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Letters to the Editor from Michele Braun and Norman Bernstein

letter(This letter was written by Michele Braun)

Democracy, Disillusion and Choice

I welcome the alternative that the Scarsdale Voters' Choice party offers to Scarsdale's status quo. Here's why: We are entitled to choose representatives.

Shortly after we moved to Scarsdale, we voted in our first local election. It seemed unusual that none of the positions were contested but sometimes there are just enough candidates. Over time, I learned that there were only ever "just enough" candidates, not choices.

For a variety of services, I have been very impressed with Scarsdale: I've never lived anywhere that plows the streets so rigorously, nor anywhere that collects bulk trash weekly. Regular trash pickup is excellent. But:

The system suppresses democratic process.
Periodically over the years, my husband or I have attended meetings of the Village Trustees and spoke up on issues of particular concern. We wrote letters to the Village Mayor and Trustees and to the Editor of the Inquirer. I understand that I won't agree with every Village decision. But in Scarsdale I have not had the option to express my dissatisfaction through the traditional route of democracies: at the ballot box.

Officials not accountable to the public.
I have attended or watched almost every Trustee meeting in 2014-2016 at which the revaluation was discussed. Village officials—Mayor, Trustees, and staff—were openly dismissive of residents. Although they sat through the public comments, they repeatedly and offhandedly ignored Village citizens and failed to respond with even a modicum of respect. For example: In advance of letting the no-bid Ryan contract for the 2016 reassessments, thoughtful residents questioned the purpose and the process but their concerns were ignored. When the results of the reassessments were revealed, residents with real technical expertise provided insightful comments and contributed many hours of their time to rigorous analyses, which the contractor had clearly not bothered to do. Although the contractor's work was unsupported and unsupportable, both elected leaders and staff dismissed these thoughtful analyses out of hand. I sat at Village Hall and watched senior citizens in tears because their incomes would not stretch to the higher, unjustified assessments. It was appalling!

Good governance is missing.
At the same time and based on the analyses contributed by the same taxpayers, Village government is (1) withholding payment to the contractor, (2) considering legal action against the contractor, (3) planning to use Village funds to pay for a consultant to evaluate the Assessor's office when we already know it doesn't work, and (4) using taxpayer money to fight a taxpayer lawsuit in which the Village has no financial interest because the Village will collect the same dollar value under the 2014 and 2016 assessments. This wastes taxpayer money.

Adding insult to injury, a candidate seeking reelection and endorsed by the "nonpartisan" party admonished the taxpayers that we should "keep an open mind" about the amount of taxes we pay each year (Scarsdale Inquirer, February 17, 2017, page 3). Open mind or open wallet?

Bottom line.
I welcome the choice to vote for the Scarsdale Voters' Choice party, for people willing to discuss issues and who are against continuation of the status quo.

Michele Braun
Scarsdale, NY

(This letter was written by Norman W. Bernstein)

To the Editor: Scarsdale reported on March 2, 2017 that Mayor Jon Mark and the Trustees decided to use taxpayer money to defend the Article 78 proceeding seeking to roll back the Ryan 2016 revaluation and reinstate the 2015 values (based on the 2014 revaluation).

The Village, however, appears to have no interest in the outcome because whether or not the Ryan revaluation is rolled back, the Village will ultimately receive the same amount of money – the roll back is revenue neutral.

General Municipal Law Sec. 51 prohibits the waste of municipal money. Whether that law has been technically violated is not the point. The Mayor and the Trustees have now made two fundamental misjudgments. First, they failed to stop the implementation of the Ryan revaluation when it became perfectly clear that that is what should have been done. (It is no answer to say the Village would have been sued anyway, just by others. A roll back might not have resulted in a suit and, based on the obvious deficiencies in the Ryan revaluation, it would have been far easier and less divisive to defend a roll back than to defend staying with the 2016 revaluation). Second, they have decided to use taxpayer money to defend a suit in which the primary defendant is the Village Assessor and in which the Village itself does not appear to have a financial interest in the outcome - thereby compounding the first mistake.

Reasonable people may differ on many issues. Hopefully, in this case, most people will agree that the Mayor and the Trustees need to be held politically accountable in the March election for the judgments they have made.

