Thursday, May 7, 2009

Jump On '69

The following opinion piece appeared in the April 30 edition of the Townsman.

No, I didn’t go to the Woodstock Festival. I was tending bar and couldn’t get the weekend off. It makes me one of the three people in America to admit he wasn’t there. I probably should have gone, anyway. The town was empty that weekend. Empty. Vacant. Bare. Get the idea? The guy who owned the Corner Cupboard in those days bought a truckload of beer with the false notion the town would be packed. Ha! Everybody went to Woodstock™ instead of Woodstock. Beer sat there until Labor Day.

Anyway, after decades of shame my absence from the Festival finally turned up heads, yes, has given me a glimmer of fame and celebrity, and I guess I’m going to have to go out and buy new hats.

A young man, Apostolos, who works for a film production company in Athens, yes, that’s Athens Greece, home to Socrates and Plato contacted me. He and his cameraman were in the area shooting a documentary about the 40th anniversary of the Festival. He interviewed Michael Lang and Ike Phillips, went to Bethel and got footage there, and now he wanted to interview me, The Man Who Didn’t Go.

This would be like interviewing the sole survivor of Custer’s cavalry – had there been one – but in reverse. I was the only person in the world, with the three exceptions – all Samoan’s, incidentally – who didn’t go!

Oh gosh, but it made me think back over the years that once seemed like tiny cracks in the sidewalk and are now wide as the Grand Canyon.

The actual town whose name would be co-opted (unintentionally) to initiate my generation to Totalitarian Consumerism, the era which ended just recently not in a bang but a Madoff, in the ‘60s domiciled about 4200 people, 3800 of them since God created the valley and the rest of us because of those strange accidents life just can’t stop itself from repeating. The town was cheap to live in. The same $1000 that today will buy you a soy gelato could almost buy a shack, and certainly pay a year’s rent for a shack with indoor plumbing. 3800 natives still shot deer from their kitchen windows back then; the rest of us couldn’t shoot a cap gun. We were tainted by New York City blood, the kind that said, “Let’s abandon the great novel, the great painting, the great sculpture, and the great bars and get out of this Lower East Side dump and go raise our little buggers in a WHOLESOME environment.” And, without cutting up our feet too badly, we grew up among those shards of responsible planning.

By ’63 Woodstock already had a beatnik bar, the Café Espresso, and yes, during the halcyon days prior the Gulf of Tonkin incident you saw Dylan and Baez and Tom Paxton and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Phil Ochs and other folkies strumming and humming the time away. It all seemed very innocuous at the time. Who knew?

The town had manifested, but by the early ’60s was dissipating its first incarnation as an art colony. But the rent stayed cheap and sometime after ’64 or so the electric musicians began to arrive, perhaps lured by visions of Dylan, et al. With them came “pot.” In those days it was just pot. No Pana-manian Red, no Colombian, no indicus, no Michoacán – just pot. There were nineteen other townships in the county, but we were the only one with pot. Sometimes somebody would get arrested for pot. The local newspapers and radio stations screamed like we had boiled babies. The times were that innocent. If you’d said something like “hydroponic,” people would have thought it had something to do with dual-carburetors.

The last time I saw Dylan he was drinking a beer in the Sled Hill Café, and these two girls walked in (the northern New Jersey tainted type) and started screaming and he split and the next thing I heard he was in Malibu or a Christian. I could tell you that he had a lasting, good influence on our local music or songwriting. What did endure is that back-of-the-throat way Dylan has of speaking. It affected everybody he hung with, and until Reagan’s second election we still had guys around here that couldn’t get a spoken word cleanly over their tongue because their girlfriends had picked up the affectation of gagging syllables from hanging around, or on, one of Dylan’s two hundred bass players and passed it on to their partners like an STD. Everybody’s got a theory about Dylan, and here’s mine: he’s a deep-well pump. If you ain’t sitting on something really good and deep, don’t waste your time. I know I wouldn’t.

Some of this was interesting to Apostolos; I have no idea how much or even if any of the footage will survive the final cut.

My main point to him was, Woodstock is still beautiful. Tell your friends in Athens to Google Earth it or fly to New York and take the bus. It ain’t Ulan Bator, gosh, it’s a lousy one hundred miles north of Washington Square. The mountains are round, the valleys and seeps are lush, there are “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything.”

Anyway, as soon as the documentary is released I’m flying to Athens to be a big star, The Man Who Didn’t Go.

Happy Anniversary, Woodstock Festival, it was truly an historic event and I have yet to meet one person who regretted going, and only two others who admit they weren’t there.

Comeau Easement Update

This article appeared in the Townsman, April 28 edition

Pressure, but not necessarily prudence seems to be guiding a split Woodstock Town Board through the final processes required to execute the Comeau Easement (the “Easement”), the document that restricts the Comeau property to specific uses and regulates potential development for governmental purposes, with the Woodstock Land Conservancy (WLC) designated as the Easement enforcer,

Woodstock voters in 2003 overwhelmingly supported the Easement, but it has been tied up in court, and eventually decided once and for all by the New York State Court of Appeals late last year. Even without an executed document the Town Board has been careful to abide by its provisions scrupulously, even spending $10,000 last summer for a legal opinion to settle Councilman Chris Collins’ qualms before proceeding with a project to expand the Comeau upper parking lot to accommodate the traffic and safety concerns of soccer parents. (Red tape is now holding up that improvement.)

Among the first requirements was for the Town Board to make an environmental determination with regard to the Easement, which it did at its April 21 meeting with the votes of Councilpersons Collins, Liz Simonson and Jay Wenk by passing a resolution that declared the Easement would not have an adverse impact on the environment (a so-called “neg-dec”) Neither Supervisor Jeff Moran nor Councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum supported the resolution, each claiming the action to be “premature.”

Their position seemed to reflect the contents of a letter sent the Town Board members that same day from Kevin Smith, the WLC Director, which read in part with regard to the environmental determination; “If it is to review and discuss potential future decisions & schedule for an EAF process, declaring lead agency status, etc., on a potential Comeau conservation easement, WLC certainly supports such preparations by the Town Board.

“However,” Mr. Smith’s letter continued, “if the Board is considering making decisions or taking actions that would link to a specific conservation easement document, this would be premature in our opinion... We hope this facilitates constructive preparations on the Town’s part and helps avoid the inadvertent creation of obstacles in this complex process.”

Apparently the train began to leave the station as early as April 6, when Collins wrote to Smith, “The Comeau Easement is a significant issue that the town board has to address. It has been a couple of weeks since you and I last spoke and I would like to know when you plan on meeting with us. Jay mentioned a date of May 15th but I would like to set up a meeting sooner. Our last town board meeting for April is on the 21st. Can you meet with us by then? While I understand the preparation work you are doing is important we must address this as soon as possible. “

Smith wrote back to Collins the same day, “The WLC has a board meeting tonight. Comeau is on the agenda. I will forward your request to our board as part of those discussions. I anticipate sending a response the town board in the next day or two so everyone receives the same information from WLC.”

The issue next arose, according to FOILed documents, on April 16 when Collins wrote to Supervisor Moran and Cced the Town Board, asking that the Comeau Easement “PH [public hearing] & Neg Dec” be placed on the April 21 meeting’s agenda.

Later that day Councilwoman Rosenblum e-mailed the board and Supervisor, "Please wait until we heard from the [WLC] before putting anything on the agenda. I have expressed my concerns about this many times at our meetings and I see no reason why Chris’s concerns should take precedent over mine. I don not think that any action, prior to having the final document, is prudent”

Councilman Wenk’s weighed in shortly after with a message to the Board and Moran, “I will continue to support my reasons for this issue to be on the agenda now. It seems Terrie’s concern is outweighed.”

This was followed by a message from Simonson, “I would like to review the SEQR on the easement on Tuesday [April 21]. It would be out next step after declaring lead agency. Again, this is simply making a determination on environmental impact, not implementation. Just to set the record, the easement is the final document, it was approved by the voters and upheld in the courts.”

The following day, April 17, Moran wrote a message to the Board that agreed in part with Simonson’s e-mail from the day before, saying, “The easement is indeed the final document approved by the voters and upheld by the courts. The opening paragraph reads, ‘THIS DEED OF CONSERVATION EASEMENT… between the Town of Woodstock…and the Woodstock Land Conservancy, Inc…’”Moran went on to note, “If the WLC bails we have an invalid document. I don’t know that they will or won’t, which is why I believe it is only prudent to wait until we hear from them after May 15.”

Simonson disagreed, writing back, “I do not believe that the validity of the document is dependent on the grantee’s designation. But we need to ask a lawyer for an opinion.. From my conversations with the WLC any hesitation on their part comes from the potential to have to devote extra time to management of the property and overseeing any long drawn out legal challenges. I assume we can get legal advice on how to deal with this.” She added, “Perhaps it is time to hire Steve Barshov to act as our counsel on this project.”

Barshov, the New York City attorney, had provided the $10,000 legal opinion referred to above. It is not known what expenses might be incurred from his further involvement. Rod Futerfas, the attorney for the Town, has recused himself from any legal work on the Easement since his law partner Jerry Wapner provides counsel for the WLC.

