Thursday, July 3, 2014

Showdown Looms Over Mass Gathering Law

In June, the Common Council unanimously voted to adopt the proposed amendments to Chapter 199 of the city code, which outlines the procedure for obtaining a mass gathering permit. A month earlier, when the Common Council voted to proceed with the amendments proposed by the Legal Committee (in Councilese,"to lay them on their desks"), Mayor William Hallenbeck had already made known his opposition to the amendments, which are intended to give businesses and residents more notice and more opportunity to weigh in on proposed events that directly affect them, closing streets and interfering with commerce, traffic flow, and regular activities. He called the proposed legislation, which had been researched and worked on for close to a year, a "knee-jerk reaction" and alleged that the amendments were motivated by "the dislike of a particular business owner."

There is no question that the actions of a particular business owner inspired the Legal Committee to seek a way to prevent a single business owner from having a negative impact on many other businesses. The "particular business owner" in question is Joe Fiero, whose vintage car shows on spring Saturdays in 2012 and 2013 shut down the 300 block of Warren Street, not only eliminating access to the businesses between Third and Fourth streets (and there are many) but also blocking access to most of the business district (everything east of Third Street) from a principal gateway to the city, Route 9G. 

On Tuesday, July 8, at 3:30 p.m., the mayor is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed amendments, but even before receiving public comment, the mayor expressed his objections to the proposed legislation in an email to Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee which crafted the amendments. The mayor's objections and Friedman's responses are summarized by John Mason in today's Register-Star: "Hallenbeck questions city's mass gathering bill." 

What is remarkable about the controversy is that it seems to be more about Friedman's motives than about public policy. Hallenbeck's first stated objections to the legislation questioned the motive, and in concluding his response to the mayor's written comments, Friedman addresses the issue:
Finally, Mr. Mayor, I've heard you refer to the bill as variously a "knee-jerk reaction" and a "vendetta" directed against one particular business owner because that person is disliked. I'd like to take issue with your characterization on two counts.
First, let us be clear: I introduced this bill because of the many calls I received about the 2013 event alluded to above. It is neither sui generis nor sua sponte. It is, rather, the considered result of literally hundreds of man-hours spent thinking, discussing and debating the issues by my colleagues on 2 Councils and the Board of Supervisors with input from local business owners, residents and the leaders of local civic organizations. This work spanned nearly a year, was taken very seriously by all involved, and I don't believe any of us appreciate your belittling our work--I know I don't. I am, therefore, puzzled by your description of this concerted effort as a "knee-jerk reaction."
Second, since I am the sponsor of the bill, let me state unequivocally: I do not know the business owner in question except by sight. I may have spoken 10 words to him over the years that he's been in Hudson, and those only in the context of me buying something from him or receiving a sample from him when he is at some event where such things take place. Moreover . . . the bill before you is not the work of 1 or 2 or 3 people. Rather, it is the product of the entire City Council, 40% of the City's County delegation, and an untold number of our neighbors both residential and commercial. I don't know on what basis you claim, therefore, that this bill is a "vendetta" unless, of course, you mean to imply that the entire city (including the government of the City) is out to get this man or this business or both. Frankly, I don't think anyone gives him that much thought.
Despite Friedman's statements to the contrary, Hallenbeck persists in attributing to him some personal motive or "agenda." In a phone conversation with Mason, quoted in the Register-Star, the mayor reacted to Friedman's statements in this way:
I believe Mr. Friedman has an agenda. It's about providing these additional requirements to make it more difficult for individuals who want to provide events from doing that.
These changes mean nothing. They're just an opportunity for John Friedman's beliefs that the organizers should have to deal with 120 days instead of 90 days. They should still be able to bring these fun-filled events without being hassled by John Friedman. Why put these organizations through these extra changes when at the end of the day, the mayor has the final say?
I believe this law provides Mr. Friedman and his associates with an opportunity to profile those organizations that want to have an event. It's an opportunity for individuals to call up and say, "We don't like this." When you change everything to suit Mr. Friedman, that's when the system gets broken.
Thus spake the mayor.


  1. If that applicant said "yes" on his application that he informed all his neighbors, and 26 out of 30 neighboring businesses knew nothing about an upcoming street closure, obviously that person is not honest and should be barred permanently from doing any new mass gatherings that affect all his neighbors.

  2. These proposed amendments don't just apply to American Glory so I don't understand the mayor's point.

  3. The Mayor obviously has his own 'agenda' to enforce as he sees fit.