A Cavalier Disregard of State Law and Procurement Best Practices

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
The televised mess at the February 4 Board of Trustees meeting should prompt a review and overhaul of procurement policies in Croton. As a municipal corporation, Croton has more flexibility than other state entities. But this does not mean that the current status is acceptable, let alone protective of the public fisc.

Comments by the Board, the Village Attorney, and the Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee (BPC) indicate at least a cavalier disregard if not outright ignorance of both state law and procurement best practices. In addition, the lack of transparency makes a mockery of the public deliberations since the public is deliberately kept in the dark.

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At minimum, the village should post the RFP in the online Board of Trustees agenda supporting documents, and should post the certified bid tabulation form (known as “certified bid tab”). The RFP shows the scope of work and weighting of the criteria, and the certified bid tab shows the scoring and computation.

The televised mess at the February 4 Board of Trustees meeting should prompt a review and overhaul of procurement policies in Croton. . . . Comments by the Board, the Village Attorney, and the Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee (BPC) indicate at least a cavalier disregard if not outright ignorance of both state law and procurement best practices. In addition, the lack of transparency makes a mockery of the public deliberations since the public is deliberately kept in the dark.

Properly done, the RFP and certified bid tab constitute application of the “Best Value” standard pursuant to NYS Finance Law 163(1)(j). Posting these documents shows Croton taxpayers (and non-winning vendors) that there has been a “balanced and fair method of award” as required by the NYS Comptroller.

Some of us were puzzled by the remarks from the Village Attorney regarding the lack of requirement to accept the lowest bidder. “Best Value” has never meant lowest price. The RFP should have the technical/cost ratio; indeed in state agency RFPs this ratio is required to be disclosed in the RFP. Even the cost segment is not a mere ranking of lowest to highest price: normally, the low bid is divided by each bid in turn and then multiplied by the maximum allowable points (which is derived from the ratio set out in the RFP).

This sounds complicated but it is actually simple and most state agencies have a spreadsheet template for this purpose. The spreadsheet gives a composite score of the technical and cost factors, and this composite score determines the bid ranking. If Croton does not have an RFP template and certified bid tab template, it should create those now.

Unlike the Board and BPC, members of the public have not seen the RFP nor Superintendent Balbi’s certified bid tab. But even from listening to the public discussion, there is reason to doubt that the dummy light RFP was done in compliance with normal procurement procedure.

Another shock for those familiar with NYS procurement practice was the disclosure by Mr. Pugh that there were additional items (such as charrettes) which will be performed by the winning bidder, and the casual discussion by BPC spokesman Mr. Olsson of expanding the scope of services beyond the RFP. The NYS Comptroller is crystal clear on this: “Costs [sic] components not evaluated must not be in the resulting contract.”

The Feb. 4 meeting came to an awkward stop as Mr. Pugh struggled to respond to Mr. Olsson’s proposal to expand the scope of work to include the Vassallo Parking lot exit. No doubt Mr. Pugh was trying to be polite, but he should have bluntly told Mr. Olsson—on the record—that the Village of Croton-on-Hudson is not going to go against the requirements of the State Comptroller.

Croton loves to do initial awards which understate the work, and then add on work later. This backwards approach is bad practice for three major reasons.

First, it can result in a smaller pool of vendors and hence a higher price to taxpayers. If the village intends to have a true scope of work with a fair market value (FMV) of $150 but issues a stripped-down RFP with a FMV of $100, there may be vendors who would have bid on the $150 contract but who regard the $100 contract as too small.

Second, it is impossible to do a proper technical evaluation. This is particularly true if the expanded scope of work involves skill sets beyond the issued RFP. Oftentimes that additional work is going to be subcontracted, so even if the scoring evaluator (in this instance, Superintendent Balbi) has some idea of the true scope of work it will not be possible to make an accurate technical evaluation.

Third is the potential for corruption. In theory if the RFP’s FMV is $100, most bids should cluster around $100. But if one of the bidders becomes aware that the post-award scope of work is going to be expanded to $150, the bidder can bid $80 secure in the knowledge that the company will ultimately make $150. The RFP value may even exceed the FMV because once the original award is made, the awardee can inflate the additional work to a price above FMV.

Particularly when your winning bidder (in this instance, SIMCO) is under criminal indictment for bribery of public officials, it would seem that the Board of Trustees would be acutely aware of procurement requirements designed in part to reduce the risk of bribery.

I will leave for others to discuss why the Croton Board of Trustees has no procedure in place to detect if a prospective vendor is under criminal indictment. But Croton should institute procedures now, and also review existing contracts to ascertain if the municipality is currently doing business with vendors who are under indictment, convicted, or barred.

I realize that some of this letter has been a bit technical. And most residents would not be aware of the details. But it is troubling that neither the municipal officials conducting procurement nor the Board of Trustees that approves procurement contracts seems to be following common-sense practice.

Our Board of Trustees should stop trying to hide documents. It should not be necessary to FOIL for documents which are being discussed by the BPC spokesman and the Board at a public meeting, and only get those documents long after the decision has been made.

The BPC should stop advocating for changing the scope of work set forth in an RFP after the winning bidder has been announced; this is unwise and possibly exposes the village to legal action by losing bidders.

Croton should consider re-bidding the dummy light RFP if an investigation shows flaws in the RFP process. If Croton does make an award based on the current pool of submissions, it should do so by a means which would be held a “balanced and fair method of award” by someone adjudicating a complaint by a losing bidder.

Paul Steinberg

Is Croton’s Beloved Dummy Light in Jeopardy of Extinction?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
At the Monday meeting of the Croton Board of Trustees, just a few minutes before the Board was scheduled to approve an award to SIMCO Engineering, someone pointed out that SIMCO has been under indictment for political corruption. Given that the indictments were announced almost a year ago (April 18, 2018) it says something about Croton’s procurement process that this came as a shock to the Village Manager and Board of Trustees.

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It wasn’t a shock to most village residents since the SIMCO announcement was made on Friday: if you start to type “Simco Engin…” the Google auto-complete feature brings up “Simco Engineering investigation” and links to the press releases issued by the Manhattan District Attorney and also the US Dept. of Transportation. People now Google before they go on a first date or make a job offer but our Board of Trustees remains in blissful darkness. Perhaps future contract awards should be vetted by someone who is on eHarmony.

A longstanding Croton tradition is to spend taxpayer money on a dubious “consultant study” which serves as a vehicle for more follow-up studies and more taxpayer money thrown away. The SIMCO contract is yet another example.

Not only did nobody at the Municipal Building bother using Google, the Croton Superintendent of Public Works said the best response to the RFP was the SIMCO proposal which includes (Proposal page 4) analysis of a proposed roundabout where the dummy light now stands. Since the essence of a roundabout is to allow traffic flow without the use of lights or stop signs, by definition Croton is paying for a study that is considering elimination of the dummy light.

In addition to misleading the residents about the continued existence of the dummy light, the Board of Trustees is wasting our money on the “roundabout” portion of the contract award. Roundabouts work by increasing horizontal deflection, thus reducing the number of conflict points in an intersection.

But that increase in deflection (and other features) mean that any roundabout at the present dummy light intersection would necessitate tearing down nearby buildings including Robbins, Orangeberry, and the old German Deli.

In short, a roundabout would require the destruction of the Upper Village. Since that is not going to happen, why is it in the Scope of Work that we taxpayers are paying for?

At Monday’s public session, there was a discussion of “charrettes” (another expensive fad beloved by Croton politicians) and we were told that this was part of what SIMCO was going to do. That is not a completely accurate statement. SIMCO explicitly says that charrettes are “potential additional work” that would cost taxpayers more money. Since the Board intended to pay for charrettes before the initial contract award, why not just be honest with us about all the “additional work” planned?

Croton’s Board of Trustees should stop hiding the true costs to taxpayers. This “camel’s nose under the tent” procurement strategy means that we don’t know how much any given consultant will actually cost. It also is an end-run around the contracting process.

The Village Manager should issue an RFP for the real scope of work, not a stripped down RFP with the knowledge that there has already been a decision to expand the scope of required work.