The WLC had planned by May 15 to “be prepared to begin an informed dialogue with town board members regarding the conservation easement on Comeau,” wrote Smith in his April 21 letter to the Board. “We hope this facilitates constructive preparations on the Town’s part and helps avoid the inadvertent creation of obstacles in this complex process,” he added in reference to the proposed Town Board action to neg-dec the easement.

On Monday, April 27 Smith wrote to Collins, “Thanks for responding to our letter of Tuesday. I'm sorry it arrived just before your meeting and, unfortunately, apparently not in time to forestall [Town Board] action. We did the best we could, in our previous communications, to advise you and fellow board members of WLC's timeline and request patience prior to our joint discussions.

“Unfortunately,” Smith’s letter continued, “there hasn't been a clear, agreed upon means of communication between the two boards.”

Collins responded, “… I have been very tied up with issues, and personal work. I think the best way to handle things at this point is to bring everything to the table when both groups meet on the 15th [of May].”

Smith replied, “We will of course incorporate the TB's actions into our deliberations and preparation. Kindly forward any documents pertaining to formal TB actions to WLC (John Winter and myself) to assist us in this regard… And do advise us when the TB has retained Mr. Barshov's (or another attorney's) services. This would be very helpful for our attorneys, at this point.”

Smith’s message continued, “At some point in the next couple of weeks we'd like to discuss the appropriate meeting forum for our discussions with the Town Board... You may forward this email to your fellow board members. I did not cc them as you had not done so in your message.”

May 15 is a Friday, presumably the next step in the Easement process will be discussed at the Town Boards May 19 business meeting.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Buy-out Blues, Cont'd

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, April 30 edition

Councilman Jay Wenk, who sits for the Pledge of Allegiance but jumps for the medical buy-out, wrote us a letter criticizing my report on the discussion of the issue at the Town Board last week, claiming it was “political.” This is another word for “untruthful” or at least “tendentious.” I thought I should clear this up, and I sent Jay an e-mail. All the questions are based on the official 2003 edition of the Town of Woodstock Employee Handbook.

Dear Jay,

I am responding to your critique on my reporting, including your statement:

"In the interest of truth, he could have referred all questions to page 2 of the handbook where it states, unequivically, under Definitions, that all of us [elected officials] are 'Employees'"

(As a courtesy, Jay, I cleaned up your typos, but left 'unequivically' alone. I know a similar word, 'unequivocally,' but I thought that your spelling might convey a deeper, and more subtle meaning or intention.)

I have the following questions, and if you would be kind enough to answer them I will set the record straight, if it should need straightening.

The same handbook states:
"Method of Payment. Partial payment of the buy-out (1/26th of the annual premium) will be made in the employee’s regular bi-weekly paycheck for each pay period the employee is eligible for the buy-out."
Are you paid bi-weekly, or twice each month?

The same handbook states:
"Sick Leave Buy-out. Effective January 1, 2003, full time employees who have accumulated over thirty-five days of sick leave may, at the employee’s option, sell back to the Town up to twelve sick days per year at 50% of their current daily rate of pay, provided that the sale of such sick leave does not reduce the employee’s sick leave accumulation below thirty-five days. Payment for such excess sick leave shall be made in the first pay period in December.”
Are Councilpersons full-time or part-time? If part time, they should pay 100% of their medical insurance (see next item). If full-time, will you ask for the sick-leave buy-out, too?

The same handbook states:
"Part-time employees working less than thirty hours per week and hired on or after April 1, 1998, who choose to participate in the Town’s health insurance program, if eligible, must contribute 100% of the cost for either family or individual coverage."
Does Liz contribute 100% of the cost for either family or individual coverage?

The same handbook states:
"Use of Personal Leave. The use of personal leave by an employee must be pre-authorized by the employee’s department head."
Who is your department head?

The same handbook states:
"Failure to Successfully Complete Probationary Period. In the event an employee's performance or conduct is not satisfactory, the Town may dismiss the employee from employment or return the employee to the employee’s previous position, as the case may be, at any time on or before completion of the maximum probationary period. Such action shall not be subject to the grievance procedure or disciplinary procedure."
Does this apply to you?

The same handbook states:
"It is the policy of the Town of Woodstock to maintain personnel records for current and past employees in order to document employment-related decisions and comply with government record keeping and reporting requirements…

"The records maintained by the Town include, but are not limited to, the following: Civil Service employment application, Report of Personnel Change forms, copies of job-required licenses and certificates, federal and state withholding tax forms, immigration (I-9) forms, retirement enrollment/waiver forms, health and dental insurance enrollment/waiver forms, disciplinary and grievance notices, letters of acclamation, awards, newspaper clippings, and probationary reports."
Does your file contain newspaper clippings? Shouldn't it, including the Townsman’s, if you are an employee?

The same handbook states:
"An employee who intends to resign from employment must submit a written resignation to the employee’s department head at least two weeks before the date of resignation is to be effective."
In the past elected officials made their letter of resignations to the Town Clerk. Is the Town Clerk your department head?

The same handbook states:
"Before resuming employment, an employee must submit a statement from the employee’s health care provider indicating that the employee is able to return to work either with or without restrictions. Failure to return to work when required may be considered a voluntary termination."
Will this apply to you?

The same handbook states (this is a reprise of an earlier question):
"Payroll Period. All employees are paid on a bi-weekly basis."
Are you paid on a bi-weekly basis, or two times a month?

The same handbook states:
"Effective January 1, 2003, the Town will provide either uniforms or an equivalent allowance of up to $450 per year for the purchase of work clothing, and an annual boot allowance of up to $175 per year. An employee must be employed by the Town for a minimum period of six months before being eligible for the boot allowance."
Since you are (in your opinion) eligible for the medical buy-out will you also accept the work clothing and boot allowance?

The same handbook states:
"The purpose of performance evaluation is to appraise an employee’s past performance and potential. The performance evaluation will take into consideration the employee’s work quality, job knowledge, initiative, attendance, teamwork, conduct, communication skills and such other criteria which properly reflect the employee’s performance."
Who will conduct this performance evaluation?

In addition to the above, if and when you get to amend the handbook (which you described as having "many problems"), the following may be of interest to you:


"Military Leave. This section refers only to an employee’s paid leave for military service under New York State law and does not effect an employee’s entitlement to leave needed for military service under federal statute. The Town of Woodstock recognizes the importance of the Military Reserve and National Guard, and will permit any employee the use of military leave to participate in annual encampment or training duty. The Town will grant such leave with pay for up to twenty-two working days or thirty calendar days in a calendar year, whichever is greater."
Will you stand for this even if they are ordered to Iraq or Afghanistan? What if they volunteer?

Please respond in time for me to correct the record, if it needs correcting. And thank you for pointing out, even if obliquely, that although the employee-elected official ambiguity may appear in your eyes, it had never appeared in mine, and I never thought for a second I was entitled to the buy-out. It's a small thing, Jay, and one I never made a big deal out of, and I blush from your making the fact not only so large but well known.

End of my e-mail to Councilman Jay Wenk. Haven’t heard a word yet. Make of it what you will.

Woodstock Democratric Committee Endorsements

This article appeared in the Townsman, April 23 edition

The Woodstock Democratic Committee (WDC) at its April 20 meeting voted to endorse the candidacies of Cathy Magarelli and Bill McKenna for Town Board in the upcoming September Democratic primary. It also endorsed Republican incumbent Town Clerk Jackie Earley in her quest for a fourth two-year term.

Sixteen of the 18 WDC members were present (Brian Shapiro and Rennie Cantine were the absentees) for voting on the endorsements. Magarelli received 12 votes, McKenna 11, and Earley 11.

There was also a near-unanimous vote to grant Earley and Reynolds the so-called Wilson Pakula, which will permit them as non-registrants in the Democratic Party to participate in the September Democratic Primary.

Endorsements for Town Supervisor, Highway Superintendent and Town Justice were set aside since there are so far no announced candidates for these positions other than the incumbents Jeff Moran, Michael Reynolds and Richard Husted, respectively.

If candidates for these offices should declare themselves in the near future it is possible the WDC will hold another round of interviews with possible subsequent endorsements, as done for the Town Board and Town Clerk positions, according to WDC member Gordon Wemp, who chairs the Primary Oversight Subcommittee.

There was also a vote to replace Sam Magarelli, who earlier this year had resigned his position as WDC chairman, with Sasha Gillman.

Ralph Goneau was thanked by the WDC for his work on a yard sale-fundraiser that netted the WDC approximately $1100.

Committee secretary Tom Oker, who abstained from all the endorsement votes, explained that he felt the process had been too rushed. He cited a motion that had been offered by Marcia Panza, which in essence tried to halt the formal endorsements, but which had been defeated by a 9 – 6 vote.

Chris Collins did not respond to a request for comment on the proceeding. Collins, who had announced his interest in seeking a second term on the Democratic line, did not interview with the WDC, nor was he present when the endorsements were announced.

Simonson, seeking a fourth four-year term, had interviewed with the WDC for the Town Board endorsement, and responded to a request for comment, saying, “The results of the meeting were what I had expected. The only surprise was the complete lack of transparency and disorganization by the Committee.”

Ken Panza, who also had been interviewed for the Town Board position, commented, “As expected, last night the WDC endorsed a slate of committee insiders as town board candidates to rubber-stamp positions advocated by Jeff Moran and Terrie Rosenblum.” He also criticized the WDC for lack of transparency.

