Initial Platform of Deborah Munitz
There is a lot going on in the Town and I have submitted many suggestions over the years. This list of platform promises is augmented by a much longer list of recommendations that I have made in the past. Please contact me with questions.
ACRONYMS USED: ZBA=Zoning Board of Appeals, CDRC=Community Design Review Committee, FOIL=Freedom of Information Law, GML= NY State General Municipal Law, BPZ=Building, Planning and Zoning, ARB = Architectural Review Board
- Update the Town’s Comprehensive Plan comprehensively (not piecemeal) with more public input and engagement throughout the unincorporated areas of Ramapo and its villages that may be affected.
- Pass a moratorium that reduces the workload for the Building, Planning and Zoning department so that staff can focus on supporting and participating in the comprehensive planning effort. Moratoriums can be passed in a way to continue to allow the development of small developments that meet code, and will always have a method to allow urgent development to continue.
- Educate residents on the Town’s land use processes and laws.
- Analyze past land use approvals to identify problems that need fixing.
- Improve Town transparency by requiring more departmental reporting at Town Board meetings that can be obtained by the public and make sure Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests are honored in a timely fashion.
- Focus on finances and share details with the public. The Specht administration has not released 2017 and 2018 financials, even in draft form. The public does not have a basis to understand the 2020 budget at all.
- The Town should be able to report regularly throughout the year on how it is tracking to the current year budget!
- Make sure detailed and accurate budgets are created in a timely manner so that everyone know where the money is being spent and to enable public input on spending. Hold budget workshops and hearings where residents are allowed to ask questions and get answers.
- Figure out what is really doing on with the Town sale of land and make sure any land sales are done fairly and handled by professionals. On July 11, 2019 the Town Board approved a land sale that wasn't even on the meeting agenda. State law says public notice of at least 10 days must be provided. The Town Board MUST FOLLOW THE LAW!
- Post Town Board, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and other public meetings online in a timely, more organized fashion so that residents can stay informed.
- Publicly report receipt of all new building, planning and zoning applications on the Town website to enable residents more advance notice.
- Make it a priority for Town board members to answer valid residents questions when asked.
- Implement straightforward complaint procedures that lead to Town action.
Added September 15, 2019
Simple changes can bring back trust in government. I took the time in January 2018 to meet with Michael Specht (and Mona Montal of course). I prepared a 5 page list of suggestions to implement that I thought we straightforward and either free or cheap to implement.
I believed in this list enough to share with Mr. Specht and I still believe in them now. Out of 27 recommendations, not one was implemented.
Recommendations for Ramapo
Shared with Supervisor Specht on January 24, 2018
- Record all public meetings: Make a town resolution first (law later) that ALL public meetings will be recorded (video is preferable to audio so that any presentation materials are shown) in a digital format and posted to the Town YouTube channel within 1-2 business days. This includes all board meetings (Town, Planning, Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), Ethics), CDRC meetings and any other public meeting of the Town.
- Transcribe (unofficial) public meetings: Make a town resolution first (law later) that ALL recordings of public meetings that will be unofficially transcribed. Links to all transcriptions can be posted in the information section of the YouTube posting. Automated transcription services are available for $0.10/minute for high quality recordings. And $1/minute for manual transcription services. My estimate of time: ZBA meetings per month: 7 hours. Town board workshops per month: 3 hours. Town board meetings per month: 3 hours. Planning Board meetings per month: 8 hours. CDRC Meetings per month: 10 hours. Ethics board: ? (do they even meet?). Assuming 32 hours per month of public meetings at 1,920 minutes = $192-1,920 per month for full transparency. Some of this should translate to greatly improving town record keeping and the production of more complete and accurate meeting minutes.
- Notices: Make a town resolution first (law later) that ALL public notices from all departments and all boards on the web site in a clear designated area at least 11 days before any town board, planning board, zoning board, or other department/board decision is considered. Current implementation is a step in the right direction but there must be a good naming convention used and a standard posting method to insure an easily understandable series of notices. What is there is better but not good.
