Friday, November 24, 2017

A Clash of Centuries

Once upon a time, before the advent of the automobile, the streets of Hudson were probably lined with hitching posts and mounting blocks. Be that as it may, it is not at all clear that we are ready to embrace what may be the next wave of curbside enhancement to our predominantly 19th-century streets: the electric car charger.

Electric cars are more and more becoming a fact of life. Public chargers are few and far between. The plan to install an electric vehicle charging station in the parking lot behind City Hall seems not to be going anywhere. Garages are something of a rarity in Hudson. For all these reasons, we can probably expect to see more of these chargers making an appearance along our streets, particularly in historic districts. One may well ask what kind of permitting is or should be required for their installation. Although it remains a little known and frequently ignored fact, a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission is required for the installation of satellite dishes in historic districts. Should chargers be subject to the same requirement?

In Memoriam: Dorothy Lynn

Those who were here in Hudson in the 1990s and the early 2000s will surely remember Dorothy Lynn. Earlier this week, her obituary appeared in the Berkshire Edge: "Dorothy Lynn, 93, of Lee, formerly of Hudson, N.Y." Some may not have known that she was active in founding the Hudson Area Library in 1959 and the Hudson Day Care Center in 1969, or that she was a top salesperson for World Book Encyclopedia, although the latter distinction is certainly not surprising. Rest in peace, Dorothy Lynn.

Thanks to Sam Pratt for bringing this to our attention

The Death of Malcolm Gifford, Jr.

On Veterans Day--Armistice Day--Gossips remembered Malcolm Gifford, Jr., the great nephew of artist Sanford Robinson Gifford, who, as a member of the Canadian Field Artillery, was the first person from Hudson--indeed the first person from Columbia County--to die in World War I. Gifford was buried in Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No. 3 in Belgium, on the Western Front.

Gifford died on November 8, 1917, two days before the end of the Second Battle of Passchendaele. His father received a telegram from the director of war records in Ottawa on November 19, informing him of his son's death. Three days later, on November 22, the Hudson Evening Register reported that the family had received letters from Malcolm, Jr., written before his death.

This news item provides context for this letter from a Canadian chaplain, which was published in the newspaper two months later. Gossips stumbled upon it in 2012.

Canadian Chaplain Tells of Heroic End of 
Malcolm Gifford, Jr.
Hudson, Jan. 26--It was the terrific fighting for the possession of Passchendaele in a recent great British offensive that Malcolm Gifford, Jr., of this city, was killed, according to information received here by his father from the Rev. George C. Taylor, chaplain of the Thirty-sixth Battery, Canadian Artillery. The young man's death was previously reported.
The chaplain, in his letter, stated that Gifford fell after twenty days' fighting at the utmost point then gained in the British advance.
"To die in such a struggle was to crown a life with glory," the chaplain wrote. "It has been said that the Victoria Cross should have been given to every man who took part in it. The work had been tried again and again by others but, when all had failed, our boys brushed aside 'impossibility' and carried all before them. Day after day, no German fire could divert them from their guns. Your brave boy and another fell together. It was a typical soldier's death."
The photograph below shows German prisoners of war helping to carry casualties from the front during the Second Battle of Passchendaele.

Photo: Wikipedia

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Great War: November 22, 1917

It's been a while since we pursued the exploration of life in Hudson during World War I. The long Thanksgiving holiday provides an opportunity to return to it.

On November 22, 1917, this news item appeared on the front page of the Hudson Evening Register.

Camp Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, was established on September 5, 1917, as a temporary cantonment for training soldiers.

According to the 1913 Hudson city directory, Volkert Whitbeck was the proprietor of Forshew's photograph gallery at 441 Warren Street. It is likely that the photographs were installed in the display windows of this building.


Paying for the Water

Last night, the Common Council went through its annual November ritual of passing a resolution to add unpaid water and sewer fees to people's property taxes. Accompanying the resolution was a list of all the offenders, which goes on for 31 pages and includes more than 300 names. Mine is among them, along with those of the current mayor and two former mayors, a couple of supervisors, an alderman, and a few prominent business owners.

