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 2 Republican Candidate Bill Pealer
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. I support protecting the lakefront. I believe I stand with all of ward 2 in that goal. I do not believe we should be carving out our parks to sell off to private interests. I will vote “no”- and speak out- advocating for my ward and city, that’s how I will move forward with that. It is important to note that some lakefront park development is coming and this new council will have some limitations as to what we can change, or affect. A new marina is coming to Lake Front Park. The loan has been taken out, and the state grants have been allocated. I am not sure what a new council could potentially stop. If we have a loan, and the money MUST be spent on a marina at Lake Front Park- the park will be developed in some part for that marina. It is out of the 2020 council’s hands. You want to default on a million dollar loan? These are past decisions. Decisions that I have spoke out against, right on the floor of city council- and for multiple reasons. They are: the current marina feasibility study was executed by the company who would be building it and I feel that is an ethics concern, their study contained portions that were estimates or conjecture- not derived from any market analysis of the region, the area where the new marina is proposed will have no parking, no boat launch, no sewage, no fuel, and no running water service- even bathrooms were TBD in the plan- to name a few issues. That, combined with the slip costs were estimated to be some of the highest in the finger lakes. It painted a dismal picture for the success of an exclusive marina which sits in an area where there are free public short-term slips available, and the space’s use ranges from empty to not even half full during the busiest tourist weekends for the city.
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?
Ken has a plan or a suggestion? If you can deliver me Ken’s plan I will read it, do some homework, and then speak to it. It does not appear public or downloadable. That is my standard operating procedure for all things considered for civic planning and representation. Research first, opinions later. I hope that approach catches on soon. Based on his suggestion, I think Ken shares my vision. My vision predates his by 6 years. In 2010 and 2011 I was enrolled in the Finger Lakes Leadership Program and we were tasked to help execute a goal that the city of Geneva had, er.. HAS- connecting downtown to the lake front. We did a SWOT analysis and one the items that came up as a weakness or threat was the railroads. I contacted Norfolk Southern to get some data on traffic and usage, and they read me a portion of the Patriot Act that pretty much gave them permission to hang up on me. I called Finger Lakes Railroad and they did the opposite- they shared ALL their data. Traffic, usage, personnel data, you name it. Back then it was estimated that 90% of the rail traffic in the region was short-line, like FL Rail. I would like to see the railroads relocated. Many people do not like them. Especially Norfolk Southern. I am not anti-railroad, I am pro-Seneca lake and Geneva. Based on the rail maps, over 50% of Seneca lake’s shoreline is limited by railroad easements that haul everything from toxic or explosive liquids, to garbage, and it flows right through our city and along our lake. No other finger lake has a railway footprint even close to that figure. They should be diverted away from central Geneva and away from Seneca Lake. I understand these materials that ride rail need to move from point A to point B, but the route thru Geneva and down the lake ought to be reconsidered. There are much more safe and secluded paths that won’t threaten our emerging pedestrian friendly lake front, and that won’t threaten our lake’s water quality. That has been my stance for almost 9 years now. I have even emailed and tweeted, Elon Musk, begging him to test his tunneling machine in Geneva so we can bury the tracks. Diplomacy and regional, state and federal support would be needed to pull off a project this systemic.
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?
I am working on a program to bring tax discounts to home owners. II’ll report more when I know more. But to address your preface to the question. FL Rail’s track goes through Geneva, but their pilot, the contract, is with Ontario County, and by a larger agreement, with a 6 county program. It is a bit confusing to open with a county pilot and then ask about city pilots. With out pilots we would have no Wegmans, Guardian, Ramada, and many more. Tax discounts, state subsidies, and other public assistance are, categorically speaking, the best way to encourage new businesses to work in NY State and Geneva, since the tax rates are so high. I think there is a massive financial misunderstanding between pilots and tax breaks and grants and funds provided as subsidy. We need to get to work in Geneva and bring in some real meaningful and cool industries that will move us into the future. A.I., globalization, automation, they are not as far off as we think. People will need ways to contribute to their community, and make a living. I work in Video and in IT. I know the world changes in disruptive jolts. Geneva needs to be ready and set, not reactionary and delayed. It’s exciting, and brave and often scary. Still needs to be done. If it takes a tax break to bring in the next big idea to Geneva, I will vote yes. Ward 2 cares about job creation and tax relief.
