Island without Fear
No one should be afraid of Town Hall.
I would say, by and large, our employees are pretty darn great. No really, not just good, but great. Some are as good as any professional I’ve worked with in the private sector. But some say Town Hall isn’t welcoming. And perception is reality. I need to figure out ways of helping our community love Town Hall.
In the last year, we have taken great steps to improving the atmosphere at 2255 Baseline Road. 50 bucks in paint and few homey touches have gone a long way. We also went around and scrutinized some of what was hanging on the walls, like “Why is a 15-year old plaque thanking the Town, for who knows what, from Wendy’s still up?” Town Hall should not feel like a palace, but it should not feel like the DMV office in Dante’s 9th Circle either.
But we need to do more – esthetics, customer service and ambiance go along way, but it’s not enough. Town Hall should be about helping make our businesses and our community stronger—not nitpicking them out of existence. Of course, we must obey laws that protect us from harm, and I will fiercely stand up to those who put us at risk to save a buck. We just can’t be our own worst enemy either. I can’t make all the changes I want alone. But mark my words, I’ll keep trying.
So there it is. My four-part plan for our Island without fear. We must end fear of bad development with a Master Plan. We must end the fear caused by inefficient tolls that tax everything in our community. We must end the fear of outsiders that keeps us from taking advantage of the opportunities all around us. And we must end the fear of Town Hall itself, so that business can thrive. The good news is that the process has already started. Let’s review what we’ve done.
2016—year in review; setting the stage for a stronger Grand Island
Roundabout: I spent the first month in office working to keep a campaign promise by literally sitting in the waiting room until the DOT agreed to commit to a new landscaping plan for the roundabout (adding rock and 14 White Oak trees to line both sides of the off-ramp). It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. Next year, I hope to add a classic sign and lighting to make that a welcoming corridor for our main street.
Police: There was a lot of rancor over the proposed installation of a police “chief” position and the unintended consequences that might have—namely, cost. We avoided that change and instead negotiated a modest raise for all of our officers. We have also required the police to add white decals to the black-on-black patrol vehicles so they are more readily visible.
Three thorny left overs: There were three thorny issues I walked into as a new Supervisor that were left over from the past: trapping, vacation homes, and agricultural disputes. We now have a trapping law that is not what I wanted, but goes a long a way to preventing trapping on public land. The Agricultural issue had an even better resolution—read below. The law regulating vacation homes, however, sadly died because one councilman (who ran saying he would support property rights and save tax payer money) refused to vote. But choosing not to decide is still a choice. And that choice has forced vacation homes to go underground— check out Craig’s list. We need a proper resolution.
West River Connector Trail: We all know this was a fight. But it was a fight worth having. Design is well under way, and I’m certain there will be no shortage of politicians lining up in 2018 to cut the ribbon for our new path. The best part of this for me was the unexpected support I received, including support from my fellow council members when it mattered most. I have a whole group of new friends that I would have never met had that debate not occurred. Thank you all! I remain amazed and grateful. Hopefully, citizens on both sides of the debate will eventually celebrate this unprecedented investment that will ensure West River is a protected recreational safe haven for generations to come.
Scenic Woods: Scenic Woods Project (developing recreational paths on the hundreds of acres of town-owned space behind the high school) has been in the works for years. But that was the problem. When I came into office I was informed that we would lose the grant money for lack of follow-up. After much effort, we are hopefully back in the good graces of the Greenway team, and will again secure (and start) the project in 2017.
Grant efforts: We applied for grants to do a number of things: 1. Secure funds to update the Waterfront Revitalization Plan and Master Plan, 2. Secure funds for pedestrian access from Webb Road to Fantasy Island and build the heart of our mains street, and 3. Secure funds to build an elevator at town hall for handicapped access to the Court Room—fingers crossed!
Term limits: Yes, I pushed for and we have term limits on Grand Island. Like me or hate me, there will never be a Supervisor McMurray for 20 years. No new leader will ever be able to hold their post for more than 8 years. Frankly, I’d like to expand the law even further to non-policy positions. This ends giant pensions and stagnant leadership forever.
Agriculture: When I came into office we were spending money on legal efforts to stop citizens from designating their property as an Agricultural District. I was told that if we did not do so we would have chickens in the streets. But I said plainly, “I support this movement.” Why? Because I met with the applicants, and I knew it was within their right to apply. This has led to a Farmer’s Market movement that is beyond my original hope for a market at the Town Hall Commons. We have vendors and farmers of all sorts thriving. There will be hiccups, but I will continue to support agriculture on Grand Island, including applying for a grant to update our Town laws to support farming.
Transparency: I don’t care how you spin it; our town government is more transparent than ever. Our meetings are often full. Our debates are robust, and all of it happens under the glaring scrutiny of the public, on camera! I’m proud of that. Heck, you can watch every meeting at GrandIslandNews.com. I promised sunshine would change Town Hall, and it has.
2017—continuing the path towards an Island without Fear
Master Plan: The plan is progressing. We will finish it in 2017. It will legally preserve green space, control growth, and encourage entrepreneurship. We also need it for many grant applications that we will pursue.
Dunlop Building: For the first time in decades, there are lights on in the old Dunlop Building. I ran on a promise of getting it torn down or getting it open. And I’m feeling ever more confident that I will be able to say that we have kept that promise in 2017. Make no mistake, it was not easy and it’s still not a done deal. But we have been working hand in hand with the developers and now there is more than just vain hope.
Broadband Feasibility Study: Can we have broadband on Grand Island for our schools and for our municipal infrastructure? We will know soon, because we had the guts to approve a feasibility study. If the numbers work, I will push for a municipal infrastructure plan that will bring Grand Island to the leading edge for technology in this area.
Solar: Our new law is in the works. It will become a model for the area and accommodate solar energy in the area. And just in time. We have a major solar project in the works that will set us apart as a forward-thinking, sustainable community.
Festival Culture: Gusmacker was great. Light up the Blvd was better than ever (I suggested we make it more of Christmas costume party next year), Taste of Grand Island had a great year, and hopefully coming soon will be River Fest! Plus, I have to say I have never seen so many Grand Island themed t-shirts and nick-knacks in my life for sale! #bgrand Shout out to everythinggrandisland.com for leading the way!
Tolls: You know where I stand on this. The tolls tax every aspect of Island life. But without you, nothing will change. Please stop just complaining about empty buildings and our need for a new supermarket and sign the petition at www.teardownthegrandislandtolls.com.
Ferry: Before the bridges, there were Ferries. Well, everything old is new again. I have begun discussions with the Town of Tonawanda and the City of Tonawanda to start a Ferry service. We want to create a Ferry system connecting bikers, hikers, bird watchers, and families to the Radisson (or nearby). Stay tuned!
Crime: We have terribly high domestic violence rates and heroin use here on GI. We must do more. In 2017 we will investigate different ways to improve these issues that are happening right here in our own backyard.
Trees: We are a community that is losing trees because of disease. We need to replace those trees. We have created a committee who is working on a plan for dealing with this issue.
Sidewalk Plan: We are working on a comprehensive sidewalk plan to identify and address missing sidewalks in subdivisions, without the shock and awe of impromptu Town Hall construction. No one should be stuck with a $10,000 bill for a sidewalk out of nowhere. But at the same time, no child should be put in danger because they have no safe pathway to walk. Plus, we need to find creative solutions to fix the East River Road pedestrian issues and the issues at Ransom and Stony Point.
Community Center: It’s in the works! Let’s make sure we get it done! My wish is that it’s a centerpiece for enhancing our main street, along with the new gateway, the Farmer’s Market, Kelly’s, and the new Deglopper Memorial that’s in development.
Exciting times, folks, exciting times.
Grand Island is on fire. Great and exciting things are happening. We talked about a lot of it here, but not all of it (e.g., the visitor center). I’m proud of what we’ve scratched off our list, and all the new things we added and are eager to accomplish. It’s been said that, “the brave man does not live forever, but the cautious man does not live at all.” And if my ambition seems too deep and my intent too urgent, please forgive me. I’d rather live bravely than endure at Town Hall in quiet continuum.
There’s been push back. I’ve taken some massive attacks over the last year—attacks on me personally that have ranged from the despicable to the laughable. Whenever I say, “Hey, how about this?” for a certain clique the required response is always an impulsive “No!” My form, my style, and even our most minor accomplishments are taken as a deadly affront to those formerly complicit in keeping things as they were—insiders only, not great, just good enough.
I’m not embarrassed to say that Rocky (yes, 1976’s Rocky!) is my favorite film. And like Rocky, my head might jerk back when you hit me, but I’ll just keep coming, relentlessly, endlessly, win or lose, until it’s over. And whether you read this as one of my kindest friends and supporters or as one of the gang who rues the day I ever stepped foot on Grand Island, please know that I’m thankful for this opportunity to serve you. I remain ever committed to making Grand Island the premier community for families in Western New York. I know you love this place, all of you. And I do too.
Wishing you health and happiness in 2017!
With highest regards,