In 2013, the Common Council passed a local law intended to, in the words of then city treasurer Eileen Halloran, "take away an incentive to let you not pay water and sewer bills on time." At that time, in a public meeting, and in 2015, in a post on Gossips, I suggested that the City needed to make it more convenient for people to pay their water bill. The water bill arrives quarterly, seemingly out of sync with any other bills, and, in this age of online banking, it is probably the only bill that cannot be paid online. You have to send a check--in your own envelope--or go in person to City Hall and climb the stairs to the second floor to pay the bill. Is it any wonder that this bill is often set aside, forgotten, and then goes unpaid?

In several of his conversational meetings in the five wards, mayor-elect Rick Rector spoke about the arcane methods of billing and payment for the water and sewer bills and made known his intention to bring the system into the 21st century to allow the bill to be paid online. If he succeeds in this, the list of property owners in arrears on their water and sewer bills in November 2018 will certainly be much shorter.

More Highlights from the Council Meeting

Dogs took another step toward being able to walk with their humans in Henry Hudson Riverfront Park without the fear of being cited for breaking the law or the stigma of willfully ignoring it. Last night, the Common Council voted to place on their desks proposed Local Law No. 8, which would amend Section 70-4 of the city code "to permit dogs to be present at the Riverfront Park." 

Also last night, the Common Council passed a resolution authorizing the City to apply for a Restore NY grant "for the demolition and redevelopment of properties located at the former KAZ site at 14-17 Montgomery Street." 

A portion of the Kaz warehouse has already been demolished by the owners of The Wick.

It will be remembered that the City was awarded a $500,000 Restore NY grant at the beginning of this year to stabilize the Dunn building and arrest the deterioration. Eleven months later, none of that money has been spent, and no work has been done to preserve the building.

A public hearing on the City's latest Restore NY grant application for funds to demolish and redevelop the Kaz warehouse site has been scheduled for Monday, December 11, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Fate of Local Law No. 4

Local Law No. 4, the proposed law that would waive the offstreet parking requirement for apartments in basements and accessory buildings and would allow buildings in residential districts that were formerly used for commercial purposes to be used for commercial purposes again, didn't fare well in the public hearing about it on November 13. At the end of the hearing, Council president Claudia DeStefano indicated that she thought the proposed law needed some work. 

At tonight's Common Council meeting, there was no mention of the proposed Local Law No. 4 until Steve Dunn, who it seems drafted the law, asked why the Council was taking no action on it. DeStefano told him she was sending it back to the Legal Committee for further consideration based on the input from the public hearing. Michael O'Hara (First Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, said he didn't think anything could be done in the Legal Committee. He then launched into a defense of the proposed legislation, responding specifically to objections raised by Kristal Heinz in the public hearing. He dismissed the objections made by code enforcement officer Craig Haigh, saying they were "misplaced." He asserted that the proposed legislation was meant to codify what is now common practice by the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals regarding offstreet parking requirements. 

After some discussion, it was decided, given that the proposed legislation has been on the aldermen's desks since August, that the Council would vote on whether or not to enact the legislation. In a roll call vote, Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), Abdus Miah (Second Ward), Shershah Mizan (Third Ward), and Michael O'Hara (First Ward) voted in aye; DeStefano, Henry Haddad (Third Ward), Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward), Priscilla Moore (Fifth Ward), and Rick Rector (First Ward) voted no. Robert "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward) abstained, saying that he didn't understand either the proposed law or the objections to it.

After the vote was taken and the law failed to be enacted, Dunn lamented that people hoping to establish commercial enterprises in buildings that formerly had commercial uses would be inconvenienced. It was then suggested by an audience member (truth be told, it was Gossips) that the law should go back to the Legal Committee to be bifurcated, to separate that part of the proposed law that deals with nonconforming commercial uses from the part that deals with dwelling units in basements and accessory buildings. It was agreed that should happen.