- Agendas: Make a town resolution first (law later) that ALL public meeting agendas from all departments and all boards are to be posted to the web site, with the date of posting and an indication of any updates since the initial posting, in a clear designated area at least 10 days before meetings are held. If an item is added to the agenda it should be clearly discussed during the meeting why it was not on the agenda when posted. The Town has improved posting agendas but they are still not timely.
- Draft Minutes: Make a town resolution that ALL public meeting draft minutes from all departments and all boards are posted to the web site at least 5 days before the meeting at which they are scheduled to be approved. The board regularly approves minutes that the public has not had any ability to review and comment/correct.
- Town Employee Confidentiality Agreement: In order for this agreement to be clearly limited to “confidential information” and not be viewed as a general gag order, a clear definition of confidential information should be included; currently the default definition is too broad. It’s time to fix the agreement so that it can’t be used for anything more than what should be intended. Anything that should be available under FOIL is not confidential and any employee should be able to discuss any information that would be available under FOIL if written down. No employee should be worried about any kind of employment enforcement action when discussing any town business that hasn’t been clearly identified as confidential for valid reasons (i.e. HR info and legal advice). If a meeting is held that is meant to be confidential it should be stated as such and why. I think the current agreement can be interpreted as okay or bad and the new administration should provide clarity in such a way that it is no longer considered a “gag order”. To fix, implement new resolution replacing 2012-487 with updated agreements.
- Public bidding. There should be a stated policy on what level of agreements go out for public bidding and the Town should stick to this. Whether its buying goods and services or selling surplus capital or land. [There is now a public policy posted but now the Town doesn't follow it or they break down large contracts into smaller contracts to approve incrementally.]
Improve Public Participation
- Extend Public Hearings on Local Law Changes: Make a town resolution that no local law shall be voted on - without a clearly identified exigent need - at the same meeting in which it was presented to the public. All public hearings, on all laws must be kept open for written comments for some reasonable period of time. I.E. 2 weeks.
- Clearly articulate board voting: The Town Board should follow proper and clear rules with respect to all voting and should insure that all Town Board follow proper and clear rules with respect to all voting. Each member should vote Yes or No on a decision, clearly and audibly so that all in attendance can hear. If they vote No or feel they cannot reach a decision they must explain why at the time of voting. If they want to abstain for a conflict of interest that conflict must be documented in the minutes of the vote. If they need further information before voting yes or no, the vote should be suspended until their questions are answered. It is my understanding that abstentions are technically not legal and I am going to look into that further and I recommend that the town attorney does as well. Regardless of legality it is not an acceptable practice. Board members should be expected on all board to clearly vote one way or another and vocalize it clearly.
- Pause before voting for public questions: When there is no public hearing on a matter before the board but the public wishes to ask questions prior to a vote, a minimum amount of time, someone should be allowed to stand up and just ask a simple question (like at a press briefing). If the matter is a new matter before the board that was not discussed previously or posted on an agenda without 10-days notice then the public should always have the right to raise a question or make a comment since they were denied the ability to do so prior to the meeting. EG Car leasing.
- Answer Town Questions. If a resident of the Town of Ramapo asks any reasonable questions about Town operations a Town Employee, especially in writing, they should get an answer. If time is needed to gather information or research a topic, then it could be escalated to the chief of staff to answer. There should be a written policy developed on this before the next board meeting. It is not acceptable that a resident who has a fair question about the workings of the town or how to do something that doesn’t fall under the category of a FOIL request has no method of getting questions answered. This is particularly an issue at Town Board meetings; if the public comes and asks a question, just pause the clock and answer it or explain how someone can get an answer.
- Board meeting procedures. Need to revisit rules for public hearings and board procedures. Too much is not said out loud for public consumption. Board deliberations are supposed to be public but if there is no discussion then how can deliberation be public? For public hearings the Coon guide says public can question experts in addition to their comments. Even John Lange [prior Town Planner] documented procedures for Site Plan review that are not followed. It’s time to review procedures. ADD need to review the procedures passed at Town Board meeting.
- Update application paperwork. Make clean applications and document how to fill out correctly. Make sure that wording on all affidavits is clear.