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 would not give the authority of any civilian or board of un-elected civilians the power to discipline a police officer. Period. Ever. Novote. Keeping tabs on the police is a good act though. I would like to see the Geneva ethics committee get involved with the Compact, and all instances of abuse, insubordination, illegal activity, and incompetence by any and all city staff are documented and reviewed by council. A strong, unified city council is the only way to impose leverage on the city executives who are the supervisors of said individuals. Ward 2 stands with all, including our emergency responders. But when people break the law, abuse the position, or don’t do their jobs, we need to know and deal with it.
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 to determine what went wrong and how it could be prevented in the future?
The city is fighting a law suit right now. The state is paying for the vast majority of it. Logic concludes that the state owns the vast majority of the negligence. Did the city officials balk at an opportunity to notify its people?- yes. Why? Has anyone asked? I just asked in last Wednesday’s council meeting. I hope the victims, our residents, friends and neighbors, get compensations they deserve and on a note of respect, a public apology. There is no forgiveness with out an act of atonement. The city budget is on a knife’s edge of a balancing act. I attended the Geneva Budget Academy this year, hoping to see the rest of the freshmen council candidates. But it was only Frank Gaglianese and me. We learned there is little room for costly legal procedures. After the lawsuit wraps, if it is deemed by ward 2 that justice was not served, I would support an investigation. Paying for it will be tricky. We also need to know what and why another investigation is required. Justice is not about revenge. Justice is about balance. Revenge is about our egos.
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?
It is the general opinion of ward 2, that the city, from both the standpoint of the council and the administration needs to hold slum lords and everyone else for that matter, more accountable. This statement “Rental costs are sky-high in the City, another result of an extremely high tax rate.” Appears to not be backed by any data,… anywhere. Geneva did have a marginal average rent rate increase from 2017-2018 of 5%. This figure, based on some admittedly fast fact checking, appears to be because Geneva is approaching its capacity to rent. Supply and Demand. The supply of rentals is decreasing and the price goes up. Property taxes are ridiculously high, but the home values are almost inversely proportionally low. For example, Geneva’s tax rate is about 2.5x higher than Canandiagua’s, but our properties are about 1/2 has valuable. This is rough stuff form the Ontario County tax levy website and city demographic data collection websites. According to rentcafe.com and rentjungle.com Geneva’s rental rates are nearly 40% lower than national averages and about the same amount less than Canandaigua’s. Geneva’s average rent is reported to be about $855.00 and our neighbors 16 miles to the west report an average rental of $1147. So when you say the rent is sky high, I have to wonder, compared to what and compared to who? What other city of 12,000 people and declining has rents lower than ours? Please, shoot me the data based on rental data and your claims. I will concede and move forward if my data farming is bad or even just worse. The house conditions and especially of rentals is in need of improvement. Even in my ward 2 where home values average slightly higher. I have been walking door to door since petitions were passed. It is bad. Residents report an erosion of homes,neighborhoods, and erosion of families. During my doorto-doors, many a renter has chased me off their porch, completely uninterested in Geneva’s civic or organizational health. As city councilor you can bet I will work and fight to reinstate an older ordinance that will force single and double family homes to get regular code inspections. Renters have rights- I rented for 8 years after college. There are repercussions to fixing up homes though. Assessments will go up. If the city does not adjust the tax rate, and lower it, this type of gentrification will surely drive up rents and taxes. I am currently looking into a program, a pilot of my own mental exercise, (though I can’t be the first one to think of it) to use economic development funds to offset the “shock costs” associated with gentrification. I will pursue it even if not elected. The city should explore all aspects of its resources and civic leverage to not only improve conditions for all, but to propel our working and struggling poor, OUT OF POVERTY. Then work with all providers of human services to propel our non-working poor into some jobs. Child care is a big player in that equation. We have some challenges that likely the county, state, and federal government will be required to assist with. More advocacy, more phones ringing. If you look at the numbers, Geneva shows positive poverty rate. Meaning, our poor, our poverty rates, are increasing, and children seem to be increasing the fastest. Sad. We are failing at lifting people up. We appear, based on the census data, good at welcoming the poor and then looking the other way. I can’t work in that arena. I won’t work in that arena. It’s wrong.