Norman W. Bernstein
14 Wakefield Road
Scarsdale, New York 10583

An Interview with Dan Hochvert, Candidate for Mayor of Scarsdale

HochvertDan Hochvert is the Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan Party candidate for Mayor of the Village. As part of a series of interviews with the candidates, we posed a series of questions to Dan, and here are his responses:

How long have you lived in Scarsdale and what do you like about living here?

We have lived in Scarsdale more than 37 years. We love living in Scarsdale for the volunteer spirit, the Village in a Park nature of its canopy and, as so many others did, we moved here for its school system but stayed more than 30 years after our 4th and youngest graduated from SHS.

What volunteer or civic activities have you been engaged in?

I served as Scarsdale Village Trustee from 2006-2010 and was appointed to the Scarsdale Planning Board in 2012 and chaired the board in 2015/16. I co-chair the Scarsdale Forum Education Committee and previously served twice as the chair of the Citizen's Nominating Committee, (2012 and 2013) the group that nominated me for Mayor. I am a former President (2012) and Vice President of the Scarsdale Forum. I served as treasurer of the Procedure Committee, led the assembly of soap box derby cars for an after school club at Greenacres, built a shelter for the Scarsdale High School Garden Club, sited and assembled 12 raised beds at Hyatt Park, chaired the Board of the Community Unitarian Church, led the team that built the deck next to the Teen Center and currently serve as treasurer of both the Friends of Scarsdale Parks and the Teen Center and more.

Why did you decide to step up and run for Mayor at this time?

I was asked by members of the CNC to allow my name to be considered and I agreed. I believe a candidate for Mayor should understand what I learned during the four years I served as a trustee and have demonstrated that she/he can work collaboratively with other Board members and the staff.

Among your many roles and accomplishments in town, what are you most proud of?

I don't know whether pride is the right emotion but here are some issues I worked on that benefitted residents:

First, I led the opposition to the original resolution to approve the sale of Village property at 2-4 Weaver Street and as a result, the payment the Village subsequently received was about double originally offered. Various changes in the project were negotiated by Land Use Boards that improved the project from an aesthetic perspective.

Second, as Chair of the Village Board's Municipal Services Committee, I worked with a group of Staff Department heads and the Village Manager to revise the Storm water Chapter of the Village Code, line-by-line, in two extensive sessions, As a result, storm water flooding in the Village's drainage sensitive areas has been substantially reduced.

Third, during the revision of the Village Center portion of the Village's Comprehensive Plan, I was able to persuade fellow Village Board members that the consultant's recommendation for the height of future buildings in the area should not be as high above sea level as the top of the Harwood building since ground level variations would mean that a building at Popham and Garth roads would be about 15 feet higher above ground level than the Harwood Building. Another faulty aspect of the consultants' recommendations was to permit three-story buildings along Scarsdale Road. When I looked at the area from Overhill Road residences, it was clear to me that this would intrude on yards of those residences. The Board adopted both the changes I suggested.

I think Board members need to fully understand details and I believe these examples show the depth of my "digging" so that the people who relied on my representation were served.

What are your views on historic preservation and land use in Scarsdale? Do you think the Village should strengthen its laws in regard to lot coverage, tree preservation and preserving historic homes?

As for historic and land use, there should be a balance. Owners have rights and neighbors have rights. One thing that seems reasonable to me is identifying candidates for historic review so that owners know which might fall into that category. As for land use, this is an issue that I think needs to be regularly thought about and Code changes need to be made when there is a weakness uncovered.

Do you support the renovation and expansion of the library – even if it means a tax increase?

Regarding the library, I think the role of libraries has changed and when generous residents agree to fund nearly half of the cost to modernize the library and the project includes necessary repairs and ADA improvements that would, if done separately, amount to almost half of the bond issuance by the Village, I support the project. The increase in annual taxes, on average, is small compared to the benefits of an improved library.

What are your views on the Village's decision to defend itself against the Article 78? Do you agree? How do you think this should be resolved?

Since the Village's filing in opposition to the Article 78 points out the many flaws in the 78 filing, I agree with the decision to oppose the Article 78. I believe the path the Village is on will take us to a proper resolution. Clearly, the process used in the reval needs to be changed. At a recent meeting of the Forum's Assessment Reval Committee, an idea of having an assessment advisory council was discussed and I think that idea should be considered I think the timing of the next reval needs to be addressed as soon as feasible, but the process used must be improved.

