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Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison's State of the City address highlights youth efforts

 Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison
Facebook: City of Poughkeepsie
Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison

Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison is outlining his vision for the year as his second and final four-year term slowly winds down.

Rolison, a Republican, is scheduled to deliver an in-person State of the City address for the first time since 2019 on Thursday, with a focus on youth initiatives, infrastructure, and pandemic recovery.

Rolison spoke with WAMC's Jim Levulis ahead of his address, which begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Changepoint Theatre. It can also be viewed on the city's website.

The mayor began by discussing the city's youth efforts.

Rolison: We know how important it is for the future of any community. And obviously, the future of our city, depends on our youth depends on the community, and we're depending on them. So it is very important that the city along with all of our cooperating stakeholders, do everything that we can to help the future of our children and their families.

Levulis: And what specific goals would you like to see accomplished to help the youth?

Rolision: Well, I think many of the things that we've done over the years have set the stage for further progress and further investment. Smart investment, which is also obviously extremely important. You know, we started back in 2018 with a youth grant program which continues to this day, we received over $20 million in ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] funding, because of the ARPA funds coming from Washington, which is a great shot in the arm for this city. Our collaboration with the school district to look at the Poughkeepsie Children's Cabinet, we are now in a position we're getting real data based on information and statistical data that is important that we can put resources in the right places that are going to have the types of impacts that we all need, but specifically our children and families and especially ones that are in need of it. And I think that, you know, that really is such a priority given the complexities of the society that we live in, the challenges that so many of us face, and that that is a great investment in people. But you know, there is always that saying, you know, when you spend $1 upfront on someone, and you don't have to spend thousands as they become an adult, and I think that that's really where our focus has been. It's going to be more focused now because we get a couple of big things happening. One is the beginning stages of our Youth Opportunity Union building, the former YMCA, which has been the subject of lots of discussions, that's been vacant for since 2009. We also this year creating our very first Division of Youth and Opportunity and Development in city government to better coordinate services to our youth. And then there's one other thing I just want to say is that, you know, statistically and this was a stat that I heard a few years ago for the first time and has never ever left my mind, is that 80% of a child's life is spent outside of school. 20% inside the school and 80% outside. So what that says to me, we have an obligation to do everything we can.

Levulis: You mentioned the American Rescue Plan Act funding that the City of Poughkeepsie is receiving, nearly $21 million. Obviously you mentioned some of it is going to go to those youth efforts that you detailed there, what are some of the other big chunks that this money is being used for?

Rolison: An initial investment of $4 million into our parks system. Because our parks are in need of upgrades and care that they were not able to receive for many, many years, because of the fiscal condition of the city. Also, you know, looking at what we can do to collaborate with our nonprofit partners. We as a city, we don't need to create all of things that are already there, right? We need to help invest in programs that are working, right. And that doesn't mean that there are not going to be new programs that are going to be looked at and explored. But that's again, something that we'll be leaning on our new Youth Division to do. But I think those are primarily some of the things related to youth, but also the infrastructure of the city and aging Department of Public Works equipment, doing things that are obviously in line with Treasury's guidelines, and not things that are going to potentially run out of money. You know, we want to get things that are going to assist the city moving forward because for a long time and this is because of the fiscal condition of the city, weren’t able to make us the infrastructure improvements, not only in, say, our streets and our parks, but also the equipment that maintains and delivers the services to our residents.

Levulis: Mayor, you've also mentioned the desire to diversify the ranks of the city police department. What do you think are the best ways to accomplish that?

Rolison: Well, I mean, I'm happy to say that we're doing that. And that is to actively engage the community with our members of our police department. And our police department has been engaged with the community for many, many years. And I know this because I've lived in the city for over 30 years, I was a Town of Poughkeepsie police officer for 26 years. And I saw the active engagement that our officers here in the city had with the community. And there were barriers to diversify for a small city like the city of Poughkeepsie. And one of them was the testing requirement, right? You had to have 60 college credits, before you could take the test. Now, that's a barrier for many individuals who are coming out of high school and may not be going to college right away, but are looking for careers and a career in public safety is a very noble and honorable career. And so we lobbied the county to, to drop that requirement, because we pay for the college education of our officers. And that was a point that we made when the county actually took that to heart and other departments were saying the same thing. And they removed that as a barrier. We had an active recruitment process, as so many of the departments did, throughout the region and throughout the county. And we really concentrated on our folks here in the city of Poughkeepsie, who may want a career in law enforcement, because also too, I should note that the city of Poughkeepsie, for over 20 years, has had what is called a careers in law enforcement class where essentially seniors from the city of Poughkeepsie High School or in a 13 week program, getting the chance to look at what law enforcement is as far as a career possibility. So, you know, we've been doing those things, but then we also wanted to take it a step further. And so what we did and I'm very proud of this too because we actively recruited here in the city of Poughkeepsie. We made the commitment to any city resident who signed up to take the test, that we would pay for a professional police tutorial course on the entrance exam. And I think 30 of the say 50 individuals that originally signed up for the test actually took advantage of that. And we are very, very, very fortunate to have a very diverse local list of city residents who want to become police officers. And we are now going through that list. We're going to be announcing some hiring in the very near future of local city residents and we expect that if the individuals have indicated that they want to become city of Poughkeepsie police officers who were from the city, this is a city preferred list, and that's the only list that we're using. And they go through all of the background and all the things that will qualify them to become city of Poughkeepsie police officers, that we're going to see the benefits of what we did.