Town Clerk Jackie Earley said, “I am absolutely thrilled! I am very fortunate to have been endorsed by the Republican, Democratic and Independence parties the last three elections and I hope continued endorsements means my Office is running well and continuing to be fair to all.”

Bill McKenna was “…Happy to know that my previous work on the Woodstock Town Board is appreciated by the WDC. I am honored by the endorsement.” He also praised the work done for the WDC by Cathy Magarelli, its treasurer, and her husband Sam Magarelli.

Cathy Magarelli’s response to the WDC endorsement was, “…I will accept all the moral support but I will not be accepting any financial assistance directly from the committee. As treasurer I feel the money the committee raises should be used after the primary for the Democratic Candidates running in the November election. I would like the tone on the Town Board to be one of cooperation with a willingness to make decisions in a timely fashion. Let's move forward.”

Woodstock Town Board Meeting, April 21

This article appeared in the Townsman, April 23 edition

The monthly business meeting of the Woodstock Town Board began with several extremely well received presentations before descending into a noisy, nattering series of back-and-forth that appeared to lead nowhere.

Beginning the evening was Alfred J. Sweet, Director of the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, which is celebrating its thirtieth year of existence. Mr. Sweet, who began his presentation with the promise he was not seeking funding from the board, led the officials and the meeting attendees through the fascinating history of the orchestra, its accomplishments, its distinction as Ulster County’s only professional chamber orchestra, the numerous talents it had employed over the decades (some of whom went on to extremely distinguished careers), and the joys and challenges that face any arts organization that tries to keep itself afloat, especially in these times. With its 38 musicians, Mr. Sweet was careful to point out it was not a “symphony” orchestra, which is usually composed of numbers of musicians almost three times as many. He announced the orchestra’s May 3rd performance at 2:00 PM at the Bearsville Theater as one not to miss. Judging by the response there may well be a full house.

Paul Shultis Jr., representing the Skate Board Task Force followed with a final report on improvements to the skate park by the Woodstock Youth Center that will mitigate the sounds that have irritated neighbors. He gave the board recommendations with regard to materials and contractors and left it to them to execute the project, all its cost falling below the $45,000 budgeted f0or the project. When prompted by Councilman Jay Wenk to remind the public the moneys were provided by outside sources, and not Woodstock tax dollars, Shultis thanked the former town Supervisor for securing the funds by receiving a member item provided by Senator Bonacic, and he also thanked Jay Cohen for services he had provided for the task.

Jay Wenk in January, 2007 had sent a letter to Ulster County newspapers criticizing Bonacic for enabling New York State legislation somehow connected to causing unnecessary American casualties in the war in Iraq, a completely unsubstantiated claim that at the time was seen as an attack on the former Supervisor’s good relationship with the Senator, but all that seemed to have been forgotten.

Greg Stanton, who was appointed by the Town Board earlier this year to head up a task force to address the problem of roadside litter, gave an ebullient report that almost had people on their feet. Seeking to create what he termed an “innovative, environmental and sustainable program,” and working with the New York State Department of Transportation, plus private businesses that include the Ulster Savings Bank, County Waste, Dick Benoit and members of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce and Arts, Stanton put together a program involving at least 100 volunteers set to go off on Saturday, June 6 (rain date June 13). “Our goal is to collect at least three hundred bags of litter” from off the roads of Woodstock. Describing the venture as not only a beautification program, but also one to bring out all the pride and joy one should feel living in Woodstock, Stanton attracted several volunteers on the spot. 679 3469 if you want to volunteer. Jackie Earley, the Town Clerk offered to be a contact person as well (679 2113 ext # 4)

Candace Balmer, an employee of RCAP Solutions, an organization dedicated to the preservation of water resources, and with expertise in areas concerning municipal water and sewer systems, offered her services, quickly accepted, to help the Town identify water-sewer infrastructure needs and to pursue grants that may defray a considerable portion of their costs.

The tremendous good feeling created as a result of the presentations by members of the community was then quickly dissipated with desultory sniping and bickering on a discussion of the Time-Warner contract. Supervisor Jeff Moran’s announcement of his close work with County officials to expand broadband services in the more rural areas of the town, and his optimism that “Hopefully there will be good news soon” on the matter as a result of discussions with Time Warner Cable Company was met with criticism and sneers from Councilwoman Liz Simonson, who feels the Town should stop everything and hire a consultant. Moran thought by May 12 something definitive concerning expanding service into news areas, not all areas he was careful to point out, will be known. Action was deferred until then.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Primary Example

The following opinion piece and one article appeared in the April 16 edition of the Townsman.

The Woodstock Democratic Committee (WDC), according to a recent opinion, has decided to take the “fun” out of selecting candidates for local election on the Democratic Party line this coming November by substituting a September primary for the traditional caucus, which generally had occurred on the hottest night of either July or August. Everybody knows what a bore primaries are; just look at that ho-hum game of tiddlywinks we were forced to endure last year between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Was anything more tiresome? If we had just sat back and let the Iowa Caucuses settle the matter, think of all the money that would have been saved and used to prop up the housing market.

According to the recent opinion, the WDC caucuses in 2005 and 2007 were “spectacles entirely worth the money.” Reading this one would think the 2005 and 2007 caucuses were similar in nature. Let’s revisit them.

What would become the memorable 2005 caucus began in 2004, when lo, it came to pass that a September primary was required to settle which among 300 or so candidates should fill the 18 chairs of the WDC. This was the first time in Woodstock’s political history such balloting was needed. The voters’ participation was so overwhelming it must have taken twenty seconds to count the 123 or so ballots cast in the important contest. You probably don’t even remember this because there were no editorials lamenting the cost of the primary to the poor Republicans and non-enrollees that could not participate.

Anyway, probably the most stellar cast of characters ever elected were seated on the WDC as a result of the September, 2004 primary, and they promptly set about doing what we expected of them, which was to raise money for the 2005 caucus to be held at the Bearsville Theater on a queasy and sultry night in August of that year.

Now talk about a spectacle! The WDC chairman at the time, let’s just call him The Pale Rider, presided with a countenance meandering from a nunnery to Robespierre, while the parliamentarian, none other than His Worship, cloistered himself in a back room with his well-thumbed edition of the Mugabe Rule Book, and occasionally with that strange whinny that portends a cold wind issued interpretations that made a game of tag among unruly boys seem by comparison well-ordered and fair.

Meanwhile the ballot box, that hitherto revered icon of American Democracy, somehow developed legs that would be the envy of Fred Astaire, and danced up and down the stairs depending on who was at the door. I dare say that had it not been for the invention of the sneaker the poor fellow whose job it was to lug the crate – for it had long lost its distinction as a ballot box – would probably no longer have feet for purposes other than sweetening his breath. Oh my goodness, what a night, and talk about getting your money’s worth, this blessed event lasted until four in the morning and the few faces you saw walk out of the barn when it was finally over you have not seen since your last all-nighter.

As an example of just how superior this caucus was to all others, it began with approximately 500 participants that on the first ballot placed Chris Collins a distant fourth out of five candidates for town board. The last balloting, which started at about 2:30 AM, and then required the services of the Animal Control Officer to chase down the dancing crate in order to tally its contents, declared Collins the winner out of the 46 ballots cast by those who didn’t have to get up and go to work the next day. Not a second passed before the Parliamentarian whinnied that the caucus was adjourned. He apparently was given the authority to whinny the caucus to an end since The Pale Rider had long retired to his nunnery with the gavel that is ordinarily wielded for such purpose.

It was a show that Richard Daley The Elder must have applauded from his special place in heaven.

Sadly, for those who prefer spectacle over democracy, The Pale Rider, His Worship and the poor scamp with the worn-out sneakers, and others of their tribe, were removed from the WDC by the 2006 September primary, which you probably don’t recall since nobody made the effort to fuss over the poor Republicans and non-enrollees that couldn’t participate in the vote.

This precipitated the 2007 caucus. Even though more than 600 Democrats participated in this caucus the dreary proceeding was over before the sun went down. The lithe and frolicking ballot box was replaced with two five-hundred pound voting machines, which took all the fun and spectacle, not to mention the fancy foot work, out of the occasion. Participants had the option of sitting through the windy speeches, or just showing up (as most did) to cast a prosaic vote. Such a bore. To say that everyone was delighted by the outcome would be a stretcher, but considering the one fellow who went on to be elected to sit on the Town Board, and I do mean SIT, stretcher might not be the worst thing (maybe a recliner would be better), and anyway, nobody complained that the process was unfair.

It was conducted sort of like… like a primary.

So now we’re stuck with something awful, aren’t we? Gosh, people eager to serve in office will have to gather signatures and submit them by the end of July, and then explain to Democrats for a WHOLE MONTH why they should be nominated for the November contest. This is more than awful; it’s serious. The next thing you know we’ll be expected to show some respect for the offices they choose to run for.

What a blow to The Pale Rider, His Worship, the poor scamp with his worn out sneakers and the Committee For Woodstock’s Future.

Woodstock Town Board Meeting, April 14

This article appeared in the Townsman, April 16 edition

The three members of the Woodstock Town Board, councilpersons Jay Wenk, Chris Collins and Terrie Rosenblum came under heavy fire for taking the so-called medical buy-out in lieu of the Town provided health insurance.