Do you think that the uproar over the 2016 revaluation points to problems with the non-partisan system?

To my mind, there is no correlation between the non-partisan system that Scarsdale has embraced for decades and revaluation. The Village Board had no role in the development of the Ryan reval and must not under NYS law.

What would you do to restore faith in Village government?

The faith in government is increased when the people understand the reasons for Board decisions and I believe the improvement in communication already underway should be continued and enhanced.

What are the biggest challenges facing the Village today?

In addition to finding the appropriate path to resolve the reval, there are several issues that need to be thoughtfully considered and I don't believe there is a single one that is the "biggest" for everyone. Scarsdalians are concerned about road condition, traffic/parking, Village Center vacancies, neighborhood character and many more. I think depending on who is asked, the Board would hear different "biggest" issue. A continuing responsive Board will be appreciated.

(Photo Credit Lisa Van Gundy)

Administration Favors Long Island Architects for Scarsdale Schools

candlewood2After the Scarsdale School Board reversed their decision to hold meetings with prospective district architects behind closed doors, an interested group of residents and reporters attended two sessions with presentations from the five finalists on February 1 and 3, 2017. The five firms offered a wide array of capabilities and experiences and the district appeared to be back on track with the facilities plan that had been put on hold in the fall due to a polarized community.

The five finalists included some of the tri-state areas most recognized school architects, including Peter Gisolfi, the former architect of record for the Scarsdale Schools, Dattner Architects, who has been selected to redesign Scarsdale Library (partnering with Geddis Architects) as well as CS Arch, KSQ Design and BBS. See their work and summaries of those presentations here.

According to the notifications from the school board, following these five presentations, two finalists would be invited back on Tuesday night February 7 to make subsequent presentations and answer questions.

However, on Tuesday, without any explanationharborfields hs 02 from the administration, only one firm was invited back; Burton Behrendt Smith (BBS) from Patchogue New York. Among the five finalists, this firm had emphasized their engineering capabilities over their design expertise and addressed how they would approach structural issues at the Greenacres School. While many of the others focused on the design of educational learning spaces, this team promised proficiency in dealing with the mechanics of structural and system repair.

On Tuesday they responded to questions from the Board about challenges facing Scarsdale and how they had dealt with similar situations in other districts. These meetings were not televised so the public cannot review the discussion.

In response to a question about the challenges facing the Scarsdale School District, they said, "We need to get a handle on the mold and asbestos issues."

bayshore elemetary schoolWhat have they done in the face of a divided community? They responded that in the case of the Harborfields School District they "presented a number of schemes and "answered questions in a transparent way." When deciding whether to renovate an existing school or build a new one at Washington Drive Elementary School in Greenlawn, they "presented information so that everyone could make a decision." They said they considered redistricting but ultimately "picked the best solution for the community and it was not all about money."

When asked how they address building issues the architect replied, "Structural issues are not uncommon. The building envelope is usually the problem. Slate roofs are wonderful and have a 75-100 year life span. It's the interfaces with plains and the areas where materials meet where the problems occur. To the extent that we can access them we are usually able to see where the problems happen and can re-flash the places where the water comes in."

He continued, "We would rather opt for local reconstruction eastquoguelementary schoolthan try to fix things. It is better to use modern materials and to try to divert the water. Older buildings are a challenge. It's not easy to run services around plaster walls... it creates a challenge. Old ventilation and heating systems are not designed to today's standards. (Older classrooms have) electric with two outlets. How do we get power into these rooms? It's more challenging -- not something that can't be overcome but it makes it more challenging. We have seen it before. We handle dozens of vintage buildings."

They were asked how they make old classrooms more aesthetically pleasing and said they use paint, new floor tile and acoustic tiles on the ceilings.

The architect then shared an experience that the firm had with a gut renovation of the Prospect School, a 100 year-old school in Hempstead, New York that had been closed for 10 years. They architect said, "The school was not open at the time – it had not been for years. It was an empty building so we had the luxury of not working around children. We had environmental issues to address upfront. Environmentally it was a challenge. Had to gut it before we could do a full renovation. Everything got ripped out. The building was taken down to its studs. It needed all new systems."