Hudson and Housing

The Housing Task Force, which is running "in tandem" with the DRI process, met yesterday, and there's a report in the Register-Star about that meeting: "Task force tackles housing in Hudson." Some of the things reported seem a bit ominous. According to a study commissioned by the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, the housing stock in Hudson is in "poor to average condition." Also, according to the study, the housing stock is "very old"; 63.3 percent of it was built prior to 1939. No big surprise. It's a historic city, and its "very old" buildings are what make it appealing to those of us who live here and make it a destination for those who visit. 

The "poor to average" assessment of Hudson's housing stock makes the heart sink when one recalls that, according to local legend, humiliation over having "the worst housing stock in the State of New York" led to this half a century ago.

The article also reports that Mark Morgan-Perez, a member of the Housing Task Force, has identified 96.5 acres of vacant land in the city. Let's hope this time we can provide new housing opportunities without destroying or compromising the city's finest assets--its historic architecture and its historic character.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Change at City Hall

It's another forty-two days before Mayor-Elect Rick Rector is sworn in as mayor of Hudson, but there has already been a change in personnel on the second floor of City Hall. 

Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton announced today that Friday, November 17, was Lisa Walsh's last day serving as mayor's aide. "Over the past two years, Lisa has made a tremendous contribution in support of the City's administration. We thank her for all her hard work, and wish her well in her new life in Beacon, NY, where she has taken a position with the mayor's office."

Hamilton also announced that Branda Maholtz was sworn in this morning as the new mayor's aide and will serve under the current administration through the end of the year.

Another One to Bite the Dust

On Wednesday, the Zoning Board of Appeals accepted an application to demolish the house at 418 State Street and build a new house in its place. According to the applicant, the existing house has been determined to be structurally unsound. The house is not located in a historic district.

The facade of the proposed new house will align with the rest of the street wall, as the existing house does, but the new house will be positioned in the center of the lot instead of off to the left. The project is before the ZBA for area variances--both front and side setbacks.  

A public hearing on the application has been scheduled for Wednesday, December 20, at 6 p.m., in City Hall.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Meeting Reminder

There is a Housing Task Force working in tandem with the DRI. Four of the fifteen members of the task force--Tiffany Martin Hamilton, Matthew Nelson, Randall Martin, and Brenda Adams--also serve on the DRI Local Planning Committee. The complete list of members of the task force and the goals of the task force can be found on the DRI website.

The Housing Task Force will hold its second meeting on Monday, November 20, at 11 a.m., at 1 North Front Street. The meeting is open to the public.

Preserving Hudson's Architectural Heritage

The Robert Taylor house, one of the oldest surviving houses in Hudson and a locally designated landmark, has been owned by Galvan Initiatives Foundation since August 2011.  

In April 2012, Galvan proposed moving the house to Union Street. The justification for moving the house, which was built by the tanner for whom Tanner's Lane was named, was its location. The following is quoted from the press release announcing the intended move: "On its current site the house is somewhat lost, and looks out over warehouses, when originally it looked out over the South Bay towards Mt. Merino, the river and the Catskills beyond." 

The Historic Preservation Commission denied a certificate of appropriateness for the move. During the discussion of the proposal, HPC member Rick Rector offered the opinion that "restoring the house in its present location could be a catalyst for [neighborhood] improvement."

Five years later, it's The Wick Hotel that is transforming the neighborhood, and the poor Robert Taylor House continues to decay. This picture of the north wall of the house was taken earlier today.

Two years ago, a hole was discovered in the wall beside this window. It was alleged at the time that it had been created in an attempt to break into the house. That's when a fence was installed around the house.

Now the brick around the window frame is deteriorated, and the boarded-up window is falling out.


The Wick Revealed

The demolition of the portion of the abandoned Kaz warehouse that marred the Wick Hotel's sense of arrival began on October 31.

