Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Fate of the Senior Center . . . and HCDPA

Wednesday at noon, HCDPA (Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency) held a special meeting to discuss the $100,000 the agency had, back in 2012, committed to building a senior center in Hudson. According to Daniel Kent of the Galvan Foundation, unless HCDPA now turns over that money to Galvan, there will be no senior center.

For this meeting, all five members of the HCDPA board were present--Mayor William Hallenbeck, Carmine Pierro, Tiffany Garriga, Bart Delaney, and Alan Weaver. Also present at the meeting were Kent and Galvan special adviser Rick Scalera, Common Council president Don Moore, aldermen Rick Rector (First Ward) and John Friedman (Third Ward), city treasurer Heather Campbell, city attorney Carl Whitbeck, and HDCPA auditor Victor Churchill.

Sheena Salvino, executive director of HCDPA, began by reviewing the events that led to the present state of things, beginning back when the City was still planning to use the $400,000 from its 2010 CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) to construct a new building for seniors beside the Youth Center on South Third Street. HCDPA committed $100,000 for that public project, to construct a building that would be owned by the City of Hudson. She quoted from the MOU (memorandum of understanding) that the City entered into with Galvan in April 2013, which stated that the senior center would be developed without funds from the City but also made this stipulation: "The City shall make a good faith effort to facilitate the transfer of project development financing previously allocated for the purpose of developing a Senior Center, including the $400,000 grant New York State Office of Community Renewal (OCR) and the $100,000 grant from Hudson Community Development Planning Agency (HCDPA)." (It's interesting to recall that the language about the "good faith effort to facilitate the transfer of project development financing" was added to the proposed MOU between the informal meeting and the regular meeting in April 2013. Gossips' report on that meeting confirms this.)

In February 2014, after the City had made a good faith effort and succeeded in getting the $400,000 in CDBG funds transferred to the new project, Galvan decided they didn't want the money after all. At that point, Salvino maintained, HCDPA's obligations were over. She also pointed out that HCDPA's original commitment was made to a public project--a building that would be owned by the City of Hudson--not a private project--a building owned by the Galvan Foundation in which the City would lease space.

John Friedman, who was acting pro bono as the lawyer for HDCPA, then offered his legal opinion. "Municipal law does not empower HCDPA to make his grant," he stated. "No where in the enabling statute does it say HCDPA can make this grant." HCDPA is a public benefit authority, and as such, it cannot give its property or its money to a private entity.

The mayor then read from a handwritten prepared statement that rehearsed basically the same timeline Salvino had just covered. He maintained, however, that when Galvan rejected the $400,000 in CDBG funding awarded to the City, $250,000 of anticipated funding--$150,000 from Hudson River Bank & Trust Foundation and $100,000 from HCDPA--was still in place. Earlier, Salvino had made the point that HRB&T could give their money to anyone they wanted to; HCDPA could not.

Hallenbeck expressed annoyance that the agenda for the previous HCDPA meeting had simply indicated "Old Business: Senior Center," and "no one knew rescinding money would be a topic of discussion." He wanted the vote taken at that meeting declared invalid, because only three of the five board members had been present. (Unfortunately, he explained, he had been absent because he was "preparing a veto." No reason was given for Pierro's absence.)

The meeting went on for two hours. The discussion shifted from whether or not HCPDA could legally give $100,000 to Galvan, to how they could legally give $100,000 to Galvan, to how could HCDPA come up with $100,000 to give Galvan. HCDPA has, at this moment, only $83,000. Friedman warned that "the board would be liable to all the taxpayers of Hudson if HCDPA votes to give money to Galvan." Whitbeck opined, "This doesn't sound like it falls into urban renewal. You do not have the authority to make a gift of public funds." Pierro mourned the good old days when "Small City grants came to Hudson automatically" and was repeatedly the doomsayer for both the senior center ("It's illegal. We can't do it. There will be no senior center.") and HCDPA ("Will all agree this agency doesn't have enough money to survive?"). Scalera truculently suggested, "There was never really an intention to pay, because the money was not out in escrow." Weaver asked, perhaps prophetically, "If HCDPA goes out of business, what happens? Galvan just absorbed Housing Resources."

There were some clashes among the participants. Friedman made reference to Pierro's drive in from Taghkanic, and Pierro angrily declared that he voted in Hudson, making reference, as he is wont to do, to second homeowners who are registered to vote in Columbia County. When Friedman declared, "I'm the board's lawyer," Pierro sharply retorted, "You're not the board's lawyer," asserting that the board had not retained him. It turns out Friedman was in fact the HCDPA board's lawyer, since he had been asked by Salvino to act in that capacity and HCDPA's bylaws empower the executive director to hire consultants and retain counsel. (Friedman was working pro bono.) Scalera snapped at Moore, accusing him of not putting in any effort on the senior center and scolding, "If you can't work together with the executive branch, then step down." 

In the end, it was decided that HDCPA could legally give the money to the City of Hudson, and the Common Council could decide how and if it could be spent on "things that go into a privately owned building." It was suggested that HCDPA might contribute only $50,000 and the City could make up the rest. Moore volunteered to "sit down with Galvan and the mayor to come up with a plan" for how any money contributed by HCDPA could be spent. 

Before the meeting was adjourned, Pierro wanted the board to vote on something. (It had been determined that the vote at the last meeting had been illegal and that the commitment rescinded by that vote had been illegal in the first place.) After a few restatements and additions, this is the resolution Pierro came up with:
HCDPA supports the City of Hudson in respect to the senior center project and will participate financially and otherwise in furthering the project as proposed by the City to the agency.
All five members of the HCDPA board voted yes. Delaney, however, prefaced his yes vote by saying it was "because we are not committing to any amount."  


  1. Maybe it’s time for the city to take the governor’s advice and merge HPD with the (multiple) other local enforcement agencies. Then ride the gravy train into the black.