At noon today, the Hudson Development Corporation held its first meeting since Common Council president Tom DePietro called HDC "a quasi-agency that is outdated and should probably no longer exist" and asked city attorney Andy Howard to "look into how does one get rid of an LDC." The HDC board was clearly prepared for a crowd. Tables and chairs had been arranged to accommodate spectators.
HDC board president John Gilstrap, who had responded to DePietro with a memo that DePietro claimed "begins with a false statement and compounds its errors throughout," was not present at the meeting, owing to a "medical emergency." Instead, Don Moore, treasurer of the HDC board, chaired the meeting. His tone was calm and conciliatory. He started out by addressing the issue of FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) and HDC, thanking Sam Pratt and announcing that Pratt's FOIL request would be honored. Moore explained that Pratt's was the first FOIL request HDC had ever received. Matt Griesemer, attorney for HDC, said they had intended to seek an opinion from the New York State Committee on Open Government, but Pratt had done so first. Seeming to suggest the issue was still open to interpretation, Griesemer said they had decided to take the position that HDC is subject to FOIL.
"HCDPA Financial Insolvency" appeared on the agenda under "FINANCIAL REPORTS," and DePietro, an ex officio member of the board, queried: "Why is this board talking about HCDPA? You're just trying to scare people." DePietro had expressed the opinion, in his email to Gilstrap, that "a strengthened HCDPA is in order." Sheena Salvino, executive director of HDC and HCDPA, explained that it was an issue for HDC because the agencies shared staff, and if HCDPA was insolvent, HDC would have to assume the entire financial burden of those salaries.
Five items into a seven-item agenda, the meeting got to the topic most people were there to discuss: the redevelopment of the Kaz site. Moore explained what we already knew: the project is on hold. "We cannot proceed without having the City with us," Moore stated.
DePietro asked if there was "a willingness to reconsider the RFP" and suggested "starting over" and "not having one developer." Moore denied that there was anything in the RFP that specified one developer, but DePietro responded, "I felt that the RFP determined it, and that process [the process of drafting the RFP] was not open." Moore responded that policy initiatives being talked about, before and during the DRI (Downtown Revitaliation Intitiative) process, such as affordable housing, job creation, food availability, community walkability, had been incorporated into the RFP.
HDC board member Kristal Heinz, who had earlier spoken of "misperceptions" that the Kaz project was being rushed through when in fact the board had been working on it for two and a half years, addressed DePietro directly, calling him to task for being on the board for four months and never bringing up any concerns and then saying publicly, at a Common Council meeting over which he presided, that he didn't think the agency was "viable" and that it "shouldn't exist." She called it "a breach of loyalty to HDC." DePietro questioned the notion that he was required to have loyalty to HDC, saying that had not signed some of the documents he was expected to when becoming a member of the board. He told Heinz that his criticism "wasn't personal" even though she was "making it personal."
When Moore sought guidance on how to move forward, Mayor Rick Rector observed that the conversation "started with concern about the Kaz project and exploded into concern about HDC." He reminded those present that HDC was a 501(c)3 not-for-profit agency and could do things that City by law could not, that HDC was currently the City's only mechanism for planning and economic development, and that HDC possessed institutional memory that City government, with elected officials potentially changing every two years, did not. He stressed that the investment in Hudson from the DRI--$20 million--was "the biggest infusion of cash since Urban Renewal." He concluded by saying, "Kaz we can reevaluate, but we need to take a deep breath before considering dissolving HDC. It is the only apparatus we have to deal with the DRI."
Much more was said, by members of the board and members of the audience. When Dan Udell's video of the meeting is available, all will be revealed. The outcomes of the meeting seem to be that HDC board meetings may be held in the evening when more people are able to attend and a working group representing the City and HDC may be formed to reassess the Kaz project.
Of interest is that DePietro, at some point in the discussion, said he was "shocked that the [HDC] board is taking this so personally," stressed that his statements were meant to be "the beginning of a conversation," and asserted, "The fact that the board cannot respond to it [in this spirit] is disappointing." Dan Udell's video of the informal Common Council meeting allows people to judge for themselves if members of the HDC board overreacted to the statements made by DePietro or not. One is reminded, though, that, after the resolution demanding the mayor remove the current members of the Hudson Housing Authority Board of Commissioners failed, DePietro told its author, Alderman Tiffany Garriga, "The resolution has already accomplished much of what it was intended to do. We have put them on notice." Is this to be the new strategy for achieving desired outcomes--proposing ill-considered resolutions and making provocative statements in the Council Chamber at City Hall?
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