Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Groundhog Day: Newburgh's never-ending nightmare

The results are in: Burger, Dillard, and Angelo win. Newburgh loses.
I lost in my bid against Burger, partly because the minor party candidates pulled votes. Yet, mostly because the numbers were not in my favor and many of my supporters stayed home. I can't understand.
People in Newburgh have been doing the same thing over and over. But there is a twist; they expect different results. That is the definition of severe insanity. I am somewhat frustrated but I will turn to the positive.

First, I will continue to speak up on public issues that involve the city. We have housing, economic development and fiscal problems which need to be addresses.

Second, I will expose more Newburgh tidbits in this blog. It is important to know the story behind the story.

Lastly, I will continue to be involved in the community. Newburgh folks are hurting. You know and it and I see it everyday.

Thanks to all who supported me and voted yesterday.

All is good!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Time for action.

There comes a time when enough is enough. It is past that time right now.

It amazes me that more people are not up in arms over the prospect of a doubling of their taxes. There should be citizens in front of City Hall protesting. I predict there will be, if the City decides to go ahead with a 90% increase in taxes as was proposed by the City Manager at the recent budget meeting. Who can support such a crazy concept?

It is hard from the outside to say exactly what City Hall should do. But raising taxes should not be on the list. Already, real estate sales have plummeted due to high taxes and market conditions. With the current tax structure, a two-family house is actually a single family home. One unit now goes to pay the taxes. Not an ideal situation for an investor; even worse for a new homeowner.

By raising taxes, the expense will be passed along to the tenants. Newburgh could change drastically because the poor would not be able to live here and, unfortunately, Newburgh is not yet desirable to attract higher income renters.

Right now, City Hall should not stop at a quick fix for 2009 and a hope and prayer for 2010. There should be a long-term plan to solve the fiscal crisis that the past five years of malfeasance has brought us.

I would suggest the following "fixes" to our current crisis:

First, create a task force to design and implement a five-year plan to fiscal solvency. This group should include city and county officials, a member of the NYS Comptroller's office, accountants, city planners, an IDA representative and Newburgh residents. This five-year plan should be upheld and continued by any new City Manager that touches ground in City Hall. Hence, change in the City Manager should not affect the plan itself. By 2012, the next five-year plan should be developed and implemented.

Second, disband the economic development department. It has not produced any worthwhile economic development. Instead, a memorandum of understanding should be executed with the Orange County Partnership, and the Newburgh and Orange County Industrial Development Agencies. The agreement should require these agencies to market and sell Newburgh as a viable location for companies and industries to do business. We have two large parcels that need to be correctly marketed: the Pierces Road lot and the Armory on William Street. Both would make excellent industrial parks. Orange County could assist in making them positive development projects that could expand our tax base.

Third, sell all city-owned property and immediately put them on the tax rolls. These properties should be sold for the outstanding taxes, plus any interest and fees. After the sale of said properties, a steady tax cash flow will assist in sustaining future revenue. The city, in the past, has been trying to profit on these buildings and holding them for that purpose. The city is not a developer. Newburgh is a municipality with the purpose of protecting and securing its citizens and maintaining infrastructure to attract new residents and industry.

It boggles my mind that the City is the largest owner of real estate. Currently, our city owns over 300 properties. With foreclosures occurring at a frightening pace, the city could have over 600 properties by 2011. They are quick to grab a property then do nothing with it. These city-owned properties are costing taxpayers too much. The city has no capacity to manage them nor the stomach to evict the tenants. If the city continues to act as a landlord, it will be exposed to potential lawsuits and liabilities. And we all know the city does not handle lawsuits very well.

Before you read on, please note that public safety (police and fire) make up 50% of the city's budget.

Fourth, consolidate the Newburgh City Fire Department with the local volunteer fire districts in the Town of Newburgh. This is no small order. The fire fiefdoms of the township are holding on to their fire district incomes. They have more equipment than our paid firefighters. By consolidating resources, we could actually expand all departments, pay more firefighters and respond more quickly to fires in both municipalities.

