Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Midday with the HDC

The board of the Hudson Development Corporation met today at noon, and several members of the public--more than could be comfortably accommodated in the room--showed up to observe.

Board president Bob Rasner opened the meeting by addressing the issues of how the board votes and how HDC deals with the open meetings law. He explained that he and Steve Dunn, HDC board member who is acting as its legal counsel, investigated these issues and confirmed that HDC must have its meetings open to the public, but the board is not obligated to accept public comment. "Public comment," said Rasner, "is a privilege not a right." He went on to say that the board would receive comment from the public at the end of the meeting, but comments must be addressed to the chair. Members of the public should not try to engage members of the board in questions and answers.

Rasner then explained that, to remedy the problem of the anonymous vote for new board members, the ballots from that vote had been returned to the board members who had voted. The board members reclaimed their ballots and added their names and signatures. Those ballots were now on file. 

At the end of the meeting, after Phil Forman was elected to the board and officers--Nick Hadded as vice president, Phil Forman as treasurer, and Paul Barrett as secretary--were elected using paper ballots on which board members were asked to print and sign their names, Rasner, after reporting that there had been no negative votes, addressed the issue of the board's meeting time. He reiterated the statement issued last week (and quoted by Gossips yesterday) that, to accommodate requests from the public, HDC had changed its meeting time from 12 noon to 6 p.m., but since few if any members of the public showed up for the 6 p.m. meetings they were going back to the board's traditional meeting time of 12 noon. He also noted that at today's noon meeting the room was full and promised, "We will seek an alternative location if we consistently have too many people." 

Rasner then opened the meeting to public comment, setting a three-minute limit on each person's time to speak. The first speaker was Julie Metz, who read a prepared statement that went on for longer than three minutes. When Rasner interrupted her, he asked that she submit the statement to the board. She agreed to do this. The statement, which she subsequently shared with Gossips, follows:
According to their mission statement HDC aims to “create jobs and enhance the quality of life in the City of Hudson.” I have considered this mission statement in my following comments.
After two plus years of a bungled RFP process, HDC was ready to hand over the entire KAZ waterfront property to a developer without community input. Good urban decision-making happens in reverse order: first invite community input, engage professional planners, then send out an RFP. After pushback, and being called out for excessive use of executive sessions, HDC announced that it was prepared to invite “stakeholder buy-in” in Hudson.
And so, recently, a number of qualified people applied, eager to serve. Some have renovated properties in Hudson that are now the sites of thriving hotels, restaurants, and retail. With extensive development experience, they represent Hudson’s future, not its past. One might ask why the two members of HDC who are elected to represent Hudson’s citizens weren’t part of the nominating committee.
A number of highly qualified applicants were rejected. However, according to reports from last month’s HDC meeting, your nominating committee stated that no one had applied and that they had to do outreach in the community to fill spots. This is clearly what we who strive to live in a world of facts call false.
And what is the result of HDC’s latest search for members? You have accepted Paul Colarusso, whose company mine produces excellent gravel. I have a good amount of it in my own back yard. But I do have a problem with this board adding a member whose company blatantly violated Hudson land use laws and then sued the city. In his January 19, 2019 ruling tossing out Colarusso’s suit against Hudson, Judge Melkonian wrote: “the petition is dismissed in its entirety” and “Petitioners are not entitled to any declaratory relief.” The judgment states that “inasmuch as petitioners’ nonconforming use had ceased, they would be required to obtain a conditional use permit for their continued commercial dock operations.” I urge the City to enforce Judge Melkonian’s decision. Colarusso must follow the same laws as the rest of us. . . .
How can the owner of a company that blatantly violated Hudson zoning laws, and then attacked our land use authority, and then lost in court, and cost the city money in legal fees be put in a position of making land use decisions? How can a company that sees an expanded gravel dump on the water as a positive development help determine plans for the nearby KAZ site? HDC evidently thinks this is a good idea, as it previously supported this concept in the false language (since retracted) in the DRI grant written by your former Executive Director. HDC evidently thinks Mr. Colarusso’s presence on this board is a good idea in spite of the appearance and blatant facts of multiple conflicts of interest this presents because:
1) members of the planning board sit on HDC, and
2) Colarusso has an application before the Planning Board regarding the requirement for a conditional use permit.
If KAZ had roads to pave, I’m sure Mr. Colarusso’s company would be an excellent candidate for the job after the review is over. But he should not be representing the citizens of Hudson in development decision-making. 
The story continues. After recruiting Mr. Colarusso and several others, HDC leadership conducted an anonymous vote. Ken Dow, city attorney, states that this is a violation of New York State law. Since the ballots were not made public, this vote is cloaked in the kind of secrecy HDC has consistently employed. The public deserves to know how each of you voted.
To the majority of this board who voted for Paul Colarusso: shame on you. His presence on HDC is a blatant conflict of interest in every imaginable way given that the matter of the company’s dock and proposed road has in no way been settled. Yet, when members of the public made note of this conflict of interest at the last HDC meeting, Mr. Rasner shut down all further public comment. So much for “stakeholder buy-in.”
There is no clearer evidence of HDC’s irrelevance, incompetence, and complete inability to represent Hudson than selecting Mr. Colarusso over other applicants, whose businesses have created vastly more jobs in Hudson, and are friends and neighbors with skin in the game. They represent Hudson’s future, not its past.  They are the backbone of Hudson’s economic revival, and this board rejected them out of hand.
HDC has shown disdain for transparency, has shown no interest in “stakeholder buy-in,” and has therefore lost the trust of this community. HDC should be shut down and the KAZ project moved to a city entity that represents the interests of Hudson’s citizens. The state of California eliminated “development corporations” like HDC because of similar behavior that has nothing to do with serving communities. HDC has lost sight of its mission and is now like a tiny island principality whose out-of-touch royals refuse to cede a single inch of territory, though the waters are rising fast.  
Metz made it to the beginning of the sixth paragraph before her three minutes were up. The only other comment from the public was a question asked by Linda Mussmann, who wanted to know who HDC's legal counsel was. She was told that Steve Dunn was acting as counsel. The meeting, which lasted forty-five minutes, was then adjourned.


