County attorney says it first needs developer’s okay

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell has signed a lease, pending in one form or another since November, for a senior center at the Butterfield redevelopment in Cold Spring, but the county continues to insist the document is not public information.

“The lease has been deliberated, disposed of, and the county executive has executed her portion,” Ginny Nacerino, who chairs the county legislature, said at its Oct. 4 meeting. The legislature approved the lease on Sept. 14, but Nacerino said it has not been “fully executed” because Butterfield developer Paul Guillaro has not signed it.

The county attorney has agreed that the lease can be kept private under a provision of the state Freedom of Information Law that says “an agency can deny access to records that if disclosed would impair present or imminent contract awards.”

Guillaro told The Current on Oct. 6 that he planned to share the lease with the Cold Spring Planning Board, although he was not sure when. He did not say when he expected to sign the lease. But his endorsement would presumably not occur before acceptance of the terms by the Planning Board, which has jurisdiction over the Butterfield project

The Lahey Pavilion has been proposed to house the senior center (Photo by L.S. Armstrong) 
The Lahey Pavilion has been proposed to house the senior center (File photo by L.S. Armstrong)

According to the minutes of its July 28 meeting, before it issues permits the board wants to confirm the lease contains a provision that “100 percent” of seniors using the center will have busing available to bring them to the site.

Discussion of the lease on Oct. 4 occurred somewhat by happenstance. The lease did not appear on the agenda, but the agenda did include approval of the minutes of a special meeting Nacerino called on Sept. 14 to vote on the lease.

That provided an opening for Stephanie Hawkins, a former Cold Spring trustee, to offer public comment. “Many of us feel that this legislative body has been trying to stonewall” critics, she said. She cited concerns about the cost of the project but nonetheless assured the legislators, “I’m very much in support of a senior center and community center that serves the needs of our community.”

Chasing the Butterfield Lease

She also mentioned an email Nacerino sent to Lithgow Osborne, a Garrison resident and former legislative candidate, in case he planned to attend the meeting to offer comment on the lease; Nacerino cautioned that the legislature would not allow discussion of non-agenda items. “I didn’t want you to be disappointed, or travel, in anticipation of addressing this issue,” she wrote, according to a post by Osborne on Facebook.

“You were trying to persuade him not to come because you did not want to hear what people had to say,” Hawkins charged.

“That’s not — please don’t speculate,” Nacerino responded.

Although the agenda included approval of the minutes, the legislature took no action. “There’s no need to vote on minutes,” Nacerino said.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government

4 replies on “Senior Center Lease Signed by Odell; Still Not Public”

  1. “An agency can deny access to records that if disclosed would impair present or imminent contract awards.”

    This rule implies that real-estate deals are like card games: when two people are playing cards, one player is not allowed to see the other’s hand. Ms. Nacerino and her fellow legislators are hiding behind this rule, as if they have been in a tough negotiation on our behalf and leaked information could sink the deal.

    But there has been no card game here. The county, specifically Barbara Scuccimarra, the developer’s unofficial emissary, has given the developer virtually everything he has wanted from the beginning. There’s been no negotiation, only acquiescence.

    I commend The Highlands Current for this article, and on “Chasing the Butterfield Lease,” which makes the County’s obfuscation of transparency crystal clear.

  2. If Ms. Nacerino et. al. were attempting some sort of bait and switch, it succeeded. That I fell for such a cheap trick is on me. I’m sure they all had a chuckle about their clever ruse. However, the legislators are the ones who should be embarrassed, but I doubt they’ve enough conscience to muster even an apology. They have now made this personal and that is something I cannot abide. My objection to their lack of transparency is simply one citizen calling upon elected officials to do their job. My criticism of Ms. Scuccimarra stems not from a personal dislike of her, but my fear that she is abandoning the responsibilities of her job to do the bidding of her patrons.

    When this lease and the facts are revealed every taxpayer in Putnam County can decide for themselves whether or not the County Executive and the Legislature have “negotiated” the best deal possible.

  3. Very helpful article. It would also be helpful if our local journalists could press even harder for details and/or for valid explanations if the Legislators and the developer refuse to provide details. It really appears as if neither the developer nor the legislature had any interest in the tax impact of the project or in its eventual suitability for the declared purpose.

    The Butterfield Center will effectively be inaccessible to seniors except by car or bus, as the sidewalks are too steep for them. We cannot judge the floor plan, as no new plan has been submitted since the deeply flawed one of Sept. 6, which had virtually no space for exercise. The question remains open, due to a comment by Barbara Scuccimarra, whether the center is reserved exclusively for seniors or may be used by the community in general.

    We still have no idea what the cost of the re-scoped facility will be — but despite the provision of the FOIL that allows them to keep it secret, it’s our business, and the Legislature’s and the developer’s refusal to share this information amounts to extraordinary disrespect towards the taxpaying constituents who will fund the project, to the residents around it, and ultimately toward the seniors who will use it. I ask the journalists to keep pressing. What is hidden here may not be simply negotiations over a public works project.

  4. There was the Square Deal; the New Deal and I believe with Butterfield and Tilly Foster, the people of Putnam County got a Raw Deal.

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