BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Clarkstown residents, particularly those living in the Congers and Valley Cottage areas, will get a chance to meet their candidates for this fall’s town election tonight, (Thursday, Sept. 24) along with answers to questions they may have about the two ballot propositions they will see on November’s ballot, altering the make up of the existing Town Board.
The public session, including a question and answer segment, will begin at 7 p.m. in the main auditorium of the Congers Lake Park Community Center building off Gilchrest road, between route 303 and Kings Highway.
The candidate and ballot presentation is being co-sponsored, as in past years, by the Congers and Valley Cottage Civic Associations, with association members conducting the forums.
Congers Civic Association President Gerry O’Rourke notes that while national presidential politics seems to be getting all of the media attention lately, the local races in Clarkstown are being overshadowed to the point where many area residents are not even aware of what issues and candidates will be appearing on their ballots November.
In hopes of enlightening residents the civic associations have invited all candidates for town and county election this fall to appear at tonight’s session to present their qualifications to the voters and to answer resident’s questions about their political positions.
Offices to be voted on Tuesday, Nov. 3 include Rockland County District Attorney, Rockland County Sheriff, Rockland County Family Court Judge and Rockland County Legislator representing the Congers-Valley Cottage area; along with Clarkstown Supervisor, two members of the town board, town clerk, town justice and highway superintendent.
In most of the races, an incumbent is seeking re-election, and is being opposed by one or more members of opposing political parties.
According to O’Rourke, where there are opposing candidates for various positions, each will be given an opportunity to speak, and to answer audience questions. Unopposed candidates and those seeking judicial posts will be introduced and given shorter speech times, but will not be subject to questions or cross examination.
Unique this year in Clarkstown will be two propositions on the ballot that voters have never encountered before: altering the makeup of the Town Board and creating a “Ward” system-rather than an at-large system-for town council members.
For the past 200 years or more, Clarkstown’s Town Board has consisted of five elected members, one as the full-time supervisor and four to the part-time council. Council members serve four-year terms while the supervisor must run every two years.
That means two council members come up for election or re-election every two years, with the other two seats being filled two years later. The supervisor’s term is up each election, meaning a majority, three members of five-member council, is seeking election or re-election every two years. Such is the case this year.
In an effort to possibly change that system, the Town Board has proposed to recreate itself into a seven-member council, consisting of the supervisor and six council seats
Each of the six council seats would represent a specific geographic area of the Town of Clarkstown, rather than the candidates running “at large” town-wide, as they do today. Under the ward system, an independent appointed panel would divide the town geographically into six segments, each with approximately the same population. Voters in those “districts” or “wards” would select just one person to represent them on the full council.
With about 80,000 residents, Clarkstown would probably end up with two or three districts in New City and one each in Congers, Valley Cottage, Nanuet and West Nyack, or some approximation of that. Smaller hamlets, such as Central Nyack, Germonds, Bardonia, Centenary and tiny segments of Nyack and Spring Valley, would be lumped into adjacent communities.
The pros and cons of both the ward system and enlargement of the Town Board will also be discussed at the candidate’s meeting, and be subject to the same question and answer formula. Proponents of the system believe it will help avoid domination of the board by aggressive groups, such as the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish sects who have come to dominate Ramapo politics.
In other news this month, O’Rourke thanked Susan Olsen Smith and Paul Olsen, daughter and son of longtime and recently deceased Congers Civic Association member and beautification chair Helen Olsen for the donation of a new flag in the triangular “Welcome to Congers” park at Route 303 and Lake Road, and the park’s maintenance by volunteer Joseph Holland or Majestic Landscaping.
“Our sincere thanks to the loyal Olsen family, Majestic Landscape Co. and Clarkstown for their generous contributions to our beautification effort,” O’Rourke said in this month’s quarterly newsletter. He also noted that the Olsen family is in the process of donating a Knickerbocker bench to be placed along the nearby Congers Trailway around Congers Lake in Helen Olsen’s memory.
O’Rourke also noted in the newsletter that:
- 102-yer-old World War II veteran Frank Morea was recently honored in Albany by State Senator David Carlucci at the state’s Veteran of the Year. Morea, a long-time resident and Civic Association member, spent 3-1/2 years fighting in the Pacific some 70 years ago.
- Clarkstown’s Comprehensive Plan, called “A Vision for Sustainability,” is being updated for the first time since 2009. A presentation for Congers residents was given in early August at the Congers Community Center but drew a small attendance, apparently due to short notice and summer vacations. O’Rourke says he hopes more sessions will also be held, with greater lead time, so that more residents can become aware of the town’s plans for their future. One part of the study that was highlighted was the pros and cons of allowing solar panel installations in residential and commercial areas of town.
- At the same time as the council is studying master plan updates, some members are urging the town to adopt a six-month moratorium on all residential development. Commercial development would not be affected by the moratorium as currently envisioned by those council members.
- Reporting on Clarkstown school District news affecting Congers, O’Rourke noted that the school board is now hiring a search firm to help it find a new superintendent of schools to replace the current superintendent, Dr. Thomas Morton, after he retires next year. The Congers Elementary School, currently undergoing repairs, is expected to re-open soon as the district’s new day care and community learning center. The school board is also considering seeking voter approval for a $30 million bond issue to repair and upgrade other schools throughout the district.
- The Civic Association will hold a free open house at the Congers History Museum this Sunday, Sept. 27, from 12 noon to 5 p.m. as the association’s contribution to the Congers-Valley Cottage Rotary Club’s annual Italian Festival being held that same day in the park outside of the railroad station at Lake road and Burnside Avenue in downtown Congers. The festival will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.and is also free. Rain date is Oct. 4 for both events.
- The Congers Veterans Memorial Association, where the civic association normally meets, is holding its annual yard sale and flea market on Saturday, Oct. 3from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a rain date of Oct. 10.
- National Hunting and Fishing Day will be celebrated at Congers Lake Park this Saturday, Sept. 27, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.Geared for all ages, it includes fly fishing, archery, fishing pole demonstrations and learning about hunting and the outdoors. Information is available from (845) 639-6200.
- A goblin parade, haunted house, costume judging contest, bouncy house and other Halloween related activities will also be held at the Congers Lake Park on Sunday, Oct. 17, starting at 11 a.m., and with a rain date of Oct 24. Information is available at (845) 639-6200.