Author Archives: Doug French

The city’s new conflict of interest policy is on its way toward completion, according to Mayor Douglas French. The City Council entertained the idea of amending the city’s Code of Ethics to include a conflict of interest policy after the financial scandal at the Rye Golf Club broke last fall. File photo

Column: Transition points for 2014

Mayor-Doug-FrenchRye praised in NYS report
for its financial prudence
The city was acknowledged last week by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. “White Plains and Rye are on solid financial ground,” the comptroller said. Further, he added, “each municipality has been able to encourage economic development and cultivate financial stability for residents and taxpayers. To maintain these positive conditions, I urge city officials to continue to budget prudently and remain vigilant when it comes to long-term financial planning.”

The recession hit us hard five years ago when our financial trend lines were going in the wrong direction; rising unemployment, declining fund balance, rising debt and taxes, declining revenues and grants, declining property values, and rising pension and healthcare costs. Despite the challenges posed by the property tax cap, the city’s focus on sound fiscal decision-making and tough budget choices has put Rye in excellent position as the economy rebounds.

Labor agreements
The city has made significant progress in changing the trajectory of labor costs and the growing total cost of compensation of employees to include salary, retirement benefits and healthcare benefits. It is imperative that healthcare continue to be a key component of all negotiations given its impact on Rye’s future financial sustainability.

Flood mitigation at Westchester County Airport and surrounding area
Central to flood mitigation for Rye is the surrounding development in and around the Westchester County Airport. The city is moving forward with the county on a 2014 plan to double in size two catch basins to retain more stormwater runoff at the airport as well as to incorporate stricter regulations for retention within the surrounding area.

Senior affordable housing
The city has made great progress in making available affordable housing, including the Cottage Street development, the settlement of a lawsuit to retain rent control at Highland Hall and the PILOT—payment-in-lieu of taxes—for the upgrade improvements at Rye Manor. I am pleased to have worked with the county the past year to bring forward a new development for senior affordable housing at the Theodore Fremd county-owned property. The project will construct 54 units of age-restricted housing located in two buildings, limited to those over age 55 and consisting of 44 one-bedroom units and 10 two-bedroom units. The proposed units would also be affordable and would count toward Rye’s contribution to the 750 units of fair and affordable housing Westchester County is obligated to provide as part of a stipulation of settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sustainable Playland
As the Sustainable Playland project moves through its review from the county Board of Legislators, the city is seeking participation in the planning process through its land use boards similar to the above mentioned project on the county-owned Theodore Fremd site.

Downtown, train station, safe routes and infrastructure improvements
The rebuild Rye initiative is in full swing with fully funded infrastructure projects in design for implementation in 2014 including downtown intersections, safe routes to schools projects and the repaving of the lower section of the city-owned portion of the train station road/parking lot. However, several key roadways that are county-owned remain in disrepair and need repaving.

Police station/courthouse
The Office of Court Administration has issued a safety report from 2009 which outlines needed safety improvements to the existing facility. The city has put forth a plan for improvements to be made in compliance of about $1.25 million as part of the city’s Capital Improvement Plan.

Public access and transparency
Changes in technology to lower costs have allowed other communities to broaden their public access to residents so that meetings of boards and commissions, not just the council, are televised. Many decisions with respect to local land use and membership funds are decided on which the public has limited view into those decisions. The city needs to televise more public meetings, per my recommendation, so that residents can stay up-to-date and be better informed and participate on the policies and decisions that impact them.

Whitby Castle food and catering proposals
Proposals have started to come in for an experienced food and beverage service operator for Whitby Castle to include banquet/catering, restaurant and snack bar or any combination thereof. The city took over that responsibility in 2006, which is around the same time the alleged theft began by the former club manager. This is the right strategic move for the city as governments are not set up properly to run restaurants.

Thank you
Thank you to the many volunteers on our boards and commissions along with our professional staff, who have worked together to transform the city during one of the most challenging periods for local municipalities given the regular extreme weather and prolonged economic recession. There were many, many accomplishments and the city is much stronger for it. And thank you to the residents. It has been an honor to serve you as mayor and I plan to remain active in our community as I have for the past 25 years.

The city’s new conflict of interest policy is on its way toward completion, according to Mayor Douglas French. The City Council entertained the idea of amending the city’s Code of Ethics to include a conflict of interest policy after the financial scandal at the Rye Golf Club broke last fall. File photo

Column: City Council Updates

Mayor-Doug-FrenchUpstream flood mitigation
At the core of the city’s flood mitigation plan has always been upstream development and the Westchester County Airport. The city, along with its flood commission, has been persistent in collaborating with Westchester County to identify solutions to retain more water upstream. This month, the city had another productive meeting with county representatives from the Planning Department. As part of the plan, the county is beginning the process to substantially increase the size of two of its catch basins and potentially adding a third. In addition, the county is very active in monitoring surrounding development and pursuing retention measures on stormwater runoff to the airport which ultimately makes its way downstream.

