Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Another Meeting Update

It turns out Gossips was right the first time. The ZBA meeting will happen at 6:00 p.m. today. If you are interested in learning about the Galvan Foundation's issues with our code enforcement officer's interpretation of the city code, be aware that Galvan has postponed its appearance until next month, when the ZBA meets on October 21 at 6:00 p.m., or so the city calendar indicates.

COVID-19 Update

The Columbia County Department of Health has released its numbers for today. Since yesterday, there has been one new case of COVID-19 and no recoveries, but the number of active cases being reported remains the same. It appears that the person reported yesterday as being in the ICU is not longer in the ICU but remains hospitalized. There are three fewer county residents in mandatory quarantine today than there were yesterday, but the number in precautionary quarantine remains the same. It has now been 113 consecutive days since there has been a death from COVID-19 in Columbia County.

With one positive out of 236 test results received, the positive percentage rate for today is 0.4 percent.

The two charts below provide an overview of COVID-19 in Columbia County during the month of September. The first shows the number of new cases reported each day by the CCDOH. The second shows the number of active cases reported each day.




We seem to be trending in the wrong direction.
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Of Interest

The Times-Union reported today that the New York State Department of Health has fined three area nursing homes for violations during the coronavirus pandemic: "Capital Region nursing homes fined $32K for COVID violations." It should come as no surprise that the Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Barnwell in Valatie, where 142 people contracted COVID-19 earlier this year, received the largest fine of the three, indeed, one of the largest fines anywhere in the state: $22,000, for "multiple violations that had 'potential to cause more than minimal harm.'"
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Meetings Update

Today's meeting of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment scheduled for 1:00 p.m. has been canceled--something you wouldn't discover unless you clicked to get the link to the Zoom meeting, found it not there, and then noticed the word "CANCELED" up at the top.


The meeting was to receive the proposed 2021 budget for the Youth Department, and it is not clear why it was canceled.

Also, for everyone planning to attend the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting later today, the meeting takes place at 5:00 p.m. not at 6 p.m. as Gossips previously noted. The link for joining the meeting has already been posted on the City of Hudson website.

Police Officers Weigh In

Yesterday, before Mayor Kamal Johnson made his statement on Facebook, members of the Common Council received a letter from the union body and the command staff of the Hudson Police Department. The following is the text of the letter, absent the salutatory first paragraph:
First and foremost, the police department is committed, focused, and will continue to work with Mayor Johnson on bridging the gap and improving the trust of the community. The ongoing meetings of the reconciliation committee put together by Mayor Johnson continue to work hard to meet these expectations.
The proposal put forth at the legal committee September 23rd, 2020, is divisive, inflammatory and divides the unity amongst the police, politicians, community, and the reconciliation committee. An approach that limits the exposure and interaction of the public with the police is counterproductive and not a goal of community policing. Your police department, which is an accredited agency in the State of New York, is held to a higher standard. The success of the city today would not have been attained without the assistance and dedication of your police department. The city has made great strides in the last 20+ years. To deplete the police department not only would be irresponsible but unsafe for the community as well as the officers sworn to protect. Crime would increase, store fronts would be empty, poverty levels would rise, and tourism would diminish. We do not want to go backwards!
We trust the mayor will continue to have the best interest of the community and public safety at the forefront of his agenda. We are a dedicated group of individuals that have and will continue to strive for unity within the community and continue to have conversations, so that we can have an even better Hudson. The City of Hudson Police Department wants to thank Mayor Johnson for his constant reassurance that he will not layoff or furlough any police officers. As always, the members of the City of Hudson Police Department welcome open dialogue amongst the community so that we can come to agreeable solutions. We all have the same attainable goal, which is to be able to live, work and be prosperous without fear.
The City of Hudson should be proud of its diversified and dedicated police department and its commitment and service to protect the community. To the organizations that are trying to distract, strip, defund and eliminate the police department, how well do you know the men and women of this department and the community? Maybe it's time you get to know them and learn what this department has accomplished: to have people from all walks of life want to reside, relax, commute, conduct business and work in this beautiful city we call Hudson, NY.

The letter was signed by Sergeant Christopher Filli, who is the president of the local police union, and Chief Ed Moore.

Take Back Your Thursday Night

The special meeting of the Common Council Legal Committee, to consider two resolutions related to the proposed Hudson Breathe Act, scheduled for Thursday at 6:00 p.m., has been canceled. So far, there has been no word shared publicly on whether the protest being organized by Back the Blue for that time in front of City Hall has been abandoned, or if it will go forward. 

Update:  Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, sent Gossips this statement regarding the cancellation of the special meeting:
Last night, Mayor Johnson gave a speech, recognizing that many of the issues in the Breathe Act are critically important to the citizens of Hudson and our Police Department. I stand with the Mayor and echo his sentiments. I also share the Mayor's assessment that the Breathe Act cannot be put forward in its current form, due to potential and significant labor issues, safety issues, and litigation. In light of all of this, and after consultation with committee members, I have decided to cancel Thursday's special meeting of the Legal Committee. We will continue to work toward reform, in conjunction with input from Citizens of Hudson, PRAC and all members of the Hudson community.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Mayor on Police Reform

At the Police Committee meeting on Monday, Mayor Kamal Johnson declined to comment on the proposed Hudson Breathe Act, saying he would speak at the special Legal Committee meeting scheduled for Thursday. Late this afternoon, however, he spoke about the Hudson Breathe Act on Facebook, reading aloud a prepared statement that critiqued the legislation proposed. That video can be viewed here

COVID-19 Update

The Columbia County Department of Health released its numbers earlier today. The CCDOH is reporting no new cases of COVID-19, but strangely the number of active cases has increased by one, the total number of cases has increased by one, and number of people recovering has also increased by one since yesterday. It seems that the one person who was hospitalized may now be in the ICU. The number of county residents in mandatory quarantine has decreased by two since yesterday, but the number in precautionary quarantine remains the same. It has now been 112 consecutive days since there has been a death from COVID-19 in Columbia County.

