At the end of last year, the Hudson Development Corporation voted to amend its bylaws to reduce the number of elected city officials who serve ex officio on the HDC board. At that time, there were nine people on the board, four of whom were elected officials--the mayor, Common Council president, majority leader, and minority leader. It was decided to eliminate the majority and minority leaders as ex officio members. During the time when the amendment to the bylaws was being discussed, Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) was the Common Council majority leader, and Bart Delaney (Fifth Ward) was the minority leader, and both were ex officio board members. Garriga reportedly was absent when the amendment was voted on.
When the news first was reported, the Staley B. Keith Social Justice Center was quick to cry foul, alleging that the board's decision was an attempt to "remove any voices from the minority community." The accusation gained momentum when the Common Council, made up of nothing but Democrats and one NOP, decided to make Abdus Miah (Second Ward) the minority leader, although there was no minority party represented on the Council. Now the two people who held the positions HDC had eliminated as ex officio seats on the board were people of color.
Last month, Quintin Cross, chairman of SBK, sent a letter to the HDC board, copies of which went to the mayor, the Common Council, Assemblymember Didi Barrett, and State Senator Kathleen Marchione, as well as the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Capital Region and the director of the Northeast Region NYS NAACP. The letter concludes: "It's important that the HDC board reflects what is happening in Hudson. However, it's clear that the lack of diversity on the Hudson Development Corporation Board does not reflect what is going on in our city--and worse it negates all the progress we've made as a community. Ultimately, your actions whether intentional or not changing your bylaws to remove the majority leader and the minority leader whom happened to be the only people of color on the agencies board impact every organization serving Hudson."
In response to the letter, HDC invited representatives of SBK to their meeting yesterday to, as stated in Cross's letter "find ways [SBK and HDC] can work together." Garriga and Miah both came, along with with Ellis Richardson and Alexis Keith, both members of the SBK Leadership Team, and Ed Cross, Second Ward supervisor.
Garriga opened the conversation by asking how the decision to remove the majority and minority leaders from the board had been made. Duncan Calhoun, president of the HDC board, explained that the restructuring was an effort to "depoliticize" the board and pointed out that it had been done at the end of the year, when there would soon be a new Council and it was not known who the majority and minority leaders would be. Garriga countered, "What a coincidence that the only people of color on the board were removed from the board." Calhoun denied that the action was taken to remove people of color, stressing that no one knew who the majority and minority leaders would be when the decision was made and therefore positions were eliminated not people.
Calhoun went on to note that the board currently has five openings, and they have not received an application from anyone of color. Garriga asked if they had "reached out" to people of color, saying that she never knew of HDC's existence before she became an ex officio member by virtue of being the Council majority leader. Calhoun told her the board welcomed input from SBK to help identify viable candidates. "Bring us three names of people who would be fantastic candidates who meet the same standards as the rest of the members," he urged. Richardson wanted to know constituted a "viable candidate." He questioned the sincerity of the HDC board and the ability of black people to meet the standards of viability, and concluded, "We could give you names, but if we don't know what the vetting system is, it could be a waste of time."
After more than an hour of back and forth, during which Sheena Salvino, executive director of HDC, explained the application process for becoming a board member, Richardson demanded to know how many black-owned businesses there were in Hudson, the mayor suggested that it was necessary to think beyond brick and mortar businesses to "expand our options," and Sarah Sterling, First Ward supervisor, advised, "Everyone has to follow the rules, and everyone needs to educate themselves," the discussion came to an end without reaching a conclusion that seemed to satisfy everyone, and the meeting moved on to its next agenda item.
COPYRIGHT 2016 CAROLE OSTERINK