The Common Council made some significant decisions last night, even though it was three members short. Aldermen Nick Haddad (First Ward), Chris Wagoner (Third Ward), and Sheila Ramsey (Fourth Ward) all were absent. In what seemed to be a return to what had been standard procedure back in the bad old days, only one of the five resolutions considered had been introduced at the informal meeting--the one that appointed commissioners of deeds.
City Hall Break-In The meeting got off to an interesting start when Council president Don Moore read aloud a letter he had written to District Attorney Paul Czajka and the response received back from Czajka. Moore wanted to know why no one has been brought to justice for the City Hall break-in and what had happened to the evidence--in particular, the videotape from the City Hall surveillance camera. Czajka's response read in part: "It has always been my assumption that the camera and recording have been, and are, the property of the City of Hudson. . . . Therefore, I am aware of no law, rule or regulation that prevents City officials from viewing their property or, for that matter, from disclosing same to the public."
City attorney Cheryl Roberts reported that the Hudson Police Department had delivered "all the documentation" to her office. She will review the evidence and determine what can be released to the public. Can we expect a screening of the videotape in City Hall?
Longevity Payments for the City Clerk Joe Gentile chose this as the one issue to report on from last night's meeting, and it certainly was both controversial and awkward, since all the discussion of the matter took place with the city clerk present in the room: "Longevity compensation pay for city clerk raises objections." The situation, which will seem bizarre to anyone who has worked in the private sector where any job that pays a salary instead of an hourly wage is exempt from overtime and comp. time and various other things, is that in the City of Hudson, since 1998, department heads--although they are not union members and do not pay union dues--are entitled to the same benefits negotiated by CSEA, the civil service employees' union. One of those benefits is a longevity payment--an annual bonus or raise separate and distinct from any kind of merit raise or cost of living adjustment. In the case of the city clerk, the longevity payment is $1,075 a year, which has not been paid to Tracy Delaney for 2010, 2011, and 2012, and wasn't written into the budget for 2013.
The objections came from city treasurer Eileen Halloran, the oft maligned self-appointed watchdog of the city budget. Halloran's point was that department heads should not receive union benefits, because they are not union members, they do not pay union dues, and the City simply cannot afford it. She explained that back in 2009, when Bonnie Colwell retired and Tracy Delaney became the city clerk, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment (BEA) "decided to break with the custom of giving department heads all the benefits that union workers have." That decision came after longtime DPW superintendent Charlie Butterworth retired in 2006 and claimed something like $93,000 in compensation for unused vacation time and sick time, as specified in the CSEA contract. The contract puts a limit on how far back compensation for such unused time can be claimed, but Butterworth wanted to claim an additional amount of somewhat greater magnitude--about $97,000, if memory serves--for the unused vacation and sick time beyond what was allowed by the union contract and for four decades of overtime.
Back in 2006, with this experience fresh in their minds, the Common Council probably should have amended the charter to exempt department heads from union benefits, but it didn't. As Cheryl Roberts pointed out last night, the BEA did not have the power or authority to "break with custom"; such a change required a charter amendment. The City was therefore, in Moore's words, "under obligation to pay" the longevity payments to the city clerk, and the resolution to do so passed unanimously.
Bring on the Bulldozers The Council also approved--unanimously (although David Marston's aye was uttered with something that sounded like disgust or exasperation) and without discussion--a resolution to allocate $26,000 from the General Fund to demolish this house at 67 Fairview Avenue.
Neighbors reportedly have complained about "snakes and rats" living in the abandoned and boarded-up house; the house was condemned in April; Roberts said that it presented "an imminent life-threatening situation"; and Mayor Hallenbeck decided that the building had to be demolished.
This regrettable turn of events brings to mind Scott Baldinger's brilliant post on his blog Word on the Street, written two years ago, long before he was appointed to the Historic Preservation Commission and had to stop commenting on preservation issues, suggesting that "orphaned buildings," such as this one, should be moved to fill in gaps in the streetscape in other parts of the city. He called it "Genuine Old New Urbanism." It's too bad neither the mayor nor any of the aldermen remembered this suggestion. The picture of 67 Fairview Avenue that appears above comes from Baldinger's blog.
Solar Power for the Firehouse The meeting also included a presentation by Timothy Carr of Lotus Energy, which, with its partner Monolith Solar Associates, is proposing to install solar panels on the central firehouse.
The proposal is that Lotus and Monolith would install a 52-kilowatt solar system on the roof of the firehouse, on the section that has the bays, at no cost to the City. They would then sell the electricity produced by the solar array to the City for 25 percent less than the City now pays to National Grid for electricity. It is anticipated that the solar system will provide 51 percent of the electricity now used at the firehouse for an estimated savings of $3,000 to $5,000 a year. Sounds like a good deal, and mayor's aide Eugene Shetsky reported that the mayor is in favor of it.
But wait. The mayor and the Common Council have nothing to say about it, because the City doesn't own the building. Community Initiatives Development Corporation (CIDC) does. CIDC built it for the City in 2005 at a reported cost of $3.5 million and leases it to the City (it's a triple net lease) for about $195,470 a year. After thirty years of such payments, the City gets to buy it from CIDC for only a dollar.