The Final Straw?

Peekskill Vigil no filterThank you to Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey for the invitation to participate in tonight’s Community Vigil. Ossining residents are planning a March For Our Lives event for 12noon on March 24 at our waterfront. I hope you and your colleagues from Peekskill will be able to join us.

Below are the remarks I shared at the Peekskill waterfront this evening…

Most people are not extremists. Yet it grows increasingly difficult for us to hear each other. If we are unwilling to acknowledge that views and life experiences different from our own have merit, how can we possibly find a path to someplace better than where we are today?

For generations now the NRA has grown stronger and stronger. Meanwhile, state and federal officials have grown more and more dependent on funding from lobbyists. And the success of lobbyists depends on us being increasingly divided.

If your job is to sell more guns, then the solution to every problem is more guns. And in a moment when we talk more than we listen, and marginalize more than we validate, and divide more than we unite, we fail to even seek solutions that will address the root of any problem. Instead, we may attempt to protect ourselves by building barriers to a threat, and throw up our hands believing, for example, that America will never have fewer guns.

As our hearts ache again for the families of the latest shooting victims, are we, perhaps, witnessing a moment when the collective conscience may shift? As the White House inspires activism as never before in my lifetime, will the Florida teens be the final straw that our nation needs? Will the prevailing wisdom shift to a narrative that says what we need is less guns, and more regulation? Will the young voices breaking through today, lead us to a future where a gun license is comparable to a drivers license?

My God, I hope so. There are powerful voices in our government and media today that claim we need to arm our teachers. There are parents in my community, and all our communities, that want every school to become a fortress. Putting aside whether bullet-proof glass and guns in the classroom are the best way to spend education dollars–school buildings are not the only place where I want my children to be safe. I want my sons to be safe on the soccer field, and at the mall, and at a summer concert in a park on the waterfront.

May each of us walk away from this gathering and take action, small or big. But take action, as if all our lives depend on it.

Things are Happening for Ossining

img_2040Every year at noon on New Year’s Day, the Ossining community comes together for an inauguration. The time and date is actually dictated by the Village Charter. The fact that we make what could be the recitation of a few words into a community event, is one the things that makes Ossining special.

In my remarks, I announced a new mayoral weekly commitment, and set out a vision for the exciting changes we are poised to make happen for Ossining. Two of the hottest topics of public engagement last year, housing and the roundabout, are part of the economic development planning that will be the focus for 2017. The Village is at an exciting moment, poised to make changes for our downtown that will impact our community for generations to come.

Happy New Year!

This year I asked my parents to join me on stage for the Oath of Office. My parents are the greatest role models in my life, not just because they are wonderful loving parents, but because of their dedication to public service. Regardless of whether they were raising young children, or commuting to NYC for work each day, they have always devoted their time and talents to community organizations. And not just things directly related to our family like school or church. They did that of course. But they also volunteer with organizations that speak to their values—like programs for children, seniors, local history, healthcare, education, and women’s rights. My mother was asked to run for local office a number of times, but always declined. My father retired at a young age, and for the past 18 years has made a full-time job of volunteering for community organizations. If it were not for their inspiring examples, I know I would never have run for mayor.img_2038

 

I am fortunate to share the stage with a number of elected officials who are also role models and mentors for me today. One study I recently learned of demonstrated that the healthiest, happiest, and safest lives are lived by Americans in Villages where their lives are intertwined. That’s good news for Ossining residents, and particularly for all the engaged community members in this room today.

 

As many Americans feel ever more impotent at influencing the path of our nation, we recognize there is a place where we can make a difference. We are turning toward each other, and seeking to devote our talents to making the most of the opportunities we have right here, right now in Ossining. It is an exciting moment to participate actively in shaping the change we wish to see for our Village.

