Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Last Council Meeting of the Year

Several things of interest happened at last night's Common Council meeting--the last meeting of 2019--and Gossips will report them more or less in order of occurrence.

Somewhat remarkably, Council president Tom DePietro decided to abandon his practice of not voting on most issues. DePietro adopted the practice when he took office in 2018. His reasoning was that, because Hudson had done away with the weighted vote, and there were an even number of aldermen, his role was like that of the vice president in the United States Senate, empowered to preside over Senate deliberations but not voting except when there was a tie. With a few exceptions, when he felt strongly about an issue, DePietro has followed that practice, which drew criticism from people who maintained that the public should know where he stood on all issues. Last night, after voting along with the aldermen on the first few resolutions before the Council, DePietro explained that, because "his reasoning for not voting didn't resonate with people," he wouldn't be doing it anymore.

Surprisingly, after all the sturm und drang about the Council not being represented in the negotiations, the police contract was ratified unanimously, with no discussion beyond Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) asking city attorney Andy Howard to confirm that ratification of this contract, unlike police contracts in the past, was not being introduced as a law.

The vote to override Mayor Rick Rector's veto of the proposed moratorium on short-term rentals did not happen without discussion. Before the vote took place, Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward) advocated for overriding the veto, saying there were two issues at stake: the type of community we want and the type of economy we want. He argued, as he has before, that crafting a law to regulate short-term rentals would take time, and the moratorium "gives us the opportunity to look at other communities" and create appropriate legislation. He called the mayor's position "nonsense" and asserted, speaking of the moratorium, "It's fair--not some sort of willy-nilly move." He went on to say the moratorium was "not some anti-business or economy-crushing action." He reiterated his claim that the idea of a moratorium had originated with the mayor--something the mayor cannot recall doing and Gossips can find no evidence that he did. 

When the resolution to override the veto came to a vote, Garriga, who is second in the roll call, voted no. DePietro shot her a frowning stare, and the roll call was interrupted for DePietro to remind the Council that a yes vote would override the veto and no vote would not. Garriga reversed her vote, but the confusion continued. Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward) initially voted yes when he meant to vote no. 

At the end of the roll call, four aldermen--Rob Bujan (First Ward), Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward), Merante, and Rich Volo (Fourth Ward)--had voted against overriding the mayor's veto. When it came time for DePietro to vote, he prefaced it by saying, "My vote won't get us the override." Eight votes were required to override the mayor's veto. He then commented disparagingly about the votes of "certain councilmen who will not be here in the future"--referring to Bujan and Volo--whose votes had helped to defeat the resolution to override the veto.

You can read another account of what transpired on Roger Hannigan Gilson's The Other Hudson Valley: "New Airbnbs Will Continue After Failed Vote."

There were other things of interest that happened at the meeting. Garriga tried to prevent the resolution to enter into a new contract with dog control officer Wes Powell from being introduced, claiming that "the community" does the work that the City pays Powell $7,200 a year to do. She was referring to the way members of the community and the Hudson Police Department work together, using Facebook and the HPD's microchip scanner, to reunite dogs that have strayed with their humans. She claimed that Powell, who serves as animal/dog control officer throughout the county, spends no time in Hudson and there is "nothing on his Facebook page about Hudson." She argued that the job should go to someone who lives in Hudson.

DePietro reminded her that the proposed new agreement with Powell stipulated that he make "at least two random visits per week to the Hudson Dog Park to confirm any dogs present have current, valid licenses." Bujan pointed out that his job also involved removing dogs from hoarders. Merante made reference to nine dogs Powell had recently removed from a bad situation in Hudson.

In the end, a motion was made and seconded to introduce the resolution. When the vote was taken, only Garriga voted no.

Also of interest, the Council unanimously approved a local law amending the charter to allow the city attorney to live within a fifty mile radius of Hudson. The need for this amendment has been a matter of curiosity. Although no official announcement has been made, it is generally expected that Cheryl Roberts will be the city attorney in the new administration. Roberts lives in Columbia County, so she isn't the reason for the charter amendment. A hint about the reason may have been provided at the last Planning Board meeting, when Jeff Baker appeared and reportedly spent the evening sitting next to Linda Mussmann. Baker was the attorney for Friends of Hudson during the St. Lawrence Cement battle and served as counsel to the Planning Board during the time that Dick Tracy was mayor of Hudson (2006-2007). Could it be that Baker, who practices law in Albany, will be returning as an attorney for the City of Hudson?

Jeff Baker|Screen capture from Two Square Miles
The proposed law local that would extend the terms of elected officials in Hudson also came up for a vote last night. Audience members Matt McGhee and Ronald Kopnicki both wanted to speak prior to the vote but were denied permission by DePietro, who told them this was the first step in a long process, there would be a public hearing, and the action, if pursued, would be subject to a referendum in November 2020. Before voting, both Rosenthal and Volo expressed the opinion that four-year teams should apply only to the mayor, treasurer, and Council president and not to the aldermen. (When the proposal was first presented, Garriga insisted that she would not support it unless it included the aldermen.) The proposed amendment failed with five ayes--Garriga, Kamal Johnson (First Ward), Calvin Lewis (Third Ward), Shershah Mizan (Third Ward), and Dewan Sarowar (Second Ward)--and six nays--Bujan, Halloran, Merante, Rosenthal, Volo, and DePietro.

When audience comment was invited, Steve Dunn rose to declare that sidewalk legislation needed to be drafted in the coming year or he would "start suing the city." He also spoke of plans for comprehensive zoning revision, which he said was an example of "the perfect being the enemy of the good." He asserted that there are things that can be changed now and told the Council the issue of businesses in residential districts "needs to be addressed this year," presumably meaning in the year 2020. Dunn, an attorney, volunteered to help write legislation.


  1. Jeff Baker became the lawyer for the Planning Board the night they voted for a negative declaration on SEQRA for the condomimium project at the top of Rossman Ave on Academy Hill. That was the night he switched sides, as up until that moment he was the lawyer for the Rossman Avenue Association who were arguing against the said development. As a leader of the Rossman Association I was only informed that Jeff resigned at the actual Planning Board meeting and so we had no lawyer at that point. A positive declaration would have meant that the project on top of Academy Hill would have had to complete the Long Form of SEQRA and do all the required environmental studies including storm water run off, and impacts on a Historic District. Too bad we lost our lawyer at the crucial moment.

  2. Isn't he the same attorney who'd once represented Friends of Hudson, but then accompanied Mussman and Roberts on their secret mission to negotiate with St. Lawrence in 2006?

    Am I - and presumably Jennifer - the only ones who assume that 2006 is about to happen all over again? Others must be too aghast to comment.

  3. Jeff was Friends of Hudson's attorney, and a very good one too, at the time, I thought. I'm not sure if he was involved with Mussman and Roberts on a 'secret mission'. I also worked with Cheryl Roberts under the Hudson Valley Alliance during the cement plant era and thought she was very good - until... the waterfront business afterward the State's cement plant decision.

    1. It's safe to say that attorneys are typically given way too much power by the public servants they're only meant to advise. (The attorney who was fired behaved as if he was an extra Board member.)

      This autumn I spoke with a Planning Board member I'd never met before (there are several) who informed me that the Planning Board HAD to execute its lawyer's opinions.

      Looking at next year's legal team, can you imagine a more depressing insight?