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Common Sense and Enforcement during COVID-19
I wanted to do this week's article on something totally independent of the COVID-19 situation we are currently in. However, no matter how hard I tried to come up with a pertinent topic, the reality is that COVID-19 is the dominant influence in all of our lives at this point. My article in last weeks' edition was already inaccurate by the time the Webster Herald hit the newsstands and people read it. I have done a follow up to that article that you can find on the Webster Herald Facebook page and Webster town government website.
As of the April 1 edition of the Webster Herald, The COVID-19 situation has been prevalent in all our lives for about 3 weeks. Doesn't it feel like 3 years!!!!!! Some milestones have been the week of March 9-13 when sports leagues shut down, March 16-20 when facilities like the Library and Rec center in Webster were shut down by government mandate, and March 23-27th when employees and businesses had to be quantified as "essential or non essential" to determine who can stay open and who has to work from home. Wow!!! That was quite a whirlwind of 3 weeks! For those of you familiar with the 5 stages of grief, we as a community had to process almost ALL the stages at once in parallel.
The week of March 30-April 3rd seems to be where the community is starting to enter the "acceptance" stage of COVID-19. The stage where we understand that life will not be normal for at least the next 2-6 weeks. Social distancing is a term none of us had heard of 1-month ago and now it dominates our day to day. This acceptance stage has brought with it an interesting dynamic to citizens contacting Webster Town government officials such as me.
The contact has been about questions, comments, and concerns about social distancing they have seen or heard about at places like the parks, and certain stores in town. Often within the contact, they have asked "What is the town of Webster government going to do about it?" Essentially this means they are asking about enforcement. All of these contacts have validity, but the COVID-19 situation has created government mandates so fast that the mandate really never considered the subjectivity of it.
A store may be considered "essential" within these government mandates and thus is allowed to be open, but what about the "non essential" items the store sells? Should the store be allowed to sell them? Should a person leave their house to go to that store to buy non essential items? What is a non essential item? Should the police be called, and if so, what enforcement would they legally be doing? How should they dispense out this enforcement when the court system has been shut down by mandate until April 30th? Ask these questions to 100 people and you may get a 100 different answers.
The problem is that much of the COVID-19 government mandates depend on individual citizen common sense to be carried out since the enforcement in many ways has not been clarified. As we know, common sense is a subjective thing. My 14-year old son who is a freshman in high school is a great kid, but his common sense is different from mine at 55 years old.
In conclusion, The Town of Webster government will trumpet loud that social distancing is so important during this COVID-19 situation to assure we "flatten the curve". However, there is something my parents taught me long ago..... I can only control my actions. How other people act is on them and should not have an influence on how I conduct myself. I hope that the majority of Webster citizens got this same lesson from their parents and practice it at this most critical of time.
Follow up to Supervisors Corner article in Wednesday March 25, 2020 Webster Herald
The news cycle in 2020 is "fast-paced." Daily newspapers like the Democrat and Chronicle often have articles that by the time the reader gets the paper, the articles are old news. COVID-19 has exacerbated that. County, state and federal mandates, executive orders, and stimulus packages are coming so fast and furious, that news is now changing by the minute. That is very challenging for a daily newspaper, but it is exponentially more challenging for a weekly paper like the Webster Herald.
I have gotten a lot of calls, text, and e-mails, and seen a lot of social media posts related to my "Supervisor's Corner" article that was in the Webster Herald's Wednesday, March 25 edition. The reality is that I wrote that article later in the day on Friday, March 20 so as to meet deadlines of printing the weekly paper. By the time it was published and people actually read it... 6-7 days had passed since I wrote it. Frankly, the number and frequency of mandates, executive orders, and unemployment changes per the stimulus package that had come in since March 20 had rendered most of the decisions articulated in that article moot! Simply said... the decision-making process was taken out of my hands by a "higher power" in the form of county, state or federal government.
