By Eileen Gallagher
A palpable excitement permeated Town Hall last evening, as the new board gathered for its first meeting of 2014. Supervisor Rob Greenstein and new board members Lisa Katz–appointed Deputy Supervisor by Greenstein–and Adam Brodsky joined returning members Elise Mottel and Jason Chapin in socializing with several dozen members of the New Castle community. Coffee, cookies and treats–either donated or homemade–were available for all to enjoy. New Year greetings were exchanged, and town officials and visitors were abuzz in conversation.
The evening had just begun.
Rules were loosened a bit as the new board felt its way around a meeting that was anything but typical. Supervisor Greenstein set the tone as he good-naturedly confessed that with three new persons serving on a town board for the first time, getting the hang of the meetings and learning the ropes are to be expected. When asked by one resident in the audience about the protocol for asking questions, he invited her to come right up and ask. Community participation, brainstorming, feeling welcomed, and being heard were key phrases heard and spoken during the evening.
Board member Mottel read a statement at the outset, stressing both her and Chapin’s intent to continue to be active participants on the board, striving to improve the town and serve the residents of New Castle. However, Chapin also expressed disappointment with the new team for making decisions regarding various town hall appointments without consulting the remaining two…a statement which was later rebutted by the new Supervisor as “a difference in communication methods.” Greenstein explained that he used email to announce the appointments; Mottel pointedly reminded that some communications remained more desirable in more traditional, in person forums. That being said, both she and Chapin also strongly emphasized that they would work very hard with the new members of the board to meet the needs of the town.
Agenda items were dealt with in a bullet point fashion, with Mottel and Chapin abstaining from voting on the six month appointments of Jill Shapiro as town administrator and Mary Deems as town clerk, among others. Items such as water fees, mileage rates, and bank accounts were brought to a vote one by one.
Just as the audience was lulled into a sense of the ordinary, however, a hot button issue arose. Bob Kirkwood was announced as the newest and fifth planning board member. In a move just as bold, he was announced as the Planning Board’s Chair. “Just as the town board is excited to start, so are other people,” said Greenstein, adding that the seat has been vacant for too long.
Greenstein also raised the appointment of a third town prosecutor, Stuart Miller, who will round out the team of two who were formerly in place. Having three prosecutors will help the town collect fines more effectively, and will not cost more than having two due to their agreement to split the current pay three ways, explained Greenstein. “When you have people willing to help the town, you want to put them to work” he went on to say.
Update on Code Red Alerts
Tweaks are being made to the town’s alert system, as Code Red capabilities are expecting upgrades. In addition to the police department’s Nixle alerts, Code Red alerts are the town’s vehicle for keeping residents informed in case of emergency. (Just last week during winter storm Hercules, Code Red was utilized twice regarding the hazardous road conditions.)
Beginning in the next couple of weeks, subscribers to the system can specify which alerts are sent and to which devices they are received (ie smart phone, e-mail, etc). Also, town officials can now tailor alerts to certain locations; just recently, in fact, they notified only a few homeowners near whose homes there were water main breaks from the extreme cold.
Town Hall Communications Update
For those who have been reluctant to navigate the town’s website, residents might be curious about plans to make it more user friendly, with the option to have notifications sent to users as information is posted.
In a nod to those not on Facebook, the board spoke of using the website to access meeting minutes, contact appropriate officials to resolve issues, print forms, get road repair updates, etc.
As Greenstein stated, “Facebook and Chappaqua Moms [a group on Facebook] are tremendous resources, but you shouldn’t have to make a complaint on there, you should be able to get in touch with the appropriate department to get resolution of an issue.”
The meeting’s mildly contentious opening was bookended with a joking suggestion by Adam Brodsky for a group hug at its close–and the promise of better things to come. Stay tuned.
Eileen Gallagher, a Chappaqua resident for more than ten years, and whose involvement as Westorchard PTA chair led to an avid interest in town and local matters, will be reporting for Inside Chappaqua Magazine on town government.