  • This Village can turn a sanitary sewer project into a glorious greenway.
  • We have seen empty storefronts become thriving local gathering spaces.
  • The decrease in our energy demand by upgrading to LED streetlights offers enough savings to keep our tax rate increase this year at 0%.
  • We have passed laws to expand opportunities for entrepreneurs to open their businesses of tomorrow right here in Ossining.
  • We have invited hundreds of people to live in luxury on our waterfront, and thousands to enjoy sunsets from the new Henry Gourdine Park on the Hudson.

Ossining is poised to see major change happen in our downtown. We have a thoughtful and collaborative Board of Trustees, with a willingness to make big decisions about the Village’s future. Critical leaders of our staff are capable implementing big projects for Ossining. And we have the solid fiscal standing to invest in infrastructure that will benefit our community for generations to come.

 

Weekly Walks

As we enter this exciting year with a focus on bringing into view big changes for development in our downtown, I am going to add a new commitment to my weekly mayoral schedule. And I’m announcing it to you right now.

 

When I took office as Mayor two years ago, I established Open Office Hours every Tuesday from 10AM to 12 noon. That routine has been a very successful way to meet with residents who have concerns, questions, suggestions, or once in a while a friendly chat. I will continue to be at Village Hall every Tuesday for Open Office Hours. Emailing me any time is also an effective way to get my attention.

 

For my second term, as we shift into a focus on planning, zoning, housing, and development of land that is currently owned by the Village, I will be taking a weekly walk. I’ll keep up the routine until I’ve walked every block of the Village. I’ll post my starting place and time on FB and the Village website so that you can join me if you’d like.

 

A Thriving Downtown

In 2016 we engaged in a public discussion about safe, affordable housing that inspired hundreds of tenants, property owners, housing advocates, attorneys, taxpayers, and elected officials to deepen our understanding of the realities and needs of our community. In 2017, the Village will undertake a Housing Needs Assessment that will provide us with not just an accurate inventory of our existing housing stock and conditions, but one of the tools that will help us make well-informed modifications to our Comprehensive Plan, which drives all local zoning regulations. The discussion about safe and affordable housing will continue, and will be part of a larger discussion about economic development.

 

Ossining today is, in part, a result of decisions made by past Village administrations. Elected officials in the 1970s bought into the prevailing wisdom of their day, and decided that Urban Renewal was a wise idea for our downtown. The results of Urban Renewal, which demolished two of the five corners at the heart of our downtown, have been mixed, at best. The people living in those buildings lost their homes, and our downtown lost beautiful architecture as well as a whole side of the street which completes the balance needed for a truly thriving downtown.

 

But as with any major change, there comes opportunity. I am grateful to be Mayor in a moment when we are poised to capitalize on the space that was left by Urban Renewal. Rather than perceiving it as a scar on our downtown business district, I recognize it as an incredible gift for the Village. Where there were once buildings filling each block, we have an opportunity to create a welcoming public gathering space in the heart of the Village. Today these spaces provide parking and host our weekly farmer’s market and a number of festivals and events throughout the year. But the potential for these open spaces to inspire people to spend time in our downtown is no where close to being fully realized. At this stage, let’s not limit our vision to any particular size and scope of what structures may be built in these spaces, or how parking will be expanded.

 

Our goal as we actively shape the future we wish to experience for Ossining, must be to create a public gathering place where a mother wants to sit and read a book to her child; a place where high school students gather in the afternoon to share a smoothies with their friends; a place where seniors from Maple House rest on their way home from a little shopping up the block; a place where families enjoy ice cream on a hot summer night; a place where co-workers sip coffee during a break from their second story Main St business that thrives in tomorrow’s economy, and it’s a business that we could not even conceive of when we drafted our most recent Comprehensive Plan. And yes, sometimes it will be a place that hosts cultural festivals and holiday tree lightings. But to be a success, this public gathering place must be an essential component of a whole downtown that is buzzing with activity on any given Tuesday—with no festival required to make people want to show up.

