Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lilacs: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, May 22, 2008 edition

I don’t know about you, but when the lilacs are in full bloom it is almost impossible for me to maintain a cohesive thought. I know I am too old for this sort of distraction, and will make no excuses for it. That said; here’s what’s drifting in and out of my head along with the sweet smells that gown our glorious May.

If you did not go out last Tuesday and vote in the school board elections, tsk tsk. School taxes dwarf combined town and county taxes, usually representing at least 60% of the total annual property tax, and yet historically Woodstock’s voter turnout would not fill the tables of a Shady Methodist Church roast beef supper. Not good. It gives residents in the rest of the districts (Woodstock is mostly in the Onteora district, but there are significant parts of town located in the Saugerties and Kingston school districts) the impression that Woodstockers are indifferent to education, but worse, lousy turnout denies Woodstock a seat at the table where critical decisions are made concerning the education of our youth. This time, however, candidates generally supported by a vibrant Shandaken-Woodstock axis were swept into office, thanks in part to the big Woodstock turn out. But still, even lilacs in full bloom are no excuse for not having voted in this critical election.

If you stayed for the entire Woodstock town board meeting on May 20, which did not adjourn until almost 1:00 am, shame on you! Don’t you work in the morning? I dare say, watching the best effort of three board members to tweak, bait, gull and gall the supervisor has become one of the saddest political shows since Ken Starr, exacerbated by the wearying fact that all the amusement and wit of the dour threesome wouldn’t clog the slenderest reed in a vernal pool. Jean Paul Sartre, when he famously said, “hell is other people” obviously had not been to a town board meeting like this one. These are our representatives! Once again we got to listen to Chris Collins speechify on how he got elected on his campaign to “protect natural resources.” I have to give the man credit; he’s been on the board for two and a half years and I can still smell the lilacs outside my window.

Did you read this month’s issue of The Atlantic? Yikes! Apparently there are thousands and thousands of asteroids and comets out there, and very good odds that one of them is going to smack into the earth and do unto us what some big rock did unto the dinosaurs sixty-five millions years ago. Thank goodness I’m not trying to quit smoking, what with this potential huge annoyance hanging over us. The gist of the article was to encourage NASA to put together a real program to divert the disaster, should it come our way. I sure hope the town board does something about this. It could really mess up my lilacs if they don’t.

Today I had the extraordinary experience of going to the KTD monastery with former councilman Bill McKenna to witness an appreciation for the many, many people who have contributed to the establishment of Woodstock’s very fine North American seat for His Holiness Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa. I remember very well the dire warnings from the mouths of those like Jay Wenk and Ed Sanders opposed to the expansion of the monastery, how the Tibetan Buddhists were going to ruin our roads with all their tramping up and down the mountain, dry up the neighbors’ wells, and even possibly cause the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs (oops, got tangled up with my previous un-cohesive thought). On our way up we noticed that the traffic in town was no different than usual, that the parking lots still had plenty of spaces, and that somehow the sun continued to shine. We were graciously escorted to front row seats in a tent that held at least as many people that attend the High Holiday celebrations at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation, and were just inches away from the ceremony greeting the arrival of His Holiness. McKenna and I were both very touched by the deep, sincere thanks given by a KTD representative to the people of the Town of Woodstock for accepting into their community’s fabric a people and creed that suffers from a forced dispersion as wicked as any has been. His Holiness, after thanks had been given to those who helped KTD, gave a short talk in Tibetan in a deep, lovely voice. I had heard Tibetan spoken for the first time several years ago when I paid a visit to the monastery’s abbot Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche (also in attendance), and I can tell you it is musical and entrancing. I have been to several religious ceremonies over the years, and have spoken with some of our local religious leaders and teachers. Rabbi Jonathan Kligler, Reverend Kathleen Edwards Chase (alas, gone from us to parts south) and Reverend Sonja Tillberg (who I hereby criticize for not updating the Christ Lutheran Church’s website where I might find her married name!) are among them. I deeply revere the tenets of Judaism and Christianity, and I admire these religious leaders I’ve mentioned very much for truly embodying the depth, beauty and meaning of their creeds, and also for their ability to touch and affect peoples lives with their wisdom. I did not have the opportunity to discuss with His Holiness the tenets of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, but I’ll tell you; I wish I had. I don’t know how much time he will spend at KTD but I do know that he is very much a welcome presence in Woodstock’s truly incredible religious life.

By this time next week the lilacs will be almost gone, and maybe, just maybe I’ll come down the earth and be able to express a sensible thought or two. Right now is it a glorious, wonderful spring, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I am. A family of birds is nesting in the tree behind my house, and their eggs have hatched!