As the session drew to a close, Superintendent Hagerman cast doubt on the previous engineering reports on Greenacres School that the district had received. He said, "We want to respect the work that has already been done. Some of the data we collected from our past architects ..... We were not comfortable with it. We need to go back and confirm that there are issues." He seemed to infer that he questioned the severity of the mechanical and structural issues previously reported at Greenacres.

The Board then retired into executive session to discuss hiring the firm.

The Request for Proposals for the architects, which had not previously been available to the public, was posted on the district's website on Wednesday February 8. It indicates that among other capabilities, the district is seeking a firm that can maintain the current plant and historical character. Perhaps design capabilities were not at the forefront of the decision.

Here are the requirements as stated in the RFP:

1. Provide services needed for the planning, design and construction phase t address various renovations and improvement at the District's numerous facilities.
2. Provide services which develop creative and innovative approaches in the renovation of older buildings while maintaining their historical character, when appropriate.
3. Provide services which develop creative and innovative solutions for 21st century educational facilities.

Following the session, since only one firm was invited back and the Board retreated into executive session to discuss retaining them, it appeared that BBS would be the district's choice.

We questioned Dr. Hagerman about why he had selected this firm and he said, "They had substantial paper and presentation materials which speak to their 3 billion dollars worth of public project experience in new construction, renovations, athletic field renovations, and the like. In fact, they are the largest and most utilized school architects on Long Island, and they have a 40+ year track record of creative design, planning, and consulting services. Additionally, they have received numerous national, regional, and local awards, including those on excellence in design and sustainability." He continued, "They did address in-house engineering abilities, technical strengths, project approaches, and master planning experiences. They also showed 12 different major projects that demonstrated their capacity to build new buildings and to renovate extensively, and explained the processes they used actualize each of these projects."

When asked why only one firm was invited in for a second round he said, "This decision was reached in Executive Session. I am not at liberty to share these confidential conversations."

We went to the district office to review the proposals, and perused the cost estimates for several firms. The bids involve hourly fees for the architects and engineers as well as fees as a percentage of the construction costs. Though BBS was less expensive then several of the other firms, they were all within close range of one another and it was not clear whether or not the district had attempted any negotiations with any of the other firms.

The percentage declined as the fees went up. For instance Dattner/Geddis would charge 8% for jobs from $10mm to $19.9mm, Gisolfi 6-7%, CS Arch at 6.75% for renovations between $15mm and $20mm and BBS quoted 5.75% for state education department submitted projects from $10mm to $19.9mm.

Most in the audience in Tuesday seemed surprised that no rationale was given for the decision and that a second firm was not invited back in for a second look.

Diane Greenwald, who is a former marketing director for a large architecture firm in Manhattan and was also on the Scarsdale Schools Building Committee for the 2014 capital projects said, "I hate to second-guess those making this decision who have the full picture, but I admit I am surprised by this choice for a district architect. While I saw strengths in several others, my impression of BBS Architecture was not favorable. They did not demonstrate to me that they would be deft at navigating the critical community outreach and buy-in aspects of this work. I read them as more technically oriented and after review of their portfolio, I worry that the design aesthetic may not fit the context of our community character. I certainly hope this is not a decision based solely on low fees. Scarsdale may be extremely cost conscious, but we are also an exacting and sophisticated group who expect excellence and innovation. Hopefully those responsible for this selection have a better understanding of how this firm's strengths match our needs. It is important that our administration has a trusted rapport with their district architect, so let's hope my impressions are wrong!"

The board will meet next on Monday night February 13 when a "proposal concerning a new District Architect" is on the agenda.

An Interview with Voters' Choice Party Candidate Robert Selvaggio

SelvaggioPhotoBob Selvaggio is running for Village Trustee on the slate of the newly formed Scardale Voters' Choice Party. To find out where he stands on village issues, we asked him a series of questions and received the answers below:

How long have you lived in Scarsdale and what do you like about living here?