Proposed 2014 budget for council approval
The city will hold its final public hearing on the budget on Dec. 18. The revised proposed increase in the property tax rate is 1.99 percent. The Citizens Finance Committee will issue its comments during the public hearing. The city’s sound fiscal management and disciplined approach for the last five years has again produced another solid budget. Like previous budgets, this one keeps taxes under the cap, enhances current levels of service and retains a very healthy fund balance. This budget also puts forward a substantial investment in infrastructure to include: Blind Brook wall study, nature center bridge/Boston Post Road realignment, Disbrow Park master plan, sidewalks, sewers, record retention/digital document conversion, the city master plan, street resurfacing and train station parking lot improvements.

Beaver Swamp Brook dispute
A conference call was held with theadministrative law judge, who asked if the parties were amenable to trying mediation on the discovery disputes between Rye and the Town of Harrison. An initial meeting will be held in mid-December with another ALJ, who would act as a mediator over these disputes. If and when these disputes are resolved, the matter would proceed to the adjudicatory hearing in January or February.

Televising land use and enterprise fund meetings
When I was on the city’s Cable Committee in the 1990s, it established and funded cameras to be installed in City Council chambers so public meetings of the Rye City Council were televised. It is a practice that has enabled residents to be better informed and to more actively participate in their government. Other communities I have met with have adopted such measures including televising additional boards and commissions. The council will be looking to adopt a policy that will have all land use and enterprise fund board meetings—Rye golf and boat basin—televised.

The public needs to vet the newly appointed council members
The city is in an unprecedented time in which there are two openings on the council that will be appointed by the new council. When there was an opening on the council last year, I established a public process that allowed the council and public to hear from those interested individuals and for all candidates to present to the public at a designated council meeting their qualifications and goals for serving. A public and open process for the vetting of council members before their appointment is critical as part of good government.

Police station/courthouse update
The city sold the 1037 Boston Post Road property last summer, which was previously earmarked for an enhanced police station/courthouse. A 2009 consultant’s report identified the cost at that location, or the current one, at an estimated $20 million plus. In addition, the state Office of Court Administration has issued a safety report from 2009, which outlines needed safety improvements to the existing facility. The city has put forth a plan for improvements to be made at a huge savings and to be in compliance with about $1.25 million as part of the city’s capital improvement plan. The council has deferred spending this money on improvements now until a new plan is revised. The new council has raised the issue of acquiring land to build a new facility. Not again.

For more information on these matters, visit the City of Rye website at www.ryeny.gov or contact me, your City Council members or the city manager. Mayor Douglas French, mayor@ryeny.gov.

The city’s new conflict of interest policy is on its way toward completion, according to Mayor Douglas French. The City Council entertained the idea of amending the city’s Code of Ethics to include a conflict of interest policy after the financial scandal at the Rye Golf Club broke last fall. File photo

Column: City Council updates

Mayor-Doug-FrenchFormer Rye Golf Club manager arraigned on felony larceny charges
I want to thank the Westchester District Attorney’s office for getting us to this day, it was a long time coming. Scott Yandrasevich was Rye’s Bernie Madoff and has allegedly perpetrated a crime against Rye going all the way back to 2008. Over four and a half years, he is charged with fabricating wages to contracted workers in the amount of $271,000. Many people trusted Scott over the years, ranging from different club commission members, council members, mayors, comptrollers, managers and staff. I am glad he has finally been charged and is facing his crimes. The city will pursue through our insurance carrier in getting the stolen funds back.

 

Proposed 2014 budget
The city will be holding a public hearing on the budget on Dec. 4 and 18, with final adoption on Dec. 18. The Citizens Finance Committee will issue their comments during the public hearing. The city’s sound fiscal management and disciplined approach for the last five years has again produced another solid budget. The proposed increase in the property tax rate is 2.52 percent, or an annual increase of $92 per average household. Like previous budgets, this one keeps taxes under the tax cap, enhances current levels of service, and retains a very healthy fund balance. This budget also puts forward a substantial investment in infrastructure of $2.2 million to include: Blind Brook wall study, nature center bridge/Boston Post Road realignment, Disbrow Park master plan, sidewalks, sewers, record retention/digital document conversion, the city master plan, street resurfacing, train station parking lot improvements and police/courthouse improvements.

