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.

Planning Board Recusals

This article appeared in the Townsman, March 12 edition

As was reported first in this newspaper, there is a movement afoot to have Woodstock Planning Board members Paul Shultis Jr. and David Corbett recuse themselves from deliberations and decisions regarding the RUPCO application for building 53 units of affordable housing behind Bradley Meadows shopping center.

A letter dated February 27 addressed to Shultis and Corbett from Ethics Board acting chairwoman Rosanna Haggerty said that based on “an inquiry” the board had determined that two should recuse themselves. It gave no reason or basis for the determination, nor did the letter say who had made such “inquiry.”

Neither Shultis nor Corbett was invited to the Ethics Board to discuss the matter prior to the decision.

The matter was discussed publicly at the Woodstock Planning Board’s March 5 meeting after the letter was read aloud by the chairman, Mark Peretz.

Corbett and Shultis were curious to know how a letter that had been addressed to them individually, and which indicated that no other person or entity had been copied, should have ended up in Peretz’s possession. Peretz explained that he was “copied” on all letters from the Ethics Board addressed to planning board member irrespective of its privacy.

Both Corbett and Shultis rejected the Ethics Board determination, which incidentally contradicted a determination made by the Ethics Board last autumn, which had then included three members who were unceremoniously sacked last December and replaced with new members.

“I am not persuaded,” said Corbett, who unlike the chairman and a Planning Board member, Laurie Ylvisaker, has made no public comments for or against the RUPCO application (Peretz and Ylvisaker have both spoken publicly against the application, Ylvisaker before she had been appointed).

The Planning Board as a body appeared non-plussed by the Ethics Board letter. Allen Duane made a motion to reject the determination, which carried by five votes, Peretz and Shultis abstaining. Another motion directing that correspondence from the Ethics Board addressed to the chairman should be addressed also to the whole board also carried.

The Ethics Board is now comprised of Haggerty, Lori Rosenberg, Toby Heilbruhn, Jim Dougherty Joan Krotenberg.

Collins Recusal

This article appeared in the Townsman, March 12 edition

A letter to the Town dated March 5 from Riseley & Moriello, the law firm representing RUPCO in its application for construction of 53 units of affordable housing behind the Bradley Meadows shopping center in Woodstock, takes issue with Councilman Chris Collin’s contention that the Woodstock Town Board has the power to deny municipal water and sewer service to the project if it gets through the Planning Board process.

Citing numerous legal decisions and sections of Woodstock local laws, the letter states that, “RUPCO possesses the statutorily granted right to connect to the existing Town of Woodstock Municipal Sewer System without the necessity of discretionary review by the Town Board…”

Section 243-33 in the codified laws of the Town of Woodstock reads, “Those properties which are now divided by [Hamlet Sewer] District boundaries shall be considered to be wholly serviced by the District.” The Town Board in 2008 unanimously approved this language, which had been originally constructed in 1985, when local laws were codified. A small portion of the 28 acre parcel where the proposed project is to be situated is in the Hamlet Sewer District. The same is true of the Water District.

“Based upon all of the foregoing,” the letter concludes, “individual Town Board Members do not possess the authority to exercise discretion to ‘scuttle the project since it would be they who have to approve any hook-ups to town water and sewer systems’, as purportedly attributed to Town Board Member [Chris] Collins…”

The Collins quote was taken from a news article printed last February 19.

The letter, copied to the Woodstock Ethics Board, also recommends that Collins recuse himself from any discussions at the Town Board regarding the RUPCO application. “Mr. Collins’ allusions to scuttling the project… while coupled with his written opposition to this particular affordable housing proposal, may be construed… as violative of the Fair Housing Act. At minimum, his positions present a clear conflict with his ability to perform impartial participation in consideration of the project.”

Collin’s letter to the Planning Board opposing the project was reported exclusively in an earlier edition of this newspaper.

Under the title of ‘Political Influence’, the letter states, “…such pandering [by Collins] to project opponents is wholly inappropriate and could expose the Town of Woodstock to substantial monetary liability,” following up this assertion with numerous citations from case law.

