Planning Board Trio Resigns

Letters submitted en masse

By Michael Turton

Three members of the Cold Spring Planning Board have resigned, leaving the all-volunteer committee with less than a quorum. Barney Molloy, Karen Dunn and James Pergamo submitted letters of resignation en masse at the Tuesday (Nov. 10) Cold Spring Village Board meeting.

Barney Molloy

Barney Molloy (file photo)

The three cited recent disagreements with Mayor Dave Merandy’s administration, including the appointment of former village Trustee Matt Francisco as Planning Board chair and the handling of payment of legal fees owed by Butterfield developer Paul Guillaro. The resignations leave only Francisco and Arne Saari on the Planning Board.

“The malice, arrogance and incompetence that the majority of [Village] Board members demonstrates on an almost daily basis is breathtaking,” Molloy wrote in his resignation letter.

Dunn wrote: “The Planning Board is adrift. This disarray is making it impossible for the board to be effective.”She also said she was “disturbed by what appears to be attempts to torpedo the Butterfield project.” In a reference to the disagreement between the village and Guillaro over payment of bills she wrote that “the issues could easily have been resolved without the stop-work order.”

Pergamo’s comments were more measured. “I’m not in agreement with the way the Village Board has conducted itself and the lack of professionalism,” he wrote. The letters were submitted but not read into the record at Tuesday’s meeting.

In an email to The Paper, Merandy said that he feels the resignations are “in the best interests of the village; and I’m grateful to them for doing so.” He said he will appoint new members as quickly as possible, adding that while “decisions requiring a vote cannot take place without a quorum” the two remaining members “will continue to work with applicants.”

The mayor termed Dunn’s comments on Butterfield “an absurd characterization,” adding that “a stop-work order was never issued.” He also commented that “Butterfield will continue to move forward and if built as … designed and approved by the Planning Board there is no cause for concern.”

Village officials will meet with Guillaro next week to assess invoicing, payment of bills and the Butterfield project’s escrow account.

Six degrees of separation?

Merandy appointed Francisco after Donald MacDonald resigned as Planning Board chair. Although the mayor has the authority to make such an appointment unilaterally, the Village Board approved the move at its meeting on Oct. 27 by a vote of 3-2. Trustees Michael Bowman and Cathryn Fadde voted against it. Prior to that, a motion by Bowman to appoint Molloy as Planning Board chair, seconded by Fadde, was defeated.

This week’s spate of resignations underscores the foibles associated with running a village of about 2,000 residents, in which everyone knows everyone else while not necessarily seeing eye to eye politically or getting along personally. Merandy defeated Molloy in the mayoral election last March and then replaced him with MacDonald as Planning Board chair. Fadde is in a relationship with Molloy, a factor she admitted might raise questions when she supported Bowman’s motion to reappoint him. Merandy also raised that question.

Bowman and Fadde defeated MacDonald and Francisco in the 2014 election, after a campaign that was less than pleasant. Stephanie Hawkins, a former village trustee and now Merandy’s wife, often clashed with Molloy and Bowman. Call it zero degrees of separation rather than six.

Legal fees questioned

At Tuesday’s meeting, Bowman questioned the amount of money the village is spending on legal fees and criticized Merandy for not communicating adequately with the Village Board regarding such expenditures. He also questioned if village legal costs will exceed the $67,000 budgeted. Merandy defended his actions and the monies spent, saying that he has acted properly as the village budget officer.

He said that when he first took office there was a considerable amount of unfinished business that required legal counsel. In an email to The Paper he said that as those issues were resolved “our legal costs have decreased naturally … . We should have no problem staying within budget.”

