Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Last Night at City Hall

Several things of interest happened at the Common Council meeting last night, the best of which has already been reported: the resolution authorizing the creation of a dog park was unanimously approved. But there were things of interest on the agenda as well.

There was a new resolution, which originated in the mayor's office, authorizing a title search on the 4.4 waterfront acres believed to have been illegally alienated by the City in 1981. The question of ownership was raised once again at the Planning Board meeting last week.

When The Valley Alliance announced its discovery in June 2013 that the City may still own the parcel, the City did a title search to test the veracity of the claim. In October 2013, then Common Council president Don Moore announced at a Council meeting that the title search had established that the City did own the land. Unfortunately, the documents from that title search cannot be found, so the City is doing another title search to establish ownership of the parcel.

Another new item on the agenda was a resolution "authorizing the mayor to execute a utility purchase agreement with with ELP Greenport Solar"--East Light Partners' community solar project to be located just outside Hudson on Route 9.

When the resolution came before the Council, Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward) moved to table it. That was seconded by Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward). In a voice vote, the outcome of which Council president Tom DePietro declared to be 6 to 4 in favor, the resolution was tabled. Rosenthal explained he wanted to do "more research into a similar product." When Alderman Rich Volo (Fourth Ward) noted, "We have been looking at this for more than a year," Rosenthal said he wanted to take "one more month to make sure we are doing the best for the city." When Wendy De Wolf of East Light Partners asked permission to speak, DePietro denied it. 

The Council then moved on to the resolution to enter into a contract with Chandlerthinks to develop a strategic marketing plan for the city. DePietro began the discussion by reading the names of twelve people who had submitted written comments, all but one of whom had expressed support for the study. He then reiterated that by law the money designated for use by the Tourism Board cannot be diverted for other purposes. He also noted that the lodging tax has been renewed and enabling legislation has passed, and the Council can now amend the law as it pertains to the Tourism Board and what it is empowered to do.       

Much of the discussion that preceded the vote had to with the choice of consultant: Chandlerthinks. Garriga said she had a "huge concern" about a company "that is in Nashville." She went on to say, "The city has been using very little money, and look at where we are now." She expressed concern about "more tourism to push the community out."

Alderman Rob Bujan (First Ward) asked that Volo, who chairs the Tourism Board, to explain the process that led to the selection of Chandlerthinks. Volo explained that they had contacted other tourism boards in the Hudson Valley seeking recommendations and had sent the RFP to those firms. Steve Chandler of Chandlerthinks, however, had contacted them, after reading this post by Roger Hannigan Gilson on The Other Hudson Valley: "Hudson Seeking 'Branding Consultant.'" The board received about a dozen proposals in response to the RFP, which they narrowed down to four. They heard presentations by each of the four firms, after which they made their choice: Chandlerthinks.

Responding to Garriga's fears about "more tourism," Volo said, "The idea is to fill in the gaps and to have a long-range plan." By filling in the gaps, Volo was referring to attracting visitors to Hudson in the middle of the week not just on the weekends.

Garriga moved to send the resolution back to the Tourism Board. The motion was seconded but never voted on, and the discussion continued. Alderman Kamal Johnson (First Ward) questioned if "this company is right for this city," alleging, "The contract says they are going to tell people how to feel about Hudson." Garriga suggested that Chandlerthinks should make a presentation to the Common Council, implying that the Council had better judgment in the matter than the Tourism Board. DePietro ended the discussion by calling for a vote.

In the roll call vote, which happens in alphabetical order, eight votes had been cast--three in favor (Bujan, Eileen Halloran [Fifth Ward], Dominic Merante [Fifth Ward]) and five against (Garriga, Johnson, Calvin Lewis [Third Ward], Shershah Mizan [Third Ward], Rosenthal--when it came time for Dewan Sarowar (Second Ward) to vote. Sarowar initially said he abstained, but when DePietro questioned his abstention, he finally voted yes. Volo voted yes, and the vote was tied, requiring DePietro to vote to break the tie. After saying that "the law as it was crafted was a huge mistake . . . and not good government," DePietro said, "I'm not thrilled about it, but I feel obliged to vote yes.

It seemed for one brief, shining moment that the resolution had passed, but there's more. Johnson defended Sarowar's right to abstain. Members of the audience accused DePietro of pressuring Sarowar to vote.

When the meeting was opened for public comment, Chris McManus declared he was "completely disappointed the Council would do this [pass the resolution]." He held up a flyer with the "Our Hudson Waterfront" logo on it, saying, "This shows what a volunteer group can do with no money." Describing Chandlerthinks work elsewhere, McManus said, "They came into a town and told them how interesting they are. Are they going to come in and tell us how creative we are?"

Sidney Long quoted the first statement in the Chandlerthinks proposal: "Congratulations! City of Hudson is on its way to creating a destination of distinction." Long asserted, "We're already a destination of distinction," and questioned the wisdom of paying $75,000 "to a company that doesn't bother to Google us and find out how great we are."

Ronald Kopniki alleged that the vote on the Chandlerthinks resolution had been illegal and violated the Constitution, because Garriga had moved to send the resolution back to the Tourism Board, the motion had been seconded, but there had not been a vote. After seeking an opinion from city attorney Andy Howard, DePietro said, "OK. Let's go back." Garriga moved to rescind the previous vote, and Mizan seconded. The vote was six in favor (Garriga, Johnson, Lewis, Mizan, Rosenthal, Sarowar) and four opposed (Bujan, Halloran, Merante, Volo). Then there was a motion and second to table the resolution. The vote on that motion was the same: six in favor (Garriga, Johnson, Lewis, Mizan, Rosenthal, Sarowar) and four opposed (Bujan, Halloran, Merante, Volo).   

Dan Udell's video of the meeting is now on YouTube and can be viewed by clicking here. Steve Chandler may want to watch the video to see if he really wants to take on the challenge of Hudson. The next meeting of the Tourism Board is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, August 27, at 5:30 p.m. at 1 North Front Street.
COPYRIGHT 2019 CAROLE OSTERINK

11 comments:

  1. (1) Re: the “cannot be found” part: Peter Jung has spoken with both of the former City Attorneys involved with (a) the 2013 search and (b) the 1982 sale. Both told him that there *is* a file in City Hall with all the documentation upon which the 2013 announcement was based.

    Interesting that it now can’t be found.

    The minutes of the Council of October 2013 clearly record that Don Moore announced the City had done a title search, and determined that “we do own” the 4.4 acres.

    Those minutes were ratified, without any comment or emendation, at the following meeting in November 2013. (Irony: the motion was seconded by Cappy Pierro). I also have retained extensive records of written reactions to the announcement by several Alderman.

    The City Planning Board also recently received a detailed memorandum from another former attorney paid by the City, again setting forth exactly why the 4.4 acres still belongs to Hudson.

    Only in Hudson does something have to be verified multiple times, with certain chagrined partisans getting selective amnesia.

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  2. (2) This is really crucial: A standard, perfunctory title search will not resolve the issue. The person responsible must be cognizant of the New York State laws regarding “alienation” (sale/lease) of public waterfront lands.

    The reason Hudson still owns this land is because the City failed to get an Act of the Legislature authorizing the transfer in the early 80s.

    The Valley Alliance reviewed all Common Council records for a year prior and a year after the transfer, and found no mention of asking the State’s permission.

    We then reviewed the deed and title information at the County Clerk’s office. Again, there was no mention of State authorization.

    Next, the Preservation League of New York asked the State Legislative Librarian on our behalf to search for any Act of the Legislature related to transfer of public land in Hudson at this location. Again, nothing was found.

    Next, we retained a reputable surveyor to read the deeds and place the location of the 4.4+/- acres on a plat created by Holcim of the Waterfront parcels (that is the image posted above by Carole).

    Lastly, we retained an attorney to check and vet all of our work. We packaged all this material with a cover letter from the lawyer, and sent it off to multiple agencies including the City in June 2013.

    Four months later, Moore announced that the Valley was right.

    Moore approached me in the halls of 401 State Street several weeks later, and personally gave his thanks—despite, in his words, our past “differences”—for “a real service” we’d performed for the City.

    However, when asked last month about obtaining the paperwork related to his announcement, Moore professed not to remember the topic, even when presented with a copy of the minutes documenting his statement.

    Now the City wants to do all that work all over again. It could, instead, look into who they paid (lawyers and title searchers) to do the research in 2013 into our discovery, and have them furnish the materials already generated, rather than spending more tax dollars all over again.

    If the City somehow comes forward with a different opinion the second time around, it would be a true scandal.

