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From the Mayor: Shall There Be a Convention to Revise the New York State Constitution? PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Oct. 25, 2017:  Every 20 years, New York voters must be asked per the state constitution (Article 19, Sec 2) the question, "Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend same?" The question will be on this November 7 ballot, and if passed, a full two-year process begins, culminating in ballot referendums on proposed amendments. 

As background, the New York State Constitution is the fundamental governing document of the state. At 60,000 words, it is more than seven times the length of the U.S. Constitution. It consists of a preamble followed by 20 articles. 

Nothing in a state constitution can diminish rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but being much more detailed than their federal counterpart, state constitutions can adopt rights and policies not contained in the federal document, including anti-discrimination provisions, education rights, and care for needy persons and persons with disabilities.

New York State has had five constitutions adopted: in 1777, 1821, 1846, 1894, and 1938, with the 1938 version remaining the current central governing document of the state. The last time voters cast a ballot on the subject, they rejected the call for a constitutional convention.

Seemingly innocuous, this vote to have a deliberative discussion vis-à-vis the formation of a convention is now a major focus of most lobbying groups in Albany.

A consortium of groups including public and private organized labor, environmentalists, and conservationists who did not want to see the "forever wild" provision ever repealed, social welfare advocates and fiscal conservatives who wanted to keep existing state debt limits in place, and government watchdog groups who just didn't want to "spend millions of dollars to hold a party in Albany" were the forces that tipped the scales against a positive convention vote last go-round. Again, the strange bedfellows of unions and conservatives are united in opposition.

Those in favor of a constitutional convention believe that only a constitutional convention can deal with the fundamental structures and powers of the state legislature that, in their view, are long overdue for reform.

So depending on where you sit, a "con-con" so named is either a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring our state constitution/government into the 21st century or an expensive waste of time that could result in the loss of hard-won fundamental rights.

The proponents of a convention and ensuing amendment recommendations argue:

  • Lobbyists will have less influence over most of the delegates, who will never run for a public office vs the current influence on sitting legislators.

  • The cost of $5.00 per resident is relatively de minimis.

  • Issues that historically the state legislature won't touch will be addressed only via constitutional amendments: creating a truly independent redistricting commission; a total ban on gerrymandering of any type; term limits for legislative members, party leaders, and committee chairs; real campaign financing reform; and the legalization of marijuana.

As an example, a constitutional amendment could establish a permanent commission on public ethics that would have real investigatory and penalty powers that would apply to all branches of state government and public authorities.

The New York State Bar Association believes a convention is a way to streamline New York's court system, which has 11 different trial courts and is widely viewed as one of the most complicated in the country.

Those against the idea of the convention cite the following:

  • It could be a Pandora's box – outcomes can't be predicted, everything could be fair game, and change would be affected by the political environment du jour. Given the outcome of the 2016 election, concerns have heightened.

  • There is already a mechanism for the existing legislature to pass any needed amendments. If they receive support from two separately elected state legislatures, individual bills to amend specific language can be put forth. If passed, such bills would then appear on the following November ballot as a referendum. Most recently, this process was undertaken in 2014, and it has been used 200 times since the last major constitutional revision in 1894.

  • The same lobbyists who control Albany now will control the convention as well.

  • Sitting legislators would dominate the convention as they do state government, so in essence same old, same old. (Only 13 out of 186 delegates in 1967 were sitting legislators, but the 13 were all of the important legislative leaders.)

A wide coalition of organizations and labor unions have united to oppose a convention. The disparate groups include Planned Parenthood and the Right to Life Committee, the Working Families Party, and the New York Rifle and Pistol Association. This anti-convention coalition is almost entirely bankrolled by labor unions, which have contributed over $1.2 million to the cause.

Of primary importance to some constituents are the prohibition of a reduction in public pension benefits, the right to workmen's compensation, and the right to be a member of a union and bargain collectively. Currently, all of the above are part of our constitution and some fear provisions could be diluted.

Conversely, many groups who seek change in New York see a constitutional convention as a chance to upend business as usual. The leaders of both the state senate and the house are on record opposing change via a convention.