Lisa and I moved to Scarsdale from Manhattan twenty-three years ago. We chose Scarsdale for our excellent public schools, but also for our exceptionally low crime rate, our intellectual, cultural, political and religious diversity and tolerance, and easy access to the city and activities we enjoy. We like being in a small town where we number so many neighbors as friends and the sense of community we feel even when shopping in our local markets, dining in our restaurants or commuting on Metro North with folks we've been riding with for years and even decades.

We'd like to keep Scarsdale affordable for young families such as we were in 1994, new empty-nesters with kids out of high school as we are today and retirees on fixed income as we'd like to be here in Scarsdale one day. I am running with the Voters' Choice Party to help instill a fiscal discipline that will make that possible.

What volunteer or civic activities have you been engaged in?

I am a Board member of Pelham Community Rowing Association, a charitable organization whose mission is to advance the art and sport of rowing by making it accessible to the lower Westchester community. Many of our Scarsdale High School students row at PCRA. I also teach Taekwondo fighting to black belt teens and adults in Harrison once a week. I started this class mostly with an eye to preparing Westchester kids, especially girls, heading off to college in high crime areas. In Scarsdale, I coached travel and rec basketball and Little League, and it's wonderful when I occasionally catch up with one of "my kids" from those many teams, or hear about them from mom or dad as I did on the train home last night.

Why do you think an alternative slate is needed at this time?

We all want and deserve choice in government. Competition fosters discipline and responsiveness to the concerns of our Village.

The reason choice is needed especially at this time is that there are clear differences between the Voters' Choice and Citizen's Parties that matter. The Voters' Choice Party is all about keeping Scarsdale affordable for all our residents -- young families, empty-nesters and seniors -- many of whose incomes simply cannot keep up with our rates of tax increases. We are for equitable ad valorem property taxation for all our homeowners based on honest, state-of-the-art property value assessments. We aim to: apply best practice cost-benefit analyses to fiscal policy and sound investment criteria to capital projects; and to start a cost-effective process of zero-based budgeting to "cut out the fat".

This election will be in part a referendum on the Citizen's Party's record of policies that include their destructive Ryan revaluation, above inflation and NYS cap guidelines tax increases, and inattention to our crumbling roads that send so many of us for alignments and new tires. These policies have hurt a lot of people.

Did you also put your name in for trustee to the CNC? If so, why do you think they did not choose you?

I didn't. They would not have selected me given my passionate positions on the necessity of: contested elections; equitable ad valorem property taxes for all homeowners based on competent and professional property value assessments; and spending policies that respect the fact that our neighbors who have very good uses for their hard earned money live under budget constraints and so should Village government.

In your statement you refer to "poorly budgeted capital projects." Please enumerate. Which project(s) are you referring to?

"Budgeting" in a municipal context must imply a rank ordering of projects from those required in order to provide essential services at the top of the list to those at the bottom that are "nice to haves". In my view, the capital project that has been most poorly budgeted is the essential repaving and repair of our 80 miles of crumbling village roads. I would support a bond issuance to finance this essential service and enhance the safety and comfort of Scarsdale drivers for years to come.

What are your views on historic preservation and land use in Scarsdale?

Prudent historic preservation policies enhance our quality of life in Scarsdale, and I believe firmly in our right to self-determination in zoning policies. In both cases, however, we need to take care not to create winners and losers via policy changes, e.g., homeowners should be compensated for historical designation or zoning changes that impact their property values negatively, and all impending changes need to be disclosed to both parties prior to a sale.

Do you support the renovation and expansion of the library – even if it means a tax increase?

My family and I are active library users and do personally support renovation and expansion of the Library. In my opinion, the fact that generous private philanthropists are stepping up to finance 43% of the renovation and expansion likely makes this a big win for Scarsdale. We need to encourage such private/public partnerships and appreciate and honor our wealthy citizens who donate so much to the betterment of Scarsdale. However, I am concerned that there appears to be no reserve established against construction cost overruns, and the private funding in dollars is not being indexed to the likely increase in construction costs over the period of time that the funding is being raised. Thus, the $9.9mm bond is at risk of an increasing par amount or the project may have to be scaled back.

