About-Face on Executive Sessions

Downey appointed to HDRB

By Michael Turton

It was interview night as the Cold Spring Village Board met Tuesday (May 20). The mayor and trustees met individually with a number of candidates interested in filling openings on the Historic District Review Board (HDRB) and the Recreation Commission.

The board did an about-face at Tuesday’s meeting when it interviewed HDRB candidates Michael Junjulas and Paul Henderson in executive session. At its April 22 meeting, interviews with HDRB candidates Peter Downey and Dana Bol were held as part of the public meeting after trustees chose not to support Mayor Ralph Falloon’s suggestion that they be conducted on camera. At that time, the decision to stay in public session was in keeping with Trustee Michael Bowman’s assertion during the recent election campaign that too many Village Board meetings were being held in executive session.

However it was Bowman, who has long-championed strict adherence to New York State’s Open Meetings Law, who made the motion at Tuesday’s meeting to do the interviews in executive session. The switch rankled some members of the small audience, including resident Joe Patrick who exclaimed, “This is ridiculous” as people ushered out of the room. Patrick himself was interviewed for one of the spots on the Recreation Commission later that evening.

The “godfather” of open meetings law

Initially, Bowman’s change of heart seemed contradictory, but it was actually based on expert advice. At a May 12 workshop held in Cold Spring, Robert Freeman, New York State’s Executive Director of the Committee on Open Government, responded to a question posed by The Paper’s Liz Shevtchuk Armstrong, and said that it is acceptable to hold interviews for village boards in executive session. During the public comment period on Tuesday, former Trustee Matt Francisco asked Bowman about the change, recalling that during the election campaign Bowman had used strong language to condemn the Village Board’s excessive use of executive sessions.

In responding, Bowman referred to Freeman’s recent comments saying that when “the godfather of the Open Meetings Law” believes it is acceptable to hold interviews in executive session it became clear that conducting them in public is not required.

Downey appointed to HDRB

Toward the end of the meeting the Village Board went into executive session a second time to interview Recreation Commission candidates Frances Murphy, Lillian Moser and Patrick. No appointments were made to the commission but trustees did vote to name Peter Downey to the HDRB. One additional candidate remains to be interviewed before the final slot on that board is filled.

Kathleen Foley, a sitting member of the HDRB, made a plea to the Village Board, asking that board appointments be made solely based on candidates’ qualifications. She recounted an interview she had with then-Mayor Anthony Phillips when she was being considered for an HDRB opening. Foley said that Phillips told her that while he did not like her politics he appointed her to the HDRB because of the qualifications she would bring to the table. She urged the Village Board to adopt the same practice.

Financial quandaries

With Mayor Falloon commenting that it is a time when everyone associated with the village is “counting every penny,” board members mulled over strategies for collecting funds they say are owed to the village from two projects, both high profile but markedly different in scale — the Butterfield redevelopment and the “Stone Street Shed.”

The village claims it is owed approximately $4,800 from developer Paul Guillaro for costs associated with an April 2012 planning charrette. Guillaro has said he will not pay the fees related to design work done by planner Ray Curran as part of the charrette.

And while the variance issued by the Zoning Board of Appeals in late April brought the battle over the controversial shed located on Stone Street to an end, the financial ripples continue. The village hopes to collect more than $5,000 from Susan Peehl and Andrew Hall for legal costs associated with the protracted legal battle. Peehl and Hall had paid $1,500 to the village, which was held in escrow to cover village legal costs associated with their appeals however legal costs proved to be much greater.

In both cases trustees must weigh their desire to collect funds in a tight budget year against the potential legal cost of doing so. No action was taken. Village officials plan to meet with Guillaro and Peehl-Hall.

The cost of water

Board members also discussed the cost of a potential upgrade to the water hookup of a home on Constitution Drive. The owner, Robert Leonard, has complained of discolored water since at least 2012. Leonard’s waterline is the only one in that area that taps into a dead end “stub” line that feeds the area’s fire hydrant. Leonard’s waterline is connected near the dead end where sediment tends to build up, causing discoloration, a problem he feels the village should rectify. Village residents own and are responsible for maintaining the waterline from their home to the main waterline, which the village owns and maintains. Leonard could choose to run a new waterline that connects directly to the village main rather than to the stub — a project that would cost the homeowner several thousand dollars.

Coincidentally, the village is scheduled to replace the fire hydrant on June 11. Leonard could save a considerable amount of money by undertaking the work then. Mayor Falloon commented that the village had not created the problem, which he said stemmed from when the house was built several decades ago. He also said that the village could absorb part of the cost of excavation while Leonard favored an equal split of costs. Leonard said he felt he was being pressured into making a quick decision but would think over his options. Water and Sewer Superintendent Greg Phillips said installation of the hydrant could be postponed in order to give Leonard time to decide how he wants to proceed.

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3 thoughts on “About-Face on Executive Sessions

  1. I would like to comment on Mike Turton’s style and consistency of writing. This article on the village board is fair, concise, easy to understand, never rambling and a feather in Mr. Turton’s hat for journalistic brevity. Keep up the good work, Mike.

  2. So Bowman now admits that he didn’t have his facts straight when he was mudslinging in the election and was wrong about executive sessions, while Matt Francisco and the village board were correct all along. He successfully ousted the person who had the knowledge and experience to get it right. How is this progress? Now Bowman is playing catch-up to Francisco’s knowledge and understanding of the board protocols and process. How about a public apology?

  3. Please see Liz Armstrong’s article of May 26, 8th paragraph: “Answering a question he had also addressed during his previous presentation in Philipstown in 2012, Freeman stated that a town or village board can interview candidates for advisory boards in executive session, under an Open Meetings law exemption that permits closed-door sessions for discussions of the appointment of someone to a job or unpaid committee post.” And please re-read the 4th paragraph of this article. Mr. Bowman followed the law.