Board also reconsiders FOIL policy
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Responding to the national opioid crisis, the Philipstown Town Board on Nov. 2 voted unanimously to hire a “drug czar” to coordinate drug-abuse prevention, treatment and recovery resources. Supervisor Richard Shea recommended allocating $10,000 in the 2018 budget, which the board plans to finalize on Nov. 16, to hire a consultant for the position. Unlike the federal position, the local equivalent would offer guidance but not set policy.
Councilor Nancy Montgomery, who lost her 23-year-old nephew, Anthony Yannitelli Jr., to an overdose in 2015, pushed for the funding. After attending anti-drug meetings since about 2012, she said, she concluded that “we’re not getting very far. The statistics are still rising and our community continues to be heartbroken” from overdose deaths. “We need someone to pull resources together to benefit our residents.” While many forms of assistance exist for families, finding or making sense of it during a crisis can be daunting, she said.
During the board members’ discussion, they suggested that the right person might have a background in mental health, social work or law enforcement, or a combination.
The board voted unanimously to require notification of its members before their official emails and other communications are released under the state Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).
Montgomery said a problem arose when a constituent emailed her in September with concerns. Montgomery did not provide details, but the issue was the volume of the bells at The Church on the Hill in Nelsonville. The email was released in response to a FOIL request by Tim Greco, the pastor of the church, and the resident’s identity and contact information became public when he posted it on Facebook. Now, Montgomery said, the constituent is leery of contacting elected officials.
She proposed that a board member be notified when her or his Town Hall emails are targeted in FOIL requests to allow time “to review” the situation “with the rest of the Town Board and our attorney, if necessary, before a constituent’s name and contact information is shared.”
Along with other exceptions, the law allows municipalities to redact information that constitutes an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The law gives officials five days to approve or deny a request or acknowledge receiving it and state when they expect to respond. They have 20 business days to fulfill a request they approve.
Cell tower debate
Montgomery also questioned the “integrity” of an application by Homeland Towers LLC to construct a cell tower in Philipstown, noting that the company had wanted to use the town’s landfill site on Lane Gate Road in 2014 but now says it’s inappropriate.
Homeland Towers, which also has applied to build a tower in Nelsonville, dropped the 2014 landfill project after neighbors protested. Earlier this year, the Town Board suggested the landfill site and the Philipstown Highway Department garage on Fishkill Road as potential sites.
Shea suggested that increasing the height of an existing tower near Mekeel’s corner, at the intersection of Routes 9 and 301, be considered. He proposed the board hire a consultant, rather than relying on information from Homeland Towers.
“They don’t make money increasing the height of cell towers or going to areas where they have to spend more,” he said. “They want to build them cheaply and to get them up and put as many carriers on these as they can. That’s fine. That’s their business. But our business is protecting our views and our residents.”