What is SIMCO going to do under the proposed contract? According to the only document which the Village has chosen to release, SIMCO will count vehicles and pedestrians at the dummy light intersection for a total of 7 hours split among a weekday and a Saturday. They will then use machines to count cars for 9 days.

Why are we spending all this time studying traffic volume? The issue at the dummy light has never been one of traffic volume, it is an issue of safety. It is true that if we wanted to increase throughput car volume this would be a necessary data set, but this is not the case.

For 93 years the historic dummy light has stood at the heart of Croton-on-Hudson, a testament to that small core part of us which stands steadfast in a fast-changing world. It has taken the Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee and Croton Board of Trustees less than 2 years to put the dummy light in jeopardy of extinction.

SIMCO says that they will request crash data for the last 3 years from NYS Dept. of Transportation. This is certainly necessary data, and I am puzzled why the Village Manager cannot get this data from her Police Chief. Why don’t the Village Manager and the Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee (BPC) already have this data? I realize that the Village Manager is busy, but if she gives me fifty bucks I will FOIL Albany and she can knock off a few grand from the SIMCO contract.

Failure to rely on data is another habit at the Municipal Building, and has been addressed by others in different contexts. Determining what data is needed and then obtaining that data is normally done at the outset of a project.

There is no data whatsoever in the agenda documents section, but in a March 15, 2018 Journal-News article BPC member Robert Olsson discussed “near misses.” That is quite different from the data now being requested from Albany. The BPC should not be hiding this data. It should be up for all of us to review.

The nature of the “near misses” is important. Right now we don’t have even quantitative data from BPC, let alone qualitative data which would enable us to determine what needs to be changed.

At Monday’s meeting, the BPC representative mentioned car doors and mirrors being clipped. Those things have happened, but that is not because of the dummy light: it is a result of cars going too fast while making the turn onto Old Post Road South in front of Orangeberry. In the 2018 news article, the BPC focused on high school students crossing the street by the dummy light. This is a serious concern, but again it is necessary to know the specifics of what occurred in order to make intelligent decisions.

The dummy light has been in Croton since 1926. Given the great danger which the light poses to pedestrians, there must be voluminous data and we should be able to detect whether the degree of danger has substantially increased in the last few years as pressure has grown to do something about the dummy light.

Significant changes are being pushed, and the Board of Trustees and the BPC should be more transparent about their goals and the data which is driving their decision-making.

The 2018 Journal-News article says: “Gallelli said the dummy light’s existence would most likely be one of the aspects of any evaluation.” That would seem to be borne out by the SIMCO contract proposal.

At the February 4, 2019 meeting, the position of the BPC was that the light should be put back to the blinking red, with additional stop signs, pedestrian crossing signs, and police surveillance cameras installed to catch motorists.

Leaving aside the issue of whether Croton would have to seek amendment of Vehicle & Traffic Law 1111 or if it could get one of the 100 cameras being sought by the County Board of Legislators, the underlying issue of putting up cameras in Croton is one which should be given a full airing. Perhaps I am the only one who just found this out, but I suspect that many people in Croton were taken by surprise.

Apart from the Big Brother aspect, putting up cameras at Croton intersections could result in increased risk from people slamming on brakes. There is evidence to suggest that there may be a decrease in T-bone accidents but an increase in rear-end accidents. In this regard, Croton residents may remember that the red Prius incident at the dummy light last year was initiated by a driver who stopped when the light turned yellow.

For many years, Board of Trustee discussions of the dummy light intersection were cognizant of the potential to box Croton into a corner on this issue. Now the BPC and the Board of Trustees have chosen to push a narrative that there are many near misses and endangerment of pedestrian children at the dummy light.

It is entirely possible that an outside consultant sensitive to liability issues may therefore come flat out and say that the dummy light should be torn down. Even if the dummy light remains, if there is ever an accident the BPC data on the “many near misses” is going to be fertile ground for litigation discovery, and the traffic consultant report is going to be Exhibit A.

If our Board of Trustees can manage to find a traffic consultant who is not under criminal indictment, perhaps next time they will be more transparent and candid about the process, and gather hard data before they make a decision which will dramatically change Croton forever.

For 93 years the historic dummy light has stood at the heart of Croton-on-Hudson, a testament to that small core part of us which stands steadfast in a fast-changing world. It has taken the BPC and Croton Board of Trustees less than 2 years to put the dummy light in jeopardy of extinction.

Paul Steinberg

A Law That is Nothing More Than Virtue Signaling

The following letter was published in the 12/20/18 issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
I recently submitted an email question to the Board asking if there was any documentation to indicate if the new 25 mph speed limit has made a difference in driving behavior, especially speeding, since I’ve seen no change. Sadly, the Board had no baseline from which to measure and apparently no records of traffic stops, tickets, etc.

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Residents who work in the corporate world know that measurements, data collection and analysis are part of the daily operation: it is what decisions and policies are based on.

In Croton, our Board has implemented a law that has no measurable effect since passage of the law was not based on any Village data, nor is any data being collected to assess the efficacy of the new law. The new traffic policy started with signs that were erected even though they were prohibited under state law, and now this law. The process was flawed from the start and it seems to be a systemic problem.

In Croton, our Board has implemented a law that has no measurable effect since passage of the law was not based on any Village data, nor is any data being collected to assess the efficacy of the new law.

This Board has to do a better job of due diligence before implementing new laws and procedures. Making policy based on your gut feeling is no substitute for making policy based on data and following up to see that the policy change has achieved the desired result. That is true whether we are managing a corporation or a village.

My theory is that the Mayor who is the liaison to the Bicycle Pedestrian Committee was pushed to act based on an old study that states there are fewer accidents if you drive 25 mph. True enough and if lowered it to 20 mph and then 15 mph it would continue to decrease.

I searched the Village website to find the minutes of the Bike/Ped committee and could not find any data regarding speeding and accidents in Croton. This might have helped me to understand how this was discussed and came to be. I conclude that without enforcement and measurements you have a law that is nothing more than virtue signaling.

Bob Anderson
Bob is the former Deputy Mayor of Croton.

Think Locally, Act Locally

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:

The Village of Croton-on-Hudson spends a great deal of effort to stay at the cutting edge of social justice. Our village government is concerned with the global issues, and we devote village resources to that end. We truly do “think globally” and I realize that is the focus of our village elected officials and municipal staff.

Two recent events remind us that we must occasionally turn our attention to the mundane concerns of running a municipality.

The first instance was the “write-off” of $5,524.93 by our Board of Trustees at the November 5 meeting. “Write-off” is a fancy way of saying to stick it to the taxpayers of Croton. Adding salt to the wound is the identity of the debtor benefiting from the “write-off”—none other than Richard Izzo’s “Tough Man Enterprises”.

As readers may recall, Mr. Izzo was a favorite of some of our elected officials, including a former Mayor of Croton. Many residents and businesses complained about the inconvenience to residents and economic damage to village businesses, but Mr. Izzo was a friend of the political powers and so he continued to make money at the expense of Croton residents and business owners.

Mr. Izzo left Croton after a village election went against some of his political buddies, but don’t worry: he has done quite well since. With 18 “Tough Man” competitions around the world, multiple sponsors including financial powerhouse Morgan Stanley, and offices in tony Rye Brook, Richard Izzo’s company is not short on cash.

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Mr. Izzo remains politically active, rubbing elbows with influential people and lobbying Governor Cuomo about the state budget. Given Mr. Izzo’s history with the Croton Dems, it is understandable that the trustees wanted to give him a little Christmas gift for old times’ sake.

Ostensibly it was simply too much nuisance to collect from Mr. Izzo’s company. According to Village Manager King’s October 31 memo, there were “discussions” with the village attorney, village engineer, village auditor and also “several attempts of reaching out” to get the debt paid. Therefore the Village Manager sought permission to have the Village treasurer write-off the $5,524.93 debt.

Is there anyone reading this who believes the Village of Croton would let them slide on a $5,524.93 debt? Even filing a one-page form and paying a $15 filing fee in small claims court would have allowed for a $3,000 recovery. I’m sure that all those “discussions” among village officials and attorneys cost taxpayers more than $15.