Fifth, revamp the entire Newburgh Police Department from the head down. I called for a new police chief in my blog several months ago. In response, I received a two-page, well-written letter from Chief Paolilli defending his tenure. Sorry Chief. But I believe the NPD would be better served with an outsider who has no attachment to the ranks. Someone who will roll heads when drug money is missing or an officer violates the rights of a citizen. A chief who has no tolerance for bad behavior on the part of his officers. We have good men and women in the police force who work hard. Like anyone else, they want to go home alive. And they have a better chance of doing that in a cushy police job in a Westchester County town. But they chose Newburgh.

Consolidating Newburgh PD with township forces or Orange County Sheriffs is a joke. Even the NY State Troopers are out of their element in Newburgh's inner city. Newburgh police are trained in handling our inner city problems, however, we need to expand their ability to operate and effectively patrol the city. We need more cops and cameras. There are federal programs to make this a reality, but the city needs to seek them out.

These are just some ideas that are feasible to save money and reinvent our city government. But it requires innovation, purpose, courage and action. And good relations with Orange County. Our county is the only fiscally responsible municipality in New York State. And Newburgh should take notes.

This year is the first year in the past 12 years that the county will not be plowing Broadway. It was reported to me that we lost this beneficial service because McGrane and Valentine did not know how to keep good relations with county officials. In any event, the county left equipment behind so our DPW can get the job done. But if we cut staff, how will these men and women be able to plow both Broadway and side streets? The side streets have always been poorly plowed because of cars on both sides of the street and potholes. I hope Garrison's department will be able to pull this off. He says he can.

We have a financially ruined city, firemen and police with low morale, and taxpayers unable to bear the burden of higher taxes. Worse yet, we have no leadership. We need to change how we operate and think about our local government. Consolidation can save money and make services more effective. Forming task forces to address issues and take action is better than doing studies that sit on a shelf. The bottom line is we need action. And my campaign is a call for change and a call for action.

It is time to acknowledge that enough is enough. And vote to remove city and county officials who cannot lead us where we need to go. We need financial solvency and we need to rebuild our sense of community.

Please vote for me on Tuesday, November 3. I promise to promote change that will lead to better results!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Attorney for Newburgh Geoffry Chanin resigns

Confirmed! Geoffry Chanin resigned from his post as Corporation Counsel for the City of Newburgh effective yesterday. We have lost the Comptroller, Fire Chief, and City the legal mind leaves.

Very scary times.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Can't Cut City Government Enough

Big news!

Inside story!

Word is that the Interim City Manager Richard Herbek was about to layoff people Friday morning.

Yes, layoffs are eminent. But Herbek was convinced not to drop the hammer until Tuesday. There is a meeting or press release that is going to announce some very bad news for city taxpayers.

It is hard to confirm but taxpayers are facing a mega double-digit tax increase of 60 to 75 percent. This increase is happening even though the city is laying off more than 70 employees. And after all that, the city may face a 7 million dollar deficit by year end 2010!!!!!

Now, Mr. Herbek is no joke. He doesn’t have to do the politics game. He is not there to make friends. He is not elected and does not have a political mandate.

He said that there has not been a realistic budget done in Newburgh in over 10 years. Now reality is biting us is biting us in the soft flesh just below our wallets.

It will be interesting to see how elected city officials will deal with telling workers that their lack of vigilance has cost them their jobs.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It can't get any crazier. Or could it...?

Newburgh. Broke...
Newburgh residents...broke.
Newburgh City Hall, broke.
Trust in Newburgh City officials, broken.

City is selling Tax Anticipation Notes for taxes uncollected since 2005 to the tune of $7.5 million. Who will buy?

City Manager ready to cut workforce out of necessity for 2010.
Word is our that he may cut police force to 70 police officers. There should be 150!

City Council is asleep at the wheel. Like deer in headlights.

I ran into a city department head fresh out of a meeting with the interim city manager. He was not smiling. He could not give details, but the city will be half the force it used to be. Serious change, I suppose. Unfortunately, it is imperative to make the cuts. But not to police and firefighter!

The city could cut garbage collection. It could cut the Economic Development department that does not produce anything. It could contract a grant writer and get some Federal funds for new projects.

