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The Croton Follies: A Report on the Village Board Meeting of April 16, 2007

May 7, 2007

The mid-April storm that wrought so much damage in southern Westchester also left its mark on Croton. This was evident in the disappearance under water of half of the village’s station parking lot, most of Senasqua Park and the so-called Seprieo property. Crotonblog has to wonder why the village has not considered building a berm, or dike, of sandbags like those so commonly seen along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers when floods threaten. Such a project, perhaps with volunteer citizen participation, could grant Croton a respite from inundation at least until the engineering firm of Dvirka and Bartilucci can come up with plans for remediation that will fit the village’s limited funds.

croton-harmon-commuter-parking-lot-flood.jpg
Flood waters at the Croton Harmon commuter parking lot on Monday, April 16, 2007.

A crowd that could be counted on the fingers of one hand attended the April 16th village board meeting. It was opened with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, a ceremony whose history is recounted in great and embarrassing detail in Crotonblog’s posting of May 3rd. The absence of a trustee, Tom Brennan, busy with his janitorial duties required by the recent heavy rains, was duly noted.

Among the items on the agenda was a resolution to allow the village to engage the services of Peter Woodcock to review the plans of the Hudson National Golf Course to remove certain trees from its property. Planning Board member and Finney Farm resident Fran Allen rose to express concern about the qualifications of Mr. Woodcock, pointing out that Croton is not an urban area and wondering what an urban forester would know about a suburban “forest.” Crotonblog would like to think that someone with the name of a bird that lives in forests would be an appropriate choice. One could say that Mr. Herbek praised Mr. Woodcock, if not to the skies, at least “to the treetops.” He hastened to assure Ms. Allen that Mr. Woodcock has a Master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, is a highly experienced and widely respected expert and the village, familiar with his qualifications, believes he is the right person for the job. Ms. Allen left the microphone not entirely persuaded.

Another resolution authorized the village manager to make a contract with the Special Services Bureau. The name sounded ominously like something out of a James Bond novel, but it turns out that the SSB is not a bunch of hired mercenaries but an outfit that has been used in the past to police the Senasqua waterfront at night. The SSB is headquartered in the Bronx, a neighborhood that even the intrepid James Bond would not dare to enter.

Next came the resolution that can best be described as the pièce de résistance—and we do mean resistance, because it immediately generated heated opposition. The subject was the village’s new master schedule of fees. Trustee Gallelli suggested that the proposed fee schedule be divided into two sections, with the station parking fee schedule being treated separately from the more mundane fees and fines. Mayor Schmidt, his gorge swiftly rising, would have none of that suggestion and quickly shot it down. Now that he is back in the saddle with a majority, the mayor has acquired the habit of interrupting trustees and talking over their comments, making discussions sound more like a contentious segment that might be heard on former Congressman Joe Scarborough’s program, Scarborough Country, or the even more contentious McLaughlin Report (see video clip at 24:37 minutes).

Defending his administration from charges that conditions at the station parking lot had deteriorated, Mayor Schmidt pointed out that “the flooding problem was not addressed until we came on board,” and that his administration had spent money on obtaining an engineer to study the problem. Trustee Kane immediately jumped on this statement and pointed out that none of the money spent for an engineering study came from village funds but that it did come from grant money. The mayor pooh-poohed this statement, saying, “You can split hairs here and take it out of here and take it out of there—it’s an accounting thing.”

Visibly getting angrier and angrier, Mayor Schmidt said, “If you want to keep going on with this, I will step back and make my basic case. I have some other issues with this village. We have a department head who has not done his job with this village.” The reference was obvious to all who heard this. He was accusing Ken Kraft, the superintendent of public works, of malfeasance.

It is not Crotonblog’s role to instruct Mayor Schmidt in the niceties of business management, but whether preached by the Harvard School of Business or the lowliest Internet self-tuition course in business administration, the basic tenet is “Never admonish an employee in public.” Even if only as a parent, Mayor Schmidt should know this same rule applies to parental discipline of children. What makes his unforgivable public shaming of Mr. Kraft all the more puzzling is that at that very moment the village budget for the fiscal year 2007-08 proposed by Mr. Schmidt’s administration, then still awaiting a vote, contained a 5.5 percent raise for Mr. Kraft. Go figure.

