At last Monday night’s village board meeting, the Stanley H. Kellerhouse Municipal Building was briefly transformed into the eastern seaboard equivalent of the famous Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California. But it did not feature an Hour of Power such as the one for which the Rev. Robert H. Schuller is famous. Instead, it was more like an Hour of Pusillanimity, highlighted by a few interludes of exhortation to blind faith in the Surface Transportation Board (STB) by Pastor Schmidt—oops, sorry—Mayor Dr. Gregory J. Schmidt, 50. Nor was an audience present in numbers anything like the thousands who fill the Crystal Cathedral’s seats. It was merely the usual suspects who had been rounded up in the otherwise empty meeting room. Four one-issue, die-hard stalwarts represented the total public attendance at the meeting, demonstrating the stifling effect their bi-monthly rants have on the body politic. They included Robert O. Wintermeier, 68, Susan W. Konig, 44, Joann Minett, 41, and an unidentified woman whose name was not revealed and who did not speak.
Three of the four faithful congregants in attendance gave testimony denouncing sin, as well as all who favor negotiations. Their now-familiar catechism has paraphrased King Henry II’s twelfth-century lament about Archbishop Thomas Becket to this bleat: “Will no one rid us of this meddlesome railroad?” Despite the poor attendance, Mayor Schmidt exhorted the faithful—all four of them—plus any bored watchers on TV or the Internet, to join him in his expression of faith that the STB will see the blessed light of day, and rule in Croton’s favor. In his hortatory homily on faith, the Mayor did everything except break into a soft-shoe routine and a few choruses of You’ve Gotta Have Faith, parodying the hit song from the Broadway musical Damn Yankees.
Impatient with the slow grinding of the mills of village government, a sweatshirt-clad Ms. Konig finessed the Mayor’s brief mention of the Metro Enviro site into a foot-in-the door comment on agenda items, and then overstayed her leave, reluctant to give up the comfort of the microphone. Wondering aloud why the village should talk with an entity it is fighting in court, she apparently is unaware that the first question judges ask attorneys representing both adversarial parties in a suit is whether efforts have been made at settlement of the dispute. She kept on bottomfishing for additional subjects to naively wonder about, looking and sounding more and more like someone considering whether she should run for elective office as “Ms. Suburban Mom.” May Heaven forfend such a calamitous turn of events (see: “A Fiction Stranger than Fiction by Susan Konig”).
Mr. Wintermeier then parlayed her intrusive spot into an excuse for his own specialty: cleverly creating doubt in people’s minds. Citing “alarms e-mails” sent to him expressing concerns about rail cars, he claimed that he makes a practice of regularly inspecting them and reported that they now contained a mysterious “beige substance” (see: “Gypsum Transloading Begins at 1A Croton Point Avenue”). Raising the question of what this mysterious material being transloaded into rail cars at the site could be and suggesting that something nefarious was going on, he said significantly, “I’ve been told that gypsum is white.” Having planted a seed of doubt, he then left the microphone, but reappeared for a repeat performance during citizen participation on non-agenda items. This time he sought reassurance that the village will be able to know exactly how much money is being spent on attorneys’ fees for “negotiations,” a dirty word for some. Satisfied that these amounts, if any, will be earmarked on attorneys’ future invoices, he again left the microphone, but not before invoking a blessing on everybody in authority for now exercising due diligence (see: “The Terrible-Tempered Mr. Brennan”). Opponents of intercourse with “the enemy” are intent on keeping track of such expenditures, however small. In the meantime, the accoutrements of the former skate park sit forlornly exposed to the elements, so unwanted they couldn’t even elicit a two-cent bid on e-Bay as firewood—a wasteful white elephant whose short-lived existence no one has yet been held accountable for (see: “Croton Skate Park Ramps & Retired Fire Truck in Auction on Ebay”).
Ms. Minett, who was having a bad hair day and sometimes seems to be speaking in tongues, approached the microphone and initially began a probing cross-examination of Trustees Gallelli and Kane. Eventually, the Mayor gently admonished her, pointing out that the period known as citizen participation was meant to be an opportunity for citizens to address the board, not to undress it (see: “Mayor Schmidt Don’t Get No Respect”). It took some effort, however, to convince Ms. Minett to abjure her heretical contention that the hated Metro Enviro site (now referred to in Schmidtspeak as “1A Croton Point Avenue”) is “at the edge of the river.” It isn’t. Yet even after having been shown the error of her ways, she muttered, “I don’t feel that that’s true.” Sticking to her guns, she insisted that it was at the edge of the river, no matter what anybody said about its location. Mulish recalcitrance and resistance to correction in obdurate adherents is the cross politicians must occasionally bear to gain votes. She concluded her spiel by assuring everybody that, like the Mayor, she had supreme faith in the STB. One could almost hear the strains of the pop classic song I Believe rising to a crescendo in the background.
