Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Last Night at City Hall

The issue that took up the greatest amount of time at last night's informal Common Council meeting was the Savoia. Patrons of the Savoia packed the house, along with residents and business owners on lower Warren Street concerned about two incidents that occurred in the vicinity of the bar a few weekends ago: gunshots at 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, and a brick hurled through the window at Verdigris in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Savoia owner Barbara Walthour and her supporters were vocal in their protests and testimonials; the opposition not so much, perhaps out of fear of being painted with the broad brush of racism that Walthour and her defenders were wielding, claiming that the Savoia had been "singled out for years because it is an African American owned bar."

The issue before the Common Council was a resolution, which hadn't been drafted yet, to appropriate funds for a CCTV camera, "which can look up and down the street," to be installed at Second and Warren streets. At the outset of the discussion, Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who reportedly had been opposed to a camera at that location in the past, expressed her support, with two stipulations: that the camera at the corner of Third and Warren streets, which she had heard was not working, be fixed (Police Commissioner Gary Graziano confirmed that the camera was working and had been used recently in the investigation of a car crash); and that cameras be placed at other bars as well, "so that Savoia is not blamed for problems they are not responsible for." Responding to Garriga's second stipulation, Graziano declared, "If the Council approves the money, I'll put up fifty cameras." His statement was met with applause.

Garriga expressed the opinion that complaints about the Savoia were unfounded and proposed that the complainers get together with Walthour to discuss the situation. She explained that, because she was not on the Police Committee and he was, she was turning the task of organizing and facilitating the conversation over to her fellow Second Ward alderman, Abdus Miah. Unfortunately, when Miah started talking about Garriga's proposal, one Savoia supporter was not shy about complaining that she couldn't understand what he was saying.

Although the Savoia issue seemed to take all the oxygen in the room, other issues of interest and importance were touched on.

Council president Don Moore confirmed that the resolution declaring the sewer separation project a Type II Action would be voted on at the Council's next meeting on June 16. When asked about the status of the EAF (Environmental Assessment Form), which the aldermen took a stab at completing themselves at their May meeting, Moore said they would decide if they wanted to proceed with that on June 16 as well.

An amendment was introduced to Chapter 2-4 B of the city charter, which currently reads: " . . . an appointed person otherwise eligible to hold office under this Charter in accordance with the Public Officers Law of the State of New York need not be an elector of the City so long as such person shall reside in Columbia County within 15 road miles of a boundary of the City of Hudson and be a taxpayer on the real property assessment rolls of the City of Hudson." The amendment would eliminate the requirement, deemed unconstitutional, that appointed officers who do not reside in Hudson be taxpayers in Hudson.

A new local law was proposed that would make it "unlawful for any person or persons to deposit, cast, throw, or discard any substance or material which has been produced or refined by human manufacture or process, trash, refuse, waste, papers, or junk upon any of the streets, alleys, public ways, or public land of the City of Hudson whereby the said streets, alleys, or public land or the premises neighboring thereto would become littered or strewn or rendered unsightly, unclean, foul, or offensive." The impetus for the new statute? The ubiquitous compendium of advertisements distributed by Columbia-Greene Media, Shop & Find.

Audience member Steve Dunn raised the question of reassigning voters to their appropriate wards after errors were discovered in the ward boundaries. As a consequence of these errors, some people who should have been voting in the Fifth Ward have actually been voting in the Third and Fourth wards. Among those affected are Mayor Hallenbeck and his family. Dunn called the situation "a recipe for challenges and litigation during the petitioning process" and suggested that the State Attorney General should weigh in. Democratic Commissioner of Elections Virginia Martin, who was present at the meeting, explained that the reassignment should have been done by June 2, and she was prepared to do it, but Republican Commissioner Jason Nastke was unwilling. The approval of both commissioners is needed to make the changes.


  1. It was the petition with 416 signatories which persuaded the Common Council to conduct a Short Environmental Assessment Form before voting on the sewer project's exemption from environmental review. That made sense too, to learn some of the potential negative impacts of what some representatives seemed otherwise determined to endorse, sight unseen so to speak.