Most importantly, it could go the County of Orange and get a good lesson in fiscal management! But it is hard to get advice in midst of crisis. They are scrambling to make payroll. And we will be scrambling to pay taxes.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Newburgh's Night Out

It was good to be out on Newburgh's Night Out. Lots of activities and people having fun. We should not have a yearly Night Out. It should be weekly during the summer. It was fun to see the streets full of people, young people dancing at a block party and plenty of food and drinks. Actually, I saw the Newburgh police delivering juice from the trunk of a their squad car. A great night!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hudson Valley Press: Newburgh to get more police officers

July 28th, 2009
Newburgh and Poughkeepsie Receive Money for Police

Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) today announced more than $2.2 million in federal economy recovery funds for three local law enforcement forces to add or retain 10 police officer positions throughout the next three years. Monticello has been awarded $253,313 for one officer position, Newburgh has received $843,543 for four officer positions, and Poughkeepsie will receive $1,050,400 to pay for five officer positions. The funds come through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which Hinchey actively supported and voted for earlier this year.

"At a time when local municipalities are facing difficult financial circumstances, this federal economic recovery funding will help keep police officers on the beat and ensure the public remains adequately protected," Hinchey said. "Public safety must never be compromised and these federal funds will ensure that these three municipalities have the resources needed to staff their police forces. I'm very pleased that the economic recovery funds we approved earlier this year in Washington are making their way back up to New York in an effective manner."

The funding is being allocated to the municipalities to hire and/or rehire career law enforcement officers in an effort and to increase their community policing capacity and crime prevention efforts. The grants will provide 100 percent funding for approved entry-level salaries and benefits for three years for newly-hired, full-time sworn officer positions (including filling existing unfunded vacancies) or for rehired officers who have been laid off, or are scheduled to be laid off on a future date, as a result of local budget cuts. Communities receiving the grants are required to maintain adequate funding levels for a fourth year.

The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) is administering the funding through its COPS Hiring Recovery Program. COPS grants are used to address retention of police officers to fight crime and provide more effective policing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

City Manager leaves us in a lurch

The interim Newburgh City Manager is out. He no longer wants to play ball in our park. He took his jacks and $3,200 a week part-time and went home. To the other side of the river. The wealthier, more civilized, more positive side of the river.

I am sadly disappointed that he bailed. Admittedly, I didn't find his arrival too favorable at first. Maybe I was caught up in the rumors and negativity at the time. But being somewhat pragmatic, I later thought the man could do something while he was here. After all, he did weather the storm of bricks that Newburgh threw at him. Dwight Douglas, at least, had some marketable skills to bring to Newburgh. And the most important skill he had, which we will sorely miss, is his ability to write a sensible, fiscally responsible and timely municipal budget.

The Community Lyceum Group has several committees which investigate information about the city and report back to the main group monthly on Saturdays at the library. I head up the Taxes and Fiscal Management committee. During our April meeting, I made a presentation about the city's 2009 budget. I am not terribly good at numbers, but I can see a 2.8 million dollar deficit with one eye shut. And that is what I reported to the Lyceum group when I saw a revenue stream that included the sale of 2.8 million in city-owned properties being sold. There was no plan to sell any city properties. This was Jeanne McGrane's budget that the council swallowed hook, line, and sinker.

On April 24 in the Times-Herald Record, Douglas announced the same $2.8M shortfall and warned of a $1.3M deficit by the end of fiscal 2009. And that was with $2.1M being spent out of reserves. This was about the time I started to like Douglas. Not too many City Managers came forward in the past to warn of impending danger. So he was, at least doing the right thing by informing the public. He later tried to set up an auction in October to sell off some of the city-owned properties.

So the main question right now is: Who is going to write the City's 2010 budget? Some may gloat over Douglas' demise. Some say he left because Bello bit him too hard. Others say he left because he did not want to deliver the bad news that 50 plus jobs may have to be cut in the City Hall. Others say he left to save his pension from being lost. It is not about him! It is about finding an administrator to do the city's most important task: delivering a fiscally responsible plan to spend taxes to make improvements in services provided. A novel concept in Newburgh but obviously important to taxpayers and city employees.

Again, who is going to write the 2010 budget?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Politicians Can Sing

I am pleased that I got a chance to participate in the Quadricentennial Celebration. Here I am flanked by Newburgh's mayor Valentine and orange County Executive Ed Diana. It was a hot day for a tuxedo, but I was re-enacting the presence of Ulysses J. Alsdorf. In 1909, he wrote the music for the Hudson Fulton Celebration: Dear Hudson Fulton Days. Of course, we sang the song and had a few laughs about the words:

Dear Hudson Fulton Days
Dear Hudson Fulton Days
Achievements great we celebrate get on the job and fly.
Our river beats the Rhine
Steam Navigation's fine.
For you we'll blow, blow, blow ourselves
Toot toot...bye bye.

