Long debate ends in 3-2 vote
By Michael Turton
The long-overdue answer to the question of which consulting firm would be awarded the contract to update Cold Spring’s Zoning Code was finally settled at the Aug. 4 meeting of the Village Board — but only after a final, protracted debate, mainly between Mayor Dave Merandy and Trustee Michael Bowman. In the end, trustees voted 3-2 to give the contract to the Rhinebeck-based consulting firm Greenplan, with Bowman and Trustee Cathryn Fadde voting against.
The path to that decision has been anything but a straight line. Initially, the Village Board, headed by then-Mayor Ralph Falloon, awarded the work to Greenplan, which had written an application that in 2013 earned the village a $75,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to align the badly outdated the zoning code with the 2012 Comprehensive Plan.
Greenplan completed the grant application pro bono, based on the belief that if successful, the firm would get the code update contract. A subsequent Village Board, however, reversed the previous board’s unanimous decision to hire Greenplan, and gave the project to Barton & Loguidice (B&L), the firm that had worked with the Cold Spring Planning Board on the Butterfield redevelopment project. The saga took yet another about-face when, after his election last March, Merandy indicated that he wanted to revert to the original decision and again award the work to Greenplan. Tuesday’s vote did just that.
‘Why are we doing this?’
When the mayor asked for discussion on a motion to accept the Greenplan proposal, Bowman kicked off a contentious 35-minute debate with the question “Just why are we doing this?”
Merandy recounted his version of the history of the issue, stating that “Greenplan was given the go-ahead to write the grant (application) and it was secured by them.” He said, “I would like to honor the agreement we had with them.”
Bowman responded, “But subsequent to that, B&L was hired. Was there an issue with their performance? Why are we not going with them?”
The mayor countered, “I don’t know if there is an issue with their performance because they haven’t performed anything,“ he said “There really was no problem with Greenplan. I guess the question would be, why didn’t we go with Greenplan?”
It should be noted while two different Village Boards voted to award the code update project to two different consultants, a contract was never signed with either firm.
In hindsight, the vote on whether to accept Greenplan’s proposal could probably have been taken immediately after Merandy’s and Bowman’s initial comments. No minds were changed. Little if any new information was put forth. Rather, a repetitive verbal ping-pong match ensued as trustees bounced pro-Greenplan and pro-B&L comments back and forth.
Bowman’s repeated argument was that the initial process approving Greenplan was not transparent. “So it was decided … we should put it out to an RFP (request for proposals)” that followed village procurement policies in order “to do it as transparent and as open to the public as possible.” He added that when three proposals were received, “B&L gave the best presentation … and was the most qualified.”
Merandy’s view differed markedly. “NYSERDA said that under their grants no RFP was required, and the village attorney at the time said no RFP was needed.” The mayor also pointed out that the Village Board at the time agreed and voted unanimously to give the project to Greenplan, without an RFP.
When Bowman asserted that the Village Board that awarded Greenplan the project “didn’t comprehend the gravity of what they were agreeing to,” Merandy shot back. “I don’t think we should be representing what was going on in the minds of trustees at the time — including the mayor — saying that they did not understand this,” he said.
Trustee Fran Murphy said little during the discussion but said that she believes the initial choice made by the Village Board, awarding the project to Greenplan, should never have been “second-guessed.”
Trustees tabled discussion of a proposal to reduce the Code Update Committee (CUC) from seven to five members. The CUC is responsible for bringing the Zoning Code into compliance with the Comprehensive Plan. The current code was originally drafted in 1968. CUC has experienced a rash of recent resignations, largely as a result of Merandy’s decision to reinstate Greenplan as the consulting firm to work on the project.
Jack Goldstein, former CUC chair, resigned at the end of May after Merandy made it known he wanted Greenplan back as consultant. The mayor’s decision prompted Goldstein to say in his letter of resignation that “we differ too fundamentally on how to conduct the code update for me to continue on the committee.” Barney Molloy, who had chaired the Cold Spring Planning Board and who lost to Merandy in the race for the mayor’s chair last March, also resigned. More recently, Ruth Elwell resigned as well, citing health reasons.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Merandy said that CUC member Mike Armstrong had indicated that if Greenplan was hired, he too would resign. On Furst’s advice, the discussion was set aside until Armstrong made his decision known. In an email to Merandy on Aug. 5, Armstrong made his resignation official. The CUC now consists of Donald McDonald, Francis (Terry) Lahey, Carolyn Bachan, Ethan Timm and Norah Hart.
Tie vote, Early appointed
NYSERDA dominated the agenda. The village is required to appoint a contract coordinator to help administer the NYSERDA grant, and Merandy moved to appoint Early to the position. Furst said that while a vote of the board wasn’t a legal requirement, “it would be nice to have.”
Early abstained from voting, and when Merandy called the question, he and Murphy voted “yes” while Bowman and Fadde voted against the appointment, resulting in a tie. “I’ll use my powers as mayor … limited as they are,” Merandy said, and he appointed Early. It was unclear why Bowman and Fadde voted no.