Communal blind faith in the three-member Surface Transportation Board ignores the reality that the STB, like its predecessor agency the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), was not created to oversee the further dismantling of the nation’s dwindling rail network but rather to preserve its remaining trackage to prevent additional gravitation to monster truck traffic. It also happens that all three of the present STB members were nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by Republican-controlled Senates, although one member was required by law to be of another party.
Lately, Trustee Brennan has taken to expounding his homely contrarian “philosophy” on every issue and exposing his lack of knowledge. No matter how much he may disparage the Buffalo Southern Railroad’s two locomotives, the truth of the matter is that all a railroad must have to be considered a railroad is trackage of any length connected to a mainline railroad. The very fact that, at this very moment, the Buffalo Southern Railroad is performing all the functions of an operating railroad over the former Metro Enviro spur track should tell the citizens of Croton all they need to know about the probable outcome of Croton’s latest foray into the expensive world of litigious adventurism. The Las Vegas gamblers’ wisdom, “Quit while you’re winning” was never truer.
Download this video clip of “Earnest Testimonies of Faith at Croton Village Board Session – A Satirical Report” to your video iPod (how to guide).
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “And one other question on 1A Croton Point Avenue, are we keeping an eye on that? We haven’t seen much activity except for some gypsum going through?”
Village Engineer Dan O’Connor: “Um, Peter Invitriatro is going down there daily now.
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “He is.”
Village Engineer Dan O’Connor: “He had mentioned, I think on Friday, and I had seen this myself, that there was a row of cars that were all empty um, with the cars really on the south side of the building. There were two vacant cars in the building and the rest of the vacant cars on the south side. And today he had mentioned that there were maybe four or five cars that were filled and so they maybe you know, bringing in the gypsum over the weekend, ah to the site so, we’re no, we’re not seeing trucks coming into the site but the cars are being filled and the gypsum is being brought in. So, I mean we may just have to try and determine when the trucks are coming in. We don’t know if they are coming in at nighttime or on the weekends.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “I saw one the other day during the daytime, you know, and I tried to get back there to see it but I, I couldn’t get back there in time. It came down Croton Point Avenue, then turned and went right into the facility.”
Trustee Charlie Kane: “There were several trucks today.”
Village Engineer Dan O’Connor: “During the day?”
Trustee Charlie Kane: “Yes.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “What kind of trucks are you seeing? I saw mostly, it was like dump trucks.”
Trustee Charlie Kane: “Large dumptrucks.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Yeah. Large dumptrucks.”
Trustee Charlie Kane: “Yes.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Exactly. Okay.”
Susan Konig: “…but since the mayor brought it up, um, I’m considering 1A Croton Point Ave. as being on the agenda tonight…”
Susan Konig: “…And is that considered negotiations because—“
Trustee Ann Gallelli: “…They file things and we respond, we file things, they respond—“
Susan Konig: “But didn’t our attorney recently say in a meeting that we were also negotiating with them?”
Trustee Ann Gallelli: “And we are also negotiating with them.”
Susan Konig: “Alright, that, it doesn’t make sense to me to negotiate with somebody that you are also taking to court at the same time. It seems sort of, contradicting. Yes, it does.”
Trustee Thomas Brennan: “…That’s where you have a difference of philosophy on members of the board. That’s were that philosophy difference comes in. I don’t hold that philosophy.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “It’s not just a philosophy and I’ll be honest about that. And that it, it, it is a philosophy but it is also a risk because we are in front of the STB and we have no idea how the STB is going to rule on the, the arguments in front of them. And that is something that is looming, ah, for this village as to what they are going to decide ultimately and yes we can appeal that. I’m sure there are avenues of appeal, but that is probably the biggest decision facing this village. Unfortunately it is a tract, series of events have led us to this point, but that is where we are at this point currently at this time.
Robert Wintermeier: “Good evening. Bob Wintermeier, 43 Radnor Avenue. I had not planned to say anything on 1A Croton Point Avenue this evening but since listening to Susan, some thoughts came to mind. I keep getting alarms emails from people saying that they’re, about the cars that are down there and so I’ve got pictures. Ah, I go there almost daily, maybe I miss a day or two but I take pictures. They, the cars range. For a while there were two lines of cars that were filled with a beige substance. Ah, then those seem to disappear, then there were three cars and more and more cars and recently today I think I went down there and it looked like there were about eight cars stacked up ah, with this beige substance making its way to the back of the facility. The thing that I’m concerned about is ah, I have not heard anybody as yet say what that material is. I know you think its gypsum, but I’ve been told that gypsum is white. That material is beige. It is not white. So, I would sure love to make sure that somebody can look at the material and find out if it is tailings, crushed tailings that were delivered by LaFarge or whether it is truly gypsum.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “I still think we stand a good chance in front of the STB only because I think this issue has been raised in many, many communities. We’re not the only ones fighting this. I think that the um, ah, the STB, I think fully understands that this is not a normal part of railroad operations um, and I’m truly hopeful they will rule in our favor.”