Additionally the letter advises, “…biased positions of Town Officials have no place in the process and I [attorney Michael Moriello] urge the Town Board to confer with the very capable Rod Futerfas, Esq. in this regard.”

Futerfas is the appointed attorney for the Town.

In conclusion the letter asks, “…that this matter be referred to the Town of Woodstock Ethics Board for official consideration in order to effect a recusal of Town Board Member Collins from any further consideration of the [RUPCO] project.”

Collins has not responded to a request for comment.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Our Savior!

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, March 12 edition

It should go without saying – and indeed outside the confines of Woodstock it is – that Woodstock probably would have died in 1989 had Ed Sanders not been our town supervisor. How easy it must be for one to remember the peril that faced our town a mere twenty years ago, since the youngest person in Woodstock is now 59 years old. Well, actually, my brain is somewhat faded and brittle, as we can expect of any antique, and the fact is I don’t remember, but I am often reminded that Ed Sanders saved us from something. I am often reminded of this by him.

His gentle reminders used to come weekly in his self-published Woodstock Journal, that splendid little sprout of verbiage that would shoot up from the manure right around the time of local elections to warn voters off those who would pave over wetlands and install Wal Marts on all our corners, and sprinkled among its civic discourses were the charming figments of Ed Sanders’ latest verse. Who can ever forget his meter on President John F Kennedy, which went:

“He was a man more amorous
than Thomas Jefferson any day
and if you believe the sources in
Seymour Hersh’s book
The Dark Side of Camelot
He liked quick trysts
By the side of the
White House swimming pool
In the midst of swirly duties”

How swirly duties got in the White House swimming pool perhaps is a question for Seymour Hersh, but it is a tribute to Sanders’ intellect that what he appears to resolve actually raises far more interesting, if not lurid questions.

But I’ve digressed. Since the Woodstock Journal has been on its long hiatus the gentle reminders now come on Saturday nights through our local public access channel. It is one of Woodstock’s many blessings that in a world of collapsing economies, compiling gasses and depleting resources we can again be reminded by Ed Sanders that he “wrote the 1989 zoning law” during that golden period he served as the un-elected town supervisor.

In the 1989 zoning law he wrote with respect to the Residential 1.5 District, “Where central water and/or common sewer is provided, an increase in permitted density may occur.”

To make the point even clearer, later in the 1989 zoning law he wrote, “For lots with Town-provided central water and common sewer in the R1-5, HR and HC Districts, four units may be built on a lot meeting the minimum lot area per dwelling unit requirement, provided that all other requirements of this chapter and other applicable laws, rules and regulations are strictly met. For each additional unit after the first four, 25% of the per-dwelling-unit density shall be required.”

It is exactly on these words that the RUPCO application to build 53 units of affordable housing on seven of the twenty-eight acre parcel behind Bradley Meadows shopping center is predicated.

You would think the RUPCO application would thrill Sanders, for he has often risen from his swirly duties to pay great lip service to the need for affordable housing. You would be wrong.

Last Saturday he informed us, darkly, that RUPCO is not on the up-and-up. Results of Sanders’ investigation disclose that RUPCO has not filed the proper forms for its tax-exempt status. Let’s hope that he delivers this information, along with information regarding the Committee For Woodstock’s Future (the shadowy political committee that uses Ed’s post office box) to Congressman Hinchey, who, according to RUPCO papers filed with the Town, will help the RUPCO project with federal funding provided “applicable laws, rules and regulations are strictly met.” Those with great trust and faith in Sanders, no doubt, are eagerly waiting with bated breath for the delivery of his report on the unsavory RUPCO to the congressman.

I have to think it was coincidence that during his Saturday broadcast, Sanders echoed the opinion expressed a week earlier by councilman Chris Collins to the effect that the Woodstock town board could ultimately scuttle the RUPCO project by denying it hook-up to “central water and common sewer.” I have to think this because even the most superficial reader of Sanders’ verse would recognize a mind of such supreme uniqueness and individuality to preclude invasion by a mind generally suspected to be ordinary and mundane. The idea that a town board, which by unanimous consent had given the responsibility of Lead Agency in the environmental review of the RUPCO project to the planning board, should later seize responsibility for its final disposition can only spring from a mind inured to swirling duties. Lest one think by this that I accuse Collins of plagiarizing the idea, you should know how improbable anything so complicated could be attributed to him, and therefore comprehend my conviction that it must have been a coincidence.

