when I took Christian to the Joseph G Caputo Community Center, as soon as we parked, he took note of the pool building—as if seeing it for the first time because of the moment captured below where Paul showed him the pool building while it was under construction. At the Community Center, Christian showed me the football from his championship team, and he met with Superintendent of Recreation & Parks Chris Soi before we walked the Sing Sing Kill Greenway.

 

IMG_7340Christian learned all about the engineering feat that this remarkable public greenway is. When I told him that for many years people had thrown garbage into the Kill, and that though the Parks and DPW crews have done tremendous work to clean it up, still some people litter there. He was pretty disappointed by this behavior, asking why would people want to ruin something that is for everyone to share…something that is part of Ossining?

 

One of the next big engineering projects in the Village will be the repair of the Broadway Bridge—we’ll remove that ugly black net so we can fully appreciate Ossining’s iconic Double Arch from this new vantage point. And this young man will have a great appreciation for that work.

 

Christian had asked about the Harbor Square development, and thought it looked like a pretty great place to live, so we headed to the waterfront. Christian has an appreciation for the large sculptures in the Village. Dancing Milkweeds on the Village Hall lawn is one of his favorites. At the waterfront we talked about the giant wishbone sculpture. I acknowledged that it has been a little controversial, and that some people don’t much care for it. Christian likes it a lot, and was interested to learn about the process for creating it right in that location. In fact, he liked everything about the beautiful new Henry Gourdine Park, and is hoping that it will be officially open in time for the June 30 fireworks! (The plan is to cut the ribbon the week before. Stay tuned for details!)

 

Our last stop was to the Birdsall-Fagan Police Court Facility where Chief Kevin Sylvester gave Christian a full tour. He learned that the second floor which now serves as the briefing room, Detective Division, gym, locker rooms, and Chief, Captain and Lieutenants’ offices (including Coach Montague’s!) was once a bowling alley. Downstairs we visited the intake area (the only time Christian plans to visit there!) and courtroom, and found Christian’s home on the sector map. He lives in Sector 5.

 

Ossining MATTERS has asked me to offer this auction item again next year if I am still in office. Does your son or daughter have an interest in local government? Infrastructure? Parks? Law enforcement? Engineering? Public service?

 

I am grateful for the opportunity Christian provided me to see from a fresh perspective the contributions of the people who help us accomplish so much for this community we all love. Village government at its best goes unnoticed—residents are happy to have well-maintained roads, trash/recycling picked up, safe water provided, and a safe beautiful place to live, work and play. We strive to achieve those goals, a little more efficiently and effectively everyday.

 

Vote on Tuesday, Move Ossining Forward

Headshot, fade 2, boost 1, warm, lgtElection Day is Tuesday, November 4, and I am asking for your vote to become the next Mayor of Ossining.  The resounding Democratic primary victory was one big step, but now I need all Village of Ossining voters to make your voices heard so that together we can move our village forward.

I will lead our village government with a bold new vision for economic development and a dedication to face our challenges head-on.  I am a collaborative leader, which is not the most simplistic approach to leadership.  It may seem more expedient for a small group of people to make big decisions, only inviting comment to the degree necessary to check the “public input” box.  But I believe Ossining needs a leader who is dedicated to making smart decisions, informed by the due diligence of officials, as well as valuable contributions of community members.

Before I even announced my candidacy, I created an online survey asking residents for their ideas and opinions about Ossining.  The survey, circulated on social media, through my website and other online media sources, prompted responses from a broad spectrum of community members.  The top three priorities were not surprising:

  1. Downtown Economic Development
  2. Lowering/Slowing Taxes
  3. Illegal Housing

Generating Greater Tax Revenue & Growing a Vibrant Downtown:  While Ossining does have a core group of successful businesses as our foundation, we continue to lag far behind other river towns. And I, for one, have heard enough excuses about why we aren’t seeing the kind of vibrant downtown economies that our neighbors are. Eight years ago, who would have thought that Peekskill, a river community with perceived hurdles greater than ours, could become a mecca for art, live music, and downtown restaurants?  As mayor, I will prioritize generating greater tax revenue and improving our quality of life by growing a vibrant downtown.

As mayor, I would incorporate many of the successful strategies I have learned from visiting other communities who have revitalized their downtowns.  Peekskill hired a downtown development director from the business sector who led an aggressive campaign to partner local businesses with municipal investment and grant funding.  Tarrytown fostered growth on their Main Street as well as their waterfront, and they are now seeking innovative ways to implement Complete Streets best practices to connect these two hubs.  Yonkers established Green Building Guidelines and already they are finding that developers are designing a higher caliber of buildings, which are more desirable to retail and residential tenants.