According to the Town’s Employee Handbook it is very clear that full time employees, part time employees working at least twenty hours a week and hired before 1998, and all elected officials are entitled to Town provided health insurance. It is also clear that town employees who can provide proof of comparable health insurance provided by other sources, for instance if a Town employee’s spouse provides he or she with health insurance through their place of employment, then the Town employee may receive the buy-out, which is calculated at 50% of what it saves the Town by not insuring them. What is ambiguous, or at least since January of 2008, is whether elected officials and employees have the same status with regard to the buy-out.

If precedent is any guide, no elected official had ever received the buy-out prior to January 1, 2008 when the current Town Board took office.

There were several speakers from the public, all of who spoke negatively to a resolution read but not seconded by Supervisor Jeff Moran that sought to end the ambiguity by explicitly allowing the buy-out option to elected officials.

“Taking tax payer’s money is not what you were elected for,” said Sam Mercer, long time observer of local politics.

Former Town Board member Bill Kronenberg, who lately has made only infrequent visits to Town Board meetings, call the practice “Unethical and absolutely wrong… I am appalled… As good Democrats I think you should think about this.” Kronenberg, who is a life-long Democrat was addressing a board consisting of all Democrats.

Steven Grenadir pointed out the conflict, or at least the appearance of a conflict on interest in Town Board members accepting a buy-out that only gets larger if they decide to offer more generous health plans to the employees.

Iris York noted, “It appears to be double dipping.”

Ken Panza, who has announced his decision to run for Town Board this coming election, stated he would not accept the buy-out even if he were entitled to it.

The response from the Town Board varied, beginning with Rosenblum’s reminder that by accepting the buyout she was saving the taxpayers the increased expense of her taking the Town’s health plan.

Collins claimed that he had been a cancer patient, and that some of the buy-out money he used to pay for costs his health plan with Ulster County Community College would not cover.

Wenk was circumspect, opposing the resolution because he felt it addressed only one of the many problems with the Employee Handbook, which has not been updated since 2003. The other problems were not identified.

Councilwoman Liz Simonson, who takes the Town provided insurance, made it very clear she would not support the resolution.

The resolution died on the table. Since not one of the three members taking the buy-out offered to forgo it until the ambiguity was resolved it appears they will continue to receive it.

In other business the board was urged by David Boyle to sign the franchise agreement with Time-Warner, which would open the residents of Woodstock to the educational channel with a head end in the Onteora School District facility in Boiceville that has been available to residents of Olive, Hurley and Shandaken since January.

David Corbett, with assistance from fellow Comeau Trails Task Force, gave a power point presentation on the condition of the trails on the Comeau property. It is the opinion of the task force that significant risk to the public and severe damage to the environment is exacerbated by increased traffic and the Town’s lack of attention to the trails. The task force will be back in sixty days with proposals for remedying the situation.

Paul Shultis Jr., representing the Skate Park Task Force, presented the board with samples of the sound-deadening material that will be used to mitigate the audial impact of the skate park on adjacent neighbors. He also announced that the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) had granted the variance that will allow the replacement of the existing fence with a ten-foot high fence, and he provided estimates from three different fence companies. With the help of volunteers Shultis expects that the project can be completed for under the $45,000 that had been provided by a member item from Senator Bonacic in 2007. Shultis, a member of the Woodstock Planning Board, also announced that the special use permit for the skate park had been extended, and will be reviewed by the Planning Board once the project is done and new sound measurements can be made.

Simonson, heading up the effort to enhance the public’s safety by expanding the upper Comeau parking lot, announced that the ZBA, which had consulted with the Ulster County Planning Board, could not grant a variance for the expansion. The expansion will require a zoning amendment. No particular course of action was offered aside from a vague reference to a “packet’ of zoning amendments that have apparently been in the works.

Despite strong objections from the Supervisor, claiming the action would be premature, councilman Collins, with the seconding by Wenk and the approval of Simonson, offered a resolution to declare the town board lead agency for execution of the Comeau Easement. The lead agency will be responsible for conducting an environmental study of the action (only vaguely described in the resolution), and eventually making a determination of its environmental significance. After much wrangling the resolution was unanimously adopted. Most curious, especially in the case of Simonson who has been on the Town Board for more than eleven years, the resolution did not include a provision for circulation among involved agencies, so it will be interesting when the board comes to make an environmental assessment. Also curious were veiled references among board members to the uncertainty that the Woodstock Land Conservancy, as stated in the easement document adopted by referendum in 2003, will in fact be the body enforcing provisions in the easement.

Supervisor Moran announced that U.S. Census workers will be in our area between April and July to identify the addresses of all housing units for the 2010 Census. Census employees will wear official identification and carry hand-held computers to collect the data. A Census Bureau Partnership Specialist will be in our area to answer questions during the information-gathering period.

Purchases of copiers and highway equipment were unanimously approved, as were resolutions authorizing the Supervisor, Highway Superintendent Mike Reynolds and Town Clerk Jackie Earley to attend seminars having to do with their respective offices.

Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum, who up until recently had worked as a part-time emergency dispatcher for the Town, resigned the position. The resolution accepting his resignation included a message of thanks for his service.

Larry Allen was hired as a Water/Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator, effective April 7, 2009.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

An Unprintable Letter?

This paper, as you should know by now, is a voice for moderation. It is our policy not to print every single letter heaved over the transom, and the office is, I can attest, littered with unprinted, and in some cases unprintable communications. We have many rows over what to and what not to print, and the following letter almost ended friendships. However, we finally decided fine, we’ll print the thing but instead of in the letters section we’d fill this space instead. Here it is, and you may decide on the matter of our taste:

Dear Editor,

I know we’re just a small town, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come up with big ideas. Well, I got one, and anybody who’s got an IRA that stinks like what I got in this morning’s mail should perk up.

With everything that has been happening lately I think it’s time to take another look at witch burning and see if it did any good. One thing for sure, the effort of our fore-bearers has certainly paid off when you see exactly just how many witches we have left around here. Okay, so we can’t get old Mrs. Daunch out of the post office, but aside from that.

And forget about the namby-pambyism keeping the murderers alive in prison, because everybody I talk to is thrilled about sending an AIG executive up, CO2 emissions and all. That blather that we live in an era “too advanced” forgets, like the writer in this paper just recently pointed out, that we burned more witches during the Age of Reason than at any other time in our history. So if it was good enough for Salem it should be good enough for us. Those were the same people that founded Harvard, after all, by the way.

Getting back for a moment to those CO2 emissions, we could recycle some of the energy into home heating. Yeah, I’m one of those suckers that signed up for ‘price protection’ last summer, so you can sign me up for this one, too.

Unfortunately, Obama speaks complete sentences, so it’s easy to pick up on his dithering over this one. Maybe one of the geniuses in congress can shove AIG burning into his energy plan to get him to move, but let’s not count on it. We need to persuade him that although double talk is fine for maintaining the mismatches in our society, gosh almighty, isn’t it time to start a ball rolling even if it isn’t necessarily along the lines of past-practice?

If you’d do another headline about bonuses it would be great! If the people of Connecticut jump down Senator Dodd’s throat, well shame on them; Dodd has done more for the cause than any other genius in Washington, a town noted only too much for its willy-nillyism. Tell your readers to get off their duffs and send a telegram to Connecticut right now saying ‘MORE BONUSES.’ This worked five hundred years ago when the Pope used to get hundreds of e-mails saying ‘MORE INDULGENCES.’ No reason not to use the tried and true.

Okay, some people say it’s just too extreme or dangerous. Baloney! Most of this stuff would go off in very nice communities, some of them even gated. In any case there are enough swimming pools around over there to handle any mishap.

Let’s stay focused on what we are trying to accomplish, namely, Smoke The Bonus Takers. It’s an easy thing for most of us to understand who have never in our entire working lives got one, unless you’re counting that ‘Secret Santa’ crap you got at the office Christmas party.

Think about it. After the first dozen or so are up in fumes, how many bonus-takers do you think will stick around? Think of the trickle down effect; I bet the waitress will fly out the door after you to give back the tip you left. Admit it, times are tough, you couldn’t use it?

Let’s agree that too much time has been wasted wondering Where The Money Went. Believe me, our sterner ancestors didn’t dither over such questions during the Plague. They took action and burned witches and the Plague ended. If this isn’t enough to get you out of that chair and into the street, well what ever will?

Look, we’re sick and tired of half-solutions. If this newspaper won’t stand up and say, “We’ve had enough,” then I guess we’ll have to wonder just where do you really stand, won’t we?


“Smokin’ Mad “ Bill Krimmy

Good For The Cats

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, April 2 edition

Believe it or not, this article begins my second year of wasting perfectly good ink on this weekly billboard. My apologies are also extended to the trees, which have made the ultimate sacrifice for my prattling. My conscience is somewhat eased by the knowledge that I address you, the world’s most ecologically advanced community, who will not irresponsibly throw this paper out, but will insist on an additional use for it, and when your cats or birds have daubed my work with their flourishes we can all agree, How Much Better It Is.

There is no one who will recognize the improvement more than certain local “players” and politicians. I know for a fact that some of them, who do not have cats or birds, read this paper while sitting in the smallest room in their houses, and when done it is then quickly behind them. This, too, can be considered “recycling” and we should commend them for it.

