Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Highlights from the Common Council Meeting

The current Common Council may well be remembered for holding the shortest meetings in recent memory. Tonight's lasted only half an hour but left the observer with some questions and concerns. The first has to do with Local Law No. 5

At last night's meeting, the Common Council received as a communication a letter from Walter Chatham stating the Planning Board's recommendation about the proposed amendment to the zoning in R2 and R2H districts. The recommendation made in the letter is essentially what Gossips has already reported, except what had been referred to as the "suburban retrofit toolkit" is identified in the letter as the Sprawl Repair Manual. At the meeting tonight, Council president Tom DePietro read the letter aloud, in its entirety. The essential message of the letter is contained in the first sentence: "After lengthy discussion, the Hudson Planning Board agrees to support proposed Local Law No. 5, provided that it be conditioned by use of Smart Code principles, and in particular that the relevant planning principles of the Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva be incorporated into the LL5 site plan requirements."

When DePietro finished reading the letter and set it aside without comment, Alderman Rich Volo (Fourth Ward) asked what the next step for the law was. DePietro answered, "We're going to vote on it--not this time." He then amended that statement by saying there would be a public hearing. 

It would seem that if the Council were to respect the recommendation of the Planning Board, which it waited three months to receive, the law would have to be amended to make specific reference to SmartCode and the Sprawl Repair Manual, otherwise the members of the Planning Board could be accused of being arbitrary and capricious when they tried to apply those principles in a site plan review, but there was no mention of amending the law.

Going into the meeting, Gossips expected that the Council wouldn't be able to vote on the resolution to sell the lot at 255-257 Columbia Street to the Hudson Islamic Center for $25,561. Alderman Rob Bujan (First Ward) would not be present, and aldermen Dewan Sarowar (Second Ward) and Shershah Mizan (Third Ward), as members of the Hudson Islamic Center, would have to recuse themselves. A vote to sell property requires a three-fourths majority, which is defined in the code as nine votes, so even if DePietro, who never votes, believing that the Council president, like the Vice President of the United States in the Senate, should only vote to break a tie, were to vote, the number of aye votes would still fall one short of the nine required.

But there was no mention of recusal, and Sarowar and Mizan both voted, along with the other seven aldermen present, to sell the lot, which the Hudson Islamic Center plans to use for parking.

When the Council got to the resolution to raise the wage of all permanent part-time employees to $15 an hour, retroactive to the beginning of 2018, Volo pointed out that making the wage increases retroactive to the beginning of the year required taking "an extra $72,000 out of the fund balance." He made a motion that the increase only be retroactive for two months instead of from the beginning of the year, eliminating the need to raid the fund balance. No one seconded his motion.

Alderman Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) then moved to table the resolution to provide time to identify funds already budgeted to pay for the wage increases. The motion was seconded, but when it came to a vote, only Halloran and Volo voted to support the motion, Calvin Lewis (Third Ward) abstained, and the other six aldermen present voted to reject the motion. So the resolution was voted on. Halloran and Volo voted no; Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), Kamal Johnson (First Ward), Lewis, Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward), Mizan, John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), and Sarowar all voted in favor.

After the vote, DePietro told Volo that "the argument of going into the fund balance is incorrect." He maintained that there were "a number of lines [in the budget] from which it could have been taken that will not be used up." He attributed the decision to take the money from the fund balance to city treasurer Heather Campbell. Halloran told DePietro, "If you had a better idea, you could have presented it." Campbell clarified that the extra funds DePietro had in mind--the money budgeted for a separate attorney for the Council and another item in the Council's budget--"would be spent anyway."   

And so, after a resolution was passed to take another $56,013 from the fund balance to cover an increase in interest on the debt for the Central Firehouse and a resolution was passed to move money around in the budget for the assessor's office, the meeting was adjourned.


  1. This is Dewan Sarowar Alderman for 2nd Word. I stated that Me and Alderman Mizan are not with board of Hudson Islamic Center. This is a wrong information.

    1. Membership on the board is not the issue; being a member of the congregation is and, if either of you are members of that congregation, then you need to recuse yourselves from the discussion about and the votes on the measure in question.

    2. Yes now I see, "members" versus "board members" is not a meaningful distinction.

    3. Isn't it a rather nasty and racist assumption to make that Mr. Sarowar and Shershah are members of this particular congregation?

      Perhaps they are not members of this particular congregation. Perhaps they are atheists. Perhaps they are Christians.

      If they say there is no conflict of interest, then we should believe them. Why should anyone listen to a disgraced former alderman's grumblings otherwise?

    4. Raoul Duke, please note that the former Alderman wrote "if": "if either of you are members."

      That's the issue the two current Aldermen should have addressed, and not whether they are "with the board" which is something Gossips never suggested.

      They could as easily have replied they are not members of the congregation, as you suggest, and they still can do so.

      Earlier this year a member of the Planning Board claimed there was no conflict of interest in a particular vote when it was obvious to me there was. Everyone accepted the Board member's self-account, and there was great indignation that a member of the public was questioning a City official.

      When the question was referred to the County Board of Ethics, however, the conflict of interest the other Planning Board members were utterly blind to was suddenly visible to all.

      So to write, as you have, that "if they say there is no conflict of interest then we should believe them" is to misunderstand our experiment in self-governance. But I suspect you've deliberately misunderstood in order to make the gratuitous and mischievous charge of "racism."

      If that's so, as I suspect, then fellow readers would be well advised to study your comments in future for their potential disingenuousness and trouble-making.

    5. Raoul Duke, I suspect a simpler treatment is needed here.

      By injecting a question of race where it clearly does not belong in hopes of exploiting racial differences, you've only opened yourself to the charge of racism.

      Your ugly accusation is not a lens but a mirror.

    6. Raoul Duke, who ever you are (we know what you are -- someone who's afraid to say who they are so a coward): I'm disgraced? It is disgraceful that I'm not aware of that! Be happy to have a discussion with you about the nature of my disgrace any time you are willing to be grown-up enough to introduce yourself to me like a man or a woman.

  2. The Planning Board recommendation is reasonable, and no one should be surprised if and when Stewart's assents to it. (For a contrast between good- and bad-faith actors, try and imagine the current owner of the South Bay agreeing to laws which existed before the property ever changed hands.)

    Following the Public Hearing, the "repair manual" principles will likely be incorporated into the draft law. That was surely the sequence the Council President had in mind all along.

    I also appreciate Mr. Sarowar's clarification above. There was no call for recusals after all.