Now in 1909, Newburgh Bay hosted a full flotilla of several hundred boats. And during this song, all the boats tooted their horns. It must have been quite an event.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Positive Petition Prospects Possible

I knocked on a door to get a signature for my Independence Party petition. A young woman answered the door and I introduced myself.

“My name is Kevin Barrett and I am running for Orange County Legislator in our district and I need your signature on my petition to secure a place on the Independence Party Line.”

She was happy to sign for me and complimented me on getting into politics. We need more people brave enough to do what you are doing, she said.

Then a strange thing happened. I remember her exact words because they seemed so oddly refreshing. She said: Newburgh has been very good to us. We love living here. Now that is not an unlikely thing to say, but we don’t hear too often.

What street she lived on is not important. She works in the City of Newburgh and her household is double income. She said she bought her house ten years ago and they have made improvements along the way. Actually, it was a beautiful home.

Not every resident of Newburgh can feel good about Newburgh right now. But a positive perspective is encouraging. There are still many positive aspects of our city. And it is nice to hear from people who enjoy living in the City of Newburgh.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Newburgh is the place to be patriotic...

Every year on July 4 we celebrate the Independence of our nation.
The picture above is from the Tower of Victory at Washington's Headquarters. Our first President George Washington's image stands triumphantly looking out over Newburgh Bay to Mount Beacon. It is here in Newburgh that our great nation and the freedoms we now enjoy began. Newburgh is the birthplace of our republic.
As we feel proud of our nation, we should feel proud of its birthplace. Newburgh is a great city on the hillside in need of leadership and direction. All of us are charged with the responsibility of making our city a better place to live. I have taken on a great responsibility by seeking the office of County Legislator.
So as we enjoy our Bar-B-Cues and ice cream with family and friends, we will have a chance to look out over Newburgh Bay to Mount Beacon and see the marvelous fireworks. It is a celebration that ignites our potential to improve our city for future generations.
I hope everyone enjoys this holiday safely.

Rockin and Rollin in Newburgh

You've got to be there Friday, July 10th at 7:30p for the Hudson Valley movie premiere of "American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art" by local flimmaker, Merle Becker at the Ritz Theater in Newburgh.

This film, which was mentioned this month in USA Today and on NPR, will be screened at 7:30p. Afterwards, there will be screen printing kit giveaways, Q & A with the director, and after-party at the uber-groovy Wherehouse Restaurant (119 Liberty Street). Sponsored by the Wherehouse Restaurant and Newburgh Art Supply.

Seating is limited, and advance tickets are suggested: . Tickets are also available at the door. This movie is suggested for age 18 and older.

RITZ THEATER, NEWBURGH, NY: July 10th, 7:30p
111 Broadway
Newburgh, NY, 12550
tickets: $15

For more information about the film, go to:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Newburgh comes in second

The US Census Bureau announced the current populations of cities in the Mid-Hudson Region. To my surprise, Poughkeepsie has a slightly larger population than Newburgh. I hate being second. Poughkeepsie has 29,654 residents while Newburgh has 28,101.

Interestingly, according to, cities are losing their population base. Well slightly. All cities have dropped in residency except Middletown, Port Jervis, and Peekskill. These cities actually had an increase in residents. But then again, the statistics are estimates. The real numbers will be part of the 2010 Census which is starting to move forward now. It will be interesting to see if they accurately count all the residents in Newburgh. Despite all the abandoned buildings, I tend to believe that our population numbers will increase.

A more interesting stat is the number of residents under the age 18 that dwell in these Mid-Hudson cities. Newburgh is the winner there.

Percent of residents under 18

Newburgh 33.8%
Middletown 27.8%
Poughkeepsie 25.9%
Peekskill 24.4%
Kingston 23.9%

A third of our city is under 18. And you can't help but notice.

This large population of children under 18 is not problematic. But the fact that these youngster are city dwellers and have no programs or activities to do is a big problem. I see them running the streets in large groups looking for something to do. They would benefit from structure. But they tend to run rampant with little to no supervision. The result is graffiti, petty crimes, destruction of property, and low expectation of their lives and future. Without guidance, more will join gangs and continue in a life of vandalism and exploration.

