Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Much Ado About Something

At last night's Common Council meeting, Council president Claudia DeStefano wanted to change the published agenda, moving item 11, the resolution to transfer another $50,000 to the ramp project at Promenade Hill, ahead of item 7, the resolution to transfer $50,000 to the Attorney Fees Account. Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) wanted to know why the agenda was being changed. Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) offered an explanation that was inaudible to the audience and unacceptable to Friedman. DeStefano said, "There are other things on the agenda that are a little more pressing, and this one [by "this one" she seemed to mean the resolution about the ramp] is a little easier to run through the vote." Alderman Rick Rector (First Ward) asked that they stick to the agenda; Friedman concurred. The agenda was adhered to.

Before a vote was taken on the resolution to transfer funds to the Attorney Fees Account, Garriga moved that the Council go into executive session, with the mayor, to discuss the resolution. Friedman objected, saying he did not believe it was a proper topic to be discussed without the public present. He maintained that the only justification for executive session was discussing personnel issues that involve information about an individual or discussing ongoing litigation during which legal strategies might be disclosed. Andy Howard, counsel to the Council, said the Council might be discussing "potential litigation" and expressed the opinion that the Council could go into executive session. Friedman was adamant: "I want us to discuss in public things that should be discussed in public."

The Council then voted on whether or not to go into executive session, but before that happened, Friedman left the room. Alderman Henry Haddad (Third Ward) prepared to leave, too, but stayed for the vote, in which he, Rector, and O'Hara voted no. All the others--DeStefano, Robert Donahue (Fifth Ward), Garriga, Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward), Abdus Miah (Second Ward), Priscilla Moore (Fifth Ward), and Lauren Scalera (Fourth Ward) voted to go into executive session. After the vote, Haddad left, saying, "We shouldn't be discussing these things without the public here."

After an executive session that lasted for upwards of twenty minutes, the public was allowed back into the room, and the resolution was voted on. It was unanimously passed.

It is not known what was discussed in executive session, but one can hazard a guess. On Monday, the Hudson City Democratic Committee issued this statement and call to action: 
The Common Council votes Tuesday night on whether to set aside $50,000 for legal fees. These funds are needed in order to protect our interests concerning the proposed haul road through the South Bay, which would increase truck traffic and limit how we use our waterfront for generations to come.
We have a tight deadline to respond to Greenport's recent negative declaration on this project's environmental impact. If we don't respond, we are allowing the road to proceed without Hudson's input.
Please attend and urge your representatives to vote "yes" so that Hudson can protect its waterfront and its people.
At the meeting, the Council also received the following communication from the HCDC:
The Hudson City Democratic Committee (HCDC) supports the City's effort to protect the waterfront from unchecked development and from actions that would limit the future of the waterfront as an invaluable public resource and a driver of economic growth. In particular, HCDC hopes that the City can effectively address the negative declaration issued by the Town of Greenport's Planning Board with respect to the proposal to build a new two-lane haul road across the South Bay railroad berm. The Greenport Planning Board, as lead agency, has determined that the new haul road will have no significant environmental impact on the Hudson waterfront, precluding any further input by Hudson's citizens. This action is in contradiction to the 2011 zoning changes to the waterfront area. The HCDC, consistent with its vision statement calling for clean air, water, streets and parks, and appealing and accessible shared spaces, believes that the waterfront is a crucial part of Hudson's history and future development. With its extensive wetlands, iconic views of the river with the Catskills beyond, and multi-use waterfront docking areas with enormous potential for economic growth, the promise of a greatly improved quality of life for all Hudson residents is within reach. The awarding of the $10,000,000 DRI initiative only serves to underscore the importance of this area for the City's future economic development.
The HCDC urges the City to use all means within its power to make sure that this action by Greenport is not the last word on this highly important subject.  
For everyone interested in finding out what else happened at last night's Common Council meeting, Dan Udell's video of the meeting is now available on YouTube. Click here to watch.



  1. Where the Open Meetings Law allows public bodies to discuss "proposed, pending or current litigation" in Executive Session, the litigation must be specific and not merely threatened.

    The purpose of §105(1)(d) is to shield officials from openly baring their legal strategies, though it's typically exploited by officials who need to rationalize their inappropriate secrecy.

  2. Once again another shady deal by our great Hudson politicians. For once I agree with Freidman, unless personnal issues were to be discussed there was no reason for that issue not to be discussed in the public eye.

  3. Again we have the usual group of public rep running for cover.. Say what you like about Freidman he was right this time. Who is giving that {gang of wankers} their orders ? because they are not bright enough to light a 15 watt bulb

  4. Lots of misunderstandings about Executive Session. First, there are 8 specific reasons one can convene an executive sesssion. Second, Executive Session does not throw a veil of secrecy over what's discussed (if the group orders pizza while in ES, that can be revealed). (See the law here: It's not clear whether the reason for the ES in this case was proper, but Mr. Friedman and Mr. Haddad should have attended and reported back to their constituents, as the other council members could, whether the discussion met the ES standards; and if they determined that it did not, then they could have reported what was discussed.

    1. Now back to the real world, when we recently FOILed the Executive Session of a Greenport Planning Board meeting to learn whether the mere threat of litigation had been discussed improperly, the Minutes went something like this:

      • Meeting convened on [date] at [x-time].
      • The following were present [x,y,z].
      • Meeting concluded at [x-time].

    2. Unfortunately, FOIL has become a ceiling instead of a floor. But the situation of the Common Council ES as reported by Carole, shows how poorly the law is understood--and how the public lost an opportunity when two of the dissenting council members (though it's not clear from the report whether Mr. Friedman went to the ES) did not attend. It's left to Mr. Rector, the other member who voted not to go to ES, to tell the public whether the discussion in ES met the standards of the law.

  5. As a matter of law, it's illegal for a public officer in attendance at an executive session to reveal anything that was discussed in the executive session. Kind of a catch-22 situation when the session itself is improperly called. There may be some loopholes but I don't have the time to do the research -- my assistant has been away for 3 weeks.

    But what was discussed is easy to dope out and, since I didn't attend the executive session, I can tell you what was discussed: how to keep the City from being in a position to both defend its laws and itself -- in other words, the sovereignty of the city. The method chosen to accomplish this bizarre goal was to refuse to fund the outside litigation counsel either eventuality would require. In a rare show of collective shame or patriotism, the entire Council voted to ensure that the money (at least $50k of it) will be there if and when needed. Understand, no blank check (or even a $50k check) was written; any expenditure from this set-aside will still require Council approval (as all City expenditures do when vouchers for payment are issued to the Council Finance Committee).

    This, too, was the source of the concern by some of us about the agenda change. The agenda order itself was agreed to by the two sides in this soap opera to ensure that both got what they wanted and the other couldn't renege. Horse trading. Politics. Finally. The outcomes were, on both sides, good.

    But make no mistake about it: we should not have had that discussion in executive session. Questions about how sincerely elected officials take their job of representing the people (and not just some of them) should always be done in broad daylight while all can watch and draw their own conclusions.

  6. It is simply not true, Mr. Friedman, that going into ES puts a muzzle on everyone in that meeting. Not true. Ask Robert J. Freeman, head of the Committee on Open Government. Read the law. Ask Freeman.