Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Last Day of July

Many things are set to happen this Friday, the last day of July. Consolidated Funding Applications are due. For the City of Hudson, that means applications for grants to fund "storm water treatment units" on upper Union Street, new water mains on one block of State Street and one block of Third Street, upgrades to the pump station on Power Avenue, and a ramp of unknown design at Promenade Hill

According to the Albany Business Review and the Associated Press, Friday is also the day that the New York State Department of Health is expected to announce the five companies that will be licensed to grow and dispense medical marijuana. One of the forty-three companies in the running is the Good Green Group, which, if they get licensed, might establish their growing facility in 40,000 square feet of the former L&B building, or they might decide to grow their cannabis in the old Roe Jan Central School on Route 22 in Copake.

The Largesse of Galvan

Gossips reported it first. Now the Register-Star picks up the story: "Galvan gives Promise Neighborhood the boot." The details of greatest interest in John Mason's article are that Housing Resources of Columbia County is now called Galvan Housing Resources, and Galvan is looking to quadruple the rent for the commercial spaces in the building once known as the Shrimp Box, raising the rent for the space now occupied by Promise Neighborhood from $800 a month to $3,200 a month. 

And to think, Mayor Hallenbeck believes Eric Galloway deserves the key to the city.

About the Grant for Promenade Hill

Once again a roomful of people showed up to see what was planned for Promenade Hill, and once again they were disappointed. Those who had attended the previous meeting, held more than a month ago, were disappointed because they expected to see a conceptual design, but what what they got was a "schematic" of the ramp, impossible for the lay person to interpret, and a proposed budget for the project that sets the total "ask" at $226,000 with $60,000 designated for the ramp.

Those who were present at the urging of Second Ward alderman Tiffany Garriga were disappointed because a universal access ramp wasn't going to be built tomorrow. When John "Duke" Duchessi of TGW Consultants attempted to explain the process, a woman cut him off, saying, "I'm tired of hearing the words; I want to see the work." She also alleged, "If this was uptown, it would have been done."

Both Duchessi and his colleague Bill Roehr stressed that the goal of the grant application was building the ramp. Roehr began the meeting by explaining the ramp was difficult "because of the incline," noting that the big challenge was "the differential" and the fact that it was "right on the axial projection of Warren Street." In other words, he recognized that we don't want something like this at the end of the city's major street.

Someone at the meeting, whose name will not be revealed for his own protection (preservationists can be scathing), suggested that the center section of Promenade Hill could be "sculpted down" to provide universal access to the park's scenic views. Roehr appropriately responded that "messing with the contours of the park"--our 220-year-old, National Register-listed parade--was not an option.

The elevation drawings, which presumably will provide a better sense of what the proposed ramp would look like, were not ready in time for the meeting, but they will have to be ready before the grant is submitted on Friday. When Gossips asked when, the answer was tomorrow. As soon as the drawings are available, they will be published here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Negativity Park No More?

Many remember--because it was just a matter of days ago--when Washington Square, a.k.a. Courthouse Square, was studded with signs proclaiming what was not allowed. There were so many signs informing the public of what was prohibited that some were inspired to dub the space "Negativity Park." Now only the one of those signs remains (possibly an oversight?), and people may have to start calling it by its rightful name.

Except for the one shown above, the "No Dogs on Lawn" signs have disappeared, perhaps in recognition of the fact that dogs will walk on the lawn no matter what the signs say, and been replaced by three signs reminding dog walkers that the law requires them to keep their dogs on a leash and to pick up after them.

More evidence that the square may be trying to shed its reputation for negativity is the gazebo, which used to be surrounded by a chain, have chains across both stairs that give access to it, and be trimmed by signs warning against climbing on, writing on, sitting on, or even gazing on the gazebo. Now the chains are gone, and there is word that benches have been designed to fit inside the gazebo so that on a pleasant summer day one might sit in the gazebo and perhaps even enjoy one's lunch there.

Now if only something could be done, beyond making in-kind repairs, with the rest of the benches in the park.


Get Ready . . .

ForbesLife recently recommended Hudson as the alternative of choice to the Hamptons for people who want to get out of the city (i.e., New York City) for the weekend: "Get Out of Dodge: 9 Reasons to Visit Hudson, New York." The first reason? The Inn at Hudson.