It is critical that we make the most of our available commercial properties.  Retail businesses have a greater potential for income, and therefore pay a higher tax rate, than office space.  My vision for our downtown is to maximize first floor retail with second floor offices contributing to a daily workforce.  I recently had a conversation with Jessica Irons, a community member who told me, “I have wanted to open up a business downtown since we moved here… Taking my investors on a drive through Ossining a little over a year ago–empty store-fronts, dilapidated buildings–they couldn’t see what I could imagine.”  Last week Jessica reported that it is the excitement of my campaign for mayor that has inspired her and her investors to move forward with opening a theater school.  Her architect is making plans as she negotiates a contract for a space in downtown Ossining.  I look forward to cutting the ribbon at her grand opening!

Tough Budget Decisions, Facing them Head-on:  Listening to my opponent rail against the unfairness of the tax cap, I have to ask the question, “Who in this village thinks the answer to our challenges is raising property taxes?” During last year’s budget process I came to develop an appreciation for the intention of the “2% tax cap” initiative—flawed and misleading as the formula may be.  Having a fixed target of a maximum recommended tax increase commands our attention to each expense we consider.  Here is a post I wrote last year reflecting on our 2014 budget.

The greatest local tax burden we feel is our school taxes.  My efforts as Trustee have already begun to build stronger communication between our planning department and the school district.  We must take advantage of the opportunities for school district concerns to be addressed during the planning process, while exploring more ways to ensure that our school buildings have room for the children of Ossining without overburdening taxpayers.  My outreach to our village planner, planning board, school administration, and board of education opened up a dialogue for a better understanding of how development impacts our school system.  I am currently exploring how developers may be able to help fund future capital projects, like constructing classrooms for our increasing enrollment.  This suggestion could become a reality as the school district considers working with our NYS representatives to permit a special fund to be established allowing proactive collaboration between developers, planners, and the school district.

Solving the Problems of Overcrowded Housing:  For much of the last eight years many in village government have been unwilling to even acknowledge that our overcrowded housing problem is real.  Overcrowded housing creates unsafe conditions for first-responders and residents, and it unfairly taxes law-abiding property owners by creating too much stress on our municipal services and schools.  We need a Mayor with the political courage to find comprehensive solutions by inviting all stakeholders to the table—firefighters and housing advocates, police officers and planners, code enforcers and property owners.

I am proud of this campaign for mayor that I have led.  I am honored to have the support of such a broad and enthusiastic coalition, including elected leaders in our local, county and state government.  Because I realize that no single group of people has a monopoly on great ideas, as Mayor I intend to lead a series of community meetings to help us address our greatest challenges head-on.  Through my work with innovative leaders from across Westchester and the Hudson Valley, I understand how to lead a collaborative process that takes advantage of all the skills, talents and passion of our residents.  With this approach, we will marshal the best ideas from the Ossining community to move us forward.

As mayor, I will improve communication with residents via better use of email and social media.  Here is a post I wrote in the wake of the boil water advisory.  I solicited input from the community and led a work session discussion with village colleagues providing recommendations for improving communication during an emergency.  To promote greater access for in-person conversations, I will hold weekly office hours so that residents can meet with me with no appointment necessary.  And I will work to once again keep the cameras rolling throughout public comments at village board meetings.

My excitement about leading an inclusive village government comes from my ability to listen to differing opinions, and a confidence that Ossining will grow stronger the more that people have constructive opportunities to help our community.  Ossining is ready to move forward.  I hope I can count on your vote on Tuesday, November 4.

Progress You’re a Part Of

Do you have a good idea for what could be done better in Ossining?  Do you ever feel people in village government aren’t listening to you?  Whether it’s economic development, collaboration with schools, safe streets, parking, parkland, recycling, trash, or taxes—everyone in our community has something they think could be better.  And the best ideas for improvement may already have been figured out by community members.  Please take a moment to complete this survey and tell me how we can better serve Ossining.

None of us knows as much as all of us.

This phrase was offered by a speaker at last month’s Pace Land Use Annual Conference of 2013.  This simple truth was at the core of every successful initiative discussed that day—initiatives already happening in other communities.  Borrowing ideas that work for other municipalities can save us money and make us stronger.