Trustee Thomas Brennan: “Bob, I, I think that the STB knows that Buffalo Southern Railroad only has, from the information I got, two engines and they’re running from up in Seneca, New York for their base and for them to come down here as a quasi-railroad, I think the STB is really looking hard at that and its looking at the opposition that other municipalities have faced and I think that if, if any resident of this village wants to get on, online and email the STB, I think they could do that and, and you know, and lodge a citizen complaint that. Let them know you feel about this type of entity in here. That we’re aware of what size of railroad BSOR really is. Two engines? And that’s qualifying them as a railroad? Ah, thirty miles of track four hundred miles from here?”
Robert Wintermeier: “Bob Wintermeier again, 43 Radnor Avenue. Ah, as most of you know, I’ve strongly proposed a long time ago that we have some official numbers from the village regarding the cost of litigating the 1A Croton Point Avenue facility, or with that facility. And I’m focusing only on the current, excluding Metro Enviro, the current situation. I understand, although I did not see it there was some discussion, I believe between Tom and Rick over whether or not ah, we could estimate or determine the legal costs of that particular endeavor, that litigation. Ah, now I’m lost, because at prior meetings, apparently Trustee Gallelli was able to come up with something, some number and ah, according to what I’ve heard ah, according to the village manager, we can’t get that number. Whatever she’s got, she figured out another way. So, somebody is misleading us as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know how one person can come up with numbers and the village manager can site there and say it can’t be done.
Trustee Thomas Brennan: “Well Bob, in, in we had subsequently had some discussions in at our work sessions and the village manager has and the trustees and the mayor and I have ah, we’ve come to ah, decision I guess that the treasurer is going to come up with some numbers and the village manager is working with him and hopefully he’s going to give the reports moving forward on what we’ve spent as best they can in, in getting us some solid numbers and the village manager has acquiesced and said that he, he wasn’t sure but now he thinks that you know, after talking to the attorneys, that they can working something out.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “They, they, they—“
Robert Wintermeier: “God bless you. I salute you all [laughter].
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “The attorneys will try their best further code, you know, what their work is going towards. What cases it is going towards.”
Village Manager Rick Herbek: “… and there is other—“
Robert Wintermeier: “I think that that is fantastic and I applaud your efforts in that regard. God bless you all. Thanks. Sorry to take up extra time.”
Joann Minett: “Joann Minett, 5 VanCortlandt Place. Um, these questions are directed to Ann Gallelli and Charlie Kane. …Are you concerned about the affects of an operation like this as well down by the river—parked on the edge of our river? Are you concerned about the affect that that might have to our river?
Trustee Ann Gallelli: “Joann, could I just correct it a bit?”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Ms. Minett? Can I, can I, I—“
Trustee Ann Gallelli: “It is not on the edge of a river. I am concerned. Ah, I’m concerned about the operation to the extent that I think that having, the mere thought of having an uncontrolled, unregulated operation there is the reason why we have to be considering all of our alternatives. Never the less, to state that it is on the edge of the river is simply incorrect. It is not on the edge of any river. It is quite removed from the river.”
Joann Minett: “Okay.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Miss, miss—“
Joann Minett: “Well, I don’t feel that that is true.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Ms. Minett? Miss, excuse me—“
Trustee Ann Gallelli: “Well, just take a look at it.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Excuse me.”
Joann Minett: “Yes.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Could I, could I just, I have to politely ask that this not be done in an interrogative ah, fashion—“
Joann Minett: “Well, my next—“
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Its really, I’m sorry. Its really your opportunity to address the board um—“
Joann Minett: “Well, then I will address the board…”
Joann Minett: “As the mayor had said, he believes that the STB will be going our way. I believe the same. I believe that—you’re laughing.”
Trustee Ann Gallelli: “No, I’m just surprised that you can you believe that because—“
Joann Minett: “I, well—“
Trustee Ann Gallelli: “There is no basis for believing it one way or another. That’s the scary thing.
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “And Joann, this does require a little bit of faith because in the past we have been told repeatedly we couldn’t win any of the battles that we have won up to this point—“
Joann Minett: “Yes!”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “There is a little bit of faith here that we have to ah, push forward and hope that ah, the STB ah, will see the light of day and ah, make the correct decision in this. And I do agree. It does require a little bit—.”
Joann Minett: “Thank you for saying so.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt: “Okay?”