Like Father Like Daughter; Choice & No Choice

In today's Register-Star, John Mason has the rundown of the candidates running for local office this year. A sweet coincidence, called an irony by Rick Scalera, is that his daughter Lauren, who is vying for a seat on the Common Council, is the same age he was when he made his first run for office back in 1973. He was 23 then; she is 23 now. Gossips found a picture of Rick Scalera in a Republican campaign insert (yes, he started his political career running as a Republican) that was distributed with the Register-Star a few days before the election in 1973. The picture of Lauren Scalera is from her Facebook page.

Lauren Scalera is further following her father's example by trying to get her name on every possible party line on the ballot. She's got the Conservative and Independence party lines sewn up, but she ran into some snags with the Democrats and the Republicans. The Democratic committee didn't endorse her, so she is having to challenge the two candidates they did endorse--Alexis Keith and Rich Volo--to get her name on the Democratic line. The Republican committee endorsed her, but committee chair George DeJesus neglected to file the Wilson Pakula forms required if a registered Democrat is to run as a Republican, so she, along with a few other non-Republicans wishing to run as Republicans (Bob Donahue, Priscilla Moore, and her dad), is going to have to get Republicans to write in her name in the primary in September if she is to get on the Republican line in November.

Elections are supposed to be about choice, but this year in Hudson the choices will be limited. For the citywide offices, Democrat Tiffany Martin Hamilton is challenging incumbent Republican William Hallenbeck for mayor. With Common Council president Don Moore deciding not to seek a fourth term in that position, there are three candidates looking to replace him: Democrat Victor Mendolia, who also has the Working Families line; Republican Claudia DeStefano, who also has the Conservative and Independence lines; and Tom DePietro, who will be running on his own party line. For city treasurer, incumbent Heather Campbell, an NOP endorsed by the Democrats, will be running unopposed.

The choices thin out when it comes to representatives to the Common Council and the Board of Supervisors. In the First Ward, the only race will happen in the September, when incumbent aldermen Rick Rector and Nick Haddad vie with Michael O'Hara for the two alderman spots on the Democratic ticket. Rector and O'Hara have the Democrats' endorsement; Haddad does not. But after the primary, there's no contest. The two candidates who win the primary in September will run unopposed in November, as will Democrat Sarah Sterling, who is running unopposed for reelection as First Ward supervisor.

In the Second Ward, there may as well be no election--at least not for ward representation. Abdus Miah, Tiffany Garriga, and Ed Cross--all incumbents and all Democrats--are running unopposed for the ward's alderman (Miah and Garriga) and supervisor (Cross) positions.

In the Third Ward, the situation is pretty much the same: there are no contests, either in the primary or the general election. But there was a bit of angst getting to this point. After not endorsing incumbent alderman Henry Haddad, the Democratic committee tried to find another candidate for alderman. Former Register-Star reporter Jamie Larson briefly stepped forward and got the committee's blessing, but he dropped out so soon afterward that no petition signatures were gathered for him. Haddad, however, without the committee's support, obtained the required signatures and filed his petitions, so he and the other incumbent, John Friedman, both Democrats, will be running unopposed in November. Longtime Third Ward representative Ellen Thurston, who has served three terms as alderman and two terms as supervisor, decided not to seek reelection, but there is no competition to fill her slot. Don Moore, who decided not to seek reelection as Council president, is running unopposed for Third Ward supervisor.

In the Fourth Ward, there will be a contest for the two alderman seats both in the primary and the general election. In the primary, Democrats must choose two candidates from three: Rich Volo, incumbent Alexis Keith, and Lauren Scalera; and Republicans must vote for Derrick Smart and/or write in the candidate(s) of their choice. The winners of the primary will face each other in the general election. For Fourth Ward supervisor, incumbent Bill Hughes, who has held the position since 2008, is running unopposed. 

In the Fifth Ward, there will be a primary only for Republicans, who must write in the names of the people they want as their candidates. The assumption is those names will be Bob Donahue and Priscilla Moore. Those two candidates will face the Democrats' choices, Justin Goodman and Ken Hollenbeck, in November. For Fifth Ward supervisor, Rick Scalera is running unopposed on just about every line.

CEDC Watch

Sam Pratt has the latest news of developments within Columbia Economic Development Corporation: "Crawford resignation rumored this morning; some members have been meeting in secret."