Assuming as it appears that there was one positive out of 286 test results in the past day, the positive percentage rate for today is 0.3 percent.

You Can't Come Here from There: Update

Today, Colorado was added to New York's COVID-19 Travel Advisory List, and Arizona and Virginia were removed. Below is the complete list. Visitors or New Yorkers returning from any of the following states and territories must self-quarantine for fourteen days upon arriving in New York.
  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Guam
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Monday Night at the Police Committee Meeting

The Common Council Police Committee meeting on Monday night began with a statement by Council president Tom DePietro about the proposed Hudson Breathe Act. Committee chair Dewan Sarowar (Second Ward) apparently had asked DePietro to speak, and it wasn't entirely clear on whose behalf he was speaking. What he said was that some ideas in the Hudson Breathe Act are "worth entertaining" and some are the subject of the mayor's Police Reconciliation and Advisory Commission (PRAC). He noted that some of the actions requested were not doable by the Council, because they would involve diminishing the powers of the mayor. He pointed out that reducing the number of officers in the Hudson Police Department contradicts the mayor's statement that there would be no layoffs and asserted that many of the actions included in the Hudson Breathe Act cannot be done under the current police contract.

DePietro concluded by saying that Hudson is facing an economic crisis, and if the police budget could be reduced, that money would need to be used to avoid bankruptcy. "The Council cannot by fiat reduce the budget and put the money elsewhere."

The Black Lives Matter resolution submitted by the Columbia-Greene Democratic Socialists of America received little mention. DePietro said, "This is its first appearance." (The resolution was sent to the Common Council on September 1.) Sarowar suggested that they accept the resolution as a communication and discuss it at their next meeting. Instead, the Hudson Breathe Act, which was introduced at the Legal Committee meeting by Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) last Thursday, was a major topic of discussion. When asked to comment, Mayor Kamal Johnson said he would speak about the Hudson Breathe Act at the Legal Committee meeting on Thursday, October 1. Regarding the Black Lives Matter resolution, Johnson said, "A lot of the things [requested] are illegal, so I don't see why it would leave this committee."

Chief Ed Moore responded to some of the elements of the Hudson Breathe Act. Regarding the budget, Moore said that $4.8 million was a "mythical number." The annual budget for the police department is $3 million out of the $11.6 city budget. The additional $1.8 claimed to be part of the police budget is the employee benefit program to retired officers. Moore said the department had only $225,000 of discretionary spending, money not tied to contractual obligations. That amount has increased by only $28,000 over the past five years.

Regarding no-knock warrants, Moore said he wanted input from local judges on whether this can be done.

On the topic of residency requirements, Moore predicted, "You won't have many people coming forth for the job." It will be remembered that in June 2017 the Common Council amended the charter to make living within 20 linear miles of Hudson instead of 15 road miles the requirement for being a Hudson police officer. The thinking was that altering the requirement enlarged the pool of people who could be hired by the HPD. Moore said at the time, "It's a competitive market, and you want to get the best officers." At last night's Police Committee meeting, Moore asked rhetorically, "How many 21 to 35 year olds are there in Hudson?"

Moore also questioned how sixteen had been arrived as the appropriate number of officers. He noted that Norwich, New York, which is equal to Hudson in population, has only fourteen or fifteen police officers, but that city doesn't have a hospital, a train station, and a large weekend population. Moore maintained that the current number of officers had been determined over time, based on the number of calls for service and the number of crimes needing to be investigated. Moore predicted that reducing the police force would "harm the people who count on us." Responding to a question about reducing the size of the department, Moore said, "I would see a model where size and budget would organically go down. As violent crime and calls for service go down, so will the size of the department."

Moore urged that the city "stay the course with the mayor's commission" and concluded, "It is my fervent hope that the Council does not pass this law." At the end of the meeting, Moore addressed the officers who were part of the meeting saying, "I am extremely proud of them. The outcome will be fine, and we will continue to serve."

A point of contention at the meeting was a letter written by Michael Hofmann, one of the authors of the Hudson Breathe Act. When Alderman Rebecca Wolff (First Ward) wanted to read it aloud, Sarowar prevented her and said it should it part of a public hearing. Lillian Melcher and Rachel Drozdowicz also wanted to read the letter, but Sarowar told them to bring the letter to Thursday's meeting of the Legal Committee. 

