Friday, May 16, 2014

The Benches of Bliss Towers

Gossips attended the public meeting on Wednesday about the benches at Bliss Towers. As readers already know if they've read Adam Clayton's report in the Register-Star, the issue of the benches was not resolved, but the meeting was a learning experience for many who attended. It was explained, among other things, that Jeffrey First was not only the executive director of the Hudson Housing Authority but also the property manager for Bliss Towers, and in that capacity it was completely within his purview for him to refuse to let Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood paint the benches. The public was also told that Promise Neighborhood had not followed the "protocol." The outcome was that Promise Neighborhood was asked to "put the proposal in writing" (which it seems Joan Hunt had already done) so that the board could consider it. The issue was then tabled until May 20 at 6 p.m. when the board is expected to make its decision known. 

When Victor Mendolia asked why the board could not act at Wednesday's meeting, Lee Bradshaw, the new chair of the HHA Board of Commissioners, told him, "As property manager, First had the right to say no, but the board is now entertaining the request because of public opinion."

The meeting provided an opportunity to learn who now serves on the HHA Board of Commissioners. One of the complaints about the Hudson Housing Authority made to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand by the Staley B. Keith Social Justice Center was its board was "ill-equipped to understand their rights and responsibilities." First's response to this criticism reveals that appointments to the HHA Board are made by the mayor:
If you could explain to me if there is a list of requirements to become a Commissioner on this Board that I don’t know about it may be helpful in the selection process. If you could provide me with these requirements I will gladly forward them to the Mayor’s office.
The members of the HHA Board who introduced themselves on Wednesday were: Lee Bradshaw, chair (Bradshaw is one of people behind the plan for a ball drop on New Year's Eve at Promenade Hill); Barbara Hall, vice chair; Kathy Harter (Harter, who is the Republican deputy commissioner at the Columbia County Board of Elections, serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals); Geeta Cheddie, treasurer (Cheddie, who was once a Democrat but ran as a Republican for First Ward alderman in 2011, also serves on the ZBA, appointed by Mayor William Hallenbeck); and Glenda Dempsey. Gossips was told that George DeJesus, who chairs the Hudson Republican Committee, is also a member of the HHA Board, but he was not present at the meeting on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the word was that the meeting would take place at 5:30 in the community room at Bliss Towers. On Wednesday morning, First told Gossips in an email that the meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. When Gossips arrived at Bliss Towers at 5:30, the HHA Board was already meeting, and had been since 5 o'clock, in First's office, and the public was not permitted in. This sort of private "pre-meeting" is in violation of the open meetings law, to which the HHA Board is believed to be subject. 

The public meeting began promptly at 6 p.m. in the community room. Bradshaw ran the meeting calmly, with authority and appropriate deference, but overall the board seemed more braced for confrontation than the simple issue of painting weathered wood benches warranted. There was a video camera in the corner, and First explained that the meeting would be videotaped, as apparently is the usual practice at such meetings. What was unusual, however, was the the camera seemed always to be trained on the audience and not the members of the board.

During the meeting, a resident who was clearly inebriated wandered into the meeting and sat down in the front row. She was disruptive, wanting to voice her own complaints which seemed to have nothing to do with the issue of the benches. At one point, a man wearing a T-shirt that identified him as a "Hudson Housing Authority Officer" sat down next to her and spoke with her, apparently trying to encourage her to leave the meeting. Not succeeding, he left the room, and soon after two uniformed Hudson police officers appeared at the door. They seemed as puzzled about why they had been summoned as most members of the audience were by their appearance. After about ten minutes, they left.

The issues surrounding the Hudson Housing Authority and Bliss Towers seem complicated and contradictory. Tiffany Garriga, Second Ward alderman and a resident of the building, complains bitterly about mold in the walls, rust oozing through bathtub caulking, closet doors that fall off their hinges, and windows that won't open properly. Her complaints were echoed at the meeting by another resident. When yet another resident said she had no problems with mold and declared, "I'm happy where I'm at," Garriga asked in an aside, "Somebody paying you?"

Speaking to the issue of painting the benches, another resident touched on a different problem. "Why are we painting benches," she asked, "when kids who don't live here are going to write [graffiti] on them?"

Gossips coverage of the bench controversy will continue.

1 comment:

  1. One resident, (who I heard chose the paint color on the survey), said the benches should not be painted because someone might graffiti them. I wonder why she said this, because there isn't any graffiti on the benches now or anywhere around the brick building. It seems like an odd idea, not to clean something because it might get dirty. Floors and laundry get dirty all the time, we still clean them.

    I was surprised to hear at the meeting that the board meetings had been held in a locked office for years, "because nobody comes to the meetings". How could anyone come if the meeting wasn't announced and held in a locked office? I noticed today the next meeting was announced in the Register Star and saw a few maintenance men outside early in the am cutting lawns and cleaning up, so now it appears that there is some attempt being made to follow the rules, at least for appearance. The place is very run down and neglected. Aside from the old ratty benches, the first thing you see when you approach the front door is an old concrete garbage container that looks like someone beat on it with a sledge hammer, a large area of landscape bricks that are pot-holed and caving in, lawns that are patched with dirt, dirty windows that look like no one has ever cleaned them. So it may be a little late for the management to start cleaning up, seems to me.