On November 5, voters will elect three individuals to the City Council. Six are running.
By Tom McDermott and Robin Jovanovich
On November 5, voters will elect three individuals to the City Council. Six are running. While they share many of the same beliefs on how to make the City run more efficiently and cordially, they expressed differences of opinion on how best to address the City’s ongoing and future challenges.
We conducted lengthy interviews with Meg Cameron and Shari Punyon, who are running on the Democrat ticket; Jason Mehler, who is running as an Independent; and Councilwoman Julie Killian, Terry McCartney, and Kristin Bucci, who are running on the Republican line. We listened to them speak at forums hosted by The Osborn October 21 and the League of Women Voters October 30.
How will you try to get City government to move forward from the recent scandals and personal attacks?
Punyon: We want to bring civility back. People jump at that. There’s a lack of civility within the Council and towards residents. Some people come over and over again to meetings. Maybe we need to take them offline so their concerns are addressed. There has to be a balance between making sure you listen and making sure it’s on a future agenda. We need to make Council meetings more businesslike.
Bucci: It’s a really important point. We need to be clear about our objectives. Success breeds success. We need to have a willingness and an openness to ideas. We can’t be locked down to on mind set. Most issues are not partisan, but Rye issues.
Cameron: By focusing on the business of the City. Some people take things personally, some don’t. It is ugly. If I still had small children at home I wouldn’t run.
Mehler: Running as a resident and parent, I want to make Rye a better place. I’m not aligned with anyone specifically.
Killian: One of the things is to keep an open mind. There are not always just one or two sides. It’s important to keep in mind that if someone disagrees with you it’s okay. Don’t pigeonhole people. One day you disagree, another day you don’t. People talk behind the scenes. The Council meetings are where we discuss and deliberate and there should not be factions. Government moves slowly, there are legal implications, ethics nuances. You want to think things through, consult with City staff and experts.
I feel strongly that we should limit the time people can speak. We should move non-agenda items up on the agenda and limit everyone to five minutes. We need to conduct orderly proceedings.
McCartney: I’d love to see the City Council return to a responsible and respectful body. We’re not electing people to bicker. I’ll do my best to elevate the discourse.
Looking beyond January, do you think it’s time for Rye to have an Assistant City Manager again?
Cameron: The City Manager would be the person to answer that. Let him decide where that resource is best used.
Mehler: First we should evaluate the performance of our current management. The Democrats have called for operating reviews, but we already do that.
McCartney: Leadership is required. The staff has been reduced so much, but it all begins with leadership.
Killian: City Hall is thinly staffed. I’m not sure an Assistant City Manager is the right position, but I know help is needed. Maybe we need to change some City jobs. Any decision we make about staffing requires us to look at cost to the City.
Bucci: It would seem there is some sort of structural problem with the office. The City Council’s oversight should be more specific.
Punyon: We should look at bringing the position back. If the City Manager does the job of two to three people, often it’s management that’s the problem, not the employee. I don’t think the City Manager is reviewed on a regular enough basis.
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 — something like $25,000 a month. We should begin to replace the conventional lights with LED.
Punyon: While Meg and I don’t have a detailed proposal yet, we are set to meet with Sara Goddard and get her views on the next steps forward. I’d like to see more water fountains and restaurants serving less bottled water. Not a ban, but, if possible, just serve glasses of water.
Bucci: I have not yet studied the Sustainability Plan enough to assess it. But I like trees. As my 5- year-old says, “When you take down a tree, you make the earth hotter.”
McCartney: I’m just becoming familiar with the plan. While Sandy put the tree ordinance on the back burner, we cannot just take down trees. Maybe the Rye Nature Center should take the lead on this.
Cameron: It’s an important issue. We have to begin to follow some of the recommendations that the committee worked so hard on.
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.
The tax cap has kept Rye taxes somewhat in check, although they exceed the 2% increase. With mandates to pay unfunded benefits at hand and increasing in the years ahead, how should the Council proceed to deal with how it pays or gets relief on those payments?
Bucci: Unfunded mandates are tricky. What’s our ability to negotiate upstream? It’s going to be difficult for sure. We have to keep taxes low. We’re the most highly taxed county. This has been the Rye United team’s top priority. People ask what am I getting. As taxes get higher, people start to calculate what they’re getting. We want this to be a town with diversity of age, family style, and income.
Mehler: Our No. 1 priority is keeping home values high and property taxes low. We must do more with less.
Killian: One of my passions before getting on the Council was educating people on mandates. The Triborough Amendment has hurt the State. Change has to happen in Albany. I wish we had boots on the ground in Albany. We don’t have enough control over our costs because so much of our budget and is mandated. I wanted the tax cap because it would force the state to provide mandate relief. We’re feeling those cuts at the schools and wondering what they’re going to have to cut next year. We need to put pressure on Albany. Overriding the tax cap is a big deal. Lowering our taxes is not going to happen, but we can control them. We can’t shut down areas of thought. It might be helpful for us to have a forum, not just a formal meeting.