Now obviously, not all of our youth is prone to such behavior. But we can't deny that a large number of these kids are moving in the wrong direction. To them it is normal. And they will continue with this "normalcy" until they are well into their adulthood.

Reversing this cycle is not easy. There are not enough adults out here willing to volunteer their time to make some sort of impact. But the reversal of this trend and taking action to do something for our Newburgh youngsters is necessary in looking at the future of Newburgh.

Newburgh desperately needs a Cub Scout and Boy Scout Troop. I think it would be great for these inner city kids to go camping for a weekend. Anything that gets them out of Newburgh is a welcome change.

These kids seem hardcore sometimes, but they are kids. They may not show it, but they would love to play out in the countryside, or go to a museum or concert. It is exposure to a world outside of their own which best educates young people. If you think about all your life's experiences, you will find that the person you are today was not formed in a classroom in school. You became the person you are because of your parents, family and community. But there was a moment when the exposure to something new or different shaped your life. Maybe you went to Central Park and saw a juggler and wanted to join the circus. Or maybe your parents dragged you to a Shakespeare play, and you were inspired to read and write your own stories. These exposure have impact. Not for all kids, but maybe just a few. And a few is what it takes to start to change the rest.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

Okay, it has been too long. I have not written in this blog for six weeks. Not good.
There have been many things that have happened in Newburgh that are not good: young man stabbed to death by a pack of thugs, financial chaos in City Hall (nothing new), protests on the waterfront, terrorist in our midst, and more.
I attended the funeral of the young man who was stabbed to death. Very sad state of affairs in Newburgh when a group of men stab a man to death in broad daylight. Not that it being night time would have mattered. It is just sadder when people can see the killing of another human being en masse and not be able to identify a single killer. They all fled.
Now when I see a group of young men walking around in a pack, I wonder if I or someone else will become a victim. I did see a group of thugs walking up in the heights. I was concerned, but then I saw a police officer tracking them. It was good to see the police engaged in proactive policing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Municipal Reality Check

Orange County is still a great place to live, work and play. The County government is fiscally responsible. We know this because Orange County has the highest bond rating in New York State after Westchester County. We have lower tax rates which draws many homebuyers to our county. Orange County has considerable reserves to set forth major development projects such as Orange County Community College in Newburgh. Orange County has a huge parks and recreation system to benefit of all its residents. And this County is the fastest growing County in the state.

Yet, we live in a curious time. Government is becoming the cure while Corporate America is withering on the vine. Major American institutions like Citibank, GM, Ford, and IBM are in disrepair with some of their stock selling for pennies. Could local government fall too? It is actually scary times.

If you would like to expand that fear, attend a Newburgh City Council meeting.
You will certainly question whether government is the cure to our problems. But since we have government and it is the last barrier to anarchy, let’s work with it. Or better yet, let’s have them work with us because right now, in the City of Newburgh, like many areas, they are hitting our empty pockets with a vengeance.

Once upon a time, the City of Newburgh had the lowest taxes in Orange County. Add to that, an inexpensive housing stock and you have a land of milk and honey where investment and homeownership flourish. And we know, during the real estate boom, Newburgh was a hot item. Then came a wicked villain named ‘Revaluation.” He was enough to darken the sky that once shined brightly over the city. But he was followed by a bigger and uglier ogre called “The Crash.” By the time they finished (actually they are not finished) taxes were sky high and housing values plummeted.

Now this story is no fairy tale. And it is possible we could all live happily ever after. But there would have to be some serious reversals of behaviors to have Newburgh flourish again.

The behavior that must be reversed is ever-expanding government expenditure. We see it in the Federal, State, and local governments. And we see it on Boards of Education. I have never seen any of these institutions say; well let’s spend less this year. The direct result of limiting government expenditure is less taxes. So CUT TAXES!! What is wrong with reducing the tax burden on local residents? Especially now.

When I served the county as Executive Director of the Human Right Commission, all department heads were mandated to submit a budget that was 5% less than the budget they submitted the year before. The result of that practice is the good bond rating and financial security Orange County enjoys. The City of Newburgh and the Newburgh school district should consider a similar practice. Their budgets, like most municipalities, have expanded exponentially.