And what is the problem with having the village attorney do his/her job and collect the full $5,524.93? We pay for our village attorney to do legal work on property tax “charity” schemes that are in violation of federal law. We pay for the village attorney to consult on rules to curtail speech during “public comment” period at Village Board meetings (some of those rules are unconstitutional, but that is another story). We pay for the village attorney to sit for hours on end while members of the Board of Trustees rail against the social injustices of the world and pass resolutions telling Albany and Washington what to do.

Is it really too much to ask that the village attorney and village treasurer protect the taxpayers of Croton?

Assuming that Ms. King’s litigation cost argument has merit, then why doesn’t the village at least start—today—demanding a provision for recovery of attorney fees and collection costs in future contracts? That way the Board of Trustees could still give their friend Mr. Izzo our $5,524.93 but at least the taxpayers of Croton will not get stiffed again.

The second surprise was on December 1, when we found out by reading the morning financial news that Croton had missed a bond payment last summer.

The same village machinery which is so efficient when it comes to churning out feel-good resolutions and announcing marches and diversity fairs was unable to find time to tell us of the bond payment failure. In fact, to date no elected official or village staff member has addressed the bond nonpayment in public, and I doubt they ever will do so.

As with the uncollected debt from Mr. Izzo, the village failed to tell us why the payment failure occurred and what steps were taken to prevent recurrence.

For the first time in 120 years, Croton missed a bond payment. Supposedly this bond payment was not made because it occurred at the start of the fiscal year. I don’t understand what this has to do with anything.

This is not like forgetting to pay your cable bill, nor is this a common occurrence in municipal finance. The village has new fiscal years on a regular basis—in fact I am told they happen at the same time every year, hence the term “fiscal year”. Croton is no stranger to bond payments, since we are one of the most heavily indebted municipalities per capita in the State of New York.

I don’t mind the decision by our Board of Trustees to “think globally.” It is kinda cute to see our Croton board meetings mimic a grade school model United Nations. I also understand that great minds are annoyed by having to deal with pesky accounting issues. But both of the recent issues raise concern about sloppy fiscal management and a lack of oversight by our village officials.

Even if the village treasurer was out sick on June 1 or in a rush to head out early on a summer Friday, why is it that the payment was not made until Depository Trust Company called the following Tuesday to ask why the payment had not been made? There is a whole staff at the Municipal Building and presumably someone to fill in if the village treasurer is otherwise occupied or distracted.

I can understand making checkbook errors; I have been known to make a few myself. But I am not a $20 million per year municipal corporation with $30 million in debt.

If I was as dependent as Croton is on people lending me money, I would consider hiring accountants and accounts payable staff to make sure I kept my creditors happy. At very least I would schedule my bond payment dates in Google Calendar, and maybe even consider scheduling the bank wire the afternoon before the due date in case there was a problem on the morning the payment was due.

I don’t mind the decision by our Board of Trustees to “think globally.” It is kinda cute to see our Croton board meetings mimic a grade school model United Nations. I also understand that great minds are annoyed by having to deal with pesky accounting issues. But both of the recent issues raise concern about sloppy fiscal management and a lack of oversight by our village officials.

Paul Steinberg

Croton-on-Hudson

Community Choice Aggravation

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
I understand the frustration of Jon Mckeon (The Gazette, week of Nov. 8/14) but his criticism of the Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program is not entirely accurate.

Many Croton residents are under the impression that CCA promised rates lower than Con Ed rates, but this is not true. As Brian Pugh artfully phrased it (The Gazette, week of Nov. 22/28), the promise is that Croton residents will receive pricing “lower than the 2015 Con Edison” pricing.

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Of course Mr. Pugh’s statement is misleading, as is often the case with his comments about CCA. Mr. Pugh won’t tell you this, but he is comparing the non-ESCO price to the ESCO price and touting the savings. That would be a fair point, if Mr. Pugh was honest and acknowledged that a large part of the CCA savings comes by reason of CCA being an ESCO.

In addition, pricing for both Con Ed non-ESCO pricing as well as the ESCO now known as Constellation has dropped since 2015, and so everybody’s pricing is lower than in 2015. The main input to NYS electric generation is natural gas, and gas hit a 20-year low in the first half of 2016, which resulted in lower electricity prices. It is rather like someone waiting till Black Friday and “guaranteeing” that the flat-screen TV is priced less than it was the week before.

We have heard for years about how much we would save thru the supposed power of bulk buying. The common number was in the hundreds of dollars per year. But if you look at the source of those numbers, you will find that Sustainable Westchester never said those numbers directly. They only promised that the pricing would be lower than the higher pricing of years gone by, which was self-evident since the market price was lower than it had been previously. That is a math tautology, not rational argument.

If you want to see how savvy CCA is in negotiating pricing when they are backed by the power of laws pushing hundreds of thousands of people into their bulk buying pool, the data is available. The CCA uses Constellation and is charging $0.0771 per kWh on a 24 month fixed plan. An individual can use Constellation and the current rate is $0.0789 per kWh on a 36 month fixed plan.

The difference is $0.0018 per kWh. If you use 300 kWh per month, that is 54 cents per month or less than 2 cents per day.

For some people, 2 cents is a lot of money and those people will appreciate the bulk buying power that gives them those savings. But if you don’t like CCA for whatever reason, you can sign-up online for a fixed-price contract on your own with Constellation or several other alternative providers known as energy service companies (ESCO).

Many Croton residents are under the impression that CCA promised rates lower than Con Ed rates, but this is not true. As Brian Pugh artfully phrased it, the promise is that Croton residents will receive pricing “lower than the 2015 Con Edison” pricing. Of course Mr. Pugh’s statement is misleading, as is often the case with his comments about CCA.

We like to think that the power companies are taking advantage of us and rolling in excessive profits. In reality today’s electricity supply marketplace is intensely competitive and margins are tight, which is why Con Edison sold its ESCO subsidiary to Constellation in the first place. And the longer you lock in a price, the more volatility risk is assumed by the ESCO. In fact my rate is less than rate CCA customers will be paying in 2019 because I signed up with my ESCO when prices were lower and I signed up for the longest term.

The CCA price is almost always lower than the Con Ed price, but this is primarily due to the savings that can come from using an ESCO. There are a lot of people in Croton who are too lazy or don’t think it worth the effort to spend 10 minutes to sign up for an ESCO, and for those people the government forcing them into CCA will save a few dollars.

CCA and its promoters such as Mr. Pugh do make a lot of misleading and even false statements, and that has always troubled me since there are positive aspects to CCA which can be publicized without having to resort to deceptive practices. But CCA is not a bad program for Croton residents, and if Mr. Mckeon is unhappy with being forced into CCA, my suggestion is to simply sign up with Constellation or another ESCO directly.

Paul Steinberg

Croton-on-Hudson

We Have Set a Dangerous Precedent in Croton

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
Recent questions by Joel Gingold (The Gazette, Oct. 25/31) and Brian Powers (The Gazette, Nov 8/14) remain unanswered by our Croton Board of Trustees and Village Manager. That is unfortunate, because they both raise an issue which is at the heart of what makes us a community.

Human institutions are governed by human beings, and that necessarily introduces human flaws into our institutions. But we should aspire to create laws that are an expression of our better nature.

A fundamental tenet of our civic community is that all are equal before the law. When I was growing up, the eighth grade social studies curriculum in New York State included discussion of bills of attainder and why these were prohibited in the Constitution. Apart from the narrow issue, there was a broad principle being taught: the right of every citizen to be treated the same as every other citizen.

The front of the Supreme Court Building (photo by UpstateNYer/Wikimedia)

The front of the Supreme Court Building (photo by UpstateNYer/Wikimedia)

When we discriminate against our neighbors, that is wrong. When our government passes laws that discriminate, that is an affront to our core values as a community.

Reasonable people in Croton can (and do) differ on the substantive issue of how to reduce plastic use in our community. But I have yet to see anyone explain why a law should be drafted so as to only apply to 2 businesses out of more than a hundred.

At the outset, I was supportive of the efforts to reduce bag usage because I did not realize that the movement was discriminatory. It is one thing for the Croton Climate Initiative to now support passing a law that singles out 2 specific businesses to the exclusion of all others. The CCI is not an instrument of the municipality, and it is free to petition our elected officials to go after 2 specific businesses. I disagree with the CCI on this, but I respect their right to express their view.

