Tuesday, August 28, 2018

HDC Elects Three New Board Members

Eight of the nine members* of the Hudson Development Corporation Board of Directors met today at noon. Bob Rasner, vice chair of the board, who was presiding in the absence of the chair, John Gilstrap, opened the meeting by explaining to the twenty or so members of the public present that although open meetings law permitted the discussion of personnel and board appointments to be conducted in executive session, the board intended to carry out its interviews with the candidates who had been recommended by the nominating committee in an open session, unless a member of the board or a candidate felt uncomfortable with that process. The entire meeting was conducted in open session.

Chris Jones, who was one of the three members of the nominating committee (the others were Rasner and Common Council president Tom DePietro), reported that the committee had received eleven applications and had interviewed ten applicants. She explained that the committee's recommendations were based on a desire "to fill the board with expertise we lack and to get some institutional memory about Hudson." Three of the four candidates recommended by the nominating committee were present, and after minimal discussion which involved having each candidate explain "how he felt his expertise would fit it," the eight members present elected all three candidates to the board. The new board members are: Walter Chatham, Steve Dunn, and Nick Haddad.

Walter Chatham is an architect closely associated with the New Urbanism movement. He is currently co-chairman of the National Academy of Design and is on the board of the Architectural League of New York. He was appointed to the Hudson Planning Board by Mayor Tiffany Martin in the fall of 2017 and became its chair in January 2018. As chair of the Planning Board, Chatham is ex officio on the board of HCDPA (Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency), which he chairs, and on the Hudson IDA (Industrial Development Agency).

Steve Dunn is a lawyer who also has an M.B.A. He was part of the Fair & Equal initiative last year, being principally responsible for doing the calculations to determine ward boundaries that would produce five wards of equal population while meeting all the other demographic standards for equity. He ran unsuccessfully to be the Democratic candidate for Common Council president last year, losing in the primary to Tom DePietro. Dunn currently serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Nick Haddad has had a strong connection with Hudson for many years. He is the proprietor of Red Hook Electric and formerly also of Hudson Electric. He served on the Historic Preservation Commission, ran for mayor in 2011, losing to William Hallenbeck by only 53 votes, and served as First Ward alderman for two terms, from 2012 through 2015. Though all the candidates in their responses to the board spoke about city planning and urban design, Haddad was the only one to touch on what is the principal mission of HDC: job creation. He spoke of the city being "caught up in a renaissance" but noted that "a substantial part of the population is not working." He expressed the hope that the City and HDC can "take our benefits and make things happen that are equitable."            

* The nine members of the HDC Board are John Gilstrap (chair), Bob Rasner (vice chair), Don Moore (treasurer), Christine Jones (secretary), Rick Rector (mayor of Hudson), Tom DePietro (Common Council president), Carolyn Lawrence, Alex Petraglia, and Mark Morgan-Perez.


  1. It was Mr. Chatham who announced at the April 12 meeting of the Planning Board that the State Environmental Quality Review Act is intended to reign in "evil corporations," but nobody else. (I recorded this on my iPhone!)

    In other words, he'll likely perpetuate the autocratic and capricious ways of the old HDC, some of the very pathologies which many of us had hoped to repair.

  2. The "evil corporations" comment aside, unheimlich raises the valid question, implicitly, of why we need an HDC. Such commissions (like task forces) are generally established to offer local governance a body of expertise on specific subject. Do we have such expertise here? Such bodies are, in theory, meant to offer a view of a question separate from politics. Do we have such a separation here? So the big question here does the HDC offer expertise on a subject or distance from the taxpayer and voter?

    1. I've since reviewed the audio and it was "evil companies." Same difference.

      With such metaphysical outbursts and its current level of indiscipline (see: SEQRA), one wonders how the Planning Board will survive its next meeting with the attorney from A. Colarusso & Sons?

      And this goes to your comment PM, because a culture of expertise is often a self-insulated culture. Think of "The Best and the Brightest," then factor in the social changes that have further insulated academia since the era described by Halberstam. Nowadays, it's the self-described experts themselves who are least able to separate politics from any subject at hand, whereas in Halberstam's book the whiz kids were merely adrift from common sense.

