Thursday, September 25, 2014

News from the Legal Committee Meeting

"Laws are like sausages--it is best not to see them being made." Whether Otto von Bismarck or Leo McGarry on The West Wing was first to express this thought, his reason for not wanting to see laws being made was probably not because the process is excruciatingly tedious and slow, but it might have been. Common Council committee meetings are supposed to last 45 minutes. Last night's Legal Committee meeting went on for 2½ hours.

The first hour of the meeting was dedicated to discussing the topic that had been discussed at length at the Police Committee meeting two days earlier: "nightlife quality of life." No sooner was the topic introduced than Alderman Bart Delaney (Fifth Ward) suggested that all establishments in Hudson that serve alcohol should close at 2 a.m. (In the absence of a local law setting an earlier closing time, state law permits bars to stay open until 4 a.m.) Alderman Henry Haddad (Third Ward) pointed out that bars in Hudson are the latest to close in the area and Hudson has the most bars that stay open after 2 a.m. It seemed there might be consensus around a 2 a.m. closing--an idea that has been suggested many times before--but no. The discussion went on and on.

Alderman Abdus Miah (Second Ward) fretted about lost sales tax revenue if bars were to close two hours earlier. Alderman Nick Hadded (First Ward) suggested that "a lot of the fault rests with the bar owners." Alderman David Marston (First Ward) cautioned against "thinking a 2 a.m. closing will change the way bar owners run their businesses."

Marston's point seems well taken. The incident that inspired the current concern about late night rowdiness, during which a plate glass window at The Crimson Sparrow was broken by people drinking on the sidewalk outside Wunderbar, occurred at 12:30 a.m., and Wunderbar already has a 2 a.m. closing time.

Several at the meeting suggested or intimated that there needed to be greater police enforcement of laws that already exist. Police commissioner Gary Graziano took offense at the criticism of police enforcement, pointing out that there are only three officers on duty in the wee hours of the morning and explaining that when officers weren't busy with other calls and parked near problem establishments, the owners of those establishments complained about the police presence.

After nearly an hour of discussion, Delaney turned his suggestion into a motion: that the committee direct the city attorney to begin the process of writing a local law requiring all bars in Hudson to close at 2 a.m. Council president Don Moore said he would "second it next month." He wanted to know first "what the reaction would be from the bar owners."

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, asked Graziano what it would cost "to police problem establishments." Along with the request, he shared the opinion that "the police contract serves the men and women of the police force well, but it does not serve the city well." Apparently the only way to get more officers to work on weekend nights is to pay current officers overtime.

The meeting that began with one weighty topic ended with another: the constitutionality of the weighted vote. Friedman summarized his opinion of the situation: "It seems pretty clear to me that our system is unconstitutional and would not survive a challenge in court." He continued, "The fact that it is so hard to explain argues that it should be changed." He expressed his preference for equal election districts, each with a single alderman.

Speaking of the findings presented by the Hofstra law students who studied Hudson government, Moore commented, "My sense of the report is that there really isn't a good reason why we have a weighted vote." He called equal election districts "the gold standard" for achieving one person, one vote.

Because the meeting had already gone on for almost two hours when this item on the agenda was reached, the weighted vote did not get as much discussion as "nightlife quality of life," but some interesting information was revealed. When the Hofstra students were presenting their findings about the weighted vote back in May, long time mayor Rick Scalera, who is currently the supervisor for the Fifth Ward, noted the students' findings had "conveniently left out" the fact that a referendum to change the ward boundaries had been defeated twice in the past. Last night, Delaney also made reference to the referendum being "handily defeated" in 2003. As it turns out, the vote in the 2003 referendum was much closer than Scalera and Delaney would have us believe. Moore pointed out last night that in 2003 referendum the vote was 610 to 678.

Second Ward resident Steve Dunn revealed another surprising bit of information related to the weighted vote. Dunn claims that the population of the Hudson Terrace apartment complex--half of which is in the First Ward and half in the Second--was switched in the population figures used to calculate the weighted vote.

Dunn alleges that population of 15 North Front Street, where there are more units and more residents, was attributed to the First Ward, and the population of 15 South Front Street, where there are fewer units and fewer residents, was attributed to the Second Ward. According to Dunn's calculations, the accurate population count for the Second Ward is 1,309 not 1,281, and the accurate population count for the First Ward is 755 not 770, making the First Ward, in Dunn's words, "close to a rotten borough"--a  rotten borough being "a depopulated election district that retains its original representation."

In its long duration meeting, the Legal Committee did take action on one piece of legislation. They agreed to move the legislation forward that would establish minimum sizes for dwelling units: 350 square feet for studio apartments; 500 square feet for one-bedroom apartments. The legislative findings of the proposed amendment are stated in this way: 
The Common Council of the City of Hudson finds that it is in the public interest as well as the health safety and welfare of residents of the City of Hudson to determine an appropriate minimum square footage for dwelling units constructed within the City which is [sic] to be used for human habitation. The Council finds that a minimum of 350 square feet for studio apartments and 500 square feet for larger dwelling units are [sic] necessary to mitigate any negative health, safety and welfare impacts of living in smaller, more constricted size apartments.
The Council also intends that this local law shall be given prospective affect only and that no existing dwelling unit used for human habitation shall be affected thereby.
The fact that existing apartments will be grandfathered is probably a good thing, since, as we have seen, all the one-bedroom apartments in Hudson Terrace are only 387.5 square feet--significantly smaller than proposed 500 square foot minimum.

Also, the new owners of 949-951 Columbia Street, who are converting what had been a medical office into residential apartments, are proposing two new dwelling units: a one-bedroom apartment and a two-bedroom apartment. The one-bedroom apartment will be 420 square feet--also smaller than the 500 square foot minimum.



  1. The spreadsheets are admittedly of withering complexity unfortunately, so the confusion is understandable, but the deviations used in Carole's article are prior to correctly for the misallocation of population of the Hudson Terrace Apartments census block (I can speculate on the origin of those errors, but the numbers are small). Once you properly allocate between Wards 1 and 2 the Hudson Terrace Apartments population, the population of Ward 1 drops to 593, and that of Ward 2 increases to 1471, and it is that deviation which causes the deviations from voting equality to rise way about 10% and into unconstitutional territory.

    Even without the population errors, the 10% threshold is still exceeded due to using the wrong baseline (voting power as opposed to absolute council votes - again an esoteric and almost impossible to understand concept), but with time, hopefully all of this can be worked through. So that one can see the source of Carole’s confusion, and how my numbers are derived referred to above, a screenshot of the spreadsheet that Carole is using (since revised, but the population numbers are the same), can be viewed here:

    Again - it's complicated!


    1. It's complicated by design, not to serve the people but to protect our "betters" with layers of protection, so they can be deliberately vague.

      They lack vision.