Curious to know the content of the letter, Gossips asked Wolff if she would share it, and she did. What follows is the content of the letter, omitting the introductory and final paragraphs:
Much of the discourse on social media on the Hudson Breathe Act has centered specifically on the bill's call to set a maximum number of officers in the city to 16, and repeal previous legislation that allowed a 20-mile residency radius for members of the HPD. Many cry doomsday at these proposed changes, asserting that such cuts to police staffing will plunge Hudson into a crime-ridden state. The voice of this viewpoint is most assuredly going to be heard loud and clear on Monday night.
This viewpoint is based on conjecture about the relationship between police and crime rates, and the amount of violent crime our department deals with. Multiple national studies tell us that there is no significant correlation between police spending and frequency of crime. By my calculations using data from a three-year period June 2017-June 2o20, under 7% of incidents handled by the Hudson Police Department were related to violent crime.
This viewpoint also ignores the lived traumatic experiences of Black and Brown citizens of this city and country, who had suffered from systematic mistreatment and brutalization at the hands of police. And, due to the power and privilege police hold, these abuses are overwhelmingly not brought to justice--as the nation has witnessed so painfully this week with the case of Breonna Taylor. Public safety in Hudson must be inclusive.
Lastly, this viewpoint fails to take into account the true intent of the bill, which is to replace our over-investment in policing with investments in the community services that have a direct impact at reducing crime in our city. The Hudson Breathe Act calls on the city to fundamentally rethink how it addresses crime: by uprooting it at its source through strategic investment in community services, and by redirecting at least 20% of current calls to police to a new 311 non-emergency phone service and a Citizen Response Team. This Act presents a path for us to begin to imagine a new way of keeping our city safe. 

A New Police Commissioner for Hudson

The Register-Star just reported that Mayor Kamal Johnson has named a new police commissioner to replace Peter Volkmann. The new commissioner is Shane Bower, who retired from the Hudson Police Department in November 2019: "Bower named police commissioner." 

Bower and Johnson are both quoted extensively in the article. Speaking of the Hudson Breathes Act, Bower is quoted as saying, "The problems that they are bringing here are not here. That's my issue with some of it. We are not Minnesota. We are not these agencies that have these problems. You look at the track record of the police department, these things don't happen. . . ." The article also states: "Johnson said he wants to prevent national policing issues from occurring in Hudson, and Bower agreed Hudson should be proactive."

Cuomo on COVID-19

Governor Andrew Cuomo held a press briefing today in New York City. Among the information he shared was this map, which shows the current statewide infection rate.

Situated as we are on the border of the Capital Region and Mid-Hudson Region, it is important to note that the infection rate for our region, the Capital Region, is 0.9 percent, whereas the infection rate for the region just south of us, the Mid-Hudson Region, is 2.0 percent, currently the highest in the state.

Cuomo also talked about a future vaccine for COVID-19 and people's uncertainty about its safety and efficacy. He announced that he had formed a Clinical Advisory Task Force for the State of New York to review the FDA data and protocols and confirm if a vaccine approved by the FDA is indeed safe. The task force is made up of the following people:
Charles M. Rice, Ph.D., The Rockefeller University
Scott H. Hammer, MD, New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center

Aldofo Garcia-Sastre, PH.D., Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Sharon Nachman, MD, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University

Kelvin Lee, MD, Roswell Park

Bruce Farber, MD, Northwell Health

Shawneequa Callier, MA, JD, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences 

Cuomo stated his resolve to make New York the first COVID-free state in the country. He also noted that Donald Trump's response to New York's plan to do its own review and approval of a vaccine was to threaten to put New York last on the list to receive the vaccine. 

Cuomo's message to Trump: "Don't threaten New York."

You can view the entire press briefing here.
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This Week in Vermont

Vermont updated its interactive travel map today. Although it's indicated that the rate of infection here in Columbia County is up 64 percent from last week (now an estimated 341 per one million), Columbia County residents can still travel to Vermont without having to quarantine when they get there.

A Gossips Milestone

Yesterday, Gossips reached a significant milestone. Since its beginning in 2010, Gossips has published 10,000 posts! 

Those 10,000 posts, sharing news, history, and occasional gossip about the events, machinations, troubles, and triumphs right here in our little river city, have made Gossips a Hudson institution. As one Gossips reader memorably said, "Love it or hate it, we all read it." In the past month, there were more than 112,500 pageviews, and that monthly stat has been the same or sometimes higher throughout this strange and challenging year. 

The Gossips of Rivertown depends for its survival on the generous and voluntary support of its readers. If you believe Gossips fills an important journalistic niche, if you rely on Gossips for news and information, if Gossips is a service you appreciate and value, please consider joining the readers who have already shown their support by making a contribution. Click the "Donate" button at the top of the right column to get started. Your support in any amount is deeply appreciated. 

Note: If you are reading Gossips on your phone, scroll down to the bottom of this post and touch "View web version." Then locate the "Donate" at the top of the right column.

Monday, September 28, 2020

It Isn't Over Until It's Over

The following is a press release from the Columbia County Board of Supervisors.
POSITIVE COVID-19 TEST RESULTS SERVE AS REMINDER
Five new Columbia County residents testing positive for COVID-19 at the end of last week is serving as a reminder that, despite the recent long drought with no positives, "the virus is still alive and out there among our community," said Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb on Monday.
"Some of those who tested positive were asymptomatic, while others were experiencing symptoms. You just never know--sometimes it's just about who gets tested. Further, the fact that these people come from various parts of the county says that the virus is not confined to any particular part of the population," added Director Mabb.
In addition, a Hudson elementary school student tested positive for the virus at the end of last week, said Director Mabb. The student was not physically attending class. Nonetheless, the DOH worked with the school district throughout the weekend to contact people who may have been in contact with the student.
"As of now, everyone has been contacted," he said.

The five new cases were reported on Friday, September 25. "The recent long drought with no positives" seems a bit of an overstatement. In the month of September, there have only been five consecutive days with no new positives--September 9 to 14--and the total number of days in September so far with no new positives is eleven.