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?
If it’s a free study, I support that study. We are one of the most studied cities thanks to HWS and Cornell. Sure. Have them do a study, and hopefully we can get it peer reviewed. A study with out verification is cause for concern, not action.
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.
It’s a tricky one. No and Yes. Many of the problems and concerns you outline in the above questions would be fielded and managed by a qualified city planner. There is a major misconception that our city manager IS our city planner. Nope. They are different jobs with different goals. We don’t have one. Sadly we can’t afford either position right now. If a golden egg drops out of heaven and we could afford it, I would argue that a Planner is the priority, and THEN an economic developer. An econ-dev running rampant in a city with no planner will quickly mess up the adherence to the comp plan, all for economic gains, and likely begin to erode the executive powers of the manger. They will woo the council and hypnotize the public, much like the Monorail Episode of the Simpsons. Poof. Bye Bye Lakefront Park. It is not a priority now as long as we stick to our comprehensive plan. I know we have to invest to prosper, but the residents of Geneva are already taxed to oblivion. We would have to free up nearly 1/4 mil $ to pay for those 2 staff jobs. That is a lot of layoffs. There are other wounds to triage first.
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?
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?
This is a great question and conflict of interest and the blending of private endeavors with the civic responsibility and duty of representation is complicated and will always be off the table for me. Its has to be separate. To deal with these conflicts of interest- abstaining to vote when appropriate, and staying vigilant in that they, my ward, are my voice- not vice versa. Separation of private goals, even if the missions appear to align, leaves room for subconscious bias and ethical violations. It is clear that we have some candidates that are very single minded and have very specific agendas they plan to use the position of office to build from. You could argue I have a very acute agenda too- one thing. Its name is Geneva, and the direction we are headed- Forward.
11. Today, many Republicans support the policies, statements and actions of the Trump administration, while others feel strongly that he doesn’t represent Republican values. In the 2019 election in Geneva, the Republican Mayoral candidate was endorsed by one of congress’ most vocal supporters of Trump, and the Republican candidate for Ward 1 originally came to the US as an undocumented immigrant.
What is your position on the Trump administration? Do you support Trump’s policies, statements and actions? Did you vote for Trump, and would you vote for him again?
I do not align myself with Trump’s policies or statements, and most of his public actions. I do concede that he is a human, so he walks,and stands, and sits, and yawns- in public, so I do align myself with those actions. I did not vote for Trump. I do not know who I will vote for next. I am trying to be successful through my campaign at the moment. Not really up to speed with national campaigns at the moment. I have heard about AOC’s green new deal though. I wonder if she has solar panels on her house. I do. I know the deal.
12. Would you like to provide a final statement about any issues specific to your ward and/or your campaign?
OK. A Ward 2 Pealer Promo? Sure. Something specific? Vote for me this November, I will not let you down.
Ward 2 residents with a resounding majority, care about taxes, home values, and declining presence of nuclear families and emotionally stable people- both young and old. I would like them to know, and all of Geneva to know- I am a hard working family man with no intention of letting you down. I am blessed with the gift of a bad ass wife and 3 ninja kids, and with this opportunity to serve. Put me to work for you. Let’s go. Geneva Forward. Go Panthers!
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