I also understand that CCI may be taking the “half a loaf is better than none” course of action. Normally this would be a reasonable path, and one which we all take in our daily lives. But in this particular instance, the outcome is discriminatory. We have been assured that the scope of the law may be expanded in the future, but that does not change the fact that we are today passing a law designed to affect only 2 Croton businesses.

Our municipal employees and elected officials are not acting in their private capacity, and as such they should be conscious of more than mere political concerns. No matter what law is passed, there is going to be a segment of the Croton electorate which is unhappy. I don’t minimize the desire by politicians for adulation, but there are times when even a politician must take a firm stand. Telling your constituents that everyone must live by the same law is one of those times.

Throughout the process of passing this bag ordinance, we have been told that it is a law to eliminate plastic bag use in Croton. That is not true. It is a law to eliminate plastic bag use at 2 particular locations, and nowhere else. At no time has the Board of Trustees considered a bag law which would apply equally to every resident and business owner in Croton.

I regret that our Board of Trustees chose not to do outreach and education, and I find much in Mr. Gingold’s list of suggestions that would have made sense from both a pragmatic and communitarian perspective. I hope in the future that our village officials work on building consensus before drafting major legislation.

Regrettably, I think that Mr. Powers may be correct in speculating that this is another feelgood initiative by our Board of Trustees. As a political strategy, creating an “us-against-them” framework is a well-worn (and usually successful) path. Having just 2 targets is a smart tactical move; proof of which is the elevation of Shoprite’s attorney Jay Peltz into the position of Croton Scrooge.

The downside to the bete-noire approach is a lack of logical coherence: if all plastic bags are bad, why is a plastic bag from Shoprite or CVS so uniquely bad that it alone must be the target of the full force of the municipal power?

Croton’s Board of Trustees has chosen to use its legislative power in a discriminatory fashion. Regardless of what your position is on the underlying issue, we all should be troubled by the actions of our village lawmakers.

I understand that achieving tangible improvement in the environment is not nearly as satisfactory as a raw demonstration of power. And what is more raw than ramming down a law which proves that some are more equal than others in Croton, with the Board of Trustees picking which are favored and which are disfavored?

Engaging in a lengthy public process which has been discriminatory throughout, culminating in a law which is specifically written to target 2 businesses not in favor with the Board of Trustees, we have set a dangerous precedent in Croton.

Croton’s Board of Trustees has chosen to use its legislative power in a discriminatory fashion. Regardless of what your position is on the underlying issue, we all should be troubled by the actions of our village lawmakers.

Paul Steinberg

Croton-on-Hudson

Are There Monsters on Maple Street?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
This week in Croton began with a candidate handing out campaign literature at a shopping center. Although this particular candidate is a former Croton-Harmon High School student, the likelihood of winning MegaMillions is greater than winning election. Given the Croton connection and lack of viability, a bit of polite small talk would be expected. Instead some folks took the opportunity to launch their shopping carts into the candidate’s parked car.

Seriously? You don’t have to support somebody’s political views in order to refrain from banging up their car—especially when there is virtually no chance of the person getting into office.

The week in Croton continued with public calls to shoot another resident with a shotgun. This involved a person on the sex offender registry who lives in Croton. There is a legitimate argument for not releasing high-risk offenders back into the community, but to call for murder on Furnace Dock Road is not the way to handle this.

Croton residents are getting more comfortable with violence and more accepting of neighbors who call for violence.

Scene from the Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”

Scene from the Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”

A year ago, this climate was initiated by one of our leading citizens inviting people to Private Message her to get the name and address of a Croton resident displaying an offensive flag. We all knew exactly what was being sought by the person soliciting the PMs and by those who would contact her. Since that incident, there have been others.

Calling for violence—however subtly done—is a slippery slope. It creates a civic climate that takes on a life of its own. What was once implied and winked at becomes explicit and applauded; there is an increase in the scope of acceptable reasons to initiate action.

On Friday and Saturday, local students will perform Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and also The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. A fitting coda to this week in Croton-on-Hudson.

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

Questions for Trustee Candidate Simmons

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor:
In the September 20-26 edition of this paper, the public heard for the first time from unopposed Croton Dems Trustee candidate Andy Simmons. Mr. Simmons chose to write to the community he will soon represent to extoll the virtues of his political organization for allegedly initiating much of what he loves about Croton. He also wrote that he would be addressing other issues in future letters to the members of the public.

With only two more editions of the paper before Election Day, after which Mr. Simmons will join the other members of the Village Board in the Cone of Silence that has descended over it due to the new “answer no questions from the public” policy which is vigorously enforced by the Mayor, Mr. Simmons has added only that he will join the rest of the board in pursuing an aggressive pro-environment agenda. For many reasons, this is not exactly a surprise.

The Cone of Silence from the 1960s television show  Get Smart.

The Cone of Silence from the 1960s television show Get Smart.

I’d like to know his answers to a few questions about a more mundane local matter: village finances.

Do you support your party’s plans to abrogate the debt policy and increase village debt next year by borrowing more than $4 million? And if so, how do you justify this borrowing in light of the predicted likelihood that village expenditures will exceed total village revenues within just a few years of today?

Mr. Simmons, when your political party had one-party control of the village between 2009 and 2015, village debt increased by 90%, making Croton one of the most heavily indebted villages of its size in all of New York State. During the two years your party was out of power, the village adopted a debt policy developed by financial professionals to reduce the amount of village debt by limiting general fund debt payments to 16% or less of total appropriations and requiring the village to issue less debt than was retired each fiscal year. The Pugh administration has proposed a capital budget which, according to the Village Manager, will require the village to abrogate this policy in order to borrow more than $4 million dollars next year, increasing total village debt to almost $40 million.

Do you support your party’s plans to abrogate the debt policy and increase village debt next year by borrowing more than $4 million? And if so, how do you justify this borrowing in light of the predicted likelihood that village expenditures will exceed total village revenues within just a few years of today?

Roseann Schuyler

Support the Preservation of Journalism for Future Generations

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
For some years we have heard that print journalism is dead, but fortunately it still keeps hanging on. Here in Croton every morning we see people reading newspapers, and that is a good thing. The problem is that a lot of people don’t want to pay for the product.

This is not a new problem. Years ago the German deli carried a selection of newspapers, and was the only place in Croton to buy Newsday. But it dropped the papers after people complained about buying papers only to find they were in poor shape. That remains true today: sometimes you can even buy a paper and find food particles dribbled by previous readers, which is gross enough without paying for the privilege.

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People argue that you can read online for free. Well in that case, go online. Or go to the library, which pays to support print via the annual subscriptions. Supporting print media is particularly important in the case of local papers such as The Gazette or the Journal-New, which give us local information and a voice that we would not otherwise have, and the New York Post is at the forefront of exposing political corruption in our state.

Much as media companies have tried to monetize online journalism, the reality is that the economics are much different. Allowing our local print newspapers to fade away is going to result in a loss not only of information, but of oversight.

Our local businesses which supply newspapers are doing a service, but they are also running a business. Just last year, one Croton business stopped carrying one of our local papers. The manager explained that some people were reading and putting it back, some people were reading it and walked off “forgetting” to pay for it. He said that some weeks he lost more papers than he sold.

If you think that newspapers are important enough to take from the kiosk and read over coffee, then they are important enough to pay the 75 cents or the dollar or two. Not paying for your papers is bad enough, but making a mess of them results in nobody wanting to pay for the paper after you are done with it.

The next time you take a paper from the stack, remember that by paying for the newspaper you are not simply supporting the local business which sells the paper, you are also paying for a system which shines a spotlight on the good things going on in our community, exposes corruption, and perhaps most importantly, you are supporting the preservation of journalism for future generations.

Paul Steinberg

Croton-on-Hudson

We Need to Stop Making Everything Political

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
A day in Croton last week began with a street dispute that led one shopper to question whether she should find a different salon and avoid patronizing Croton businesses so as to avoid having to deal with Croton anger. The day ended with an online dispute about leaf blowers that led one resident to say to a resident who disagreed with her: “[Y]ou are friends with my friends and you challenge me? Nice! Good night!”