Today, it is complete--except for some tidying up.


DRI Watch: Leverage Is All

The DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) Local Planning Committee (LPC) met last Tuesday, and the word that seemed to be used most often during the two-hour session was leverage. It was stressed that no project can be fully funded by DRI money, and a project's potential to leverage other money, from private or public sources, will be a significant factor in deciding which projects will be pursued. Another significant is factor is that projects chosen should be those that can be completed within two years.

One of the goals of last Tuesday's meeting was to confirm the boundaries of the DRI target area--the BRIDGE District. There had been a suggestion that the eastern boundary should be moved from Second Street to Third Street.

Although there was considerable discussion of the possibility, no decision was made to alter the boundaries.

Another goal of the meeting was to confirm the vision statement. This was the original vision statement:
Increased development of mixed-use projects that incorporate affordable and market-rate housing and transportation oriented design; workforce development; and re-imagining the waterfront for expanded public use and enjoyment. While tourism is a seasonal surge economy for the Hudson, the DRI application proposes to create an environment for high-quality, year-round, living-wage jobs.
Based on input received at the public engagement workshop on October 26 and from stakeholder interviews, the vision statement has been revised to read:
Increased development of sustainable mixed-use projects that incorporate affordable and market-rate housing and transportation oriented design; workforce development; access to healthy, affordable food; and re-imagining the waterfront for expanded public use and enjoyment. Preserve and enhance diversity in the district by prioritizing current residents. While tourism is an engine for the Hudson economy, leverage the DRI to create an environment for high-quality, year-round, living-wage jobs for local residents.
When asked about the weight the vision statement carried, Steve Kearney, from the Stantec Urban Places Group, stressed that "every DRI initiative must fall within the vision." Jeff Hunt, from the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, wanted the word commercial added after mixed-use, although mixed-use does seem to imply a mix of residential and commercial uses. Sara Kendall, assistant director of Kite's Nest, worried about the way tourism was presented in the statement and wanted to be certain the statement conveyed an understanding that economic development went beyond tourism.

Another thing to be accomplished at the meeting--what was identified as the most important thing--was to establish the goals of the DRI. Almost an hour into the meeting, Kearney presented these draft goals for consideration by the LPC:
  • Connect to--and improve--the waterfront
  • Prioritize mixed-income residential development
  • Increase access to high quality, affordable, and (when possible) local food
  • Create lower-cost spaces for entrepreneurs, creative workforce
  • Help train for, and help create, jobs
The conversation soon got mired in a discussion of leverage, with John Reilly, chair of the Economic Development Committee of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, pointing out that infrastructure--sidewalks, etc.--was a "dollar for dollar" investment, because "no one will want to invest in sidewalks unless you're giving them a toll road."

Ultimately, it was decided that transportation connectivity and green spaces should be included in the goals. It was also decided that the LPC needed to have another working meeting before the next public engagement workshop, which is set to take place on Thursday, December 7. That additional meeting for the LPC will take place on Thursday, November 30, at 6 p.m. at John L. Edwards Primary School.

Early on in the meeting, it was emphasized that the Hudson DRI website is the central repository of all information about the DRI. People with "prominent websites" were urged to provide a link to the DRI. Gossips has done this. The link now appears at the top of the right column.

For those for whom this synopsis of the meeting is insufficient, Dan Udell's video of the meeting can be viewed here.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hudson Dogs to Have Their Day

The dogs of Hudson may soon have two things they've been wanting for a long time: a dog park and the right to walk legally on leashes with their humans in Henry Hudson Riverfront Park.

The late William with Turner, a pup of our extended family, in the park illegally back in 2012 
As Gossips has already reported, the dreams of a dog park are soon to become a reality. On Monday, at the informal meeting of the Common Council, a resolution was introduced that would amend Section 70-4 of the city code to delete item A (11), which makes it unlawful for dogs "to be present at any time at Riverfront Park."