Speaking of inane reading, I recently perused a biography of Queen Victoria, she of the “Victorian Age.” It is curious that an “Age’ given down to us as a symbol of sexual repression should be named for a woman who married at twenty and was gestating her fifth child by twenty-six! Those of us of a certain age have during our lives witnessed the “sexual revolution” and supposedly now live in a time of sexual openness, and yet barely ever do we see a family with more than 1.3 children.  (I have to admit that the sight of those .3 children does disturb me.)  It appears that History tries to obscure more than it tries to inform.

In a similar vein, more witches were burned during the Age of Reason than any other period in Western history.

In another similar vein – and you knew I was getting to this – the Age of Woodstock signifies peace, love and environmentalism?

Peace and love can reside only in our heart, and it’s either there or it ain’t. With many people in our community it is. From them emanates the aura and charm and beauty of our town, indeed like the warmth that radiates from a potbelly stove. It is expressed by good works, volunteerism and keeping the radio down when the windows are open. And then there are some who have not peace and love in their hearts, and who don’t pretend that they do, and who are sour, mean, self-aggrandizing, but at least honest. They can be loved because they are not duplicitous. If you accept an invitation into their world, you will not be shocked to find it hard and cold; they never pretended you would find it in any other condition. The really annoying people are those who lecture us on peace and love. They are the fewest among us, but talk the loudest. Their public declamations and letters to the editor berate us for not joining in their sentiment of peace and love. How sad for them, and what a strain on our ears, that peace and love are not sentiments; they are dispositions. It’s there or it ain’t.

That being said, in my opinion there is enough peace and love in Woodstock to qualify us for the reputation. Admittedly, sometimes it may seem like a close call.

But as far as environmentalism, we’re definitely stuck in Hummer mode.  I do wish the town board would get out of its own way and make progress with cutting our waste of energy. It would be a good example for the rest of us. The Town certainly sets a terrible example by operating buildings that squander tax dollars by converting them into BTUs that fly out municipal windows into the ether. It makes Bernie Madoff look like a good investment; certainly the same return. I will offer advice not worth the paper it’s printed on, but since the paper will be used for additional purposes anyway I’m not loath:

I don’t know if centralizing Town services into the Elna building is a good idea or not. I first have to know the cost. I will never know the cost if the Town Board won’t provide an estimate. It is said such estimate would cost about $15,000. Get it.

Then we can compare that cost with the cost of renovating Town Hall (which we know to be in the area of $2 million). Then the community can make a decision based if not on facts then at least on good, educated guesses. Right now we’re just shooting in the dark.

We get tons of excuses for not getting the Elna estimate. They are stupid reasons, every single one of them, believe me. Again, this is not an endorsement of the Elna proposal. This is a plea for information.

Just get it. It wouldn’t necessarily lead us to purchasing and renovating Elna. It wouldn’t necessarily lead us to renovating the Town Hall. The community, once it has the facts can and will decide which building it wants for a Town Hall.

Woodstock belongs in the 21st Century. We really can be a part of the Age of Woodstock. Act. Lead. Please.

Here, kitty kitty kitty…


Woodstock Democratic Committee Interviews

This article appeared in the Townsman, April 2 edition

Woodstock, March 30

            The Woodstock Democratic Committee (WDC) held a meeting the evening of March 30 at the Catskill Center For Photography for the purpose of interviewing announced candidates seeking the Democratic Party line in this year’s November election.

            The WDC may or may not endorse candidates for this coming September’s Democratic primary, the first for Woodstock local elections, which replaces the traditional caucus system for selecting candidates. The Committee earlier this year decided that with the growing number of Democrats participating in caucuses the primary system would offer more opportunity for Democrats to engage in the political process.

            Whether the WDC endorses or not, candidates who want to be on the September primary ballot first will have to secure at least the required minimum number of signatures of registered Democrats, approximately 150, during a petition period of several weeks that will begin in about three months.

            Jackie Earley and Michael Reynolds, since neither is a registered Democrat first will have to obtain from the WDC a “Wilson Pakula,” which would allow them to compete in the Democratic primary. Earley, first elected Town Clerk in 2003 and Reynolds, first elected Highway Superintendent in 2005, are each seeking reelection, and were interviewed by the Committee. “Wilson Pakula” refers to election law legislation adopted in New York State in 1947, which allows political parties to admit or deny candidates not registered to their party access to their ballot line in primaries and general elections. The WDC has not formally announced whether it will grant the waiver, but inside sources indicate it most likely will, citing a long history of endorsements of non- enrolled Democrats in political caucuses.

            Earley is being challenged by Democrat Jane Valand, a political newcomer, who won a seat on the WDC in 2008. Reynolds has no announced opposition.

            Town Supervisor Jeff Moran, who was called away by a death in his family and could not be interviewed, has no announced Democratic opponent, and neither does Town Justice Richard Husted, who was interviewed.

            With the exception of incumbent Councilman Chris Collins, the several announced candidates for Town Councilman were on hand. Included were former Councilman Bill McKenna, incumbent Councilwoman Liz Simonson, WDC member Cathy Magarelli. Planning Board member Laurie Ylvisacker, and Ken Panza. WDC Chairman Sam Magarelli was interviewed, but concluded his interview with the announcement he would not run for the position.

            Magarelli, former Ulster County Legislator and more recently the coordinator of the extremely well received Annual Volunteers Day celebrations, was seen as a formidable candidate, and there were expressions of regret from some that he had decided not to compete. He strongly endorsed his wife, Cathy for the town board seat, saying, “Cathy will provide fresh energy, new approaches and a respectful attitude. She can help to bring about long awaited change.”

            Cathy Magarelli issued a statement saying, “My goal is to work with the people of Woodstock in a way that unifies us. While it is important to take the appropriate amount of time to study the issues, it is important for the town board to act in a timely manner. Woodstock has significant problems with its facilities.”

            Bill McKenna, who had served on the Town Board 2004-2007, issued a statement saying, “I first of all want to make sure the Town is addressing the new financial climate by implementing the most prudent budgeting, and also I want to end the gridlock that has gripped the board these last couple of years.”

            Other candidates were given opportunity to make statements, but have not. There was no explanation for why Collins did not attend the meeting, despite having announced his intention to seek a second term.




Thursday, April 2, 2009

Three Superiors

The following opinion piece appeared in the March 26 edition of the Townsman.

It is said that a sign of superior intelligence is the ability to entertain two opposing thoughts or ideas at the same time. We recently saw a demonstration of this by three members of the Woodstock Town Board, who with one hand held as sacred the right of free speech, and with the other tore down signs calling for their impeachment.

It is nowhere said that possession of superior intelligence implies modesty – one might think it should, but it doesn’t – so it can be expected when those so gifted insist on press conferences for demonstration of their wit that we respond with some sense of awe. The subtlety of three elected officials together engaged in an act of petty vandalism will never be compassed by the inferior mind, certainly not this one, so awe, although I agree perhaps vaguely inappropriate, is the only word to describe the residue of my impressions of such display and – more to the point – ostentation.

The inferior mind, however, does not imply a lack of curiosity – one might think it should, but it doesn’t – and after councilman Jay Wenk removed twice the sign calling for his impeachment (he had to do it again for the tardy camera), with councilman Chris Collins steadying the ladder, and councilwoman Liz Simonson carrying to the scene additional tatters of the First Amendment, my extremely stunted mental capacity began to wonder about a matter that has the true interest of our community, namely, RUPCO.

It is generally known that the three Superiors are less than enthusiastic about the RUPCO application to build 53 units of affordable housing. Unfortunately for them, their hands are tied by that controlled and ordered force we call ‘Law,’ in this case the zoning law, in this case the zoning law that was written by His Worship in 1989 and which specifically allows for such development in the proposed location.

Recent extensive reporting has clarified the following:

1) Last year the Ethics Board received a complaint from someone alleging a conflict of interest on the part of two Planning Board members, a conflict the complainant felt egregious enough to force the two members to recuse from RUPCO discussions and determinations. With one member already recused, this would have left the RUPCO application to be determined by the remaining four members of the PB, including one that had made public statements against the project and who was nevertheless appointed PB chairman by the three Superiors of the Town Board. It would require four votes to approve the RUPCO application. Do the math.

2) The Ethics Board in late 2008 returned a decision that the two members did not have a conflict, and so they have remained in the mix.

3) In December of last year the three Superiors suddenly yanked two members off the Ethics Board, and declined to re-appoint a third.

4) In February recent, the Ethics Board, its five members stocked with three new faces selected by the Superiors, in an action comparable to the sudden and arbitrary protuberance of a plumbing mishap, issued a determination that the two PB members in question should recuse.

[UPDATE: After a discussion with the attorney for the Town the Ethics Board declared the new determination to be a mistake.]

Here’s the quiz: Is there a connection from all this to the three Superiors?

There is no definite answer. We can rely only on past practice, and the example of the three Superiors saying one thing and doing another.

In this instance they have spoken against, but have practically guaranteed the approval of the RUPCO application.


The most casual observer knows the RUPCO case will end up in court. If RUPCO is approved, then it will be up to SAGE (the society opposing the RUPCO application) to prove to a judge that the PB failed either to consider the environmental impacts, or failed to properly apply the law, or both. I will not guess this outcome, but I will recall for you that the Woodstock Planning Board has been upheld in all its past controversial decisions (KTD, Highway Garage, Cell Tower).

