After a three-year absence from public service, Rye City Council appointee Sara Goddard is back on the dais.
Goddard last served as a City Council member from 2018 through 2021, after which she decided not to seek a second term to kickstart her career.
“If they were two-year terms, I would have absolutely run again,” Goddard said. But she had been out of the paid workforce for more than 15 years, and knew her return would take time and effort.
Not so ironically, Goddard’s new career path centers on teaching others what she learned and accomplished during her time as an elected official and before that, as founder and chair of Rye Sustainability Committee.
She’s a course facilitator through e-Cornell on Equitable Community Change and Women in Leadership and a faculty lecturer at Columbia University’s M.S. Sustainability Management Program, where she teaches a class she designed on sustainability leadership. Additionally, her online guide, “Green That Life,” provides templates for how to create and advocate for sustainable living.
Goddard’s full circle back to Council business came after member Ben Stacks vacated his seat at the end of 2023.
Driving her return is a passion for public service and connecting to community. “If you go into whatever public service position that you’re in with the mindset that you’re going to address all types, all voices, it is a way to, hopefully, break through all those barriers. And, it’s personally fulfilling,” she said.
She joins a City Council that was deeply divided until the November election, when new members were elected. Those who ran successfully for the Council had been critical of Mayor Josh Cohn and how he ran the City’s business with the support of three other Council members. After the election, Cohn’s four-person coalition was reduced to three, and then further to two with the resignation of Stacks.
Asked her opinion of how the City was run by the mayor and his coalition, Goddard responded: “I prefer to focus on the future and reflect on my own role. While I can’t speak for others or their methods, I firmly believe that legislative bodies function most effectively in a transparent and public setting.”
A look back at her time in office and as Rye Sustainability Committee chair provides an indication of what Goddard will bring to her year-long term. She is a firm believer that issues of public policy should be debated, discussed, and deliberated in a public forum even if it turns out to be a lengthy process.
“I know in the past I’ve heard, ‘Oh this issue’s gone on for years,’” Goddard said. “Well, that’s the democratic way. You can have a private corporation where the CEO and his or her executives say, ‘Enough, this is a sunk cost, we’re going to make XYZ decision.’ That is not how it works.”
Goddard is no stranger to understanding and deliberating issues that Rye residents have strong feelings about. When the Sustainability Committee introduced a reusable bag initiative that was passed in 2011, Goddard and her volunteers engaged in a broad-based effort to research programs in other municipalities, get community feedback, and listen to and address concerns.
“There were some deli owners who, understandably so, were really worried,” she said. The Committee cold-called similar food establishments in cities and towns across the U.S. that had implemented reusable bag initiatives to see if they had been adversely affected. The positive feedback helped ease the deli owners’ apprehensions.
“It’s our responsibility, when you’re introducing change, to reassure or find the answers,” Goddard said.
She aims to bring that same deliberate sensibility to the decisions she will be making as a Council member on the now-paused plan to install artificial turf on Nursery Field, including getting a grasp of the funding structure and impact on the surrounding area.
“These are all questions that I don’t necessarily have the answer to, and I need to have conversations with my fellow council members, with the public,” she said. “I do trust in our city manager and our corporation counsel and the amazing staff there to provide us with the expert answers, because we are not the experts in things like that.”
After three years away, Goddard returns to the City Council with a renewed appreciation for the way Rye residents get involved when it comes to municipal matters that are important to them. And now she’s excited to be back to lend a hand in the change-making process.
“This is a pretty amazing town,” she said. “People see an issue that needs addressing and they take great pride in being the leader on something. I love that.”