Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Decision in the Great Bench Controversy

There is no need to hold readers in suspense. At the special meeting of the Hudson Housing Authority Board last night, it was agreed that Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood could paint the four benches in front of the building, but not until Jeff First, executive director of HHA and property manager of Bliss Towers, sees the specifications for the products to be used. Whether or not the benches on the sides of the building can also be painted has yet to be decided. First wants to limit the scope of the project. How the resolution was reached is a tale to tell. 

Although the decision about the benches was postponed for a week so that members of the board could review the proposal, the start of yesterday's meeting was delayed for ten minutes while First made copies of the proposal for the members of the board present-- Lee Bradshaw, George DeJesus, Geeta Cheddie, Barbara Hall, and Glenda Dempsey--suggesting that they had not spent the intervening week studying the proposal.

Early on in the meeting, First suggested an alternative to painting the benches. Pointing out that the color choices had been offered to the residents of Bliss Towers without the input of management, First admitted that he didn't like the colors that had been chosen: sky blue (to match the blue colors on the building), sunshine yellow, and a color somewhere between burgundy and purple. He proposed staining the benches instead, holding up a chart of stain colors that were all variations of brown and opining that "stain gives a richer appearance than paint would."

Joan Hunt, project manager for Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood, responded to First's alternative proposal by saying that the intention was to make the area surrounding the building more bright and exciting, more colorful and lively. She asked First, making reference to the stain colors, "Is brown the only option?"

First explained that he wanted HHA buildings to "conform more with the architecture of the city." He believed that staining the benches rather than painting them was more in keeping with the revitalization of Hudson driven by its historic architecture. Later in the meeting, a woman who identified herself as an artist and a designer asked First to look at a chart of Benjamin Moore historic colors and to look at the colors actually being used on historic buildings in Hudson, citing the orange building in the 200 block of Warren Street and the pink interior at LICK. Calling these colors "invigorating and joyful," she encouraged the board to "investigate what colors can do for the human soul" and asked them to reconsider their position on painting the benches.

First remained skeptical about painting the benches, worrying not only about using the right paint but also about upkeep. He asked Linda Mussmann, who was in the audience, about the maintenance required for the painted benches that TSL made for the train station. Mussmann said those benches had been retouched a couple of times in the course of the fifteen years since they were made. Hunt said she would be happy to come up with a plan for upkeep involving tenant volunteers.

A couple of things happened that suggested the Hudson Housing Authority Board was unaccustomed to conducting public meetings. At one point, after another delay in the meeting while First went to print copies of the color chart that had been distributed to tenants, Bradshaw told the audience that the board would go into executive session to discuss the issue. The audience members objected. Victor Mendolia told the board, "You cannot go into executive session just because you don't want the public to hear what you say."

When it seemed that there was nothing left to discuss, Cheddie made a motion to vote on painting the benches. In a voice vote, the members of the board agreed. There was applause from the audience until it was pointed out that the board had voted to vote on the proposal, they had not voted to approve it. Cheddie then made a motion to approve painting four of the benches, and that motion passed as well.

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