Emily Convers retires as United Monroe chair United Monroe motivated people who never involved themselves in hyperlocal town government to get involved
Emily Convers has stepped down as chairwoman of United Monroe. She plans to devote her energies to the non-profit group Preserve Hudson Valley.
By Nancy Kriz MONROE — After five years serving as chair of United Monroe, founder Emily Convers announced her retirement from the organization earlier this week, saying she will now focus her attention on the non-profit Preserve Hudson Valley group. United Monroe’s germination began when an organic, grass roots group was formed using Facebook as its primary way of spreading information and gaining support against the Town of Monroe’s purchase of the former Monroe Movie Theater. That movement snowballed as two controversial land annexation requests by the Village of Kiryas Joel became public, creating a local public affairs/community relations nightmare as community members’ involvement grew exponentially while they relentlessly rallied against the town government. ‘Regular’ town residentsThat initial “Save the Theater” Facebook page morphed into a movement that still powerfully exists and reaffirms that community members can make a difference by getting involved and challenging government actions; why voting really does matter; how social media is a communications platform that continues to grow in power; and even despite opposing viewpoints, agreements can be reached. It was also the birth of real community activism in Monroe, with Convers taking the lead as one of the first community organizers. People who considered themselves just “regular” town residents joined the cause. The numbers of people who would get involved grew. So did their loud voices, fund-raising efforts and legal actions, introducing a community empowerment that’s never been observed before in the town’s history. Their work wasn’t easy, Convers would say, and not without challenges. But efforts didn’t fizzle out, and ultimately, a deal was approved by voters which addresses the needs of Kiryas Joel to have additional land to build high density housing for its growing population, minimizes the amount of land parcels to be annexed to the satisfaction of those who negotiated the pact on behalf of the Town of Monroe and places a 10-year moratorium on any additional annexation requests. Belief. Hope. Work.“I stepped up five years ago because I have a real justice chip,” said Convers. “I saw bad behaviors on the previous town board of Monroe, and I don’t tolerate being lied to. In these five years United Monroe has achieved what many thought impossible. When I started campaigning in 2013, many people would say, ‘What’s the point?’ Or, ‘You’ll never beat the bloc.’ We kept on believing. We kept on hoping. We kept on working. Little by little, we took back our town board.” Convers said United Monroe’s success was due to and continues to be because of the volunteers who donated their time and energy to the cause. “I could not have led United Monroe without people who believed in me and the cause,” she said. “I would like to thank every person who stood by my side, who voted, who marched, who volunteered, who attended a fund raiser, and who have understood that this movement for fair, transparent, accountable, civil governance has always been the goal. It has always been about the greater good. By most accounts, United Monroe was the instrumental force which connected with and educated voters about what it believed was unfair representation on the previous town board. When Kiryas Joel’s annexation requests became the volatile epicenter of issues related to town politics, governance, decision making and quality of life, United Monroe motivated people who never involved themselves in hyperlocal town government to get involved. “We were instrumental in getting more voters to the polls in Monroe elections than ever before,” she said. “Our endorsed candidates now have the majority on the town board and, most amazingly, our activism created the leverage which led Kiryas Joel to file a petition to separate and create their own Town of Palm Tree.” KJ bloc meets UM blocKiryas Joel’s voting bloc was always an issue of concern to those living in the town. “United Monroe’s creation, and the formation of our very own voting bloc consisting of people from all political persuasions, changed all of that,” Convers said. “United Monroe’s years of both political activism and legal leverage created the pressure which led to Kiryas Joel filing to separate, Separation means that the influential voting bloc no longer has control over Monroe Town government. This means the potential for peaceful coexistence, as Monroe is able to control its density and zoning going forward.” Likewise, she added, Kiryas Joel can also move forward with its plans that differ dramatically from that of the Town of Monroe. “Sharing a town, and town board and voting in town elections together was no longer sustainable or viable,” she said. “Soon, the people of Monroe would have had no say in their town elections. Separation was a necessity. United Monroe made separation a possibility and then worked for it to become a reality.” Though United Monroe supporters may say the issues of the forthcoming creation of Palm Tree, the town’s leadership and school district boundary adjustments have been addressed, they and the greater Orange County community know the challenges of how to address high density housing versus a more suburban/rural housing environment and peaceful co-existence among different cultures, among other issues, still remain. Additionally, while the numbers of voters going to the polls continue to show United Monroe’s base of support exists - look at the voter turnout in the November 2017 as an example, there were and still are opponents who are vocal in their disagreement of the movement’s mission and recent outcomes. “This didn’t happen without considerable struggle and sacrifice,” said Convers, declining to comment on the opposition’s viewpoints or specific individuals. “This didn’t happen without some blood, sweat and definitely tears. I put myself in this position. I volunteered. I say all of this because it’s a lesson in standing up. It comes with a price. But it’s worth it. And I wouldn’t change my decision to lead the amazing people of United Monroe for anything.” And Convers has no regrets. “I can say that all of our experiences in this life are opportunities to learn and to do better,” she said. “I learned a tremendous amount about public speaking, group dynamics, leadership, community organizing, elections, politics, and every step was an important growth opportunity for me. I wish to focus on the positive, palpable impacts United Monroe has made on our community. The support from the community has been overwhelming, as evidenced by years of incredible poll numbers in local elections, and by the thousands of member supporters.” Looking aheadConvers still plans to stay involved with what United Monroe does, just from a different vantage point. “I am very hopeful for Monroe in the hands of the current town board,” she said. “I have hope that the major issues of concern in Monroe such as development, water, taxes, preservation and the movie theater, to name a few, will all be addressed under Supervisor Cardone’s leadership. I am hopeful that the Village of Monroe downtown sees a much needed revitalization, and that zoning and codes are updated and upheld. I hope that the people of Monroe stay engaged and informed, and I trust that the remaining members of United Monroe will continue to make sure that happens.”