Wednesday, January 26, 2022

HDC Contemplates Its Future

For the past decade, a consuming occupation for the Hudson Development Corporation was the Kaz site, which was acquired back in 2010. With the sale of the property set to close any day now and $2 million about to flow into its coffers, HDC is focused on the future and the role it should play in the city's development going forward. 

Yesterday's meeting of the HDC board began, as HDC meetings typically do, with comments from board president Bob Rasner. For the first meeting of the year, Rasner riffed on the idea that the Chinese New Year, which begins on February 1, is the Year of the Tiger. Rasner's comments began, "Determined, confident, trustworthy, and frank, the tiger personality is the symbol of power." He proposed three New Year's resolutions for HDC--"resolutions that launch the change from the napping tiger to one that is ready for its role in life":
  • Stop relying on good intentions
  • Think of the future as a continuous stream of changes, not just a single change
  • Quit assuming that we are prepared to succeed
Rasner urged, "It is clearly time for us to carefully think through our structure and plan the path forward." Given that HDC is about to become a very well endowed agency, one of the issues he advocated for was "protecting the integrity of the board." To achieve that, he recommended three things: reviewing and updating the bylaws; reviewing the role and function of ex officio positions; defining the role and function of an executive committee. Rasner ended his comments with this call to action: "Slip into your tiger suits, gang. This is going to be fun."

The first steps along the path turned out not to be entirely fun. When the discussion turned to the question of ex officio members (there are two on the HDC board: the mayor and the Common Council president), things got a little heated. In introducing the subject for discussion, Rasner noted that criticism of local development corporations (LDCs) "is frequently around comingling of city officials and the board." He stressed that they were considering "the positions and not the people in them." HDC executive director Branda Maholtz made the point that with "most LDCs, if they have ex officio members, they are non-voting members."

Mayor Kamal Johnson expressed the opinion that to remove ex officio members or make them non-voting members "sets a bad precedent." Returning to Rasner's tiger metaphor, Johnson complained, "You want to take the stripes off our tiger suits."

Later in the discussion, Johnson asserted, "Being blindsided by this is unprofessional." He contended he was the only person of color and the youngest person on the HDC board. 

Maholtz reiterated, "The question is not about personalities but about positions." Rasner took issue with Johnson's claim that he was blindsided. "Did you get advanced notice?" he asked Johnson. Johnson answered, "One day." Rasner continued, "You were not blindsided. You were called last week, not one day."

Board member Seth Rogovoy rebuked Rasner for talking to the mayor "like a schoolchild" and "speaking disrespectfully to the mayor." Rasner argued that it was important the situation not be misrepresented. Maholtz confirmed that she had called the mayor last week and he had "fair warning that this discussion was going to happen." Rogovoy urged that the members "speak to each other respectfully" and no one be "talked down to." Johnson claimed the last word, writing in the meeting "Chat": "I will say that my temperament was not high. I expressed my opinion in a respectful manner and was met with disrespect."

It is not clear what the outcome will be regarding ex officio members on the HDC board. There was no consensus on their inclusion on the board and no consensus about their voting. There did, however, seem to be consensus on adding a third ex officio member to the board: the city treasurer.

Questioning the appropriateness of ex officio members on the board is not new for HDC. Up until 2015, there were four ex officio members: the mayor, the Common Council president, the Common Council majority leader and the minority leader. At the end of 2015, when four of the nine members of the HDC board were ex officio, HDC decided to amend its bylaws to reduce the number of ex officio members to two, eliminating the majority leader and the minority leader. At that time, Tiffany Garriga was the majority leader, and the Staley B. Keith Social Justice Center alleged that the board's decision was an attempt to "remove any voices from the minority community." What happened as a consequence was documented by Gossips: "HDC and SBK." History may be repeating itself.


  1. Honestly, can someone name one thing that the HDC has done that has benefited Hudson in the long or short term and that would not have taken place without them?
    And this in is not the first time I've been convinced that Rasner is a tad full of himself.
    B Huston

  2. Leave it to SBK to pull out the race card, this was not about race. If SBK / Housing Coalition wants to have representatives in city government, they should select someone who has the education and qualifications to hold that position. Simply being black and having a big mouth doesn't quite cut it anymore.

  3. The HDC is a problem, in and of itself.

    The entity itself is a holdover from another era, and is simply inappropriate for 2022.

    Meanwhile, the City of Hudson is desperate for the shared vision contained in a Comprehensive Planning process.

    (And short the funds to initiate an adequate process, despite the $67k from the state.)

    The HDC should be dissolved and used to fund the development of an urban planning capacity within the City government, and the development of a new Comprehensive Plan.

    1. HDC is a private entity. It does what it does, or not, as it decides. Which makes it like just about any other business in the city except its a not-for-profit that seeks to develop jobs in the city. Granted, it's not been the source of tremendous impact on the city (except perhaps negatively during misguided urban renewal times). The HDC used to get a line item in the City budget on some basis. I don't recall any allocations to it when I was on the Council but that doesn't mean it didn't happen -- but it does mean that if there were allocations they were meager. What is important, though, is that it no longer receives any support from the City at all.

      So at the end of the day, Peter, what you suggest is pure socialization of private property simply because you believe that you know better. That's simultaneously weak tea and pretty fucking scary.

      Beyond that, it's also inadequate for the task you seek to pirate it for: HDC will net a bit less than $2m through the sale of the majority of its realty. How far would that go towards the development of an urban planning capacity? From about Front Street to Second -- a metaphoric distance that is coextensive with the DRI district that so far looks exactly the same as it did when the DRI money was granted -- in 2017, right? Quicker to simply burn the $2m in a bonfire.

    2. big mouth pirate screaming he controls property he did nothing to earn. Calling everyone else a socialist. That's simultaneously weak tea and doesn't quite cut it anymore.

    3. John (Friedman)
      I think you have made my point about the HDC stronger than I could.
      But fear that you misunderstand what I am advocating for.

      The dissolution of the HDC would benefit the City of Hudson in two ways.

      First, by helping fund a Comprehensive Planning process.

      And, second, by paying the salary for an urban planner within the City.

      A comprehensive plan is not only a plan, but a process of participatory community engagement that would allow us, as neighbors, to come to an agreed set of priorities.

      There’s no question, we need a new Comprehensive Plan.
      We also need the process.

      The state recommends a new comprehensive plan every five to ten years or so. Ours is from 2002.

      This means the City of Hudson effectively has no Comprehensive Plan.
      What’s more, it seems we lack the funds to pay for this.

      I asked around to FUTURE HUDSON collaborators and the estimates were somewhere between $250 to $400k for the City.

      (As a benchmark, Germantown spent $75k on the LWRP process that focuses only on its waterfront. What we would be doing is similar, but for the entire city. )

      The City recently applied for an received $67.5k from the State for this purpose. And there is an unclear amount from the Community Benefit Agreement from Stewart’s.

      This is a gap of at least $250k the dissolution of the HDC could finance.

      We would share in a process to set a shared vision for the first time in 18 years!

      And, by using the remaining $1.25m to provide the salary for an urban planner position in the City government, it would give the City a professional to steward these plans for up to 10 to 15 years.

      This is a transformation opportunity for the HDC to make an immediate and lasting impact on the City of Hudson.

  4. Peter, I couldn't agree with you more.

    And I'm a bit shocked at the idea $2 million wouldn't make a difference in a city that's currently spending almost nothing on planning. It could pay a city planner's salary for quite some time. Is that throwing money on the bonfire?

    Peter's idea can't be shoehorned in to a political philosophy (ooo scary socialism!). It's just common sense.

  5. HDC hasn't had much to show for their efforts these last few years because their assets were not easily liquidatable. Now that their primary asset is turning to cash, a change in direction and velocity can be more reasonable expected. For what it's worth, at the beginning of the pandemic, HDC Board members were extremely active supporting the community and connecting people with resources to stay afloat and reopen businesses responsibly.

    While Mr. Friedman is correct that HDC is a private entity, its primary funding source is the sale of the KAZ site which came from the City, and its mission statement is to improve economic opportunites for businesses and residents. It conducts itself under the Open Meetings Laws and its business is FOILable. Removing the meetings from the City calendar does not change the fact that HDC has long been enmeshed with City government. Its efforts to pull away indeed bear closer scrutiny.

    Having said all that, Tom and Kamal's childish antics should be kept as far away from the adult table as possible,. $2M isn't as much money as one might think, but it can certainly grow into an operation that is self-sustaining and of long-term benefit to the Hudson community. It would not be to the community's benefit to have the two architects of the Tourism Board trainwreck having their hands anywhere near the cookie jar.

    Rasner was right to clap back at the mayor, who not only acted like a teenager getting grounded at the meeting after not doing his homework, but, as if to underscore the point, made a meme about it afterwards.