 

Senior affordable housing at Rye Manor extended
The city has entered into a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with Rye Manor HDFC, an entity created for the sole purpose for the renovation and preservation of Rye Manor as an affordable housing development. The project will be financed through the issuance of tax-exempt bonds to be issued by Westchester County Industrial Development Agency and an allocation of federal low-income tax credits from the New York State Housing Finance Agency. HUD will issue a new 20-year HAP for the project, which will provide additional financial security for the tenants, and a new HUD use agreement that will ensure the property will remain affordable for another 30 years. The agreement is for a $90,000 first-year payment that would increase at 2.5 percent per year for the term of the 32-year PILOT. There is also a one-time municipal impact fee payment of $150,000 to the city for roadway and sidewalk improvements.

 

Calling all volunteers for city board vacancies
Now is the time of year when many terms on the city’s boards and commissions are set to expire. The city has many boards and commissions that serve our city government, from finance to recreation to land-use and more. We encourage new volunteers and a natural turnover on boards after three terms. A listing of all boards and commissions is listed on the City of Rye website. In addition, there are two openings on the City Council. Please forward your resume to the incoming council if interested in serving.

 

Rye Free Reading Room
As part of the city budget discussions for 2014, I am pleased to report that city funding levels to the library have been restored to pre-recession levels. A close collaboration and hard work between the city and the Rye Free Reading Room the last few years has made the relationship as strong as it has ever been. A sustainable labor agreement, bond funds for safety and flood improvements to the historic building—and now the additional funding for the library—will help it in meeting its new strategic vision with the community.

 

Rye Town Park audited results show a surplus
A few years ago, Rye Town Park had an annual operating deficit of $400,000. Through a series of operational improvements, new financial reporting for greater oversight and management decision-making, and a new pricing structure, the 2012 audited results post a small surplus for the park; quite a turnaround.

 

Sustainable Playland community forum on Dec. 11
The Sustainable Playland, Inc. improvement plan is before the county Board of Legislators for review and approval. A copy is posted on the City of Rye website. A community forum will be held at the Rye Free Reading Room on the evening of Dec. 11. The city will continue to represent its rights and concerns with respect to the planning process. The plan seeks to balance the amusement park and seasonal uses with new amenities, venues and programs. Improvements can begin in 2014 with significant upgrades to the Amusement Zone and Kiddyland specifically.

For more information on these matters, visit the City of Rye website at www.ryeny.gov or contact me, Mayor Douglas French, mayor@ryeny.gov

 
Members of the American Legion Post 128 take part in the city’s observance of Veterans Day.

Rye City Veterans Day

By Mayor Douglas French

Good morning, thank you post commander and members of Rye Post 128. It’s once again an honor to be with you, and welcome to all of you on this Veterans Day here in Rye.

Members of the American Legion Post 128 take part in the city’s observance of Veterans Day.

Members of the American Legion Post 128 take part in the city’s observance of Veterans Day.

The one question we all face is—how do we best express our gratitude to those that are responsible for everything we have, from our freedoms to our way of life?

George Washington got it right when he said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”

So as a community, what can we do? There are a number of ways we can appreciate and acknowledge our veterans.

First, we can say thank you. So, to our veterans up here with me this morning, those in the audience and those across Rye, whether you have served, are serving and to those that are no longer with us, let me say thank you for your service on behalf of Rye and on behalf of the officials up here with me this morning from the state, county and City Council.

Second, we can all give to organizations that support veterans such as the USO and the Wounded Warrior Organization and other local organizations.

On Nov. 11, Mayor Douglas French delivers his final Veterans Day address in front of City Hall. Photos/Bobby Begun

On Nov. 11, Mayor Douglas French delivers his final Veterans Day address in front of City Hall. Photos/Bobby Begun

Third, like other communities, we can bring back the parade. And so we have started discussions about a private/public partnership in bringing back the Memorial Day parade that Rye used to have starting in May of 2014.

Finally, as a community, we are at our best when we are all connected. We need to know our veterans better. The veterans in Rye are the pillars of our community. Each one of you represents a sense of patriotism and a sense of duty that is admired and respected by us all. You continue to change the lives of those around you with your presence and ongoing commitment to serving others here in Rye. You are the role models that set the bar here and it’s working.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with John Carolin the other day to understand what his service was like and to fully understand his story. He, of course, downplayed it, but I Googled it only to find out how important and strategic his story was. John was part of Operation Torch, in which American commanders agreed to conduct landings in North Africa with the goal of preparing for a future attack on southern Europe. The operation called for several landings, including Casablanca. John landed in Oran. The result was the French joined the American and British allies and built up enough strength to move east and take on the Axis forces. There is history there, and there are great stories in Rye that we can learn and share.

So on this 11th day of the 11th month, and after 237 years of the founding of our nation’s armed services and 22 million veterans—thank you, God bless our veterans and God bless America.