I'm writing this follow-up to that article on Saturday, March 28 at 9 a.m. over a cup of coffee at my house. Therefore, if you are reading this 1 hour, 1 day, or 1 week from now, there may have been several new "twists and turns" within COVID-19 per county, state, and federal mandates. The one thing that was not rendered moot in the last 7-10 days by county, state, and/or federal mandate were the two (2) following foundational principles to the initial decision to NOT pay people who were NOT working:
1. Failure is not an option: There is a scene in the movie Apollo 13 where Ed Harris's character comes into a conference room in Houston's NASA headquarters and drops a bunch of "junk" on the table and essentially says to the 10 engineers in the room, "You need to make this into a contraption the astronauts need so they can get back to earth." The engineers initial reaction is "can't be done." The Ed Harris character replies by saying failure is not an option, so change your paradigm from CAN'T to "How can we". The result was the engineers figured out a way, made the contraption from the junk, and the astronauts got home. The parallel to the Town of Webster was that I wanted the 15 department heads to have a "How can we" attitude to figuring out jobs our employees could do as of March 23 that would benefit the Town of Webster today and in the future. This was to be done even if those jobs had to be done from their home and were outside the normal scope of what the employee did. Those department heads were more likely to "find a way" than to just accept that Governor Cuomo's 100% non-essential mandate and/or other mandates that closed facilities meant that their employees would be home NOT working and getting paid to NOT work. I feel that "challenge" to them was met and I'm proud of what the department heads have accomplished in this effort with the help of the town's IT department. I truly believe more of Webster town employees are home working due to these efforts than any other town in Monroe County.
2. Work is cathartic to the employee: Maybe I just come from a different era, but I always felt that working gave a sense of pride for people and was "good for the soul" to take the person's mind off of hard times they may be encountering. COVID-19 is hard times for sure. I felt that the mental health of the town's employees was improved if we could find ways to have them work, and do so in a manner that would make them feel they were contributing to the greater good of the Town of Webster today and in the future. Statistics show that people out of work are more likely to be depressed. Couple that with the stresses of COVID-19 and it could be a real bad result for "idle time people." I'm proud of the efforts of the department heads and the 230+ town employees that are trying everything in their power to work.
I'd like to think that we have tried to be sensitive to the specific individual situations of our employees within this overall desire to "have them working." We want our employees and their families first and foremost to be safe. If they, one of their family members, or someone they caretake for is at high risk if they contract COVID-19, we are trying to be respectful to that.
As always, please feel free to call me at (585) 872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, comments, or concerns you may have. STAY WELL, WEBSTER!
March 25, 2020: Leadership and Decision Making during turbulent times
The week of March 16-20 was challenging to all of us within this COVID-19 situation. Fear and anxiety ran rampant and threatens to be a bigger problem than people actually contracting COVID-19. Some feared getting COVID-19. Some feared their loved ones who had compromised immune systems and/or respiratory issues getting it. Some feared the financial ramifications of lost income from the private business they own or work getting shut down.
One of the bigger challenges to me as Town Supervisor in making decisions for the 15 departments and 230+ Town of Webster employees was the quickly changing landscape of the “rules of engagement”. One day Governor Cuomo mandates that 50% of non-essential staff needs to be out of the facility they work out of and positioned to work from home... then two days later, it was 75%... and finally, on Friday, March 20, it ended at 100%.
At my private business I owned for 25 years, we were built to work remotely. Unfortunately, the Town of Webster government is the 180-degree opposite and is built to NOT work from outside the facility out of which you work. This made Governor Cuomo’s mandates to “get them out of the office and working from home” exponentially more challenging. The IT staff at the town did an amazing job getting as many employees able to work from home by Monday, March 23 as possible.