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The morning dispute got much less attention than the evening dispute, and there is a lesson there. The petty bickering that used to pass quickly between a handful of people is now a community-wide affair memorialized forever online.

In both cases, the type of disagreement which would in a prior time have remained at a level of polite discourse instead became escalated. Most troubling is the belief that you cannot have a difference of viewpoint between 2 neighbors of good will.

There have always been such disputes, and sometimes quite passionate. Just a few generations ago, the war in Vietnam and civil rights issues divided families. It is true that many people find Donald Trump and leafblowers to fall into the same sphere as teenagers drafted and sent off to get killed in a foreign jungle or peaceful citizens getting brutally beaten in Selma, but I don’t agree.

We need to stop making everything political. In 2013, Pajama Boy told us to grab a cup of Christmas cocoa and lecture our family about health insurance as they gathered around the tree to unwrap presents. We progressed in 2016 to de-friending online friends and cutting off contact with neighbors of differing political views. In 2018 siblings are not merely disagreeing over politics, they are doing political commercials for the candidate running against their own brother.

I don’t like leafblowers. . . . But some of my neighbors disagree, and so long as they don’t blow their leaves into the street or use their leafblower before the birds are even awake, I am willing to “leaf” well enough alone.

I don’t like leafblowers. I have never understood the point of blowing leaves rather than letting them decompose, and I especially don’t understand why people such as the Village of Croton landscapers blow leaves from the sidewalk alongside the Municipal Building into the middle of Old Post Road.

But some of my neighbors disagree, and so long as they don’t blow their leaves into the street or use their leafblower before the birds are even awake, I am willing to “leaf” well enough alone. I believe those neighbors to be wrong, but we get along well and I don’t regard their use of a leafblower as a moral failing. More importantly, I don’t demand that my friends shun the leafblowing neighbors.

Communities get reputations, and damaged reputations can take decades to repair. Croton is already the subject of ribbing by our surrounding communities. We have had a high-profile meltdown over a few flyers put up in the dark of night by some social misfit. We are in the middle of a series of public shaming sessions of our largest private employer because Croton chose to ram legislation down the throats of residents rather than try to build consensus and find a compromise. We anger neighboring communities with illegal “No Thru Traffic” signs. We pass meaningless resolutions in support of legislation in Albany and Washington, including anti-police legislation.

Everyone says that Croton is a small village. We should start acting like neighbors. There is nothing wrong with disagreement on issues. There is a lot wrong with driving shoppers out of our village, telling people that they are no longer our friend unless they shun people who use leafblowers, and being nasty at Village Board of Trustee meetings (both from the dais and from the audience) when people express a minority viewpoint.

Paul Steinberg

Croton-on-Hudson

Don’t Keep a Loaded Stapler in the Home

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:

Use of desk staplers will remain illegal in Croton, along with tennis ball machines, nail guns, and Nerf Blasters.

There has been much confusion about the pending changes to Croton Village Code chapter 123. The changes will not affect possession, only the discharge of firearms. Because the definition of “firearm” will not change, only police officers will be legally permitted to staple 2 pieces of paper together within the Croton village limits. Residents should stock up on paper clips, or see the desk sergeant at police headquarters.

The current definition of “firearm” under Croton law is: “any implement which impels with force a bullet, pellet, or projectile of any kind.” Quaint as the definition may seem, this language is what needs to be changed.

Obviously the Croton Police Department is not going around arresting people for use of a Swingline, but they could do so. Laws should not be phrased so as to make everyone in violation of Penal Law, with arrest and prosecution at the discretion of the government. Most states do not have as detailed a definition as the federal law, but neither do they go to the all-encompassing extreme of Croton law. If you want to see the federal definition, google “18 USC 921.”

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The changes in Croton affect 3 items, none of which will impact the life of most residents.

The first change is to remove the exemption for supervised instruction and training. Few people in Croton own firearms and those who need training go to facilities such as Blueline in Elmsford: as a practical matter this will only affect a group wanting to learn archery or teens seeking to establish a Nerf Blaster League team (yes, they really exist). Archery has not been a hot topic in Croton since the short-lived campaign a few years ago to murder Bambi’s family. No Croton parent would risk public shaming by allowing their child to be seen with a Nerf Blaster; though if you are willing to risk community opprobrium Super Soakers are still legal.

The second change is to eliminate the exemption for membership groups who want to set up a range. Nobody is proposing a rifle range on Cleveland Drive, so as a practical matter this is not going to affect anybody. Croton couldn’t support a hardware store, so it is unlikely that anyone could write a viable business plan for a pistol range here.

The Board of Trustees has initiated a meaningless change to a statute as a pretext to hold a public hearing on matters which will not be affected by the change to the statute.

The third change is to eliminate the exemption for discharge of a firearm in defense of property. Few Croton residents have firearms and there are virtually no burglaries in Croton, but victims may no longer use firearms (including staplers) if the robber is only snatching your flat screen or kicking Fido to stop him from barking while the TV is hauled away. If you want to protect Fido or the flat screen, boxing and martial arts are still legal methods of defending your home in Croton.

So if the single problematic part of the law regarding the scope of “firearm” is not being revised, why make an issue of this law after 76 years? We are being trolled by our own Board of Trustees.

In what has become the new normal, periodically the Croton Board of Trustees throws some chum in the water and lets the outrage and anger bubble to the surface. Indeed this was the instant result on Croton social media: lots of talk about gun control, Parkland, and the evils of Trump.

Regulation of firearms is a legitimate public concern, as is the proper balance between public safety and individual rights granted under the Constitution. I am sympathetic to those arguments and although I never understood what an absolutive clausal adjunct is, anyone who can read the Second Amendment knows that Heller was wrong.

That being said, fixing that wrong is a matter dealt with at the national level (and to a lesser extent in Albany). Not every matter is a local matter, and this constant quest to maintain anger and outrage between Croton residents is not good for the long-term health of our community.

The Board of Trustees has initiated a meaningless change to a statute as a pretext to hold a public hearing on matters which will not be affected by the change to the statute.

Because our Croton municipal government is now an inferior adjunct of a national political party, this won’t be the last we see of trustee trolling. Outrage is always in need of fresh red meat.

These changes to Village Code chapter 123 are much ado about nothing, and we should not be snapping at each other about something that makes no difference. Just don’t keep a loaded stapler in the home.

Paul Steinberg

Croton-on-Hudson

Thoughts on the Proposed Croton Plastic Bag Ban

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,
While shopping in ShopRite on Sunday, September 9, 2018 at approximately 10:00 a.m., I did a quick observation of those who were bagging their groceries at the registers. By a clear 10-1 margin, the majority of people were using the plastic ShopRite grocery bags and had not brought their own washable totes or dirty non-washable bags. Clearly the majority of people are speaking loudly and clearly with their choices. Unfortunately, a vocal and militant minority of residents and non-residents are demanding (their word) that the rest of us acquiesce, by the force of law, to do what they feel is best for all of us. Plastic grocery bags must be banned, and paper bags must be heavily taxed beyond reason. The current “bad” behavior of the majority is unacceptable to the minority, and nothing less than a complete surrender to the minority’s feelings is allowed.

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I reuse my grocery bags for my garbage. If, or should I say when, the new plastic bag ban goes into effect, I will need to buy an equal number of plastic garbage bags and also purchase enough reusable grocery bags for each family car. In essence, more than doubling the number of bags I now require to grocery shop and throw garbage out. These additional bags will be an added financial burden for my family and create further harm, not less harm to the environment. If I use the non-washable bags, they will need to be replaced on a regular basis, as recommended by many health professionals, to prevent illness. If I buy expensive washable totes, I will need to use additional electricity, water, and soap to keep them clean and bacteria free. All of these additional bags will need to be manufactured and then transported by truck. The environment will not “be saved” but in reality, will be harmed by the need for the additional bags.

Has the Village or the vocal minority done any studies to determine why Croton residents are choosing to not purchase and bring their own reusable grocery bags? Do people throw out their ShopRite plastic grocery bags or recycle them or reuse them? What will be the added costs to all residents if they need to spend their hard earned and their limited money on garbage bags and dirty and bacteria laden reusable grocery bags? Exactly how many and what percentage of Croton ShopRite plastic grocery bags are floating in our rivers and littering our Croton streets?