A resolution to repeal the ban on dogs in Henry Hudson Riverfront Park, which was put in place in 2002, was initiated by former Third Ward alderman John Friedman in March 2015. Despite a petition signed by about 200 people in support of allowing dogs in the park, the Common Council voted it down--a move that disappointed many dog owners and infuriated Dan and Mary Udell so much that they ceased videotaping Hudson Common Council meetings for more than a year. 

This time we may hope for a better outcome. The resolution now before the council is the initiative of Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who in 2015 was one of the aldermen opposed to lifting the ban on dogs in the park.

Friday, November 17, 2017

In Defense of Our Alleys

In today's Register-Star, there was an editorial about the proposed law that was the subject of a public hearing earlier this week. For most of the day, the editorial was only available in the print version of the newspaper, but as of this evening it can be read online. Most worthy of quoting, in Gossips' opinion, is this argument: "Transforming the city's historic garages and horse carriage houses is equally a dead end. The expense to convert these structures, which will likely have to be demolished and rebuilt, would be prohibitive. These projects would result in a considerable loss to Hudson's rich heritage, but they would not create affordable housing." The rest of the editorial can be read here: "Try another approach to Hudson's affordable housing crisis." 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Getting There from Here . . . on Foot

Tonight at 6 p.m. at 401 State Street, the Columbia Land Conservancy is holding a public meeting to receive input on the conceptual design for a proposed trail connection from North Second Street to the Greenport Conservation Area.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Proposed Law Draws Criticism from Public

It was almost a full house for the public hearing on Monday on the proposed law that would eliminate the requirement for offstreet parking for apartments in basements and converted accessory buildings and would permit businesses to be established in parts of the city now zoned residential in buildings that had previous commercial uses.

The goals of the legislation seem noble enough: to create more affordable rental units and to allow people to establish commercial enterprises in buildings in residential zones that had historically housed commercial enterprises. An example of the latter is Basil Nooks' plan to open a restaurant specializing in Caribbean food in a building he owns on North Third Street, which up until 2004 had been an eating and/or drinking establishment for decades. 

The proposed local law met with some pushback from those present at the public hearing--from Kristal Heinz, who didn't want commercial enterprises in her neighborhood in the Boulevards; to Gossips, who worried about the devastation of the authenticity and charm of the alleys the law would encourage; to Craig Haigh, code enforcement officer and former fire chief, who warned of the public safety issues such a law would create.

Amanda Purcell reported on the public hearing in today's Register-Star: "Residents speak out on zoning law change." Dan Udell was there to document the hearing, and his video can be seen here. The public hearing begins at 13:20.

In the end, it was decided that the proposed local law needed some work.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Marina Abramovic Responds

On Sunday, Gossips published the link to an article that appeared in the New York Post, which began with the statement, "The artist is present but the cash is gone." Today, a press release from Marina Abramovic responding to that article made its way to Gossips, and content of which follows:
On November 12, 2017, the New York Post published a front page story about me in the Sunday edition with the headline "The Art of the Steal." Normally, I wouldn't care what was written in a tabloid newspaper, but the allegations are so false, libelous and in every way untrue that I must address them.
The article claims that I raised 2.2 million dollars for my institute since 2011 which is not true. In fact the majority of those funds were direct contributions of my own money which I earned as an artist. I contributed over 1.1 million dollars in cash donations to the institute on top of what I spent to buy the building which I donated to MAI in 2013.
The Kickstarter campaign accounts for $661,452. After Kickstarter's administrative fee, the amount we received from the campaign was $596,667.
The Kickstarter was created to fund schematic designs of OMA New York for the building in Hudson, NY. The bill we received from the firm for this specific design work was $655,167.10. We used the Kickstarter funds to pay OMA New York's design fee.
The New York Post article also claims that we did not reward all of our Kickstarter backers. As reported by ArtNew on November 7, 2017, the only people that did not receive their rewards are the ones that did not respond to our requests for information. We welcome those backers that did not receive what they deserved to contact the institute directly via Kickstarter or on our website.
When we received the proposal from OMA New York, we were overwhelmed by the originality and beauty of the project. However, they informed us that the project cost would exceed 31 million dollars. We looked for a cost effective solution together with OMA New York and a consultant but the building had many issues to make it work within a manageable budget. The board of MAI decided to cancel the building project and to focus our efforts on bringing our projects to people around the world.
To date, MAI has partnered with many institutions and artists internationally. We have presented 13 art experiences in 12 countries the majority of which were free of entrance and open to the public. The events have been attended by over 675,000 people. Most importantly, wherever we go, we strive to foster emerging performance artists and create a platform for their work while also engaging the broader public in participatory exercises from the Abramovic Method.
I reject the New York Post's allegations of theft. The Kickstarter funds were directed for the purpose intended. Over the last four years, the original vision of the Institute evolved and I am proud of this work.
Marina Abramovic