Another challenge to this was the potential that Webster town employees may end up being home, NOT working, and getting paid their normal salary/hourly wages. This weighed on me. I knew that many of the 45,000 citizens in Webster were hurting financially from the business they owned or worked for closing. It did not sit well with me that these same hurting citizens had paid real estate taxes to the Town of Webster and now those tax dollars were being used to pay town employees who were not working. Some said to me, “The payroll is in the budget, so what is the big deal?” Depending on how you do the math, the town annual budget is between $25 and $30 million, of which approx. $15 million is collected from real estate taxes. The annual aggregate payroll to all town employees is almost $15 million, so to me it IS a big deal if employees are getting paid to not work. Once they come back to work in 2, 3, 4, etc. weeks, there will be a backlog of work and we’ll have to pay overtime, which will just further hit the taxpayers in the 2021 budget or from the general fund balance. It was not an easy decision, but leading means you have to make tough decisions and sometimes you will not know if they are the right or wrong decisions for a long time.
The decision was ultimately made to not pay town employees who were home and not working. It was made knowing 18 other towns in Monroe County did NOT make that decision and are “paying all their employees even if they are home not working”. It was made with the town board being split on this concept, but with the understanding and respect of even the town board members against it. It was made being mindful of factors including but not limited to full-time versus part-time status, unions, and the current state of emergency we’re in at the state and county level. It was made while collaborating with the department heads to find ways to have these employees WORK so they can get paid as of Monday, March 23, even if the job we come up with for them during this COVID-19 situation is NOT what they normally do. As long as the job they will be doing will benefit the town and its citizens today and in the future, I can get behind it. It was made knowing I could NOT go in front of the 45,000 citizens of Webster and say with a straight face, “We’re all in this together...” if the facts were we were not and private company citizens were not getting paid to be home not working... but Town of Webster employees were.
People’s opinion on this decision will vary. Some will think it is great while others will think I am the devil incarnate. If I had my druthers, all decisions made by the town board and/or me would have 100% consensus, but that will never happen and people in leadership positions need to be cognizant of that. However, I hope that people in leadership positions make measured and pragmatic decisions based on a moral compass and the good of the whole community.
In closing, I heard a story this past week about Cathie Thomas, the Webster town supervisor 20 years ago. It essentially was that she was counseled on a decision she was about to make that it would cost her votes and she replied, “I don’t make decisions based on whether it gets me or costs me votes. I make decisions that are good for the community as a whole.” I think I would like Ms. Thomas and hope I get to meet her someday.
March 19, 2020: Multi-faceted Approach to Communication:
As we enter into uncharted territory with the Covid-19 virus, communication with our residents becomes vitally important. Residents can find the latest Town and County updates, via the following media platforms:
On the Town Website: ci.webster.ny.us
- On the main page, there are blue tabs on the right side that can direct you to the following resources:
COVID-19 Town Updates: ci.webster.ny.us/561/COVID-19-Updates
- Here residents will find the latest information from the Town regarding services and facilities, along with updates from the Monroe County Dept. of Health and the CDC.
NOTIFY ME: ci.webster.ny.us/list.aspx
- Here residents can sign up for direct notifications to your email and/or phone via our “Notify Me” system. We recommend residents sign up for “Emergency Alerts” and “All Town-Wide News & Updates”.
All of the latest Town and County notifications will also be posted on our social media pages:
We will continue to provide timely updates to residents and encourage you to sign up for notifications and follow our social media pages. If you have any suggestions for additional modes of communication, please feel free to contact me at: 585-872-7068 or email@example.com.
March 11, 2020:
Webster Library in 2020
One of the treasures we have here in Webster is our public library. If you have not visited it lately, I strongly suggest you do soon. It is in the middle of town on Hard Road, south of Route 104 and north of Ridge Rd. It has approx. 45,000 square foot of space to house books, meeting rooms and other special items.
Being a public library, you can take out books and other materials at NO cost/rental fee as long as you have a library card as a member. The only cost you might incur is a late fee if you bring back the book after the due date. I know personally I paid a lot of those in my younger days!
Something I have learned in the past few months is that the library has "gone digital" in much the same way as the rest of the world. This transition has its pros and cons, both today and in the future. Digital books that you can take out and read on your Kindle or tablet are starting to grow in proportion to hardcover and paperback books that people take out. If that trend continues, and there is nothing that portends it won't, the number of hardcopy and paperback books the library will have to buy annually and store on shelves will decrease. In such, it is not hard to imagine that in 10+ years the library will need far less space than its current 45,000 square feet. Less space will mean either less rent or building ownership cost.
