Sullivan a key player in region
By Dan Hust
HUDSON VALLEY Jonathan Drapkin remembers a tale once told to him by a Pattern for Progress old-timer.
The year was 1965, and a non-profit think tank was being formed to bring the counties of the Hudson Valley together to improve the economic, environmental and social quality of life.
Though only the barest slivers of Sullivan County actually sit in the Hudson’s watershed, those forming what was to become Pattern for Progress were quick to include the county.
Why? Drapkin was told it was due to the powerhouse reputation of a county full of world-famous resorts and entertainers.
The years since have tended to be kinder to the eight other counties Pattern serves, but with Rock Hill’s Drapkin now in the CEO seat, Sullivan has begun returning to its “key player” status.
That’s no more evident than in Pattern’s Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee, formed in May of last year after Drapkin finished a stint on former Governor Eliot Spitzer’s Commission on Efficiency and Competitiveness in Local Government.
Though chaired by Orange County Executive Ed Diana, the committee includes Sullivan County Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis and County Treasurer Ira Cohen specifically invited by Drapkin.
“We look for people who are innovators in their fields,” Drapkin explains.
That also includes county, town and even village officials from municipalities up and down the Hudson Valley, and Drapkin says he’s already got requests from more to join.
Perhaps that’s because the committee has suddenly become very visible with its efforts to obtain a grant to study regionalizing county jails.
If the $50,000 is granted, SUNY New Paltz Professor Dr. Gerald Benjamin and his staff at the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) will study how county jails can share facilities and how state law can be changed to encourage cost-effective cooperation.
But the committee is working on far more than that. Also on the agenda: sharing healthcare costs, bulk purchasing, four-day work weeks, grant opportunities, district courts, and handing over to the state the responsibility of making school districts whole.
Drapkin, who acts as a facilitator and lets the participants set the topics, says, “There are two general motivating factors here: the ever-rising property taxes ... and the effort to make government more efficient.”
Rouis and Cohen are happy to be part of that effort.
“It never hurts to get together and talk,” Rouis remarks. “... How can we operate more efficiently by working together?”
“I love that stuff!” adds Cohen with a smile. “Like Jonathan, I’m a government junkie.”
Cohen said the meetings held about once every other month have been hothouses of out-of-the-box thinking, not only seeking to increase efficiencies and find partnerships but affect state legislation to facilitate such.
Cohen is particularly eager to be working with Dr. Benjamin, who has served on the Ulster County Legislature and is being utilized by the committee to scientifically test theories.
“He gives us a great opportunity to test some assumptions that may or may not be accurate,” Cohen explains.
And though Rouis and Cohen try not to surprise each other with their thoughts at the meeting table, Cohen said the atmosphere is one where disagreement is welcomed.
“There is room for a difference of opinion,” he acknowledges.
The committee has given him a new zeal for solving sometimes stubborn governmental problems.
“I look forward to the meetings ... they’re almost inspirational,” he says. “These are dedicated leaders ... who share the interest I have.”
Drapkin is working to ensure that zeitgeist continues.
“It’s working exactly the way I hoped it would,” he says. “The participants are willing to come, and they think it’s worthwhile.”
So does Drapkin.
“These incredibly difficult times,” he points out, “are going to require creative solutions from government.”
Though meetings, usually held in the Orange County Government Center in Goshen, are not open to the public, more information is available via Pattern’s website at www.pattern-for-progress.org (hyphens must be typed in, too).