The members of these boards are mayoral appointees, and because the appointments are for terms longer than the mayor's two-year term, a mayor can, through these regulatory agencies, influence what happens in Hudson long after he has left office. (Many of the people now serving in Planning Commission, the ZBA, and the HPC were appointed by Rick Scalera.) In this respect, these appointments are like Supreme Court appointments, although happily for all, they are not lifetime appointments. Unlike Supreme Court appointments, however, where the President nominates and the Senate confirms and approves, the mayor appoints, and that's that.
Council approval of mayoral appointments has been suggested many times, starting at least as early as the fall of 2005, when a candidate for First Ward alderman, inspired in part by Scalera's appointment of Eric Galloway to the Historic Preservation Commission, made it a campaign issue. (Galloway resigned after attending only one meeting.) Whenever such an approval process is suggested, however, someone eventually points out this would diminish the mayor's powers and hence could not be accomplished without a referendum.
Although it may not possible in the short run to change how appointments are made, it may be possible to establish some effective qualifications for members of boards and commissions. The Common Council is now in the process of adopting a law that would replace the Planning Commission with a Planning Board. It was discovered not long ago, by city attorney Cheryl Roberts, that the Planning Commission, which has probably been around since the City of Hudson adopted zoning more than forty years ago, did not have the authority to do what it was doing, at least not according to New York State General Municipal Law. So now the Common Council is in the process of putting things right.
One of the good things about the change is that it will require members of the Planning Board to be trained in what they do. According to Paragraph 25-6 of the proposed new law:
Each Member of the Planning Board shall complete four hours of training each year designed to enable such Members to more effectively carry out their duties. Training received by a Member in excess of four hours in any one year may be carried over by the Member into succeeding years in order to meet the requirements of this section. Such training shall be approved by the Common Council. To be eligible for reappointment to the Planning Board, a Member shall have completed such training. No decision of the Board shall be voided or declared invalid because of a failure by any Member to comply with this section.The process by which members are appointed and the qualifications for those appointed are also defined in the new law--somewhat differently from the way they are currently defined in the charter:
There shall be appointed by the Mayor seven members, who together shall be the City of Hudson Planning Board. . . . Not more than one-third of the members of said Board shall hold any other public office in the City of Hudson and no person who is a member of the Common Council shall be eligible for membership on said Board. The Mayor shall have the power to remove, after public hearing, any Member of the Board for cause. Any Board Member may be removed for non-compliance with minimum requirements relating to meeting attendance and training as established by any applicable local or state law.Had these strictures been in place before, Cappy Pierro could not have served on the Planning Commission for two years while at the same time being an alderman representing the Fifth Ward, but there would have been nothing to stop him being on the Planning Commission, as he was, while serving as mayor's aide to Rick Scalera. (It's interesting to recall that ten or so years ago the chair of the Planning Commission was also Common Council president.)
Some may find it troubling that in the language of the new law there is no residency requirement for members of the Planning Board. Why should people who do not live in Hudson be in a position to affect the city's future? If there were a residency requirement, would it prevent Cappy Pierro from serving on the Planning Board? According to the 2013 tax rolls, Pierro owns a house in Taghkanic that is assessed at close to a half million dollars, but he claims as his primary residence--the address he uses for his voter registration--a little house on Paddock Place, which, according to the 2013 tax rolls for Hudson, does not belong to him. (Click on the images to enlarge.)
It is not clear if, when the local law is passed and the Planning Commission becomes a Planning Board, the current members of the Planning Commission automatically become the members of the new Planning Board, but if that's the case, Pierro will not be the only person serving on a regulatory board who does not live in Hudson. Phil Abitabile, who is on the Zoning Board of Appeals, doesn't live in Hudson anymore either. Unlike Pierro, Abitabile doesn't claim a residence in Hudson. He is registered to vote where he lives in Greenport.
Of the three regulatory boards, only the Historic Preservation Commission has a residency requirement. According to Chapter 169-3 (6) of the city code, "All members, but the architect member, shall be residents of the City of Hudson." The residency requirement is waived in the case of the architect member because it may be necessary to look outside the city for a qualified preservation architect willing to serve on the HPC. That's reasonable and understandable. But if all the other members of the HPC must be Hudson residents--as well as having some known interest and knowledge of historic architecture and preservation--why not make residency a requirement for the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals, too?
The public will have the opportunity to ask that question next Monday, February 10, at 6:30 p.m., when the Common Council holds a public hearing on the local law that would replace the Planning Commission with a Planning Board. The language of the law can be reviewed here.
While on the topic of the three regulatory boards, it is interesting to note that two of them do not currently have their full complement of seven members. The Historic Preservation Commission has been a member short since late August 2013, when Scott Baldinger resigned, and since the beginning of the year, when Gail Grandinetti's term was up, the Planning Commission has had only six members.