Woodstock Town Board Meeting May 20, 2008

Woodstock, May 20

In a meeting of the Woodstock town board that did not break up until close to one o’clock in the morning much was said and little accomplished.
Matters got off to a disappointing start when bids for the town hall renovation were opened to discover that even with the absence of a bid for drilling the wells for the geo-thermal heating-cooling system the project is more than $100,000 over budget. There was no discussion on how the Town would proceed.
Routine resolutions to pay the monthly bills in the amount of $306,048.59 (councilman Chris Collins abstaining since he never got around the inspecting them), authorize budget transfers, accept minutes of previous meetings and accept the town clerk’s report passed quickly and without much discussion.
There then erupted a lengthy, often acrimonious discussion instigated by councilmen Jay Wenk about proposed changes to the rules of order governing the conduct of board meetings, with no conclusion except to agree to discuss them later in the meeting.
The public hearing on the matter of closing Maple Lane from Mill Hill Road to Deanie’s Alley on Wednesdays from 3:00 to 10:00 pm from May 28 until September 24 brought statements of concern from residents of Maple Lane who thought the traffic plan had serious deficiencies. Attorney Eric Schneider, representing a Maple Lane resident contested several of the assumptions in the traffic plan. Attorney for the farmers market, Dick Goldman responded, “If there are things we did not anticipate we will tweak the plan.” Upon closing of the public hearing the town board then swiftly agreed unanimously to close the road.
There was then an hour discussion on a resolution authorizing altering a route of one of the trails on the Comeau property for the purpose of directing dog walkers away from the soccer field where children play. The proximity of a vernal pool turned out to be a big hitch. The resolution was tabled.
A resolution to expand the Comeau road to accommodate more parking was discussed for fifteen minutes, until it was tabled.
A resolution to expand parking on the upper Comeau parking lot was discussed for an hour, until it was tabled.
Little of the above discussion was deprived of jibes, darts and needlings hurled mostly in the direction of the supervisor, who maintained throughout that the parking improvement was necessary for public safety since use of the Comeau property has greatly increased over the years.
At 10:30 the agenda was suspended for a lengthy discussion on the rules of order, which seemed to proceed toward resolution, when councilman Wenk surprised the board with lengthy additions he apparently had not discussed with any board members prior the meeting. Councilman Collins probably, if unintentionally distilled the entire conversation with his comment, “I don’t even know if we have been following them [rules of order].” At 11:50 the topic was exhausted with no action taken.
The meeting was temporarily disrupted by the news, well received by the board, that a particular slate of candidates won four seats on the Onteora school board. The bearers of these tidings thanked the supervisor for directing Woodstocker’s attention toward the importance of the election. The supervisor thanked the voters of Woodstock for getting out to vote.
Also it was announced that Pam Boyle, the Town’s bookkeeper, won a seat on the Kingston school board.
At 12:15 councilman Collins introduced a resolution to prohibit any activity that would in any way change or alter the Comeau property until such time the Comeau easement was upheld by a court decision. The supervisor pointed out that all his proposed improvements to this point were in harmony with the easement. When it appeared the topic could go on for a long time, Jackie Earley, the town clerk, told the board that she was going to leave the meeting, explaining, “Some people have to work in the morning.” Councilman Wenk announced his support for Collins’s resolution, and with Terrie Rosenblum and the Supervisor indicating their opposition, Councilwoman Liz Simonson was the decisive vote. She punted, announcing that it was almost one o’clock in the morning and that it was not fair to the public for the town board to make decisions at an hour when the public probably was not awake to witness them. However, she did persuade the board to then rush through a resolution concerning a local law establishing a permitting process for development near wetlands and watercourses.
The meeting was adjourned at 12:45 with two reporters, the town videographer, the (very tired) town clerk and one member of the public in attendance.
Although there had been discussion of a meeting to be held at 5:00 o’clock on June 3 to complete some business, the location was not identified, nor was a resolution adopted to that effect.
Left on the table were resolutions giving the supervisor more control over town board member’s use of attorneys and consultants, who have apparently been running up the costs for those services, and authorizing a mass mailing to the town residents information packets educating them to the proposed amendment to the zoning law establishing a permitting process for development near wetlands and watercourses. Also, there were no subcommittee reports.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Woodstock [Farm] Festival Is On

This article appeared in the May 15, 2008 edition of the Townsman

Woodstock Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, May 8 2008

Despite fireworks exploding at the Woodstock Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting held on May 8, it appears the farmers market is back on track for its May 28 opening in the Houst parking lot with additional attractions located across Maple Lane on Mower’s Field.

It was expected prior the ZBA meeting that town officials and market representatives would agree to a stipulation that addressed the ZBA’s concern with traffic control during the event and resolve the bureaucratic snafus impeding the market. A unanimous decision of the ZBA, however, found the traffic plan provided them to be inadequate, and the stipulation was not signed. Seconds after the vote was taken market representative, attorney Dick Goldman, accused the board of a “double cross” and “sabotaging” the market. Councilwoman Liz Simonson, despite being ruled out of order, yelled to the board, “So you [the ZBA] will be the one that will shut down the farmers market.” Councilman Jay Wenk advised the ZBA “You make it [a traffic plan] sound impossible.”

The two-page ‘safety and security plan” from Albany engineering firm Creighton-Manning did not include drawings, and in fact declared the proposed event to be so small that “a detailed traffic study is not necessary.”

Chairman of the ZBA Howard Harris explained that the ZBA does not “believe this is a traffic study,” and went on to cite numerous problems with the document, which the ZBA had not received until just earlier that day. “We want a farmers market,” said Harris. “But we don’t want to go to bed at night worrying about safety.” In reply to Councilman Wenk’s assertion he replied, “I’m not an expert, but I am sure there is a way.”

Since then discussions have apparently taken place between Mr. Goldman and chairman Harris, resulting in a traffic plan the ZBA is expected to endorse at a special meeting scheduled for May 14. The proposed plan will remove one of the handicapped parking spots from Houst’s parking lot to a spot across Maple Lane, place a barricade preventing traffic from the Tannery Brook parking lot from entering Houst’s, and posting several volunteers to direct motorists. Also, the Town of Woodstock is expected to provide a police officer with a special assignment to maintain traffic safety at an additional annual cost of $6000 in the police budget. Market representatives will then appear at the regularly scheduled May 22 ZBA meeting where it is expected they will receive the zoning variance required for the market to occur.

If all goes as planned there will be approximately fifteen produce venders in the Houst parking lot, and three outdoor restaurants, children’s entertainments, “amplified” acoustic music and other attractions on Mower’s Field (site of the popular weekend flea market) from the hours of 4:00 to 8:00 PM on each Wednesday from May 28 to September 24.

Wenk Tries

This opinion piece appeared in the May 15, 2008 edition of the Townsman

The agenda for the Woodstock town board May 13 meeting included this item:

“Whereas the Woodstock chapter of Veterans for Peace, #058, holds an annual observance of Memorial Day on the Village Green, and

Whereas that ceremony is of great importance to Veterans and all the Town, and

“Whereas Chapter 058 is unable to afford the rental of a Public Address system for that Day, now

“Be it resolved that public funds in the amount of $250 be allocated for the rental for this event, annually.”

For many years there has been an annual Memorial Day parade through Woodstock beginning on Playhouse Lane and proceeding up Mill Hill to Rock City Road, thence to the graveyard and the site of the town’s modest memorial dedicated to the men and women who have given their service, and in some cases their limbs or their lives for our nation. Almost every recognized community organization, from Boys and Girls Scouts to school marching bands to the fire companies to little league teams, to name but a few, have been welcome to march in the parade to show their appreciation to those who have sacrificed. The local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) is primarily responsible for the planning and execution of the parade.