Other business

  • Merandy reported that the remediation of coal tar at the Cold Spring Boat Club site got off to “a rough start” last week when the contractor began digging rather than limiting work to sample borings as originally planned for this stage of the project. The excavation produced odors — and complaints from residents. The mayor, Greg Phillips and Trustee Fran Murphy met with officials from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to correct the situation. Merandy said that no digging will take place at the site around the Thanksgiving holiday. DEC has appointed a new contact for the project. Inquiries can be emailed to Peter Fairbanks at peter.fairbanks@aecom.com or he can be reached by phone at 716-435-4619.
  • After months of delays in finding a suitable location, the drop-box for collecting expired and unneeded prescription drugs will be established at the Philipstown Town Hall. Bob Flaherty, a member of the Town Board, said the box, a project of Philipstown’s Communities That Care Coalition, will be in place by Jan. 1 or sooner.
  • Deputy Mayor Marie Early reported that based on the current schedule bids for the project to improve Main Street will be sought by year-end.
  • The village received a $9,000 contribution from Groombridge Games to fund fireworks for next year’s Fourth of July celebrations. Merandy said that the Independence Day Committee will now begin planning the 2016 festivities.
  • Greg Phillips, Water and Sewer superintendent, reported that village reservoirs are down to 52 percent of capacity, despite more than 3 inches of rain in October. The ban on outdoor water use remains in effect. Phillips is researching a possible upgrade of the village’s 18-year-old water meters. He also reported that construction of the new building at the wastewater treatment plant was being completed.
  • From the New York State Office of Storm Recovery, the village received $7,600 — Cold Spring’s share of the cost of relocating the New Street pumping station, a move necessitated by damage caused during Hurricane Sandy. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) paid the majority of the project cost.
  • Trustees approved retaining Bob Ferris as a member of the Parking Committee. Ferris recently moved out of the village into the Town of Philipstown. The committee is currently researching the installation of parking meters in the municipal lot on Fair Street.
    Cold Spring resident Kathleen Foley urged the village board to independently video all of its meetings. (Photo by M. Turton)
    Cold Spring resident Kathleen Foley urged the village board to independently video all of its meetings. (Photo by M. Turton)
  • During the public comment period, residents Michael Robinson and Kathleen Foley urged the Village Board to independently videotape all its meetings. Robinson complained that a gap occurred in the video coverage provided by the PCNR of the Oct. 27 meeting, at which Francisco was appointed to chair the Planning Board. Rich Franco, also a village resident, said that the PCNR coverage is adequate and that there is no need for the village to also tape the meetings. PCNR Editor Doug Cunningham commented that the PCNR does not edit its video coverage of village meetings but acknowledged that technical difficulties do occur at times.

HOW WE REPORT
Trust MarkThe Current is a member of The Trust Project, a consortium of news outlets that has adopted standards to allow readers to more easily assess the credibility of their journalism. Our best practices, including our verification and correction policies, can be accessed here. Have a comment? A news tip? Spot an error? Email editor@highlandscurrent.org.

9 thoughts on “Planning Board Trio Resigns

  1. With all due respect to Mr. Turton, this article conflates the issues raised made by Mr. Robinson and me related to the recording of Trustee meetings and those of other standing Village boards. I’d like to make clear the point I tried to make. A member of the public asserted that having the PCNR record meetings and post them to the newspaper’s website is sufficient for providing public access; he stated that Village-made recordings would be duplicative.

    The Trustees who first proposed recording all Village meetings, Trustees Fadde and Bowman, felt that recording all Village meetings and making them available via the Village website or another public outlet would provide the possibility for greater public access to municipal process. I agree and fully support the concept. But the proposal Mr. Bowman and Ms. Fadde made seems to have hit a number of snags, and instead Mr. Bowman has, at different times, recommended deferring to recordings made by the PCNR. He and others have said that this approach is more efficient.

    However, as I stated in my comments, it also means that the Village is at the mercy of the editorial choice of the PCNR to record or not. This choice is entirely distinct from technical difficulties they may experience. I would argue that the PCNR’s choice to record is related to the degree to which agenda items are deemed by the editor to be sufficiently controversial to warrant coverage. The HDRB, the Village Board on which I serve, was constantly recorded when the Butterfield project was on our agendas. Now that the development’s design has been approved, the PCNR cameras are inconsistently present, and seem to appear only when “hot button” topics are before the Board.

    It would seem, then, that the PCNR is not recording Village meetings in service to public access, but in service to “the story.” This is the job of a media outlet, and I would expect nothing less. However, it is the job of a municipality to serve the public, and provide consistent access for as many residents as possible. These were the stated goals of Trustees Fadde and Bowman, and I take them at their word. If Village Trustees truly want to increase public access, the Village needs to ensure consistent recording by a Village camera, and the accessibility of recordings via a neutral, public source under the stewardship of the Village.

  2. Years ago when we had several very active taxpayer groups in Putnam Valley, we insisted that the Town videotape and televise all of the important meetings including the regular town board, planning board, ZBA, etc. so that the residents could see for themselves what was going on.