If RUPCO is denied, then it will be up to RUPCO to prove to a judge that the PB did not base its determination on facts or the law but rather on arbitrary and capricious motives.

So the judge will look for facts. The judge will need a forensic linguist to sort through it, but eventually will decipher Councilman Chris Collins’ February 12 written statement to the PB as derogatory to the RUPCO application. The judge will wonder over the three-vote appointment to the PB chairmanship one who had spoken against the project. The judge will ponder the strange circumstances of the unceremonious dumping of two members of the Ethics Board. The judge will ring up the courthouse maintenance man for a plunger when he/she stumbles upon the odd, sudden eruption of last February’s decision of the new Ethics Board. The judge will think about the backlog of cases piled up on the desk…

This RUPCO is so done.

Those who have hoped for more from the three Superiors will be left with the full implication of electing superior minds.

* * *

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT! The New York chapter of the ANTI - ANGST LEAGUE is proud to announce the opening of its new Sign Therapy service in Woodstock. Sign Therapy addresses the needs of those who have been victimized by signage intended to hurt their feelings. As a community promotion, Sign Therapy will be offered free to Liz, Jay and Chris, to Bush, to Israel, to KTD and to the Company 1 Firehouse. Contact the Committee For Woodstock’s Future for more info.

$10,000 Legal Opinion!

This article appeared in the Townsman, March 26 edition

The recent discovery that the Town of Woodstock paid approximately $10,000 in 2008 for a legal opinion concerning its right to improve the upper Comeau parking lot without violating the provisions of the thus far unexecuted Comeau Easement has directed more focus to the document, which legality had been upheld by a decision rendered last November by the New York State Appellate Court.

The Easement was developed from response to the unpopular proposal in 2002 to locate the Town’s highway facility on a portion of the Comeau property, a proposal soundly rejected by a referendum in March of that year. Subsequently, a committee was appointed by the Town Board which purpose was to propose a means of “best protecting” the property.

After a lengthy deliberation the committee proposed putting a conservation easement on the property. The document delineated “open areas,” “forested areas” and “governmental areas” and placed unique restrictions and/or conditions on each one. For instance, forested areas were to remain such, with pruning and cutting permitted only for the purpose of enhancing the forest’s health or protecting the public’s safety. Governmental areas, which include the existing town offices plus an additional one-acre envelope, the parking lots, the Historical Society building and a two-acre area at the bottom of the property set aside for future needs, are permitted to expand their uses up to a certain, defined point. Lands already cleared would be maintained as meadows. The Woodstock Land Conservancy (WLC), the proposed co-signer of the document, would be the agency that would enforce the Easement provisions.

The Easement was overwhelmingly approved in a 2003 referendum. It was not until late last year that its long journey through the courts was finally brought to an end by the Appellate Court decision. Since that time the Town and the Conservancy have yet to execute the document.

On May 20, 2008 the Town Supervisor, Jeff Moran, in response to a number of soccer parents concerned with unsafe conditions, asked for a resolution from the Town Board to permit expansion and improvement to the upper Comeau parking lot and Comeau Road in order to accommodate the large numbers of vehicles chaotically thrown together during soccer meets. After a meeting that continued until almost 1:00 AM the resolutions to protect the public’s safety were tabled in deference to Councilman Chris Collins’ concern, echoed by Councilpersons Jay Wenk and Liz Simonson, that the improvements might jeopardize the then still pending litigation over the Easement. According to minutes of the meetings, “Collins stated he is willing to take action only with written permission from Steve Barshov.” Barshov, of Sive, Paget & Riesel, is the New York City attorney representing the Town in the Easement litigation.

The $10,000 six-page Barshov opinion, dated July 14, 2008, gave a clear go-ahead for the parking lot improvement, but equivocated on the question, “Could improvements or alterations to the Comeau property undertaken now create complications for the Town in the future when implementing the Easement after the current litigation is ended?”

One of Barshov’s suggestions was for the Town Board to discuss the proposed improvements with the WLC. The WLC, however, in response to a similar overture in 2007 when the Town wanted to install a structure for the soccer league that is larger than what would be allowed by the Easement, took the position that it would not involve itself in these kinds of discussions until the easement was properly signed and executed. In that instance the Town went ahead and installed the structure without seeking permission or legal opinion.

(The Town is currently in the process of seeking a variance from the zoning law that would permit expansion of the upper Comeau parking lot. A Zoning Board of Appeals decision is expected later this month. A recent determination of the Ulster County Planning Board has thrown a cloud over the issue, and the variance is by no means a done deal. Meanwhile, the WLC in a communication last year addressed to the Town before receipt of the Barshov opinion, reaffirmed its position not to intrude on matters involving proposed Comeau improvements until the Easement is signed.)

The $10,000 legal opinion is a pittance compared to the amount, some estimate to approach $175,000, spent defending the Easement against the lawsuit brought against the Town by Vincent LaBabera. Now that the lawsuit is dismissed, and attention focused on actually executing the document, attention has been drawn to the language of Section 7.02 of the Easement, which reads:

“This Easement can be terminated or modified in accordance with the common and statutory law of the State of New York applicable to the termination and modification of easements and covenants running with the land.”

This language is of interest because legislative bodies, which includes town boards, have the power to condemn conservation easements, as much as they have the power to condemn property when such condemnation is necessary to effect a public improvement or provide for the public’s health, safety and welfare. For instance, if a future town board wanted to permit a highway facility on the Comeau property it could do so after a minimum of three members of the board voted to initiate a condemnation proceeding against the Easement.

When asked for comment on the $10,000 legal charge, Councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum responded, “…We [do not] get any additional benefit by using a Park Avenue lawyer whose practice is based in NYC. “ Rosenblum further stated she felt the Town’s land use attorney, Drayton Grant, would be capable to answer such questions as had been addressed to Barshov.

Supervisor Moran responded, “I would characterize the work performed by Mr. Barshov in this instance as approaching the very high end of expensive, given what the Town is accustomed to paying Town Attorney Futerfas and Town Land Use Attorney Grant. While I did not agree that such a communication was necessary in the first place, I respect Councilman Collins’ wish to operate within both the letter and spirit of the draft agreement. I was, however, greatly surprised at the length of the response and the concomitant cost of same to the Town, and would urge the Board to deliberate very carefully before again engaging a Park Avenue law firm, and incurring the high overhead costs that necessarily entails, for legal work within the Town of Woodstock.”

Councilpersons Jay Wenk, Chris Collins and Liz Simonson offered no response.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring Montage

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, March 26 edition

Anyone who looks out the window will be reminded of that old, Catskill region bit of wisdom, “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who rake the leaves in the autumn, and those who let the disgusting mess sit around until spring.”

There is no excuse for my being the latter of these, except for the fantastic belief that the winter snow will somehow dissolve last year’s discarded vegetation and leave the yard clean as a pool table. I have maintained such belief through years of criticism, from the harrowing glares of my neighbors to the gentle stare from my missus, ever more gentle, I assure you, when I drag another leaf under my boot into the house. We should maintain solitary courage of our beliefs, but I will admit I am helped by the observation I am not alone, that there are two or three other yards in Ulster County that ring, like mine, the distant and not particularly encouraging echo of The Forest Primeval.

As do people with questionable beliefs, I look to science to bolster mine and rationally support the very brown yard that persists in front of my house. Some claim my sudden interest in science is to avoid for at least one more morning the idea of a rake in my hands and the calluses it implies. Please don’t suspect because I am married to one of these claimants that it adds urgency to my research.

Lo! Science upholds me! Yes, those millions of crepitating leaves that now strangle the crocuses are restoring nutrients to the earth, hatching beneficial microbes, making safe habitat for tiny amphibians and bugs and critters, and indeed, if there is justice in the world, I should get a special citation from the Sierra Club in recognition of my forbearance. This will be followed by my documentary, An Inconvenient Rake, then an Oscar, maybe a Nobel Prize. I will be the most celebrated indolent since Rip Van Winkle!

Yeah, right. Where’s the darn rake?

* * *

There are many one-way streets in life, and one of the strictest says that if you are raised in the country and move to a city you are still forever a hick. You can die, say for instance, after editing the New York Times for decades, and still your obit will sure include words like “His/Her small town roots were evidenced by the simple, direct approach taken to such complex issues like the micro-economics of the rake manufacturing industry.”

Well, on this same one-way street you can move to the country straight from your old job at Bear-Sterns, and presto, you are a bona fide hick even before the Rolex and Armani suit hit the pine floor. Add the slouch hat and a pair of rubber knee-muckers, and nobody will know you from ol’ Zeke or any of the rest of us still eating out of wooden bowls. How do I know this? Because I went to the pancake breakfast at the Lake Hill Company 3 firehouse last Sunday morning. There are, of course, only four people left that were actually born in Lake Hill, but you’d never know it from all the hayseed flying around the place.