Because Americans are an optimistic people this annual tribute hardly seems somber to many of us; in fact it can appear downright festive. The tunes played by the bands are lively, the cars and trucks shiny, the politicians are smiling, the trees have achieved their fullest hue of green and there is barely a trace of black or dour costume to be seen anywhere. Even Old Glory held in the hands of a proud veteran seems to wave with celebratory might.

The taxpayers of Woodstock have contributed to honoring the memory of our veterans, lately approximately $2000 a year to defray the costs of new flags and grave markers. Volunteers every year carefully do their best to make sure that each veteran’s grave is graced with this modest token of our appreciation for their sacrifice. There is also he cost of paying additional police to monitor the traffic while the parade is in progress.

Some years ago a local chapter of Veterans For Peace (VFP) was formed. If this tempts you to look for chapters of Veterans For War, or Veterans For Terror, or Veterans For Death, don’t. Such organizations do not exist. But while Americans are optimists we also too easily embrace stereotypes, and one such oversimplification is the belief that veteran organizations such as the VFW are partial to conflict and war.

For several years members of the VFP and the VFW marched in the annual Memorial Day Parade, if not exactly together or arm in arm, at least in the same continuum that included the other parade participants. The war in Iraq, however, tested the relationship of these respectful if separate veteran organizations.

Jay Wenk, long time VFP member and now Woodstock councilman, decided that it was appropriate to supplement the speeches that expressed appreciation to veterans living and dead with speeches denouncing George Bush and current American foreign policy. Terry Breitenstein, long time member of the VFW and for many years a principal organizer of the annual parade, while not taking issue necessarily with the content of Wenk’s denunciations, nevertheless maintained that such were not appropriate to the occasion set aside to honor our dead. Earlier this decade attendees of the memorial service were subject to the spectacle of hearing “Taps” played by a VFW bugler followed by VFP member Jay Wenk’s voice blasting political messages from a bullhorn.

Then the VFW and VFP came to a mutual agreement whereby the two groups would march in the same parade, but the VFP would stop at the village green to say whatever it was they thought important to say, and the VFW and those possessed with only the modest intent of thanking our veterans could proceed to the memorial and attend a ceremony unmolested by bull horns. This will be the third year of such accommodation by the two groups.

Now that Jay Wenk is on the town board he introduces the resolution noted above. Would it be wrong to think it would be a conflict of interest for Jay to divert tax dollars to an organization he belongs to?

One may answer that, if indeed the power of money is the soul of democracy, then Jay is absolutely correct to vote himself the money. The pleasure of being elected should be that one abandon his old bullhorn.

One may ask, if the “ceremony is of great importance to Veterans and all the Town,” why can’t the VFP raise the $250 to rent a sound system? Wait a minute, wasn’t it said the Town forks over $2000 to the VFW every year? Indeed. But those dollars buy flags and grave markers for deceased veterans. The $250 buys the amplification of sentiments that are too natural, especially in our community, to not be taken for granted.

I have had the solemn privilege to say a few words at annual Memorial Day services. I would like to think they were respectful, even stirring, but I know they were inadequate because we owe so much to those who have given us so much. This includes Jay Wenk and the VFP. One thing I do know about the words I chose: they did not render unto the dead sentiments that would offend the living. Our veterans deserve more than that.

On a final note, Jay offered and then withdrew his resolution.

Woodstock Town Board Meeting May 13, 2008

This article appeared in the May 15, 2008 edition of the Townsman

Woodstock, May 13 2008

The meeting of the Woodstock Town Board began at 6:30 pm in the supervisor’s cottage, where the possible “demotion, discipline, dismissal or removal” of Dara Trahan, the Town’s Planning Specialist, was discussed. Rumors had circulated for some time that friction existed between Ms Trahan and the new Woodstock planning board chairman, Mark Peritz. Only the town board knows what actually was said, but the session ended with no action taken. Councilwoman Liz Simonson, when asked about the matter, claimed that she was “surprised and not in support” of the discussion, although it was disclosed that the motion was unanimous to enter into the executive session for this specific purpose. It was not disclosed whether Ms Traha or Mr Peritz attended the meeting. This paper went to print before comment was available from either of them.

The public session in the Community Center began at 7:45 pm with a statement from supervisor Jeff Moran noting the May 9 passing of Ruth Simpson, long time library board trustee and community activist. A memorial service for Ms Simpson will be held at Lasher’s Funeral Home on Friday, May 16 at 2:00 pm.

The supervisor read a letter of thanks from the Onteora Babe Ruth League for the Town’s $2000 contribution to help cover costs of infield dirt delivered to Davis Park in the Town of Olive.

Sealed bids for the Town Hall renovation project are delayed until 3:00 pm, May 20, when they will be opened at a special meeting of the town board.

The town board agreed to be partly responsible for the cost of removing trash generated by the farmers market [see related story elsewhere in this paper], but balked at covering expenses for grounds maintenance. Town contributions to pay for services, including policing, to the farmers market are expected to be about $6000.

Dave Minch, an architect representing PhotoSensuals, a business moving from a previous location in town to the former Not Fade Away building located on Rock City Road, asked the board to sign off on an agreement giving the business a right-of-way through the town parking lot on the north end of the property. There was some discussion concerning problems with traffic and parking in that area, and in the end the board agreed to grant the right-of-way provided the issues raised were addressed, to which Mr Minch agreed.

George (“Jerry”) Washington, who is party to a lawsuit against the Town over the California Quarry cell tower, and Glenn Kreisberg, who identified himself as an employee of Nextel, gave a power point presentation that appeared to support the Nextel application for the installation of cell phone service on the so-called RNN tower, which most people know as the tower with the flashing red light on top of Overlook Mountain. Both Washington and Kreisberg serve on councilwoman Liz Simonson’s cell tower siting committee.