Monday, July 27, 2015

Officer Miller: A New Phase in His Career

When Officer Miller had been on the police force for almost a decade, the nature of his work, judging from the newspaper accounts, changed. With the advent of Prohibition in 1920, Officer Miller made fewer arrests for public drunkenness. Of course, Prohibition didn't eliminate drinking in Hudson. It just put breweries out of business and forced people to do their drinking behind closed doors. And it didn't keep Officer Miller from having to deal with inebriated people, either.

At midnight on a Sunday in October 1922, Officer Miller had to rescue four seamen who nearly drowned when the rowboat they boarded to carry them back to their ship--a Standard Oil tanker, "which had been discharging a cargo of oil here"--capsized. The Columbia Republican for October 3, 1922, reported that the sailors were returning to their ship from a "hootch party."  

In the brave new world of policing at the end of the 1910s and 1920s, Officer Miller became a motorcycle cop. Unfortunately, the first incident reported involving Officer Miller and his motorcycle, which appeared in the Columbia Republican for July 8, 1919, tells how he was injured when he fell off his motorcycle. Officer Miller, on his motorcycle, gave chase when he saw four strangers--motorcyclists from New York City--speeding up Warren Street and not keeping to the right. Officer Miller's bike overturned when he was making a right turn from Warren Street into Worth Avenue, and Officer Miller, barely missing hitting his head on a stone wall, suffered "a broken wrist, a cracked rib and other painful but not serious injuries." The miscreant motorcyclists escaped, heading south. The Hudson police chief notified the Poughkeepsie police, and the four were arrested as soon as they reached at the city limits of Poughkeepsie.

In 1922, Officer Miller redeemed his reputation as a motorcyclist a bit when the Hudson police got word that a car stolen in Poughkeepsie was heading their way. Officer Miller and Officer Raynor "were sent uptown to be on the lookout." In this account from the Hudson Evening Register for April 18, 1922, the subject of the first sentence is Officer Miller.

Thank goodness Hudson police officers have given up the practice of shooting at the tires of fleeing cars! The Hudson police failed to stop it, but the car--a big Hudson speedster--was recovered the next day, "stripped of its plates and other equipment" and deserted in Stuyvesant Falls. 

In the 1920s, Officer Miller seemed to spend much of his time being a traffic cop. Newspaper articles regularly reported his arrests for various minor traffic violations. More than once it is reported that he arrested drivers--one of them a woman from Greenport--for driving past a trolley car discharging passengers. But the best story of an arrest by Officer Miller for a vehicular violation is this one, which appeared in the Columbia Republican on July 18, 1922. 

Newspapers of first half of the 20th century rarely included pictures, so no picture of Officer Frank Miller has yet been discovered. It's nice to think, though, that Officer Miller is one of the policemen astride motorcycles in this photograph.


A Literary Gift from France

Byrne Fone & Alain Pioton
Most readers know Byrne Fone as the author of the favorite book of Hudson history, Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait, which was published in 2005 and remains in print. In 2008, he and his partner, Alain Pioton, left Hudson to take up an idyllic life in the France. Recently, Byrne shared these memories of his years in Hudson with me. Because it tells of a time before many readers found their way to our beloved city, I asked Byrne if I could publish it on Gossips, and he agreed. 

Alain Pioton and Byrne Fone
In 2008 Alain and I left Hudson, by 2008 a glittering and indeed fabled place, and moved to a quieter life in France. For three decades we had been involved with and for part of that time lived in Hudson: Alain running the antiques shop that he had opened in 1982, thus making it the probably the first, while I helped out with various civic organizations (as one of the founders of the Hudson Opera House and as a board member of TSL, and Historic Hudson, and for a time President of HADA). My avocation was looking into the history of the city, research that eventually resulted in Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait which told the 200-year-long history of Hudson and illustrated it with engravings from the 18th and photographs from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

We came to Hudson after years in New York City, for in the late 1970s we bought a house in Pine Plains, and on a Sunday drive we discovered Hudson. We did not know there was a city there at all, but when we turned the corner at Third and Warren on that Sunday in 1980 we both said, "Oh my god, look at that!"

What we saw was, of course, history, running the length of Warren street from the 18th century to that day. We both had no doubt that Hudson was going to "happen," as is said, and so confident were we that we eventually bought two houses on Allen Street and two on Warren, a purchase not so gilded or grand as it sounds if one recalls prices in Hudson thirty years ago.

