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Who is Deborah Newborn and Why Did New Rochelle Really "Hire" a Sustainability Coordinator?

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Who is Deborah Newborn and Why Did New Rochelle Really "Hire" a Sustainability Coordinator?

April 30, 2010 - 19:20
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GreeNR-Large.jpgNew Rochelle Mayor Bramson recently announced the public release of the ICLEI inspired "Green R Sustainability Plan" -- a document drafted in secret, by unelected individuals, led by a group of outsiders connected with various groups connected directly or indirectly with ICLEI and the U.S. Green Building Council, created by the National Resource Council, which is, in turn, funded by The Tides Foundation. The U.S. Green Building Council is behind LEED certification. None of which they Mayor has bothered to explain. So, what else has he failed to explain?

The Green R document was uploaded to the City of New Rochelle web site where residents were directed to send comments to someone who may be unfamiliar to many New Rochelle residents, Deborah Newborn.

So, who is Deborah Newborn?

According to the Westchester Business Journal she is a "20-year environmental attorney who worked as an environmental scientist prior to going to law school". She lives in New Rochelle. The business-oriented social network web site LinkedIn notes only that she is a member of the GreenBiz.com group for Green Business Professionals. GreenBiz.com is owned by Greener World Media (GWM) run by, among others, Executive Editor Rob Watson who is described on the GWM site as the "Founding Father of LEED"; he was the national Steering Committee Chairman for the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program between 1994 and 2005.

You might be forgiven if you thought that since the Mayor is directing residents's questions and concerns to Deborah Newborn that she was a municipal employee. In fact, she is a consultant hired at the direction of ICLEI based on an RFP that was advertised on the ICLEI web site. The RFP's "job description" of this consultant includes this the following:

Facilitate the implementation of the City’s and County’s climate action goals through usage of technology, environmental tracking matrices, coordination with International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), including enhanced membership and software tools, etc.

.

And what about that "enhanced membership" and those "software tools"? Those are services, software and research material sold by ICLEI that Newborn is charged with buying from ICLEI. Wait, you thought that ICLEI was giving things away for free?. Nope. This is a big bucks operation. It's a great racket. We pay them to use their "measuring sticks" to determine how much more of their stuff we need to buy from them and how many more of their people we need to hire who are placed within City Hall to keep the purchasing wheel spinning.

The "position" of "Sustainability Coordinator" was filled in December 2008. The term is in quotes because it is not a real title because this person does not actually work for the City. She works for herself. We pay her consulting business for a fraction of her time. Who pays for the rest of her time? Time will tell.

At his State of the City address in March 2009, an excited Mayor Bramson announced that New Rochelle has been selected for the ICLEI Planning Pilot program as if the City had won the Nobel Prize, or at least American Idol.

Never mentioned by the Mayor way was that New Rochelle's application for the ICLEI Sustainability Planning Pilot program has been in the works since 2007 and that one of the key ICLEI requirements for municipal applications to ICLEI was that the municipality must hire a Sustainability Coordinator. It was for this purpose the Mayor sought approval of hiring a Sustainability Coordinator [NOTE: much of the information about the ICLEI Planning Pilot has since been removed from the ICLEI web site].

Members of the City Council have told Talk of the Sound that they do not recall the Mayor or anyone also explaining that it was a requirement of the ICLEI Planning Pilot program that the City hire a Sustainability Coordinator. As ICLEI was referenced in the RFP, it would appear some members of Council either failed to reader the entire document before voting on it or did not understand why ICLEI was mentioned in the RFP.

The importance to ICLEI of this position is made clear in ICLEI’s 10 Keys to Sustainability Planning. It is the first item on the list.

Key #1: Hire a sustainability coordinator to run the show
Key #2: Obtain buy in from a big wig
Key #3: Form teams that build bridges across city departments-and beyond city hall
Key #4: Develop a greenhouse gas inventory
Key #5: Define clear relevant and measurable goals
Key #6: Get regular people to tell you what sustainability goals are important to them
Key #7: Develop implementation plans within your plan
Key #8: Take a deep breath and release a draft plan for public comment
Key #9: Obsessively track the implementation status of your measures
Key #10: Remain accountable to the public

Look more closely at #1. What is meant by hire a sustainability coordinator to run the show?