 

In recent years, we’ve laid the groundwork for what’s next. A few years ago, the Village commissioned a study by consultants to inform the Board and the community of what a developer would seek to build on the Market Square properties to maximize their profitability. It was almost two years ago, that several community members joined me in workshops and online venues to gather feedback from the community of what we’d like to see happen for these properties. And right now the Sing Sing Prison Museum is closer than ever to becoming a reality. It is exciting to explore how that major institution could impact our local landscape and economy.

 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the topic of public discussion that elicited an intensity of passion among community members this year, second perhaps only to housing—the roundabout. Construction of the new intersection is planned for the summer of 2017. Ossining will become the only Hudson River community to have a modern roundabout at the heart of its downtown. Because of the dramatically improved safety that roundabouts provide, they are the go-to recommendation by the NYS DOT, and many other states, for any new and upgraded intersection construction. Because even small single-lane roundabouts like the one we will have, require a larger footprint than an electrified signal, roundabouts are often not an option in densely built downtowns. It is only because of the negative space left by Urban Renewal that the roundabout was an option for us to consider in our decision making for this necessary infrastructure upgrade.

 

So, our job today as a community, is to actively participate in shaping the change we wish to see for our downtown. Some entrepreneurs are already investing their talents, their treasure, and their dreams into our local economy. First Village Coffee is one of the recent new businesses to open and find a very enthusiastic and loyal customer base on Main St. Just before they opened, I was speaking with an engaged community member, someone has spent a fair amount of time thinking about our local economy. He said to me, “I’m really worried that the coffee shop is not going to have enough customers to survive.” This well-intentioned resident grossly underestimated our community’s appetite for a welcoming, high quality, gathering space in our downtown. Let us all embrace more of that faith in the spirit of our community that leads local entrepreneurs to open businesses in Ossining.

 

I began today by acknowledging some of the role models who inspire me to be serve my community. I’d like to close with a few thank yous for the some of the people who make it possible for me to serve as Mayor. Thank you to the chairwoman of the Democratic Committee Thomasina Laidley-Brown who supports our journey in public office, and leads the process of gathering hundreds of signatures each year to get our names on the ballot. Thank you to the community members who lead great organizations that provide the services that keep us safe and allow our socioeconomically diverse community to not just survive, but to thrive. Thank you to my fellow elected officials for all that you give to your constituents, including me, and all that you contribute to well-being of the Village of Ossining. Thank you to members of the Village staff, those here today and those who come to work every day to serve the people of Ossining so admirably. Thank you to the parents and coaches who drive my kids home from practice when I’m at a meeting. And most importantly, thank you to my family. My sons have an uncanny ability to roll with whatever the schedule is on any given day, they cheer me on as mayor, they are always happy to eat pizza for dinner again, and they don’t grumble as they again go to bed without being tucked in by mom. And to my husband, thank you for carrying the financial burden of our family, even as you work tirelessly to open your new business. Thank you for being my most patient and sage advisor.

 

Every two years, elected officials in the Village come to the voters and ask to serve another term. I imagine if you asked each of us on this stage, we’d each have a unique story of what made us seek office. But I also imagine there would be a universal theme of our desire to serve this community that we love. It’s that same love of Ossining that brought each of you here to this gym at the Community Center, to share part of New Year’s Day with your neighbors.

 

We are living in interesting times. All of us have a role to play in the success of Ossining. Sometimes that may be to vigorously debate issues that matter deeply to us; sometimes that may be to show up and listen; sometimes it may be to eat jerk chicken, or drink coffee, or buy a pretty new dress, whatever small investment we choose to make in supporting a local business that day.

 

And sometimes it may be to lead us in a song. I’d like to invite up to the microphone three very special Ossining residents. Anna Canoni is the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie. She and her daughters Kaylee and Alexis are going to lead us in singing This Land is Your Land. I hope everyone will join in.

A Tight-knit Community

As I watched the disturbing video recently posted on social media of a student being beaten on the sidewalk across from OHS, I find myself with more questions than answers. Beyond the horror of that incident, I was inspired by the compassion of our community and the unifying desire to prevent this from happening again.

