Six residents are running for City Council this fall. There are three seats open.
Six residents are running for City Council this fall. There are three seats open. We conducted lengthy interviews with Councilwoman Julie Killian and her running mates on the Republican ticket, Terry McCartney and Kirstin Bucci; Meg Cameron and Shari Punyon, who are running on the Democrat ticket; and Jason Mehler, who is running as an independent.
The Council that takes office in January will have to deal with three new labor agreements: Police, Fire, and Public Works. What’s your position on negotiating labor contracts?
Punyon: There is a delicate balancing act between the City’s need for financial viability and the need for City employees to feel they are valued. We want to be consistent with what other communities are paying and negotiate in good faith. Leadership is important; sometimes it’s just about laying out the numbers. This is reality.
McCartney: I think we need to be able to negotiate a contract. I’ve been resolving intractable agreements for 20 years. The number one essential for everyone whose door I’ve knocked on is keeping taxes low. I’m in agreement with a tough stand on the RPD, but there’s got to be a middle ground. Each side does not get exactly what they want. I’d like to see what other comparable communities are doing. Police officers report there are morale issues. By and large, they are a good group and do a great job in a tough town of mostly Type As.
Killian: We’re lucky to have such a professional Police Department. It’s unfortunate that we haven’t had a contract in so long. The Council should be more involved in the conversation. We should have one to three Council members become more involved in all labor negotiations. RPD must contribute; but what is the right number? Any contract should be beneficial to the City employees and keep taxpayers in mind.
Cameron: Other communities negotiate contracts with their unions, no reason why Rye can’t do this.
Bucci: The City is paying for all these lawyers. I have to believe it’s not an effective way. I would find it disrespectful if I was a City employee. Having said that, we also want this to be a place where firefighters and police officers can live, so we have to keep taxes down. Most people contribute to health care and it’s something we need to look at.
Mehler: One of my priorities is support for the Rye PD, Fire, DPW. We must remain strong. We must also look at the costs and analyze all possible solutions.
With a cushion in the General Fund for the first time in several years, what’s at the top of your wish list?
Cameron: I don’t have any projects in mind. I would answer if I was privy to the City Council information.
Mehler: We need to continue to address flood mitigation and the shortage of parking spots downtown. We also need to continue with programs like the Rye Y’s safe streets, making roadways safer.
Bucci: On the practical side, do a better job on sidewalks. The train station really needs work. We clearly have a parking issue in town. I’d like to see more biking; bike racks take up a lot less space. This isn’t just an infrastructure issue, it’s an awareness issue.
McCartney: Infrastructure needs work. The train station, Station Plaza is a high priority, flood mitigation.
Punyon: Infrastructure is a priority. Crosswalks need work, maybe just painting fresh lines. How about planters around the Rye Police Department? Simple, inexpensive things can make a big difference.
Killian: Station Plaza. Nothing will happen quickly with the MTA. Improvements for Smith/Purchase/Elm are already on the 2014 project list. I’d like to see us repair more sidewalks and make the City safer for our pedestrians. I’m the Council liaison to the Traffic and Safety Committee and I know there is new technology for sidewalks. The crossing at Christ’s Church on Milton is really bad. Crosswalks are my thing.
What is the best way for Rye to begin implementing the City’s recently released Sustainability Plan? Would you also be interested in reopening the discussion on a new tree ordinance?
Killian: We should start with an energy audit and then do a cost/benefit analysis. Look at the crazy amount of money we spend on streetlights — it’s something like $25,000 a month. We should begin to replace the conventional lights with LED
Punyon: While we don’t have a detailed proposal yet, Meg and I are trying to meet with Sara Goddard and get her views on the next steps forward.
Bucci: I have not yet had a chance to study the proposal.
McCartney: I’m not yet knowledgeable. Maybe Rye Nature Center should take the leads. We can’t just take down trees.
Mehler: I’m in favor of all the recommendations in the Sustainability Plan, but not sure where to start until we’ve looked at costs.
Cameron: It’s an important issue. We have to begin to follow some of the things in the plan. I don’t have any one thing in mind.
Police Commissioner William Connors has announced his retirement effective mid-January? The Council authorized the City Manager to begin the search for a new commissioner. Should we hire an interim Police Commissioner as some of the candidates have suggested, or proceed as planned?
Mehler: I am in favor of an interim chief. I think it should be part of the discussion when the next Council is in place.
Punyon: What we object to is not the search per se, but we would prefer any search lead to lead to an interim commissioner, perhaps “contract with a right to hire” kind of understanding, rather than appointment of a permanent commissioner at this point.
Bucci: The Commissioner is integral to the City. He’s been here 13 years but there is so much animosity. Let’s wait and start in a good place in January. I don’t see the harm of an interim Commissioner.
McCartney: The job will be filled for a decade. I have no problem waiting until January. The City Council needs to be involved. It’s okay to have an interim. We need to get away from questioning afterwards.
Killian: We should start now, as planned, to look for a search firm. The Council should be involved. It will be Thanksgiving before we have resumes and we’ll know who won the elections. The new Council will be involved in hiring. A Citizen’s Committee to help? Sure. Councilmembers, someone outside the Rye Police Department. This is really, really important given the last two years.
Cameron: It would help to review the responsibilities of the Rye Police Department, not anything long and drawn out, just a close look of where the Department stands, before we search for a Police Commissioner.
What motivated you to run or got you interested in politics and government?
McCartney: I like the challenge. Rye people like community service. Everybody volunteers, I did coaching. That time has passed and I have some time to give back. I was in the Student Association at VMI, always in a leadership role.
Killian: I was Treasurer of the 1995 City Council campaign, met great people. I’m a Republican, but I wasn’t quite ready. In 2009, I got involved in the School Board race, educated myself on union contracts, mandates, pension reform, same year as Astorino. Despite all, I still love it. We did a four-year financial plan, a conflict of interest policy.
Cameron: Actually, I’m not all that interested in politics, but in the nuts and bolts of issues facing Rye. As a young person, I lived through the Civil Rights struggle, Vietnam, the Women’s Movement, and was affected by these things, but don’t consider myself a political person. I’m not an ideologue.
Mehler: Always been interested. Watch every City Council meeting on tape. When Suzanna Keith resigned, I wanted to replace her. I felt my non-party affiliation would be an advantage. I did not understand that it was pre-determined that Julie Killian would get the nomination. This is the next opportunity.
Punyon: I always followed politics. I’m from Edison, New Jersey. Locally, it was Republicans vs. the Democrat machine over rezoning the wetlands.
Bucci: Motivation? Rye Golf Club. Mr. Yandrasevich said, ‘We’re in a death spiral’ and I began to go to more and more meetings. I’ve always followed politics, but don’t have any long-term political ambitions.