Pre-Milestone Planning: Making a Commitment, Forming a Team

Key #1: Hire a sustainability coordinator to run the show. Many hands will touch a sustainability plan and many voices weigh in, but one person must be the quarterback, and in countless cities that’s a sustainability coordinator. To coordinate the planning process for Baltimore’s sustainability plan, for example, Mayor Sheila Dixon created an Office of Sustainability within the Department of City Planning. The City designated one project manager to coordinate the planning process full-time and added a part-time manager as well.

As a side note. Anyone familiar with Mayor Sheila Dixon? She has been in the national news! Sheila Ann Dixon is an American politician. She was the forty-eighth Mayor of Baltimore, Maryland. On January 9, 2009, Dixon was indicted on twelve counts, including perjury, theft, and misconduct. The charges stem partly from incidents in which she allegedly misappropriated gift cards intended for the poor. On December 1, 2009, the jury returned a "guilty" verdict on one misdemeanor count of fraudulent misappropriation. On January 6, 2010 Dixon announced her resignation as Mayor as part of a plea agreement, effective February 4, 2010.

Anywho...back to our Mayor's Sustainability Coordinator in New Rochelle.

As we can now see, ICLEI defines the role of this person, has a hand in writing the job description, says the person should not be a municipal employee, "helpfully" advertises for the position on its own web site: Job Opening: New Rochelle Sustainability Coordinator.

In fact, ICLEI offers an entire Sustainability Planning Toolkit the core of which is a step-by-step planning guide for municipalities who want to "build a true sustainability strategy for their city". ICLEI says it takes you from how to hire a sustainability coordinator to how to design, implement and monitor a local sustainability plan.

As is made clear many times over, it is very important to ICLEI that they have a person working inside the local government but not actually a part of the local government who is specifically charged with serving as liaison to ICLEI.

An what is the first thing ICLEI expects to come out of this first step in their step-by-step process?

The "Staff Requirement" for the position is:

This position requires an energetic and knowledgeable candidate to develop and implement a City- wide Sustainability Plan and Program, starting with the adoption and implementation of Green Building standards. The position requires extensive experience in the sustainable development arena, demonstrated project design, implementation and management skills and excellent communication skills.

And what are those "Green Building standard"? Those are the LEEDS certifications created by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Can there be any doubt that the core of this entire plan is LEEDS certification?

The first of ICLEI's "key steps" is to hire a Sustainability Coordinator -- an independent contractor who will be "housed" in a centrally located office in City Hall -- and this person's first order of business to bring about the implementation of LEED.

So, why are proponents of this plan including the Mayor trying to dismiss the importance of LEED building standards, claiming it is just of 43 items on their list when it is so obviously the key driver of the plan? Simple. LEED is very expensive and imposes a massive new regulatory structure to control the use of private property and so when communities understand the costs entailed by LEED they balk at it. Better to slip this though without anyone noticing and let people wake up to what has been done only when it is too late.

A final side note about the Sustainability Coordinator. The RFP states "the person in this position will do the necessary cross-departmental work that will be key to the success of the City’s programs, including working with the Mayor and City Council on recommending and prioritizing sustainability activities" yet it was David Kooris from the Regional Planning Association not Deborah Newborn, the person hired by the City to work with the Mayor and City Council who presented the Sustainability Plan to the City Council on April 20th. Why? Where was the person we are paying to work with the City Council?

There are 6 Comments

Bob,

As always, this is illuminating and you raise a number of interesting and valid points. I still though "doubt that the core of this entire plan is LEEDS certification." I do not dispute that LEED certification is a component of the plan. I do not believe, however, that mandated LEED requirements are an essential aspect of the plan.

