Trustees favor retainer for new law firm
By Michael Turton
A distinct “deja vu” presented itself as Mayor Ralph Falloon made his appointments to the Cold Spring Planning Board at the Village Board’s meeting Aug. 27. There was also an odd twist with regard to his authority to do so.
Last week, Falloon deferred after his Planning Board picks – Karen Dunn and James Pergamo – ran into strong opposition. Trustees Stephanie Hawkins, Matt Francisco, Bruce Campbell and Charles Hustis had each pointed to Carolyn Bachan as the most qualified applicant. Dunn is a former village trustee and was involved in the Comprehensive Plan process.
Pergamo, an electrician, was described by Campbell as “a dedicated individual who would serve well on the Planning Board.” Hawkins questioned the mayor’s rejection of Bachan in a testy exchange and Falloon opted to think it over for a week. Asked by The Paper if the vacancies are filled by mayoral appointment or by a vote of the Village Board, Falloon said the decision is his as mayor.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Falloon said he had been wrong, that the appointments were subject to approval by the Village Board. With that, he said that his picks for the vacancies remained unchanged – Dunn and Pergamo. This time, neither Campbell nor Hustis spoke in favor of Bachan. Campbell said that he had “no problem” with any of the candidates and that mayors have always chosen their “cabinet.”
Hawkins challenged Hustis and Campbell, pointing to their support for Bachan a week ago, and asking why someone with 35 years of planning experience was not the best selection. Hustis reacted abruptly saying, “I take offense to that. Don’t start with me!”
Once again there was an animated exchange between the mayor and Hawkins and Francisco who asked for an explanation of his selections. And, as at last week’s meeting, Falloon said that he wanted Bachan on the Historic District Review Board. When Hawkins and Francisco persisted, Falloon said, “You are not listening! I make the appointment. That’s how it’s going to be. It’s the board’s vote.” The vote to appoint Dunn and Pergamo passed 3-2 with Hawkins and Francisco opposing.
Immediately after the vote, Francisco pointed out that Falloon had not been wrong – that the mayor has the authority to fill vacancies on the Planning Board without Village Board approval.
Paying the new law firm: retainer or hourly rate?
The Village Board is very close to selecting Brewster law firm Hogan & Rossi to handle its legal needs. The final hurdle is how the cost of legal services will be handled. Hogan & Rossi has quoted a retainer fee of $60,000 and an hourly rate of $175. Paying by retainer would cover the cost of most legal matters required by the Village Board and its other boards for a year. The hourly rate may seem less expensive at first glance, but the annual cost to the village would depend on the total hours of legal service.
Falloon pointed out that legal services used to total about 12 hours per month, but more recently have averaged 37 hours per month. At that rate, the hourly cost would total more than $75,000 per year.
Francisco spoke in favor of the retainer, stating that it gives the Village Board “unfettered access” to legal services “that may keep us out of trouble.” He said there are also budgetary advantages. “A retainer makes it a known, manageable cost.” He said if paying hourly, “other things could come up – and cost us more.”
Falloon said he was not against the retainer but expressed concern about the cost of getting through to the next budget cycle. Campbell said that he believes the law firm would consider going with the hourly rate until the end of the year. Hawkins raised the possibility of asking for a pro-rated retainer for the balance of the year.
Alison Anthoine, a Cold Spring resident and lawyer who advises clients on similar matters, was in the audience and said that retainers require attorneys to work more efficiently. “And $5,000 a month is a great deal,” she said.
Hawkins will consult with Ellen Mageean, village accountant, to clarify cost factors and report back to next week’s meeting.
Post office update
Falloon said that there has been no change regarding the post office. He said he was told by a real estate specialist with the U.S. Postal Service that temporary trailers will be set up on the vacant lot behind the current post office.
The mayor added that because Foodtown has not yet applied for permits to expand, nor has USPS applied for permits to alter the Garrison post office, the Cold Spring post office, “isn’t going anywhere – soon.” A meeting of officials from Cold Spring, Town of Philipstown and Putnam County to discuss the situation was scheduled for Aug. 29, in Carmel. Falloon said USPS would not be attending.