The People's Newsroom
Digging deeper, especially when no one asked.
Delivering Value Now, Not Later
October 30, 2021
This past week, Jennifer Massey for Rensselaer County Legislature and I pledged to donate one gallon of water and one non-perishable food item for each voting plan we made with a resident of Rensselaer County. Today, we delivered 60 gallons of water to the residents of Poestenkill as they navigate concerns about PFOA in their water supply. While we know it’s a drop in the bucket we hope it makes a difference to those in search of clean water and answers.
Interview: Troy Record
October 23, 2021
The Troy Record recently published an interview with candidates seeking the office of Rensselaer County Clerk.
Planning for Climate Mass Migration
October 14, 2021
While out canvassing in Brunswick, we had visible reminders of why many have come to call
Rensselaer County home—and we even found a piece of immigration history.
As we see changes in both local and international climates,
a new wave of mass migration will provide both opportunities and challenges to our area.
Net benefits are likely to include expanding our tax base with new residents that possess varying skillsets and a longer growing season with new crop tolerance.
A few of the challenges we will face are:
Crafting a new comprehensive plan that prioritizes sustainable development
Promoting resilient, climate smart communities
Providing accessible services to meet a likely population shift from both domestic and international migration.
To learn more about mass migration and historical patterns of climate impact,
listen to this brief interview with Parag Khanna, author of “Move: The Forces Uprooting Us.”
It Doesn't Need to Be This Way
October 12, 2021
I recently attended the monthly session of the Rensselaer County Legislature. While positive moments included the acceptance of funds from the recent settlement with opioid manufactures to assist communities in the county and recognizing employees of the Health Department for their role throughout the response to COVID-19, there a was larger set of issues that showed the price of partisan battle lines.
Among several resolutions to be considered was a local law to regulate third-party food service fees for restaurants (e.g., GrubHub). A similar measure in Albany County passed unanimously. Here, the measure failed despite the efforts by Legislators Peter Grimm and Cindy Doran to provide relief to small business owners.
Another item for consideration was the proposed $1,000 bonus payments to county employees for their efforts throughout COVID. While neither caucus rejected the idea of using federal funds from the American Rescue Plan to give back to those who have continued to work tirelessly during the pandemic, Legislator Mark Fleming’s questions regarding how the funding was to be designated and sourced and what the limitations of payouts would be were met with responses of “roughly,” “likely,” and “probably.” Those are words that can be costly when the proposal that was passed comes with very few specifics and an estimated $1.3M price tag.
We desperately need a legislature composed of individuals that value debate and compromise over forcing party-line votes that skirt issues impacting residents, families, and small businesses.
Statement on Need for Data Governance
September 27, 2021
Data tells a story, and when the author of the data is unfamiliar with how to write a story...it shows.
The attached image shows that our elected leaders do not value clear, concise data that helps residents of Rensselaer County make an informed decision. The way this release reads, the county does not or cannot differentiate between those who are vaccinated and those who have declined vaccination with required documentation.
Combining two different responses to the same question to make an answer possibly appear better than it is can result in legal action against those in the private sector. Why is the standard for government any different?
As your next County Clerk, I will prioritize implementing a Data Governance program within the office (and all data that is held by the office) which will establish clear requirements, follow best practices, and work to promote transparency in government.
Statement on Land & Tax Maps
September 23, 2021
Land or Tax Maps are an important part of what the County Clerk is responsible for. This information is used to determine zoning or planning modifications, transact real estate business, evaluate election districts, and settle questions or disputes between neighbors. As of right now, Rensselaer County does not have an accessible mapping system in place.
We mentioned back in July that we were trying to evaluate the legislative districts that some of the small businesses we showcased were located in. It took nearly 30 minutes for those quite familiar with maps to sort out where a business like Moxie's Ice Cream was located (answer: Brunswick) because of the current system. Feel free to visit https://www.rensco.com/gis-mapping/tax-maps/ and try to find where you live.
As County Clerk, I am dedicated to promoting services that are accessible to everyone. This includes making a search of property records by residents and business owners as stress-free as possible. There is no good reason that in 2021 you must scroll through twenty (or more) pages of grayscale print (which features a font that doesn't comply with most screen readers for those who are vision impaired) to find an answer that should take a few seconds based on a street address.
Interview: Hudson Mohawk Magazine
September 15, 2021
Justan was recently interviewed by Corinne Carey regarding his campaign to deliver sustainable change to residents of Rensselaer County. The interview is part of HMM’s Election Watch 2021 Series, featuring candidate profiles of those seeking office in the upcoming election.
Letter to the Editor: Voter Confusion is Voter Suppression
July 6, 2021
Party primaries serve an important role in our democracy. They allow for conversations around ideas to play out and provide an opportunity for fresh vision and new voices to be heard. Such was not the case in the recent Working Families Party primary in Rensselaer County.
Rather, GOP strategists ran candidates on the WFP line to force a primary, cause voter confusion and take the line from endorsed candidates who support the mission of the Working Families Party. Through an organized re-registration and absentee ballot collection drive, Republicans were successful in winning a primary they should have never been involved in to begin with.
This November, voters will find a number of candidates on the WFP line who do not believe in the ideals of the WFP, are not endorsed by the WFP, and have no intent to uphold the values of WFP should they win.
What has happened in Rensselaer County is blatant disregard for the will of the voters in favor of undemocratic partisan tricks. Voter confusion is voter suppression. The people of Rensselaer County should not have to understand years of GOP political strategy to make an educated choice at the ballot box.
