We the People of Rye Deserve Better
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) recently said, “We the people must demand more of our politicians and ourselves. Oaths matter. Character matters. Truth matters.” We the people, of the City of Rye, deserve better from our City Council.
On June 15, the Council approved The Osborn’s zoning amendment petition, setting in motion a decade of building on one of the city’s highest points, and in the backyard of the Osborn School. The community repeatedly brought forth concerns: flooding, loss of mature trees and green space, noise, proximity to the school, traffic, and pedestrian safety. The truth is that it is the responsibility of the City Council to protect Rye residents from potential harm. By approving this petition, before completing their flood mitigation assessment, or engaging independent professionals for traffic or environmental studies, they have put us all in harm’s way.
To those who have not followed these hearings, you have not been privy to the contempt exhibited by some members of the Council toward the public. We refer you to the pertinent videos on the City’s website, in particular June 15, 2022. The suppressive behavior exhibited by those we elected to represent our views and voices was discouraging and disappointing.
NYS law dictates that Council meetings be open, and not even perceptually exclude the public. The public has the right to participate in the governmental process (not to be called hostile or mean by the Council) and to be involved in decisions that will affect our community. Though not required, all public hearings on this topic were held virtually, despite repeated requests from the public for in-person meetings. The format and timing of the hearings were dictated by the Council, and very much biased toward The Osborn, creating an imbalance of power.
During the hearings, The Osborn, their lawyers, engineers, and consultants were visible at all times, given unlimited time to speak, and “elevated” to participate. Members of the public were not visible and were muted unless invited to speak — for three minutes each. The deliberate erasure of the public’s faces and sharing of only their voices dehumanized them and minimized their concerns. It would have been morally and ethically responsible for the Council to have held one in-person hearing, or minimally, leveled the virtual playing field. To uphold their oath, the Council must represent ALL of their constituents, not only the interests of one applicant.
After a year of delay, in March 2022, The Osborn submitted an ‘Illustrative Site Diagram’ (at the behest of the Council, the Mayor, and the City Planner) which confirmed the public’s greatest fears. The community rallied and sent hundreds of pages of letters to the Council, the tone of which belied their concern. Though there is discrepancy in the public record over who – The Osborn or City Council – is responsible, the subsequently scheduled public hearing was canceled, once again circumventing public participation. The Diagram, later deemed irrelevant by those who requested it, and labeled a “red herring” by the Mayor, is indicative of the lack of public advocacy by the City Council throughout this process. Feeling unheard by the Council, 141 residents signed a letter requesting an adjournment of the public hearings until this fall, with the hope of collaborating with The Osborn to find a solution more acceptable to all. Why not embrace this opportunity to bring the community together for dialogue? The Mayor and some members of the Council refused to hear such a motion; instead, approving The Osborn’s petition with a super-majority (75%) vote.
Only one Councilmember had the character to ask the questions necessary to ensure that the Council’s decision was environmentally-sound and in the best interest of the entire community. Unconvinced, he voted against the application. In contrast, other members of the Council spoke out of turn, interrupted, ignored those with their virtual hands raised, and were dismissive of their role as lead agency in the environmental assessment. Most involved in this discussion were defending the physical and mental well-being of all children who will attend the Osborn School over the next decade, our environment, (particularly flooding), and the very character of Rye. We deserve to be heard for as often, and as long as it takes, to weigh in on such an important and irrevocable decision. Instead, those actively engaged were denied their Constitutional right of free speech from the City Council’s virtual dais.
We, the people of Rye, deserve better from our elected officials. The Council’s behavior toward the public and subsequent passage of the zoning amendment was not for the good of our community, not for the good of our children, and certainly not for the good of our environment. We must insist that they honor their oaths, exhibit character, tell the truth, conduct themselves with professionalism and decorum, and represent the views and voices of those who chose to put them in office.
- Residents of the City of Rye