The supervisor recommended altering one of the trails on the Comeau property in order to avoid a vernal pool and also to direct walkers and their dogs further away from the soccer field. Recreation Commission member Gordon Wemp answered questions on the matter. Councilman Chris Collins asked if Dave Holden, self-appointed “trail master” had been consulted, and Wemp said the matter had been discussed with him. Collins was not mollified and the supervisor asked why Holden was considered important. Collins replied, “Holden is basically managing the property.”
Mr Holden resigned from his seats on the recreation commission and the Woodstock Environmental Commission two years ago. It was decided by the board to put off a decision on moving the trail.
The Comeau property raised more contention when the supervisor introduced a resolution to authorize the removal of several large white pines that endanger a nearby residence. Mr Collins said that removing the trees could jinx the conservation easement voted for in a 2003 referendum, and snagged in court proceedings ever since. Councilman Jay Wenk finally went along with the resolution saying “although my heart is in my mouth.” Threaded into the discussion was criticism of the supervisor for authorizing a split rail fence costing slightly less than a $1000 which, in his opinion, enhances public safety and protects the lawn adjacent the upper parking lot from being ruined by vehicles driving on it. The tree removal passed despite Collins’ lone nay vote.
A resolution calling upon the Onteora school board to suspend its latest initiatives for creation of a grade 5-8 middle school and the closure of an additional elementary school passed with no discussion.
The purchase of highway equipment totaling just under $43,000 was authorized, and the highway superintendent was given the job of improving a small section of the parking lot behind the public bathrooms.
A resolution to increase fees for the rental of Town owned buildings passed narrowly, with councilman Collins voting against it because the ‘Town has an obligation to the people who use the buildings.” Wenk also voted no.
A resolution to require renters to purchase insurance for use of Town buildings ended with the supervisor agreeing to look further into the matter.
A Wenk resolution to have the Town kick in $250 toward the cost of renting a public address system for the Veterans For Peace annual gathering on the village green on Memorial Day was withdrawn by Wenk after questions about the high rental cost. The supervisor also expressed his concern that the Town would be “gifting” the organization. Wenk’s resolution to upgrade the Community Center hot water system with an energy-efficient on-demand water heater was tabled for lack of details.
There was another long monologue by Collins concerning the rules of order adopted by the town board. With some exasperation the supervisor asked Collins what issues he had with the existing rules. Collins’ response, “I don’t want to change them, I want to discuss them,” and his repeated criticism of the supervisor’s manner of ending a previous meeting more than a month ago dragged the meeting past eleven pm. Finally the supervisor agreed to put the rules of order on the town board’s next agenda and quickly the meeting was adjourned.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The wit of Woodstock councilman Chris Collins

Opinion published in the Townsman, May 8 2008 edition

Sometimes it’s best to let our political leaders explain the important issues to us in their own words. Councilman Chris Collins, who has labored mightily for two and a half years on the Comprehensive Plan, has also undertaken updating the town board’s Rules of Order. On April 30, 2008 councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum e-mailed Chris Collins the following:

“The Rules of Order, as they exist now, are still in effect since, to my knowledge, the TB has not rescinded them. I would appreciate knowing why they appear to have such importance and were they ever applied or enforced since their inception in Jan. 2000.
I would appreciate any information you can share with me. Thank you, Terrie”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In January 2000 the rules of order from the Kellogg administration were simply re-adopted by the new administration.]

Councilman Collins on the same day made a reply, which is faithfully reproduced:

“Evidently the Rules of Order were were meant to be used as guidelines by the old board to help maintain order (thus the title, Rules of Order). They are important in this way: Rules of Order help both the board and the public run meetings with a degree of civility that some members of the former town board periodically abused as they saw fit. As a result civil discourse often broke down. Rules, whether used as guidelines or rules per se, help maintain order, a degree of civility and efficiency. They act as a guide both to the members of the board and especially to the public and are recommended by many groups, organizations, institutions to protect everyone's interests. They can be referred to when problems about procedures, points-of-order etc. arise.

“The point is Terri, that a number of board members have requested that the Rules be put on the agenda for about three months. They were scheduled for a meeting which we all cancelled due to fatigue from a long arduous evening. We agreed to follow up on them and I stated at that meeting that we should do so. My intention was to learn why they are so important so that I can try and understand their previous source and usage, prior to it coming up for a vote. I did not anticipate that such questioning would be responded to with anything other than the information I requested, nor would such challenging accusastions be read into my email.

“Many items come before the board that have utmost importance. Other items have little importance. Nevertheless, we try to address what we can. As for importance all I can say is that we should honor each other's requests to the best of our ability providing they are reasonable. But importance is not the matter here. The major point is that a number of board members asked for the Rules to be put on the agenda more than once (which means in answer to your question about importance that the Rules must be important to them). The Rules finally went on and were then delayed for another meeting by mutual consent (as noted above). They are not on the next agenda in May, so I made another request that they be put there. This request has not been honored. Nowhere in my email do I question whether or not we should address it. I simply wanted to know if it had been utilized in the past and whether or not they had played a prominent or important role in the past. I do not believe the issue should be put off and I did believe that it would be OK to ask questions of previous members. No offense was intended.

“Again as for the question of importance and this is my big question -. Let me reverse it by asking you what is so important about making sure that these requests are not honored? "making sure that these requests are not honored" is a conclusion based on your perception, not my words or even my intent. On a final note: I, like other board members, am working on important issues. We are also working on small issues. Who is to judge the importance of any of these and ask yourself the question that actually determines what goes on the agenda? Once again, I did not refer to the Agenda or if should or should not be included. Your inference is wrong. Remember your request to sqeeze in the resolution about health insurance for domestic partners? That was honored immediately and unanimously passed by the board - no hesitation, no waiting, no tabling. Was it important? Yes If so to whom? Those employees who are in need of such coverage. If not why not? If not is that relevant? What I am saying is that requests in good faith are simply that, good faith requests and nothing more. We agree on this.

“I would appreciate an explanation from you as to why you question the importance of these requests regarding the Rules and why these should not be put on the agenda after many requests by your colleagues. I repeat...I am not implying that they should not be on the agenda. I have not said that and I believe that I have addressed this above. One request should be sufficient. As for your question about whether they were ever applied or enforced - yes they were applied but you could also check with the other board members who adopted them. Enforcement - that is a strong word. By "enforcement" my intent is to understand their usage and how and if they worked. But, yes there were times when Jeremy called the police on some members of the public. There were also times when some members of the board abused those rules themselves. Hope this answers your questions. Hope to hear from you soon.
Regards, Chris”

Did you get all that? I did not alter or edit a word of it.

On February of this year, councilman Collins in a bizarre e-mail to the supervisor stated, “…Emerson said: ‘consistency is the hobgoblin of mankind.’”