Whose Lot Is It Anyway?

More than once in the recent past, Common Council president Tom DePietro has talked about selling city-owned property to close the revenue gap in the 2020 city budget. He has mentioned the possibility of selling the house at the Churchtown Reservoir in Taghkanic and monetizing the vacant land behind Charles Williams Park as a solar field.
 
At the Public Works and Parks Committee meeting last Wednesday, DPW superintendent Rob Perry, presumably at DePietro's request, reported on the potential income from the sale of four city-owned properties maintained by DPW: 1 North Front Street, the former Washington Hose firehouse now the location of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce; 10-12 Warren Street, the location of the Hudson Daycare Center; 429 Warren Street, the location of the Code Enforcement Office; and 520 Warren Street, City Hall. He noted that if each of the buildings were sold for the fair market value listed in the tax rolls, the city would realize a profit of $2,560,000. If all the buildings went back on the tax rolls, it would bring in $19,430 annually to the city, based on the current mill rate. Of course, the expense of rehoming City Hall and the Code Enforcement Office did not figure into the discussion.

A property that is not getting mentioned in the current discussion is the vacant lot at the corner of Fourth and State streets. Since 2006 or so, the county has been using the lot as an annex to its two-level parking lot on Columbia Street, across from county office building at 325 Columbia. To Gossips knowledge, the county does not compensate the city in any way for the use of this lot.

Today, a phalanx of county trucks was lined up along Fourth Street, and heavy equipment and workers were busy, it seemed, regrading and resurfacing the lot--upgrading a parking lot on property that doesn't belong to the county.  

In February 2020, the Common Council passed a resolution in support of selling the parcel for the development of affordable housing. Didn't anyone remind that county that the city owns the lot or inform them that the city has other plans for it? Or did the Common Council's resolve to sell it go the way of its resolve to sell it in 2012 and again in 2015?
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COVID-19 Update

The Columbia County Department of Health has released its numbers for today. Since yesterday, there has been one new case of COVID-19, and there have been two recoveries, reducing the number of active cases by one to nine. One of the active cases remains hospitalized. There are eight fewer county residents in mandatory quarantine today than yesterday, but the number in precautionary quarantine remains the same. It has now been 111 consecutive days since there has been a death from COVID-19 in Columbia County.

With one positive out of 193 test results, the positive percentage rate for today is 0.5 percent.

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

It is now thirty-six days until Election Day, and here's what's happening in Hudson this week.
  • On Monday, September 28, the Common Council Fire Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. and the Police Committee meets at 6:00 p.m. It was indicated last week that the Black Lives Matter resolution submitted to the Common Council by the Columbia-Greene Democratic Socialists of America, which Mayor Kamal Johnson called a "falsified Executive Order," had been referred to the Police Committee. It is possible the document will be discussed in Monday night's committee meeting. Both meetings will take place on Zoom. Information for joining each meeting will be posted on the City of Hudson website. Scroll down to the calendar.
  • On Tuesday, September 29, the Common Council holds a special meeting at 6:00 p.m. The purpose of the special meeting is to "discuss and consider resolutions related to an ADA Architect and current hospital workers' union." The meeting will take place on Zoom. Information for joining the meeting will be posted on the City of Hudson website. Scroll down to the calendar.
  • On Wednesday, September 30, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment (BEA) meets at 1:00 p.m. The proposed 2021 budget for the Youth Department will be presented to the BEA at this meeting. The meeting will take place on Zoom. Information for joining the meeting will be posted on the City of Hudson website. Scroll down to the calendar.
  • Also on Wednesday, September 30, the Zoning Board of Appeals meets at 6:00 p.m. This meeting has been rescheduled from September 16. The meeting will include public hearings on the following five applications: area variances to build an addition at 251 Montgomery Street; area variances to construct an accessory building at 517 Prospect Street; area variances to convert a carriage house into a guest house at 436-438 East Allen Street; area variances to build a garage/studio behind 315 State Street; appeal of a zoning interpretation regarding variances for 65-75 North Seventh Street. Information on accessing the Zoom meeting and making comments will be posted on the City of Hudson website. Scroll down to the calendar.  
Correction:  The ZBA meeting is at 5:00 p.m. not 6:00 p.m.
  • On Thursday, October 1, the Common Council Legal Committee holds a special meeting at 6:00 p.m. to consider two resolutions. The first would divert 22 percent of the police budget to the Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency (HCDPA), the Youth Department, and three other agencies, existing or proposed; the second affirms the goals of the proposed Hudson Breathes Act. The meeting will take place on Zoom. Information to join the meeting will be made available on the City of Hudson website. Scroll down to the calendar. Concurrent with the meeting, which will take place virtually, it is expected there will be a demonstration in front of City Hall, apparently organized by the group Back the Blue, to protest cuts in the police budget and in the Hudson Police Force.
  • On Friday, October 2, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment (BEA) meets at 1:00 p.m. The proposed 2021 budget for the Department of Public Works will be presented to the BEA at this meeting. The meeting will take place on Zoom. Information for joining the meetings will be posted on the City of Hudson website. Scroll down to the calendar.
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Sunday, September 27, 2020

Discovered on Facebook

On Thursday, October 1, the Common Council Legal Committee is holding a special meeting at 6:00 p.m. to consider two resolutions: the first would divert 22 percent of the police budget to the Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency (HCDPA), the Youth Department, and three other purposes, existing or proposed; the second affirms the goals of the proposed Hudson Breathes Act. This afternoon, Gossips discovered on Facebook that there is an effort underway to organize a protest outside City Hall at that time.