It is also important to remember that the November 25, 2016 report of the Scarsdale Forum on the "Scarsdale Public Library Renovation and Expansion Project" presents survey results showing that a scant 24% of the 441 respondents would support a 2 year relocation of library services for an extensive renovation, and only 29% of respondents indicate that a bond of $8.4mm is a reasonable cost for renovation (38.5% indicate renovation is not necessary at all and 18.3% replied that the cost is too high for the proposed project). What makes these results more striking is the fact that the survey indicates a Village expenditure that is fully $1.5mm below the $9.9mm agreed upon. When our busy citizens take the time to fill out a survey on an important issue their concerns must be addressed.

As far as tax increase goes, we all need to realize that a bond financing is not a free lunch, but rather represents a stream of future tax liabilities. So renovation and expansion of the library does mean a tax increase.

We noticed that your name is on the Article 78 proceeding against the Village. The Article 78 says that those who paid "more than their fair share" of property taxes on the 2016 assessment roll should be entitled to refunds of excess taxes paid.

Where would those funds come from? Would others be billed retroactively to come up with the money for the refunds? If your slate is successful and the suit goes on past election day, the new trustees/Mayor could be making decisions about the lawsuit. Do you see a conflict of interest there? How would your slate deal with it?

The Voters' Choice candidates have all agreed that we will not waste tax dollars litigating against our own residents over the failed and possibly corrupt Ryan revaluation. We will, with the Court's assistance, fashion a fair resolution of the lawsuit. Once we undo the damage, we will establish a committee of knowledgeable Village residents, to work with appropriate staff, agencies and the Board of Trustees to establish best practices for conducting periodic Village-wide property revaluations and to hire an ethical mass appraisal firm that employs fully validated state-of-the-art models and methods in carrying out the next town-wide revaluation.

What would you do to restore faith in Village government?

We're doing it now. Establishing The Voters' Choice Party and providing for contested elections going forward allows our community as a whole to take ownership of our government back from an entrenched single party that has become indifferent to the hurt that they cause. Again, competition will foster discipline and responsiveness; mistakes will be made, to be sure, but going forward our community can use the ballot box to hold our elected Board of Trustees accountable if they do not address and remediate them.

To read more about my personal and professional background or to contact me, please visit

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Letter from the Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan Party

letter-to-the-editorThis letter was submitted by representatives from the Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan Party
The Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan Party is pleased to confirm that in accordance with the standards expected of candidates for office, Dan Hochvert, Carl L. Finger, Matthew J. Callaghan, and Seth Ross attended the 2017-2018 Village Budget Meeting on Wednesday February 1st 2017. The meeting began at 10:30 am and concluded around 9:45 pm. (This meeting is not televised, so in-person attendance is the only way to participate.) Carl Finger and Matt Callaghan attended in their capacity as existing Trustees.

As a result of their participation, these candidates better understand the reasoning behind the financial support the department heads requested for fulfillment of services upon which the residents rely.

As the Campaign Committee Chair, I asked our them to comment on why they feel attendance at this pubic hearing is important. Here is what they said...

Why is attendance important?

Presentations by various department heads and village staff on their budgets were heard and discussed and questions answered. Each presentation reflected and included a discussion of priorities of staff and provides an opportunity for the Board and public to question those priorities, add it's own opinion on priorities and issues, influence the budget that is ultimately considered. The budget reflects not only present expenses but actually determines the priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, and beyond, for various policy initiatives that will require an expenditure of funds. Thus the budget is not only an income and expense analysis but also a policy prioritization discussion.

What are some key issues that came up that might be good to discuss with residents?

- The overall budget results in the anticipated tax burden facing the residents in 2017-2018. While much of the budget it is determined by contractual increases in salary and benefits, health insurance, and pension contributions, all of which cannot be changed for the most part, the areas where the board has discretion involve careful consideration and analysis.

- Additionally, the Village Board reviews fees to be charged to residents for various services such as recreation and water thereby influencing the income aspect of the budget.

- Finally, the departments and the staff provide an analysis of the present and future capital needs and manner of funding such projects, equipment, and items.

- The Board directly influenced this year's budget in a number of ways but one particular decision was by directing staff to remove $455,000.00 for multi-space parking meters from the budget and directing staff to start a pilot program at little or no cost to the Village, of new single space meters using new technology.

Members of the public and press are welcome to ask the candidates questions directly via email: