Geneva Believer sent interview requests to all 18 Republican and Democratic candidates for City Council and Mayor. Six candidates agreed to participate in email interviews. Candidates were asked the same eleven questions, plus one question specific to the candidate, along with one follow-up question (if needed). All responses are being published in full, unedited and without any additional editorial commentary.
12 Questions With Ward 4 Democratic Candidate Ken Camera
1. The City of Geneva Comprehensive Plan took about a year and a half, cost $100,000, and involved the participation of hundreds of residents through bi-lingual forums and surveys. The result was a detailed set of recommendations for the city, none of which include any commercial or residential development in Lakefront Park. The Plan also calls Lakefront Park one of the city’s two most valued public spaces, according to residents.The Plan further recommends re-zoning Lakefront Park, which would prevent all attempts at future development.
Do you support the Comprehensive Plan’s suggestion to permanently protect Lakefront Park from development? If not,why? And if so, what will you do to help make it happen?
Yes. Move the Finger Lakes Railway and that will relieve the pressure and interest in developing the lakefront down to the water’s edge.
2. In 2016, Councilor Ken Camera suggested relocating the Finger Lakes Railway rail yard out of the city limits, and using the property both for new housing and create easy access for Ward 6 residents to the lakefront. Negotiations have begun with Finger Lakes Railway to move the rail yard, but the project could use an additional push from Council.
Do you support Camera’s plan for the railway, and if so, what will you do to help make it happen?
First, I am not sure that the negotiations with railway are initially about moving it. I hope it is part of the discussion (and that has started) related to extending the City’s right-of-way along the Pre-Emption St. extension from Border City Rd. south across the rail yard to 5&20. I will continue to encourage these discussions and look for allies at the County and State levels to help with this important initiative.
3. Finger Lakes Railway is one of eight corporate PILOT programs currently in effect in the city. The Railway paid $4,000 in total taxes in 2019, while the fully assessed amount they would have paid without the PILOT is over $55,000. It’s unclear how many jobs or other tax revenue the Railway provides to the city in exchange for a tax discount of over 90%. In total, eight corporations, with total revenues in the millions and billions of dollars, received a total of over $3 million in tax discounts in 2019.
Do you support a closer examination, or even an overhaul, in the way the city gives out PILOTs to million- and billion-dollar corporations while homeowners get no tax discounts?
My understanding is that many of these Pilots are given by the either one or both the City and County IDAs. I am not sure i know enough about the process, but would strongly support asking Staff to explain the relationship (publicly) and how much power City Council has to oversee these transactions. After 8 years on City Council, I should know more about this process, but i do know that it is not as transparent as it needs to be. We have relied on the City Councilor liaison to the IDA, but the entire City Council should learn more about the history and the process.
4. The relationship between the Police and Community has been an issue in Geneva for generations. The Community Compact, which received $15,000 in taxpayer funding in 2019, has not organized any public events in 2019, and according to their meeting minutes, are having difficulties generating public support and participation. One possible reason for the flagging public support is that the Compact only addresses the relationship between the police and community, and does not the address the community’s calls for accountability for police who engage in misconduct.
Do you support an independent civilian review board, with investigative powers and the authority to discipline officers guilty of misconduct, effectively giving the community oversight of the police?
I do support an independent review mechanism of some kind. I would like this function to come out of the Community Compact (ComComp). If the ComComp is not moving fast enough then I think that it is up to City Council to ask for more movement, development, and accountability.
5. Both the Geneva City Manager and City Council, by virtue of the City Charter, have the authority to conduct investigations, with subpoena power, into the conduct of all city officers, departments, boards, commissions and agencies.
Do you support an investigation into the Geneva Foundry disaster to determine why the city chose to keep the widespread contamination a secret for more than twenty years, what went wrong and how it could be prevented in the future?
NO! At the time of the Foundry discussion two years ago, I did speak about the need for the City to recognize the State’s Whistleblower law and on a go-forward basis to inform all City employees of their rights and responsibilities and the process in using the law when any of them witness or suspect illegal activities in their workplace or activities that compromise the health and safety of our residents. This is what I would propose/d to prevent potential future situations such as the Foundry that risk or threaten the welfare of the community.
6. Rental costs are sky-high in the City, another result of an extremely high tax rate. In addition, there are numerous unscrupulous and irresponsible landlords in the city, with some low-income residents living in unsafe and illegal conditions. The Geneva Human Rights Commission has been massively defunded in the last decade, making it even harder for tenants who are being treated unfairly to report their problems and find justice. There are also limited resources available for code enforcement. There are slumlords who are longtime Geneva natives, well-known in the community, who seem to avoid any scrutiny for their lack of care and concern for their tenants.
Do you think the city needs to do more to hold all slumlords accountable, and do you have any suggestions of what could be done differently?
The City Engineering and Code Enforcement office needs to start inspecting and following up with landlords and others like their “hair is on fire.”
In my opinion, these personnel are not maximizing the tools they have to improve the housing stock in Geneva.
7. In recent years, calls for cost-benefit analysis of our Police and Fire Departments have been made, but not heard. Cities across New York State of similar size to Geneva have a smaller number of police and firefighters on the payroll. No such study has been done in recent memory.
Do you support a cost-benefit study of our police and fire budgets to ensure taxpayers aren’t overpaying for public safety?
8. Some City Councilors, as well as some 2019 council candidates, have supported the hiring of an Economic Development director for the city.
Do you support creating a new paid city position for an economic development director?
If YES, please explain your reasons, your vision of ‘economic development,’ and what shortcomings you see in the city’s current economic development efforts.
If NO, please explain your reasons, your vision of ‘economic development’ and why you think hiring for a new position is not a good idea.
No! Not at this time. Right now, an Economic Development position has nothing to do except promote. (What? Lots of restaurants and a soon to be beautified downtown from DRI money). The tools to launch development of this City are not there because the City Council we have now is not thinking strategically. Here are some of the tools in my opinion that are needed:
- Fast-tracked rezoning (Planned Unit Development) of the Legion property. This should have been authorized by Staff and City Council were not in favor of spending the extra funds.
- Immediate rezoning of the Plaza (across from Wegmans) to multi-purpose so that both commercial retail and housing can be permitted.
- Annexation of the former golf-driving range property currently in the Town so that the City may provide sewer utilities to the project without hurting City economy.
- Moving the Finger Lakes Railway to the north of Geneva and its re-zoning and alignment to be another Planned Unit Development (PUD) that can sponsor development – residential and commercial.
- Immediately starting the internal redevelopment of existing parcels in the City of Geneva in partnership with the Geneva Housing Authority.
These and other options are opportunities for economic development, however, neither Staff or the current City Council have indicated an interest or support of these kinds of projects. So what does an Economic Development position do?
9. Many of the above questions address the issue of high taxes. Do you support any other ideas for easing the tax burden on the working class who bear the brunt of our tax problem?
Fast track the creation of Planned Unit Developments (PUD). See above.
10. One issue that is spotlighted by Geneva Believer is conflicts of interest in city government. In a city the size of Geneva, it can be difficult to separate personal or professional relationships from city business.
If elected, how would you deal with your own conflicts of interest? If cutting part of the city budget would impact your friends or your professional relationships, how would you address such an issue?
All City Councilors as a matter of City policy have to fill out and sign a conflict of interest form every term they serve. This form asks in multiple ways for City Councilors to document all instances where they perceive a conflict of interest. Where those situations might arise i would declare my conflict and recuse myself from the decision-making pertaining to that particular issue.
11. Like any City Councilor, you have received both praise and criticism during your time as an elected official. In what ways has public feedback impacted your decision-making both positively and negatively, and how have you changed and evolved as a Councilor over the years?
I have always tried to be sensitive to the issues worrying or upsetting my constituents. And when I have been encouraged positively or negatively by residents, I have responded and clarified my position. I believe in transparency and the need to develop fact sets that are the basis of good decision-making. I have always invited the public to get involved in this process. And, when the City Council changes next year, I would like to improve the atmosphere at City Council meetings so that residents feel comfortable expressing their concerns and weighing in on important matters before the Council.
12. Would you like to provide a final statement about any issues specific to your ward and/or your campaign?
Please see my website at www.kencamera.us for more information about me and the initiatives that i support.