One of them, on Warren, became the shop, first called The Hudson Antiques Center and then Alain Pioton Antiques. In the Center, opened in 1982, Alain soon had a few intrepid dealers, who found they did well in the shop and so opened their own shops and that is how the Hudson antiques phenomenon began. Some of those early dealers in Alain's shop are there today, among them Jennifer Arenskjold, then Jennifer Kermath, who, now that Alain has retired and closed his shop, has surely and deservedly inherited his "title" of doyen, to become the doyenne of Hudson dealers.

During those decades Alain saw Hudson fantastically change. From lonely days at 536 Warren Street in the 1980s when he was the only door open, to 2008 when he closed the shop to return to France, he saw the city become gentrified and his clientele grow and change from anonymous browsers to major designers and celebrity names. He saw what had been an empty city of empty shops become known not only for antiques, but for art, music, and food, as well as for celebrated shoppers and flaneurs, and saw Hudson itself become a celebrity; become indeed almost unbearably well-known.

We had been going to France and the Dordogne for many years, vacationing at our first house, a 15th-century rambling affair near Seint-Cyprien, and then later from our present house, La Millasserie, and from both we made buying trips around France searching out French antiques for Alain's gallery--pretty things from the 18th to the 20th century--that came in container after container over the years.

Those buying trips all over France were business for Alain, but they were also fun for us both, and they were a summer respite for me from my work as Professor of English at the City University of New York, where I taught 18th-century English and 19th-century American literature and where later in my career I began to teach a course called Gay Literature, one of the very first in the U.S.

We had always felt that France had charms that perhaps we could not resist, and we began to think about living permanently there. By 2003 we decided we wanted to do it, and we began to make plans for a new life, not one selling antiques, nor for either of us living in idleness, which we couldn't afford to do in any case. The obvious choice was to rely on past experience and open a B&B, for we had had one in our house in Chatham. So there it was. Our French house didn't have extra bedrooms, and so in 2005, for the B&B, we began to build a four-room addition to the 17th century house in the style of the period and the region.

But before we could make the final translation to another life we had to go back to Hudson, to sell our house on South Fifth Street and move into the apartment above the shop, and to begin the long process of selling that building, and Alain to begin the equally long process of closing the shop. 

I had to finish an uncompleted project. I had been working on my pleasant labor of research and love, Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait. It appeared in late 2005. It would be my last research project and the last book I would write in the U.S. In France, I have turned to fiction.

At end of summer in 2008 Alain closed his shop after almost 30 years in business. Indeed by the time Alain closed in 2008, Alain Pioton Antiques was the oldest shop in Hudson. In October we said farewell to Hudson and the U.S. Our last address in the U.S. was on Warren Street in Hudson. My first address in the U.S. was on Warren Street in Brooklyn, an unanticipated omen of closure and a pleasant circularity. I brushed up my French, and Alain came happily back to his native land. We have never regretted it.

We are here now, and when the B&B isn’t keeping us busy, as it does from May to October, I write--novels now. We see our friends, French, and expat English, Dutch, and American. We go to the village farmers' markets where we can get fresh everything. We met in America in 1977. We were married in France in 2013.

I often think that the sensations are heightened here in what the French call la France profonde, deep France. The taste of food, the sweetness of the country air after one of the spectacular late-summer thunderstorms that role ominously though the region, suddenly etching the sky with alarmingly jagged bolts of lightening. The drowsy rich summer days, followed by cool autumn nights and then the chill brilliance of a mid-winter frost, not just the light millimeter thick coating of American frost, but a thick, glittering covering, laid on as if with a brush, like brilliant icing studded with tiny diamonds on some elegant pastry.

Perhaps because men and women have for so long worked the fields and every inch of land that can be tilled, the entire countryside has the effect of having been landscaped by some master hand. That stand of ramrod straight dark green cypress trees just over there—is it by chance that it grows in such an elegant placement, seemingly deliberate in its arrangement against the amazing blue of the late summer sky, standing as a vertical backdrop to the vast horizontal swath of golden sunflowers that cover the hillside, yellow heads peering up at the sun and turning to follow it? Picturesque sheep graze. Complacent cows, mellow red coats alive against the green, stand or lie together beneath a shady tree. A lonely donkey forages in a field. Bells sound from church towers--it is the time of the Angelus.

