Also continues discussion of salting of roads
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
As the Town of Philipstown’s official new legal advisors, the Town Board Wednesday night (Feb. 13) selected Drake, Loeb, Heller, Kennedy, Gogerty, Gaba and Rodd — the firm of oft-embattled Cold Spring Village Attorney Stephen J. Gaba. However, the Town Board resolution on the choice stipulated that Drake Loeb’s Dominic Cordisco, not Gaba or another lawyer, provide most of the representation.
The firm’s attorneys, including Gaba and Cordisco, have already worked with the town government in various capacities, and the board on Feb. 7 named Gaba to handle a lawsuit a disgruntled resident filed over a post-hurricane bridge project.
“It makes sense to me” to choose Drake Loeb, said Supervisor Richard Shea, using the firm’s abbreviated name. “They know the town. We’ve gotten good service from them.” Councilors Nancy Montgomery and Betty Budney joined him in picking Drake Loeb. Councilor Dave Merandy voted “no” and Councilor John Van Tassel abstained.
“I just think there’s nobody better to represent us in municipal law, zoning and planning,” Montgomery said. “They’ve served us well and I think we should stick with them.”
“They have a lot of expertise to pull from, in their firm,” Budney added.
Van Tassel mentioned his satisfaction with Drake Loeb and Cordisco, but found another firm a bit more appealing. “The thing about Drake Loeb is there is baggage. I know there’s some ill feeling toward Drake Loeb,” he said.
“That was not with the town, though,” Budney recalled.
Gaba became embroiled in controversy in Cold Spring over the Butterfield Hospital redevelopment when members of the village’s Historic District Review Board rejected his interpretation of Village Code and the redevelopment oversight process. Three village trustees joined in the assault, and the Village Board, over the objections of Mayor Seth Gallagher, voted last fall to search for another law firm, though the outcome remains unclear.
Merandy objected vigorously to Drake Loeb. “I would never vote for them,” he said, singling out Gaba. “He’s part of their group, and if this is how they represent people I don’t want to be associated with them, because I don’t believe how he’s represented them is actually good. It was not good for the village. It was good for the mayor. It was good, maybe, for the developer” of the Butterfield site, he claimed. “If a person is hired to represent a community’s wishes and the board — which the mayor is part of, the mayor is not above everybody” and a lawyer should know that, Merandy argued. When working for a municipal government, “if they are not representing the whole board, then I would have a problem with that.”
“How can they represent the whole board? What if the board disagreed?” Montgomery asked.
Shea said that a municipal attorney typically takes direction from an official and also may say things people dislike hearing. “He may be representing unpopular stances,” he said. The supervisor told his colleagues that the Town Board is not locked into a lawyer selection permanently, because “if we’re not happy with the way things are going, we can change.” He urged his colleagues to reach a decision. “It’s gotten to the point where we do need somebody,” after two months without a board attorney, following the retirement of long-time town attorney Ed Doyle, he said. “We’ve got to appoint somebody.”
Shea said Drake Loeb’s prices were comparable to those of other outside firms “or a little lower” and that he expected the new arrangements to save money. “There’s no way we’re going to hit the amounts we used in the past,” he said. A town employee, Doyle “was sort of a clearinghouse. He farmed a lot out,” turning to other firms to handle aspects of the legal work, Shea said. “We were shopping it out all over.”
The board returned to a subject raised at a meeting the week before: the amount of salt used to de-ice town roads. “It is a problem,” Merandy said. He called for an explanation from Highway Superintendent Roger Chirico. “He’s got to make a statement about why” the department spreads so much salt, Merandy said.
Shea suggested that Merandy or another board member might organize an ad hoc committee to look at alternatives to salt.
Merandy replied that the question is not simply one of salt versus alternatives but “the amount” of salt used.
Shea observed that in the past the town relied more extensively on sand for icy roads. “Historically, we didn’t use this much” salt, which is harmful to clean water supplies, he said. “You can’t deny it’s an issue. You can’t keep doing something that detrimental to the environment. I’m just concerned. It’s expensive. It’s toxic.”
At the same time, he emphasized, “we’re not blaming the highway superintendent.” In retrospect, Shea admitted, he wishes he had talked to Chirico before the board took up the road-salt question Feb. 7, responding to a citizen complaint. Shea said Chirico “is in a position where he’s trying to keep the roads open,” often under difficult conditions, while facing persistent demands from local drivers. “Ten minutes after the last snow flake, they want to go 60 miles per hour down the road,” Shea said.
The board agreed to meet with Chirico soon to review the situation.