Letter: “Open Government” Only an Election Slogan?

In their Sept. 17 meeting, four members of the Planning Board discovered they had no authority over the size of the buildings of Butterfield. They expressed surprise to learn they had missed the opportunity to secure that authority. Each said they had been told they could make the development smaller later. Certain that the Village Board had intended for them to have this authority, they said they wanted to review the matter with the Village Board.

Instead of taking their discussion to an open meeting with the Village Board, or continuing discussion among themselves in an open meeting, Planning Board Chairman Barney Molloy announced an executive session with Special Counsel Anna Georgiou, away from public scrutiny.

Where four clearly confused, frustrated but diligent volunteers went into that closed meeting looking to reclaim their authority, three came out quietly agreeing to not go to the Village Board, instead ceding authority over the size and scale of these buildings, which they deemed too large for our village.

“Open government” seemed very important to Barney Molloy and his candidates Bowman and Fadde during our last village election. They demanded immediate posting of meeting minutes and videotaping of all meetings. They accused then Trustee Matt Francisco of “unprecedented” and “illegal” use of executive session.

(It should be noted that in their first six months as trustees, Bowman and Fadde have invoked executive sessions four and six times respectively, more than Francisco requested in two years, and still there are no videotaped Village Board workshops, and no videotaped meetings of our standing boards and committees. Five weeks have passed since the Planning Board’s Sept. 17 meeting and still there are no minutes posted.)

Francisco’s board invoked executive session for interviewing village job applicants in service of the interviewee’s privacy. For some reason, it was important to Bowman, Fadde and Molloy that the public have access to such interviews. Is it not equally important for the public to have access to a meeting where they might understand how our Planning Board came to cede its authority over the size of the largest development in Cold Spring’s history?

One board member said at that Sept. 17 meeting, before going into the closed session: “I have grave doubts that the community understands the mass of this project … and I think will be surprised at the result.” “Open government” should be an active principle rather than a banner to be waved at opponents during an election. We need to put it into practice at once, if we don’t want to be unhappily surprised down the road.

Michael Robinson
Cold Spring


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19 thoughts on “Letter: “Open Government” Only an Election Slogan?

  1. An addendum to my letter:

    Much public comment has placed this mess at the feet of the Planning Board, that “they should have known what they were voting for.” Lest we be led to believe that this “misunderstanding” of the B4A zoning was endemic only of the Planning Board, it should be noted that while running for a completely different board, Candidate (now Trustee) Cathryn Fadde echoed the Planning Board’s exact beliefs when she said:

    “What’s actually going to be built will be decided in site plan. Anything can happen in site plan. If he is given the right guidance from people on the board, then he will give us what we want.”

    (It’s at minute 18:20 if this link is not already cued.)

    She made similar, but less cogent comments right before voting B4A into law.

    The most obvious common denominator between Fadde and the Planning Board is Barney Molloy, who advised both the Planning Board as its chair, and Fadde as her campaign manager and as (according to the PCNR) her partner.

  2. Michael, you’re not the only person interested in whether Molloy also misunderstood. At Tuesday’s workshop (10/28/2014) during public comment one of our neighbors (who is hardly an opponent of the Butterfield development) asked if Molloy was among those confused. Notably, Molloy was the only volunteer who was not confused. That discussion starts at 3:16:20 and ends at 3:25:45 in this video.

  3. This is how the village becomes Over Built (like so many parts of America that once had charm and character, see Fishkill), by standing boards losing oversight of developments and construction. Why does Molloy want to hide this from public eyes and ears? Why all the secrecy?

  4. The questions you have raised, Michael, both here and in your statement to the Village Board of Trustees at last Tuesday’s meeting, deserve the attention of every resident in the village and especially the members of the board to whom they were addressed: Cathryn Fadde and Michael Bowman. So it was disturbing to me that when you asked Trustee Fadde about a statement she made regarding site plan options in the Village Trustees’ Forum of March 3, 2014, that she did not have a substantive response. Basically, it looked to me as though both Trustee Fadde and Trustee Bowman waved off your very specific questions.

    As for open government, although this was an open meeting it wasn’t really open. While being a village trustee doesn’t look like an easy job, dealing with tough questions from the public, some of whom might vehemently disagree with you, is part of it.

