What does responsive government look like?
It's adaptive and helps to inform the communities represented and governed. It seeks to ask questions and deliver answers (or at least guide those asking difficult questions). It seeks to reduce frustration and increase productive outcomes that make lives better.
Justan is able to demonstrate what responsive and adaptable government can look like.
By asking questions...
Justan went in search of determining how businesses and individuals are being served (and where) by requesting DBA records. DBAs ("Doing Business As") are a necessary step for small businesses to present themselves to their customers by a distinct organizational name.
Rensselaer County leadership claims that we are "open for business," but cannot provide answers as to the number of businesses that been created or are still in operation.
Why is that? How much did we spend for a recordkeeping system that doesn't answer simple questions?
...and promoting knowledge.
Justan was able to guide leadership to a free resource that might assist in helping to answer the question in the future, as well as expose a looming issue for economic development and public accountability.
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?
A responsive leadership would have spent time preparing for the vaccination process and planning a proactive approach that did not include pointing fingers or causing further distress among residents likely to rely on family, friends, or neighbors to assist them with technology. The County's failure to embrace and understand modern technology means you and your family will end up working even harder towards goals with simple solutions. There is no need for the County to actively make the situation worse by adding cyber intrusions and identity theft to already overwhelmed seniors.
I recommend that readers visit and for useful information on preventing and detecting identity theft.
Research & Development
Digging deeper, especially when no one asked.
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.
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 for more information on resources available to your community or business.
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: 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