Eggs, sausage, pancakes, coffee and juice, hey, it’s a good life, but it’s just sad to see how only few of us still eat with our fingers. Now what about that rumor that Bill and Hillary Clinton were going to buy a house here? Yeah, people say it’s only a rumor, but any good local knows that ‘rumor’ and ‘truth’ both have five letters, so I’m buying it. So when they do move here I expect to see them at the pancake breakfast, and just to clinch the deal I’ll mention right here those two magic words we so often marvel over at the firehouse, Indoor Plumbing! See you there, Mr. President and Madame Secretary.

* * *

By the way, I found this piece of paper in the parking lot outside the firehouse.

TO: C.E.O.
FROM: Legal Department
RE: New World Order


Not precisely the words we would use, but yes, there are steps the Bank can take during this “communist takeover.” Here is the legal department’s opinion on your recent proposals, and answers to some of your questions.

“Health Care Seminar” will probably throw auditors off the scent, but you might schedule it in Bangor, Maine or Cedar Rapids, Iowa and avoid venues like Monte Carlo. See if you can get some wage slaves to tag along; put them up in a Days Inn. (As an aside, some of us ‘eagles’ might attend the “seminar?”)

“Higher Tax Bracket Qualifiers” will fool no one. Keep in mind bonuses are a political problem, not a legal one. Not our bailiwick, but can’t some of boys on the top floor plead poverty when the “politboro” (again, to use your word, sir) in Washington come sidling around for contributions for their re-election? Could be a game-changer.

S.E.C. stands for “Securities Exchange Commission,” and no, Obama didn’t create it, it’s been around for some time, at least since Bush the Elder. Yes, it’s a pity the shredder had to fritz when it did; fortunately the real interesting stuff is now “recycled,” and we can probably fit the remaining jig saw pieces into the picture “we like.” Jim, you might be pleased to know, supported himself as an origamist through law school.

“CASH” is not an acronym. Think of that stuff you saw your personal assistant hand to the cab driver when the limo was in the shop.

We understand the frustration, but advise against imprinting “Trostsky” goatees on the President’s portraits. Ditto Geithner. Still checking Pelosi.

A “Red Star” on the company jet will definitely increase the insurance premium. Yes, the times call for a little irony, why not no logo? Jim thinks better yet, swap it for a crop duster.

Offering “interest bearing accounts”? What a curious innovation; are you sure it would be profitable? This is whole new territory, and we will need a little time before getting back to you.

Along a similar vein, the “lollipops for kids” idea is perfectly legal, but “free?” Have the lads in Operations seen this?

The recent Madoff plea should help you put the brakes on the board’s proposed, “Just Screw ‘Em” strategy. Look, derivatives will be back; tell the members to just hang on.

Yes, this whole “disclosure” madness affecting the Swiss is wretched. Even so, DO NOT accept the Mugabe proposal.

Do you really think the sum you mention is enough to buy Jon Stewart? And yes, there would be a Thirteenth Amendment issue. Forget “enemy combatant.” Why not try “old think” and buy the network?

Your reference to the possibility of “the White Army riding in to save us” went completely over our heads. Perhaps you meant “white knight?” But we thought the government was the white knight.

Contrary to anything you may have heard, Jim and I think the new “digs” are fine, and we may be near the end of that “little cough” nagging him, so delaying the maintenance on the ventilation was another of your good ideas. Contact me if you have any questions, or if I can be of more assistance (e-mail’s down, call Jim’s desk directly). If you’re ever out “inspecting the troops” we are one level below the basement (service elevator only) right next to where Risk Management used to be (our best to old ‘Buckshot” by the way).

Woodstock Town Board Meeting, March 17

This article appeared in the Townsman, March 19 edition

The monthly meeting of the Woodstock Town Board executed the monthly business by unanimous votes on paying the bills in the amount of $112,000, accepting the Town Clerk’s report, the monthly budget transfers and minutes for previous meetings. There was also unanimity in authorizing expenditure of up to $147,000 for the purchase of new highway equipment, and in granting waivers of rental fees for use of the Community Center by two not-for-profit groups.

Paul Shultis Jr, representing the Skate Park Task Force, reported that an application for a variance that would permit construction of a ten foot high fence around the existing skate park was heard by the Woodstock Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) at its March 12 meeting, and that a decision will be made at the ZBA’s March 26 meeting. A denial is not expected. The Woodstock Planning Board at its April 2 meeting will deliberate on the new fence plus the addition of a specially manufactured material to deaden sound. Shultis asked that it be stressed the cost of the improvement, estimated at approximately $45,000, will be covered by the moneys received as a member item from Senator Bonacic, and will not be borne by local tax payers. He credited the previous Supervisor for securing such funding.

The board wrestled with its desire to financially aid the Food Pantry to the tune of $500.00, and not conflict with law that prohibits allocations to religious institutions that host the pantry. It was decided to allocate the funds contingent on receiving guidance from the attorney for the Town, Rod Futerfas.

During committee reports Councilwoman Liz Simonson again said that she was continuing to add data to software purchase last year to help the Town address its energy costs.

More interesting was her report on the RNN tower, the privately owned 300 foot tower on the top of Overlook Mountain, which she feels would be a good asset for providing cell phone service to areas of the town not currently served. “The tower is staying there,” she stated, even though it had lost its non-conforming use status when it ceased broadcasting television signals several years ago. She reported the tower’s owner, Powers Taylor, had contracted with Qualcom, a technology company, to install some type of communications device not having to do with cell service. Verizon Wireless is apparently not interested in the site, and Nextel withdrew an application a while ago. In the past several carriers had reported that the RNN site is not suitable for providing cell phone service. She also spoke with a representative of Pyramid Developers, the company more noted for development of shopping malls, but which apparently has a division dealing with communications. She was informed that since the Town had “given away the diamond in the crown” by permitting the cell tower in California Quarry, which serves almost 75% of the town’s population, it would be “a complicated thing to get service to the less dense areas of the town.” It was suggested to her that the Town Board creating a “easy approval method” might facilitate matters. She did not go into details. Simonson did not report on her meeting with the Fire Commissioners, where it was reported she and George (“Jerry”) Washington were met with less than enthusiasm in their effort to garner support for the RNN tower.

Supervisor Jeff Moran gave a more upbeat report, saying he had spoken with Ulster County officials who are eager to expand broadband service, including wireless telecommunications, to rural areas not currently served. There are moneys in the recently passed federal Stimulus Package that may assist the effort. Moran is currently constructing a map of un-served areas in Woodstock, saying he is “keenly interested in getting service to the west.”

Councilman Jay Wenk had little to report on his effort to remove buried fuel storage tanks near the aquifer that feeds the municipal wells, except to say that a company he had contacted, VASCO, which specializes in fuel tank removal, had stopped retuning his calls, and that he and George (“Jerry”) Washington each had scheduling conflicts that prevented them from meeting on the subject. A VASCO representative made a presentation to the Town Board last January, but nothing has been heard since.

There was another long, desultory conversation on the Supervisor’s attempt to get a legitimate estimate for the cost of purchase and renovation of the Elna Ferrite building on the Bearsville Flats so that such cost could be compared to the known cost, almost $2 million, to renovate the Town Hall for court, dispatch and police services. Elna Ferrite would house almost all of the Town departments (Not highway or water/sewer), in addition to those named. It was finally decided to meet at 3:00 PM on March 30 at the Town Offices to construct a request for proposals from experts to help estimate the Elna renovation.

The meeting had begun at 6:30 with an executive session to discuss with attorney for the Town, Rod Futerfas the issue of ethics and the Ethics Board, which recently have caused hot discussions over controversial decisions [see article on this subject elsewhere in this edition]. The public portion of the meeting adjourned at around 10:00 PM.

Ethics Issue Rages

This article appeared in the Townsman, March 19 edition

The controversy surrounding ethics continued to swirl in Woodstock with the attorney for the Town, Rod Futerfas, rebutting the contention in a letter dated March 5 from Michael Moriello, attorney for RUPCO, that Councilman Chris Collins should recuse himself from any discussion at the Town Board concerning RUPCO’s application to construct 53 units of affordable housing in Woodstock. Moriello had claimed that Collins’ prejudicial statements had disqualified him from such talks at the Town Board level.

But a statement from the Supervisor issued several days ago said; “It is the opinion of our Town Attorney that the views or philosophies expressed by a member of a Board, Commission, or Committee do not constitute a basis for a recusal. The reason for a recusal would be the fact, or appearance of, possible financial impact (loss or gain) from a decision in which said member would be involved in voting. As Councilman Collins has no financial interest in the proposed Woodstock Commons development, nor is a contiguous property owner, nor has any other fiduciary dealings with the property owner or the applicant, there is no basis for recusal. This, of course, would apply to any member of a town board, committee, or commission.”

The interpretation would seem to rebut an opinion of the Ethics Board, which in a letter earlier this month to Planning Board members Paul Shultis Jr. and David Corbett advised they should recuse themselves from Planning Board deliberations concerning the same RUPCO application. Although the Ethics Board did not explain their reasons, there has been no one who has publicly claimed Shultis or Corbett has a financial interest in the proposed RUPCO project.

More recently, Moriello, in a March 10 letter to Futerfas, offered a scathing review of the Ethics Board’s action with regard to Shultis and Corbett, accusing it of “operating in a clandestine and star chamber like proceeding.”

