Philipstown Creates “Drug Czar”

Board also reconsiders FOIL policy

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Responding to the national opioid crisis, the Philipstown Town Board on Nov. 2 voted unanimously to hire a “drug czar” to coordinate drug-abuse prevention, treatment and recovery resources. Supervisor Richard Shea recommended allocating $10,000 in the 2018 budget, which the board plans to finalize on Nov. 16, to hire a consultant for the position. Unlike the federal position, the local equivalent would offer guidance but not set policy.

Councilor Nancy Montgomery, who lost her 23-year-old nephew, Anthony Yannitelli Jr., to an overdose in 2015, pushed for the funding. After attending anti-drug meetings since about 2012, she said, she concluded that “we’re not getting very far. The statistics are still rising and our community continues to be heartbroken” from  overdose deaths. “We need someone to pull resources together to benefit our residents.” While many forms of assistance exist for families, finding or making sense of it during a crisis can be daunting, she said.

During the board members’ discussion, they suggested that the right person might have a background in mental health, social work or law enforcement, or a combination.

FOIL requests

The board voted unanimously to require notification of its members before their official emails and other communications are released under the state Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

Montgomery said a problem arose when a constituent emailed her in September with concerns. Montgomery did not provide details, but the issue was the volume of the bells at The Church on the Hill in Nelsonville. The email was released in response to a FOIL request by Tim Greco, the pastor of the church, and the resident’s identity and contact information became public when he posted it on Facebook. Now, Montgomery said, the constituent is leery of contacting elected officials.

She proposed that a board member be notified when her or his Town Hall emails are targeted in FOIL requests to allow time “to review” the situation “with the rest of the Town Board and our attorney, if necessary, before a constituent’s name and contact information is shared.”

Along with other exceptions, the law allows municipalities to redact information that constitutes an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The law gives officials five days to approve or deny a request or acknowledge receiving it and state when they expect to respond. They have 20 business days to fulfill a request they approve.

Cell tower debate

Montgomery also questioned the “integrity” of an application by Homeland Towers LLC to construct a cell tower in Philipstown, noting that the company had wanted to use the town’s landfill site on Lane Gate Road in 2014 but now says it’s inappropriate.

Homeland Towers, which also has applied to build a tower in Nelsonville, dropped the 2014 landfill project after neighbors protested. Earlier this year, the Town Board suggested the landfill site and the Philipstown Highway Department garage on Fishkill Road as potential sites.

Shea suggested that increasing the height of an existing tower near Mekeel’s corner, at the intersection of Routes 9 and 301, be considered. He proposed the board hire a consultant, rather than relying on information from Homeland Towers.

“They don’t make money increasing the height of cell towers or going to areas where they have to spend more,” he said. “They want to build them cheaply and to get them up and put as many carriers on these as they can. That’s fine. That’s their business. But our business is protecting our views and our residents.”

11 thoughts on “Philipstown Creates “Drug Czar”

  1. At no time during the Nov. 2 Town Board meeting did anyone on the board refer to a “drug czar.” I intentionally did not refer to the position in that manner as I have always found the word “czar” to be threatening. We are funding an opium crisis coordinator to help people in need. “Drug czar” is a federal term and I haven’t seen much good come out of Trump’s Washington with regard to the problem of addiction. With all Trump’s connections to Russia, he can keep the czar title.

    • It is really a sad commentary on local politics when the town supervisor, operating under the theory of “never let a good crisis go to waste” decides to use the local drug epidemic as an excuse to gratuitously bash President Trump. It’s not enough that our country and even our towns have become so divided that it often seems like we might be on the verge of a civil war. Now every issue no matter how localized, has to be a battle between the Democrats and anyone who supports our president.

      The attempt at humor vis a vis the reference to the word “czar” and the now thoroughly debunked Trump/Russia collusion was especially heavy-handed and not at all funny given the situation that exists in our community. In fact, up till I read Supervisor Shea’s post, I was not aware that we have an “opium” crisis such that we need a coordinator to help “people in need.”

      Czars, opium, Trump and Russia are all irrelevant to the fact that we are losing a generation of young people to drug addiction with no solution in sight.

    • Shame on you for bringing politics into a local opium crisis where Philipstown has already lost so many of our youth way too young.

      For the record, the term “czar” came from the Obama administration, not President Trump. Why not leave the partyism at the door and worry about the young lives we are losing and not some made-up Russian connections?

      Funny how our local legislators get vocal and negative after an election. I liked it better when they were looking for my vote and kissing babies. At least then they cared about the people, not politics.

      To be honest, I haven’t seen much good come out of my local Town Hall, either!