Collins, who claims to teach at a college, must know that what Emerson actually said was, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen…” The town board better get cracking on his rules, or Chris might be quoting Rodney Dangerfield.

Cell Tower Law Suit Court Hearing

This article appeared in the Townsman, May 8 2008 edition

Kingston, May 5 2008

In a very surprising development considering the majority of the Woodstock town board’s strong opposition toward the Town’s master management agreement with JNS Enterprises, builder of the municipal communications tower on California Quarry, attorney for the Town Rod Futerfas put up a strong defense for the agreement before New York State Supreme Court Judge O'Connor on Monday, May 5 in the Kingston County Court House.
In late 2004 the Woodstock town board signed an agreement that permitted at JNS’s expense construction of a town-owned lattice tower capable of providing cell phone service on Town owned land. JNS also agreed to manage and maintain the tower and split 50-50 with the Town rents to cell phone providers.
At the conclusion of a long permitting process, however, the Woodstock planning board in 2006 mandated a “pine tree” type of tower design instead of the more economical lattice tower. JNS offered a revised agreement whereby the town would give up a share of its revenue for the tower to make up the cost difference, which was said to be approximately $150,000. Extremely contentious town board meetings, including a public hearing, finally resulted in a 3-2 vote to accept the amended agreement in early 2007. The tower was completed in late 2007 and provides several cell phone company services.
The Town spent no money on the tower except to defend against law suits brought on by neighbors of California Quarry, principally Ken Silver and Jay Cohen. They challenged the Town on points ranging from environmental review, planning board approval, zoning board of appeals interpretations and to the nature of the JNS agreement, which the petitioners maintain is a no-bid contract violating state law. The latest lawsuit, which added new petitioner George (“Jerry”) Washington, claims that the amended agreement with JNS is a no-bid contract, even though the challenge to the original agreement was thrown out by Judge Richard Kavanagh in 2005.
Monday’s oral arguments before Judge O’Connor began with attorney Eric Schneider, representing the petitioners, arguing that the amended agreement with JNS violated state bidding statutes and citing sections of General Municipal Law. He mentioned a report by George Washington suggesting that $150,000 was an inflated expense for the pine tree tower. He later corrected himself, acknowledging that the Town did not expend any money toward the tower’s construction, but he maintained the foregone revenue was an expense so far as the law was concerned. Mr. Schneider wrapped up his argument in about ten minutes.
Futerfas, taking even less time, claimed that the amendment to the JNS agreement did not change the “underlying reason of the agreement” that had been upheld by Judge Kavanagh’s 2005 decision, and furthermore that the agreement is a “license” since no town monies were expended on the tower’s construction. He also challenged the ‘standing’ of the petitioners, citing a decision by a Judge Ceresia, who in an earlier lawsuit against the tower found the petitioners had ‘no standing’ since they had not shown they had suffered harm different than that of the public at large. Mr. Futerfas pointed out that the petition in that case and the case now before Judge O’Connor was exactly the same in nature. Finally, Futerfas stated that the petitioners had not named an “essential party” in their lawsuit, in this case JNS, and for this reason alone the case should be dismissed.
Woodstock councilman Chris Collins, a severe critic of the JNS agreement, sat in the courtroom and listened to the arguments.
The entire proceeding took less than twenty minutes. Judge O’Connor thanked the parties, and said a decision would be issued sometime in the future.
Questions for town board members concerning the hearing have gone unanswered, except for Terrie Rosenblum’s comment “it is inappropriate to discuss pending litigation with the press.” She was unaware of any discussion of the case during executive sessions.
Messages to Jay Cohen, George (“Jerry”) Washington and Ken Silver asking for their response to the town board’s decision to defend against their lawsuit have so far gone unanswered.
Washington, a retired middle manager from IBM, was recently appointed by councilwoman Liz Simonson to serve on her cell tower siting committee.

May 6 2008 Woodstock Town Board Meeting

This article appeared in the Townsman, May 8 2008 edition

The so-called Farmers Market is actually two separate activities slated to go off on May 28 from the hours of four to eight pm and then on each Wednesday until September 24. On the Houst parking lot up to fifteen “certified” venders of produce will offer their wares, while on Mower’s Field, location of the long established weekend flea market, there will be a Woodstock Chamber of Commerce sponsored “Farm Festival” consisting of at least three outdoor restaurants, children’s entertainment, a small stage for amplified acoustic music and other attractions.
Apparently none of the proposed activities are to be subject to site plan review by the planning board, nor has the town board made any studies of the potential environmental impact, according to supervisor Jeff Moran. Nonetheless, the Town has issued a mass gathering permit, and will consider a barricade across Maple Lane to limit traffic. Technically everything hinges of the Woodstock Zoning Board of Appeal’s (ZBA) acceptance of a traffic plan provided by the festival promoters, but according to festival attorney Dick Goldman the ZBA is bound by a stipulation entered into by Town officials and festival representatives that will make such acceptance merely pro forma. Such stipulation was agreed to by a unanimous vote of the town board. The board also unanimously agreed to schedule a public hearing for May 20 at 8:00 pm on a proposition to close Maple Lane.
The Town has no assurance that “produce” will be the only wares offered at the Farmers Market, and directed questions on the matter to Cheryl Paff, market coordinator.
The Town has agreed unanimously to contribute up to $6000 in services, mostly for traffic control (see item later in this story concerning traffic and parking problems on the Comeau property).
Town board members maintain that the stipulation would avoid an Article 78 proceeding against the Town. However, when it was pointed out that since the ZBA had denied the Farmers Market variance “without prejudice” no such lawsuit would be possible, the town board had no response.
Attention now turns to the ZBA, which will review the traffic study at their May 8 meeting, although under what legal auspices no one can tell. The Farmers Market application for a variance expired, and no new application has been made.
Councilwoman Liz Simonson volunteered to spearhead a revision to the zoning law that would permit the exhibit of merchandise between structures and the curb, claiming the existing statute is “unenforceable.” She asked for help in loosening the zoning restrictions on sandwich boards used for advertising.
In other business the town board voted to re-advertise for a clerk-of-the-works for the town hall renovation project after receiving only one bid for the position. The highway superintended, Mike Reynolds, was given authorization to go out to bid on a new highway truck. An advertisement for volunteers to serve on the Commission for Civic Design and the Telecommunications Committee was authorized.
There was extensive discussion on the potential environmental impact of the proposed amendment to the zoning law regulating development nears streams, water bodies and wetlands. Planning specialist Dara Trahan will perform additional work in consultation with land-use attorney Drayton Grant. There was also discussion about the proposed zoning amendment to regulate development and activities in the area of the aquifer that feeds the municipal water supply, with an apparent consensus to separate the well head area from the larger aquifer area and impose different standards for development and land use.