Municipal and school budgets have a heart beat. There are hundreds of families affected by the passage of these budget. Yet, Municipal workers, teachers, hospital workers and other public servants may have to come to reckoning soon. Even the stimulus bill that we are crying for will only get us over this year’s deficit. There may be a need to reduce salary increases instead of cutting out jobs.

Case in point: Last week, The New York Times threatened to close the Boston Globe if the newspaper unions did not allow for $20 million in concessions. Wouldn’t it be better to take a little less than lose it all?

The City of Newburgh can simply increase the tax levy and act as if nobody is affected. And when you can’t pay the taxes, the City will take your house in rem faster than any bank. The result: The City of Newburgh is the largest property owner in the city.

There is turmoil in City Hall. Yet, the Acting City Manager seems to have the demeanor, acumen and knowledge to advise the Council and act on what the city needs.

Some questions for thought: Who will prepare the 2010 Budget for the City of Newburgh? Are they prepared to make serious cuts? Will they use the over-inflated assessment values provided by the revaluation? (I know the answer to this one already). Are the city residents and taxpayers prepared to make clear to the current council that changes in government expenditure is key to our city’s recovery?

If so, that would be change I could believe in.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Newburgh is far from Kansas, my friends...

I know I promised to write some more ideas about the police department. But I have found out that there is more to explode about that missing $17,000 dollars. So I am waiting to see the fireworks.

During the City Council meeting, last night, a strange thing occurred. The entire audience, including this writer, went brain dead. It was a collective gasp of our greater sense to think and question. I know it is not an easy thing to do: get up to the mike and say something wise and intelligible. Occasionally, people do just that. But just not last night.

I am talking, of course, about the vote last night to make Dwight Douglas, the former village administrator of Sleepy Hollow, the interim City Manager of the City of Newburgh. He is certainly no village idiot. He was very composed and collective as Newburgh’s finest came around one at a time to give him a slap in face. Some said he was immoral. Others got calls from local Westchester County reporters to say that Douglas was under a cloud of criminal investigations for using a municipal department to make improvements on the deck of his house in Peekskill. It was actually like a lynching and the rope was made of rumors and innuendos.

It was surprising that afterwards, Douglas stood up and calmly said that he was not under any cloud of criminal investigation. It didn’t make any sense that he was so calm. But at least he comported himself with silent dignity in the face of Newburgh’s finest rumormongers.

The only person who made any sense last night was Councilwoman Christine Bello. She looked so stately and professional. She bore her responsibility to serve the Newburgh public well. She had done her homework. She prepared and delivered a thoughtful statement.

Bello addressed the fact that she had done some research and found that Rotfeld Consulting Group, LLC didn’t exist. There was no record of incorporation for the executive search agency that provided Mr. Douglas as a candidate. But it gets better: is the use of a non-employee to “govern and execute” council policy a violation of the City Charter? These were two cogent questions that went entirely unaddressed. No deliberation, no comment from Corporation Counsel… nada…nada.

Bello prepared another statement with the expectation that her colleagues, minus Councilwoman Dickerson, would vote to install Mr. Douglas into the office of City Manager on a part-time basis. Bello explained that this was another example of senseless City Council decision-making. There was another highly recommended candidate with far more experience in running a municipality and law enforcement who was half the price that could have been considered. But the cowardice of the other council members made it impossible for this individual to even get an interview. That person is George Meyers, former New Windsor Town Supervisor.

Now we have an interim city manager who is already gimped by negative public reaction to his appointment. He seems to have some knowledge of how to run a village. But it doesn’t take a village administrator to run a city. And I am certain that Mr. Douglas realizes that he is no longer in Kansas.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Cameras...Lights... NO DRUG TRANSACTIONS!

Yesterday I was yapping about the police department. Newburgh PD. Today, I am going to lay out some ideas. Everyone has ideas. And there are many approaches to clean up a city ridden with crime. I am sharing mine.
Unfortunately, we must acknowledge first that, in Newburgh, we a culture of crime that is deep rooted. We have a city full of people hampered and impaired by alcohol, drugs and other addictive behaviors. Ask any cop in Newburgh and they will tell you that most of the violent crimes were spurred by some addictive behavior.
Another group who can be worse than the addicts are the enablers. They cushion bad behavior. They don't call the police when they witness a crime. They participate in quiet ways in this culture of crime. For instance, a man on the street offers to sell an item that is clearly stolen. An enabler will buy it and hence be a part of the problem.
So we, the collective we, must decide if we really want to clean up this city. Will we, the residents herein, have a visceral response to bad behavior in our schools, streets or City Hall?