- Review/update board regulations. All board regulations should be gathered together and reviewed with the boards. Regulations are regularly not followed. Those regulations not regularly followed should be discussed.
- Fix broken laws: In his haste to decapitate the scenic road law and the architectural review law Christopher St Lawrence went too far. We need to fix it. Right now they don’t fulfill the intent.
- Meet to discuss correct processes: There should be a public meeting where board members and public advocates can address process questions. Invite the county planning. They shouldn’t be the enemy. Theirs is free professional review. The Town should respect their reviews and work with them to reduce friction.
- Enhance site plan regulation to require documentation of legal setbacks. All site plans should be submitted with the legal setbacks for the existing zone to be shown on the layout map, existing layer or new layer, so that board members can clearly see legally required bulk requirements for that zone versus what is proposed.
Subdivision determinations: Need to make sure that initial determination of minor/major subdivision happens for subdivisions and then clear up referral processes for GML. Need policies for what is minor and major and document for developers. Make it harder to do what shouldn’t be done and easier to do what is right. Subdivisions based on the need for variances arguable could be considered major.
From Coon guide: “One step plat review is often employed by municipalities for small subdivisions without significant infrastructure and where each lot has frontage on a public road, saving time and money for both the municipality and the landowner. No preliminary plat precedes the final plat.”
- Need to push for more conditional approvals. The board need to condition more approvals to expire or to tie them to specific plans. So that time doesn’t muddy the waters. Stop approving subdivision and site plans until agency permits are done; or at least approved subject to payment. ZBA decisions related to specific projects must be tied to specific projects.
- Enhance Aquifer/Wellhead Protection Law to identify and protect disruption of ground-water flow. Need to discuss with Suez what the impact of massive basements are and we should be limiting intrusion of basements into groundwater flow areas within 1,000 feet of recharge zones.
- Fix Scenic Road Law/Architectural Review Laws: ARB now follows PB review. At no time during public hearings are builders required to reveal elevations to public and planning board for comment. Why? Site Plan Review Regulations requiring building plans and elevations at final site plan review is not enforced. ARB used to be scheduled before Site Plan approval, it was changed – the selection of siding/colors and treatment can take place after site plan approval. Overall design of buildings, especially height and style issues must be enforced to occur before final site plan approval. Scenic road law used to force a comparison between site plan building in the district. When it was eliminated due to duplication a must was changed to a maybe. Need to address this to get timing right.
- Definition of Gross Floor Area. Klein said this topic will be revisited. This should not be a developer gift.
- Need to study current status. The planning has to start with a comprehensive analysis of who owns what with what intent. Review the list of open projects in municity and update the status of all projects. We can’t further change zoning density without knowing what can be built under current zoning and we need to understand what the impact of building under current zoning is.
- School needs. Need to do some kind of inventory of private schools to understand current need and forecast future needs.
- How to address the abusive decisions of the past? E.g.
- 301 Pomona Road
- 120 Torne Valley
- Highview Hills
- Bluefield Extension
- When a developer files an Article 78 how can the public be notified? When the public files an Article 78 the developer is always notified and participates in the defense; and the town often relies heavily on that defense. For developer led Article 78s the Town’s defense isn’t always as solid as it should be and the public doesn’t even know its going on. When the boards actually vote against a project to protect the public and perhaps doesn’t document their decision well and an Article 78 is initiated, there should be an opportunity for the public to help defend the situation. More thought should be given to retracting and correcting board decisions in connection with public hearings. A simple solution might be to have a website page tracking legal motions that could be seen by the public.
- Planning for private schools for Building, Planning and Zoning. The past recommendation to Ullman was to create a planning guide with checklists and flowcharts. Include a venting session for residents who live near schools. Create laundry list of what the major issues are. Need to give the planning board more guidance as to what works and doesn’t. Perhaps buffers should not be waived. (Good comp plan question!) Could form a committee to work on this to scope out an outline of what would be helpful and get a budget from FP Clark [the Town Planner] for time/money. Anything is better than nothing.