What the organizers of the protest seem not to realize is that no one will be at City Hall at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, because the meeting will take place virtually on Zoom.
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COVID-19 Update

The Columbia County Department of Health has released its numbers for today. Since yesterday, there have been no new cases and no new recoveries, so the number of active cases remains at ten, with one of those being hospitalized. The number of county residents in quarantine, both mandatory and precautionary, remains the same, and for the 110th consecutive day, there have been no deaths from COVID-19 in Columbia County.

With zero positives out of 344 test results received, the positive percentage rate for today is 0.0 percent. Since Monday, September 21, there have been nine positives out of 1,732 test results, making the positive percentage rate for the past seven days 0.5 percent.

Of Interest

The Hudson Conservation Advisory Council shared the news on its Facebook page today of a change in leadership at the Columbia Land Conservancy: 
This week, we note the retirement of the great Peter Paden of the Columbia Land Conservancy, who has led the organization's tremendous growth over the past 14 years. We also welcome Troy Weldy, who takes the helm tomorrow. Weldy has 20 years of experience as a leader with the Nature Conservancy, most recently as Director of Lands for New York State. He is deeply experienced in conservation strategies, natural climate solutions and land management, stewardship and protection. We trust he'll be a major asset in preserving the environment that make our area great.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

COVID-19 Update

The Columbia County Department of Health has released its numbers for today. Since yesterday, there has been one new case of COVID-19 and no new recoveries, increasing the number of active cases by one to ten. One of the ten active cases is hospitalized. There are four more county residents in mandatory quarantine today than there were yesterday, but the number in precautionary quarantine remains the same. It has now been 109 consecutive days since there has been a death from COVID-19 in Columbia County.

With one positive out of 249 test results received, the positive percentage rate for today is 0.4 percent.

Making Hudson Safer

Some years ago, while visiting Nantucket, I was impressed by the signs that read "20 Is Plenty in 'Sconset." I didn't realize the 20 mph speed limit was unenforceable. People observed it, despite the fact that, at the time, the lowest legally enforceable speed in Massachusetts was 30 mph. In 2017, a new law was adopted in Massachusetts that allows municipalities to set their speed limits at 25 mph, but even with the lower legally enforceable speed limit, the Siasconset Civic Association still encourages residents and visitors to drive no faster than 20 mph.

Here in New York, the lowest legally enforceable speed is 30 mph, but apparently there are certain circumstances that allow a municipality to adopt a lower speed limit and have it be enforceable. At the Legal Committee meeting on Wednesday, before the attention turned to the proposed Hudson Breathes Act, it was noted that Alderman Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward) was researching what was involved in getting the enforceable speed limit in Hudson reduced to 25 mph. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to reduce the speed limit on the streets that are truck routes through the city, but the goal is to reduce the speed limit on all other streets--for example, Allen, Union, Warren, and State streets, as well as the residential streets on the north side of town and in the boulevards.

Reducing the speed limit is another piece of Merante's single-handed effort at traffic calming and increasing pedestrian safety. He was responsible for getting the grant to acquire the solar powered speed monitor on Harry Howard Avenue and also for solar powered pedestrian signals to be installed at six intersections in the city. He is currently trying to get the Tourism Board to allocate $5,700 of the $435,000 it has in lodging tax revenue to acquire solar powered speed monitors for two major entrances to the city where speeding is a problem: Glenwood Boulevard and Worth Avenue. 
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Friday, September 25, 2020

Parking Advisory

Enjoy it while you can. This is the last weekend that alternate side of the street parking regulations are suspended. Tonight and tomorrow night you can park your car overnight on either side of the street. After that, when parking your car for the night, if the date of the next day is odd, park your car on the side of the street where the house numbers are odd; if the next day's date is even, park your car on the side of the street where the house numbers are even.
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Where the New COVID Cases Were This Week

The Columbia County Department of Health has released its weekly breakdown of COVID-19 cases by municipality and nursing home. There were ten new cases this week, and four of them were in Hudson. There were two in Germantown, two in Kinderhook, and one each in Claverack and Hillsdale. 

As always, in the list below, the first number is the number of cases last Friday; the second is the number of cases today. These are the total number of cases since the pandemic began, not the number of active cases. The number of active cases in the county today is nine. 

Ancram  5 | 5
Canaan  11 | 11
Chatham  25 | 25
Claverack  27 | 28
Clermont  8 | 8
Copake  25 | 25
Craryville  3 | 3
Elizaville  2 | 2
Gallatin  3 | 3
Germantown  5 | 7
Ghent  24 | 24
Greenport  40 | 40
Hillsdale  15 | 16
Hudson  31 | 35
Kinderhook  41 | 43
Livingston  19 | 19
New Lebanon  9 | 9
Niverville  2 | 2
Philmont  9 | 9
Stockport  7 | 7
Stottville  1 | 1
Stuyvesant  19 | 19
Taghkanic  8 | 8
Valatie  17 | 17
Nursing Homes
Barnwell  142 | 142
Livingston Hills  2 | 2
Pine Haven  51 | 51

COVID-19 Update

The Columbia County Department of Health has released its numbers for today, and they should give us pause. Since yesterday, there have been five new cases of COVID-19 and one recovery, increasing the number of active cases by four to nine. One person with the virus remains hospitalized. The number of county residents in mandatory quarantine has increased by nine, but the number in precautionary quarantine has decreased by one. It has now been 108 consecutive days since there has been a death from COVID-19 in Columbia County.