Help for Our Landmark Church

The New York Landmarks Conservancy recently announced seventeen Sacred Sites Grants, and among them is a $25,000 Sacred Sites Challenge Grant for the First Presbyterian Church at Warren and Fourth streets, to help fund repairs and partial replacement of the existing roof structure and roof.

Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, said of the recent award, "We are pleased to continue to support the ongoing restoration of First Presbyterian--an important example of Hudson's history and architectural merit. The supportive Friends Group demonstrates how much First Presbyterian means to the entire Hudson community." In May 2014, the Conservancy awarded $50,000 to the church for the restoration of the church's principal stained glass window. 

The Conservancy is a private non-profit organization whose mission has been to preserve, restore, and reuse New York City's and New York State's architectural legacy for future generations. Since its founding, the Conservancy has loaned and granted more than $50 million, which has leveraged more than $1 billion in restoration projects.

"This is a wonderful award," said Phil Forman, president of the Friends of the First Presbyterian Church. "It is validation of the importance of this building in the architectural and historic landscape of Hudson. And it will act as a stepping stone to generating more interest in the restoration of this wonderful building. We are extremely grateful to the Landmarks Conservancy for their support."

To make your own contribution to this major restoration project, which is expected to take more than eighteen months, go to

Monday, November 13, 2017

DRI Watch: LPC Meets Tomorrow Night

The Local Planning Committee for the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) meets tomorrow night--Tuesday, November 14--at 6 p.m in the cafeteria of John L. Edwards Primary School. It's your chance to sit for two hours on aluminum cafeteria benches meant for children between the ages of 5 and 8 and observe the twenty-five members of our LPC interact with the professional planner from Stantec. There will be very little opportunity for public input. Nonetheless, Gossips encourages you to attend. 

Six Candidates Poised to Challenge Faso

If you missed the Congressional CD19 Candidates Forum yesterday, as Gossips did, Dan Udell was there for us all. His videotape of the event can now be viewed by clicking here.


A Busy Night at City Hall

Much of interest is happening at City Hall tonight, Monday, November 13.

At 5:30 p.m., there is a public hearing on the proposed city budget for 2018. The budget can now be reviewed online and explored using the new graphic interface OpenGov. Click here to get started. A special meeting for the Council to vote on the budget has been scheduled for Tuesday, November 21. 

At 6:30 p.m., the Common Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed law meant to facilitate the conversion of basements and accessory buildings into dwelling units by eliminating the requirement for offstreet parking for such units. That law can be reviewed here.

At 7 p.m., the Common Council holds its informal meeting for November. To review the agenda for that meeting, click here.

Susan B. Returns to Hudson . . . After 123 Years

The Mother of Us All, the opera about Susan B. Anthony directed by Hudson's own R. B. Schlather, opened at Hudson Hall on Saturday, November 11. On Saturday, too, a review by Russell Platt appeared in The New Yorker: "Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein's "The Mother of Us All" Is Avant-Garde Opera for the People." Platt concludes his review by saying, "Surely Schlather’s production, which is already sold out, could float down the river to the big city."

