Some find PCNR debate unfair
By Michael Turton
The second forum in a week for candidates in the upcoming Cold Spring election was as noteworthy for what was missing as much as for what took place. Hosted by the Putnam County News and Recorder (PCNR) at the firehouse on Main Street Monday (March 9), the gathering was to feature five participants; however two of them, mayoral hopeful Dave Merandy and his running mate and candidate for one of two open trustee spots Marie Early, opted not to take part. That left mayoral candidate Barney Molloy and trustee candidates Frances Murphy and Bob Ferris to weigh in on questions posed by the PCNR.
Merandy and Early explained their decision not to take part in a flyer distributed throughout the village. “We have declined to participate in this year’s candidate forum sponsored by the Putnam County News & Recorder because we believe it has a history of partisanship and inequity, asking different questions of participants. We believe this is an inappropriate manner in which to conduct a forum,” the pamphlet read.
In a March 11 email to The Paper they explained further, stating, “Unfortunately, PCNR forums have not been neutral platforms. For this reason we chose only to participate in the Philipstown.info forum, which has been consistently conducted in a professional and unbiased manner.” The two mayoral and three trustee candidates took part in a forum hosted by Philipstown.info on March 2.
The PCNR has acknowledged in the past that it sometimes “tailors” questions individually to candidates rather than asking identical questions of all those seeking the same office, even though the latter approach makes it easier for voters to compare candidates’ responses. A March 14, 2014, article at Philipstown.info observed that in last year’s PCNR debate in some cases, lengthy multifaceted “hardball” questions were asked of candidates Matt Francisco and Donald MacDonald while other candidates were at times given noticeably softer queries.
Contacted by The Paper, MacDonald and Francisco said that tailoring questions is not appropriate.
“In my opinion the purpose of a … forum is to allow the public to compare and contrast the responses of each candidate, and that is not possible when different questions are asked of each candidate. By its very nature such a format encourages the perception of inequality and favoritism whether intended of not,” MacDonald said. “Questions tailored to individual candidates should be asked and answered in personal interviews with the candidate. By not participating in the PCNR forum Dave and Marie took a principled stand and clearly explained why, knowing full well it would cost them votes. I applaud them for their actions.”
Francisco commented, “Having been a part of the PCNR events before, I think (Merandy and Early) made the right call. It’s simple: debates should give all candidates a chance to answer the same questions, so voters can compare and contrast. Period.”
PCNR Publisher Elizabeth Ailes voiced displeasure with the two absent candidates at the outset of Monday’s forum. “They’re apparently upset that they cannot dictate the questions we ask or how we write our stories,” she said. “My guess is that if elected they might have an ‘easy pass lane’ for people they like, and if they don’t like you you’ll be treated the same way we’ve been treated.”
The PCNR forum filled the firehouse meeting room, covering much of the same ground discussed a week earlier. With little disagreement over the major issues, questions on both evenings dealt more with how candidates will address them.
Molloy stood alone at the front of the room fielding questions on a range of subjects. Asked about the a new firehouse he said, “Look around you. This facility has seen better days,” he said. “This site (Main Street) is probably not the most cost effective,” adding that the fire company has gone as far as it can and that “it is incumbent on the village to identify funding and to determine how and where to build.”
On capital projects facing the village, a list that he said will only grow given the age of Cold Spring’s aging infrastructure, Molloy called for a “capital plan over a three-, five- or even 10-year period. What we’re talking about really is asset management.”
Sharing ‘the heat’
When a PCNR reporter observed that Molloy has “taken some heat” from his opponents over how long he has lived in the village, the candidate turned the issue around. “I think it should be (an issue),” he said. “My opponents should take some heat for the fact they they’ve lived in the village … for generations and have done blessed little to address these problems,” adding, “I’m the one who’s put forward a solution … I’m not the one who should be held to account.”
Merandy and Early responded in a joint email to The Paper. “Our records … are well documented,” they wrote. “On the school board, Dave helped deliver expanded, improved school facilities that our community could afford; and negotiated school budgets that maintained Haldane’s quality while keeping tax increases to a minimum. As part of the Special Board, Marie helped deliver the first Comprehensive Plan to be adopted by the Village. She was instrumental in compiling and analyzing research and public comment on over 200 issues, and formulating actionable goals. The comprehensive plan will guide planning, development and progress in the Village for years to come.”