With five positives out of 272 test results received, the positive percentage rate for today is 1.8 percent.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

In Memoriam

The obituary for Henry van Ameringen, the van of the Galvan Foundation, appeared in the New York Times today: "Henry van Ameringen, Friend of L.G.B.T.Q. Causes, Dies at 89."

The Mayor Responds

On his Facebook page this evening, Mayor Kamal Johnson commented on the "Hudson Breathes Act" proposed yesterday at the Common Council Legal Committee meeting by the Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition:
I have now had time to review the legislation presented at last nights legal committee meeting regarding police reform. Many of the reforms are taken out of my Executive Order issued months ago.
Hudson Police and my Police Advisory and Reconciliation Committee have been working around the clock on reforms that are beneficial to our community and the department. We will act swiftly and diligently with our reforms but also include the concerns of our city in it's entirety including our officers and elected officials.
Safety is a high priority of my administration. I have great respect for community members who engage in the governmental process. I will review the legislation further and have more to say at the special meeting next week. There are no sides Stand With Hudson.

Tactical Urbanism Comes to Hudson

On Saturday, October 3, Arterial and Street Plans, the two urban design firms working on the DRI project now known as Hudson Connects, will be building two pedestrian demonstration projects, and the public is invited to help. The projects will showcase ways to improve pedestrian safety and ADA accessibility. They will be implemented at two locations: Warren and Front, and North Second and State.

The demonstration project at Warren and Front streets will include three large painted curb extensions, which will slow down turning vehicles, allow people walking and rolling in wheelchairs to be more visible to motorists, and shorten the crossing distances from one side of the street to the other. Temporary sidewalk ramps will also be installed so that those with physical disabilities, strollers, luggage, etc., will have an easier time moving from the street to the sidewalk and back again. The project will use inexpensive and temporary materials that will be removed after city leaders, residents, and the consultant team have had a chance to assess the merits of the changes.

The demonstration project at North Second and State streets will include painted curb extensions as well as high visibility crosswalks to enhance driver awareness. A painted sidewalk along the north side of State Street will encourage cars to slow down while also connecting pedestrians from the North Second and State Street intersection with the entrance to Bliss Towers park and playground, where there is currently no sidewalk. Midblock curb extensions will be paired with the existing crosswalk on State Street, so that people walking or rolling are more visible and have less distance to cross. This project will use more durable materials and be intended to last for several months to a year.

The projects will test potential permanent improvements to these intersections. Feedback will be collected over the coming weeks and months in order to assess what project elements work well and what may need to be reconsidered should one or both projects be included as priority projects to be built with DRI funds in 2021.

Anyone interested in volunteering to help install either of these projects should send an email to john@streetplans.org.

COVID-19 Update

The Columbia County Department of Health has released its numbers for today. Since yesterday, there has been one new case of COVID-19 and no new recoveries, increasing the number of active cases by one to five. As was the case yesterday, one person is hospitalized with the virus. The number of county residents in mandatory quarantine is one fewer today than yesterday, but the number in precautionary quarantine remains the same. For 107 consecutive days, there have been no deaths from COVID-19 in Columbia County.

With one positive out of 238 test results received, the positive percentage rate for today is 0.4 percent.

What Really Happened Last Night

In what has to be some of the worst reporting I've seen in a while, Channel 13 News covered last night's Common Council Legal Committee meeting: "Common Council at odds over resolution supporting "Hudson Breathes Act." It is recommended viewing if only to appreciate how stilted and sensational, not to mention inaccurate, TV news can be.


As
Gossips reported, late yesterday afternoon, Quintin Cross distributed, on behalf of the Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition, proposed legislation called the "Hudson Breathe Act." This legislation was introduced at the Legal Committee last night by Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who explained that the bill as presented was only "Part I of the Hudson Breathe Act." In introducing the proposed legislation, Garriga read aloud the first page and a half of the document, which states the findings, intent, and purpose of the law:
In honor of the lives of those stolen by police and state-sanctioned violence—Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Natasha McKenna, George Floyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Elijah McClain, Pearlie Golden, Kayla Moore, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Atatiana Jefferson, Oscar Grant, Daniel Prude and far too many more—this local law shall be known as the Hudson Breathe Act of 2020. This visionary bill reinvests our taxpayer dollars in a new vision of public safety—a vision that allows all communities to finally breathe free.
George Floyd’s nine-minute long, agonizing and public murder demonstrates that the police system needs more direct and systemic reform to stem the violence and racism inherent in the founding of America. We acknowledge the City of Hudson is not immune or exempt from systemic racism, and the very name “Hudson” documents our settler colonial history, including the near genocide of the former estimated 8,000 Mohican residents. We acknowledge the expansion of the Hudson Police Department in the 1980s in response to “urban clusters” began a pattern of racial profiling that continues today.
In May 2020, a post circulating [on] social media detailed a Hudson Police Department budget of approximately $3 million, based on information readily accessible from the city’s publicly posted budget. After further investigation, we now know actual annual city spending on police exceeds $4.8 million, encompassing more than 33% of the overall city budget, and far above all other spending categories. The next largest group of expenses, Utilities, is $1.97 million less than the police budget. This Bill serves to better align our stated verbal priorities with financial priorities. 