However, the cost of hardcover/paperback books versus digital in 2020 is surprisingly different to the point it could be concerning in years to come, with regards to the economics of funding a public library from municipality tax money. Currently in 2020, the publishers are charging the library approximately $18 to buy a new hardcover or paperback book that will sit on the library shelves for years to come, and potentially be taken out by an infinite amount of people to enjoy. Conversely, the publishers are charging the library approximately $65 for digital books. Worse yet, the library does not OWN that digital book. It is essentially renting it, as it can only be taken out 24 times by the public. Therefore, if the book is popular, the library may need to "rent it" 3 or 4 times at an aggregate $200+ to meet the demand of its members.
The publishers will sell these digital books to individuals and bookstores for significantly less than the $65 charged to a public library. They also govern the supply of the books they will rent to public libraries for what I can only assume is to make sure they have a market of individuals and bookstores to sell to. I appreciate that publishers are "for profit" businesses, but this has a feel of subsidizing their profits through government monies since Public libraries are funded by municipal tax dollars.
March 5, 2020:
On Thursday February 27th at 7PM, the Town of Webster hosted an informational meeting at Webster Thomas. This open to the public meeting was to give updates on Lake Ontario and Irondequoit bay water levels. The updates centered on 3 governmental agencies; 1. Federal with the International Joint Commission (IJC) , 2 The state of New York and REDI grants obtained by the town of webster for resiliency at the Sandbar, and 3. The Town of Webster and what they did in 2017 and 2019 to assist property owners on the water, and what lessons were learned from those years that we will use to assist better in 2020. The meeting had over 200 people in attendance and was advertised by a combination of USPS 1st class mailed invites to people who own property in Webster on the water, publication in the Webster Herald, and various town websites and social media sites
The meeting was purposely structured to have less than 30 minutes on formal presentation and give an hour or more for attendee questions and comments. That structure was executed flawlessly as the meeting went slightly over 90 minutes and less than 30 of those minutes were in formal presentation with powerpoint slides, and over 60 minutes were attendee questions/comments. We tried to assemble a panel of people from the state, county, and town that would be best suited to answer the specificity of the questions from the attendees. The meeting was not televised live, but taped and is now on the Town Website should anyone want to view it in the future.
Two(2) final comments on this February 27th meeting; 1.The IJC update given at this meeting has already proven to be dated. In the past few days, a bill has been entered in the United states congress that if it becomes a law, would give citizens who own waterfront property the ability to sue the IJC for the damages they have incurred. 2. One of the central themes of the meeting was VOLUNTEERISM. In the coming months there will be opportunities for groups and individuals to volunteer their time to the efforts of placing sandbags and other resiliency items on properties that will be potentially affected by high water levels in 2020. We envision these efforts would start in Mid April, but factors such as weather will go into that. I will be reaching out to various webster civic groups to see if they would be interested in helping. Individuals can go to the town of webster website for more info on this if they are interested in volunteering. The issues that these property owners have with the IJC and the State of New York are things that I plan on advocating for as the Webster Town Supervisor. However, in my opinion the best deployment of time and resources in the next few months for these property owners is to galvanize the community in helping them. That's what good neighbors do.
Finally, I'd like to say this.......This "open to the public" forum is something I would like to do more of in the coming months/years on a variety of topics/issues that affect Webster citizens. . Venues like the webster thomas and webster Schroeder auditoriums assure that if attendance is 200+, we can accommodate with no problem. Frankly, the "more the merrier" if you ask me!! An involved community is a better community. The webster town government is NOT the answer to solving all that is wrong in the world. However, I think it can be utilized to bring people together in town for. Stay tuned for more of these "open to the public forums" and I look forward to a robust attendance
February 27, 2020:
The old adage goes that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. Where death is pretty simple to define, taxes are not. That is because taxes come in so many different formats including but not limited to Federal income, State income, sales, and of course Real Estate. In Webster, property owners pay 3 different real estate taxes; School, County, and Town, and a 4th if you are in the village. To add to the mix, you have fire district fees, and sewer fees to name a few that really are tantamount to taxes.