This referendum vote could very well be the most far-reaching and impactful decision made in the state for many years to come. According to the most recent Siena College poll, the margin is 44-39% in favor of a convention, but the margin has tightened significantly in the last few weeks.

The referendum is one of three that will be on the back side of your November 7th ballot.


 
From the Mayor: 'In the Course of Time...One of the Finest Villages Along the Line' PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor of the Village of Bronxville


Oct. 18, 2017:  I decided to take a literary break from blacktop, sewer relining, and flood mitigation topics--though they may be scintillating--and just relate some interesting fun facts about our very special one square mile.

  • From the outset, not everyone could even agree on the name of our hometown, which was named after Danish farmer Jonas Bronck, who owned huge tracts of land in Southern Westchester and the Bronx. Folks "objected to the influx of visitors on Sundays who thought the Zoological Gardens were here" due to our name. Others wanted to call it Gramatan, Gramatan Hills, Lawrenceville, or Swainsville after an early tannery owner or to keep the early 19th-century name of Underhill's Crossing.

  • Our village functioned for its first year of incorporation (1898) with no ordinances.

  • Our very first ordinance (1899) protected us from public nudity, brothels, saloons, gambling, riots, and profane language, all punishable by fines of $10 to $50. Other first-generation ordinances prohibited ball playing on Sunday; "hallooing or yelling after dark"; and gunfire "between the setting and rising sun (apparently daytime gunfire acceptable!).

  • In a bit of high aspirational thinking, fire escapes would be required on all opera houses but churches were exempt.

  • In 1899, houses could be built with no notice to the village and without regard to size or placement, as it wasn't until 1922 that our first zoning ordinance was enacted. Legend says village resident and television personality Jack Paar was responsible for our first fence ordinance. As a result of his extreme penchant for privacy, he erected a high stockade fence on Studio Lane without planning board notification. Very soon after, the trustees enacted height and density rules for village fences.

  • Two of our early "postmistresses" were maiden sisters who carefully read everyone's postcards and magazines and if they thought the information of urgency, they dispatched local boys to share the messages of often upcoming appointments in New York City. Needless to say, they were deemed "authorities on all village news."

  • Our first school in 1870 looked no different than rural structures in the Midwest. Built on a small plot of donated land on the Value Drugs space on Pondfield Road, it was a little red wooden building with a cloakroom and a potbellied stove.

  • Parental involvement in the PTA was always a signature trait in the village. Early meetings concentrated on an effective method to monitor the content of motion pictures, fearing a negative impact on our community, but, more important, a deleterious effect on our diction.

  • At a period around the turn of the 20th century, we were also home to an insane asylum, the Vernon House Retreat for the Insane, near the intersection of Pondfield and White Plains Roads. Limited to ten patients, one could be treated for "mental and nervous diseases and cases of Habit."

  • Our hospital and nearby Sarah Lawrence College were thanks to the generosity of our founder, William Van Duzer Lawrence.

  • In 1908, Mr. Lawrence's son, Dudley, was stricken with an appendicitis attack that would be fatal without an operation. He was transported on a baggage car attached to the first train heading south from White Plains furnished with a box spring and mattress from the family-owned Gramatan Hotel. Dudley survived after a twelve-hour ordeal, and his father contributed $250,000 to inaugurate the hospital's capital campaign. Monies were supplemented by the performance of a "pageant" at Sagamore Park to which thousands attended, including the sitting governor, Charles Evans Hughes.

  • Mr. Lawrence envisioned a junior college for women and enlisted the help of the Vassar College president, Dr. Henry McCracken. Named after his beloved and recently deceased wife, Sarah, the members of the first board of trustees of Sarah Lawrence College were actually those of the board of Vassar College.

  • We had the same population--approximately 6,500--in the 1930s as we do today. Stores were closed on Wednesday afternoons and a home valet truck patrolled the village. Sporting the slogan "Would you spare your appearance for fifty cents?" a gentleman came to the door and ironed your rumpled suit.

  • In 1928, in honor of his 25th jubilee, Saint Joseph's beloved pastor Father McCann was treated to an around-the-world trip thanks to donations from the entire village.