The city’s new conflict of interest policy is on its way toward completion, according to Mayor Douglas French. The City Council entertained the idea of amending the city’s Code of Ethics to include a conflict of interest policy after the financial scandal at the Rye Golf Club broke last fall. File photo

Column: City Council updates

Proposed 2014 budget

The city’s sound fiscal management and disciplined approach for the last five years has again produced another solid proposed budget. Like the previous budgets, this one keeps taxes under the tax cap, enhances current levels of service and retains a very healthy fund balance. However, this budget also puts forward a substantial investment in infrastructure, reflecting the turnaround in the economy.Mayor-Doug-French

Proposed expenditures in the general fund are $34.6 million or $2.9 million over the 2013 budget, but $2.2 million is tied to capital and other projects. These projects include: Blind Brook Wall study, Nature Center Bridge/Boston Post Road realignment, Disbrow Park Master Plan, sidewalks, sewers, record retention/digital document conversion, the city master plan, street resurfacing and $1.25 million for police/courthouse improvements—a huge savings from the original $27 million plan.

Other expenditure increases include employee health insurance expense of $306,000, up 14 percent, salary increases of $582,000, up 4.8 percent, an assistant building inspector and an additional police officer. The proposed increase in the property tax rate is 2.52 percent, or an average annual increase of $92 per average household.

Executive search for a new police commissioner

The council will be hiring a search firm to help identify and assess potential candidates for the position of police commissioner. This is a long-lasting position that is an integral part of many facets of the community that will require the proper professional due diligence, expertise and outreach to find the right candidate. Unlike a police chief position that is part of the union bargaining unit, the police commissioner is part of the city’s senior management team, a structure the city has had since the early 1980s. There will be a representative committee established to screen candidates before a final offer is made.

Appointment process for two City Council vacancies

When there was an opening on the council last year, I established a public process that allowed the council and public to hear from those interested individuals. This included a regular call in this column, and from the dais, over a period of time for all interested parties to send in their resumes and speak with the mayor and council. Further, for all candidates to present to the public at a designated council meeting their qualifications and goals for serving. As of January, the council will be down to five members from the current seven. The two new appointees, appointed by mayor and council, will serve through 2014, with a general election in November 2014. A public and open process for the vetting of council members prior to their appointment is critical.

Upcoming appointment of the City of Rye assistant judge

When I took office in January 2010, I was surprised to find that there was no formal selection process established for one of the most important parts of our city government—the judicial branch. Other than requiring that appointed judges be admitted to the New York State Bar, there was no established screening process—so I created one. For the appointment of full-time Rye City judge, I had each candidate complete a detailed judicial application with their background, experience, opinions and writings. I conducted formal interviews. The candidate applications were shared with the council. The position of assistant city judge is to expire in January 2014 and I would encourage the city to follow the established protocol given the importance and length of the appointment.

Investment in televising more public meetings

Back in the 90’s, I was part of the Rye Cable Committee that led to the investment and placement of television cameras in City Hall. While there was some resistance and debate on the subject at the time, the vision and work of that committee has kept residents informed for decades. The city needs to continue in that direction so that residents can stay up to date and be better informed on the policies and decisions that impact them—and so they can better participate in the process. Public meetings that take place in City Council chambers, such as the Zoning Board of Appeals, or meetings, such as the Rye Golf Club Commission, as requested by the chairman should be televised. As part of the 2014 budget, the city will look to continue these types of investments.

Public hearing on attic law continues

The council is continuing to review a zoning code amendment to address resident concerns regarding the bulk or scale of residential construction. In many cases, the proposed gross floor area of the residences are only a few square feet shy of the maximum permitted floor area. The drafted changes to the local law address bulk and height concerns associated with residential attics and provide greater consistency between the requirements of the city zoning code and the New York State Building Code, and changing how attic space is included in the calculation of gross floor area of a residence.

For more information on these matters, visit the City of Rye Website at www.ryeny.gov or contact me, your City Council members or the city manager.

The city’s new conflict of interest policy is on its way toward completion, according to Mayor Douglas French. The City Council entertained the idea of amending the city’s Code of Ethics to include a conflict of interest policy after the financial scandal at the Rye Golf Club broke last fall. File photo

Column: City Council updates: Results matter

As the election silly season winds down this week, the fundamentals of the city have never been stronger, despite enormous economic and storm-related challenges. The city’s financials are strong, infrastructure improvements are underway, future improvements are funded, labor contracts have a new way forward, Rye Golf Club is back on the right strategic path and residential development and its long-term impact are being further reviewed. With proven results, the city is much better off than it was four years ago and is on the right path.