When I was a trustee-elect, Eric and I traveled to Washington, DC to attend a conference led by the New Organizing Institute.  I immersed myself among grassroots organizers who dedicate much of their lives to fighting for issues.  The message that most strongly resonated with me then as I prepared to take office for the first time was…

Do not seek elected office so you may wield power over the people you represent, rather, seek elected office so you may empower the people you serve.

Have you driven through the Avalon development on North Highland?  The fences are down and a good chunk of the buildings are up.  Please share your thoughts on development in the survey...
Have you driven through the Avalon development on North Highland? The fences are down and a good chunk of the buildings are up. Please share your thoughts on development in the survey…

Together, these two themes inspire and guide my work for the village.  Can you help me in this effort by spending a few moments responding to this brief survey?…

Keeping Connected…

Do you want to know more of what’s going on in village government?  Do you want more opportunities to impact decision making in the village?

Sign-up here to receive emails of upcoming meetings and community events.

Follow Victoria Gearity, Trustee on Facebook.

Get Nixle Alerts with emergency messages by texting 10562 to 88877.

Receive an email with any new post I put on my website by adding your email address to the “Follow this Blog” box in the upper right corner of VictoriaGearity.com.

If there is a particular village committee/council/board where you would like to serve, contact Assistant Village Manager, Christina Papes (cpapes@villageofossining.org) and ask if there are any available seats.  Even if there are none currently, you can submit your letter of interest and resume to be considered when a spot becomes available.

Come to a Village Board of Trustees meeting.  We meet Wednesdays at 7:30.  The 1st & 3rd Wednesdays are at the Birdsall-Fagan Court, 86-88 Spring Street.  These are legislative sessions and the public is invited to speak on camera to make organizational announcements or to comment on any resolutions the board will consider that night.  When the camera goes off, the public is invited to comment on any issue of interest to them.  The 2nd & 4th Wednesdays are at Village Hall, 16 Croton Ave.  These are work sessions.  This is when the board members ask questions about potential upcoming issues/initiatives, and we decide what will be the next steps.  You can also watch meetings on tv or online.  Let me know what we can do better.

If you are one of the many folks who has contacted me this year to share an idea or concern, thank you.  If you haven’t already completed this brief survey, please do.  Perhaps I’ll see you soon at a Wednesday meeting!

YES on the Transportation Referendum

I write this as a parent, as a taxpayer, and as a voter.  My role as a village trustee has no relationship to school budgets or the proposed transportation referendum.

I write this as a parent of two boys who live 1.32 miles from AMD.  If the transportation referendum passes, at age eleven my boys will need to walk, bike or carpool to middle school.

I am voting YES tomorrow because transporting kids to school is something adults can work together to accomplish.  The loss of a teacher is not something parents can step up and take care of.

Certainly the transportation proposal is not ideal.  The safety concerns many parents may have are real.  Getting students to school safely and on time is critical for learning.  Many families in our district will struggle to make this happen.

Here's my little guy at bus orientation last fall when he entered PreK.
Here’s my little guy at bus orientation last fall when he entered PreK.

Still, I vote YES because finding more than $3M to cut from an already tight budget is challenging.  I have to wonder, if the public voted separately on each potential cut, which individual cuts would get a majority of YES?  Fewer teachers?  Fewer electives?  Fewer sports?  Less academic enrichment?  Would there ever be a majority of support for a lesser education for our kids?  No.  Of course not.

The potential savings from a YES vote tomorrow represents more than 10% of the cuts required to stay within the tax cap.  My sons are at Park now.  I want my kids to have the opportunity for the same remarkable accomplishments in ten years that I proudly read about OHS students achieving today.  The chance to maintain those academic opportunities lessens every year that we cut teachers and programming.

The Transportation Vote is tomorrow, Tuesday, April 16 from 7:00am to 9:00pm in the OHS gymnasium.  I know some friends and people that I admire who will not be voting the same way as me this time.  That’s ok.  We must all follow our own inner wisdom.  Neither option is desirable.  I choose to preserve teachers and programing by asking community members and neighbors to work together to get our kids safely to school.  It’s a struggle, but it’s something I’m qualified to do.

Victoria Gearity

Mom, Taxpayer, Voter

When Will We Feel Safe?

A mother in our community that I respect and with whom I share many values and opinions, told me this week that she would feel safer if we had a police officer with a gun protecting every school.  This is a sentiment I have heard more than once in recent days from parents in our community.  My response is, “And then what?”