As Village Mayor I ask, “How is OPD working with the school district?” Chief Sylvester filled me in on some of the details of the investigation and arrests of this particular incident. I learned more about Detective Walker’s assignment as the youth officer, mainly working with OHS students. I was reminded of the day-tour’s practice of OPD patrol officers walking the halls of every school, every day, helping develop lasting relationships as students grow. Kevin Sylvester and Ray Sanchez communicate candidly and frequently, striving together to maintain a safe and productive learning environment.

As a community leader I ask, “What more can we do?” Ossining has taken very deliberate, proactive steps to prevent bullying. Ossining’s Communities That Care is a model coalition of organizations (schools, library, OPD, local government, Open Door, and so many social service agencies) working together to create awareness, education and resources to prevent bullying. Ossining MATTERS helped fund an anti-bullying campaign in the schools that I learned more about when I moderated a discussion for the “Bully” screening that was part of the Ossining Documentary & Discussion Series.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.27.32 AMAs a parent I ask, “How can I help my own young sons to be part of the solution?” I will renew, again and again, conversations about bullying—remembering to acknowledge the role of not just the bully and the victim, but also the witness. I’m not sure they are ready yet for this personal story about their mom, but today I am reminded me of a moment during my freshman year of high school that could have gone very badly were it not for some kind students who stepped in to keep me safe.

People started to tell me that Jennifer (not her real name) was “gonna kick my a@$”. I don’t recall being entirely clear on her reasoning of thirty years ago, but that wasn’t relevant even then. I recall three students who each stepped up to help me in the way they knew best. Erica Fields told me how to fight her, offering a few specific suggestions to take advantage of my small size and Jennifer’s long hair. Though this approach might not have yielded great results for me, even then I recognized the kindness of Erica’s intent. On the afternoon when Jennifer approached me, we were waiting for the bus in the quad of SHHS (yes, I’m a Sleepy grad), and Marcy Andrew sat next to me. Marcy had been my friend since kindergarten and had surely never been in a fight in her life either. But as Jennifer started to threaten me, Marcy stayed by my side. I don’t think she uttered a word, but I vividly recall her presence. Thankfully, I never had to test out my recently learned street fighting skills. Frank Gomez came to my rescue. He and Jennifer ran in the same circle. He did it in a friendly, joking, even a little flirty way, letting Jennifer save face and getting her away from me. And that was it.

I’m not sure I’ve ever thanked Frank Gomez at the time. Yesterday I reached out to him in a Facebook message. He didn’t remember that afternoon, and has happy he did the right thing at the time. Now that I recall that incident, Frank is on the list of role models I will teach my sons to emulate.

What more can we parents do to inspire our kids to step in and protect each other instead of shooting a video of the violence? What more can our officers do to support the efforts of our schools to keep students safe? What more can our schools and organizations learn and adopt from other communities?

I am frustrated this can happen here despite the dedication of our schools, our community, our police and so many thoughtful parents. I am also grateful to be raising my sons in this community that is bursting with people who care so deeply about how we can work together to prevent this violence from happening again in Ossining.

 

2016 Priorities

At our first meeting of 2016 I reflected on what has been accomplished in the past year, and our goals for the coming year.

This Board of Trustees is united in our big picture goals:

  • Communication & Customer Service
  • Building Dept & Code Enforcement
  • Efficiency & Sustainability

Efforts toward efficiency & sustainability are happening on a number of fronts. The Solarize Ossining-Briarcliff and Community Energy Choice Aggregation (CCA) initiatives provide opportunities for financial savings directly to residents & small businesses.

12347673_902362783165144_3603113895730678789_nVillage infrastructure has been made more efficient with the LED streetlight conversion that is already well underway. This year we are looking to expand savings in our facilities with energy efficiency upgrades that will quickly pay for themselves with cost savings.