Slogan vs. substance?
Asked if he believes his opponents’ literature that states Merandy wants “Progress that protects Cold Spring,” Mollloy responded, “I’m for progress and protecting Cold Spring — anybody here not? But what exactly does that mean? It’s a slogan.” Instead, Molloy suggested that Merandy “give us some hard facts; give us some numbers, give us a plan; show us what you’d do make that statement a reality.” He repeated what has become his mantra, an approach that he said would include “asset management, capital planning, functional management of government, accountability … those are the things that’ll protect the future of Cold Spring.”
Addressing Molloy’s comments in their email, Merandy and Early outlined what they mean by “Progress that protects Cold Spring,” writing: “It means smart leaders looking long-range, planning carefully and spending wisely. We will deliver an efficiently-run, transparent and participatory Village government; prioritize infrastructure and capital projects based on the community’s physical safety and financial capacity; undertake comprehensive analyses of infrastructure and capital projects to understand the full needs and full costs to taxpayers; establish timetables and actionable goals for priority projects and carefully monitor progress; establish regular and transparent public reporting on project progress — and have a dogged commitment to controlling costs while delivering quality services.”
Drug issues discussed
A series of questions centered on what role the Village Board might play in addressing the use of illegal drugs in community, including whether marijuana is a gateway drug and whether or not village employees and trustees should be tested for drug use.
Molloy said that the dramatic rise in heroin use is a problem throughout the Northeast, and locally he called for greater access to treatment and mental health programs in western Putnam County. On the issue of marijuana he said some could consider it a gateway drug but that he didn’t have adequate background to say whether or not it is more of a gateway than prescription medications. Regarding the testing of employees he said there might be issues related to the labor agreement that would have to be considered. In terms of testing trustees he questioned if there is a legal mandate to do so, although he did offer to be tested voluntarily.
Trustee candidates quizzed
Minus Marie Early, trustee candidates Fran Murphy and Bob Ferris again faced questions on topics that have become staples of the 2015 campaign — from capital projects and the Cold Spring Police Department to parking and crumbling sidewalks.
Among new issues explored was a question to Murphy regarding comments she has made about “a vocal minority” at times wielding too much influence on village issues. As an example she questioned whether the desire to keep a new firehouse on Main Street represented a consensus as it has sometimes been portrayed at meetings. Instead, she said that with many people unable to attend meetings in person, “We have to find a way to get information to all our residents.”
In a related question Ferris was asked if he believes the current Village Board is in touch with residents’ thinking on important issues. “Not at all,” he replied. “At the end of the day, we have to agree on what is best for the village. It’s not a ‘club’ we’re running — it’s our business.”
The communications thread continued when Murphy was asked about responses to an online survey she is conducting. She acknowledged that while not a large sample, the “overwhelming”’ feedback concerned the poor condition of Main Street sidewalks and lighting. Respondents also shared the view that the Village Board needs work together more cooperatively, while respecting each other’s opinions when disagreements arise, motivated by what is good for the village rather than personal agendas. Murphy said her personal favorite was a resident who commented that trustees should “act like adults.”
Both candidates were asked whether Cold Spring and Philipstown should merge their highway departments. “I don’t know if it would be cost effective,” Ferris commented. “We’d have to look at all (possible) mergers and a lot of research would have to be done.” He said that down the road, a merger of highway departments that included Nelsonville might work. Murphy had a similar response. “We need to look at everything in terms of shared services,” she said. “Whether or not we actually merge departments … (would) have to be analyzed closely. We’d need to look at the numbers in depth.”
When asked to identify their No. 1 priority for improving village infrastructure, both candidates hesitated to name a single most important capital project. “You’ve got to have the management team in place,” Ferris said. Pressed further he said he would work on parking and signage issues first because progress would be “easier to accomplish quickly.” Murphy said that with five trustees on the board, each could work on a priority project. “We can’t pick just one,” she said. “We’d never get anything done. That’s no way to run a business.”
Photo by Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong