Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Council President and the HDC

In his opening remarks at yesterday's meeting of the Hudson Development Corporation Board of Directors, board president Bob Rasner recounted the year past, touching on HDC's response to the pandemic and the challenges that the City faced as a consequence of the pandemic. Rasner concluded with this statement:
. . . the City is seeking solutions to the [fiscal] crisis by exploring sales of its real estate holdings. At the first meeting of the Council’s ad hoc committee for this purpose, Chairman DiPietro suggested a sale of One North Front Street as one of the options. The Committee’s discussions noted that the entire building is encumbered by two leases, to our organization and the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce. 
As you are aware, one project ahead of the HDC this year is a completion of the review and updating of our by-laws by our committee Paul Barrett and Martha Lane. 
Today you will be asked to discuss one topic being considered by this committee, Conflict of Interest . . . to wit:
• Is it a conflict of interest for elected officials to serve as voting members of our Board? 
• Is it a conflict of interest for our lessor to serve as a voting member of our Board? 
• AND is it a conflict of interest for a voting member of our Board to seek ways to terminate the lease we hold with the City by searching for violations on the part of HDC over the entire term of the lease? 
This will not be an easy discussion, but it needs to be undertaken. 

Rasner's statement was prompted by a request for records made by Council president Tom DePietro, who made it known in an ad hoc committee meeting last month that 1 North Front Street was first on his first of properties he thought the City should sell to build back the fund balance, depleted in the last year making up for revenue shortfalls. HDC and the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce now occupy the building, and both have long-term leases: twelve-year leases with two more years to go and the option to renew for two more six-year terms. DePietro has referred to those leases as "sweetheart deals in which they pay no rent." In fact, the Chamber of Commerce pays $850 a month in rent. HDC's first twelve years are rent free, because HDC contributed $150,000 to the restoration of the building in 2010. At the ad hoc committee meeting, DePietro alleged that "HDC has not lived up to their part of the bargain."

DePietro has requested the following information from HDC:
  • HDC's financials for 2010 and 2011
  • Minutes for 2016 (they appear to be missing from the website)
  • How much did the HDC spend on improvements to Washington Hose?
  • What exactly were the improvements?
  • How does HDC currently account for these improvements on its balance sheet, and at what value?
  • Over the past ten years, has the HDC used their office for any job training, and if so, what are the details?
  • Does the HDC carry the insurance required by paragraph 13(a) of the lease ($1,000,000/general commercial liability insurance for claims of injury or property damage and naming the city as an additional insured)?
Believing that in making the request DePietro was "looking for a reason to evict [HDC] based on breach of lease," Rasner asked for a FOIL request. He explained yesterday that he had done so "to force public discussion." 

Phil Forman, who serves as treasurer of the HDC board, asked, "Is there a legal definition of 'sweetheart deal'"? He noted that HDC had invested in the restoration of the building. He also asked, "When someone asks for ten years of insurance records, what are they looking for?" He then answered his own question: "It looks like a transparent attempt to break the lease."

In the end, it was decided, by a vote of the board, that HDC would give DePietro the information he sought without a FOIL request. It was also revealed that DePietro is no longer pursuing the sale of 1 North Front Street--something he told the Chamber of Commerce president before mentioning it to anyone at HDC. According to DePietro, because of the American Rescue Plan and an AIM (Aid and Incentives for Municipalities) payment being partially reinstated, "The urgency is not as strong." There is, however, a plan for selling 429 Warren Street, the location of the Code Enforcement Office. That plan will no doubt be revealed at the ad hoc committee meeting scheduled for 5:00 p.m. today. Click here to join that meeting.

There was no actual discussion about changing HDC bylaws to exclude the two ex officio members of the board--the mayor and the Common Council president. Jeff Baker, counsel to the Council, however, reminded the board that "as an LDC [local development corporation], it is expected that you have a close relationship with the municipality." At one time, there were four elected officials serving ex officio on the HDC board: the mayor, the Common Council president, and the majority and minority leaders of the Common Council. At the end of 2015, the board voted to amend its bylaws to limit the elected officials on the board to just two: the mayor and the Council president. 

Regarding 1 North Front Street, Gossips wrote about it often in the years when its future was being determined. In fact, the post that inaugurated The Gossips of Rivertown in January 2010 was about the building, then known as Washington Hose: "A New Plan for Washington Hose." Additional posts about the building and its restoration and adaptive reuse can be found here, here, here, and here. The second of the additional posts is particularly interesting since it reports that Peter Markou, then the executive director of HDC and HCDPA, "has given up on the notion of HDC owning the property for the unusual reason that the deed which transferred the land on which the building sits from the Proprietors to the City of Hudson in 1795 cannot be found." That could well remain an impediment to selling the building today.


  1. A Tourism Board that funnels money designated by law for specific economic development to a pork barrel buffet for cronies. A mayor's office that mismanages public works projects. A Common Council president that seeks to void a good faith contract on a technicality. What a way to build trust in government.

  2. The amount of bad faith that seems to be engendered by the Common Council president's behavior and statements is somewhat mind-blowing. It's impossible to serve 2 masters simultaneously: is he violating his sworn duty to the City or his fiduciary duty to HDC? Likely both, particularly in light of his attorney's statement about the close relationship that's supposed to exist between the HDC and the City.

    1. Whose attorney? His? Given Jeff Baker's statements, I guess it would make more sense if he were Tom's attorney than the City's.

  3. Slightly O.T., but as a veteran complainer hereabouts I'd like to salute the professionalism of the current Planning Board, which is beyond question the most astute and careful PB we've ever known in Hudson.

    Amidst all our troubles, it's important to acknowledge local government's successes too.

    1. We should also give a shout-out to Heather Campbell, who in addition to being a consummate professional, is the only citywide elected official who seems to have a clue how to run a city.

    2. YES, to a big shout out to Heather Campbell.

    3. John, can you name a single thing Heather has done proactively during this crisis?

    4. Kevin, take time to read the minutes of the Finance Committee meetings (Committee now abolished) over the past year. They speak volumes to your point. The Treasurer each month warning the Committee members of the mounting problems. The Chairman said he could not read the budget, so she produced colored graphs and charts. The committee did not take a single action to reduce expenditures despite her reports of revenues falling like a rock. Shoot the messenger seems to be the approach now being taken.

    5. Kevin Buso anyone who regularly attends meetings with Heather can tell you she has been sounding the alarm about the City's budgets and spending for years. Anyone who wants to see actual progress for the residents of Hudson needs someone with both financial acumen and long-term planning. Platitudes from the self-appointed vanguard of the revolution aren't going to fix the structural issues Hudson faces or create the kind of economic ballast the City needs for social mobility.

      If it were possible to eliminate the office of the Mayor and replace it with a city manager, Heather Campbell would be my first and only choice for the role. She understands management, municipal finance, and perhaps most importantly, she has integrity, a quality sorely missing in many of our elected officials (and sadly this year's crop of candidates.)

    6. Kevin Buso, the Treasurer doesn’t make policy, pass statutes or enforce them. The Treasurer practices policies and statutes. Perhaps a a bit of remedial civics is in order before questions are asked. “There are no stupid questions” is only true as to children.

    7. I posed a very simple question.

      And it seems that through all the unnecessary condescension, the fact remains that none of you actually answered it. So that's a pretty clear answer in and of itself.

      And Bob, it seems to be that you see the Treasurer's office as a messenger. That is a very narrow view that seems to be shared with others here and unfortunately in the Treasurer's office itself. I believe the office can do much more than just sound an alarm, I believe they could be proactive, and actually LEAD.

      With all of the griping about City Hall here, much of which I agree with, you seem to be satisfied with a Treasurer's office that only exists to let the rest of us know that the city doesn't have much money. A low bar. We could do better.

    8. You “believe.” That’s nice. Kinda sweet. Of course the City Charter actually establishes the powers and duties of city officials. You might want to read it. If you believe it’s important.

  4. I support this thread of appreciation! - adam

  5. thanks to Gossips whose records are superlative.