On the Record with the Council Candidates

We recently interviewed the two Rye City Council slates, independently, to hear their views on Rye’s immediate and long-term needs, traffic safety, the City’s aging infrastructure, and the road ahead.

Published October 10, 2011 3:21 PM
10 min read


We recently interviewed the two Rye City Council slates, independently, to hear their views on Rye’s immediate and long-term needs, traffic safety, the City’s aging infrastructure, and the road ahead.


We recently interviewed the two Rye City Council slates, independently, to hear their views on Rye’s immediate and long-term needs, traffic safety, the City’s aging infrastructure, and the road ahead.


Here are the highlights of our discussions with the Democratic ticket of Councilwoman Paula Gamache, Josh Nathan, and Councilwoman Catherine Parker; and the Republican ticket of Laura Brett, Raphael Elias-Linero, and Councilman Joe Sack.


Video of the complete interviews, will appear here at RyeRecord.com within the week.


Election Day is November 8. Remember to vote.

The Rye Record: How are we going to prevent a flooding disaster and further property loss?


cc-jnathanNathan: We must clean up the Brook, finish the sluice gate, and work with state, county, and federal partners. It will not, if I’m on the Council, take four years to finish the flood projects. It’s going to be job one. We should draw on the intellectual firepower of the City. All three of us have a proposal on the Rye Record website.


Brett: The short-term mitigation solutions include cleaning up the sides of the brook, making sure we do whatever can to make the water flow. Second, we have to continue ongoing projects like the sluice gate. Finally, Councilman Filippi mentioned something at the flood meeting, and that’s something everyone can do: put pressure on state and federal officials to fund these long-term projects.


Parker: There is real frustration about the projects still waiting to be addressed, but the sluice gate was held up in Rye Brook. We believe in making the Flood Action Committee a standing committee. Having a City Committee and a Council liaison are crucial. We have talked about having a mandatory evacuation plan.

Sack: Unfortunately, the solutions that have a major impact cost so much that they’re out of our capability. Unless the federal government or governor steps up and says we have commitment to funding, it’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.


Elias-Linero: Just because something is basic doesn’t mean it’s not important. You can keep your drains clean, or if you’re paving your driveway consider a permeable surface. If everyone knew what to do, and took two or three steps it would make a big difference. I think we can improve coordination and communication.


Gamache: There’s a misconception that flooding isn’t the Council’s high priority. It is. The sluice gate will relieve flooding in mid-level storms, probably not a hurricane. The staff has been working on it, pushing it. The City did start cleaning up the Brook. We received FEMA approval, and they’re starting at the high school and moving north. We’re being held up by governmental bureaucracy. Not ours — we’re too small to be bureaucratic.


RR: The Rye City School Board is ready to ask voters to approve a $20 million bond for additions to the RMS/RHS campus. The City can’t do the big infrastructure repairs it needs to — sewers, storm drains, not to mention flood mitigation — without bonding. Are taxpayers likely to go for two bonds in so short a timeframe?

cc-sackSack: The School bond could be upwards of $25 million, and that’s sticker shock. It’s really easy to say we have a lot more kids so we have to do it. It’s like holding a gun to your head and being kept hostage.

I have three young kids and I want what’s best. But I think it’s kind of lazy to say we have more kids so we have to do it. I don’t think residents have an appetite for both, and I’m concerned the City will come in second. I would hope that the School Board, when cutting back the size of their bond — because $25 million is too much — has the sensitivity to realize: the kids are coming, but the pipes are bursting, too.


Parker: Elastic revenues have gone away. Revenues come from property taxes. Infrastructure needs can’t be put off. While I enjoy the idea of pay-as-you-go, our only way forward is through bonding.

Nathan: We talk to each other about impending bonds. We have the experience; we have been working on things collectively. We know what it takes to listen to the public and listen to their sensitivities. The Board of Education will have a dialogue that presents choices. Understanding what the community can afford is crucial.

Brett: Making people choose between schools and flood control will just divide the city. I think we should take a more long-term approach. I have a daughter in the middle school; there’s no doubt there’s overcrowding and the science labs are in serious need of updating. It’s not just a question of kids versus pipes; without busing, everyone gets to school on the roads, so we need to address both.

Elias-Linero: The Schools don’t have to worry whether a science lab’s going to be flooded. The City has limited resources. The more you leverage the City, the higher interest costs you pay. Onerous in the short term and long term because you’re going to have to pay through taxes or rolling over that debt. The more you leverage the City, the more you put at risk our ratings, and the higher interest costs you may pay.


We have to see what part of the school project can be phased out; we also have to address the infrastructure emergencies. We have to prioritize, we have to choose.


RR: With the plan scrapped to rezone 1037 Boston Post Road, what’s a better plan for the property? One that recovers close to the $6 million the City paid for it?


cc-parkerParker: There’s no question that there will be a sale of the building. The City will produce a Request for Proposal. I still believe in mixed use; its proximity to downtown might lead to a restaurant there, a place for empty nesters and commuters.

Gamache: It’s already zoned for mixed use. We had to go through the rezoning drill. Otherwise, down the road, we’d be accused of getting too little money for the taxpayers. I can see the possibility of a purchaser coming to the City: here’s my proposal, we need a variance of some sort. Now the Council can look at and see if it makes sense, is it going to be good or detrimental to the community.