There was another inconclusive discussion about the parking situation on the Comeau property, particularly on days of children’s soccer games. Councilman Collins reported having “one helluva conversation” with Keith Anderson, a soccer parent who has warned the Town many time of the dangerous existing conditions in the parking lot. Mr Collins said, without dissent, the soccer people should take responsibility for their activity and arrange for their own traffic management. Councilman Jay Wenk suggested that if everyone car-pooled the problem would be less severe. He also thought pounding iron stakes into the ground to delineate parking spots would help, an idea that others thought would create unsafe hazards. Sometime next week highway superintendent Mike Reynolds will provide the board with his proposal to improve the parking.

There was a short public hearing on the closing of the road between the village green and the Woodstock Reformed Church on days scattered throughout the summer to enable concerts on the green. There were some concerns about traffic patterns, councilwoman Simonson exclaiming, “Heaven help us if there is an accident.” At the hearing’s conclusion it was unanimously agreed to close the road for the concerts.

The meeting, with its unusual 3:00 pm starting time, ended at approximately 6:30.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Woodstock [Farm] Festival Festers

This article appeared in the Townsman, May 1 2008 edition.

The Woodstock farmers market, slated to open on May 28 in the Houst parking lot with additional venues, including an ‘acoustic’ music stage in the Mower’s field used for weekend flea markets, is creating tension between the Woodstock town board and the Woodstock zoning board of appeals (ZBA).

The original plan for the market, initiated earlier this year by a town board resolution adopted by three yes votes and two abstentions, called for the closing of Maple Lane (this provision now rescinded) during hours of operation and the issuance of a mass gathering permit. Further town board consideration then sent farmers market representatives to the Woodstock ZBA for an interpretation of section 5Y of the zoning law, which prohibits the display of merchandise between a structure and the street. At that hearing the applicant was allowed to change their request from an interpretation to a variance from 5Y. The ZBA’s final decision on the matter, which apparently echoes a previous ZBA decision dating back to 1985, would allow the variance provided the ZBA first receive and review a professionally prepared traffic plan that would ensure the public’s safety. The applicant was to provide such plan at a ZBA hearing scheduled for April 24, but earlier that week withdrew the application. As it now stands, the variance for the market is denied “without prejudice.”

On April 21 the attorney for the Town, Rod Futerfas, based on incomplete information that led him to believe that there had been no formal referral to the ZBA for the interpretation/variance, advised supervisor Jeff Moran that the Town was within its right to issue the mass gathering permit for the market. ZBA chairman Howard Harris, however, then provided the complete file including the proper referral. Based on this the supervisor rescinded the mass gathering permit on April 23.

On Friday, April 25 a meeting in the supervisor’s office with councilwoman Liz Simonson, Futerfas, Harris, building inspector Paul Shultis, ZBA attorney Drayton Grant, supervisor Moran and farmer’s market attorney Richard Goldman (by telephone) resulted in an apparently murky plan for getting the market back on track. Details are scant, but it appears that Goldman posited that once the market received the mass gathering permit it couldn’t be rescinded. There was the threat of an Article 78 proceeding to be taken against the ZBA to undo its decision. It was tentatively decided that to avoid a proceeding the town board and the farmers’ market representatives could “stipulate” if the market representatives produce a traffic plan then the market could open as planned.

There are still communications back and forth between attorney’s Futerfas and Grant on the matter as this paper goes to print.

ZBA chairman Harris does not know what substantive issue could be raised in an Article 78 proceeding to challenge the ZBA decision (Article 78 proceedings are used against municipal authorities, such as ZBAs, planning boards or town boards, when they fail to follow proper procedure in making determinations). In recent years the ZBA prevailed in three previous Article 78s relating to the KTD Monastery, the highway garage and the cell tower. Nor does Harris know which town agency is expected to review the traffic plan once it is produced, although he maintains a ZBA hearing is the appropriate venue. “This is not a dead issue,” says Harris. “The ZBA will do whatever it takes to maintain its autonomy.”

Art and Religion

Opinion published in the Townsman, May 1 2008 edition

To describe Jon Berg as eccentric would truly undervalue the man. His unconventional nature exceeded even the most far-flung idea of how differently a man can see the world. Where we saw good prospects, he saw doom. Our day was his night. Just as maddening, the opposite was true. In situations we would abandon, he would stand fast. When we railed at a cruel world, he would tolerate its apathy, work quietly in his studio on Plochmann Lane and tell us to warm our hands by his amply fed woodstove.

He was a Woodstock artist; what else could he be?

During the thirty-five years I had known Jon he sculpted in wood. Most of his works are in bas-relief. His preferred medium was Honduran mahogany. Some of you may recall seeing his work in the Bear Café back in the 1970s, or perhaps you have seen his work more recently displayed proudly in homes you visit. Oriole Nine Cafe on Tinker Street has one of his pieces. His style over the years migrated from abstract to abstract expressionism to eye-fooling realism. People have tried to put on a jacket he sculpted in one of his rare in-the-round works. If one were to skillfully paint the flowers he raised from a plain mahogany board, I bet people would try to smell them. He was really that good.

To describe Jon as a successful artist in the monetary sense would be to truly undervalue him. The splendid manner in which he carved in the shadow of the world’s indifference is the finest statement of an artist’s commitment to his vision. He occasionally executed commissions, and some of the mahogany shavings scattered on his studio floor meant bread for the table. But the Internal Revenue Service would gain little by an audit of his finances. A large share of his works was given to friends. Jon had many friends. It is another wonder about the man that there is not one ex-friend of Jon’s.