Later this year with the opening of the Sing Sing Kill Greenway, the public will be invited to experience Ossining’s iconic Double Arches in a way that few people have ever before. What began as a required sanitation sewer line project will become a local treasure.

The $100,000 NYPrize grant that the village got this year to explore the potential for a microgrid, is a smart move to help us make our community safer and more resilient during major power disruptions.

Ossining local business is growing and village government is supporting that success. This year we welcomed several new restaurants including Cravin’, El Manabita, Chow’s Caribbean, Casa de Campo and most recently DD’s Diner. To encourage shoppers to keep their dollars local, we had a holiday from feeding the meters for the month of December.

To foster new artisanal craft businesses to open in the village, we are voting later this month to amend a zoning regulation. This action is an example of the village’s responsiveness to local property owners who work with us to explore how we can expand opportunities for entrepreneurs to choose Ossining for their business.

Thousands have already viewed the Historic Downtown Ossining video created by Village Historian Dana White. You can still check it out at the Village’s YouTube channel. Understanding and celebrating our history is an important step in the decision making process for major plans including Market Square development and the Sing Sing Project.

The Downtown Development Fund Council will be making recommendations to the Board later this year for how to invest in the revitalization of downtown. There are two openings on that council. Residents interested in applying for those appointments are encouraged to send resumes and letters of interest to azambrano@villageofossining.org.

Our commitment to improving communication and openness began at the first meeting I presided over as mayor when we kept the cameras rolling throughout the Public Comments portion of legislative sessions. Weekly Open Office Hours that I have established every Tuesday at Village Hall from 10am-12noon have been a wonderful opportunity to connect with residents.

We have established a Village Facebook page as an additional avenue for getting information out to the public, and we have formed a Social Media Communications team to make effective use of talent across departments. A key goal on the communication front for 2106 is to create a new website that is more accessible and interactive.

In 2015 we said goodbye and good luck to several colleagues in Village government, including most recently Chief Joseph Burton. We have welcomed new exciting leadership in Village Management, Recreation & Parks, and the Ossining Police Department.

Fiscal responsibility is at the core of every decision this Board makes. We are very pleased to have passed a budget for 2016 that is $315,000 below the tax cap. We are dedicated to finding greater efficiencies and spending taxpayer dollars wisely to provide excellent service to residents.

2016 looks to be an exciting year for the Village of Ossining.

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.

Action Steps for Improving Communication

Vic at work sessionI led a discussion at the August 13 work session  of how we can better communicate with Ossining residents.  I requested this topic be added to our work session agenda following the water-main break and subsequent boil-water-advisory that was issued.  Thankfully, the public’s health and safety was never in jeopardy during that incident, which makes this an ideal opportunity to address the gaps this event highlighted in our village government’s ability to communicate swiftly and effectively with residents.

You can view the meeting at the Village of Ossining website or on our new Village of Ossining YouTube channel, which now has all recent Village Board meetings ready for viewing.   The discussion about communication begins at 1hr 48 min.  It was a long meeting with several interesting topics discussed.

Finding smart solutions through collaboration is critical to the village’s ability to reduce expenses while remaining effective in service to the public.  Prior to the meeting, I asked community members for their ideas of how village government could do a better job sharing information with residents.  You responded via this website, social media and emails with many terrific ideas which I expressed to my colleagues.  This discussion also led me to come up with an idea for a new IMA (Inter-Municipal Agreement) that the village may be able to establish with the school district.

Listed below are my recommendations of actions steps for improving future communication from village government to residents.

Robo-calls  Having the ability to place a call to any resident with a phone was the number one suggestion.  Preliminary research by the village manager’s office and the OPD indicated that a service of this kind could cost upwards of $6,000.  As a parent in the school district, I receive robo-calls from my child’s principal that are specific to his school, as well as calls from Ray Sanchez to all parents.  The question our village manager is going to ask the school superintendent is, “Can we establish an IMA that would permit Ossining residents to sign up to be on a call list for information directly from village government.”