You cite the job description of the sustainability coordinator as evidence of its central place in the plan. Indeed, the "staff requirement" states:

This position requires an energetic and knowledgeable candidate to develop and implement a City- wide Sustainability Plan and Program, starting with the adoption and implementation of Green Building standards. The position requires extensive experience in the sustainable development arena, demonstrated project design, implementation and management skills and excellent communication skills.

Yes, it does state that the the implementation of the plan will start with the adoption of Green Building standards. That being said, not one of the fifteen job responsibilities references green building standards. I would think if it was truly that central, it would be cited as a job responsibility at least once.

My observation that LEED comprises only a fraction of the plan's total goals has nothing to do with the fact that it probably entails greater costs (or may entail additional regulation). It has to do with your allegations that the entire plan is the spawn of a shadowy radical liberal organization plotting and scheming to get its hooks into New Rochelle in order to hatch its nefarious schemes. I just don't think that this is the case.

For the record, I think I have been relatively clear that I am not in favor of mandating LEED certifications. I think though that it would be only a very minor modification to incentivize but not require LEED compliance instead. It would achieve many of the goals but also avoid a number of issues.

Also for the record, I want to note the preliminary nature of the plan. Mr. Kooris' presentation in part III around the four minute mark states that adoption means a vote of confidence in the plan's primary objectives. He is explicit that it doesn't "prejudge approval" of the legislative actions to achieve its goals. This comports with the ICLEI ten point plan you cite which refers to public comment in three of the ten points. We are at the start of the debate -- not the end.

I understand your worry about overreaching and I share it. I think I have a solution. I would urge adoption of the plan, but with certain community reservations included explicitly. For example, I would suggest the following reservations: (1) cost to taxpayer, (2) invasion of privacy, (3) outside influences, (4) mandatory LEED certification, and/or (5) unfettered development downtown. That way, we can move forward on a plan that has merit, but we can still flag the issues.

Also -- moving quickly matters. Many of the main benefits to New Rochelle as a city hinge on being an early adopter. If we want to attract green jobs or investment, then it pays to get in early. That is why I think there are a number of costs of being over-deliberative before adopting what really amounts to a vision-statement.

Robert Cox's picture

Do you really believe that New Rochelle adopting the Green R plan will give New Rochelle a "competitive advantage"? Over whom? In what? For what? Maybe you do not know that the one large and truly green company in New Rochelle recently pulled up stakes and left -- a solar panel company. They left AFTER the Mayor began work on the ICLEI-Green R program. Other states are already far down this road.

I suppose the difference is that you take both the plan and the Mayor at face value. You believe the Mayor is interested in openness and transparency and I do not. You think the Mayor wants community input and I think he wants to ram things thought without deliberation. In short, you take things as they are present and I look behind the curtain.

In my experience in New Rochelle, the City is rife with corruption and back room deals. This City has a long history of cronyism and government officials feeding at the public trough. Remember, this is the same Mayor who said he thought Dominic Procopio, a man who served at the pleasure of the Mayor, was doing a good job even after Talk of the Sound disclosed that he was pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in illicit property tax exemptions including those reserved for combat veterans despite never having served. Mayor Bramson is a piker, however, compared to those who came before him.

The Mayor is on record saying that he wants our elected representatives to resolve differences behind closed doors, out of public view, to present a unified front. This is how the Board of Education operates as well. The City and BoE both play fast and lose with Open Government laws and have a long history of violating our Open Meeting Laws and Freedom of Information Law.

So far you have said nothing about the fact that the various Green R committees and boards met in secret and have not disclosed any of the working documents used to produce the report. As demonstrated here, they have not made clear the connection between ICLEI and the position of Sustainability Coordinator. The Mayor has shown indifference to the fact that a significant portion of the community cannot even read the report and, as of this writing, has not announced any plans to circulate among the community in smaller forums to take questions from neighborhood and civic groups. The Sustainability Board itself is stacked with environment activist and other "true believes" -- not a sceptic among them as far as I can tell. Not one dissenting voice among the dozens who worked on the plan.