Of all of the things I have learned about Real Estate taxes in my first 2 months on the job, the most confusing aspect to me has been the STAR program. STAR is an acronym for School Tax Relief. It is a program started in New York State several years ago as an attempt to give Homeowners some relief from their annual School taxes. Seems simple enough. However, there are two different options where you can benefit from STAR; exemption and registration, and a homeowner can only enjoy one of them
The Exemption option utilizes a maximum household income as a qualifier. Initially if your income was under $500,000 annually, you qualified. A few years ago, the New York State budget lowered the income qualification to $250,000. The current New York State budget being proposed for adoption in April 2020 has in its draft an additional lowering to $200,000 annual income max to qualify. These reductions in maximum household income limits to qualify reduce the number of homeowners who qualify for this STAR option. How does a homeowner save on this option? Ultimately it reduces the homeowner's school taxes by giving a reduction to their house's assessed value. For example, if the house is assessed for $200,000 for county and town taxes, it may be lowered to $180,000 for the calculation of school taxes. The homeowner's benefit is the difference in school taxes between what it would have been at a $200,000 assessment, and the lowered $180,000 assessment.
The Registration option ostensibly is simpler in that the homeowner gets a check from New York State that is essentially a partial refund of the school taxes they paid. It is approximately equal to the same savings offered by the exemption. How "simpler" it actually is? Hard to say. The reduction of the income limit on the Exemption option over the years has moved people into the Registration option, and it appears New York State wants to do that. Is that good for the homeowner? Hard to say as each homeowner's situation can be unique as to their assessed value and annual income. In conclusion, one thing is for certain (besides death and taxes).... as a homeowner, just when you figure out all this STAR stuff, you may have to turn your attention to other potential exemptions you may have including but not limited to veteran, age, etc.
February 20, 2020:
Last week, I got the opportunity to drive "shotgun" for an hour and half in one of the town of Webster's plow trucks. No matter how much I pleaded with Joe Herbst, Webster's Highway Superintendent, he would not let me drive. For that, all Webster citizens owe a thank you to Joe. The experience was "eye opening" to say the least. I got a perspective of what these talented plow truck drivers have to navigate within the effort to keep our roads clear of snow.
I drove with Tony on a sub division route. At some point in the future I hope to do a main road route. Some things I learned about Webster sub divisions is that there are currently 271 lane miles that need to be plowed. Within these 271 miles, there are 194 cul de sacs. Each cul de sac accounts for 0.2 lane miles. Therefore there are approx. 39 lane miles of cul de sacs out of the total 271 lane miles in the sub divisions or about 15%. Now here is the kicker.... the cul de sacs take about 50% of the time to make one plow run on all 271 lane miles in the sub divisions. Joe Herbst wants to be able to do one plow run of the sub divisions FASTER than his crew currently does it. If they do it faster, it saves the town money, makes the roads clear of snow quicker, and assures our drivers are not overworked. So how do we achieve the goal of doing a plow run faster? To me, the answer is one of two things; 1. find more efficient ways to plow when factoring in the cul de sac challenge, or 2. "Throw money at the problem" and buy more plow trucks, hire more plow drivers, etc.
Bottom line...… I don't like the answer of "throw more money at it". I did not like it as CEO in private industry and I certainly don't like it as Town Supervisor with the fiduciary responsibility to safeguard town funds and try to keep taxes low to its citizens. I feel trying to find ways to become more efficient is ALWAYS the first thing we should look at. I used the plowing example and the cul de sac challenge because in my first 50 days in office, I have seen several such challenges in almost ALL of the Town government departments where "Throw money at it" versus become more efficient needs to be assessed. I feel like we always need to exhaust strategies to become more efficient before resorting to spending money. Luckily, I have experienced town department heads who share in this philosophy. They understand that "throwing more money at the challenge" is not the first option, and often many not be an option at all. Webster citizens can be assured, the department heads and I are aligned in our efforts to improve services to the town while not spending more money while doing it if the opportunity for increased efficiency can be found.