Earlier this year the Town Board appointed three new members to the Ethics Board, after unceremoniously dumping Alison West, Terri Reynolds and Fran Breitkoph last December with three votes provided by Councilpersons Liz Simonson, Jay Wenk and Chis Collins. That earlier Ethics Board had determined last fall that Shultis and Corbett had no need to recuse themselves. There is no available record of who brought the fresh complaint to the newly constituted Ethics Board. Neither Shultis nor Corbett was asked to testify, as they had before the previous board.

“It is my suspicion,” writes Moriello, “that certain members of the Ethics Board, the Planning Board Chairman [Mark Peritz] and at least one member of SAGE [the group opposing RUPCO] have been complicit in conspiring to eliminate Planning Board members from continuing the Woodstock Commons [RUPCO project] review in an attempt to occasion delay, substitute new members and cripple the project.” Moriello is using Freedom of Information Law to pursue his investigation into the matter. He concludes his letter by saying, “It is clear to me that the Town of Woodstock Ethics Board has operated heretofore without your [Futerfas’] good counsel. Please impress upon them their responsibility to protect an impartial ethics review process, as well as the importance of observing all procedural and substantive safeguards which protect all Planning Board members going forward.”

The Town Board began its March 17 meeting with an executive session, including Futerfas, to discuss ethics issues. There was no comment made to the public concerning the meeting. Town Board members Jay Wenk and Liz Simonson sent e-mails to this reporter denying his request to interview Futerfas on the matter.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lordy Lord

The following opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, March 12 edition.

Dear Townsman reader, I have let you down, I have caused you a disappointment for which forgiveness can not be expected, I have ruined my chances for a Pulitzer Prize, I have, indeed, brought shame on this whole enterprise we call ‘journalism.’

I missed a press conference scheduled by three members of the Woodstock Town Board. Or at least I think I did.

The background to this sorry malpractice:

Since you are not a member of the Political Class, in fact you are just a humble taxpayer paying for salaries and health benefits for those who are, you probably were never even aware of the signs that had sprouted in areas of the Township reading; ‘IMPEACH LIZ, JAY AND CHRIS.’

You were probably never aware of them because the landscape has become so infested with ‘IMPEACH BUSH,’ ‘KTD IS NOT A GOOD NEIGHBOR’ and ‘SAVE THE BOG TURTLE’ signs, that as bracing as our right to free speech is, its practice can be a bore, especially when executed in nothing but the same BLOCK LETTERS or sententious letters to the editor denouncing Israel.

It’s sort of like when your spouse says for the millionth time, “I wish somebody would start wiping their feet around here”; you hear it but you don’t.

But apparently somebody has noticed the IMPEACH LIZ, JAY AND CHRIS signs, namely Liz, Jay and Chris. And they scheduled a press conference about it. Or at least I think they did.

With cabin fever on the verge of killing us all, I got a call from a fellow patient informing me that Liz, Jay and Chris had scheduled a press conference to be held at the foot of Comeau Drive, with an attendant ceremony to remove an IMPEACH LIZ, JAY AND CHRIS sign from a public utility pole.

Unfortunately, The Townsman was not alerted, and so the ceremony to desecrate free speech conducted by those who abide free speech when it proclaims ‘IMPEACH BUSH,’ ‘KTD IS NOT A GOOD NEIGHBOR’ and ‘SAVE THE BOG TURTLE,’ or sententious letters to the editor denouncing Israel, commenced only in the presence of a reporter from another newspaper.

Sadly, I can only give a second hand report: Jay Wenk, who cannot rise to his feet to respect the American flag, ascended high on his ladder to scorn the First Amendment by removing the IMPEACH LIZ, JAY AND CHRIS sign from the public utility pole. Chris Collins steadied the ladder. The deed was duly video taped by Cambiz Khosravi and Jay Cohen. Ed Sanders, rising from his swirly duties, noted the historic moment. Liz Simonson, Khosravi’s wife, arrived carrying a sign, which called for her exclusive impeachment, and which had been removed “by a friend” from the sledding hill at the Comeau. She reported that another, similarly exclusive sign had been removed from the 212 roadside in Shady. All this, by the way, in the pouring rain.

Sadly, I cannot attest to this amazing spectacle of members of the Woodstock Town Board taking the time to remove the IMPEACH LIZ, JAY AND CHRIS sign, because I wasn’t there; again, The Townsman was not alerted, not even the theater reviewer.

English, which readers of this column know to be the most confusing language in the world, is not satisfied with one definition of “conference.” There is:

1) “A meeting to discuss serious matters, for example policy or business.”
There is also;
2) “The conferring of something such as a degree or honor.

Normally I would leave it to the intelligence of the reader to decide which should apply, but here I presume upon you as I baldly aver that the ceremony — if indeed it is not a cruel hoax pretending three members of the Woodstock Town Board really had the time for sign removals during this era of a collapsed economy, gaping municipal deficits, and a poor old Woodstock college professor complaining that Bard College kicked him out for his anti-Zionism — followed definition (2), because if it was (1) “a meeting to discuss serious matters, for example policy or business” then we are in for a lot of trouble.

If you accept definition (2), it begs the question; What were they conferring? Sure as heck it wasn’t “a degree or honor.”

So I e-mailed the Town Board:
“Was there a press conference concerning removing a sign calling for the impeachment of Liz, Chris and Jay? Why didn't the Townsman get a notice if so?”

From Liz:
“I did not arrange the conference and got there a bit late.”

From Jay:
“There was no press conference and it was an oversight that the Townsman was not contacted.”

Confused? Liz says she arrived late to a press conference she did not arrange, and Jay says a press conference never happened, but still acknowledges the “oversight” of not contacting the Townsman.


Councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum and Supervisor Jeff Moran wrote back saying they had no knowledge of a press conference, or the signs for that matter; in my opinion a refreshing disinterest.

Councilman Chris Collins didn’t respond, and how can you blame him when he knows I’d print his statement unedited?

In an attempt to atone for my journalistic lapse I e-mailed Jay a follow up:

“Thank you for your response which indicates there was no press conference, and explaining it as an oversight that the Townsman was not contacted. Can you tell me what threat to the health, safety and welfare of the Town was posed by the signs removed by members of the town board? It is my understanding that the building inspector has been instructed to henceforth strictly enforce the signage laws; will this enforcement apply to sandwich boards?”

And Jay wrote back:

“The removal was not done ‘by members of the TB’; it was done by me, with my ladder and my tools and myself up on the ladder. Before going up, I estimated the height of the sign and which of my ladders would be the appropriate one to bring down in my van. I imagine a case could be made re: welfare, since the sign was not signed, and the Town and the individual were protected from false accusations and the possible lawsuit to the individual from the utility company. I understand it is not legal to fasten stuff to utility poles. I always believed the Building Department had that ongoing task about enforcement and I imagine it would only apply to sandwich boards if you were hungry.”

Yes, Jay’s passage is a little difficult (and greatly imaginative), but interesting among his infelicitous clauses is, “I understand it is not legal to fasten stuff to utility poles,” and I say this is interesting because on the same utility pole was a sign, requiring no ladder for its extraction, advertising a used Subaru and, which as I write, continues to molest the law.

Make of this what you will.

March 10 Town Board Meeting

This article appeared in the Townsman, March 12 edition

Councilman Chris Collins, quoting Joe Liune as saying, “I am pretty well satisfied,” strongly urged the Town Board the adopt a declaration of negative environmental significance (“neg-dec”) regarding a proposed amendment to the Woodstock zoning law regulating development near surface water bodies, including wetlands, by creating a permitting process that involves making application to the Planning Board for most types of construction. His resolution was tabled after approximately a half hour of discussion when concerns were raised that the public had seen neither the latest update to the 26-page amendment, nor the ten-page neg dec.

Liune and members of the Wittenberg Sportsman’s Club several years ago had a regulation with a similar goal thrown out of state supreme court. Since then he has constructively participated with Town officials in an attempt to craft a better document. Liune was unable to attend tonight’s meeting where the neg dec was discussed.

The neg dec was prepared by Planning Board Technician Dara Trahan, and was described by the Town’s land-use attorney, Drayton Grant, in a letter as “pure poetry.”

A public hearing on the amendment was held last October, and recessed. There have been no further public discussions since. As reported exclusively in this paper several weeks ago, a revised document prepared by Trahan was circulated, but its status is unclear; Jackie Earley, the Town Clerk said the only document she has filed in her office was the one considered last October.

A document that until tonight’s meeting has not had the imprimatur of the Town Board would be filed, it was promised, tomorrow (March 11), and the text of the neg dec will appear on the Town’s web site as well.

A neg dec, a declaration legally required before commencement of any proposed action that may have an environmental impact, good or bad, will need be adopted prior to adoption of the zoning amendment. Supervisor Jeff Moran, stating his opinion the amendment still needed “a serious look,” gently led the board through a discussion judging the merits of rushing the process involving an extremely complex law added to the books, or allowing the public more scrutiny and time to digest it. His approach appeared to pay off when Councilwoman Liz Simonson announced, “I want to follow the process and make this as open as possible,” and joined the Supervisor and Councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum in their opinion that waiting one more week was acceptable.

Collins took the Supervisor to task for not putting the amended law on the Town web site six weeks ago, apparently failing to recognize the Town Board had never authorized such posting. “I see this as an interruption of a break down of the process,” complained Collins. With “resistance and discomfort” Collins agreed to wait a week.