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Bedford Town Bored

As is often the case, whenever I get excited about some positive traction here in the Town of Bedford, I am almost immediately let down after some unearthing. The latest example comes by way of the Open Forum held on September 15th where residents were encouraged to share their vision for Bedford Hills as part of an application process that could potentially award the Town with grant money through a New York State sponsored program. I was elated that 1) such a program existed and 2) that our Town Council was forward thinking (something I've taken them to task on in the recent past). And judging by the numbers - more than 85 survey responses and about 50 in-person participants - I wasn't alone in my excitement. Unfortunately, the same can not be said about the members of our Town Board.

Supervisor Calves was the only member of Town Council who was present - albeit for a period of time. Not even the two Board members who live in Bedford Hills were in attendance! I personally find that demoralizing, which is the last thing the people of Bedford Hills need right now after the poorly planned, ill-timed, and miscommunicated chop job done to the trees last month which has really exposed just how neglected downtown has become.

I will admit that their attempt to disarm participants with a bowl full of candy at sign-in worked on me, at first. But my blood started to boil shortly after when it was explained that said application was due on September 23rd (leaving just eight days of information gathering and collation). So much for forward thinking... Because we're not talking about a cross your T's and dot your I's type of submission - we're talking about a packet of information that will be reviewed alongside other applications for the chance to be awarded between $2.5M - $4.5M. I would expect better from our elected officials, not what feels like the kid who starts their Summer reading assignment on the bus ride into school on the first day (a practice I am quite familiar with from my school days).

Credit to the facilitators of the session who made participants feel like we had a voice (I remained cynical after learning about the deadline and wondering how these ideas could reasonably be sorted, researched and then presented in a matter of 5 business days). Nonetheless, we heard from a number of residents who came with ideas that ranged from practical (parking), innovative (a gazebo), retro (bring back Farmers Markets), fun (adult dodgeball tournament) and even off-the-wall (relocate the Post Office). But one public comment really drove things home for me and it was something along the lines of, we can think up a number of great ideas but they're all a pipedream if we don't have the support of the Town (coincidentally enough, Supervisor Calves had already left by this point). And it's a sentiment that I recently blogged about when I detailed the systemic issues that need to be addressed in Bedford Hills - as part of my rally against the hiring of a Bedford Promoter, which felt like an outsourcing of Town Board responsibilities (using money earmarked for COVID relief to boot!). Because even if our late night cram session does earn us a grant, does any of what is written above give you the confidence that our Town Council can be responsible stewards of this money? And worse, what is the plan if and when we don't get awarded the grant - are we going to let another year of inaction go by before re-applying?

When I returned home that evening, I sent an email with these concerns to every member of the Town Board because I wanted to express my disappointment. To their credit all but one Councilmember got back to me, and I've cut and pasted bits of their responses to my charges below.

In response to lack of participation/absenteeism:

  • Councilwoman Bittker (Bedford Hills) stated that her absence was because of an illness

  • Supervisor Calves (Katonah) stated that her reason for leaving early was another commitment here in Town

  • Councilwoman McCaine (Katonah) stated that she had a personal conflict

  • Councilman Catoliato (Bedford Village) stated that he had a family commitment

  • Councilman Castillo (Bedford Hills) has yet to respond to me

In response to my charges of being late to the game on the application process:

  • Councilwoman Bittker, Supervisor Calves and Deputy Supervisor Galligan all stated that preparation for this application was months in the making and that the public forum was just one piece of a larger puzzle.

I think most people would be understanding of everything they stated, but I take issue with their poor communication. Even a simple announcement of - X felt it was important to be here, but couldn't make it due to Y - would have went a long way to establish some level of respect to their constituents in attendance. And why not share the work that was already done ahead of that forum with the people in attendance? I think many people - myself included - left that night feeling like we had 8 days to compile 75 sticky notes on a poster board into an application. I was reassured that wasn't the case and I look forward to reviewing the completed PDF packet when it's submitted this coming week (I would expect the Town to make it publicly available).

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