  • The village seal has a bumble bee as its symbol but no records exist explaining its origin.

  • Holding dance classes at the Gramatan Hotel, Ms. Caroline Covington, proprietress of the Miss Covington's School of Dance, started each class off with the sound of castanets and stopped immediately if "wallflowers" were minus a partner.

Clearly, we have always been a unique community, and trustee William Kraft early envisioned even greater things for us, writing on village stationery that "in the course of time, we will have one of the finest villages along the line." 


 
From the Mayor: Fall Brings Leaves, Child Safety Concerns, and Elections PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Oct. 11, 2017:  It is that time of year again--crisp air, pumpkins, freshly picked apples, and falling leaves.

Our leaf collecting begins mid-month and continues until early December. Almost incredible, our annual leaf removal costs regularly top $100k per season, and this does not include the additional cost of repairing clogged drains, as rainstorms routinely send the leaves directly into our storm sewer system. Drains clogged with leaves also vastly increase the risk of localized flooding.

Leaf Removal:  We continue to ask you to embrace the LELE "love 'em and leave 'em" program of mulching in place that so many of our neighboring communities have adopted.

The program, initiated in the Village of Irvington, is an effort to change habits and realize that our fall ritual of disposing of leaves curbside is actually wasteful, expensive, and unnecessary. There are multiple advantages to simply mowing the leaves back into the lawn. 

There is a significant cost saving to the village for fall leaf collection and disposal. As an example, Irvington has calculated their costs associated with leaf removal, and Bronxville's expenditures are much the same.  They spend $30K in dumping fees alone for vacuuming up and carting leaves away upstate. Combine that cost with labor costs, equipment maintenance, and gas--hence, the seasonal cost of $100K.

Mulching in place also greatly eliminates the need for leaf blowers, which may be used in the village in fall from October 1. Not only do leaf blowers generate significant noise and particulate matter, but the power of the engine at 150 mph (200 mph is akin to a jet plane) will systematically remove layers of soil, leaving yards pristine but extremely unhealthy.

Mulched leaves are a low-cost way to naturally fertilize one's lawn and landscape beds. Mulched leaves increase the water retention capacity of soil, especially useful for absorbing rainwater run-off. Mulch increases the nutrients in the soil as well as the biological activity of earthworms, microbes, and other beneficial organisms. Leaf mulch is more nutritious and more safe than commercial products. Most commercial mulch is actually the byproduct of dead trees that have often died from diseases.

Mulch as a natural fertilizer eliminates the need for commercial products that can prove dangerous to pets and the purity of our water systems.

When the piles of leaves on the streets begin to decay, harmful phosphates and nitrogen are released, eventually ending up in our sewer system and ultimately the Bronx River.

These same leaf piles are also a significant traffic hazard, as they are often placed in narrow roadways creating a slippery road surface.

Gardening companies already own the low-cost mulching blade and can retrofit mowers quite easily. Most new residential grade mowers also now come with a mulching blade for home gardeners at a nominal cost.

Yard waste:  If you choose not to participate in the mulch-in-place initiative, leaves must remain at curb's edge but on private property so our vacuum track can easily collect them. Yard waste such as branches and shrub trimmings cannot be comingled with the leaves, as they will clog the leaf truck. They should be placed curbside in biodegradable bags.

Organic Lawn Care:  This is also the time of year to discuss any changes in the care of your property with your landscape professional. We urge you, like the village, to opt for organic lawn care products. They are not more costly, and most area landscapers have the capability if they are given enough lead time, to order the proper materials. If each homeowner committed to the organic approach, we could greatly decrease the airborne carcinogens and limit the contaminants in our water run-off that go directly into our drainage systems.

Child Safety:  The fall also signals the return of all the children to our village for school and play. In order to increase the safety of all those now walking about the village, our village-wide speed limit is 30 mph, the lowest allowed by New York State. The only exemption is the 20-mph limit permitted in marked school zones. Any further speed reduction requires New York State legislation and must be predicated on documented evidence of accident rates, speeding data, and traffic volume, something the village cannot demonstrate.

