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Haste Makes Waste: Why We Need Public Input on Condemnation

March 1, 2006


You may wonder why we voted against $52,000 of spending on February 21, 2006 (see video clip in comment #2) to hire a consultant to prepare the environmental impact statement on the condemnation of property at 1A Croton Point Avenue for a new DPW facility (see: “Touring the Croton Municipal Garage”).

First, the proposal lacked a public input stage (a.k.a. a “scoping session”) that we have used so often on big projects in the past.

Second, we—Charlie and Leo—have worked through many environmental impact statements over the past decade. We have learned a few things along the way. If past is prologue, this analysis will end up in court. So, why wouldn’t we want to get it right up front?

Third, the trustees are not rubber stamps for whatever the mayor wants. This significant item was cloaked in secrecy until it was sprung on us—Charlie and Leo—that evening.

There is no question that—if the village condemns the property at 1A Croton Point Avenue—the village must prepare an environmental impact statement (see: “Eminent Domain – Risk Vs. Uncertainty”). This document would describe the impacts of using the site for the intended public good, principally, a public works garage and storage yard. And there is also no question that the village’s condemnation proposal is controversial.

“Scoping sessions” were required until the state law was changed recently. Yet, the state highly recommends such public scoping sessions for controversial proposals. Scoping sessions help:

  1. focus the draft environmental impact statements on the potentially significant adverse environmental impacts;
  2. eliminate non-significant and non-relevant issues;
  3. identify the extent and quality of information needed;
  4. identify the range of reasonable alternatives to be discussed;
  5. provide an initial identification of mitigation measures;
  6. provide the public with an opportunity to participate in the identification of impacts.

Experts can provide most of the answers to points 1 through 5 above. But we consider the final point—public participation—the most significant reason to hold a scoping session.

The village has a wealth of expertise and experience among its residents in relevant areas such as law, real estate, public works, design and construction, environmental analysis, and finance. We might learn valuable insights by listening to such neighbors.

We are not convinced that speed—on a matter of such potential financial significance—is in the village’s best interest. Whatever we do here has to stand the test of time.

— Village of Croton-on-Hudson Trustees Charlie Kane & Leo Wiegman

On March 8, 2006 9:20 AM, TeaDrinker said:

Option: Download and watch this video clip in Quicktime format (:47 mins. | 1.1 mb).

Village Attorney Marianne Stecich: “Mr. Mayor? I just had a, well, it may be what was, on page 8, it may be what was said at the meeting about Trustee Wiegman and Trustee Kane saying that—I wasn’t at this meeting, that I hadn’t answered questions since August. I don’t think there are any questions that I haven’t answered that the board has addressed, so I guess it’s not really a correction to the minutes, but I’d just like to correct the record.”

Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Anything else? Motion to approve minutes as amended? Thank you Trustee Brennan, second by Trustee Steinberg. All those in favor?”

Trustee Thomas Brennan: “Aye.”

Trustee James Steinberg: “Aye.”

Trustee Charlie Kane: “Aye.”

Trustee Leo Weigman: “Aye.”

On March 4, 2006 10:42 AM, Reality Check said:

Time for another Reality Check.

The decision by the majority of the Village Board to eliminate an optional ‘scoping session’ from the environmental review process, and thereby further reduce public input, should come as no surprise. The record of the Schmidt/Cudequest/Steinberg administration is one of secrecy, stealth and subterfuge. Including the public in the process would be inconsistent with their demonstrated methods of imperial rule over the Village.

The reality is that the Village is facing a major problem, which skeptics might think was kept under wraps until after the Village elections. If so, I wonder why?

The old Metro Enviro site will undoubtedly become the focus of expensive legal fights no matter which course is pursued. All aspects of the process of choosing that course should include as much public participation as possible - not the very least the majority can get away with. Sadly, that is obviously not to be.

Another issue of equal consequence as this important decision is made is whether we, as a Village, have the best lawyers on the job. Do we? Is Ms. Stecich a condemnation lawyer with substantial experience litigating contested matters in this very specialized field? I for one would like to know. My impression is that she is a generalist, not a specialist. Would we hire a general surgeon to remove a tumor from the brain? I think not.

So the inevitable question must be raised of whether the Schmidt/Cudequest/Steinberg administration is serious about pursuing condemnation. For if they were, one would expect the very best talent to be brought on board. If they are not, then this is just another politically motivated expenditure of Village treasure, designed to consolidate the power amassed by Ms. Cudequest, Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Steinberg.

That is why we need checks and balances in Village government. We can obtain this by electing a new majority on the Village Board. Mr. Steinberg must be voted out of his appointive office and Mr. Gonzalez prevented from adding to the accretion of power by the ruling party.

And that, my friends, is a Reality Check.

On March 2, 2006 9:35 AM, TeaDrinker said:

Option: Download and watch this video clip in Quicktime format (7:03 mins. | 9.5 mb).

Video transcription:

Village Manager Rick Herbek: “And the last one which is not written in any particular form but if it would be a resolution authorizing the Village Manager to enter into a retainer agreement with the firm of AKRF for the purpose of planning consulting services in the preparation of a draft environmental impact statement for the proposed relocation of the DPW facility.”

Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “On the motion.”

Trustee James Steinberg: “I’ll make the motion.”

Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Thank you Trustee Steinberg. Second by Trustee Brennan. Discussion.”

Trustee James Steinberg: “This has come as a recommendation too from counsel.”

Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Correct.”

Trustee James Steinberg: “As an appropriate step to take in connection with that process of eminent domain.”

Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Correct. This is really looking at the environmental impact of putting the DPW facility down there.”

Trustee Leo Weigman: “I think that we should say that this comes at a price tag of fifty one to fifty two thousand dollars, so that everyone knows that for the environmental impact statement work by Allied King. I have asked a umber of times, a number of questions of counsel (search: Village Attorney Marianne Stecich) and counsel has not answered those questions or we haven’t heard back from counsel on the questions and I’m losing my comfort level with going further down this road until I know some of the answers from counsel. I put these in writing. They don’t need to be answered in writing but they hadn’t been answered in writing or orally from counsel and some of these questions I have been asking since August of last summer. So, I’m just mentioning to my colleagues here that I’m discomforted by the ash, forks in the road that we are reaching without better legal information about the twists and turns in front of us.”

Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “I think that counsel has done and adequate, a great job of explaining what those forks are and where we are and what the steps we have to take in, in, in, this process. Um, and um, that’s all I can say about that right now. I feel very confident with this process that we are going down um and unfortunately we are at a point where we can’t fully discuss this, um, but we will be discussing this in further meetings of advice of counsel and we will be relaying to the public in general as we available to release that information, So, as you know we are awaiting an appraisal on the property which is one of the first forks in the road we have to get to. So, that’s where we are.”

Trustee James Steinberg: “The only thing I would suggest is that I think a lot of information has been shared with the board from counsel’s perspective but respecting each of us and our positions up here with to have questions that seek to have those answered I think that when Marianne is available, um, I think that she has done a very good job at answering questions but, ah, none the less, we can we can be assured that they will be answered and we should be sure that we follow up with her the next time she is with us to discuss anything that is deemed an open item”

Trustee Leo Weigman: “Well, that’s why I’ve asked several questions more than once over many months period of time. Um, the long and the short of it is, absolutely, environmental impact statements are critical and ah, this environmental impact statement, like others is a very expensive step. And whether we ever go forward with the whole process or not, we will have spent this money.”

Trustee James Steinberg: “But its money that has to be spent as part of that process and doing business requires the spending of money on occasion and respectfully submit that this is one of those occasions.”

Trustee Charlie Kane: “As Leo said (crosstalk), I’d like some of those answers myself. I’ve been waiting since August also. There is a whole list that is out here Greg.”

Trustee James Steinberg: “And there’s been numerous emails in response (crosstalk)—“

Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “I think that—“

Trustee James Steinberg: “She had, if I can—I’m sorry Mr. Mayor. On a number of occasions she has responded to very detailed questions with very detailed answers and I don’t know which ones are still left open, if any. And again, I’d suggest to have her part of the conversation versus us trying to decipher what has and has not been answered because obviously each of us up here have clearly a different impression as to what has been answered and has not been answered. So, I’d suggest, why don’t we, we table that til the occasion that she is in our presence so we can discuss those in further detail.”

Trustee Charlie Kane: “I’ll come up with a list and we’ll address them”

Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “We will. And I just want to make it perfectly clear to the public out there that there has been many, ah, um, there’s been a lot of controversy about this whole issue of the village moving forward on this. And, I can only assure you that counsel who is not here tonight and Mike Girard ah, and other counsel have been working with us diligently on this process and providing many answers and providing us with an opportunity to look at this in each detailed step and to have, you know, the opportunity to express this to the public as best we can when the information becomes available to us. The first thing that we are waiting, awaiting on is really an appraisal of the property and that begins the process for this board to look at when we see that number whether we continue the process. And that’s what I can tell you right now. So, we are acting in your best interest to look at the future needs of this village. We are in desperate need of a DPW facility. The DPW facility will provide many opportunities for this village that do not exist right now with storage material, cleaning up other sites in the village, providing for storage of our equipment. You know, which was clearly spelled out the night of the public hearing when we, when the Village Manager and Mr. Kraft, head of the DPW spelled out what is needed for the DPW and how long this process has been going on of looking for a site. So, all I can tell you is I, I feel very confident in this process and I will, we will provide information as we have it and are able to release it to you. So, thank you.”

Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “So, on that motion in front of us? All those in favor?”

Trustee Thomas Brennan: “Aye.”

Trustee James Steinberg: “Aye.”

Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “All those opposed?”

Trustee Charlie Kane: “Nay.”

Trustee Leo Weigman: “Nay.”

Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Okay. So, I guess that— (inaudible). Um—.”

On March 1, 2006 12:02 PM, weewill said:

Charlie and Leo are absolutely right. Speeding ahead on a matter with such huge financial impact on the village would be fool hardy and do a real injustice to the residents of Croton. The public hearing held recently to hear the reasons why the village needs space for a new DPW garage was only the beginning of the process needed to inform us of this far-reaching plan.

We need a whole lot more information and facts before we can know if it’s in the best interests of all. Hopefully, when all the information is in we’ll be able to move ahead. But to proceed further without giving the public more information is not open government as promised when this board was sworn in.

The Mayor has assured us that the board will not commit the village without full knowledge of all the implications of such a move. I respectfully suggest the public needs that information as well so we can decide for ourselves whether ED is the right move for Croton.

I hope he and the board will act responsibly and form such a committee as suggested by Trustees Kane and Wiegman. The best and brightest in the village with expertise in real estate, land use litigation (specifically as it deals with the complex ED process) and finances would provide a wealth of information. .

I ask the Mayor and Village Board to forget that this proposal was raised by the two democrats on the board. All have agreed to work together for the good of Croton. This would be a huge step in that direction and would benefit all of us. That’s good, open government!


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