* * *

Warning: Pretentious Music Review!
I am generally remiss in taking advantage of the many cultural events common to our town, but this sin was greatly atoned by my audience at the March 1 piano recital at the Kleinert Gallery. The recital, which was a benefit for the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, was introduced by the at-first unsettling announcement that featured pianist, Ilya Yakushev, had been replaced by Asaf Blasberg. I would love to possess the erudition to differentiate a Yakyshev from a Blasberg, but I am too deficient to even try and fake it. I’ll just tell you that Mr, Blasberg may have been a trifle condescending to Mozart’s Sonata in C major, K330, but he executed the Brahms and the Chopin pieces with an adoration and conviction that almost persuaded me to a new religion. BRAVO, Mr. Blasberg, and BRAVO the Guild for such a gift!


This article appeared in the Townsman, March 5 edition

Perhaps out of boredom with so many frivolous lawsuits concerning the municipal communications tower built in the California Quarry in 2007, it was disclosed now only in passing that the Town had prevailed last October 23 in an Article 78 proceeding initiated by Ken Silver, Jay Cohen and George (“Jerry”) Washington.

Silver, Cohen and Washington had argued that the Town Board had not complied with the competitive bidding provisions of General Municipal Law (GML) in signing, and then amending a master management agreement with JNS Enterprises. Based on such agreement the communications tower was built, all at JNS expense. The amendment to the agreement deferred for five years the Town’s 50% share of revenues from two cell phone providers, in this case ATT and Verizon Wireless, allowing JNS to recoup the additional $150,000 expense of constructing a monopole “tree” tower, instead of the less expensive lattice tower originally agreed to but rejected in a decision of the Woodstock Planning Board.

Several lawsuits against the tower have been dismissed previously, this last one argued before Acting New York Supreme Court Judge Kimberly O’Connor in May of last year. Attorney for the Town, Rod Futerfas, argued on behalf of the Town that the litigants did not have standing, that their Article 78 did not include an involved party — in this case JNS — and that the competitive bidding provision in the GML did not apply since the Town had paid no money toward the tower’s construction.

Judge O’Connor upheld the Town’s opinion with regard to the litigant’s lack of standing, but went further to note that even if the parties had standing that GML still would not apply, since again it was shown the Town has spent none of its own (taxpayers) money on the tower.

E-mails seeking comment from Town Board members were responded to only by Councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum and Supervisor Jeff Moran, each acknowledging that the case had indeed been decided in the Town’s favor. Councilpersons Liz Simonson and Chris Collins, who had cooperated with the litigants in an unsuccessful effort to derail the JNS agreement, had no comment. Councilman Jay Wenk also had no comment.

* * *

The on again, off again proposal to study the feasibility of consolidating all the Town offices, including the court, police and dispatch departments in the soon-to-be vacated Elna Ferrite building took a tentative step forward on February 25 after an inspection of the facility by Town officials and advisors that included Supervisor Jeff Moran, Councilwoman Liz Simonson, former Planning Board Chairman Michael Mullally, architect Robert Young and engineer Dennis Larios.

Larios, whose firm engineered the new highway facility, advised the Town to identify possible environmental contamination that may have resulted from the buildings current use as a light industrial facility. Such a study may have already been performed when the business expanded back in the 1990s.

Mullally, who has had experience in large renovations, guestimated that the facility could be converted for Town use for about $1 million over the purchase price, saying such expenditure may not necessarily result in a “a completely soup-to nuts-job, but a perfectly usable space with all the partitions in place.” He listed several alternatives, such as determining the height of the partition walls, which would determine the level of up-grade to the heating and cooling system already in place, as matters to consider to try to keep renovation costs down.

The zoning law, which designates the parcel as a Special Light Industrial District, while permitting “Town Offices” prohibits “Court and Police” facilities. There is varying opinion among Town officials as to whether the zoning law would need to be amended if the proposal to purchase and renovate the building were to move forward.