In spite of repeated requests from residents, the village cannot install "children at play" or "slow/children" signs because state and federal standards reject their use, as they openly suggest that playing in the street is acceptable and give children a false sense of security. On the other hand, signs that alert drivers to playgrounds are encouraged because the parks are often located in places where a reasonable driver would not expect a large group of children. Sagamore Park is a prime example. 

Election Season:  Finally, it is also election season, with important local positions contested, including that of county executive, county legislator, and town supervisor.

If you are unsure of your polling place, please click here for more details. 

There are four polling locations in the village:
•  Concordia College, Districts 16 &17
•  The Reformed Church, Districts 18, 19 & 21 (formerly at Bronxville School)
•  Christ Church, District 20
•  NYP Lawrence Hospital, District 22 

This is a county-run election and any questions regarding the election should be directed to the Westchester County Board of Elections at 914-995-5285.


 
From the Mayor: Many Items Still to Do on the Village To-Do List PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville 


Oct. 4, 2017:  Our village to-do list, though well crossed out, has many more items to address. Some are small quality-of-life improvements, while others are multi-million dollar initiatives.

Public Works Garage:  Long in need of maintenance and regretfully on the back burner for decades, our public works garage is truly crumbling. Not renovated since its construction in 1942, the roof now leaks, bathrooms are subpar, and the work bays no longer hold modern equipment.

Though neither sexy nor noticeable, a revamping of our entire public works operation on Palumbo Place is long overdue. Currently, our equipment is stored outdoors, effectively cutting its life expectancy in half. In addition, our staff is often trying to repair vehicles or wash trucks while cars are whizzing by. The respect for our employees requires us to provide them with the safest workplace possible. 

A new building, whatever permutation it may take, will be a model of green initiatives appropriate to the functions required. In doing so, we hope to be eligible for New York State grants we have researched relating to solar/LED innovations.

Library:  Also with an eye towards eco-stewardship, our library board has undertaken a feasibility study to determine the potential benefits/cost savings of retrofitting the heating and cooling system to geothermal.

Sagamore Play Park:  Two of our open spaces need our attention this fall. Due to its intensive use, Sagamore Play Park needs new matting materials in many playspaces, new fencing, and constant upgrades of potential safety hazards and border landscaping. Again, the materials used will be environmentally friendly and, most, important child safe.

Bacon Woods:  A true oasis of almost two acres of open space straddling Kensington and Sagamore Roads, Bacon Woods is currently a diamond in the rough and needs a deserved "make-over." Our arborist will be fertilizing and aerating the open field nearest Beechtree Lane in the coming week, as well as pruning the majestic beech tree that so names the street. We are reviewing a bid for resurfacing the pathways with a porous, environmentally friendly surface. We also seek to irrigate the area so any new plantings can realistically thrive. I invite you to visit this zen park, as it is truly the hidden gem of the village.

Village Website:  Also on the fall docket is a technological overall of our village website to make it more user-friendly, informative, and comprehensive, with links to more village agencies and services.

Digital Speed Signs:  In response to residents' requests, in the next few days, the village will be placing portable digital speed signs in three locations: Midland Avenue southbound near Vine Street; Pondfield Road westbound near the Gramatan Avenue intersection; and Tanglewylde Avenue in the vicinity of Summit Avenue. Solar-powered and easily transportable, the devices can be programmed to display other traffic messages as well. 

Landscaping:  Certainly smaller in scope, but incredibly important to the village character, are aesthetic improvements, including the landscaping near our JFK Memorial and Giving Garden, power washing of our receptacles, and even a polishing of our commemorative plaques and benches to remember the history and generosity of those who gave us those lasting gifts.

Gum Buster:  In the same vein, you may have seen an incredibly odd machine recently on Park Place. Named the "gum buster," it can clean the thousands of dark gum spots that mar our sidewalks and create a very unattractive urban look. We plan on cleaning all the business district sidewalks and then loaning the machine to merchants to help maintain a cleaner look, as the small things do matter.