Second, in my sometimes humble opinion, the City of Newburgh must do the following:

1. Hire a new Police Chief

Sorry Chief Paollili. Actually I think you have done a good job as chief. I have seen the positive energy among your men and women. I have seen a slew of drug dens being busted up. And I will acknowledge your accreditation. But I know, in my experience in work place environments, that having a chief who has come through the ranks is counterproductive. The chief will most times feel an affinity to his former brothers and sisters in blue. The chief knows them too well. He was one of them. That doesn't work in the line of command.
I suggest an outside force. An experienced police chief on the national scene who specializes in communities like Newburgh. A chief with a proven record of addressing gang behavior and reducing violent crime and drug peddling while still improving quality of life issues.
In yesterday's Times Herald-Record article, there was a good example of why an outside administrator is needed. Apparently, $17,000 is missing from the safe that keeps items confiscated in drug busts. According to my sources, only two police officers have the safe key. These monies are marked and kept in that safe until transferred to City Hall for deposit in a special account by the Comptroller. But the monies were lost or stolen somewhere in the process. The monies have been missing for six months. The Orange County DA and FBI are investigating.
An outside administrator would have set up checks and balances so this situation would never sully the reputation of his or her police department.
The kicker here is that the monies were missing for six months and the City Council just learned about it a week ago. But the Mayor knew. Oops, back to the police.

2. Place more cameras in Drug Zones

Why spend money on manpower, when you can put up surveilliance cameras that work 24-hours a day without a pay and benefits. Cameras work. For drug dealers, cameras are like Kryptonite. A better analogy is that cameras are like lights; they force the cockroaches to run and hide.
I lived on South Williams by a bar called the Casbah. It was an experience that I am hesitant to write about but will do so in the future. All day and night, men stood out on the corner selling their illegal consumables. They had not a worry in world. Business was brisk. Some nights there would be fights with 100 or 200 people in the streets. I would call the police, but police don't rush to such scenes when there are only 4 or 6 officers available at 3AM. So you can imagine the havoc and mayhem.
Then came the cameras. I didn't see them at first, but I noticed the drug dealers were gone. I asked around to see if they had all been arrested. But no. They ran from the cameras. They ran far away. In fact, I don't even think they are in Newburgh.
Cameras work. We need more.

Cut down the sneakers

This is a small thing. But it bugs me. All over the rough sections of the city, people hang sneakers on the electric lines. They are basically a sign or advertisement saying: DRUGS ARE SOLD HERE.
If the DPW can fix traffic lights and put up Christmas lights, why can't they cut down the sneakers. It would make the city look much better.

I have a few more things to add but, it is time to do some business.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Phenomenal Eatery Opens on Liberty Street

Car 54 Where are you?