Gossips was there on opening night and was wowed. I can think of no better word to express the experience. I've heard that Sunday night's performance was even more powerful. The Mother of Us All is a major achievement for the newly renovated and reopened performance space at the historic Hudson Opera House and a major achievement for Hudson. 

A note of explanation about the title of this post: Susan B. Anthony came to Hudson three times to speak on the subject of woman suffrage at City Hall, the same building we know as the Hudson Opera House and Hudson Hall. Her first appearance was in April 1855, the first year the building was open. She returned in August 1859 and again in March 1894.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

What Happened to the Money?

Since Marina Abramovic announced last month that she would not be pursuing her grand plan to transform the former Community Theatre on Columbia and Seventh streets into the Marina Abramovic Institute, many have wondered what would become of the $2.2 million she had raised for the project, in particular the $660,000 raised in a Kickstarter campaign to which some Hudsonians had contributed.

Yesterday, it was reported in the New York Post that Abramovic will not be giving the money back. According to a spokesperson, it has already been spent to pay Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas for the proposed design for the dramatic conversion of the building, which now will not happen: "Marina Abramovic raised $2 million for canceled art project, hasn't given money back."


Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Great War: November 11, 1917

Today--November 11, 2017--marks the 99th anniversary of the day the World War I ended. A hundred years ago on this day, the Second Battle of Passchendaele, which began on October 26, had ended the previous day.

No American forces took part in the Second Battle of Passchendaele. Rather it was fought by the British, the Canadians, and a combined Australian and New Zealand corps. But a least one American--a Hudsonian--died in that battle. It was Malcolm Gifford, Jr., the great nephew of the artist Sanford Robinson Gifford.

Gossips has told the story of Malcolm Gifford, Jr., the child of privilege who was arrested in April 1914 for allegedly robbing and murdering a chauffeur he'd hired to drive him from Albany to Troy the previous year, while he was staying at a friend's house after being suspended from his prep school. He was tried twice for the crime, in July 1914 and February 1915, but both trials ended in a hung jury. After the second trial, he was released on a $25,000 bond, and there was not a third trial.

At the beginning of 1917, before the U.S. entered the war, Gifford, then a student at Williams College, enlisted in the Canadian army. On November 8, 1917, in the Second Battle of Passchendaele, he was killed in action. On November 19, 1917, the day his father, Malcolm Gifford, Sr., received a telegram from the director of war records in Ottawa informing him of his son's death, the following head appeared on the front page of the Hudson Evening Register.

The article about his death mentioned nothing of the previous charges against him. Instead it focused on the nobility of his actions.
The noble principle for which the Allies were battling against Germany inspired the young football star, and anxious to do his "bit" for democracy he was one of the first Williams college men to offer his services to Canada. A short time after joining the Canadian artillery, he was serving England and there during the long and rigid training, he made a most commendable record.
Particulars relative to the circumstances in which he lost his life were not contained in the message received by his father, but the statement that he "was killed in action" tells a story of heroism, loyalty and bravery. His battery for nearly three months has seen strenuous fighting, and has won admiration from the war heads. The casualties have been many, but the 43rd has gloriously held her ground, pounding away at the Germans uninteruptedly and effectively, proving beneficial to the infantry charges and withstanding gas attacks and rigid countercharges.
Other newspapers were not so kind. The Albany Evening Journal recounted the whole sordid story in the front-page headlines accompanying the article that announced his death: "Malcolm Gifford, Twice Tried as Slayer, Killed on Battlefield in France"; "Wealthy Youth Dies Fighting in Canadian Unit--Juries Disagreed on His Case"; "Was Charged with Murder of Chauffeur." The Troy Times in reporting his death identified him in the headline as "Young Man Who Figured in Murder Case."