  5. As Mr. Robinson points out in his letter, during the last village election, Molloy, Fadde and Bowman based their obsession with videotaping and their condemnation of Executive Session on the conviction that Open Government was sacred even to the point of trumping basic privacy. So why the about-face? What could be going on that we don’t know about? Maybe all the finger-pointing during the election wasn’t about principles but was merely an easily executed Smear Tactic 101, lifted from a local expert’s playbook. Alternatively, what if the notion of Open Government was, in fact, deeply held by the trio, but now there is something they really do need to hide.

    The fact that our Planning Board has no authority over the size of buildings ought to be enough to give everyone in the village pause. That’s the Planning Board; hamstrung from carrying out its most basic, common-sense duty. That’s like saying water doesn’t get to be wet. I say the Planning Board does have that authority regardless of what conclusions were reached behind closed doors.

    The effort to force this development, unfettered, down our throats has been laced with obfuscation and dissemblance, driving many of us to the end of our patience. Don’t let that happen. This is not some wealthy, benevolent builder lovingly making Cold Spring a better place. This is a businessman who will make enormous profit, no matter what, and I certainly do not begrudge him that. But this is also the developer who fought a contentious battle to build waterfront townhomes that flooded a couple of years later and now appear to be unsellable. Everyone needs to recognize that there are red flags here.

    Whether the ink on your mortgage is still wet or your family has been here since the Revolution, we are all vested in the village. Despite the division, dissent and distrust sowed by a few, there is much more that unites us than divides us. This is not just about a man doing what he wants on his property. It is about our village and what we want it to be.

  6. An out-of-town developer wants to maximize his return on investment by putting as much inventory on his Village lot as possible. A planning-board chairman guts the authority of his own planning board in order to help the developer achieve his goal. Why would a planning-board chairman want to help an out-of-town developer, to the detriment of the Village? In coming weeks, local residents should look very carefully for an answer to this question. Their property values may depend on it.

  7. I just heard an audio recording of the Planning Board meeting from last night. Barney Molloy does not accept questions during “public comment,” and if you have the opportunity to hear/see this meeting, you’ll witness his outright hostility when questions were raised. Why is he so hostile? Why is he so adamant that no questions be asked? When one board member wanted to discuss the questions raised, Molloy refused and moved to close the meeting, saying that the questions could be discussed afterward — off the public record. We still have no answers to how it was that these four dedicated Planning Board members were led into the bait-and-switch that left them with no power, and the way Molloy runs these meetings, we’re likely to never know.

    Open government, Barney Molloy?

    I agree with some of the commentary to my letter above, which, until last night, I frankly thought was may be overreach. We really need to wonder who Molloy is working for, because given his antipathy for the public’s concerns on display last night, it’s not Cold Spring residents.

  8. So I went to the Planning Board meeting last night. What a shock. I’m going along with the explanation of the plans — such as they were, minus one or two critical engineer’s reports (which will be ready, as I understand it, in the next week or two), and heard some technical information regarding water capture and runoff, etc. So far, so good. And then, the meeting was opened to public comment.

    Stephanie Hawkins asked the some of the still-unanswered critical questions that are raised in this letter. I haven’t gone to a lot of meetings, but I know this has been a contentious process. Still, I was shocked at the hostility and derision from PB chair Barney Molloy at Stephanie’s questions. This was, too me, totally inappropriate.

    Substantively, Mr. Molloy also asserted emphatically that the public had no right to ask questions during the public comment part of the meeting. Can this possibly be true? He stated that comments could only made on what was on this meeting’s agenda. Even with that very strict criterion, some of the meeting’s discussion was clearly related to the issues the questions point to.

  9. Evan’s comment does seem to be an answer to the question I raised at the Village Board meeting — if the Planning Board actually does NOT have authority over size, etc. does that mean the developer has been written a blank check?

    No one answered me that night. It appears that no one answered Trustee Hawkins the other night at the Planning Board meeting — do we have to wait until another story gets added to every structure — or the footprint of the structures (the number of the structures?) gets changed as the project “develops”?

    Every addition to the size of the project increases the pressure on the infrastructure that was left in place when the previous facilities shut down. I know Trustee Francisco tried to get the Board to create some contingencies that would make the developer liable if the Village had to change the infrastructure (particularly water and sewage), but from my memory this was never written into the final deal — which means some of us might be surprised by a big tax increase as this project is finished and the buildings start being occupied.

    So again — is ANYONE going to answer how much the developer will be constrained?