  1. Rasner “went on to say that the board would receive comment from the public at the end of the meeting, but comments must be addressed to the chair. Members of the public should not try to engage members of the board in questions and answers.”

    Does Bob Rasner think that this ham-fisted approach will restore any public confidence in HDC? Or does he not care?

  2. Carole, thank you for your coverage. To clarify on two points. Kenneth Dow pointed the board in the right direction on the voting procedure. We are grateful for the time and effort he made in that regard.
    Second, I misspoke when I announced the results of the election of officers. There was one negative vote.

  3. And there's the rub, in a portion of her letter that Ms. Metz didn't get to read:

    "... given that the matter of the [Colarusso] dock and proposed road has in no way been settled."

    The City is still raking through the court decision to learn what it won and what the Colarusso company lost.

    Ms. Metz clearly grasps the court's meaning.

    But for the HDC's problems, a simple solution is to amend the Code of Ethics to remove that problematic bit about mere "appearances" of conflicts. Whatever it takes, so long as this ever-opaque institution can carry on peacefully as in the past.


  4. I'm not opposed to HDC's existence, and in fact I'm supportive of their goals to help develop the local economy past tourism and help develop our waterfront in a way that is recreation-focused and beneficial and open to all members of our community. I would also like to add that the board played fair by moving their meeting to 6 pm-no one came but Carole and me, and I certainly don't mind the meeting moving to 12 pm. I respect and like many of the board members, who are doing their best without the benefit of a full(-ish)-time Sheena to do some heavy lifting, and I think there are some really good minds in that room working hard on creating solutions to some of the city's more intractable problems.