If you wish to dismiss my concerns about the organizations behind the organizations -- "the entire plan is the spawn of a shadowy radical liberal organization plotting and scheming to get its hooks into New Rochelle in order to hatch its nefarious schemes" -- then perhaps you can explain why the Tides Foundation is funding and creating these groups?

You are not disputing that the the Tides Foundation has been spending millions of dollars to create and promote LEED, right?

So, why are they doing it?

Bob,

You raise a lot of good points. I'll go paragraph by paragraph.

A) Competitive advantage. I do really believe this COULD give New Rochelle a competitive advantage. COULD. It might not work. But this is where we are right now. New Rochelle is a great city with a number of strengths -- a great location in terms of proximity to the Long Island Sound and NYC; a great layout in terms of organization around a transportation hub; and a wide array of historic and beautiful buildings downtown. Despite all of this, we have a downtown area that has still has a far way to go.

At the same time, let's look at nationwide trends. The oil crisis and financial meltdown of last year put "sustainable development" and "renewable resources" in the spotlight. This corresponds to a decades in the making upswelling in the urban planning field to encourage livable, walkable cities. These two factors combined have generated a great amount of interest in these concepts.

Now back to New Rochelle. How do we draw investment to the city? We have to think about its strengths -- the strengths I just mentioned. It already is a livable, walkable city with close proximity to transportation right on top of a fantastic natural resource. This has always been the case. But now the interest in sustainability truly gives New Rochelle an opportunity to shine -- to express its natural advantages to an audience who is now, and perhaps only now, exceedingly receptive.

That's really the beauty in my eyes of the plan. Now, it really might not work. This could be great in theory but in practice who knows. It is unfortunate that the green business pulled up stakes. But I would wager that if we had an adopted plan that was more than just lip-service then they would give it a serious think before leaving. Other states might be further down this path, but New Rochelle already has the infrastructure in place to make up that gap.

B) I agree entirely that there is a difference between our view of city government. It is certainly true that you have much more experience with this cast of characters. I'll be upfront that we have lived here for only 3 years (and have only gotten involved in the last few months). But I am going to have to give the Mayor the benefit of the doubt. He has never wronged me personally so it would be wrong of me to not do so. That being said, I'm not saying that I am taking things entirely at face value. Your concerns are valid concerns and I am glad you are raising them. I think that my proposal relating to "community caveats" to the plan is a good one and would help to address this issue.

C) I agree with you that the city has not done a particularly great job of getting the word out. My first inclination was to print the thing out to make it easier to read. It is more than 100 pages -- I scrapped that because it was very wasteful. So I will also give the city the benefit of the doubt here that they didn't want to look like hypocrites in distributing a tome to each of its citizens. There are of course alternatives. I note your pennysaver idea. I would also suggest just printing out the summary pages sans-graphics.

D) I am granting in arguendo that even if the Tides Foundation had any part in LEED certification, then their influence in the plan as a whole is really to a minor component. The most important question, as I have repeatedly emphasized, is whether LEED certification is a good idea for New Rochelle. If it would make people feel better, I can try and author an environmentally-friendly building incentive system, but I can assure you that it wouldn't be as good as one that has been developed by actual builders and refined through nationwide usage.

Why are the people only being given less than two weeks to read the GreenR document and why is the City Council already scheduled to vote in June when no one in the city has had a chance to address this plan? It sounds like the hearing will not make any difference. Are the votes already there on Council?
Obviously these LEEDS building codes will be a tremendous burden on both developers and residents. Putting more development in the downtown area can only serve to lessen the value of all the real estate development in the area. And, you can not separate the parts from the whole. If one section deteriorates, others will follow. Is the civic leader who claims "we live in a slum" correct? GreenR plans may hasten an answer to this question.