There was the time in Woodstock’s long-gone era of cheap rent and less fawning over status when more of our artists resembled Jon Berg in nature. They worked much and earned little for their endeavor to explain us to ourselves or make our world prettier. Recently we have come to celebrate the watercolors of John Ernst who, as some of us can recall, traded away his work to strangers on the streets of Woodstock for as little as a can of beer. The young, expecting justice of our world, might imagine Ernst’s indignation if he saw his works now offered for as much as $1000. But those of us who remember Ernst know that so long as he had brushes, colors and paper, almost everything else was immaterial to him.

Jon’s life as an artist is a lesson for us. The rich and successful will always attract our attention. But like us, they are dust. What we do, our work, during our lives is all that is permanent. Its value is subject to judgment of the ages. Even those who profess no belief in God have something to tremble before.

Jon Berg, friend to so many of us, died recently at age 67. Jon Berg the artist has a long, steady life ahead of him.

* * *

The Overlook United Methodist Church in Woodstock is doing its part to reduce its carbon footprint. On Saturday, April 26, the congregants offered up an “Italian Night,” a wonderful dinner and dessert serenaded by a succession of local musical talent. The food was delicious and the music a delight. Proceeds from the affair will go toward replacing single glazed windows with energy saving ones. It won’t be cheap; estimates have touched the stratosphere.

A scan of the national scene indicates a growing number of religious institutions deciding to do their part to impede if not turn back global warming. Our gluttonous use and waste of energy, and the concomitant transit of carbon from wells and mines to the atmosphere is beginning to be perceived as a moral issue. Not only is turning our planet into a sweltering hothouse not very ethical, neither is gobbling up the world’s legacy of resources.

The power of this subtle but significant shift from perceiving global warming as a matter of science to one of conscience is not to be underestimated. Thomas Jefferson had the mind to know that slavery was wrong, but it took a courageous and dedicated Abolitionist movement led primarily by religious conscience, and a rendering civil war, to finally end our scourge of human bondage. Just as slavery had been justifiable in the minds of our ancestors simply because ‘it’s been around for so long’ and ‘everybody does it,’ so is the profligate waste of energy and wanton use of fossil fuels justified in ours.

It was not always so. Frugality, a word now so quaint we expect to find it armed with blunderbusses, had been a guiding principle for most of our history. Luxury, another word for profligacy, used to be an extravagance whereas now many of us see it as an entitlement. Even some of the ‘greenest’ people look for conspiracies by the ‘big corporations’ to deprive us of the right to cheaply plunder our earth’s resources, rather than see the recent spike in energy costs as a golden opportunity to move the nation toward efficiency and a return to husbandry (another lost concept).

The question is for you to decide. Will we save the planet by investigating big corporations, or by seeing the pollution of our atmosphere as morally repugnant? If American history is any guide, the answer is obvious.

And dare I say hopeful? A joy of Woodstock’s many different houses and temples of worship is the mingling of generations. To see all ages ranging from the very young to the very old come together not only to worship, but to cherish Creation as well, is very, very hopeful. The congregants of the Overlook United Methodist Church not only served a wonderful supper and showcased charming musical talent; they restored trust in our hearts and in our future. They, and all Woodstock’s religious institutions that follow their example, deserve the same appreciation we give to ardent environmentalists.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Woodstock Town Board Meeting April 15, 2008 Part 2

This article appeared in the Townsman, April 24 2008 edition

Woodstock, April 15 2008

The April monthly meeting of the Woodstock town board began with supervisor Jeff Moran's suggestion to widen the road to the town offices to accommodate additional parking, and also to surface and stripe the upper Comeau parking lot. These measures, he stated, are necessary to maintain a safe environment, particularly when children’s soccer games are played and create chaotic parking conditions.

Councilwoman Liz Simonson was "anecdotally" aware of the situation, but suggested that before any action the Town should perform a "needs assessment" and collect data. Supervisor Moran offered her the task. Simonson suggested the town board first agree on a "protocol" for the needs assessment. Councilman Wenk and Simonson agreed to work on such protocol. Minutes from the March 11 meeting, approved later in the meeting, quote Simonson saying with regard to the Comeau parking, "we need more [parking] space."

Supervisor Moran reported a snag in the $186,000 sale of the California Quarry property to the Open Space Institute. OSI objects to his demand to adjust the subdivision lines drawn up in 2007 so as to allow the Town to take quarry rubble from a portion of the property that had been slated for conveyance. Moran feels that the material may be needed for emergency repairs, citing the 2006 floods that washed out some town roads. There were no stated objections to the supervisor's position.

The supervisor also reported an estimate of $35,000 to update the Town's computer hardware. To defray the unanticipated cost he cited savings in the budget line for computer technical assistance, and there was also a suggestion to use money originally appropriated for an energy efficient vehicle. No decision was made on the matter.

Paul Shultis Jr., representing the Skate Park Building Task Force appointed by the town board for the purpose of recommending "optimum design of the proposed multi-use recreational facility at Andy Lee Field," in a preliminary report indicated that poor soil conditions would require the approximately 10,000 square foot enclosed structure to be built on piers. Questions as to whether the building would be metal or wood, and if solar energy panels would be included were undecided. The exact location of the proposed building on Andy Lee field is not yet determined, nor the visual impact, funding sources, and insurance costs. In response to a neighbor contiguous to the existing outdoor skate park the town board agreed to a "blind" sound test of the existing facility and to consider adjusting hours for its use.

The supervisor then called for subcommittee reports.

Simonson reported, as she has since January, that she still has not converted the data collected for the Sawkill study into electronic format, nor has she submitted the paperwork to the state for reimbursement. The $15,000 grant has so far cost the Town $15,225, minus a partial reimbursement of $2596 received in June 2007. The townships of Ulster and Kingston have already backed out of paying a share toward the grant, which expired at the end of '07. Her monthly report on 'green fleet,' the project she took on just prior her re-election in 2005 to investigate purchase of less polluting vehicles for the Town's fleet still had no recommendations (Simonson voted with the rest of the board at its March 11 meeting to purchase conventionally fueled vehicles totaling approximately $100,000).