    Mr Rasner's opening salvo this afternoon regarding public comments being a privilege was heavy-handed and obtuse, as were his efforts last month to shut down questions about Mr Colarusso's intended contribution to the board. There are very real concerns about a Colarusso presence on the board of an organization whose assets mainly exist within spitting distance of his property, whose business is mostly located in Greenport, and who is recently (or currently, I forget) mired in a tangle of legal conflicts with the City. Mr Rasner's apparent cowardice in the face of simple questions about Colarusso's goals, which Colarusso was unprepared to answer last month minutes before he was voted in, do the HDC no favors in courting the support of city residents worried about the composition and intent of HDC.

    HDC is an organization that exists to benefit the city-it cannot achieve that goal if it continually assumes such a hostile posture toward members of the community it purports to serve. There were very few comments today-Rasner could have very politely encouraged Ms Metz to finish her thoughts, which fell slightly outside the arbitrary limit he set and were, at any rate, being made at the end of a meeting that was ready to finish 15 minutes early.

    I'm not of the opinion we should scrap HDC-there are a number of ways I think the people on that board (perhaps including Mr Colarusso) can put their minds together to make Hudson a stronger and more economically vibrant community, but they aren't omniscient, and by soliciting input and participation from the public, they may humble themselves to grow.

  5. Ethics on a board or committee in Hudson, that's not going to happen.

  6. Surely Mr. Colarusso will recuse himself from matters concerning the dock and his other properties -- as any HDC member would do. That doesn't negate the value of his experience and counsel on other matters before that body. The man hasn't done anything but attend a couple of meetings so far -- perhaps the rock-slinging can wait until he does something that warrants it?

    1. Continuing from above, I also agree with Mr. Friedman.

      Mr. Colarusso is not suspect for wanting to participate. Indeed, he has much to offer.

      Rather, I was thinking that it was the HDC itself that had displayed poor timing.

      So let the man have his seat, then go back to scrutinizing the entire HDC right away.

    2. Colarusso Corp using its resources, promoting the historic use (Navigation) of city shore "to the fullest extent possible." Paul could do wonders for the city's north shore. Where's the bad part?

      CCL, Inc.

  7. Hudson does not need the HDC, for the reasons that Julie Metz has stated. the people who have built the New Hudson are not the old time locals- who hated Hudson and moved out long ago.

    The New Hudson was paid for and built by visionary individuals who see the beauty of the city and who took financial risks to restore a once thriving place back into a currently thriving place.

    Mr Collorusso has a big interest in Hudson, but it might be in conflict with the best interests for Hudsons future.

    I trust the city officials to do the work to aid Hudsons growth.

    The HDC is a remnant of an earlier time when the old people tried to suck funds out of the state and the federal government to actually tear down the place and build low cost housing.

    the HDC is just another layer that Hudson does not need.

    Investors are arriving everyday. the City officials can handle it I think. Hudson has a bright future if there is less old school bureacracy.

  8. The city condemned a factory and three not for profits appeared...

    That was the genius of the Moore Tax.

    That's where city folk are required to pay more for less use and fewer users.

    Columbia Littoral Conservancy, Inc.

    1. It's as if once you become a supervisor in this dirty berg, you can start writing blank checks to friends and relatives. And when the boondoggle is discovered it's whoops taxpayers on the hook.

  9. The head of "Development" swaps city shore North of the State slip for power boat property, the deal fails and his private club keeps both properties. The Shrimp Box, a DSS building placed above a toxic waste site, Schroeder's, Hudson Wine & Liquor, Ricky's Refrigerator, $15 million sewer plant upgrade, which one was right from the get go?

    Parachutes, Riverloft, Kite's Nest, Sloops all suddenly appear as riverfront development "experts" needed to dislodge fishermen who can't be bought.

    In the most corrupt state in the country, the most corrupt little city in the county procures good grants to feed greedy rats posing as public servants.

    Paul would be a huge asset, but I hope he steers clear of the muddy HDC.