Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tuesday Night at City Hall

The Common Council met on Tuesday night for its regular meeting of the month. Several issues came before them for discussion and consideration. 

Pedestrian Safety  The meeting started with accepting communications, one of them being a memo from Alderman Henry Haddad (Third Ward), who chairs the Police Committee, addressing complaints about speeding and pedestrian safety that have been made repeatedly by Supervisor Ed Cross (Second Ward) and Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), among others. Haddad's memo made these recommendations:
To better protect our residents and visitors to our city, I recommend that the Mayor of the City of Hudson, Tiffany M. Hamilton, take all steps necessary to implement the following actions: first the purchase of two temporary speed bumps with signage for the cost of $1200 each, to be deployed at the discretion of the Mayor and the Police Department when they deem necessary during the summer months and only in the areas of the playgrounds at Oakdale pond and North Second Street. Second, that the Mayor immediately instruct the Department of Public Works to erect stop signs at the six most dangerous alley intersections.
Haddad goes on to identify the six intersections that he considers "most at risk for public safety."

With regard to Haddad's memo, Council president Claudia DeStefano told the Council that "the mayor has asked the HPD to position the speed trailer [the speed monitoring device acquired in March] on State Street to collect data before putting down speed bumps or whatever." Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who has been advocating for some kind of traffic calming device on lower State Street, suggested that speed humps would be more appropriate than speed bumps. Replying to the suggestion, DeStefano stated her opinion that "starting with the collection of data is a wise way."

Animalkind  Garriga, who made few friends among dog owners last year when she effectively nixed all the potential dog park sites by asserting that her constituents did not want a dog park in their ward, appeared to be equally ready to offend cat fanciers. After the resolution to pay Animalkind $5,000 for the spaying and neutering services to cats in the city had already passed, Garriga wanted to know "if there has ever been a report on how the $5,000 to Animalkind is spent." She made reference to grants and other contributions received by Animalkind, seeming to imply that the not-for-profit might not need $5,000 from the City.

City attorney Ken Dow told Garriga that Animalkind did send a "breakdown of their numbers and expenses in advance of the request." DeStefano said she had a copy in her office if Garriga wanted to look at it. Haddad said that it was brought to the Finance Committee last year and reminded Garriga that she had been part of that committee. Dow then stated that Animalkind spent $13,000 on city animals and concluded, "Their service [to the City] far exceeds the $5,000 they ask for."

Senior Center  Tempers often flare when the topic is the senior center, and Tuesday night was no exception. There was a resolution before the Council to approve an agreement with the Columbia County Office for the Aging to operate a meal program at the Hudson senior center. Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) had a few problems with the agreement, chief among them that "we are indemnifying the county way more than we are indemnifying us." He also complained that the Council was seeing the revised agreement for the first time that day. He once again brought up the greatest bone of contention regarding the senior center. "This Council agreed to pay $100,000 to the richest man in town and now is asked to approve a contract that puts us on the hook for a third party's negligence." 

After identifying and explaining the items in the proposed contract he found problematic, Friedman declared, "This is being rammed down our throats. I'm not going to vote for it, and I suggest my colleagues don't votes for it either." Having made that statement, Friedman couldn't resist poking the bear--the bear in this case being Alderman Abdus Miah (Second Ward)--by making reference to the $100,000 that was stolen from the seniors to pay the Galvan Foundation. Miah exploded, jumping out of his seat and shouting, blaming the Board of Estimate and Apportionment for not putting money for the senior center in the 2016 budget. Friedman replied, "After you stole the money, there was no money," which provoked a fresh tirade from Miah, with accusations and complaints about the police and court building, a project that Friedman had supported.

Alderman Rick Rector (First Ward) suggested that the Council ask the city attorney to address the points Friedman raised about the contract and then hold a special meeting to vote on the amended agreement, at which they would also hear from the clerk of the works and Joe Rapp, the project manager, about the police and court building. That being said and presumably agreed to, the resolution was tabled.

Picnic Tables for Promenade Hill  Another resolution had to do with the gift from Etsy of "two permanent picnic tables," with the expressed desire that "such tables be placed and used in Promenade Hill." After the Council had voted to accept the picnic tables, Rector expressed concern that nobody had seen the picnic tables. He noted, "We're letting a private organization do something in our most historic park." Garriga, who opined that the picnic tables would be beautiful, suggested that they be put in Charles Williams Park if they were not wanted on Promenade Hill.