Whether or not the proposal will move to the next stage is not easy to determine. Simonson said, “When the ESA (phase 1 and 2) [environmental assessments] are completed we would then move onto a structural engineering report. All of the information compiled in these analyses will aid in price negotiation,” which appears to be a step toward serious consideration. Councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum issued what appears to be an encouraging e-mail on her opinion of the walk-through to fellow board members, as did Moran.

However, Councilman Jay Wenk responded, “I am concerned that the report sent by Terrie about Elna left out so much crucial detail, and by omission implies that all went well.” Wenk is on record as not in support for the proposal. Councilman Chris Collins had no comment.

In the mean time, as per a Town Board discussion at its last meeting, the Town sent a letter to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Representative Hinchey and Governor Paterson a letter expressing interest in applying for an Energy Efficiency Block Grant for municipal facilities under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009. While the letter describes the shelved Town Hall renovation project as “shovel ready,” it also goes on to discuss the possibility of renovating Elna Ferrite or constructing from the ground a municipal building at the foot of Comeau Drive.

Mullally, Young and Larios all provided their time at no charge to the Town.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Viva La Evolution

This article appeared in the Townsman, February 26 edition

It is fascinating to discover how words and their meaning are susceptible to the same forces of evolution, per Charles Darwin, that apply to creatures. Mr. Darwin, whose 200th birthday was recently celebrated, you will recall, announced the discovery that a slit-eyed, forked-tongued lizard that ambled the earth 200 hundred million years ago, after a series of genetic adaptations that took millennia to accomplish, eventually came to produce a specimen like, well like councilman Chris Collins, for instance, an example I choose only because his prominence helps make the point so lucidly. The same evolutionary principle applies to words.

Take the word ‘magnanimity’, which we now use to describe ‘great generosity or noble-spiritedness.’ It comes from the compound of ‘magna,’ which we remember from our study of the Magna Carta means ‘great’ (the more subtle student realizes the compound, ‘Charlesmagne’ as ‘Charles the Great’) and ‘anima,’ which in ancient times meant ‘soul’ or ‘spirit.’ So to be magnanimous once described possession of a ‘great soul of spirit.’

In our ancient and brutal past the word ‘magnanimous’ had a different connotation. For instance, in Machiavelli’s, “The Prince,” the author, who otherwise expresses a deep admiration for Cesare Borgia, nevertheless takes him to task for not immediately putting to the sword all his enemies when given the opportunity, and concludes with his opinion that such failure was due to Mr. Borgia’s “lack of magnanimity.”

Like all the ancient virtues, we have watered magnanimity down so much that now only acts of generosity and warm-heartedness are considered its examples. Exceptions to this may include fat checks from Bernie Madoff and the Committee For Woodstock’s Future.

Diluted or not, let’s explore the magnanimity of councilman Chris Collins, for he has made no attempt to make it inconspicuous.

Collins is now in his fourth year in office. Like a sirocco, the wind that emanates from North Africa, his term has raised howls and whirls, and yet when the dust settles the landscape somehow looks fairly unmolested. For all his fury in attacking zoning amendments and comprehensive plans, the only documents left in his wake of diminished gusts are marked DRAFT. This is a subtle form of magnanimity, rather like the person who will not smile lest we be disturbed by her sorry teeth. When you see the latest DRAFT of the wetland and watercourse amendment to the zoning law (this coming March 10) you will know exactly what I mean.

Magnanimous Collins, along with fellow board members Jay Wenk and Liz Simonson, stood among those who predicted the End Of Woodstock resulting from the KTD monastery expansion, which is now near completion. This passion, however, did not prevent him from being one of the first people to bound onto Andy Lee Field to hear His Holiness, the Dalai Lama’s teaching on compassion. The experience apparently so touched our representative that the Town’s record book is graced with the following resolution:

"Offered by Councilman Collins, seconded by Councilwoman Simonson:

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

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

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

The intended purpose of the resolution, which had been mangled during the tumult of amendments made after its introduction, some of you may recall, was to urge the government of China to accept an autonomous Tibet, this authored by a man who disdained the expansion of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in his own town. So you see, Collins’ magnanimity is such to compass the globe.