While I applaud all who are concerned about our environment and I don’t doubt their sincerity, we all have differing needs and solutions. I too care about the environment and the health of our shared earth. I may choose to use a plastic bag for my groceries and reuse it for garbage, but I may not drive or fly as many miles per year as some others may choose to. Perhaps my home is smaller. Perhaps I have fewer children. Perhaps I have fewer tv’s, computers, and electronic gadgets. Perhaps my yard is a natural/low maintenance landscape and not a grass landscape that needs constant maintenance with carbon spewing lawn mowers and carbon spewing leaf blowers. We could all compare each other’s life style choices and each demand the other do exactly as we choose to do. That would be a truly scary world, and it appears we are heading ever closer.

Sadly, I have no doubt that my thoughts and concerns will fall on deaf ears. It appears the Village Board is determined to enact a plastic bag ban without doing reasonable and necessary studies. The Board appears to be listening to and in agreement with an extremely vocal minority without attempting to understand the legitimate and reasonable concerns of the majority.

Sincerely, 

Carolyn Whiting

Why is a Raised Fist the Icon of Croton Environmentalists?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
My parents and teachers were somewhat dim-witted and lived in an age of darkness; to them, being “woke” was what Mom did to you 45 minutes before the school bus was due to arrive. But occasionally they had nuggets of wisdom, as I was reminded this week.

There is an environmentalist strain in America which can be traced back to eighteenth century writers such as Thoreau and painters of the Hudson River School. Environmentalism was no match for commerce, so by the 1950s and 60s environmental destruction was impossible to ignore.

In Croton this was the time of Theodore Cornu. In homes across America people were reading Silent Spring. There was a growing consensus that we needed to take action. That impulse was both spurred by, and an impetus to, the creation of powerful iconography.

Earthrise (1968) was named by Life magazine as one of the 100 most influential photographs of all time. It has been called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” Published on Christmas Eve, the image had religious, political, and social resonance. The San Francisco psychedelic art movement incorporated the perspective into environmental movement posters; both Earthrise and the psychedelic interpretations became common college dorm wall art well into the late 1970s.

Earth Day was first held in 1970. Robert Rauschenberg’s Earth Day featured a majestic bald eagle set against a backdrop of monochrome photos of environmental destruction. It was not a subtle message, nor was it meant to be. The bald eagle was a common icon of the environmental movement, and played a key role in the banning of pesticide DDT in 1972. 

Anyone over a certain age remembers the “Crying Indian” on television. First aired on Earth Day 1971, the public service announcement (PSA) was seen by literally everybody: this was a time when there were 3 national networks plus a few local channels if you lived in a big city. The voiceover tagline was: “People start pollution. People can stop it.” In 2018 watching the PSA on YouTube has impact; in 1971 it hit the conscience of a nation.

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By 1974 students across America were sitting through MEecology, a movie which showed kids each doing different things to affect the environment in a positive way, both individually and in groups. Classroom movies were a big thing in the 1970s: the teacher had to do reel-to-reel spooling, splice the film with scotch tape when it (inevitably) broke, replace the hot projector lightbulb without burning her fingers, and hope that the film did not get hopelessly mangled which would result in the school having to pay the vendor when they sent it back. Showing a film meant that the topic was important.

Critics say that the early environmental movement placed too much stress on individual action due to heavy funding from corporate interests. It is true that “Crying Indian” was designed by a Madison Avenue powerhouse and funded by Fortune 100 companies, and MEecology was funded by McDonald’s.

Regardless of funding or motivation, no one can argue with the results. There was an upsurge of individual action to save the environment: the “Crying Indian” campaign alone resulted in 2,000 letters per month (letter-writing is a thing they did back in olden times, and it took some effort) from people wanting to know what community organizations were in their local area, and sparked over 300 cleanup campaigns in 38 states.

Development of a national consensus provided popular support for the Environmental Protection Agency—itself established by Executive Order of Richard Nixon in December 1970. This was followed by other legislation such as the Endangered Species Act (1973) and banning DDT (1972). Technology was not as advanced as today, but the 1970s saw the beginning of energy efficiency research spurred by public pressure and by the October 1973 oil embargo.
The belief that “People start pollution. People can stop it” is outdated, as is the appeal to national pride and patriotism. 

In 2018 would never allow someone of Italian heritage to play a Native American (cultural appropriation!). Governor Cuomo tells us that America “was never that great” so appeals involving national iconography are not going to resonate with millennials. 

The concept of individual responsibility as a consequence of individual freedom is regarded today as retrograde if not incomprehensible. The 1970s saw significant government involvement, but the environmental movement was firmly rooted in the idea that each of us is individually responsible for our planet.

The new iconography of the environmental movement in Croton is the raised clenched fist. I will leave it to others to discuss the political history of the fist; I will simply observe that we all intuitively know what a clenched fist means.

The clenched fist is not the outstretched hand. The clenched fist is the will to power; the subordination of the individual to the demands of the collective. The clenched fist is the perfect icon for Croton’s environmental movement, chosen with care by people who know the history of the environmental movement and the political history of the chosen icon.

The demands of the “Rise for Climate” march on September 8 are detailed on the “Rise for Climate” website as being: “every local government and institution to commit to building 100% renewable energy and stopping new dirty energy projects in their community.” The demand for “actionable commitments” does not apply to individual commitment. It is rather a demand to have the government impose by force the will of the fist.

The demands of the “Rise for Climate” march on September 8 are detailed on the “Rise for Climate” website as being: “every local government and institution to commit to building 100% renewable energy and stopping new dirty energy projects in their community.” The demand for “actionable commitments” does not apply to individual commitment. It is rather a demand to have the government impose by force the will of the fist.

So on September 8, the raised fist will be the icon of the Croton environmentalists. 

Buffeted by forces of evil (fossil fuel companies), the helpless will raise their fists and beseech the intervention of a higher power (the government). The concept that the marchers have any influence over their environment will not even enter their thoughts.

The march concluded, everyone will get into their gas-guzzling SUVs with individual entertainment suites. They will drive back to their 2500 sq. ft. home with separate bedrooms for each child and 2½ baths. They will crank up the central air conditioning, and settle down to consume the balance of their 2,031 daily calories. Being the end of summer, maybe they will discuss that Hawaii vacation and the 747 airliner that brought them there and back burning 1 gallon of fuel per second. Then everyone will go to their respective computers, PlayStations, and big screen televisions—all manufactured using toxic chemicals, made with rare earths mined in an environmentally-destructive manner, and sucking up electricity.

They will go to sleep satisfied, having done their part for the environment by raising clenched fists and demanding “actionable commitments” from other people.

MEecology had flaws, not least of which was the cloying song refrain which sticks in my mind 40 years later. The message of individual responsibility and mindfulness of the dozens of daily choices we make that can positively affect our planet are lessons which are relics of a non-“woke” age. The view that we should get off our high horse and lead by our own example is a lot tougher to implement than simply clenching our fist and demanding that government do something.

Iconography matters. The Crying Indian is no match for Croton’s clenched fist.

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

A Sign of the Times

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette, with an editor’s note stating “this letter was submitted prior to the signs being taken down. There has been no announcement from the village as to whether the signs will be reinstated.”

To the editor:
Jacoby got juice! 

Within hours of the special “No Thru Traffic” signs going up on Jacoby Street, lots of other Croton residents wanted to know when their street is going to get the same treatment. One resident quipped that the village should just put up a big “No Thru Traffic” sign next to each “Welcome to Croton” sign.

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In accord with the new Municipal Building custom of non-transparency and keeping Croton residents in the dark, there was scant outreach or even explanation. 

Rumor passed along from the in-crowd has it that this is an attempt by Croton to block commuters from Cortlandt and Yorktown avoiding lights by taking a shortcut to the GW Bridge….oops, I mean a shortcut to the Metro-North station. And while Croton is not going to face the organized opposition our counterparts around Ft Lee faced, there is both a legal and a moral aspect to closing a public roadway.

There are alternative methods for dealing with traffic volume and speed. 