February 12, 2020:
One of the main things I have been introduced to in my first 6+ weeks as Supervisor is the structure of the Webster Village government and the services they provide to approx. 6,000 village residents. Within that structure, there is a unique relationship with Webster Town government and the services the town provides to the approx. 46,000 residents. To me, the "uniqueness" is 3-fold;
The first is that The 6,000 village residents are included in the 46,000 town residents. In such, many services provided by the town are provided to village residents. In such, when Town government is discerning decisions that will be voted on by the town board, the village residents will most likely be affected by those decisions as they are town citizens too
The second is that when the Village government is discerning decisions that will be voted on by the village board, the 6,000 village residents no doubt will be affected by those decisions, but the 40,000 citizens of the town NOT living in the village most likely will not "directly" be affected.... but may have some "indirect" effect.
The third is that on paper what makes the MOST sense for the 46,000 citizens of Webster is that the Town and Village governments should work as collaboratively and harmoniously as possible for the good of the WHOLE community, while navigating the challenge that the two governments operate independently of each other. From the papertrails I have reviewed on several topics and stories I have been told by both town and village officials and citizens..... the history of the town and village has NOT always gone as collaboratively and harmonious as the ideal would have it. Perceptions become reality in people's minds, even if the fact pattern does not support those perceptions
Over the next 2-3 months, the 46,000 citizens of Webster today, and 20+ years from now will be directly affected by the town and and village government's decision on Sewers in this community. Simply said.... the Village government will vote on whether to continue on with their own sewer plant, or whether to join with the town on a regional/consolidate sewer plant. Mayor Byerts, Deputy Mayor Ippolito, Deputy Supervisor Cataldi and myself have been meeting the past month within the effort to work collaboratively and harmoniously for the good of the whole community on this issue. My goal in this process is to make sure the town and village have the facts on the dollars and cents of the 2 options the village government will ultimately vote on. As we progress in this process, we will "increase to number of people" in these meetings beyond the 4 of us. Already we have met with engineering firms who have conducted studies at town and village expense in the past 2-3 years so that we could get an understanding and agreement on the dollars and cents they came up with from their paid for studies. Our next endeavor will be to meet with the DEC and the State grant and financing agency to get facts on what the 2 options would mean to them. By March, The Mayor, deputy mayor, deputy supervisor and me need to determine how many more people to expand these meetings to. Since the village government is making the vote, Deputy Supervisor Cataldi and I will defer a lot of that decision to Mayor Byerts and Deputy Mayor Ippolito as to how many of the 6,000 village citizens should be included in this vetting and discernment process.
In summary, I am an accountant by trade so I am biased. almost 100% of the time, consolidation makes more dollars and cents sense today and 20 years from now than 2 separate entities. However, I am keeping an open mind to the facts as them come in from engineers, DEC, state finance and grant agencies etc. Also, even though I am new to this process, I am sensitive to the NON dollars and cents aspect to this decision by village government that may influence the decision. I do have trust in the Village government that they will make a fiduciary decision based on the present and future of the community and not on what has happened in the past.
February 5, 2020:
I'm a self proclaimed "data junky". I went to college for Accounting and then was in some form of a financial business for the past 30+ years. In such, I came to depend on data as both a) being facts and b) thus being foundational to decision making. Data can also be misleading if not looked at from all sides. For example, saying that you attended 100% of the board meetings this year when there has only been one meeting is not really statistically relevant.