Bob and AWasson301, you are both prime examples of what's great about this forum. I only wish more people could see the different facets of these issues as thet are flushed out. I think mandatory subscription to Talk of the Sound would have more impact than 50% subscription to the city's website:)but I digress.
My concerns are not neccessarily with the concept of the sustainability plan but more in the way the process has unfolded. At the inception of the Sustainability Task Force it seemed odd to appoint the Superintendent of Schools as one of it's leaders. Apparently meetings were held to provide a forum for public input but they weren't advertised much, if at all. As a grass root idea this sounded great but flash forwward to present day and suddenly a 100 plus page "manifesto" is dropped in the lap of the public which alludes to the inclusion of adopting school policies that would be consistent with the document's scope. So, did this ICLEI plan play a part in the makeup of the task force behind closed doors? Food for thought.
One thing I think we can all agree on (I hope) is that once something this big gets traction, there's next to zero chance of pulling back if it isn't in New Rochelle's best interest. Not when you look at the forces - good or bad depending on your bias- and their political influence. The city, for whatever reason, couldn't even roll out the 100 page plan for the public at large, let alone the considerable section of non-english speaking business owners, residents and taxpayers. Is it possible this regime is in over it's head when it comes to ICLEI?

Andrew, with all due respect, the reservations you mention are the very reason to hold this plan up for further scrutiny before going forward. Just think, if this plan was made public when the task force was initiated, New Rochelle would already be one year along in defining just what's best for this city.
-Cost to the city - this is not clearly defined. Lateral lines for instance, will cost the residents whether the property owner or a developer replaces them. 10,000 trees? Everything has a price associated with it.
-Invasion of privacy - There is plenty of research and criticism about the move to make buildings not only report their energy use, but to make it public information. The ramifications here are just too dangerous to be discounted. In this day and age it wouldn't take much to assemble a boycott of a business if the public percieves it as using too much electricity or water or whatever.
-Outside influences - all I can say is follow the money. The overtones are ripe with suggestion of the costs to a city in an effort to appease someone else's agenda. Sort of like unfunded mandates and their impact on taxes.
LEED certification - again, plenty of controversy. Leed is not an energy conservation agenda. It has been shown that many buildings, especially the lower LEED rated ones actually use more energy than their non LEED counterparts. A vast majority of LEED buildings wouldn't meet Energy star requirements as outlined by the federal government. In the same way a restaurant might expand it's menu to reach more customers, architectural firms can become LEED certified to broaden their client base($$$). Proper sustainability will result in a return on investment through reduced energy consumption, increased local commerce, and the growth of hyperlocal environments that benefit the residents directly.
-unfetered development - just look at downtown and it's lack of identity. It doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up.

As a vision statement, we could all agree to much of the concepts outlined, but I would hold short of signing on the dotted line. I have higher expectations for this fine city. Through the years, cities like New Rochelle, White Plains, Yonkers have adopted more stringent codes for building and zoning than the smaller towns. New Rochelle's size (7th largest in NY) all but dictates it's need to be a leader by adoptng it's own vision, custom tailored and from within, as an example of not how to follow, but how to lead. Instead of jumping on the coat-tails of the latest movement du jour, create a vision for a New Rochelle that incorporates the best of ideas while ferreting out the baggage that comes along with a universal agenda. As we wait for the next outsider to bring us the answer to our challenges, the world is passing us by. Truly reaching out to the public in more than a cursory fashion would expose the wealth of talent residing within the city limits and help steer the city back to it's once heralded lustre.As for city hall, I heard a West African saying that goes " one must come out of ones house to begin learning".

Here's some places that put some sunshine on LEED policy and performance:

http://www.ohioenvironmentallawblog.com/2009/07/articles/sustainability/...

http://www.timberframe.org/blog/?p=61

http://www.greenrealestatelaw.com/2009/03/nesea-forum-gifford-owens-usgbc/

http://theenergycollective.com/TheEnergyCollective/47221

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/science/earth/31leed.html?_r=4&pagewan...

Thanks for your research and your expose. This is really chilling stuff, no pun intended. At a time when the whole theory of anthropogenic global warming is collapsing, New Rochelle can find better priorities for our taxes as well as our attention.

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