A commemorative book from the Welcome Home celebration that took place in Hudson after the war, on September 8 and 9, 1919, included, among the photographs of the twenty-four men from Hudson who died in World War I, this photograph of Malcolm Gifford, Jr., in the uniform of the Canadian Field Artillery.


Friday, November 10, 2017

The 2018 City Budget

Last night, there was a special Common Council meeting to receive the proposed 2018 budget. It seemed at first, the meeting couldn't happen since there were only four aldermen present--Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), Robert Donahue (Fifth Ward), Michael O'Hara (First Ward), and Rick Rector (First Ward)--and there was no quorum. Abdus Miah (Second Ward) arrived late, having been summoned by phone. It's unclear if his presence was enough to make a quorum, but it didn't matter. At that point, it had already been determined that a quorum was not required simply to receive the budget.

The budget for 2018 presented to the Council last night by Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton sees a 5.45 percent overall increase in spending. The biggest increases--aside from the City's contribution to Hudson Area Library, which will more than double from $120,000 to $250,000--are for the Youth Department, which will see a 41.2 percent increase, and Law/Attorney, which will increase 46.1 percent from last year to cover the anticipated costs of ongoing litigation. There will also be a 14.1 percent increase in the budget for animal control to fund an animal enumeration project, intended to ensure dog owners' compliance with local licensing requirements.

Some departments will see a decrease in their budgets, the greatest being a 47.4 percent decrease for the Senior Center, because the City will no longer have to pay the Galvan Foundation $50,000 a year, as it has in 2016 and 2017, for outfitting the space in Galvan Armory.

The proposed budget also raises the mayor's salary from $45,000 to $60,000, the level it was in 2005. Hamilton explained that the mayor's salary had been "adjusted in prior years to accommodate pension requirements." She also made the point that the mayor, who is the chief executive officer for the City, is paid less than any other department head, as illustrated by this bar graph.

The increase would make the mayor's salary about equal to the treasurer's salary, which is $60,148.

Rector, the mayor elect who is now an alderman, said of the proposed salary increase, "This is very awkward for me," and stated his intention of recusing himself from the vote on the budget.

The presentation of the budget concluded with the following bullet points, which present "The Big Picture."
  • While many think the tax cap is 2%, the maximum allowable annual tax cap is actually determined using a complex, multi-step calculation. The maximum allowable increase for 2018 is 5%, but we are pleased to present the Council with a 3% ($149,017) increase, while still providing significant improvements across City departments.
  • $408,554 is taken from the fund balance to achieve a balanced budget.
  • Year-over-year expenditures are increasing 5.45%, versus a 2.52% increase last year.
  • Total expenditures are increasing by $577,100 from $10,588,605 to $11,165,715.
  • In addition to identifying cost savings in various departments, we are able to keep the tax increase low with the following anticipated revenue increases (based on trends and the newly enacted lodging tax):
  • $100,000 increase in sales tax revenue
  • $10,000 increase in Planning Board fees
  • $30,000 increase in Amtrak parking lot permit fees
  • $10,000 increase in building permit fees
  • $240,000 in lodging tax revenue and $7,000 in lodging tax registration fees (note that half of the lodging tax revenue will be added to the City's general fund, and the other half set aside for use by the Tourism Board to promote and market tourism)
  • In every department and for every building, utilities costs are decreased to reflect the downward trend we saw in 2017 as a result of cancellation of all Viridian contracts.
Audience member Steve Dunn questioned why money was being taken from the fund balance in order to balance the budget, suggesting that doing so was not sustainable. Treasurer Heather Campbell explained that the City now has a policy in place to control how much needs to be in the fund balance to ensure that the City is neither putting itself in fiscal jeopardy nor taking more from taxpayers than is necessary. She pointed out that the fund balance is now higher than it needs to be, and taking $408,554 from the fund balance will put it back within the parameters.

There will be a public hearing on the budget on Monday, November 13, at 5:30, at City Hall. Prior to the hearing, all budget documents will be available online at the City of Hudson website. There will also be link on the website to the budget data presented in OpenGov.