List of Community Connections  Creating an exhaustive list to have on-hand of organizations that can disseminate information to their members, website visitors, and email recipients, will increase our chance of reaching people through multiple points of contact.  The only cost for this effort is the time required to establish and maintain an up-to-date list of organizational leaders.  There were connections made with some organizations on the following list during the boil-water advisory, but there can be much greater outreach on this front.  This list includes, but is not be limited to, the library, the school district, the Town of Ossining, neighboring villages, daycare centers, recreation department, day camps, senior programs, Boy and Girl Scout troops, service organizations and clubs (Lions, Rotary, Moose, Elks, Columbus Lodge, Corinthian Lodge…), local business owners, Chamber of Commerce, Ossining Arts Council, BOMA (Briarcliff Ossining Ministerial Association) and individual churches.  What would you add to this list?

Alert the Media  You saw the result of this effort on News 12, newspapers and online media.  A press release was distributed before dawn on August 1, and the story was picked up by many local news outlets.  That said, we are somewhat at the mercy of news editors as to how and when information is presented, and how quickly it is updated.

Welcome to Ossining Signs  As drivers enter and exit the Village of Ossining, they read information typically about upcoming events on these community boards maintained by our recreation department.  These can also be updated with notifications of urgent health and safety alerts.

Collaborate with other Government Agencies  The village worked hand-in-hand with the County Health Department in preparing the press release about the boil-water advisory.  The Town of Ossining was also in regular contact with the County Health Department and the village manager’s office, and shared updates on their website and via email and social media.  Unfortunately, one commitment the county did not fulfill was the important step of making reverse 911 calls to alert affected residents.  Because the County Health Department was the agency that actually put the boil-water advisory in place, this would have been an effective way to communicate information in this instance.  While we must continue to make every effort to collaborate with all government entities, this experience reminds us of the importance of having multiple points of contact to ensure that all residents are well-informed.

Adopt a Senior & Tell a Neighbor  There are programs in other communities where senior citizens partner with neighbors who will check on them.  While any time there is a storm, we encourage residents to check on their neighbors, here’s a link to a nonprofit group in Minneapolis that has an organized Adopt a Senior program we may want to implement here.  I spoke with thoughtful Ossining residents who took it upon themselves to reach out to neighbors, particularly those least likely to receive emails, texts or social media updates, to let them know about the boil-water advisory.  Using a simple tagline like “Tell a neighbor” or “Please share” in written communications can be a helpful reminder as well.

Careful Messaging   In this case, there was initial confusion among some residents living in the unincorporated part of the Town of Ossining who believed that this was only a Village of Ossining concern.  Beyond the critical step of getting information to everyone who is directly impacted, we also want to be clear about who is not.  One way to support our local businesses is to make sure our messaging doesn’t inadvertently discourage the public from patronizing them due to a lack of clear information.  A little Monday morning quarterbacking may help us to be more thoughtful in this regard next time.  Perhaps we could have included a quote to the press from a local restaurant owner who says, “We are thankful to be in one of the neighborhoods that is not at all affected by the water-main break.  We are open for business as usual.  Please come on down.”

Sign-up  One of the best things each of us can do as a community member is sign-up for notifications in any form we have access to.  If you can receive a text on your cell-phone or tablet, please sign up for free Nixle alerts by texting 10562 to 888777.  To learn more about receiving emergency information visit NIXLE.com and click the “sign up free!” button.  Also, click through to this page to sign-up for a variety of email subscriptions from the Village of Ossining, including the weekly WebBlast, information on affordable housing, and board meetings.

Thankfully, Ossining residents were never in any danger following the water-main break.  The Village of Ossining water and public works department did an outstanding job of locating and repairing the break quickly.  Testing by the County Health Department confirmed the boil-water advisory was made in an abundance of caution, and residents’ water quality was never compromised.  The village manager’s office and OPD made a significant effort to notify community members via press release, email, social media, and Nixle, and most residents knew about the boil-water advisory.  This list of recommended action steps will help us to do an even better job in the future.