With the spirit of data in mind, I'd like to tell you some of the things I have learned the past year campaigning and now being in the Supervisor position about our great town of Webster! The town is 35 square miles and has approx. 45,000 people. Therefore there is approx. 1,300 people per square mile. For a point of comparison, Irondequoit has 51,000 people and is 17 square miles or approx. 3,000 people per square mile. There are 31,000 registered voters. Approx. 1/3 of them are registered Republican, 1/3 Democrat and 1/3 unaffiliated or other party. 13,000 people voted in the November 2019 election or approx. 42% of all registered voters actually voted. I'd like to think that the early voting opportunities now available to webster residents will increase voter participation in 2020 and beyond. I think we all can agree that maximizing voter participation is a good thing. Hard for me to hear a citizen complain about something and then find out they did not vote.
I was surprised to find out that 76% of the November 2019 13,000 voters were over 50 years old. My surprise comes from the fact that there are approx 8,500 students in the Webster school system and about 6,500 live in Webster. I have not done a deep dive on this, but I felt it safe to assume that the majority of these 6,500 student's parents are UNDER 50 years old. I sure hope they vote!
The 2020 town annual budget is approx. $30 million. That's the money we have to provide the services to the 45,000 townspeople such as sewers, highway department, etc. Of that, approx. $30 million, half comes from real estate taxes, and the other half from federal, state, county monies, other taxes such as sales, mortgage, and fees. The approx. $15 million collected in taxes is spread over an aggregate assessment of $3 billion on 17,000 tax parcels of which approx. 12,000 are people's residences. The simple math of $15 million taxes needed from $3 billion in aggregate assessment means about $5 per thousand. So, if your house is assessed for $200,000, the town portion of your real estate tax bill is about $1,000.
There are a lot more data points I have picked up in these past few months, but I'll conclude at this point before I have you all fall asleep from reading this. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have on the data points I presented in this article
January 29, 2020:
One of the things I truly believe in is that "you are part of the problem or part of the solution". I used to tell the staff at my company that there was no talent in pointing out the problem, but that talent lies in proposing some solutions to the problem. WIth that in mind, I have been blown away by home many boards, committees, associations and clubs there are in Webster. The people on these boards and committees are giving their time, talent, and treasure to several causes. They by definition are "part of the solution". I would welcome getting a chance to meet all of these organizations. It gives me the chance to learn more about their mission and it gives them a chance to query me on things important to them to see where we match up.
The more involved the citizens are in a community, the better the community. Involvement in various organizations usually results in participants understanding that facts drive good decision making, and opinion drawing. They tend to be more understanding of other organization's challenges based on what they have experienced with their own, and less apt to just blindly accept as unequivocal truth a rumor they heard. The social media society we live in has wonderful aspects to it in the access to information we now all have. One of the unfortunate by products of this is that anyone can be a "keyboard, faceless warrior/troll" and put rumor and statements out to the world that are not based in fact and have them accepted by many as fact. Before social media, such people either were not heard, or if heard it was by a few people at the corner bar or diner and most likely the person was not take that seriously. Now that person's vitriol can be seen and heard by thousands and potentially drive decision making and opinion drawing. Very scary.
As previously stated, good decisions and opinion drawing are based in facts. The keyboard warrior/troll poisons the well to being able to make good decisions and draw opinions. My experience has been that involved people who are giving their time, talent and treasure to various causes tend to not be these keyboard warriors/trolls, and they also are not as willing to accept their bombastic statements as fact. In summary, if you're already involved, THANK YOU! If you are not involved, please consider doing so. It is so rewarding for both the community and you personally. Finally... please reach out to me to have me as a guest at your organization's meeting.
January 22, 2020:
My friends and family have been asking me how the first couple weeks on the job have been going. My answer has been "challenging.... and pleasantly surprising". The challenging aspect has been that the position is robust as it pertains to all you need to know to be effective. To me, being effective means you support and advocate on behalf of the organizations employees and customers. The town of Webster has 45,000 customers in the form of its citizens. Between full and part time, the town has approx. 200 employees operating under more than a dozen departments. Bottom line... it is incumbent on me to learn and absorb all aspects of the position of Town Supervisor as quickly as possible so that my effectiveness can be sooner than later.