A solid YTD financial performance
The council heard from the comptroller this week, and the city’s conservative financial approach continues to put the city in a strong financial position as the economy starts to pick up. Elastic revenues such as sales tax, mortgage tax and permit revenues are up YTD and are estimated to be well ahead of budget at year end. Expenses continue to track to budget. The city’s fund balance has been fully restored and is strong. The council and I will hear the proposed 2014 budget at our next meeting, and I am anticipating that we will again be under the tax cap in 2014 for the fourth year in a row without impacting reserves, but maintaining service levels.

Labor arbitration award: Employee health care contributions
One of the major concerns the city has had is the growing and trending total cost of compensation of employees to include salary, retirement benefits and healthcare benefits. It is important that all employees contribute to their individual and family healthcare premiums. The State of New York Public Employment Relations Board has released an award this week in the compulsory interest arbitration filed by the Rye Police Association. The scope of this award includes changes in health insurance contributions so that now all active members will contribute. We greatly value the work of our employees and now that the arbitration is settled, it’s time to move forward. The last labor agreement was settled in 2003, so I encourage our public safety unions to join us at the table and restart further negotiations as soon as possible to find common ground.

Development impacts on our neighborhoods and schools
Ten years after the adoption of the zoning code amendments, there continues to be resident concerns regarding the bulk or scale of residential construction. The council has opened up a public hearing to address a potential change in the code. Building activity in Rye is high. Many residential applications involve substantial renovations or demolition of existing residences and construction of new homes that are significantly larger than the homes they replaced. In many cases, the proposed gross floor area of the residences are only a few square feet shy of the maximum permitted floor area. The drafted changes to the local law address bulk and height concerns associated with residential attics and provide greater consistency between the requirements of the city zoning code and the New York State Building Code and changing how attic space is included in the calculation of gross floor area of a residence.

Whitby Castle food and catering proposals
The city will be moving forward to identify an experienced food and beverage service operator for Whitby Castle to include banquet/catering, restaurant and snack bar or any combination thereof. The city took over that responsibility in 2006, which is around the same time the alleged theft began by the former club manager. With the assistance of the Rye Golf Club Strategic Committee formed earlier this year, the city and the commission have started the process for the request for proposal. This is the right strategic move for the city as governments are not set up properly to run restaurants.

The Rye Community Emergency Response Team
Rye CERT was formed after Hurricane Sandy to coordinate and implement a citizen preparedness plan that supplements the city’s emergency plan so that all residents are better informed well prior to an emergency and can take appropriate action as needed.

Rye CERT has proposed having the Smart 911 service available to the community to handle the volume of calls for assistance during disaster periods. Smart 911 allows citizens to create free online safety profiles including photographs, premise and health and rescue information. When a citizen dials 911, their profile automatically appears in the 911 center, helping call takers and first responders. The 911 system is operated by Westchester County. Smart 911 is a commercial service that provides an external database of information supplied by participants who register. The city is reviewing the proposal as there is no cost to the participants of Smart 911; it is paid for by the municipality.

For more information, please contact me, the city manager, a Rye City Council member or visit the City of Rye website. Office Hours of the mayor by appointment by e-mailing dfrench@ryeny.gov.

Column: City Council updates

Over-building and its impact on Mayor-Doug-French
our neighborhoods and schools
For a number of years, residents have stated their concerns that some new residential construction is considered potentially out of scale in size, height and/or bulk. It’s been 10 years since the city looked at this issue and we wanted to ensure we reviewed it before too much more time elapsed. Building activity in Rye is high again. Many residential applications involve substantial renovations or demolition of existing residences, and construction of new homes that are significantly larger than the homes they replaced. In many cases, the proposed gross floor area of the residences is only a few square feet shy of the maximum permitted floor area. The city planner drafted changes to the local law that addressed bulk and height concerns associated with residential attics and provided greater consistency between the requirements of the city zoning code and the New York State Building Code. The law was reviewed by the Planning Commission at their August meeting and was unanimously supported.

The local law changes the ceiling height provision in attics to seven feet. Floor area under roof rafters, not collar ties, having a ceiling height of seven feet or greater would be required to be included in the maximum permitted floor area for a residence. Unlike the current law, this floor area would be counted at 100 percent, not at 50 percent and there would be no seven-foot minimum width requirement for such floor area to be counted. In addition, the floor area under dormers within attics having a ceiling height of five feet or greater would also be required to be included in the maximum permitted floor area. The local law is consistent with existing laws in Greenwich, Conn. The council had one public hearing and will continue to hear public input at its next regular council meeting.

