Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Last Night at City Hall

Several issues of interest came up at City Hall on Monday night.

518 Columbia Street During the public hearing on a new local law expanding the definition of "Transitional Service Facility" and "Transitional Service Facility Resident," Mayor Richard Scalera raised the issue of 518 Columbia Street, the house owned by Phil Gellert where the Columbia County Department of Social Services planned to establish its first "congregate housing" facility. DSS was thwarted in their plan by the fact that Hudson zoning does not permit transitional housing in that part of the city. Transitional housing is permitted only in areas zoned R-5 (Residential Transitional Service Facility District) or G-C-T (General Commercial Transitional Service Facility District). The location of these districts was described as "Green Street and right around the hospital." 

Scalera revealed that although Hudson zoning code prohibits transitional housing in that neighborhood, DSS has moved three homeless men who had been living at the Sunset Motel into one of the two apartments at 518 Columbia Street. A family is renting the other apartment in the house. 

Scalera declared that this action was indicative of how the county views Hudson when it comes to transitional housing. When someone asked what the City could do about this disregard for its zoning regulations, City Attorney Cheryl Roberts pointed out that being in violation of City zoning code carried a fine of $250 a day. 

Grant from Catholic Charities The informal Common Council meeting is the time when resolutions are introduced, to be voted on the following week at the formal meeting. Last night there was only one resolution, naming new commissioners of deeds. Council President Don Moore explained that there had been a second resolution, authorizing the Hudson Police Department to accept another grant from Catholic Charities for the purpose of discouraging underage drinking. A previous grant for this purpose from Catholic Charities was used to finance a sting operation, in which a nineteen-year-old, who according to all reports looked much older, was sent into package stores and bars to buy beer. Moore questioned the efficacy of a sting operation in discouraging underage drinking and said that he wanted the resolution discussed in committee before it was introduced for a vote. 

Speaking from the audience, Mark Young, proprietor of Mexican Radio, one of eight Warren Street restaurants caught in the pre-Christmas sting, spoke about TIPS (Training for Invention ProcdureS), an educational program for bartenders and servers designed to discourage underage drinking and prevent intoxication and drunk driving. Young argued that grant money, if accepted, should be used for a program that was educational rather than punitive. Hudson Democratic Committee Chair Victor Mendolia also encouraged education instead of punishment and added that there was "no evidence that there is underage drinking in any of the establishments involved" in the December sting.   

The grant and effective efforts to prevent underage drinking will be taken up at the next Police Committee meeting, which is scheduled for February 28 at 6:45 p.m.

About Those Tickets Enforcement of the snow emergency regulations during our latest snowstorm was the final topic to be discussed, brought up by a member of the audience--me. I spoke on behalf of my neighbors and myself--all of whom had gotten two parking tickets during the latest 48-hour snow emergency for parking prematurely on the cleared side of the street and some of whom had their cars towed just minutes before the snow emergency was over for being parked on the side of the street opposite the side studded with "No Parking" signs. I made the point that a snow emergency is a time when a community needs to pull together, and people who act in ways that comply with the goal of regulations--that is, to get the cars all on one side of the street and out of the way of snowplows--should not be penalized for failing to follow the letter of the law, when following the law challenges logic and commonsense.

The snow emergency was certainly a topic that brought people together. Just about every aldermen had something to say about the overzealous and draconian enforcement of the snow emergency regulations because just about every alderman had gotten a ticket. Even Fifth Ward Alderman "Doc" Donahue told me after the meeting that, although he never agreed with me about anything, he thought I was absolutely right in what I'd said about snow emergency enforcement. It seems his son's car had been towed off Glenwood Boulevard at some point during the 48-hour period.

Mayor Scalera's comments on the topic suggest that he may have incited the reign of ticketing and towing we've just experienced. He explained that the City has had snow emergency regulations since 1996, but "the difference this time was enforcement." He explained that he had spoken with Police Chief Ellis Richardson about enforcement, complaining that the snow emergency regulations were not enforced and asking what good it was have laws on the books if the police didn't enforce them. It would seem that the spate of ticketing and towing incidents suffered by Hudson residents and visitors last week was the police department demonstrating to the mayor that they could and would enforce the law. 

Moore promised revisions to the snow emergency regulations, suggesting that "individual experiences can inform the revisions." He also promised to consider "how to remedy wrongs that have been experienced." It is not clear at this time which Common Council committee--the Public Works Committee or the Police Committee--will take up the task of revising the snow emergency regulations.

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