Converting public roads to private drives is not a first-line defense, partially because of the dubious legality: some police departments around the country quietly avoid giving tickets to violators due to the illegal nature of the signs. There are exceedingly rare cases in New York (such as Forest Hills Gardens) where there are roadways having attributes of both private and public use.  Jacoby Street is not Forest Hills Gardens.

In accord with the new Municipal Building custom of non-transparency and keeping Croton residents in the dark, there was scant outreach or even explanation.

Municipalities defend unenforceable signs by saying that they are effective because most drivers do not know that the signs are not enforceable. Another justification is that even if the signs are not enforced that the car GPS companies will avoid such roads in computing directions. But justifications don’t address the legality of the Village of Croton converting a public road into a private drive.

Presumably, the Croton Police Department intends to start issuing violations under NY Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) 1110(a) for failure to obey a traffic control device (TCD). The problem is that VTL 1680 directs the NYS Dept of Transportation to regulate TCDs: the Village of Croton cannot make its own rules.

The starting point is to determine if Jacoby Street’s TCDs are recognized in the National Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). If it is not, then the only other option is if the sign is in the NY Supplement promulgated by Albany. Signs are assigned a numeric designation in both the federal manual and the NY supplement, such as R-123 or NYR-123.

From what I can see, the Jacoby Street signs are not in the MUTCD, although in June 2017 the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices submitted a formal request to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA is the part of the US Dept of Transportation responsible for MUTCD) seeking to change the regulations in section 2B.39, specifically including “No Thru Traffic” signs.

But until the FHWA allows signs such as the ones on Jacoby Street, the only other option is to rely on the NY Supplement. From what I can see, there are six allowable selective exclusion signs under NY supplement to 2B.39 including signs prohibiting riding a horse or snowmobile down the street, but “No Thru Traffic” is not one of the signs allowed.

I don’t think many Cortlandt or Yorktown residents are getting to the train station by horse or snowmobile, but those who are doing so may be kept off Jacoby Street by lawful signage. Drivers in passenger cars are another matter. I assume that parents traveling to/from CET are not going to be ticketed, although the positioning of the “No Thru Traffic” signs would indicate that parents coming from the north would fall afoul of the TCD.

This is not a new issue for municipal governments. Florida has many wealthy people and retirees who want privacy, so many municipalities put up “No Thru Traffic” signs and started issuing tickets. The matter got so contentious that in 2004 the Florida Attorney General issued an Opinion stating that not only were the signs impermissible due to non-compliance with the MUTCD but she also noted that municipalities could not limit the use of public roadways to residents and their invitees.

I understand that I am missing something here, because obviously for the Village of Croton to order TCDs the village would use a reputable vendor and would specify a TCD numeric designation as found in the MUTCD or the NY Supplement. 

Given the well-known dispute over the legality of municipalities restricting traffic on public roads and reluctance of some police chiefs to enforce the TCDs, no doubt this was discussed and cleared with the Croton Police Chief and Croton Village Attorney long before the signs were purchased. But those discussions did not take place in a transparent setting; something that should have been done given the nature of the issue.

It would help if there were a wee bit more transparency in our Croton village government so that residents are not reduced to speculating on Facebook or in the pages of The Gazette. Moreover, NY differs from Florida in that NY VTL 1680(c) prohibits the Village of Croton from even purchasing a non-compliant sign, let alone erecting it on public roadway. Since the Board of Trustees doesn’t involve the public in decision-making, the discussion as to whether the Jacoby Street signs are compliant was done in secret.

We are where we are, but I believe that before the Village of Croton spends even more taxpayer money putting up “No Thru Traffic” signs, we should wait for the drivers who get ticketed coming down from Cortlandt and Yorktown to have their tickets adjudicated by Justice Watkins.

There are two distinct bases for fighting a Jacoby Street ticket: the NY VTL and also the larger question of restricting access to a public roadway. If the Croton Village Court finds that the tickets are invalid as a matter of law on either basis, then the Village of Croton should take down the signs. 

Either the signs are enforceable or they are not, and Croton should not play clever games like they do in Florida. When the Croton Police Department enforces the signs, it should do so at all times and regardless of the driver’s residence—not just when Cortlandt and Yorktown commuters are driving on Jacoby Street.

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

Does Hate Have a Home in Croton?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
Hate has no home in Croton, but it has offers out on a few properties and should be in contract shortly. 

In the Gazette (week of August 2-8) we have one Croton resident upset about ShopRite’s speaking before the Board of Trustees; the resident says “You have to use a club with these people.”

Two other Croton residents were angry that someone spoke out against racist flyers. Normally this would not be controversial, but the speaker against racism was Terrence Murphy and hence this was an outrage to our community. 

My favorite Gazette quote of the year was from the Croton resident who objected to Mr. Murphy’s statement against hatred and online posting of a “Hate Has No Home” sign: the resident concluded without irony: “Croton has no room for hate is right, and therefore, Croton has no room for Murphy.”

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Another Croton resident, who is the leading exponent of the idea that the Village is festering with hatred, recently praised the masses who put up “Hate Has No Home” lawn signs. The resident expressed “thanks to those who have taken their own private action to fight hatred.”

This very same Croton beacon of love authored an infamous tirade in April of last year. While the contents are not printable in this newspaper, part of the statement reads: “I ****ing HATE THEM… I ****ing hate their ****ing guts.” 

Not only was there no outrage in Croton over this expression of hatred, there was considerable support for the resident and that person is now a Trustee of the Village of Croton-on-Hudson.

Hate has no home in Croton, but it is a welcome guest in the Municipal Building.

Tom Lehrer once said: “I know there are people in the world that do not love their fellow human beings, and I hate people like that.” If Mr. Lehrer were alive today, his comedy would be received as common sense truth in Croton.

And of course we have the Croton hobby of taking photos of our neighbors’ homes and posting snarky comments about our neighbors online. This began a few years ago with posting photos of Croton homes which had lawn signs for non-Democrat candidates—a very serious offense in Croton. It progressed on to photos of residents front walkways. At Earth Day a few years ago, someone was smoking a cigarette at the edge of Vassallo Park and was pursued by someone wielding a camera phone to get a photo of the smoker.

I don’t smoke and in 2008 I put up an Obama lawn sign, but I support the right of people to express views contrary to my own and to put whatever they want into their lungs, carcinogenic though it may be.

Full disclosure: in 2017 I was the target of a politically-prominent Croton resident. The village created a condition on my sidewalk while plowing, and I did my best to reduce the hazard to pedestrians. Not only was the photo put online, but there was discussion that the village should do code enforcement against me and a statement that I was friends with a specific Croton resident who was a political opponent of the person who posted the photo of my house. In fairness I should mention that after this matter came to the Village Manager, the plowing procedure was changed.

A more recent example of the Croton mob in action was the photo of red Prius guy. His photo and license plate were posted online with the claim that he had cussed out a female driver at the dummy light and a demand that he be identified—names must be named! Everyone piled on, including one of Croton’s leading businessmen. I stopped by the Croton PD and it turns out that they were aware of the situation because red Prius guy had come in right after the incident claiming that he had been the victim of harassment and felt threatened.

Who was right? I don’t know, and that is precisely the point. Nobody who was not there knows what happened, but almost every Croton resident online was willing to join the mob. Ostensibly this was simply for doxxing, and that doxxing is also a growing hobby here in Croton. Of course nobody wants to see anything bad happen (wink, wink) but if something does we will all tsk and say we oppose all forms of violence, "but…"  And then we will note that the victim brought this on himself because of his expression of a repugnant viewpoint or repugnant battle standard.

This idea that violence is OK because of the offensive nature of the victim’s speech did not originate with Chris Cuomo’s CNN piece last week. In the wake of the Identity Evropa flyer incident, many in Croton were gleefully fanning the flames and passing along tips about which news trucks were interviewing at which locations. No doubt there was much joy in Croton as social media posts were shared and forwarded to Antifa and anarchist groups. 

A few Croton residents were only troubled when on the morning of Friday the 27th a post appeared on Facebook discussing weekend plans for “scoping out CoH”, followed by one bluntly asking: “who wants to go Nazi hunting in CoH?”