      • A clarification: The federal Office of National Drug Control Policy, headed by a director informally known as the “drug czar,” dates back to the administration of President Ronald Reagan. According to a New York Times article of Oct. 9, 1982, then-Sen. Joe Biden used the term “drug czar” on Oct. 8 of that year when calling for a high-level official to lead the program Reagan proposed. The term stuck and has remained in use for some 30 years.

  2. I totally agree that we have a major drug addiction problem. The problem, however, didn’t just start in January. We’ve been losing the “war on drugs” since it was declared in the 1970s, so I’m a little confused about what Trump has or hasn’t done in less than a year that Obama did in the last eight years? And if what Obama did was in fact effective, why do we have such a national epidemic? If you don’t want a wall, want to harbor illegals, don’t enforce laws and don’t hold people accountable, including doctors, you will continue to have victims. It really is that simple. Taxpayers paying for people to go to detox 30 times and rehab 10 times who continue to use has been our failed system now for a long time. Costly consulting won’t change anything. Consequences will.

  3. The opioid crisis is hands down the No. 1 priority in Philipstown. People are dying and families are devastated. It seems to me the Town Board would be in front of this safety issue.

    The only thing we ever hear the Town Board saying is there is a prescription lock box on the side of Town Hall, and that in itself is a good thing. So my question is: What else are you going to do about the crisis?

    The supervisor needs to tell us what he thinks $10,000 is going to do to help the the crisis instead of overreacting to semantics over the use of the phrase “drug czar.” What is the town actually doing about the drug crisis? Instead of tackling issues like sanctuary cities and becoming a climate-friendly town let’s talk about real issues that face our town like the fact the drug epidemic is here in Philipstown and people are dying right here in our backyards.

    Nancy Montgomery said, “We are not getting very far,” and she is right! Let’s take the fight to Haldane and the Garrison Union Free School and start with early childhood prevention. Kudos to The Highland Current, the only paper in our town who is really paying attention to the drug crisis in Philipstown.

    Also about the FOIL: I was already in receipt of the letter when I legally FOILed the record. I did so to find out what Montgomery’s response was to the complaint. It sounded fishy to me that I declare my candidacy and I receive a letter about our church bells followed up by a call from Montgomery shortly thereafter.

  4. The Town Board has my thanks for creating the position of opioid crisis coordinator in our town. I have heard a lot of talk about what our town needs to address the addiction crisis, and many folks have great ideas, but the issue at hand for most families is how and where to find help. An opioid crisis coordinator can help connect people to services. Federal, state and county budgets do not provide funding to support this work, and it is due to the dedication of this board that Philipstown will have another resource to help defeat this dreadful scourge of addiction in our community. The funds to pay the stipend are within the already-under-cap budget. I am proud of the Town Board for deciding that the addiction crisis is of significant concern to justify creating and paying for this position.

  5. I stand corrected. Thank you for showing us again how idiotic this comment is. It is clearly political and does no good moving forward.

  6. I support Richard Shea’s view. The term czar as used in recent bureaucratese implies an endowment of nearly unquestioned authority to accomplish the most difficult. The town board, to my mind, most certainly does not plan to give that to a consultant who will attempt to guide us to some useful approaches.

    For example, the consultant may be able to counsel a local village justice on more progressive approaches to dealing with the addicts before him. The situation is far beyond “Dutch-uncle” talks and admonitions about grandmothers calling the justice at home.

  7. Save the 10k and watch your kid like a hawk. My wife and I have four kids and knew all the who, what’s, when and where’s of their comings and going. Be a “czar parent.” Trump has nothing to do with this.

  8. Etymologically, our use of the word czar is an Americanization of the Russian, or Slavic, “tsar” or “tzar”, which in turn is one but not the only historical derivitive of the Roman “Caesar”.

    The pernicious effects of societal disagreement and its associate, faction-based disunity, a failure of statecraft if you will, together with an inability to satisfactorily tackle issues of long-standing and widely-voiced social concern, whatever they may be, have resulted historically in calls for the formal creation, or for the surprising and sudden if unplanned or almost absent-minded emergence, of, a czar. Or of the same by any of a number of titles or names with equivalent meanings – i. e., one person is invested with extraordinary if not autocratic political power. Sound familiar? So tempting is the thought and the strategy that Caesar, and through its derivitive use today, czar, has retained meaning and consideration and application over more than two millenia.

    But this word – and the concept – is not without considerable caution. The first Roman Caesar, and the last Russian Tsar, along with many others holding these and similar titles, met violent deaths. A fortunate few were forced from power and allowed to live out the rest of their lives. Eventually the accumulation of great power and authority into a single individual is fought by interests who benefit, or who think they would benefit, by what might be termed (I am unaware of a better term) “a de-czarization” of society.

    I realize that for many readers my discussion may (or may not!) encompass a wider and a more general discussion of the topic of possible organizations or assignments of authority and powers than those indicated either in this article or considered by the participants at the Town meeting.