Wellness in Dutchess
Iwant to address ‘Wellness on the Western Front,” and by that I mean Poughkeepsie, and while not all is well, things are looking up. This month, by a 24-1 margin, the Dutchess County Legislature moved initiatives of new County Executive Marc Molinaro forward in crucial areas of economic development and solid waste planning. Contrary to possible inferences, these were not rubber-stamping votes. The Legislature was critical — asking probing questions and performing soul-searching — and the Molinaro administration had to exert effort to work to curry favor, and they did. We proved that the democratic process worked while moving forward important initiatives. This is how I define wellness.Responding to economic and unemployment angst heard on the campaign trail, the new county executive began our legislative term with a plan to restructure the planning department by adding a deputy in charge of strategic planning and economic development. The goal of this high level (but revenue-neutral) position will be to help regionalize local projects, support small business and grow the economy through planning, coordination and pro-activeness. It would be independent of, but work alongside, current economic entities including the Industrial Development Agency and the Economic Development Council. During our committee deliberations I was among the idea’s detractors.I questioned philosophically whether government should become involved in job-creation and growing the economy. While acknowledging a perceived voter expectation of government leadership in these realms I questioned whether our role might be better served by staying outside and letting private enterprise correct itself. Practically, I also inquired about whether concentrating influence in the county might strip autonomy from local governments. I was afraid that in the interest of “regionalization” that the county might place undue pressures on rural communities to accept development projects that may benefit the region but have the potential to scar and change the community identity that many of us work so hard to preserve. I could visualize the potential clashes between noble but competing values, and I spoke up for what I believe are the core values of the people I represent.Other legislators were likewise concerned in many areas including whether this might just be a duplication of services like those performed at EDC and IDA. The county executive and his staff rose to the challenge. They spent considerable time reaching out to legislators, answering questions, giving reassurances, even tweaking the job description to alleviate our concerns. In my case, they assured me that the county will empower local government with tools and resources but will not usurp decision-making authority or supersede local planning departments from shaping their community as they see fit. This reassurance won me over.We also transferred solid waste planning authority from the Resource Recovery Agency to the county government, which is expected to streamline costs and efficiency and result in a cleaner environment. Again, the county executive was out in front addressing the Legislature on the topic, commenting on list-serves and speaking to our respective caucuses on our turf. He was committed not only to securing the necessary 13 votes but to achieving wide-spread buy-in, which despite the at-times adversarial nature of the separate branches he ultimately achieved. With these two key policy changes adopted we can rest assured that here our legislative system worked as it should. Michael N. Kelsey represents Amenia, Washington, Stanford, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the County Legislature. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.