History sounds in those bells, and it is present there just as it is in the lichen-covered golden stone of every ancient house, in the narrow streets of ancient tiny villages, in the hauteur of a forbidding and crenellated chateau that towers imposingly next to a rushing river. History seems to infuse the very air of the Perigord, heir to all the ages of eternal France. There is indeed mystery here, and some say that it was born with the magic that scholars claim the ancient cave paintings may have been trying to conjure.

Whatever the cause, the Perigord is indeed the most magical and the most beautiful region in all of France, and as you drive along a narrow country road, the rich dark forest bordering either side, you suddenly see in the distance ghost-like towers rising above the trees, floating, it almost seems, on the horizon, the misty towers of a castle in the air.

But Hudson was a fable too, and fabulous. How fortunate we were to be in Hudson in 1980, at the beginning of it, and we listen now with amazement to tales of what Hudson has become, always reinventing itself, as it always has. Here in deep France, we remember Hudson, and just a little bit, we miss it. 
--Byrne Fone

Meeting Reminder

Tomorrow night, there is a meeting at which it is expected the conceptual plan for a universal access ramp and other enhancements to Promenade Hill will be presented. The meeting takes place at 7 p.m. at 1 North Front Street. 


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Update on the "Energy Highway"

Last Tuesday and Wednesday--July 21 and 22--the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) held a two-day Technical Conference to evaluate the proposed high-voltage power lines that would run through a major swath of the Hudson Valley, including Columbia and Dutchess counties. At that conference, expert consultants for the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition (HVSEC) outlined "the unique importance of the Hudson Valley's environmental and scenic resources as well as a host of federal and state public policies and investments aimed at protecting this valuable 'green infrastructure.'" 

Ian Solomon of coalition member group Farmers and Families for Claverack is quoted in a press release issued by HVSEV on Thursday as saying:
Although we find that we are largely in agreement with the PSC staff regarding the relative impact of the various proposals, it's important to understand the process is far from over. In Claverack, we are concerned that two of the proposals recommended to move forward would increase the height of local towers by as much as 20 feet, while removing the forested buffer that shields historic residential neighborhoods from the power lines. We are also concerned that the process is moving forward with the actual need still not having been proven, despite ample evidence calling need into question. If one of these proposals is approved, the ratepayer and property owner will see largely risk with little to no reward, while the opposite is true for the developers. Because of this, it is crucial to establish need before substantially moving forward. We look forward to having this discussion when the PSC is ready.
The entire press release can be read here. The part of the Technical Conference that will focus on need has been postponed so that PSC staff can evaluate new power generation capacity expected to come on line, further reducing the rationale for the currently proposed transmission solutions.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Dining Out with Dogs

It's already allowed at some places in Hudson, but soon eating establishments all over New York State may be able officially to allow dogs to accompany their humans in their gardens and outdoor dining areas.  

In May, the New York State Senate unanimously passed a bill that would allow dogs, accompanied by their humans, into the outdoor areas of restaurants, cafes, and bars--provided the owners of the establishments agree. In June, the Assembly version of the bill, co-sponsored by our own assemblymember Didi Barrett, passed by an overwhelming 97 to 5. The legislation now awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo's signature. 

Please show your support by contacting the governor's office to ask him please to sign the legislation that will allow dogs to accompany their humans in the outdoor portions of willing restaurants.

Pop-Up Garden Tour Today and Tomorrow

For everyone missing the Mrs. Greenthumbs Day Garden Tour this year (the organizers decided to make it a biennial event), there's a little compensation for you this weekend. Inspired by this morning's lovely weather, Sarah Sterling is opening her garden at 243 Union Street for visitation today and tomorrow from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Admission to the garden is free but donations are gratefully accepted for the Mrs. Greenthumbs Hedge Fund--a fund designated to repair the ravages of neglect and abuse suffered by trees and plantings in the city's parks.

Ear to the Ground

Last June, Housing Resources of Columbia County, Inc., and the Galvan Foundation announced "their agreement to collaborate in the provision of affordable housing in the City of Hudson and Columbia County." As a first manifestation of the new partnership, "Galvan representatives," among them T. Eric Galloway (the Gal of Galvan) and Henry van Ameringen (the van), joined the Housing Resources Board of Directors.

This week, there's word that the tenants of the ground floor commercial spaces in the buildings at Second and Warren owned by Housing Resources have been notified that their leases will not be renewed. Those tenants include Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood, on the South Second Street side of the building, and Warren St. Discount and Warren St. Market, on the Warren Street side of the building.