      Making matters worse, the more self-righteous among the educated classes, people who already see themselves as masters of the greatest mysteries, will go to absurd lengths to preserve their self-esteem. Just to stay with the Planning Board (but note the parallels and cross-overs with the HDC), if the city loses the next chapter in the South Bay controversy then that may be due to your self-described experts placing their own aggrandizement before their knowledge of State and Local Law.

      I think it's highly likely that's how the South Bay story will play out, which is why I worked so hard to get the attorney for the Planning Board and ZBA replaced earlier this year (by using the City's improper conflation of the proposed Nack Center with the Sloop Club's dishonest DRI request).

      Unfortunately the mayor insists on keeping this attorney, and so we'll probably lose the South Bay in the bargain.

      Anyway, that's what I think of your supposedly neutral "experts."

    2. The situation you describe unheim is that of too much political influence on the special commission or task force process; i.e. a corruption of the meaning of expertise. Welcome to Hudson.

    3. An influence operating since forever in every bureaucracy, but playing out internally not conspiratorially. Welcome to human nature.

    4. Touche'. But the question is whether corruption of the ideal is in the DNA? Can we or can we not have a task force of experts who are actually expert? Can a Common Council, made up of the peoples' representatives -- because they are nice or good-looking, or good-talking -- appoint a group of "experts" who are not nice or good-looking or good-talking but know a lot about economic development because they have a PhD in City planning or Economics or 30 years of experience running an economic development office -- is it possible that such a Common Council (and the people it represents) benefit from such expert advice? Or is it constitutionally impossible?

    5. Your question cries out for the kinds of examples which any municipality can supply.

      You began by eliciting "the ideal." I'd say that making generalizations about "evil companies" is more typical of the idealist than anyone else. Now introduce some power into the equation - even the infinitesimal power enjoyed by an advisory board - and those who search for too great a purity will invariably produce fresh corruption.

      That was the case earlier this year when our idealistic Planning Board earned the City a stern warning from the County. The Board members' haughty display of decency turned out to be something less than decent. So if we leave aside just how many "experts" actually live in Hudson, it's apparent that even those who can proclaim some expertise may still need wisdom to solve two plus two.

      But have our social relations devolved (some would say "progressed") to the point that any and all expertise is suspect on grounds of latent ideology? That's the prejudice of radical historicism which seems to permeate everything nowadays. We can thank academics for that, and they are nothing if not expert. When it operates as a compulsion, as it does among the educated classes (yesterday I said it was "internal"), our radical exercises in unmasking are even self-perpetuating.

      So if it's not "constitutionally impossible" to benefit from expert advice, then it's becoming less possible all the time.

      But there are much older problems concerning "expertise." By careful questioning, Socrates exposed the intellectual fraudulence of every expert he encountered. (Today, the same types of experts will no doubt profess their enthusiasm for Socrates.)

      When rejecting Plato's idealism, Aristotle put practical wisdom above theoretical and technical knowledge. He believed the former was best suited to recognize the value of compromise while being furthest from the ideological impulse.

      In the example of the Planning Board (which offered several examples in fact), the Board members slavishly followed the erroneous assumptions of the Board attorney, their hired expert. Unsurprisingly, it was earlier this year that the ZBA followed same attorney's expert advice regarding zoning boundaries in the South Bay. What the expert didn't explain is that, consequent to the decision being advised, the ZBA's hands will be tied when the same question returns in future, as it must.

      So on the one hand there's this ancient problem of self-proclaimed experts and their slavish followers, and yet somehow, miraculously, democracy survived these ancient proclivities.

      But now factor in the new cynicism, which is derived from academia but operates as a compulsion in expert and non-expert alike. Is it impossible to benefit from these experts? I'd ask if it's even possible for civilization to survive them.

      To effectively parse the character of anyone who presumes to lead us, knowing that public participation is an actual factor in any decision-making is my own rule of thumb. This returns us to the ancient problem, then, even if it's perpetuated through our new tools of silencing one another.