We acknowledge the individuals serving in the Hudson Police department are talented, capable, and respectful individuals who took the oath in order to serve this community. Yet the underlying problem of police brutality is not only related to individual police officers, but is a societal problem that centers on an American overdependence on an armed police, and the lasting influence of the institution’s origins as an all-white force for the express purpose of enforcing slavery. The residents of Hudson have elected a City Council and Mayor that is diverse and progressive for this very reason, that we should lead our county, state, and country in the adoption of best practices. These practices include but are not limited to a greater investment in community programs, a ban on no knock warrants, a non-emergency phone number, the development of a Citizen Response Team, data mapping and transparency, and police members that reside within the community they police.

We affirm the words of Mayor Johnson that “the residents of the City of Hudson are diverse, possess universal human rights and are entitled to dignity, respect and equal treatment under the law.” Therefore, we propose the following reforms and resolutions in order to codify the changes called for in the Executive Order, and more. We acknowledge the urgency at this time to act and that its passage in 2020 is an overdue act of justice, with much work remaining. We envision this bill to be only Part I of the Hudson Breathe Act.
Garriga said she wanted the proposed legislation on the agenda for the October informal Council meeting. Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, pointed out that the document had only been received that afternoon and cautioned, "We need to figure out what's being done by the mayor's commission." Jeff Baker, counsel to the Council, commented, "It's not in the form of a local law that can be adopted."

In July, Mayor Kamal Johnson created the Police Reconciliation and Advisory Commission tasked with hearing from the community on issues related to "community policing; police interactions with people of color, those with substance use disorders, or people in a mental health crisis; and incidents of police brutality or misconduct, if any, among other issues the community may wish to raise or the Commission may wish to explore." The commission is to present a report to the mayor, with recommendations, no later than November 15. While the commission is still doing its work, there are other police reform initiatives. At the beginning of September, a group identifying itself as the Columbia-Greene Democratic Socialists of America sent a Black Lives Matter resolution regarding police reform to the Common Council and posted it on imby.com. In a post on Facebook, Johnson called the document a "falsified Executive Order." According to information received last night, that resolution has been referred to the Police Committee.

Regarding the legislation proposed last night by the Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition, it was decided that the budget issues contained in Section 5 of the document were all policy decisions and therefore could be converted into a resolution to be considered by the Council in October, in advance of the final drafting of the city budget for 2021. The following is quoted from Section 5 A of the document: "A reallocation of a portion of the police budget to community programs."
A.1. At least $490,000 (or 10% of the adopted $4.8MM 2020 Hudson Police Budget) shall be diverted to the Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency (HCDPA). This funding shall provide for at least 6 more subsidized housing units made immediately available to offset houselessness needs, or for other purposes as determined by the management of the HCDPA. Additional funds may be added as needed to address the current affordable housing crisis.
A.2. At least $242,552 (or 5% of the adopted $4.8MM 2020 Hudson Police Budget) shall be diverted to the Hudson Youth Department. Additional funds may be added as needed.
A.3. At least $145,000 (or 3% of the adopted $4.8MM 2020 Hudson Police Budget), shall be diverted to services for assisting formerly incarcerated individuals with re-entry and job placement or business development services, such as ReEntry Columbia. Additional funds may be added, with special interest in investing funds for new businesses being started by formerly incarcerated individuals.
A.4. At least $100,000 (or almost 2% of the adopted $4.8MM 2020 Hudson Police Budget) shall be diverted to the development of a Citizen Response Team, including hiring of the staff needed to run the program.
A.5. At least $100,000 (or almost 2% of the adopted $4.8MM 2020 Hudson Police Budget) shall be diverted to the creation of a non-emergency phone service, with the inclusion of a modern CRM solution, such as SeeClickFix, and staff.  
It was also decided that Baker would draft a resolution affirming the goals of the Hudson Breathe Act. Drafting a law will have to wait until Baker establishes what in the proposed legislation is possible given the existing police contract, which was approved by the Common Council at the end of last year. Among the amendments to the city charter suggested in proposed legislation are the requirement that all Hudson police officers live in the city and a reduction of the number of police officers, including the chief and sergeants, from twenty-six, which is the current maximum, to sixteen. There are currently twenty-three officers on the force.

The Legal Committee will hold a special meeting on Thursday, October 1, at 6:00 p.m., to review the two resolutions and vote on moving them forward to the full Council on October 13.
COPYRIGHT 2020 CAROLE OSTERINK

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Good News Befitting 2020

Gossips has been monitoring the revenue shortfalls reported by the city treasurer at Finance Committee meetings, and it seems all of the major revenue sources for the City are lagging far behind what was anticipated for 2020. But, in this year from hell, there is one revenue source that is exceeding expectation. 

Tonight, at the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meeting, DPW superintendent Rob Perry reported that the income from septage--that is, the processing for profit of waste material from septic tanks and similar sources through Hudson's waste water treatment plant--is exceeding what was anticipted in the 2020 budget. The anticipated revenue written into the budget was $25,000 a month. For the month of June, the revenue realized was $45,000. It is projected that the income from septage in 2020 will exceed expectation by $112,000.
COPYRIGHT 2020 CAROLE OSTERINK

Tonight in the Legal Committee Meeting

The Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition (HCHC) just announced that, at tonight's Common Council Legal Committee meeting, Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who is a co-founder of HCHC, will propose the "Hudson Breathe Act," described as "wide sweeping policy and budget amendments to Hudson Police Department protocol." According to the announcement:
Proposed policy changes include a residency requirement within city limits for Hudson police officers, body camera review requirements, a ban on excessive force including choke holds and using a knee on the neck, and a ban on "No Knock Warrants" in honor of Breonna Taylor. . . . Budget proposals include reducing the police force size and diverting funds from the HPD to the youth department, affordable housing, reentry from incarceration services as well as the development of a non-emergency phone number and a citizen response team.