How's He Doing?

On April 20, 2112, 100 days after he began his first term in office, the Register-Star published an interview with Mayor William Hallenbeck in which he outlined his "highest priorities, biggest issues as mayor of the friendly city": "100 days deep, with goals aplenty."  

Today, 100 days before the election in which Hallenbeck is seeking a third term in office, mayoral challenger Tiffany Martin Hamilton looks back at that interview to assess how effective the mayor has been in achieving his goals: "Let the campaign begin: Challenger questions mayor's record."

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Big Fix

While the mayor and the Common Council are wrawling over two details of the ward boundaries, the Legal Committee is pursuing a multistep plan, which probably will not be fully implemented until 2018, to redivide the city into five "equipopulos districts" and eliminate the arcane and inequitable weighted vote system. This journey of a thousand miles begins with a resolution to hold a referendum this November "to decide if the manner of voting pursuant to Charter 12-13 shall be amended and the manner of such amendment."

The resolution, which the Legal Committee agreed Wednesday to move forward to the full Council in August, proposes that the following question appear on the ballot in the general election on November 3:
Shall the Common Council of the City of Hudson amend the City Charter to replace the current method of weighted voting utilized by the Common Council with voting districts of equal population such that every resident of the City of Hudson is equally represented on the City Council?
The referendum is just the beginning. As Legal Committee chair John Friedman (Third Ward) noted, "All the work happens after this referendum." That work includes appointing, by a convoluted formula meant to ensure that it is both apolitical and nonpartisan, a "Redistricting Commission" that will be given a year to come up with a scheme to divide the city into five districts of equal population. Once that's accomplished, another referendum will be required to adopt the plan.

Hallenbeck Vetoes, Moore Responds

Yesterday, Mayor William Hallenbeck vetoed the resolution passed by the Council to file an Article 78 lawsuit to compel the Columbia County Board of Elections to change the ward boundaries to conform with the description of those boundaries set forth in the city charter. The mayor's two-page veto message can be read here. It turns out the mayor was too busy writing his veto message to attend the HCDPA board meeting at which the three members who did show up voted two to one against providing $100,000 for the senior center.

In his veto statement, Hallenbeck sets forth four points that are the "grounds for his belief" that the City should not proceed with an Article 78. (1) He talks about the ward boundaries in the charter being different from the boundaries the Board of Elections has used "for decades upon decades." (2) He suggests that the Board of Elections must have been instructed to change the ward boundaries at some point. (3) He mentions the unsuccessful referendum in 2003 to change the ward boundaries. (4) He accuses Council president Don Moore of shifting the residents of Crosswinds from the Fourth Ward to the Fifth Ward when he gave the 2010 census data to Lee Papayanopoulos to calculate the weighted vote.

Soon after Hallenbeck issued his veto message, Moore made this statement in an email:
The Mayor’s veto message on the ward boundaries resolution is two pages of contradictory fog and finger pointing, except at himself. He acts as if he hasn’t been in office for the last year, or the last four years, when the subject of boundaries, or for that matter weighted voting (which has nothing to do with correcting the Ward boundaries), were discussed. Last year, it was brought to the Mayor’s and the Council’s attention that the boundaries clearly described in the City Charter, the law, were not being followed. It seemed a simple matter to fix. When the conflict came to light, yes, I took the initiative to see where the problem lay and what needed to be done to correct it. Eligible voters are supposed to vote in the Wards where they live, not in a Ward where they don’t live. That is the law in Hudson. It's the law all over the country. Everywhere. Somewhere in the distant past, whether it was ten years ago or forty, no one with whom I spoke had any knowledge of when or by whom the voting district lines were changed. Frankly, it didn’t matter. What would be gained by taking time to figure out how it had happened? What problem would that solve? None. It would delay correcting the error. I made that clear to the Mayor and to the Council when I discussed the issue with them. In order to confirm the lawful boundaries, we engaged a certified surveyor to map the boundaries. In April, the city attorney sent the map to the Board of Elections with a request to adjust the boundaries. All of this was public. If the Mayor cared to take a different position, he could have had the decency to say so months ago.