McCartney: The No. 1 thing you hear from residents when you knock on their doors is: taxes. They want us to keep them low.
Cameron: The tax cap is going to be reduced so the problem will only get worse. There is no magic pill. We must do a nuts and bolts job of watching every dollar. We have to look at everything we can.
With an average of three teardowns a month in Rye and developers building up to the maximum or going for a variance, the “big house” issue is on the front burner. The City Planner has recommended that the City amend its building code to reduce the volume and mass of these big houses. Is this a good first step in helping maintain the character of Rye neighborhoods?
McCartney: Development is difficult to balance. The City Planner is offering a plan. We need a sensible measuring stick to retain the character of our neighborhoods. We need to balance property rights and the good of the town.
Punyon: There are many teardowns in my Glen Oaks neighborhood. Total square footage and plot sizes are problems. Notice to neighbors needs to be more timely. I have personal experience with this. I received a vague notice. Sometimes neighbors don’t seem to get any and then they see a huge house going up.
Mehler: I’m open to listening to make decisions in the community’s best interest.
Bucci: I think it’s a start. There’s two-and-a-half stories and then there’s two-and-a-half stories. We’ve seen this in Rye Gardens. I want to hear from the public on this.
Killian: Perhaps we should measure the height of a home differently. I hear more about height issues. Rye looks at grade when it’s built; Greenwich looks at grade when it starts. It’s about quality of life. I don’t think we can include basements. I don’t like the dormers rule because dormers, like porches, are pleasing.
Cameron: I’m completely in favor of addressing the problem of overbuilding through changes in the zoning laws. Overbuilding worsens flooding and changes the character of the community.
What skills will you bring to the City Council?
Mehler: My accounting back- ground will benefit the City. I have strong budgeting and financial planning skills. I’m also an excellent listener and a quick learner. I treat everyone fairly and am very good at adapting to different situations.
Cameron: I have a science background, which enables me to weigh problems on their own merits. I get along with people. I’m not part of the groups fighting on the Council now. I’m in a position to walk into a Council meeting and work productively.
Killian: My financial background and the fact that I’ve served on the Council for almost a year and a half and have worked as liaison to a number of committees from Traffic and Safety to Finance. I pushed for the Council to put a stronger ethical disclosure policy in place and for a long-term financial plan.
Bucci: I was an equity research analyst. I analyzed companies in great detail, I’m trained to see problems.
Punyon: My technical writing skills require me to put complicated things in an understandable language. I work with multi-functional teams to get out a quality product on time. I know how to work together.
McCartney: The City Council is crying out for leadership. I’ve been in leadership positions since junior high. I’m a doer. If you want one, vote for me.
Education: Degree in Public Accounting from SUNY Plattsburgh
Career: Real estate broker with Better Homes and Gardens/Rand Realty
Family: He and his wife Carin, a teacher at Osborn School, have two school-age daughters and a peekapoo.
How did you meet your spouse: The old-fashioned way, at a bar in Manhattan.
Book on your nightstand: A work of modern fiction.
Education: Bucknell University
Career: Former equity research analyst
Family: She and her husband have three daughters.
How did you meet your spouse: Through a mutual friend
Book on your nightstand: “The Orphan Master’s Son.”
Education: Notre Dame University and NYU Stern School of Business
Career: Former trader at Citibank
Family: She and her husband have five children, the eldest of whom is in college.
How did you meet your spouse: I met Gary when I was in business school in New York and really poor but loved to ski. The ski trip I was planning to go on didn’t happen because the car broke down. Gary worked with my sister’s college roommate’s cousin. We ended up spending the day in New York City.
Book on your nightstand: “Winter of the World” trilogy by Ken Follett.
Education: SUNY Purchase, Visual Arts and Biology, Master’s degree in Science in Immunology Career: Former molecular biologist
Family: She and her husband Jim Glickenhaus have a daughter who is a senior in college, a grown son, and a grandchild.
How did you meet your spouse: We met when I was 16. I lived in Brooklyn, he in New Rochelle. Fate brought him to a sculpture class at the Brooklyn Museum.
Book on your nightstand: Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which is a wonderful allegory of the split in the human psyche.
Education: B.A. in Physics from Rutgers University Career: Technical writer with Siemens Healthcare
Family: She and her husband Harris have two grown children and a 5-year-old daughter.
How did you meet your spouse: My husband interviewed me for a job.
Book on your nightstand: Jonathan Tropper’s latest and I’m rereading “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls.
Education: Virginia Military Institute, St. Thomas University School of Law
Career: Trial lawyer, ex-Marine
Family: He and his wife Julia have two sons, one of whom is a freshman in college.
How did you meet your spouse: We met when we were in college. She went to Hollins.
Book on your nightstand: “The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire.”