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  3. Sam: There are documents in file. You will receive them tomorrow. The file is not as robust as any of us might wish, but you will find it of value. And, yes, I professed not to know, because after six years, my memory of what substantiated my one line statement on October 20, 2013 is not such that I could recall the basis for my statement. Where I come from to do otherwise than say I am unable to confidently recall would be, among other things, to bear false witness. I do trust that you will release the documents publicly. They may help.

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  4. The diligence of the Valley Alliance's prior work is undeniable. And his suggestion above is a very sensible way for the City to go. To spend tax dollars of hard pressed citizens to do all this work again is unthinkable. I hope the Mayor and Council President and Council will agree and go back and follow the trail. Surely the lawyers have copies.

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  5. A full title search of the 4.4-acre parcel would include the initial Legislative grant from 1836, which means a trip to Albany for the Letters Patent. (These are not in the possession of Columbia County, so that's even more taxpayer money wasted.)

    Fortunately, Don Christensen did this work years ago and subsequently shared his research with all so that it wouldn’t be lost.

    Following is the chain of ownership, with numbers 2 through 7 easily located in our county archive:

    1. 1836 Letters Patent from the NYS Legislature to John Lorimer Graham.
     
    2. Liber EE, pp. 97, 98: John Graham to Ambrose Jordan, 1840 (see NYS Laws of 1855, Chap. 195)

    3.Liber RR, pp. 64-66: Ambrose Jordan to The Hudson Iron Company, 1849 (referenced in Chapter 195 NYS Laws of 1855)
     
    4. Liber 34, pp. 545-548: Hudson Iron Company to Delaware & Hudson Canal Co., 1869
     
    5. Liber 137, pp 241-243: John F. Brennan to Charles H. Pope, 1909
     
    6. Liber 453, pp. 15, 16: Lone Star Cement Corp. to City of Hudson, 1969 (cites Pope metes and bounds of 1909)

    7. Liber 559, p. 533 City of Hudson to St. Lawrence cement Co., December 21, 1981

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  6. Wait, why would the same company have to conduct a new title search? Wouldn't it be on file?

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  7. If anyone wants to see the deed, it is easy to find (at the County Real Property Dept. on Warren Street) the indenture by which Lone Star handed over the 4.38 acres plus other parcels to the City of Hudson in 1969.

    If anyone wants a copy, email:

    hudsonbay@mac.com

    All subsequent transactions recorded in the County Clerk’s office regarding those 4.4+/- acres are automatically void, per Ken Dow’s thorough legal analysis, in the absence of an Act of the Legislature authorizing their sale.

    The State Legislative Librarian found no record of any such Act ever passing in Albany, and we find no reference in any Council minutes to the City even asking for one.

    There is no gray area on this: You can’t “alienate” public land on the river without the State’s explicit authorization.

    Meanwhile, the Valley Alliance is now in possession of a letter to the City from Arcadian Abstract, who had been approached by then-Hudson attorney Cheryl Roberts, to address Ken Dow’s memoranda.

    Arcadian agreed with Dow and said there was no need to retain them to do any further searches, as they would be redundant. What would be accomplished by doing it again, I can’t see. The City should probably just hire a lawyer with specific expertise in alienation of public land and finish the job. It’s time for the people to enjoy this piece of land, rather than for Hudson to keep allowing private corporations to occupy it.

    We will have more on this and other details soon. In addition to what the City coughed up in response to our FOIL, we are reviewing a bunch of other official documents which have come into our hands.

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  8. Only Giffy can make everything right again.

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  9. Might Mr Dow know what I have long suspected, that land beneath navigable (illegally) filled remains vested in the state?

    Neither New York nor this dirty little berg will defend our right to "free and easy" access to a federal waterway as long as there's more city and state tax involved.

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    Replies
    1. Of the $.64/gal that (only) county motor boaters pay for access to the Faithful, $.15/gal goes to the feds, who are indifferent to the collective littoral liberty lost, to lying landfilling land gators.

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    2. See #1 above:

      "1836 Letters Patent from the NYS Legislature to John Lorimer Graham."

      The entire 4.4 acres, once underwater, were filled legally. Even the type of fill was specified in the 1869 deed to the Delaware & Hudson Canal company (#4).

      Very soon we'll be defending free and easy access to our waterfront parcel from a predatory CSX and Amtrak, and this time the people will win.

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