What will we do when a deranged young man wearing full body armor forces his way into a school, guns blazing, and the first person he kills is the police officer who was wearing much less protective gear and carrying only a handgun?  Will we then outfit school police officers with full body armor and fully automatic machine guns?

What will we do when a killer enters a school building through a door far from the police officer’s post and murders dozens of children and teachers before the officer is able to run to the scene?  Will we hire a cadre of officers to guard every doorway?  Every classroom?  Will we arm teachers with automatic weapons?

What will we do when a mentally ill person attacks a playground or a festival attended by thousands of people?  Will we line every street with SWAT teams?

Is that when we will feel safe?

If Ossining decides to hire a police officer to patrol every school, how will we pay the officer’s salary?  How large will our class sizes grow as we cut teachers in order to pay for more police officers?

I do not know how to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening in Ossining or anywhere.  I do know that by the time a mentally unbalanced, misguided young man covers himself in body armor and enters a school, there may have been many missed opportunities to recognize his mental illness and get help—for his sake and his community’s.  I do know that our nation has more guns, and more gun deaths, than any other nation in the history of the world.  More guns are not making us more safe.

I do know there are things I can do to help support and strengthen Ossining right now.  This is the time of year when many households make donations to nonprofit organizations that support their values.  Though our family’s modest contributions will be a drop in the bucket, we believe each dollar is a vote.  And I’m voting for an Ossining with strong families, strong schools, strong programs to get kids playing away from computer screens, strong resources for helping those in need, strong resources for first responders.

Some of the organizations our family will be supporting this year are listed below.  What organizations would you add?

Ossining MATTERS

Ossining Children’s Center

The Friends of the Ossining Public Library

Ossining Communities that Care

IFCA Housing Network

Baker-Collyer Christmas Cheer Fund

The Open Door Foundation

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Ossining Volunteer Ambulance Corps

Village of Ossining Fire Department

This is an emotionally raw time, and it can be difficult to listen to people who don’t appear to share our beliefs.  There are no easy answers.  Perhaps there are no answers at all.  No one person can change laws about guns. No one person can provide funding for mental health programs in every community.  No one person can change our culture of violence and screen-focused isolation.  But each one of us can help change the life of one child, one family, one classroom, one sports team, one Ossining.

At the vigil that Kim Jeffrey organized on Sunday honoring the Sandy Hook Elementary School families, I read this quote from Mister Rogers:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’  To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.

I am grateful my sons are growing up in this community that is so rich with helpers.

School Bond? YES!

Great work has been done by Ossining Citizens for Schools to get the YES vote out next for the bond next Tuesday, March 6.  My attention has largely been focused on launching the Energize Ossining program, but I did take some time to write the below letter-to-the-editor that is now up on The Patch.

Here are my boys on our way to vote for the budget that finally passed last year. Now it's time to do the same for a bond.

Ossining school bond and budget votes have become hotly contested elections in recent years.  This bond is dramatically smaller than the one that was defeated by voters last year.  If it fails our schools will still need to make repairs and upgrades.  They’ll just get done when there’s a crisis, and likely without the benefit of NYS Building Aid and low-interest loans.

Next Tuesday please grab a friend, go to Ossining High School, and  vote YES!

Fellow Ossining School District Voters,

The most compelling reason to vote YES on the school bond Tuesday, March 6, is to consider what will happen if the bond doesn’t pass.  We will continue to waste significant amounts of taxpayer dollars.  The Ossining School District estimates it could have saved $180,000, by using natural gas instead of oil last year alone if the boilers had been upgraded sooner.  Absurd!

Our buildings don’t even meet current safety codes.  And the amount of money we waste on outdated, inefficient boilers using #6 oil, which costs more and is becoming nearly impossible to purchase, is shameful. 

The bond up will take advantage of low interest rates, historically low commercial construction costs, energy costs savings from more efficient systems, and an estimated $22.2 million in NYS Building Aid which we risk if we wait to address each issue as it becomes a crisis.

Anyone who understands the disrepair and inefficiency of our school buildings has a right to be angry.  Community members are welcome to attend school board meetings and ask important questions.  How did our schools deteriorate to this point?  How will we prevent ending up in this shameful condition again? 

Ask hard questions.  Engage in the conversation.  Work to support budgets that include ongoing repairs and improvements so we don’t face a must-pass bond referendum like this again.  That’s what will keep our schools great.           

And right now, tell everyone you know to vote on March 6.  And vote YES!

Sincerely,

Victoria Gearity

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