It is not difficult to whip up a mob online, the difficulty is controlling the members of the mob. Just ask the Southern Poverty Law Center how they feel about Floyd Corkins. Croton residents and political leaders who think this is just typical online trolling are playing a dangerous game.

The newest Croton fad is standing in the checkout line at ShopRite and loudly commenting on the customer in front of you who is using plastic bags. You then whip out your phone and start snapping photos of them. ShopRite should consider a policy prohibiting photography inside the store (many department stores have such policies), but it is a sad commentary on Croton today that we are literally hounding people out of the supermarket.

Much like Donald Trump’s need to constantly talk about how he has a high IQ, our need in Croton to constantly talk about how “Hate Has No Home in Croton” raises the question of whether we doth protest too much.

Croton has a problem with hatred and intolerance, and we can put up sanctimonious signs on every remaining un-signed patch of grass in Croton without changing that fact. 

Parking a taco truck next to the halal shawarma vendor while a cover band bangs out No Woman, No Cry on the steel drums is not a demonstration of diversity, it is a modern minstrel show. Like the minstrel shows of old, the purpose is as much reinforcing the power of the dominant tribal group as it is entertainment.

There are things Croton can do to increase diversity, but those will take a serious commitment and time. The first step is simple tolerance: you can have tolerance without diversity, but you can’t have diversity in the absence of tolerance.

Houses of worship used to be a source of such values, but no longer. In Croton you will have no problem getting religious leaders to denounce ICE, and if you want to screen a film blaming the Syrian civil war on climate change you will find plenty of venues. But if you expect to hear Proverbs 25:21 or Matthew 5:44, you are in for disappointment.

Croton is full of love for abstract causes and people in distant lands. If we can love them, maybe we can at least tolerate Terrence Murphy setting foot within the Croton village limits. You might even say “Good morning.”

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

Bashing Croton Businesses is a Popular Pastime

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
Fifteen years ago, Michael Crichton gave a famous speech outlining why environmentalism is “the religion of choice for urban atheists.” Many people have taken issue with aspects of Crichton’s viewpoint, but his distinction between faith and science is one which many theologians and scientists find valid.

The environmental movement is ill-served by those who turn it into a system of faith and emotion untethered from empirical data and common sense. Facts matter, and if we are to make a positive impact on our environment it helps to rely on science rather than emotion.

Evan Brodie (The Gazette, week of August 9/15) says that DeCicco in the hamlet of Millwood “has already banned plastic bags” and adds that ShopRite should be concerned about losing customers, concluding: “DeCicco, here I come!”

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Mr. Brodie’s statement about the Millwood store is correct, but he neglects to mention that the store has no choice in the matter: it is the law in New Castle. In fact DeCicco has nothing against plastic bags and at their large Brewster location almost all customers use the DeCicco-logoed plastic bags.

ShopRite is at the southern edge of Croton, so most Croton residents will have to drive past ShopRite to get to DeCicco’s location in Millwood.

For a hypothetical Harmon resident, driving the additional distance to DeCicco is 6.42 miles each way. If that person shops once per week, that means an additional 667.68 miles per year. Many families shop more than once a week, so the true mileage is over 700 miles per year.

The most popular non-truck vehicle in the US last year was the Toyota RAV4, with a relatively fuel-efficient EPA mileage rating of 26 combined; the EPA ratings are a bit on the generous side. If we use the Univ. of Washington data of 130.82 megajoules per gallon of gasoline, each mile traveled uses 5.03MJ.

The environmental movement is ill-served by those who turn it into a system of faith and emotion untethered from empirical data and common sense. Facts matter, and if we are to make a positive impact on our environment it helps to rely on science rather than emotion.

It is difficult to get a precise estimate of the amount of energy used to make a single plastic bag, due to multiple variables. However, the “1 Bag at a Time” company estimates that the energy used in the finished bag plus the production process is equivalent to 0.48MJ and since they sell reusable bags, if anything they have a bias to overestimate the energy used to make a “single use” bag.

The result is that each mile driven equals 10.479 ShopRite bags. The “1 Bag” folks use an estimate of 6.7MJ per mile, and thus around 14 bags per mile.

That means someone following Mr. Brodie’s advice would burn the equivalent of 6,997 bags per year. If you went to the supermarket more than once each week or if your car gets less than 26mpg you would burn the equivalent of even more bags.

For those who want to signal their virtue and gain status in the eyes of their Croton neighbors, Mr. Brodie’s boycott of ShopRite makes sense. Bashing Croton businesses is a popular pastime, and the target du jour is ShopRite.

The fact that ShopRite is our largest employer, a major philanthropic supporter, and has the lowest price groceries is not going to overcome the zealous passion of those unpersuaded by basic math.

In Croton, the person schlepping home each week with 10 plastic bags is the object of public scorn and Mr. Brodie is worthy of emulation. In reality the person using plastic bags at ShopRite will use less hydrocarbons in 13 years than the self-satisfied DeCicco shopper will use in 1 year.

Environmental activism is not the same as concern for the environment. The former is a matter of passion and faith, the latter is a matter of tradeoffs and hard decisions. No fact is going to sway a Croton resident more concerned about their social status than science, but the facts are there for those who are serious about our environment.

There is nothing to prevent any of us from taking a reusable bag to ShopRite. There is nothing to prevent us from driving to ShopRite in a fuel-efficient car rather than a gas-guzzling SUV. There is nothing to prevent us from cutting back on red meat, eliminating ice cream, or using tap water instead of having our water shipped in from a spring in Maine or Fiji.

We all make daily decisions that affect our environment, and some of our choices are wasteful and damage the environment. Virtue-signaling is a respected art form here in Croton, but a little more focus on logic might be better for our environment.

Paul Steinberg
Croton-on-Hudson

Can We Afford To Keep Doing This?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor:
Trustee Ann Gallelli’s letter to the editor in last week’s Gazette, announcing the board’s approval of a three-year employment agreement with the Village Manager demonstrates on its face that she doesn’t understand the criticisms directed at this agreement by members of the public at the last two public meetings.

Although the bulk of Ms. Gallelli’s letter is devoted to reciting the qualifications of the current Village Manager, it should be noted that none of the residents who spoke to the Board on this issue (myself included) offered an opinion as to whether the current Village Manager should be reappointed, and no one criticized the current Village Manager’s performance. 

Ms. Gallelli defended the board’s approval of the terms of the employment agreement by reporting that it was “virtually identical to that of previous village managers,” a statement that encapsulates her misunderstanding–or intentional ignoring–of the criticisms made of the board’s action in approving this agreement. 

The Village Manager’s contract is worth almost 2% of village tax levy in each of the three years it will be in effect. The Village Manager’s base salary exceeds that of 37 U.S. governors, and it exceeds that of the Cortlandt Town Supervisor, Linda Puglisi, by approximately $27,000. It contains terms that could cost village taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in continuing benefits over the next several decades.  

In September 2017, the Village’s Financial Sustainability Committee issued a report projecting that within just a small number of years from now, village expenditures will exceed revenues. The report indicated that almost two-thirds of the village’s expenditures come in the form of salary and fringe benefits. Given these circumstances, and given current financial constraints and realities that go beyond the village (i.e., the impact of the new federal tax law) the question must be considered: is it appropriate for our village to continue to offer these plum employment agreements that put taxpayers on the hook for decades just because it is a practice that has been done in the past? This question appears to be lost on Ms. Gallelli and the members of the current board.

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It is also disturbing to note that through the Freedom of Information process, I learned that at no time since the current Village Manager was appointed in 2015 by the board (which included then-Trustee Pugh and Trustee Gallelli) has any written performance goals or benchmarks been provided to the Village Manager, although both the 2015 and 2018 employment agreements require that such goals be developed by the board, reduced to writing and given to the Village Manager. No written goals exist for the contract that was just approved either. 

The opportunity exists now: when the current board in the near future (hopefully) creates the required performance benchmarks, the Village Manager should be tasked with the responsibility for addressing and attacking village cost structure, growing reserves and stabilizing tax and fee rates. Paying some much-needed attention to the mundane yet vital issue of the village’s financial sustainability should be required of the Village Manager if, like Ms. Gallelli, the board itself cannot even see the issue.

Roseann Schuyler