Many thanks to all for contributing to this process.  I encourage everyone reading this post to take two simple steps—if you do not already receive WebBlast emails and Nixle texts please sign-up right now through the above links!

 

How Can We Communicate Better?

Boiling Water PicAre you among the thousands of Ossining residents impacted by the water main break that took place earlier this month?  How did you learn about the boil water advisory?

At tonight’s Village Board work session, one of the topics on the agenda will be, “Communication with Residents”.  In the wake of the water main break, I asked to have this added to the agenda.  Please join us for our meeting tonight, Wednesday, August 13 at 7:30pm at 16 Croton Avenue.  We have a very robust agenda of topics to discuss.  The meeting can also be viewed live streaming on the village website where you can also access videos of past meetings, and meetings are now uploaded to our own YouTube channel for easier viewing on the go.

This incident highlighted gaps in our ability to communicate health and safety issues quickly and effectively with the public.  Fortunately, in this instance the water department was able to identify and address the break quickly.  It is also reassuring that the village, town and county communicated well with each other throughout the three day ordeal.

So, what can we learn from this experience?  The boil water advisory was issued by the County Health Department during the night.  The notice was posted to the village website and sent to our email WebBlast list.  The County distributed the notice to the press.   I posted the advisory on several Ossining Facebook pages before dawn.  A Nixle text went out just after 7am.  I heard from community members who called friends and knocked on the doors of neighbors who were unlikely to read an email or social media post.  Still, there are people who didn’t know about the boil water advisory until after they had consumed water.  Thankfully, to my knowledge, there were no adverse health impacts on community members.

How can we do better next time?  How did you learn of the boil water advisory?  Did you know that most Ossining downtown and waterfront restaurants and businesses were not affected by the water main break?  Unfortunately, according to some local restaurant owners I spoke with, much of the public believed that all Ossining restaurants were under the boil water advisory.  While our first priority must be to notify the public of a health and safety concern, could we also have communicated more clearly the business districts that were unaffected by the break?

Would a robo-call have helped?  If you are a parent in the Ossining School District, do you cringe at the idea of receiving more calls with recorded messages?  Do you find those calls helpful?  The school district did make a call to provide notice of the boil water advisory later in the day.  Of course, their call list is comprised mostly of school district families, and would not reach the wider Ossining community.  Should the village look into the cost to implement an automated calling system like this?  If we do, should it be used only during health and safety emergencies or would you also like to be notified of upcoming meetings and events?  Would you sign up for phone call notifications from the Village of Ossining?

What other ideas do you have for how the village can swiftly and effectively communicate health and safety information to the public?

Standing Strong

I posted the below message on Facebook yesterday.  The outpouring of support has been remarkable.  Encouraging statements have come from family, friends, supporters, and folks who are simply fed-up with village politics.  This week is certainly not a high point for transparency in local government.  The residents of Ossining deserve better.  I am grateful to be connecting with so many community members, and look forward to building a more open, responsive and engaging relationship between village officials and the public.

Last night it was alleged that ethics charges have been filed against me.  This action serves only to reinforce my dedication to becoming a mayor who reaches out to the community, encouraging transparency and public engagement.

I have not yet seen the “ethics charges” referenced during last night’s publicly televised Board of Trustees meeting.  However, other village employees have.  Trustee Bob Daraio stated that “ethics charges” impacted his vote to support granting preferred developer status for 200 Main Street to Interoceanic Corporation.

No effort was made to obtain my response to this allegation, or even inform me of the charge before publicly revealing it as a pretext to discredit both my husband’s business, Sing Sing Kill Brewery, and myself.  The village struggled to locate the said email and could not even provide me with a copy of it.