    It turns out that that was one of the best things that ever happened in terms of transparency and citizen involvement, and it is something that I highly recommend for the Village of Cold Spring and the Town of Philipstown (if it’s not being done at the present time).

    Although it was nice that Trustees Bowman and Fadde offered to take care of it, and although you have some coverage through the PCNR, it really is the responsibility of the Town and Village to record and televise these meetings in partnership with your cable franchisees.

    Not only that, but cable providers such as Cablevision are obligated to assist in doing so, plus they must provide a public access channel or channels so that you can televise all your meetings. In PV, we actually have two public access channels and not only our board meetings are televised but also town events and other meetings of interest. If you check out the website for the town (putnamvalley.com) you can see some of the meetings that have been televised and archived.

    Instead of trying to “do it yourselves” why not take advantage of the services that are provided by your cable company? You are paying for the services anyway, why not use them? Does anyone know what the Town is doing in terms of recording and broadcasting their meetings? This is something you need to work on together if you really want to do it properly.

  3. Philipstown has been doing that for years: Town Board, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals. Not sure about Conservation Board. People often comment on the up-and-coming stars they see on TV.

  4. I thought as much. So why isn’t Cold Spring using the service? Last I heard it was still part of the town of Philipstown.

  5. Different legislative entities, different budgets, different philosophies. I’m not sure if Nelsonville is doing any of this, and the last I knew, I don’t think N’ville is doing it.

  6. In December 2010, after extensive public input, the Cold Spring Special Board recommended a draft comprehensive plan for Cold Spring that included the following item:

    1.13.4 Action: Make a video record of every Village Board meeting and make it available to the public.

    The Village Board (none of whom are still in office) rejected that recommendation and had it removed from the final plan. My recollection is the trustees at the time were worried about the expense.

    I think the best way of controlling costs, improving services and having effective local government is to make all board meetings (and committee meetings, for that matter) as accessible to the public as possible, and to maintain a library of such meetings open to all. This has been proven many, many times over in thousands of communities worldwide: we should be paying attention.

    I agree with Kathleen Foley that the Village should not depend on the PCNR’s recording of board meetings for its access to those meetings. Even if the PCNR enjoyed the trust of every single resident (and, to be honest, it does not), the Village should not evade its responsibility to its citizens to keep them informed because it might cost a few thousand dollars a year. In reality, such openness would easily pay for itself many times over — and I suspect we all know it.

    Surely a majority of the village board should be able to agree on this, and muster the courage to do the right thing.

  7. I completely agree with you. And I think there is majority support. It was Trustee Bowman’s campaign promise, and although he’s taken no steps toward actually getting it done, I’m sure it would have his verbal support. And between Trustees Fran Murphy and Marie Early, they did the legwork of procuring a professional-grade camera and got it fixed, thanks to the generous donation of a resident, but I understand that there are some format issues which will incur some expense, which they’re trying to figure out. And the Mayor has told me he fully supports it. Patty’s above comments might help this to fruition, if it’s applicable to us.

    Meanwhile, (yes, Mom, I’m actually saying this), kudos to the PCNR for actually posting the Planning Board meeting from Nov. 19 on their site, when it disproves everything they’ve been saying (and insinuating) about Chairman Matt Francisco, the new board members and all the surreptitious true motives of Mayor Merandy. Francisco politely addressed and negated the charges made in the resignation letters, and there was none of the chaos, obstruction, Butterfield torpedoing and administrative dysfunction that the PCNR promised us. Just the opposite. They were helpful to the applicants while clearly keeping the needs of the village at the fore. With the new influx of actual real estate development expertise, DOT work and project management, this board looks stronger than any since I’ve lived here. So, yes, I’m saying it: everyone go to the PCNR website and watch that Nov. 19 video if the PCNR was making you doubt your local government. It’s a good watch. And thank you, PCNR!

  8. Michael, that was the HDRB meeting on their website and not the Planning Board meeting. And, yeah, it would be nice if an impartial entity posted village videos — perhaps the village itself.

  9. Whoops. You’re right. They didn’t post it. I mistook a thumbnail of people sitting around a table instead of at the dais as being the Planning Board. They posted meetings dated before and meetings dated after, but not this PB meeting. I was actually at that meeting, which was why I was recommending people watch it, and Tim Greco was most definitely taping it.

    Maybe the PCNR just had “technical difficulties” again. Funny how that happens when the content doesn’t fit their narrative.