Levulis: You mentioned your experience as a police officer. And you know, you mentioned the city preferred list. For a police officer to be from that the community that they work in, do you think that adds to their ability to relate to the community, community members, that sort of thing?

Rolison: I think it absolutely can. Yeah. And I think that, you know, there is a certain amount of pride that one can take, and it's in their own community where they grew up, relationships being built. And I know this because I've had conversations with police officers who are veteran police officers who grew up here, who are police officers who just went through the academy, that was just given the past six months, there were many city residents in that and we're hoping to actively recruit them to come here and work for us, is that there is this I want to do something for the place that I live. And I think that that's important, and we need to take advantage of those individuals, if we can get them hired here. It doesn't mean they might not go someplace else. You know, there was competition for police officers but we're really we're very fortunate to have the list that we were able to work towards, and really actively recruit people from the city of Poughkeepsie, help them take the test, and then getting them on board on the job.

Levulis: And now, of course, you're limited to two four0year term. So next year is set to be your last as mayor. Knowing reelection isn't an option, has that changed your approach as mayor compared to your first term?

Rolision: You know, it's interesting, it's a really interesting question, I have to say that, that I really don't know, quite frankly. You know, this is a pretty overwhelming job. And you definitely, and I would say that if you take it as serious, and you let it become this all-encompassing part of your life, which I have, maybe to a fault sometimes and letting other things go by the wayside, and you know, that's my own family life, and I don’t mean wayside, wayside, but I mean, there's a lot of sacrifices that elected officials and others make to. I've made them. I don’t run around with a flag and telling people that I've made them, but I've made them and I'll continue to make them till I leave office. I think the one thing I can say is, you start to find a sense of urgency. Government takes a long time to do certain things, I get it, and always like it, but this is how this works. And so as you get closer to the end of your term, we want to finish up things that we started. Things to make sure that the next mayor coming into this office is not going to be faced with the challenges that I was faced with the day that I walked in the door. Some of the challenge I knew about, and a whole heck of a lot I didn't. So I'm hoping that we can do in the next 21 months or so, a lot of the things that we set out to do and make this as I've always said, just want to be able to leave it in a better place than which I found it.

Levulis: Moving to a statewide matter, who would you like to see win this year's gubernatorial race?

Rolison: Well, you know, I really, I have to say that I don't really get involved in these political discussions on who the next governor may or may not be. But I do want someone whether it's our incumbent governor, or someone who is going to be running, we'll see after the primary in June and you know, who that may or may not be, who focuses on local government, who focuses on the things that we need to have done here in the city of Poughkeepsie, because it is really important, because everything actually, quite frankly, is local government matters, right. And a lot of the things that the state does or doesn't do affects us here locally. I mean, I'm a member of the Executive Committee of the New York Conference of Mayors. It’s an excellent organization that lobbies on behalf of local governments. I can tell you that since becoming mayor, I am less interested in what happens as far as political, partisanship goes of course, and mayors treat mayors, as a mayor, not as a Democratic mayor or a Republican mayor. That's the group that I am with. That's the group that I'm focused on. And, you know, I'm glad that you're covering this again with us. I mean, it's been a bit and I'm happy that you've reached out.

Levulis: So no endorsement in the governor's race, just making sure.

Rolison: Not right now.

Levulis: All right. Mayor in 2020, you crossed party lines to back the Democratic incumbent in the race for New York's 18th congressional district, that’s Representative Sean Patrick Maloney. This year, he faces a challenge from Republican State Assemblyman Colin Schmidt, who do you support in this year's race?

Rolison: Well, I know both of them. Obviously, Congressman Maloney has been very supportive of this city, along with other representatives, such as Senator Schumer from the other side of the aisle. But I'm not ready to weigh in on that either at this point. Right now, I'm focused on the state of the city for tonight. And I'm actually focused on the state of the city until I leave office. And I have just been a person who will always try to support individuals who care about this city. And you know, the great thing too is which I think is really important, it's come from both sides of the aisle. And that has been really, really reassuring to me as a mayor. But also I think it really is reassuring to the citizens here in the city of Poughkeepsie that they are getting help from Democrats and Republicans alike because people care about the city.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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