Does it seem fair and transparent that a trustee referenced “ethics charges” when casting a vote, while I am the accused and I have not even seen them?  Did all the voting members of the board have access to that same information when they cast their votes?  The vote itself was tainted, and such an important decision on a key property should have been tabled pending resolution of the issue—particularly given that the source of the alleged complaint is Daniel V. Remer, a supporter of my opponent.

This bullying tactic is consistent with the current administration’s practice of stifling public comments.

So proud to have co-founded this group dedicated to engaging the community on issues that matter.  Last night our topic was gun violence.  Our committee is pictured here with our outstanding panelists.
So proud to have co-founded this group dedicated to engaging the community on issues that matter. Last night our topic was gun violence. Our committee is pictured here with our outstanding panelists.  www.OssiningDocumentaries.org

My public statements regarding 200 Main Street were made with complete disclosure that I am a Village Trustee and a Candidate for Mayor, and that I have recused myself from all deliberations and decision-making regarding the village-owned property because my husband is an interested party.  The article I wrote in the Patch provided information and encouraged public engagement about a flagship property whose future will dramatically impact the vibrancy of our downtown economy.  I was heartened by the thoughtful and respectful public response that resulted.

Being an elected official does not mean I give up my first amendment right to free speech as a resident of this great nation.  Is expressing an opinion, while being completely open about my position in the village and in relation to the subject of discussion, unethical?

I have done nothing wrong.  I am troubled by the timing of these allegations.

I am grateful for the outpouring of support I have already received from friends and community members who recognize this tactic for what it is—bullying designed to discredit a candidate who seeks transparency and public engagement.

Deadline on Friday!

Friday is the deadline.  Since I announced my candidacy for mayor, this will be the first campaign finance report filed with the NYS Board of Elections.  A healthy campaign fund is one quantifiable way to demonstrate the viability of a campaign.  Will you help demonstrate the strength of this campaign by donating today?

200 MainLast week’s success of tabling a decision about 200 Main Street illustrated two important truths:

Ossining needs new leadership that fights for a vibrant downtown economy; and
Village government serves the public best when community members engage in the process.

I was heartened by the number of residents who made their voices heard via email, social media and at the board meeting.  Like me, these concerned citizens know that Ossining needs a vibrant downtown economy—and we need to do better than office space at the gateway to Main Street.  Yes, we must get buildings back on the tax roles.  It is also critical that Ossining has leaders who are forward thinking in our decision making.  Our children and grandchildren will live with the decisions made by the village government today.

In four terms as mayor, my opponent has never inspired or invited so much public engagement. Bravo to everyone who responded to calls from me, Omar, and fellow concerned community members who asked, can’t Ossining do better?

We need a change—aren’t there term limits?  That’s a question I often hear when residents learn that my opponent is seeking a fifth term. No, there are not term limits.  The power to make change is in the hands of the people.  Beating an incumbent is challenging.  Thanks to the support of so many community members, we are on a path to victory for Ossining.  Will you be part of this campaign’s success?  The costs leading up to the September 9 Democratic primary represent the biggest chunk of our campaign budget.

VicForMayor Dieline Sticker1000 stickers = $505

1000 palm cards = $260

100 direct mail pieces = $71

10 lawn signs = $44

Your donation right now at whatever level is right for your family, will have an especially strong impact.

The more progress we make, the more outrageous and inflammatory the reaction from my opponent’s supporters.  The latest approach by that campaign is to create online aliases and then accuse me of being misleading.  Special thanks to everyone who has made a statement on social media about issues that impact our village without hiding behind a fictitious persona.  This is a campaign about community members, real people, working together to make Ossining better.

Petition Buddy V&LThanks for all of your help getting us this far.  We’ve had a very strong petition season thanks to the support of the Ossining Democratic Committee, and individual volunteers knocking on doors gathering signatures from registered Democrats and Independents.  Thank you!

A huge thanks to everyone who has already contributed to the campaign, and to those of you who are making a special contribution right now.

I look forward to a summer of hearing from community members about how to bring change to Ossining.

Many thanks,

Victoria

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