In an interesting twist considering Simonson had led the charge in 1998 to prohibit a personal wireless (cell phone) service on the so-called Moncure tower at the top of Overlook Mountain, she distributed to the board a report prepared by Ken Panza that looks favorably on the prospect of mounting such a service on the existing 300 foot tower (the so-called RNN tower, although it is now controlled by a different interest) near the Moncure facility. The Panza study indicates the tower may provide cellular service to the western areas of the town not served by the cell tower on California Quarry. The Town's land use attorney, Drayton Grant is in discussion with town officials on the matter.

Councilman Collins again reported progress with amendments to the zoning law protecting the town's aquifer and wetlands. With regard to the Comprehensive Plan Collins still had no product based the report made by professional planner, Kathy Daniels, who the Town paid $500.00 to study the document that had been drafted in 2000. In that report, received more than a month ago, Ms Daniels cites numerous deficiencies with the draft plan.

The Town has apparently been somewhat successful in persuading many residents near the municipal wells to replace or upgrade their underground oil tanks. Data provided by Councilman Wenk indicate there were at one time at least 55 underground tanks 25 years or older. The older tanks are now reduced to 14, and appear to be concentrated on Overlook Drive. Wenk didn't say what his next step would be to address these remaining tanks. Wenk, also acting as liaison to the Senior Recreation Committee, criticized New York State for impeding a plan initiated in an Orange County community which would allow senior citizens to work for the town up to 100 hours a year at $8.00 per hour to help pay their property tax. "What happened to home rule?" he asked.

World Listens To Woodstock (Maybe)

Opinion published in the Townsman, April 24 2008 edition

I know you are going to think I made this up, and all I can say is go to the town clerk's office and inspect the minutes for the April 8, 2008, meeting and see for yourself. You'll find another good reason for town boards to concern themselves with potholes and building fees, and to avoid issues that belong with the United States Congress.

Here, exactly as it appears in the approved minutes of the Woodstock town board, is the beginning of the resolution urging the government of the People's Republic of China to honor the Dalai Lama's request for negotiations on the status of the Tibetan Autonomous Region:

"Offered by Councilman Collins, seconded by Councilwoman Simonson:

"Whereas the Dalai Lama of Tibet has a bond of kinship with the town of Woodstock and has made a personal visit to our community and has solidified that bond of kinship, and;

"Whereas international media and rescue organizations and democracies worldwide have called this oppression cultural genocide, and;

"Whereas some of those protests have ended in violent and deadly clashes resulting in a high death toll, and;... " etc.

Councilman Collins teaches at a college, so one may presume that he takes utmost care with language, especially when addressed to foreign governments. I can imagine the surprise of the Chinese when our town board reports to them that the "international media and rescue organizations and democracies worldwide have called the Dalai Lama's "personal visit to our community" an act of "oppression," even "cultural genocide” (the board was kind enough to send a copy of the resolution to Consul General Pen-Keyum, Ambassador of the People's Republic of China).

I had no idea. Did you? I thought the visit by His Holiness went rather well. Later in Collins' resolution he admits to have "relished" Woodstock's bond of kinship with the Dalai Lama. Will he relish the idea of cleaning up his lofty sentiment? With resolutions like this we'll be lucky to get visits from defrocked friars.

On another hard-to-believe topic, the Woodstock town board broke all records for the longest meeting in Woodstock's history. Some background first.

The April 1, 2008, meeting of the town board began at 6:30 PM with an executive session in the supervisor's office to discuss the appointment of the planning board chair, and at 7:30 returned to open session at the Community Center. Hours later there came the period set aside for public comment. A member of the public was recognized, but soon apparently forgot that it is the supervisor, not he who conducts meetings. The supervisor expressed his annoyance by abruptly "adjourning" the meeting. Everybody went home and life went on.

Or so we thought.

The following week the April 8 meeting also began at 6:30, and also in the supervisor's office. The supervisor opened the meeting and then moved for an executive session to discuss police department personnel. Something rather odd occurred, as the approved minutes testify.

At 6:30 PM, Supervisor Moran opened the meeting and immediately moved to enter into executive session. However, his motion failed. Instead the town board discussed for 45 minutes the adjournment of the previous (April 1) meeting and the fact that Councilwoman Rosenblum and Supervisor Moran had recused themselves from voting for a planning board chairman. The minutes of the meeting then declare; "At 7:15, Supervisor Moran moved to adjourn the 04/01/08 meeting seconded by Councilwoman Rosenblum."

Even the most casual student of Woodstock politics must see there is something fishy here. Let's measure the whopper.

1) Once the motion for executive session failed, the board immediately should have returned to public session for their discussion of proper ways to adjourn meetings and issues of recusal. These topics are not executive session matters. Councilman Jay Wenk, who during his campaign for office had decried misuse of executive sessions, should, if he hasn't already, issue a detailed description of this 45 minute private discussion that should have been held in public.

2) With regard to the "recusal of Councilwoman Rosenblum and Supervisor Moran," there is not one mention in the public record of such recusal. Even if there were, this is not a matter for executive session. Jay, please hurry with your report.

3) The mystery of why the supervisor was compelled to "adjourn the 04/01/08 meeting" on April 8 will never be known to the public unless Jay is serious about the executive session biz he campaigned on.

Lo, the April 1 meeting of the town board did not end until approximately 7:15 PM on April 8 after a 45 minute meeting held behind closed doors in the supervisor's office. 167 hours and fifteen minutes! Thank goodness we don't pay elected officials overtime. That was some whopper of a meeting, in every sense of the word!

Naturally, we should feel inclined to blame the supervisor for this mess. But a careful parsing indicates that a majority of the town board instigated the private, illegal gab session. After all, the supervisor originally thought he was opening the April 8 meeting, not closing the April 1. Imagine the board's majority stewing all week over the supervisor's pulling the plug on the loud mouth on April 1, since their affection for this estimable member of the public is well known.

A conclusion to be drawn, what with Woodstock being oppressed by the Dalai Lama and the town board now having private gab sessions and week-long meetings, is that there is an assertive majority on the board that does not include the supervisor. There are circumstances under which this would not be a terrible thing. But in this majority there is one who does not "relish" writing a cohesive thought, a second who will not stand up for a principle he campaigned on, and a third who has been on the board a long, long time and from whom we can expect better.

This third one, by the way, on April 15 abstained from voting on paying the monthly bills or approving the budget transfers because, she explained, she didn't have the time to look at them!