The Legal Committee meeting begins at 6:15 p.m. To access the Zoom meeting, click here.

COVID-19 Update

The Columbia County Department of Health has released its numbers for today. Since yesterday, there has been one new case of COVID-19 and no new recoveries, increasing the number of active cases by one to four. One of those active cases is now hospitalized. Three more county residents are in mandatory quarantine today than yesterday, but the number in precautionary quarantine remains the same. It has now been 106 days since there has been a death from COVID-19 in Columbia County.

With one positive out of 145 test results, the positive percentage rate for today is 0.6 percent.

The IDA and the Proposed Hotel

When the developer of 620 Union Street, the home of Robert and Sally McKinstry which for more than a century was the Home for the Aged, first appeared before the IDA (Industrial Development Agency), it was February, and people were still able to gather in rooms for meetings.

Yesterday, seven months later, it was expected that the IDA would vote on whether or not the project would be granted the financial incentives it sought: exemption from mortgage tax; exemption from sales tax on materials purchased in the development of the hotel; and a property tax abatement in the form of a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement which would run for eleven years. Given that expectation, Christine Chale, legal counsel to the IDA in this matter, had prepared two resolutions: one granting the tax abatements sought; the other denying them. Neither was voted on. Instead, the members of the IDA present--Tiffany Garriga, Rebecca Wolff, John Cody, Heather Campbell, and Kamal Johnson--decided they weren't happy with the terms of the PILOT agreement.

Under the terms proposed, the hotel would pay $41,564 a year, the amount of taxes currently paid on the property, for the first three years of the agreement. In Year 4, the amount would increase to $49,877 a year; in Year 6, it would increase to $58,190 a year; in Year 8, it would increase to $66,503 a year; in Year 10, it would be $74,816; and in Year 11, it would be $83,129. During the eleven years of the PILOT agreement, the hotel would pay a total of $631,777. After the eleven years, the hotel would pay the full amount of property tax based on the assessed value of the hotel. 

Yesterday, city treasurer Heather Campbell expressed concern that there were "no growth assumptions in the PILOT." She said she was in favor of the project but was concerned that the proposed PILOT agreement assumed "no increase in assessment or tax rate" during the eleven years. She argued that the PILOT agreement could be "more aggressive and still be favorable" and cautioned "the jump from Year 11 to Year 12 could be tremendous."

Joe Scott, attorney for the hotel project, responded by saying that "typically the starting point is much lower," but they were "starting at a relatively high rate." He added, "We recognize that there will be a jump at the end." He questioned why, "after reading the Camoin report," there should be "any concern about benefit" of the project to the city.

In defending the proposed PILOT agreement both Scott and David Kessler, the developer, made reference to the PILOT now in place with The Wick. Scott said the numbers they were proposing "reflect the structure of the PILOT for The Wick." Kessler said that The Wick, now up and running, is paying $30,000 a year in taxes, whereas they were proposing to pay more than that during the construction period. Because the PILOT for The Wick figured in the discussion of the PILOT proposal now under consideration, it is useful to review the terms of that agreement. The PILOT for The Wick was approved in June 2016. In Year 1, the tax payment was $20,000. (It will be remembered that before Redburn Development acquired the property it was owned by a not-for-profit and hence was off the tax rolls and paid no property taxes.) In Year 2, the tax payment was $25,000. Beginning in Year 3, the tax payment increases by $9,375 every year until it reaches $100,000 in Year 10, the year the PILOT agreement expires. By my calculations, The Wick is now in Year 4 of its PILOT agreement, and its payment in lieu of taxes is now $43,750.

Correction: Although the PILOT agreement for The Wick has approved in June 2016, it did not begin until January 2018. The Wick is now in Year 3 of its PILOT, and the payment in lieu of taxes for 2020 was $34.375.

Scott urged the IDA to look at "the package as a whole," stressing the developer's commitment to jobs, job training, and job levels. "Those have some costs that will be borne by the developer," he noted. He went on to say, "Undertaking a project of this magnitude is a severe risk to the developer." He stressed the level of benefit to the level of cost in forgone revenue and maintained that the proposed PILOT structure was not out of line.

Although Scott said they were hoping for a decision so they could close on the property, Garriga, who chairs the IDA, said the treasurer's concerns were being "backed up by the board" and she wanted them addressed. Chale advised that restructuring the PILOT would have to happen before a vote could be taken. Johnson said he wanted a special meeting to review the numbers. And so it was decided that the IDA would hold a special meeting to review a restructured PILOT agreement.

The date and time of the special meeting have not yet been announced, but Wolff requested that a second topic be added to the agenda for that meeting: the specific population to be addressed by the proposed workforce training. She suggested that the population to be trained and hired by the hotel "must be defined as lifetime residents of Hudson in danger of displacement because of rising housing costs." She also spoke of the inability to secure full-time employment.
COPYRIGHT 2020 CAROLE OSTERINK