Trouble in Paradise

Last Saturday, at his reelection campaign kickoff, Mayor William Hallenback announced that the senior center at the Armory, a.k.a. the Galvan Community Learning Center, would open in forty-five days. Now Daniel Kent, executive director of the Galvan Foundation, says there will be no senior center if HCDPA (Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency) doesn't cough up the $100,000 it committed to the senior center back in 2012 when the expectation was that a new facility would be built with CDBG funds. Sheena Salvino, executive director of HCDPA, says giving $100,000 to Galvan would bankrupt the agency. John Mason has the whole story in today's Register-Star: "Agency board says no money for Galvan."

Thursday, July 23, 2015

More About Tuesday's Meeting: Part 4

Gossips has already covered the biggest stories from Tuesday night's Council meeting. Here are the remaining issues of interest.

Grant for HPD  The Common Council unanimously passed a resolution to accept a $10,000 donation from the Abatecola family foundation "to be used for the general purposes of the Hudson Police Department." Back in February, it seemed the money was to be earmarked for a K-9 unit. The resolution, however, clearly stipulates that the funds "shall not be used to fund a K-9 unit." When Alderman Rick Rector (First Ward) drew attention to the stipulation, police commissioner Gary Graziano explained, "I tabled the K-9 program."

So Long, Solar  At the end of May, Gossips discovered that the City had issued an RFP (request for proposal) for a solar project that would provide all the electricity used by the City in its various buildings and plants. (It has never been clear if electricity for the City's streetlights was part of this project.) The request for RFPs seemed to be inspired by Herbert Ortiz and his pitch to get the City to enter into a twenty-year contract with his company, Energy in the Bank.

On Tuesday night, Common Council president Don Moore announced that the RFP for a solar project that would provide "all the electricity for the City from a single vendor had proven to be too difficult" and the RFP had been withdrawn.

Police & Court Building The architect's cost analysis and proposed design modifications have been received and the value engineering has been completed. Now the Council must once again take up the issue of the proposed new police and court building at 701 Union Street. 

At Tuesday's meeting, Council president Don Moore announced that the mayor wanted a special meeting to assess the situation. Moore agrees but only if the Council is going to act on the project. So it seems there may be a special meeting, or the project may not be taken up until the Council's regular meeting in August. Either way, the City is a little behind schedule on the plan that was submitted to the Office of Court Administration on June 1. According to that plan, July 21 was the milestone for "completion of value engineering, discussions and modifications to existing plans and specifications, issuance of amended bond resolution, approval of modified plans and specifications, and issuance of bidding documents."

More About Tuesday's Meeting: Part 3

There was a resolution before the Council to bring an Article 78 lawsuit against Columbia County seeking "a judicial order compelling the County to enforce the ward boundaries established in the Hudson City Charter and Code." This action stems from the discovery earlier this year that two of the ward boundaries that have been used by the Board of Elections for decades differ from the boundaries defined in the city charter. The two boundaries in question are the boundary between the Fourth and Fifth wards in the area of Harry Howard Avenue and the boundary between the Third and Fifth wards in the area of Columbia Street and Columbia Turnpike. How or why the boundaries came to be changed, no one knows, but some members of the Common Council want the Board of Elections to amend the boundaries to conform to what is described in the charter, and Republican commissioner of elections Jason Nastke is unwilling to do so. The resolution calling for an Article 78 to compel him to act is filled with words and phrases stressing the gravity and the urgency of the situation: "continued intransigence," "threatens to create chaos," "undermines our system of government and representative democracy," and "angst and grief."

During the discussion of the resolution, Alderman Bart Delaney (Fifth Ward) suggested the matter should go to referendum "to let the people decide." City attorney Carl Whitbeck explained that the charter was clear and bringing an Article 78 would force the County to take action. Alderman Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward), seeming to confuse the issue at hand with a complete redistricting, brought up the fact that a referendum had failed in 2003. Whitbeck noted that the suit was directed against one person, Jason Nastke, explained that the Board of Elections was being asked to correct mistakes or unauthorized changes that had been introduced by the Board of Election at some time in the past, and reiterated that the charter was clear about where the boundaries should be.

When the vote was taken, five aldermen--Robert "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward), Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), Keith, Abdus Miah (Second Ward), and Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward)--voted against it. Before the vote was tallied, Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) declared, "I'm in a room full of stupid people." Despite the opposition, the resolution passed with 1,104 ayes (a majority is 1,015) and 924 nos.

