A Fulsome Agenda and a Fond Farewell at Council Meeting
BY ROBIN JOVANOVICH AND TOM MCDERMOTT
Outgoing Councilmembers Emily Hurd and Danielle Tagger-Epstein with Councilmember Richard Mecca, who was elected along with them in 2015.
At the last City Council meeting of the year, December 18, the Council Room was packed with a cross-section of the community — members of Rye High’s outstanding football team, which made it to the State semifinals for the first time since moving up to Class A; senior citizens in favor of replacing the faded entrance signs to the City with ones more in keeping with Rye’s history and character; supporters of Rye’s Tree Program; opponents of installing artificial turf at Nursery Field; and concerned residents who questioned the City’s handling of RyeTV’s future.
Resolutions, presentations, and appointments made up the bulk of the agenda. The Council unanimously passed the 2020 City budget — just under $42.7 million. They also approved authorizing the City Manager to initiate up to $1 million in improvements at Rye Recreation. The multi-part project is necessary because the Rye City School District, which has opened its doors and fields to Rye Rec campers for many years, is set to begin its own construction projects next summer.
In recent weeks, Rec Superintendent Sally Rogol and staff have done yeoman’s work putting the final touches on the preliminary design in time for Council approval before the project is considered at the January 6 Board of Architectural Review meeting. They have reached agreement with Christ’s Church to use their property for Kiddy Camp and with Resurrection Middle School for their Upper Camp. With no location for the Lower Camp, the Rec is on a tight schedule to complete its renovations at by mid-June. “We need to convert and create space for the 160 campers who would normally have gone to Midland,” said Rogol, adding, “One of our main goals is to provide the same level of service to all of our user groups. Turning to Rogol, Councilwoman Julie Souza said, “Rye Recreation really rose to the occasion. You were dealt a bad hand.”
Before discussion of the transition of RyeTV to a nonprofit or third-party organization, Mayor Josh Cohn provided a “recap”.
In his view, with more and more cable subscribers cutting the cord and technology changing the way residents access programming, “the future of RyeTV may be better if government is not the direct supervisor.”
While praising the Cable and Communications Committee for “documenting the civic life of Rye”, Mayor Cohn questioned whether the $400,000 the City invests in RyeTV each year is appropriate. “The path seems to lie in transferring this to a creative service organization.”
The challenge is that everyone on the Committee tendered their resignation in the last week, citing frustration and disappointment in the inexorably slow process, and more importantly, the fact that they were not consulted.
Councilwoman Sara Goddard, who, for the last two years, has been part of the City’s subcommittee tasked with exploring options for RyeTV, gave her own recap. “The exercise we undertook was to improve and enhance RyeTV. We looked at partnering in an LMC (Larchmont/Mamaroneck Community) TV way. At the previous Council meeting we talked about forming a working group. The Committee put together a list of talking points.” At this stage, Goddard, who was saddened by the resignation of every Commission member, was in favor of having a public discussion with RyeTV and did not feel the Council should move ahead with an action-oriented resolution.
Deputy Mayor Emily Hurd acknowledged that, “It can be difficult to reimagine something that is close to our hearts but moving RyeTV will expand the offerings.”
Councilwoman Danielle Tagger-Epstein asked pointedly: “Transition to what? Beginning 18 months ago, the Council started hearing from Committee members. To have them resign speaks volumes about this process. We need to get there together.”
Goddard recommended bringing the Committee back — “they are our allies, residents, volunteers. Not having them as part of this runs counter to collaboration.”
Former Committee member Paula Fung came to the podium to share the fact that the resignations came with a great deal of sadness. We have all enjoyed our time and would have loved to have had a studio at City Hall.” Fung noted that RyeTV had no firm assurance from the School District that the studio in the Middle School/High School would be available to them for the long-term. She wondered whether League of Women Voters debates, for one, would be broadcast once the Committee is no longer part of City government.
Mayor Cohn held out an olive branch, asking Fung whether she’d be willing to join the subcommittee.
Fung said that while she’d like to be part of the solution, she would have to think it over.
While commenting that making the Committee wait all this time has been “tremendously unfair” and that an employee (longtime Access Coordinator Nicole Levitsky) will be affected and should be part of this discussion, Councilwoman Julie Souza voted in favor of commencing the transition, along with the Mayor and Councilmembers Mecca and Hurd. Councilmembers Goddard and Tagger-Epstein voted “no”. Councilman Stacks was unable to attend the meeting.
For 2020, RyeTV has a budget this year similar to last year’s, stated City Manager Greg Usry. The primary difference is that the City has budgeted one full-time and two part-time employees, not the two full-time positions previously funded.
The last act of the Council was to bid farewell to outgoing Councilmembers Hurd and Tagger-Epstein, who thanked those remaining in the Council Room at 11 p.m. for staying late. There were lots of fine words and a few tears.