Collins, with the same cohort mentioned above, railed against the deal that resulted in a cell tower, execrating the morons that authorized it and even conspiring with litigants against the Town to try and stop it, and yet with breath-taking magnanimity he made not a squeak in court while the attorney for the Town defended the same deal before a state supreme court judge. For fear that one accuses me of hagiography I should mention that his cohort was equally silent.

This same, extraordinary heart now defends those opposed to the RUPCO proposal to build 53 units of senior and affordable housing in Woodstock. Let me correct this; Collins has opposed the project right from the beginning, but only recently has he unsheathed and brandished the sword, which he thinks will do unto RUPCO what Cesare Borgia failed to do unto his enemies. According to press reports, Collins, presumably with the help of his cohort, thinks he has the power to scuttle the project with the Town’s refusal to extend it water and sewer service.

As loathsome as people are who require senior and affordable housing, indeed we find out every day more and more how loathsome and despicable, they are a life form, however lowly, which even Darwin would concur in need of water and sanitation in order to thrive. So Collins’ sword may be truly potent, a potency perhaps inversely proportional to our expectation when considering his record of conquest thus far.

We are left with one question; why wait? As we speak RUPCO is spending oodles of cash on experts to satisfy the environmental questions posed by the Woodstock planning board, and the people that Collins has promised to protect are spending oodles on attorneys to find sand and/or deficiency in the said experts’ ointment. If Chris Collins truly believes that the board has the power to stop RUPCO with one, magnanimous thrust he should come to the next town board meeting with a resolution, perhaps reprising some of his Tibetan resolution language, something like,

"Whereas some of the protests over the RUPCO proposal have ended in violent and deadly clashes resulting in a high death toll, and... "

And then after some disquisition on the objectionable features of RUPCO get right to,

“Therefore be it Resolved that the town board of the Town of Woodstock shall not now or at any time in the future honor any request to extend municipal water or sewer service to the said RUPCO project.”

The world wonders, does he have, or does he lack such magnanimity? Lawyers, experts, SAGE, RUPCO, the planning board and taxpayers are waiting to find out.


This article appeared in the Townsman, February 26 edition

Woodstock, February 23, 2009

A press report that seemed to indicate Woodstock councilman Chris Collins may be inclined to “scuttle” the RUPCO proposal to build 53 units of senior and affordable housing behind the Bradley Meadows shopping center by refusing it municipal water and sewer service was refuted by Collins. In a written reply to this reporter, who had asked Collins to verify the report — and if it were true to discuss when he might offer a resolution to the town board to deny the water/sewer service — Collins said, “If that is what you read it is completely false, and perhaps to your chagrin, I won't be presenting any resolution. When I spoke with the reporter he was not taking notes at the time and I was on my way out of the public hearing. In conversation about the RUPCO project I commented, ‘The Planning Board must decide on the project's approval as they are Lead Agency, but RUPCO will have to go to the town board for hookup to sewer and water and the town board will ultimately have to make that decision.’ That's it. I never suggested what the town board would do since I am not a prognosticator. Decisions like these can only be made after a request it [sic] the board and after all the facts are presented.”

Judging by a letter Collins delivered to the planning board at its February 12 hearing on the RUPCO draft environmental impact statement, however, it appears Collins has made up his mind to oppose the project as it now stands. “It is true Woodstock has been remiss about creating affordable housing,” wrote Collins. “We have seriously neglected our responsibilities here. We have failed to resolve this issue… Somewhere we lost the will or never had it. That said, we must now find a way better than what you [RUPCO] insist on.” He went on to suggest that RUPCO “Help us build affordable housing over time, help us spread it around town, help us integrate it gradually into our neighborhoods, help us do it our way, not your way.”