    But even when underreporting the actual size of the project to the tiny area the city is pretending, Delaware Engineering produced an EAF with results well below the state standards.

    The engineers' efforts were so obviously flawed that the Common Council, without protest, attempted to answer the EAF questions by themselves.

    While I believe that the answers our representatives produced were still insufficient (in part because of the same artificially limited project size), the council's more honest results were alarming enough for some to wish they hadn't promised an EAF in the first place.

    What a dilemma for those who'd grudgingly promised the public an EAF but who now began to see what the public had seen from the beginning. Fortunately for them, the council lost its steam and couldn't complete the form.

    Now we've learned that the Common Council has aborted the mission altogether. Our representatives have broken a promise made in response to our petition. They saw the implications of the project for themselves and are back to wondering what they can get away with?

    They're doing the cart-before-horse again, a tactic that some wish they'd employed earlier.

    With no regard for the environmental harm they may cause, our council members are prepared to take a chance on the meaning of a single "shall" in a state policy document. (The end of the same sentence qualifies the "shall.")

    Let's pretend they're right for a moment. By exempting the current plan from review, which cleaner plans will never see the light of day?

    Even at this late hour, most or all of the Aldermen are still unaware that the city already has a state-approved sewer separation plan that is entirely "green"! How can they not know that?!!

    This council is out to sea, besides which they've broken a promise.

  2. In attempting to show the aldermen a way out of their dilemma, I've already received criticism that I was too harsh above. The facts are the facts though, and homework is homework.

    Certainly there are aldermen and alderwomen who distrust the direction the council is taking on this, and we're entirely grateful for their clear-headedness.

    But now I find that even sympathetic council members don't realize that a Yes vote on next week's Resolution will automatically replace the city's approved GREEN separation plan with a dirty one which remains unapproved.

    And don't think for a moment that Albany won't rubber-stamp the dirtier plan. Such a substitution by a local legislature is enough to satisfy our dysfunctional state regulator that the new plan is what residents truly desire. That's all the state really wants to know.

    Which brings us back to the council - our representatives - our voice.

    If our sympathetic reps don't even know we're trashing a good plan (in need of some updating) for a bad one which should never have been suggested in the 21st century, then how rational can the decision-making of the remaining aldermen be?

    Yes, I was too harsh above, but someone who's on the fence on this issue should understand what this vote really means. The sad fact is, none of them have a clue what I'm writing about today.

    You bet I'm alarmed.

    But the aldermen do have a way out of this, by voting NO on next week's Resolution for the present plan's exemption from environmental review.

    The whole point of an environmental review is the consideration of project alternatives within an enforceable context. We've heard promises in recent weeks that the DPW can tweak this or that part of the plan to simulate green alternatives, or that they can introduce these changes later.

    Outside the context of a legitimate environmental review, these are all empty promises. Meaningless.

    The aldermen and the public should understanding our previous approved plan before the council holds a vote to replace it next week.


    Sorry if I offended, but do these circumstances strike anyone else out there as being incredibly stupid?

  3. Now I've been told that I'm being too "philosophical."

    After that I got a phone call from another friend telling me that people can't grasp what representative government is.

    This is who we are? Really?

  4. It's been 51 days since the Common Council agreed to conduct a Short Environmental Assessment Form (SEAF).

    The council decided to delay a vote on a Resolution exempting the project plan from environmental review in order to complete this preliminary environmental survey of the plan.

    The date to which a vote on the exemption was postponed was nearly picked out of a hat. City attorney Whitbeck agreed that there was "enough time before, say, June 16th to complete an SEAF."

    Today, despite all we've heard about losing the grant if we didn't hurry, we should ask what happened in the intervening 51 days during which the public's simple request might have been accomplished.

    For those who've never seen it, an SEAF is basically a three-and-a-quarter page form with yes/no checkboxes.