Metro-North:  We are again trying to forge an agreement with Metro-North about what is exactly the village's property/responsibility, and if not under our domain, how we can still accomplish the needed repairs and updating. We have some money in our budget to improve the environs around the station, but issues of liability and union job territories weigh in the mix. Truly one of the most unattractive links to the two sides of our village--a view shared by every planner and small-business consultant--we will continue to negotiate needed upgrades.

Teardrop Lights:  And, finally, the new teardrop lights purchased to better illuminate the west side near the train station and the traffic circle will be installed just in time to mitigate the effect of the daylight saving time switch.

 
From the Mayor: Visit the Four Corners PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor of Bronxville


Sep. 27, 2017:  As I wrote last week, the village was abuzz with expansion in virtually every neighborhood, be it paving, striping, sewer cleaning, drainage projects, or building renovation.

Perhaps even more important, long-term, two of our village institutions took on the expansion of mind and body.

Our beautiful library, built in 1942 as a library replicating a residential Georgian home, is now the home of so much more than a repository of book exchange. The Bronxville Public Library Board of Trustees and the Friends of the Bronxville Public Library have taken to heart the words of the first library board president, Ernest Quantrell, who had the vision almost 70 years ago to declare that "a library should not only be a storehouse for books and a shelter for readers but also an influence on the community. We hope the library will stimulate not only an interest in books and architecture but also in art and other cultural fields."

The activities organized inside its doors this summer are a testament to the commitment to culture and enrichment of every variety and for every age group.

If you stopped by the library in July, you might have seen the 250-plus children participating in the Bronxville Summer Reading Game, and the expansive lawn was home to a petting zoo, concerts, and a science show attracting 150-plus participants.

As a member of the Westchester Library System, our library can access virtually any book in any form from around the county for our patrons. The library also offers computer lessons, Kindle lending, free museum passes, and even daily printouts of the New York Times crossword puzzle.

The fall schedule promises to be as ambitious as previous program offerings.

In the recent past, the library has been home to the acclaimed toddler and infant program encompassing story reading, songs, puppetry, and crafts. Elementary school children from The Chapel School, St. Joseph School, and The Bronxville School walk over for 3:30 PM enrichment activities, and adult programs take place virtually every hour. Here's just a sampling of activities: Lectures on estate planning, elder law, and asset protection; tai chi and chair yoga; painting and ornament-making; cooking demonstrations; musical revues; and historical lectures. 

So please come and sample what is truly a library of the future and spread the word. As Lady Bird Johnson said, "Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest."

Only steps away from the library's front door is the village's newest expansion, the Giving Garden. The brainchild of the Bronxville Green Committee, led by Mary Liz Mulligan and master gardener/resident/broadway musician Dave Phillips, the garden has to date donated over 200 pounds of fresh vegetables to a soup kitchen in Mount Vernon, and harvesting continues on a twice weekly basis.

The impetus for the garden was the knowledge of the state of health in Westchester County, one of the wealthiest in the nation. One in five residents cannot count on daily food, and the rates of diabetes and obesity are skyrocketing.

Our food banks are doing their best, but by definition, their food must have a long shelf life--hence, salt-laden canned goods and no organic vegetables.

The garden not only helps our neighbors in need and supports the concept of local agriculture, it has become a catalyst for community giving, interaction, and learning. Our garden has been visited by dozens of other communities as they aim to replicate our model.

Now a gathering place for families to learn about agriculture, we hope to involve our schools going forward.  Just this morning, I looked out to see students from the Eliza Corwin Frost preschool program planting with Farmer Dave.

The garden operates solely on the generosity of volunteers and funding from local citizens. Our own Bronxville Rotary gave the leadership gift that truly made it all possible.

Thanks to another generous resident, professional web designer Nicki Piercy, the garden has a state-of-the-art website where anyone can sign up for planting, harvesting, or weeding for as little as one hour weekly. For those of us who live in apartments, the work is truly cathartic. If digging in the dirt is not your preference, donations can be made via PO Box 404.

All of the above activities are simply not possible without the extra efforts of the Bronxville Department of Public Works, the Bronxville Police Department and the office administration and staff. Though bare bones in numbers, their dedication to the village is inspiring. 

So please, take a moment and visit the Four Corners. I think you will be pleasantly surprised!

 
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