Trustee Kane responded to Mayor Schmidt’s denigration by pointing out that Ken Kraft could hardly be held responsible for the three feet of water that inundated the parking lot. Mayor Schmidt merely reiterated his statement that “he has not done his job.” Not wanting to be left out of the discussion, neophyte trustee Susan Konig acknowledged that there have been day-to-day complaints about the parking lot but that changes were promised. Trustee Gallelli quietly gave the lie to that statement by saying, “That was promised two years ago.”

Knowing full well what the outcome would be, Mayor Schmidt put the fee resolution to a vote. “I do,” piped up Susan Konig. “I do, too,” added Mayor Schmidt. Crotonblog almost expected the village manger to intone, “I now pronounce you man and wife.” Stone-faced, the Democratic trustees remained silent. Mayor Schmidt observed that the matter would have to be put over until the next meeting “because we do not have a consensus.” What he meant, of course, was “We do not have a majority.” Consensus means “a general accord,” and from the way things are going now, consensus seems like an unlikely dream.

When the time came for citizen comment on non-agenda items, Maria Cudequest, with an attitude akin to a visiting lecturer at an Ivy League university, bustled to the microphone to give her usual commanding lecture to village board members. But first she interjected a comment about parking lot fees: “I don’t intend to subsidize residents who live in communities whose taxes are significantly lower than ours.” Apparently lost on her was the implication of her statement that the Schmidt administration had not been as successful at lowering taxes as other communities.

She then proceeded to distribute to village board members her usual complement of packets of reading matter intended to keep them abreast of the latest developments in l’affaire Regus. Her spiel over, Ms. Cudequest gathered up her papers and bustled away. Ms. Cudequest has no stomach for the nitty-gritty details of local politics. As a mover and shaker, her interests are in the big picture.

Crotonblog never ceases to be amazed at the diligence and industry of this woman who expends tirelessly long hours and a ton of money on requests for copies of documents under the Freedom of Information Law and bombards state and local officials with a veritable mountain of documentation. Lately, questions have been raised about whether these activities may have been subsidized by other solid waste industry entities that stand to profit from the continued closure of 1A Croton Point Avenue.

The commenter who followed was Robert Wintermeier, who stated flatly, “I believe the village owes Maria Cudequest a vote of thanks for her efforts to show how undesirable Regus was as a waste management facility in Croton.” He added, significantly, “Her home and the homes of other supporters have been egged.” Crotonblog found this assertion curious since Police Department records show no reports of such vandalism. If the egging incidents happen, why do not the victims report them to the police? In fact, Mr. Wintermeier added, “Her detractors owe her an apology.“ Making her sound like a cross between Florence Nightingale and Oprah Winfrey, he urged listeners to sign up for her newsletter—although he neglected to give any details about how this could be done.

Mr. Wintermeier also asserted that he had studied the proposed parking lot fees and found that whether one is a resident or nonresident the increase amounts to only about 30 cents a day. His number is not quite accurate—Crotonblog’s polite way of saying that it was wrong. Putting the rise another way, it is accurate to say that nonresidents are being required to ante up almost a hundred dollars annually—$96, to be exact—to park at the Croton station, and that’s what has them virtually up in arms.

Mr. Wintermeier also joined the ranks of the technologically challenged by describing Crotonblog as a “chatroom.” Crotonblog is exploring the possibility of offering a free course in Internet basics to Mr. Wintermeier and his friends to clear up the dark pool of ignorance that exists about the difference between blogs, chatrooms and message boards.

Editor’s note: The Croton Follies resumes its off-Broadway run on Monday, May 7, 2007, at the Stanley H. Kellerhouse Municipal Building (view agenda). The curtain goes up at 8:00 p.m.

On May 10, 2007 2:06 PM, KWilly said:

You really don’t think Croton is liberal. They might as well be called the PRC for Peoples Republic of Croton

On May 8, 2007 5:49 PM, waffels said:

Croton is filled with hippie, pot smoking tree huggers….that’s what makes it such a nice village to live in…unfortunately they must have all been stoned out hugging trees for the last village election and forgot to vote…maybe next time….

On May 8, 2007 5:22 PM, crotonres said:

The SSB is headquartered in the Bronx, a neighborhood that even the intrepid James Bond would not dare to enter.<<<

What a completely asinine thing to write. What if someone wrote that Croton is filled with hippie, pot smoking tree huggers? Keep your prejudices to yourself.



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