Teeny-tiny Hardenburgh (population: 208) is used to being ignored. With less than three people per square mile, the smallest town in Ulster County is so remote and underpopulated, it doesn't even have its own ZIP code.
With less than a tenth of the population of neighboring Shandaken, Hardenburgh often gets overlooked even on issues dear to the rural western edge of the county: A local committee formed to plan for the future of Belleayre Mountain didn't include Hardenburgh, even though the town sits on the edge of the ski center.
They might not wield much power at the polls, but Ulster County executive Mike Hein is eager to endear himself to Hardenburgh's handful of citizens. Hein paid Hardenburgh a special visit at their town meeting last night, with several staffers in tow, and talked for roughly an hour about what's happening in county government, from redistricting to scandals at the health department to the county's battles with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
The message? It's a new day in Kingston, and the rural residents of Ulster County will be heard.
"It can be done. You can transform government," Hein said.
The Watershed Post was at the meeting, and shot some video. In the video above, Hein talks about ongoing efforts to reform a county government plagued by nepotism and insider politics, the recent redistricting of the county, and how towns are participating in an effort to cut costs at the highway department.
Below is a video with a few clips from a discussion about Belleayre. (For more on Belleayre, see our in-depth story earlier this week on what the future might hold for the beleaguered ski center.)
Hein says that there is a lot of momentum in Albany to turn the management of the ski center over to the Olympic Regional Development Authority, and that if locals want to have influence over what happens at Belleayre, they need to get organized:
And in this last clip, Hein talks about Ulster County's battle with the New York City DEP over water pollution in the Lower Esopus. In it, he argues that having an elected county-wide executive -- a form of government only recently adopted by Ulster County -- has given Ulster County more accountability to its residents, and more clout to take on New York City over water issues.
Elsewhere in the Catskills, counties are governed differently: Greene and Sullivan Counties have elected legislatures, but no county executive. Schoharie and Delaware Counties are governed by county boards made up of the supervisors of their member towns.