RUPCO representative Guy Kempe when reached for comment said that an application for water/sewer hookup would require a “ministerial, not a legislative response” by the town board, and seemed surprised by Collin’s understanding of the law

* * *

The issue was not discussed at the Woodstock town board’s special meeting held this last Monday to continue to discuss fees and terms for rental of Town buildings for private uses. After deliberation that began at 4:00 PM and consumed almost an hour it was decided to maintain the current fee schedule, but to give exemption to 501 (c) 3 (not-for-profit) organizations that do not charge admission to their events (although they can still “request” donations), have at least one Woodstock resident board member, and who will not charge a fee to vendors invited to participate in their events. With regard to liability insurance, it was decided that “passive” uses, for instance poetry readings and drum circles, would not require proof of insurance, but activities such as dancing and exercise would. Entities that engage in non-passive activities will have ninety days to comply with the new insurance requirement, if they have not already.

The fee schedule is currently $15.00 per hour for residents, $25.00 per hour for non-residents. Arrangements for use of either the Town Hall or Community Center are to be made with the town clerk. Current arrangements with Performing Arts of Woodstock and the Woodstock Film Festival will remain in effect.

In other business, councilwoman Liz Simonson, after consultation with Steve Finkle, director of the office for economic development of the City of Kingston, urged the town board to send a letter to Ulster County, state and federal officials that would perhaps attract funding from the recently federally adopted ‘stimulus’ package to the “shovel ready” Town Hall renovation project that was stalled on costs that exceeded expectations. Members of the town board briefly recapped positions already expressed on the matter, Simonson stating that if a large percentage of the costs of renovating the Town Hall would be covered by stimulus moneys the Town would be foolish not to pursue it, councilman Chris Collins maintaining that construction of a new town hall at the foot of Comeau Drive was economically feasible, and supervisor Jeff Moran holding to his belief that purchase and renovation of the Elna Ferrite building on the Bearsville Flats might offer the best solution both economically and practically for solving the Town’s need for more space and better facilities. It was finally decided to include in the letter to potential funding sources, along with the completed design work for the Town Hall renovation, mention of the other two possibilities.

In an interview with Finkle, who had just attended a meeting focused on the availability of the federal moneys for local projects, it appears most funding will go to infrastructure projects, such as roads, bridges and municipal sewer and water. Mr. Finkle was unsure if town hall renovations would qualify, however he was vaguely aware of funding for ‘discretionary’ projects, funding that may require the assistance of federal representatives.

* * *

Sources in the Woodstock town government who wish not to be identified report an effort afoot to seek the recusal of two members of the planning board, David Corbett and Paul Shultis Jr., from determinations regarding the RUPCO application to build 53 units of senior/affordable housing in Woodstock. It is alleged by some that Corbett and Shultis’ service on the volunteer committee that recommended the site behind Bradley Meadows for an affordable housing proposal compromised their objectivity with regard to the RUPCO application. Opposing this view are those who maintain that recommending the site for investigation in no way committed Corbett and Shultis to its development, that their recommendation came with no suggestions with regard to size and scope, and indeed neither of them have given the slightest indication on where they stand on the RUPCO proposal as it now stands. It is also pointed out that neither Corbett nor Shultis have any financial interest in RUPCO or the proposed project or any entity involved with the project.

Planning board member Peter Cross had already recused himself when it had been suggested that his employment by a surveying firm involved in the project would give the appearance of a conflict in interest. Were Corbett and Shultis to be removed from the decision-making the matter of processing the RUPCO application would devolve on the remaining four planning board members Mark Peritz, Allen Duane, Laurie Ylvisacker and Paul Henderson. An application before the planning board can only be approved by no less than four votes. Peritz has publicly made statements critical of the application. Ylvisacker, before she was appointed to the planning board, had also made critical statements publicly.

Supervisor Jeff Moran, when reached for comment, was not aware of such move. Terrie Rosenblum responded, “I have heard the same rumors, but to my knowledge, David Corbett was not on the affordable housing committee. As for Paul, I did not hear him voice any opinion on the [RUPCO] issue while I was on the Planning Board, even when he explained the Affordable Housing Committee's mission and process to us at a planning board meeting.” Rosenblum served with both Corbett and Shultis before she was elected to the town board in 2005. Councilwoman Simonson’s response was, “I’m not aware of anything.”

There was no response from councilpersons Jay Wenk or Chris Collins.

Shultis was re-appointed to the planning board by a unanimous vote of the town board this past January.