Breaking News: Gossips just received word that the mayor has vetoed the resolution to bring an Article 78 lawsuit against Columbia County. He wants instead for the language of the charter to be changed to reflect the practice, and his objection to the Council's proposed course of action reflects some of the spirit of the resolution: "The stress and confusion that would be placed on the voters of these respected wards placing them in new wards to vote just prior to an upcoming election would be significant." The mayor's entire veto message can be read here. It should be noted that the mayor lives in one of the affected areas--a part of the city currently identified by the Board of Elections as being in the Third Ward but which according to the charter is really part of the Fifth Ward.

More About Tuesday's Meeting: Part 2

Many of the issues before the Council on Tuesday night shared a common theme: North Bay. The next issue is one of those: the Furgary Boat Club.

In May, the Council passed a resolution authorizing Ambient Environmental, Inc., to complete asbestos and lead-based paint testing on the shacks at the Furgary Boat Club. That resolution indicated that the amount to be paid for this testing would not exceed $4,500. As it happens, Ambient has taken more than a hundred samples from the site, from layer upon layer of building materials, and has now upped the cost of doing the analysis to $11,262. A resolution was before the Council on Tuesday to authorize taking the addition $6,762 from the fund balance, but the aldermen balked at passing it.

The goal of doing environmental testing was the possibility of avoiding the cost of demolition by having the structures razed by DPW workers. The alternative, Council president Don Moore explained, was to "contract it out and treat it all as hazardous waste."

Observing that the new amount nearly trebled the original amount, Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) declared it a waste of money. "We know it's dirty," he argued.

It was decided that the Council would get an estimate from Meyers Contracting for the demolition, treating everything on the site as hazardous waste, and any action on the resolution authorizing more money for asbestos and lead-based paint testing would be deferred until an estimate for demolition was obtained.

Meanwhile, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has not yet produced its findings on the eligibility of the site or any part of it for historic designation. A representative of SHPO visited the site in October 2014, but no official findings could be released because no one had filed a formal request for determination of eligibility. Upon discovering this back in May, Gossips, acting as an interested third party, filed a formal request through the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Cultural Resource Information System. The request was deemed complete and assigned a project number (15PRO2455) on May 19. Two months later, there is still no word from SHPO, and time is running out.

More About Tuesday's Meeting: Part 1

We've already covered the big stories from Tuesday's Common Council meeting--the controversial grant-funded sewer project and new grant applications. Today, we'll start covering other issues of interest from the meeting, beginning with Foster's Refrigeration.

Cleaning up this major brownfield site at North Second and Dock streets, which somehow ended up being the City's responsibility, has been a topic of discussion for longer than most people have been paying attention. At Tuesday's Common Council meeting, Council president Don Moore asked former perennial mayor Rick Scalera to talk about the project's history. Scalera recounted that once upon a time the state had set the cost of remediating the site at $1 million; HCDPA (Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency) committed $100,000 to make the City's match; but it turned out the state had no money for the project, and HCDPA withdrew its match.

What Scalera didn't mention was his scheme to get Jim Bent, who in 2009 had demolished two of the three Hudson River Knitting Mill buildings on North Front Street for the salvage rights, to do the same for Foster's Refrigeration. Bent started the project in 2010 but abandoned it soon after he'd started, presumably because the site was too contaminated. 

On Tuesday, the Council was concerned once again with Foster's Refrigeration because they needed to appropriate more money toward its remediation. The City has a grant from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to clean up the site, and the City has agreed to reimburse DEC 10 percent of the total project cost. It was originally thought that remediation "at a fairly minimal level" would cost about $250,000, and in October 2014, the Council authorized a 10 percent match not to exceed $42,700. Now DEC has informed the City that the cleanup will cost $950,600, so the Council had to authorize the city treasurer to provide another $52,300 from the fund balance to make the 10 percent match.

So it seems that the Foster's Refrigeration site may finally be cleaned up, but for what purpose? 

Back in April 2012, Mayor Hallenbeck suggested the site as a location for a dog park, but by November of that year, Bill Roehr, of TGW Consultants, had his eye on it for other purposes. Gossips reported him saying at that time, "The thing we'd really like is to work with the Columbia Land Conservancy on this to take the site, which is pretty ugly and is a blighting influence, and do enough to provide for an environmental remedy [on order to turn the site into a parking area and entrance way to the hiking trails that are part of CLC's Concept Master Plan for North Bay]." It would seem that the site is large enough to accommodate both parked cars and romping dogs, but, of course, Tiffany Garriga maintains that her constituents don't want a dog park anywhere in the Second Ward.