This fall, integrity is on the ballot. Vote for the candidates that run clean, honest campaigns. Vote for the candidates that will tell you where they stand and fight for you in office. Show up this November so we can show up for you.
Gwen Wright & Justan Foster
Statement on Fair Elections in Rensselaer County
June 10, 2021
Several years ago, the Rev. Karen Campbell wrote that “the builders will build faster than the wreckers can wreck.” These words are a paraphrase of biblical promises made long ago to the Jewish people sitting in the ruins of what remained of their community and ideals. It was a promise of renewal and opportunity to generations who were ready to give up. Rev. Campbell went on to note that we tend to “use the present as a sterile waiting room until life gets better.” We cannot afford to do so today.The confusion and difficulties surrounding the upcoming primary election happening in Rensselaer County are part of a larger trend where leaders are focused on how to benefit themselves, and not those who need help. We see a gap between the reality that residents and small business owners live out and the stories our leaders tell about how well everything is going. By no coincidence, that gap seems to get wider every few years when leaders are up for their performance review.Over the past few years, elected officials--who are employees hired by the voters of their districts--have decided that the best way to weather the electoral storm is not to improve services or accessibility or quality of life, but to instead write their own evaluation without any input from constituents who gave them a job to do.This year we have seen a political machine that is intent on sowing misinformation, undermining the integrity of our electoral processes, and removing qualified, vetted, and endorsed candidates from the ballot. Why? Because there is a real fear that in a fair election, voters might just provide some constructive feedback to those in power. The people of Rensselaer County deserve to be informed, to have their questions answered, and to see that transparency, respect, and integrity are valued by those they elect to positions of authority.Today, we have gathered with representatives from the Working Families Party, community members, and candidates who are trying to do right by community members. We are dedicated to seeing an election that provides a real opportunity for voters to voice their support for or disagreement with platforms and the direction their community is moving. That begins with leadership fulfilling the spirit of the law and providing polling locations that are easily accessed for residents throughout Rensselaer County.To those who continue to uphold the right to vote in Rensselaer County and NYS, we say “thank you.” Your work matters. You are reinforcing that precious right to be heard for millions of people throughout this country, and you are doing so faster than those who seek to destroy what so many have fought and died for. NYS and the nation as a whole are indebted to your service.
Letter to the Editor:
Need for Proactive Leadership
March 19, 2021
There is a growing need for local governments to get serious about cybersecurity—a need which has been highlighted just this past week. The ransomware intrusion through the Emergency Services vendor that enables 911 dispatch systems for Albany, Saratoga, and Rensselaer Counties is likely to be one of many future events that requires trained professionals who understand third-party contract management, external security controls review, and data governance oversight. Updating a website or hiring qualified technologists and technicians must be part of a larger approach that establishes consistent policy, improves accessibility, and stores, retrieves, or relays information securely. With several data protection and cybersecurity bills being recently passed into law by state legislatures or considered by Congress, local governments are facing additional concerns about being responsive to implementing new requirements in less time with fewer resources. We need leadership that understands the concerns of residents and businesses when it comes to cybersecurity and data privacy as well as how to deploy resources effectively. Our local leaders must work as part of a team to leverage every resource available, like the passionate Cybersecurity faculty and students at HVCC and the internationally recognized Center for Internet Security (located in East Greenbush) that is dedicated to helping local governments and businesses plan, prepare, and respond to these incidents. I recommend readers visit www.cisecurity.org for more information on resources available to your community or business.
Letter to the Editor:
Why Your Email for a Vaccine Has Yet to be Answered...
February 8, 2021
Traditionally, organizations and businesses establish a chain that links customers, employees, and supervisors in an orderly fashion. This concept has eluded Rensselaer County when it is needed most. During a press conference on February 2, officials noted that people were upset that their emails (sent to an unsecured Gmail account) had yet to be acknowledged. Residents were told that “we’re trying to set [auto-replies] up right now…this was quick, we had to do something…you’re gonna get an automatic response.” Why has a task that takes five minutes or less not been accomplished since January 27? To further complicate this, an eight-minute, poorly advertised, “public hearing” held January 21 via Facebook invited residents to ask questions or voice concerns about amendments to the County Charter. One proposed amendment would move “Information and Technology Services” (which does not exist according to the County website) under Central Services. While described as “not a big deal,” this move would eliminate dedicated and effective IT and data resource management. It is worth noting that the Bureau of Research and Information Services (which does exist), has no listed director, and the phone number provided leads to a full voicemail box for an employee who has not drawn on their $106,912 salary since 2018. There might be no reply to your vaccination email because the office that would have taken care of this has no one at the helm, and what is left of IT is being consolidated under those who lack the necessary understanding of technology.
Letter to the Editor:
Rensselaer County Leadership Exposes Seniors to Additional Risks
February 4, 2021
Rensselaer County recently provided those over age sixty-five the ability to register for a limited supply of COVID vaccines. This came in the form of a link (which crashed), and then a phone number (which quickly overwhelmed the Department of the Aging). The most recent method, a Gmail account, creates another issue for those already frustrated: identity theft. By providing your personally identifiable and sensitive information to an unsecured email address, you have become a significant target for bad actors and cyber criminals seeking to benefit from the misfortune of vulnerable groups. How will that data be safeguarded? Who is monitoring a mailbox that numerous employees have access to? With the rapid changes in how the county asked you to provide that information, what was their review process for this decision?