Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Out with the Standing, In with the Ad Hoc

At the beginning of the year, Council president Tom DePietro eliminated all standing committees of the Common Council, a tradition that has existed for more than a century, in favor of ad hoc committees formed to deal with particular issues. Two of those committees met last week; two more are scheduled to meet this week; and DePietro announced the creation of two more at the Council meeting last week. Today, Gossips reviews the status of those committees.

Sidewalks  The purpose of this committee is to continue the work begun more than two years ago by the Legal Committee. The conversation about sidewalks has gone on at City Hall for at least two decades. Not only is there the problem of broken, dangerous, and nonexistent sidewalks, there is also the problem of new sidewalks constructed in compliance with city code being significantly higher than existing sidewalks. The problems of disrepair and lack of uniformity stem from the city charter, which makes the care and keeping of sidewalks the responsibility of the owner of the adjacent property. The Legal Committee, and now the ad hoc sidewalk committee, is looking to change the charter to impose a fee on all property owners, including owners of properties otherwise tax exempt, that would fund repairing and replacing sidewalks in the city as needed. There is some urgency, because the City has a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice over issues of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance.

The proposed local law that would make the necessary amendment to the charter was published on the City of Hudson website in June 2019. No subsequent versions of the law have been made public since then. When the ad hoc committee met last Tuesday, it was decided that Jeff Baker, counsel to the Council, needed to make some adjustments to the latest version of the law, and as soon as that was done, DePietro would send it to members of the committee, and they would schedule another meeting. To Gossips' knowledge, none of that has happened yet.

It should be noted that this change in the charter is subject to a permissive referendum, which means that residents of Hudson can petition to have the proposed change voted on in the general election.

Parking This ad hoc committee met for the first time last Thursday. The committee's existence was inspired by a comment from Alderman Jane Trombley (First Ward) that alternate side of the street parking was "a real pain." At the informal Council meeting on February 9, Rob Perry, superintendent of Public Works, explained the importance of street sweeping, which is the reason for alternate side overnight parking. At the first meeting of the ad hoc committee, which took place on February 18. Trombley redefined her purpose as "hoping to understand the inconsistencies in the parking structure." She cited in particular Union Street above Fourth where there is no parking on one side of the street on every day but one, whereas on Union Street below West Court Street and on all of Allen Street, alternate side of the street rules pertain to overnight parking every day except on the eves of certain holidays and during the summer, if the mayor so determines. Trombley wanted to know: "Why the seasonality? Why the inconsistency?" 

The discussion embraced improved signage, the width of the streets, and the suggestion that alternate side of the street parking be in effect all day not just from midnight to 8:00 a.m. Nick Pierro, who is a volunteer firefighter as well as a police officer, explained that the new ladder truck, which is expected to arrive any day now, had to be designed around Hudson's narrow streets, particularly Union and Eighth streets. Peter Bujanow, commissioner of Public Works, suggested that making certain streets one-way could alleviate some of the problems, although not necessarily alternate side of the street parking problems. 

In the end, it was suggested that there might be some "interim change" as they worked toward a long-term change. It was decided that the ad hoc committee would meet again at the same time next month, that is, Thursday, March 18, at 6:00 p.m.

Selling Properties The ad hoc committee charged with selling City-owned properties will meet on Wednesday, February 24, at 5:00 p.m. The motivation for selling property is to build back the fund balance, which at this point is estimated to be only about $600,000. Several buildings have been mentioned in the past as possibilities for sale: 429 Warren Street, but where will we put the Code Enforcement office?; 10 Warren Street, but what's to become of the Hudson Daycare Center?; the house in the Cedar Park Cemetery, but where will the cemetery office and all the DPW garages go?; 1 North Front Street, smack dap at the entrance to a historic park; the Dunn warehouse, likewise located adjacent to a public park; 520 Warren Street, but relocating City Hall does not come without cost. 

Solar Farm The ad hoc committee charged with exploring DePietro's idea of developing a solar farm on a parcel of City-owned land north of Charles Williams Park and east of the landfill will meet for the first time on Wednesday, February 24, at 6:15 p.m. The idea is that the solar farm would not only provide power for the City's own electricity needs but also be a new revenue stream for Hudson.

Police Data This is a new ad hoc committee, the creation of which DePietro announced at the Council meeting on February 16. The committee is made up of Jane Trombley, Dewan Sarowar, Calvin Lewis, and John Rosenthal. 

In January, the Council passed a resolution requiring the chief of police to provide monthly reports "detailing traffic, vehicle and pedestrian stops in the city." Among the details to be provided were "the racial and gender identity of the motorist or pedestrian involved." The resolution grew out of concerns expressed by Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) that, if the speed limit in Hudson were to be reduced to 25 mph, more black and brown people would be stopped by police. The resolution was drafted and passed without consulting Chief Ed Moore, and apparently there are some problems with implementing it. The ad hoc committee formed to deal with those problems will meet on Wednesday, March 3, at 6:00 p.m.

City Hall At the Council meeting on February 16, Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward) and DePietro had a bit of a disagreement over the future site of City Hall. Rosenthal questioned why Plan 3 for making 520 Warren Street ADA compliant was being abandoned in favor of the Galvan proposal to move City Hall to 400 State Street. He pointed out that Plan 4, the most expensive plan for making the current City Hall ADA compliant, was less expensive than what was being proposed for 400 State Street. He said of the Galvan proposal, "It would be irresponsible of us to pursue," and asserted, "It's going to be expensive beyond 520 Warren Street."

DePietro maintained, "Michael needs to advise use on where we are with the DOJ," referring to mayor's aide Michael Chameides and the City's settlement agreement with the Department of Justice. (Later in the discussion, Baker told the Council, "You don't have a specific deadline for upgrading City Hall. . . . They want to see that we are taking this serious.") DePietro told Rosenthal, "I'm not against doing the high-end renovation of City Hall," but insisted that they needed to "put the two proposals next to each other and see which one is better." For this purpose, an ad hoc committee will be convened. Who will be on that committee and when it will meet has not been announced.

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