Don't be saddened if you remember that TV series. You are just a little older and wiser.
For those who don't remember, the series was about a pair of bumbling cops in Car 54 who were always lost when the the chief needed them. Hence, the cry went over the radio: "Car 54 Where are you?"
In this city, there is a better cry: Newburgh PD where are you?
If you ever needed the police, most times you were not happy to see them. They only arrive if you are in trouble. Let's say, you were a victim of a crime. Or you crashed a car on Robinson Avenue. Or worse, you have an arrest warrant. Not very pleasant moments. But there are times when people are pleased to see police. Like at big gatherings or just riding or walking around the streets. Most people feel a little safer when there is security.
So how much presence does the City of Newburgh PD have? Where do you see them? Are they walking, riding, or biking the streets. Are they out at night? Can you find a detective on a weekend? I will leave these questions for your answers. But I have a few answers of my own.
First, I have been in Newburgh long enough to have seen the changes in the police department. Fifteen years ago, drug dealers hid their stash. And when a buyer came, they took their order, ran to the stash and served their dope fiend. Dealers were afraid to carry anything on themselves because they would get stopped and arrested quickly. The police were proactive, the dealers were fewer and scared to get arrested. That was prior to my dear friend Chief Bloom.
When Chief Bloom first took over the helm, there were many drug busts and a lot of proactive police work. For whatever reason, the energy died. And the Newburgh Police Department created, unknowingly or purposely, what I can only describe as a policy of "Containment." It is not pro-active approach to reducing crime. And crime rates went up. When someone was murdered, the police showed up to clean up. There was limited police presence. There was two deaths in one year in police custody which set off the community. There was emphasis on quality of life issues such a playing music too loud while drug sales flourished and violence surged.
Then comes Chief Eric Paollili. Suddenly, there is a surge of police activity. I don't know where the money came from, but I saw new equipment, black S.W.A.T. team uniforms, machine guns, Glock pistols, jack boots and more. It was like they went on a shopping spree and bought out the inventory of the FBI or DEA.
Two years ago, I remember taking my daughter to the hair dresser on lower Broadway one evening. I looked outside and saw 15 to 20 officers dressed in black. Suited up in what looked like body armor. I knew they were doing a No-Knock Drug Bust and was concerned they were coming into the beauty shop. But no, they were going upstairs. (I should have known because I could hear the toilet flushing up there). I came out to talk to the cops after they secured the apartment. They were very professional, orderly and serious. And they were all Newburgh police officers. And I remember saying to myself, Thank God, they are going to clean up the city.
That was two years ago. Now I am asking a familiar Newburgh question: Newburgh PD where are you?
Well, in my opinion the Newburgh PD is heading or already in a policy of containment. There could be various reasons for this perceived change in police presence. One reason may be budgetary. Other reasons, or better excuses, could be limited police available, union restrictions, or limited leadership. Whatever the reasons, security is the first and foremost important issue in this city.
Newburgh has a rough reputation. People hear of a Newburgh murder in Westchester or Rockland County and say, "Newburgh again?" Not that crimes don't happen in their community, but Newburgh has a negative public personna. Yes, even a city can have a personna.
Again, security is key. These streets which we frequent need to be cleaned of crime, negative behavior and litter.
So next will be some ideas and approaches to crime reduction that I have seen over the years could work. Tune in tomorrow.
BTW, I wrote this blog in the new restaurant at 119 Liberty Street called THE WHEREHOUSE. It just opened yesterday. And it is really good. Very positive! Please check it out, you won't be disappointed. Owners Michelle and Daniel have done a fantastic job!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Welcome to my World: Newburgh

This is my first entry into a new world of the glamorous life of Newburgh NY. Glamorous may not be the correct word to use to express life in Newburgh, but there is hope.
It was suggested this morning at a seminar hosted by the Orange County Association of Realtors that everyone should have a blog. I had no idea of how to put it together so I called my 22-year-old daughter and asked. She just did a blog a few weeks ago. So here I am.
Today, I spent my afternoon cleaning my office at 730 Broadway. Sometimes one must just throw out the clutter. I am preparing for the upswing in the real estate market. Please, dear Lord, make it happen!
The evening included attending a forum sponsored by County Legislator Jim Kulisek. He is a very good representative and stays involved. It is like he really likes his job. The forum speaker was David Jolly, Orange County Commissioner of Social Services. In attendance was County Legislators Chris Eachhus and Jeff Berkman of Middletown.
Jolly spoke about the operation of DSS and then took questions. Many people had jarring stories of how they were mistreated by DSS staff and the Deputy Sheriffs who welcome in the welfare recipients. I spoke about my experiences of sitting down there for 45 minutes waiting to deliver a simple document to a social worker. It was a glimpse into the life of the people in Newburgh who are subjected to some really cruel and mean-spirited county workers. I also asked about what percentage of DSS expenditures makes up total County budget. I estimated 50%. But Jolly informed me that 73% of property tax revenues go to Social Service Programs. That is not all, The county receives additional funds from the State and Fed to address Medicare. So the total budget for Social Service related services is larger than the County budget.
After the forum, Jolly came to me and personally introduced himself. A very nice administrator and gentleman, but the whole system needs an overhaul. Especially Newburgh gets probably 60 to 70% of his total budget.
I mentioned that welfare is by far the largest industry in Newburgh. And also asked what could be done to decrease the number of recipients. The whole system is upsetting!