Next stop:  Rye train station
As part of the Rebuild Rye Initiative, which has seen investments made in downtown, roads, sewers, sidewalks, bridges and more the last few years, the next major project is the Rye train station. Now, with reserves on hand from the sale of 1037 Boston Post Road, I have made inquires to the MTA to begin discussions on improvements to the parking lot, crossings and roads. This is a much-needed project that has been neglected far too long, but has been on our radar and is a priority. The city is now in a good position to begin discussions with MTA.

Funding for Safe Routes to Schools projects
The city was awarded a federally funded Safe Routes to School grant coordinated by the Rye YMCA in the amount of $223,952. Thanks again to the YMCA for spearheading initiatives year after year that better our community. The projects included in the grant are: pedestrian activated rectangular rapid flash beacons, Theall/Osborn Road intersection pedestrian improvements, Grace Church Street intersection pedestrian improvements, and Milton School sidewalk safety improvements. A preliminary meeting with New York State Department of Transportation was held to review project implementation, schedule and reimbursement under the federal grant program. The timeframe for the projects is dependent on state DOT requirements, but the city hopes to complete the projects in 2014. In a related update, the new crossing guard program instituted by the city has gone exceedingly well in terms of overall performance and manning of posts, which has greatly reduced the need to use police resources for crossings.

Improvement plans submitted for Playland
Sustainable Playland, Inc. has submitted the Playland Improvement Plan for approval by the county Board of Legislators. The plan seeks to balance the amusement park and seasonal uses with new amenities, venues, and programs. The investments will be in excess of $34 million over the term of the management agreement if all improvements are approved and completed as proposed. The first improvements can begin in 2014 with significant upgrades to the Amusement Zone and Kiddyland specifically. The PIP also focuses on the historic preservation and restoration of the national landmark buildings, amusement rides and landscape, while adding new rides and venues to the amusement park area and state-of-the-art sports and recreation amenities like sports fields, water deck, etc.–much desired and needed by Westchester County residents. SPI presented before the council last meeting and we will continue to share our interest and concerns throughout the process with SPI and the county.

Executive search for a new police commissioner
A majority of the council again reaffirmed its position to focus on public safety first by authorizing the city manger to begin a search to replace retiring Commissioner Connors. Time is of the essence to engage a firm that can produce as many candidates as possible. There will be a representative committee established to screen candidates before a final offer is made.

For more information, please contact me, the city manager, a Rye City Council member or visit the City of Rye website. Office hours of the mayor by appointment by e-mailing @ryeny.gov” dfrench@ryeny.gov.

The city’s new conflict of interest policy is on its way toward completion, according to Mayor Douglas French. The City Council entertained the idea of amending the city’s Code of Ethics to include a conflict of interest policy after the financial scandal at the Rye Golf Club broke last fall. File photo

Column: City Council updates

Mayor-Doug-FrenchSchool construction, pedestrian safety projects
and crossing guards
Thanks to all for continued patience and cooperation as the city and schools institute traffic, parking and pedestrian safety initiatives with the start of the school year. New crosswalks, alternate drop-offs, new traffic patterns, new sidewalks, additional parking accommodations and newly paved roads are all part of the safety improvements. In addition, the city has successfully introduced a new crossing guard program. The city has long had difficulty in hiring and maintaining a full complement of crossing guards, often resulting in police personnel filling vacant spots—more than 200 times annually. The city has hired All City Management Services under the auspices of the police commissioner to assume all responsibility for crossing guard services, including recruitment, staffing vacancies and training.

Central Avenue Bridge re-opens
The city proudly re-opened the Central Avenue Bridge, a key roadway in Rye after more than six long years of delays. Long delays have become more commonplace with local projects that require New York State funding with never-ending regulatory approvals, but I want to thank the governor, the state DOT, city staff and the residents for staying persistent in their support and in expediting the project over the last two years.

Rye Arts Center lease extended
Having been approached in 2010 to begin discussions on renewing the lease for the Rye Arts Center, which was set to expire in two years, I was pleased the council adopted the negotiated 25-year extension this past week. The relationship has been mutually beneficial for all and the organization provides a great deal to the community and our children in enhancing our cultural opportunities and quality of life.

Rye’s first environmental sustainability plan adopted
I was also very pleased to have Rye’s first sustainability plan, which has been in development the last few years, adopted this past week. It outlines our shared goals and policies for sustainable development within Rye’s characteristics and provides a guideline for enhancing and preserving those qualities. The plan addresses specific recommendations in energy, transportation, waste reduction, water/land use and community awareness. Thanks again to our Sustainability Committee, professional staff and all of those involved.

The new direction for Playland takes another step forward
The Sustainable Playland project took another positive step this month as the organization submitted its improvement plan to the Westchester County Board of Legislators for approval. The SPI proposal has great promise for Westchester residents. Based on the work the city’s own strategic committee established two years ago, my work on the County Citizens Committee, and resolutions passed by the council in support of Sustainable Playland and the Westchester Children’s Museum, we encourage this project to move ahead as soon
as possible.

