Rye City Council candidates: Shari Punyon

Punyon-2Shari Punyon
Age: 47
Status: Challenger
Political Affiliation: Democrat
Endorsements: None
Number of years lived in Rye: 14
Occupation: Information design/technical writing/project management
Family: Husband, two older stepchildren, one 5-year-old
Community involvement: Member of Friends of Rye Nature Center, Friends of Rye Town Park, Rye Free Reading Room; Past Volunteer Junior League, Westchester on the Sound
One thing the average voter doesn’t know about you: I once wrote a comic murder mystery and I used to do radio comedy.

Q: Considering the financial scandal at Rye Golf Club uncovered last year, one of the city council’s main priorities next year will be making sure nothing of the sort ever happens again. How has the city been doing so far on this in terms of increasing oversight at all levels?

A: I think they have taken some steps, but I think much more needs to be done and we have called for an organization-wide review of city operations partly because of that. I think they have to consider their audit process, so that each audit report carefully calls out the findings and then there’s a specific process for addressing these things in a public fashion.
I think part of what might have helped with the golf club is if the 2010 audit report had a section where the golf club manager and the city manager had to sit down and say for each of the items: There has been a full review of this area and this is our answer to it. The point is, no audit should go, “OK, we found stuff.” There has to be a “then what?”

Q: What are your proposals and ideas for the golf club going forward?”

A: I think that, because of the way golf club is structured, it is an enterprise fund and its member dues support it, so the golf club commission is the main way the members themselves have to put out their concerns. The commission is made up of elected representatives for the golf club, the same way the members of the City Council are the elected representatives of the general public of Rye. So, I believe the City Council should be listening to the golf club. I think the golf club is spending a lot of time internally trying to figure that out.

Q: Considering City Manager Scott Pickup’s role in signing the majority of the golf club purchase orders alleged to be fraudulent, as well as his role in the Rye TV controversy, there has been much speculation on whether he is still the right person for the job. What steps should be taken when the new council is elected to deal with the general loss of  confidence in the city manager?

A: It’s incredibly difficult to talk about someone’s employment in such a public way…I really would not want to make an employment decision like that without really digging deeply into the past.
But, whatever we do about Mr. Pickup himself, I think we have to really very carefully address the city manager position. Not that I don’t want to have a city manager form of government, but I think that through various decisions including letting go of the assistant city manager, we have created a city manager position that is not a tenable position for somebody to succeed in.
I think the question eventually has to become, “How much of the failure was Pickup’s failure and how much of the failure was structural and oversight failure?” Because the city manager position is one that needs oversight; it needs regular feedback.

Q: With news that William Connors is resigning as police commissioner in January, how should the city go about hiring a new commissioner? Should it be handled before or after the election?

A: I would like to see someone possibly brought in on an interim basis. The other option is if there was a strong candidate from within the department and if both the public and police department personnel felt that that person was a really strong candidate; that might be a reason to hire sooner.
But, I think it would be very difficult to have a lame duck administration, and the question of would [Pickup] continue, and to have these people hiring for a long-term professional position, which is a very, very important position in Rye.

Q: What will be your three most important priorities in office, if elected?

A: 1) I want to bring the City Council back to working on the issues. A voice for that is important. I think there are people on the council who are definitively focused on addressing the issues, and I think that, there are council members who are not necessarily doing that. I think that, there have been a lot of distractions on the council. I’m going out in to the community and listening to people talk about their concerns. I am not running on a set of priorities, but I do have my priorities for Rye.
2) I would love to see smaller house sizes. I think that is a big piece for me. And in talking to people, although I had thought it might just be my personal bugaboo, there are large numbers of people who talk about the house sizes. I’m hoping to address that.
3) Flood mitigation.

Q: How do you feel the current administration has done in terms of holding the line on taxes? What ideas do you have in terms of taxpayer savings that have yet to be implemented?

A: I think the city is running up against the tax cap so I think that by default, in a way, taxes will remain low. I think the question isn’t how we are going to lower taxes, but how are we going to do the most that we can, with the money that we can get, so that we don’t have to vote to go over the tax cap.
I think that the discussion has to be how to best put our resources so that we are getting the most value for the money. There are people who might want to outsource a lot of work that the city does. Nobody has yet explained to me how putting a middleman with a profit motive in the center of a service organization saves you money while giving you the same services.

Q: Why are you running?

A: I’m running because I think that we need to have voices from around the spectrum. I did not want to see uncontested City Council seats. I think having a choice for the voters is hugely important.
I think I’d be good at it since there are things I do in my work life that play in to the same kinds of things you see on the City Council. I’m a technical writer, and my job is to [approach] something in a comprehensive way, to ask detailed and meaningful questions, to point out inaccuracies or collate conflicting feedback from different experts and work out the solution.
–Reporting by Liz Button