  10. It’s very troubling to learn that our dedicated Planning Board members, volunteers no less, are being browbeaten and their authority over mass and scale of a very large development nullified. They work for us and now they’ve been told that they can’t. If that isn’t cause for alarm the chair of the board is quite clear about the fact public comment and questions are not welcome. I applaud our planning board for their dogged commitment to doing what’s best for the village. Butterfield will be the bellwether for future development and without the authority of a planning board to maintain the character of this beautiful historic village, anything goes.

    • @Andrea Hudson, I agree. Arne Saari, Karen Dunn, James Pergamo and Anne Impellizieri have demonstrated understandable frustration about their limited authority over mass & scale of the Butterfield development. They say they were told to expect otherwise by their guides during the SEQR process. I believe them. It is troubling to me that their Chair appears so hostile to questions about this recent revelation of theirs. As well as argumentative when questioned by his own board about even the most pedestrian matters such as reviewing invoices from legal and consulting services. An Audio recording of last Wednesday’s meeting can be heard here.

  11. It is patently absurd that a Planning Board could cede its authority over size of buildings. The very first item listed in the “Guide to Planning and Zoning Laws of New York State”: “Subject to the constitution and general laws of this state, every city is empowered:… To regulate and limit the height, bulk and location of buildings.”

    In the Village Law section is a redundant occurrence of the same power, “…the board of trustees of a village is hereby empowered, by local law, to regulate and restrict the height, number of stories and size of buildings and other structures, the percentage of lot that may be occupied, the size of yards, courts and other open spaces, the density of population, and the location and use of buildings, structures and land for trade, industry, residence or other purposes.” This principle is repeatedly layered into New York State law. This power cannot be ceded.

    • The residents of the village and any other interested or potentially affected parties need to secure competent and credible legal advice on this issue. As soon as possible, I would think.

  12. All the comments on this letter should be vital reading for every single property owner in the Village of Cold Spring. The behavior of Planning Board Chairman Molloy is clearly at odds with his position; as Evan Hudson says above, Molloy’s actions can only be read as more concerned about the interests of the outside developer than of the citizens he, Molloy, allegedly signed up to serve. The Guillario/Unicorn/Butterfield development could be tasteful and in keeping with Village aesthetic, but it’s being set up so that Guillaro has no reason to care about the Village, its aesthetic or the property values of the residents. I sincerely hope Mayor Falloon and the Village Board can get ahold of this before it gets further out of control than it already is.

  13. Having just listened to the audio of the link Stephanie Hawkins provided, I am further appalled at the behavior of Planning Board Chairman Molloy. My reasonable, well-respected neighbor Arne Saari had courage to vote Nay to adjourning the meeting when there were clearly important questions being brought before the Planning Board. Why shouldn’t these questions be discussed? Chairman Barney Molloy holds up some absurd version of Roberts Rule of Order to stymie valuable discussion about matters that truly affect every single member of this community. I hope The Paper can pursue the questions Mr. Molloy patently refused to discuss and get substantive answers.

  14. The attitude of Chairman Malloy toward Trustee Hawkins and her inquiries on behalf of village residents is beyond patronizing: it flies in the face of “open government,” on which BoFa rode to glory. It is imperative that the sitting Board of Trustees now do what they were entrusted to do when they took office and demand an explanation from Malloy and his board concerning the peril in which they have unwittingly placed the village with the Butterfield project.

  15. I just listened to the recording of the Planning Board public comments, and I too would like answers to the very reasonable and pertinent questions posed by Trustee Hawkins to the Planning Board. I would also like to hear an explanation from Planning Board Chair Barney Molloy on his hostility towards the residents of Cold Spring, made clear by his harsh words directed at the Trustee, an official elected to represent the residents of Cold Spring. Further, I would like to know why Mr. Molloy has implemented a public comment policy that is so out of step with our small close-knit village; a policy much more appropriate to a hardened urban city government. Disturbing and inappropriate.

  16. I was disheartened to hear the recording of the Planning Board public comments, and I hope that these important questions will be answered. I also agree with Andrea Hudson, this project will indeed be the bellwether for future development in this lovely village. Well stated, Andrea!

  17. This has to be the most entertaining comment section ever to grace .info. I think I need to start going to meetings again. The last meeting I watched, Stephanie seemed confused, more so than the Planning Board. They never asked for your help yet you insisted they did and tried to put Mrs. Dunn in a awkward position. It was very unprofessional and I can’t imagine Karen was impressed. If you want the truth find an unedited version of these meetings and watch in its entirety. The “village working group” lost the vote. Butterfield is happening.