Labor negotiations summary
As outlined in a past issue, for the last five years, the city and the Rye Police Benevolent Association have been in negotiations over a new labor agreement. Despite many attempts to resolve outstanding issues, we are at an impasse and have proceeded to binding arbitration. The last collective bargaining agreement between the city and the PBA covered 2003 to 2008 and resulted on average a 3 percent per year—15 percent cumulative—salary increase with no increase in employee contribution to health insurance or other benefits. The PBA has proposed a 3 percent increase for two years, a 6 percent cumulative salary increase with no increased employee contribution to health insurance or other benefits. The City of Rye has proposed a wage increase in the range of 2 percent per year accompanied by increased employee contributions to health insurance and a more flexible step plan for new hires. The city’s proposal reflects the current economic realities facing the city and is consistent with increases negotiated with other bargaining units in Rye and in neighboring communities. The range of salary increases that are possible will depend on whether certain options are chosen, such as adding a health insurance contribution for all non-contributing officers or a less-than-fully-retroactive pay agreement. Salary increases are permanent and compound with benefits such as pension, overtime and holiday pay—which are based on salary—and increase labor costs even further. The City of Rye, in order to achieve financial sustainability, must find a way to balance dramatically increased benefit costs, along with higher salaries, while working within the state-mandated tax cap. That is why we continue to seek contracts—not just for the police—that will lessen the impact of higher benefits costs. We esteem the contributions Rye employees make to our safety and well being, and we respect the need to limit the tax burden on Rye residents.

For more information, please contact me, the city manager, a Rye City Council member or visit the City of Rye website. Office hours for the mayor by appointment by emailing dfrench@ryeny.gov.

Conflict of interest waiver proposal draws heat

French

The city’s new conflict of interest policy is on its way toward completion, according to Mayor Douglas French. The City Council entertained the idea of amending the city’s Code of Ethics to include a conflict of interest policy after the financial scandal at the Rye Golf Club broke last fall. File photo

By LIZ BUTTON
The city’s latest draft of a first of its kind conflict of interest policy includes a  provision that allows requests to waive certain conditions of the policy, an aspect of the proposal that has been criticized by some on the City Council.

Updating the city’s Code of Ethics by amending the local law to include such a policy was first proposed by Republican Mayor Douglas French last October in the wake of the Rye Golf Club scandal.

Without many checks and balances over management of the city-owned enterprise, ousted golf club manager Scott Yandrasevich was allegedly able to siphon hundreds of thousands of member dollars into his own pocket via trumped-up purchase orders believed to be submitted to the city over a six-year period through a series of shell companies, the prominent one being RM Staffing.

According to Mayor French, the city’s Board of Ethics is currently reviewing the proposed conflict of interest form, which, if approved by the City Council, would be filed yearly by public officials and certain city staff, including the mayor, City Council, department heads and assistant department heads. The city is also considering requiring members of the Board of Fire Wardens and the governing body of the auxiliary police to file the agreement yearly as well.

Other members of the city’s boards, committees and commissions would not be required to file a conflict of interest form annually. The policy strictly defines terms like “relative,” “household member,” “financial benefit,” “outside employer” and “interest,” and includes a conflict of interest form for vendors, as well as an updated oath of office card for members of city boards and commissions.

French said City Attorney Kristen Wilson compiled the policy from several sources, researching other conflict of interest documents from other municipalities as well as at the state level.

Former Democratic Mayor John Carey sent an email to the City Council before its Aug. 5 meeting informing them that one element of the proposed conflict of interest policy was in danger of usurping the rights of Rye citizens.

In a column he wrote for the Aug. 9 edition of The Rye Sound Shore Review, Carey criticized the aspect of the conflict of interest policy that states the city manager can grant waivers from the policy to city employees or department heads, and the Board of Ethics can grant waivers to elected or appointed officials.

Councilman Joe Sack, a Republican who is running for mayor this year, cited Carey’s wealth of experience in these matters and said he was grateful the former mayor raised the problematic nature of the issue of waivers.

Sack said confidence has been eroded in city government since the Rye Golf Club scandal and other troubling episodes involving City Manager Scott Pickup, but the purpose of a well-intentioned policy is undermined if these waivers are granted by the city manager himself. According to the policy, the city manager may seek an advisory opinion from the Board of Ethics on such decisions.

The City Council adapted the policy at their Aug. 5 session to state that the council shall be notified of any waiver request, before the issue is transferred to the Board of Ethics.

“That is exactly why we have a Board of Ethics,” French said. “To hear these types of issues. The Board of Ethics is an objective independent body so if there is a matter to sit down and review, they’re the appropriate body.”