Sack: We’re clearly going to take a bath on that. The former City Council bought an option on a building … and they leapt before they looked. They could have looked like heroes, but that’s the risk they took. It’s hard to blame them, but it certainly didn’t work out and now we’re stuck holding the bag. We can try to sell it on the market as-is, and I won’t opine for how much we could sell it for, but it will be a fraction of that.

Nathan: If you pay $120 for a stock that falls to $4, waiting for it to go back up to $100 isn’t going to happen. And you have to look at the other costs: 60 units that might include 100 kids at $20,000 a kid … we can’t afford that.


RR: Are we doing a good enough job of traffic safety enforcement? Cell phone violations, illegal U-turns and wrong-way turns seem to the public to have escalated.


cc-gamacheGamache: It’s really about people being adults. The BPR road diet is a calming device. We have stop signs instead of streetlights downtown. We’re getting smarter about how people handle this.

Sack: We need to remind people about civility and doing the right thing when no one is looking.


Brett: Treat these violations like we do DWI’s.

Parker: We went to the City to assign an officer to downtown. It was Mike Larkin. Officer Rivera has the post now. The bump-outs at Locust and Purchase will slow traffic. We’ve made good strides.


RR: The fastest growing part of the City’s budget is pension and health care costs. What structural change(s) would you make to keep the rising costs at a manageable percentage?

cc-relElias-Linero: Pensions are going to continue to rise. We need to look for ways to improve revenue flow — that’s not a code word for raising taxes. For example, promoting downtown Rye as a place for commerce. We’re going to have to be very creative to raise revenues. Improving the kind of businesses we have would be a good start.  


Brett: We value what our public employees do and it’s important that we communicate that to the police and firemen who protect us and the DPW staff who pick up our garbage. As we attack these costs, we have to be careful about deals with short-term increases but larger increases on the backside.

Gamache: We are really back to 2009 levels of spending and our head count is actually down. There’s a hard cap on adding new positions. We’ll be looking to outsourcing and shared services. We are going to get another bump up in pension and health care costs. The Council’s goal has been to ease the burden on the taxpayer. Whatever we are going to get, we will have to get out of someone’s pocket.


Nathan: Two things to consider: 1) You want good people to serve; 2) The fact is you have to sit down with unions and consider what you can do. I was very much in the thick of that with the teachers’ union. We simply knew what the community wanted, where the line was. People forgot that it’s called collective bargaining; it’s a matter of open dialogue.

Sack: It’s important for us to have a good dialogue, a positive engagement with our partners — the police, fire, DPW, and all the CSEA workers. We need to start the conversation with: ‘We’re all in this together. We really can’t sustain these increases.’ I also think we need to discuss these contracts more publicly. Does anyone know that we had our first sit down with the Police Union arbitrator September 8? I only found out because I called the City attorney. We don’t want the kind of acrimony we saw in the last Rye Teachers Association agreement negotiations, which came at a high cost to the community and the teachers.


RR: We’ve been fortunate to have an influx of new small businesses downtown. What can the City do to make sure they’re able to stay, to further grow the local economy, and ensure Purchase Street is a destination for all?


Parker: I’ve been here 15 years, which makes me one of the old ladies on Purchase Street, and I have to say, right now, as far as vacancies go, we’re really low and that’s great. I go to Larchmont and Greenwich now and then, and in comparison we’re looking good. There is paper up in the windows in Sam Goody because a home furnishing store is opening there soon – finally! We’ve been hit by other recessions – like the dot-com bubble – and it has manifested itself in vacancies on Purchase. But it’s still a great place and if you’re offering the right service or merchandise the people will come and they will support you.


cc-brettBrett: The City is taking positive steps by removing the lights once the sidewalk project is finished. Some people care about the experience as they’re walking and making it more pedestrian-friendly will help revitalize downtown. But we need to figure out what causes business to leave, and how to keep the others here while determining why people aren’t coming. One thing I’ve heard over and over is that parking is a major issue, so the City needs to take a look at maximizing the spaces available. Again, 1037 can be a part of that analysis because you don’t want something there hurting downtown parking.


RR: With money short and so many capital improvement projects on the long-term list, what immediate quality-of-life improvements (like the seasonal leaf blower ban enacted in the last administration) can the City move forward on?


Brett: The essential question for the next four years is how to do more with less. In working with a not-for-profit, we’ve had to make those exact types of decisions when the budget is decreasing but you have to reach the same amount of people. It’s a huge challenge; every little decision is essential and you count your pennies. I don’t have any specific suggestions, but I think more coordination between the City and not-for-profits would be helpful. I sense a lot of duplication of effort.

Gamache: The Shared Roadways concept is a question of paint, perhaps signage. It’s a low-cost experiment that improves the environment and increases safety.


Sack: As far as making due with less, the City Manager has tried to be creative with garbage routes in restructuring them so they are more efficient. I think things like that need to be looked at more. Regarding quality of life, I think we need to encourage more cleanliness in the downtown area. It’s something that comes up at the Council a lot, and it affects the image of Rye. You can see it outside Starbucks when people don’t throw their cups in the can.


Nathan: Look at services that can be shared, not just with other communities, but between the School District and the City. This is the time to really collaborate more. And, too, parking is a quality-of-life issue. I hear a lot of complaints about the parking tickets.

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