Parking Permit System  The plan to issue parking permits to residents within three blocks of Columbia Memorial Hospital is back before the Common Council, minimally changed from the ill-fated law that was proposed, narrowly passed by the Common Council, but never enacted in the spring of 2015. 

Alderman Lauren Scalera (Fourth Ward) was the first to comment, saying that "parking is a citywide issue, and she is "weary [or did she say wary?] of something that covers only a select area." DeStefano, who lives near the hospital and was present (before she became Council president) at all the meetings when the proposed law was discussed and developed, responded to Scalera: "I wasn't pleased with the increased scope of the area, but I realize that targeting a small area just forces the problem to expand into adjacent areas."

Friedman, who as chair of the Legal Committee when the proposed law was drafted, called the law "fairly flawed" but suggested that the Council "pass it, enact it, and review it when it sunsets in a year." He also told the Council that he thought enacting the law required a home rule message and authorization by the state legislature, just as the lodging tax did. Dow said he wasn't sure that establishing a parking permit program required authorization from the state but would investigate. 

The discussion then shifted from parking to another hospital-related problem: hospital workers crossing Columbia Street to smoke at the top of McKinstry Place, leaving the street littered with cigarettes butts. That discussion eventually became a general complaint about how laws prohibiting people from smoking inside buildings forced them to smoke outside and to litter the streets. In the end, however, the local law establishing a parking permit system for the area around the hospital was laid on the aldermen's desks.

Von Ritter Lawsuit  After a brief executive session, the Council voted to accept the proposed settlement in the fourteen-year-old lawsuit brought against the City by Heinrich Von Ritter. John Mason reports on the details of that settlement in today's Register-Star: "City to pay Von Ritter $50K, close manhole."

1 comment:

  1. The Register-Star was wrong to rewrite the language of the settlement in order to reflect the DPW's account of the sewer system. The language of the agreement is the language of the agreement, period.

    The actual settlement reads:

    "Within forty-five 45 days ... the City must remove the existing manhole situated on the Property and connect the stormwater/sewer line entering the property from Tanners Lane ..."

    The Register-Star printed this:

    "Within 45 days the city must remove the manhole and connect the stormwater line entering the property from Tanners Lane ..."

    For years, the Plaintiff claimed that combined water - and not only stormwater - was draining to his property from Tanners Lane's combined sewer (i.e., combined sewage plus stormwater).

    The Common Council has now seen fit to acknowledge the Plaintiff's claim, since the only water mentioned in his amended settlement is "stormwater/sewer."

    The City's sewer collection system map shows no stormsewers on Tanners Lane, and only a combined sewer.

    A 2002 map by Stearns and Wheler actually identifies the Von Ritter/L&B spur as a combined sewer from Tanners.

    Earlier this year, the Conservation Advisory Council specifically asked the DEC's Hudson River Estuary Program to clarify the same sewer spur on new sewer collection maps produced by the State program. The result is that only a combined sewer is depicted on the new maps (2016).

    Since 2013, at least, the DEC Division of Water has refused to comment on the nature of the Tanners' sewer spur, or where it empties to. The court case was always cited as the reason for this reticence.

    Now I'm not saying that I know the Plaintiff is correct, and that it's combined sewer water that wells up on his property, but the public is not asking enough questions. The Register-Star has accepted the DPW's word on a potentially serious public health issue, and what the City's DPW "understands" to be the case.

    The same thing happened last September, after the alleged vandalism to a pump at the City's treatment plant.

    Public: (at DPW Committee meeting) How much straight, untreated sewer water escaped to the environment?

    DPW: No idea.

    Public: So how much went into the North Bay?

    DPW: None.

    Public: (to NYSDEC Division of Water [DOW]) Why was a spill of raw water reported improperly by the City?

    DOW: "It was combined water."

    Unacceptable. All of it!

    Regarding the Von Ritter settlement, since last week someone in City government should have contacted the DOW, demanding a clear and decisive account about this sewer which the settlement claims is combined. The question was asked at last week's Informal Meeting, and the recommendation was made that someone on the Council phone the DOW.

    Evidently nobody did, though a week later the Aldermen thought they knew enough to agree with the language of the settlement.

    Not that he's terribly clear or decisive, but Jamie Malcolm is our contact at the NYSDEC's DOW, and others may still phone: (518) 357 - 2385.

    But don't hold your breaths; I've weighted nearly two weeks for a call-back.