The pleasantly surprising aspect has been in what I have encountered with the department heads and employees of the town. The stereotype of government employees not having some of the characteristics of private industry employees could not be further from the truth in Webster. I've found several of the department heads to be type A personalities who work way more than 40 hours a week, own their department with the pride and attention to detail commensurate with high success individuals. These people would be successful in any line of work including had they chosen entrepreneurial business ownership. I cannot emphasize how critical that is to my potential success in the position of Town Supervisor. In any organizational structure, if the CEO, General, or whatever title is on top has great leaders, department heads, great things can be achieved. The top of the organizational chart has a lot to do with the culture that evolves at the organization. However, that person at the top can only do so much and if the department heads don't genuinely buy in to the culture, it will not happen. I'm very excited at what I have seen so far and feel confident great things will happen in 2020 and beyond for Webster.
Something i found on the campaign trail in 2019 and has continued to manifest itself since I was elected in November and took office in January is that there are a lot of talented citizens in Webster who have conveyed to me they want to help their hometown out. I want to tap into these people's talent and enthusiasm for the greater good of the town today and the future. I'm new to the position and still vetting how such citizens can be involved. Some of it is easy to assess as there are boards and committees they can be appointed to. However, I think there is an opportunity for several ad hoc committees to evolve in the future to research topics that are hot buttons to the town. A potential example of this would be an adhoc committee to research and make recommendations to the town board on amending zoning laws that have been in affect in some instances over 40 years. Webster and the world in general is very different in 2020 than it was in 1980. Do some of the zoning laws put in place in 1980 that made sense then not make sense in 2020?
As the saying goes, "Rome was not built in a day". I'm anxious to move forward with ideas and plans for Webster. I have also learned over the years that I need to be measured in that. I need to continue to learn from the great department heads Webster has. every day brings a something new I learn that will be foundational to any plans ultimately proposed. I promise you all I will continue to be a sponge and get in a position of being efective as soon as possible.
January 15, 2020:
As a 54 year old husband, father of 7, and business owner the past 25 years, I have seen a lot. The past year of campaigning for and now being the Webster Town Supervisor has accentuated something I am very familiar with. That being that "various forms of misinformation or being devoid of information" is the biggest hurdle to effective communication, decision making and/or determining one's opinion.
As I met with Webster citizens the past year, I found that many had a perception that Webster Town Government was not being transparent. The more I looked into it, the more I started to understand how that perception could be just a "form of misinformation/devoid of information". Now don't get me wrong, one thing I learned a long time ago is that you don't argue against perceptions by defending what you did in the past. You CHANGE perceptions by what you DO in the present and future. Hopefully this column can act as a start to that change
At the top of Webster Town Government is the 5-person Town Board. As Town Supervisor, I am one of those board members. We minimally meet 24-times a year for regular board meetings, on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of each month. These meetings are open to the public and are in the Town Board meeting room in the courts building behind town hall. These meetings are also by law given public notice by publishing in the local newspaper. (I.e. the Webster Herald) ALL decisions made by the board occur at such meetings including resolutions, ordinances, and laws. Based on the last 3-4 sentences.... Webster town government IS transparent. So why the perception it is not?
The first challenge is that the "relatively universal" law of publishing/posting government meetings in a local newspaper was adopted when newspapers were the main means of citizens consuming information. Reality is that in 2020, "print media" is having its challenges as other digital means of information consumption become more utilized by people. I'm not certain the current subscription levels of the Webster herald, but my guess is that a minor percentage of the approximate 45,000 citizens in town and 31,000 registered voters subscribe and/or read the "print version". That can lead to a majority of the population being "devoid" of the information about Webster Town government notices and just how accessible and transparent it can be.
One thing I learned as a CEO of a company was that you have to accommodate the demands of the customer base. Where I may like having a print version to read my news (which in fact I do cuz I'm old school) I have to be aware that a majority of people may not and want it in some digital form. I don't foresee the posting/publication laws changing any time soon from newsprint, However, as Supervisor, I will work to make sure that an expansion of these postings will be done in a variety of digital ways so that a majority of the townspeople will know when these town board meetings are, and what topics will be discussed at them.