Republican Councilwoman Laura Brett noted the recent controversy involving auxiliary Rye City police officer John Holmes, in which Holmes allegedly submitted falsified documents to the city in order to win a bid for his company New England Sportswear to provide police uniforms for the department. Holmes was brought up on criminal charges of offering a false instrument for filing and criminal possession of a forged document, both felonies.

“There are a lot of these relationships that I must say I was really not aware of until I learned about the uniform bid issues,” Brett said.

But French said that the situation with Holmes did not specifically strengthen the sense of immediacy to implement a conflict of interest policy. In fact, conflict of interest had nothing to do with the alleged deception perpetrated by Holmes, who is no longer an officer employed by the city, the mayor said.

Currently, according to the city charter, an officer or employee of the city is not permitted to make personal investments in enterprises that may be directly involved in decisions to be made by that employee or  official, or would otherwise create conflict between his or her public duty and private interest.

Additionally, no city officials or employees are permitted to obtain other employment that might impair the “independence of judgment” in the exercise of  official duties.

When it comes to the policy, Sack said something is better than nothing.

“We want to make sure whatever we do has meaning and is effective. We don’t want this just to be window dressing…something to check off so that someone can claim that they have retaken control of the situation,” he said.

Contact: liz@hometwn.com

Column: The way forward

MAYOR-FRENCHRye Golf Club will be remembered as the city’s Madoff moment when institutional breakdowns in oversight over a long period of time may have led to financial corruption. As part of the city’s work to restore public confidence in the enterprise entities, the council is reviewing a set of governance rules, practices and procedures as to how the Rye Golf Club and boat basin will be directed and controlled.

Enterprise funds are proprietary funds used to report on activity for which a fee is charged to external users for goods or services, and are operated separately and apart from the city’s general fund. The governance framework is designed to balance the interests of the many stakeholders to include membership, residents and taxpayers, commission members, City Council, city management and staff. It will encompass every aspect of oversight–budgets, capital plans, policies, internal controls, performance measurement and public disclosure.

A summary of the highlights of the governance rules being discussed are as follows:
Commission role: The commission shall serve in an advisory capacity on behalf of the members of the Rye Golf Club and boat basin (the “Clubs”) reporting to the City Council and shall have the responsibilities set forth below. It is intended that the commissions will have day-to-day advisory oversight responsibilities for the clubs in conjunction with the city manager and designated staff for the execution, implementation and management of the authorized operations of the clubs consistent with approved plans, budgets and policies.

Monthly updates and authorizations for the council: A standing monthly agenda item for the clubs will be added to the regular meetings of the City Council for updates, approvals and discussion on club operations.

Annual audit: An annual, independent audit shall be conducted by the city on behalf of the clubs by an auditor with experience in said operations. An annual presentation on the audit will be held at a regular scheduled meeting of the City Council.

Commission responsibilities: Review, advise on and approve an annual budget and capital plans for the clubs provided and prepared by staff and any other committees established by the commissions.

Work with the city manager in reviewing and negotiating all contracts, which will bind the clubs (other than omnibus municipal contracts) subject to final approval by the city manager (with input as needed from the City Council).

Have responsibility for interviewing and recommending to the city manager and City Council the terms of employment for managers and similar personnel to be employed by or consultant to the clubs.

Inform the city manager of any concerns regarding a particular employee’s performance and work with the city manager, as needed, in any disciplinary or termination actions.

Upon request, have managers, city employees or other department head designated to the club provide an update to the commission and/or council on operations regarding the club as requested.

Recommend in conjunction with the city comptroller, changes necessary to ensure accurate accounting practices and procedures at the clubs and for the clubs to invest as needed in the proper resources to ensure compliance with financial controls and reporting.

Commission membership: The Rye Golf Club Commission shall consist of twelve members. Nine of the members shall be elected by the membership, and the mayor shall appoint with council confirmation one council liaison, one member from the club’s finance advisory committee, and one additional appointment.

The boat basin shall consist of seven members. Five of the members shall be elected by the membership, and the mayor shall appoint with council confirmation one council liaison and one additional appointment. All members on each board shall be voting members.

All commission meetings shall comply with the Public Officers Law and be posted with agenda materials on the City of Rye website. Minutes shall be kept for all meetings.

The commission can act only if a quorum of members are present and all votes must be approved by a majority of the members in order for any action to be passed. Commission members cannot miss more than three consecutive meetings to remain in good standing.

The council will hold one more public meeting before adopting the new governance structure.

For more information on this or other city matters, please contact me, the city manager, a Rye City Council member or visit the City of Rye website. Office Hours of the mayor by appointment by e-mailing dfrench@ryeny.gov.