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

August 6, 2007

Again demonstrating that the mills of government not only grind exceedingly slow but also extremely small, the evening was marked by an extended discussion that created little light but very much heat. Half of this evening’s long village board meeting was given over to a presentation about two local laws mandated by the state. Under the circumstances, the resulting exhaustive comments really had about as much pertinence as medieval theologians’ niggling arguments over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin or on the point of a needle.

The laws were titled “Wetlands and Watercourses” and “Storm Water, Drainage, Erosion and Water Pollution Control.” The main sticking point was the rules intended to govern the application of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers to properties in buffer zones adjacent to wetlands but it all seemed academic when the village engineer testified that similar existing rules in the village code were never enforced—in fact, he could not find that requests for permits to apply such materials were ever made. Moreover, it seems that wetlands may exist on some properties without their owners being aware of that fact.

It was quite evident that the mayor wanted the laws passed that evening and without significant changes. Planning Board member and Finney Farm resident Fran Allen fought a determined but losing battle against the stipulation that it must be demonstrated that professional applicators of chemical substances exceeded manufacturers’ recommendations before action would be taken. Trustee Charlie Kane was equally unsuccessful in convincing board members that homeowners should not be allowed to apply such materials to their properties “as a right.” The twin laws were finally approved largely on the strength of the argument that it is better to have laws on the books that may be unenforceble than to have no laws at all. Trustee Brennan characterized the proposed laws, as “living laws” subject to change at a later date—but isn’t this true of all laws?

Crotonblog suspects that the long friendship between Ms. Allen and Ms. Gallelli may have been severely strained by the stubborn attitudes each displayed about the new laws. Ms. Gallelli went to extraordinary lengths to explain how conflicted she was and to justify her vote by recalling the anguish she went through in making her decision. Anyway, the Mayor pointed out that the laws may be ineffectual since water contaminated by deleterious substances obeys the laws of gravity, not of man—a comment that rendered most of the evening’s discussion moot.

The pre-vote discussion was also enlivened by Trustee Brennan’s coinage of a new verb converted from a noun. Comparable to similar abominations, “The bride was gifted with a silver service” and “He authored three books in a single year,” Trustee Brennan’s latest contribution to the English language was his conversion of herbicide from a noun to a verb in his depiction of “people who herbicide after it rains.” To the Mayor’s visible relief, an incipient bout of indecision that swept board members was quelled and the two laws were passed,

During so-called citizen participation on agenda items Phyllis Morrow, Nordica Drive resident and eager fan of the Mayor, came to the microphone. She was highly complimentary of the proposed legislation and suggested that a committee to educate the public about the new law—until the Mayor suggested that she chair such a committee. Watching Ms. Morrow speak is a sight to behold. Her arms wave in the air so rapidly and with such complicated and sinuous motions, one could easily confuse her with the multi-armed Hindu goddess Durga. One Crotonblog staffer compared Ms. Morrow’s performance to someone translating a vociferously declaimed political speech into American Sign Language, adding that, from the vigor of her motions, the text seemed to be rendered in boldface and all capital letters with many exclamation points.

Lest Crotonblog be accused of picking on Ms. Morrow, we should point out that the Mayor has the habit of using the phrase “you know” to distraction as verbal punctuation, introducing as many as two or three “you knows” in every sentence while he gathers his thoughts. Crotonblog wonders what would happen if the offender were forced to listen to tapes of his own “you-know” statements repeated again and again. That, in W.S. Gilbert’s phrase from “The Mikado,” would indeed be a punishment that fits the crime.

For his part, Trustee Kane has the annoying habit of placing his right hand on his chin every time he makes a statement of any length. This gesture, which may psychologically serve a seemingly defensive or shielding purpose, happens whether he has an object in hand or not. Crotonblog only mentions this peculiar and distracting habit lest one evening Trustee Kane inadvertently poke himself in the eye with pen or pencil.

Next came resolutions, among them the yearly resolution giving real property partial tax exemptions to senior citizens over 65. The Mayor once again demonstrated his desire to rewrite history by jokingly observing that in the past “we missed a year” in failing to keep the village’s income numbers abreast of inflation. For the Mayor’s—and readers’—information, Crotonblog would like to set the record straight. The Mayor is lying. The failure to adjust senior citizens’ exemptions did not happen in “one missed year.” It began in 2003 when he was a board member and the effects of this failure extended after he became mayor until 2006, when the village’s malfeasance was revealed in a column in The Gazette and reiterated in Crotonblog. The village board hastily rectified that omission with a belated resolution in 2006, but the change intended for Croton to catch up with other communities did not take effect until 2007, effectively missing not one but four years. So much for the Mayor’s “skipped year.”

The village manager next revealed that Croton may lose the ability to truck organic waste, largely the village’s prodigious production of leaves in the fall, to Putnam Valley, whose town supervisor has been making noises to that effect. The fall back position would be to make an IMA (intermunicipal agreement) with Westchester County similar to those signed by other Westchester communities have done. Crotonblog wonders whatever happened to the highly touted scheme that was tried ever so briefly. In this, Croton’s leaves were placed in plastic “tunnels” and warm air was circulated through them to produce rich, black organic mulch. Further discussion of the possible leaf problem was postponed for a future work session.

The meeting’s self-described “audience of one,” Phyllis Morrow, again came to the microphone, to suggest that it might be too much to ask that the village to make “a birthday present” (hers, presumably) of a more appropriate trash can that the one placed the Nordica Drive entrance to Mayo’s Landing. The village manager pointed out that the trash receptacle in question was a standard type used in all village parks and raised the bureaucratic specter that if the Mayo’s Landing receptacle were to be replaced with a different container, “then everyone will want one, too,” and demand that their containers be replaced.

She also suggested that the log placed at Nordica Drive to discourage parking was too far from the road to serve that purpose. Because it was now functioning as a “bus stop” at which parents pick up children, she urged the Public Works Department to remove it. Crotonblog suggests that one solution might be to cut the log into two portions, hollow them out, and stand them on end to make two trash receptacles rustic enough to satisfy Ms. Morrow.

Next, Ms. Morrow brought up the subject of what she described as the “dark orange water problem” that afflicts the residents on the dead-end water line serving Nordica Drive. Her complaint in a nutshell: “I live in Croton but I can’t drink the water.” Crotonblog wonders if more frequent flushing of a hydrant or hydrants at the end of the Nordica Drive water line would not remove some of the accumulated contaminating rust that seems to afflict Nordica Drive’s pipes. During her peroration this time, Ms Morrow’s hand motions seemed more restrained and more under her control. This time her gesticulations resembled those of a sculptor in clay, a masseuse or a chiropractor—take your pick.

During the reports by board members, Trustee Brennan brought up the subject of the community center survey, pointing out that an analysis was now available and expressed the hope that the village would post it on its website. This analysis, which cost $1,500, was posted on the village website the following day. Crotonblog will be publishing its own analysis of this singularly unremarkable and uncritical analysis in the near future.

On August 8, 2007 12:16 PM, bojangles said:

What the heck would the Mayor know about blogs? He doesn’t even make use of email as a means of communication. He may not even know how to “logon” and claims never to read comments on Crotonblog.

On August 8, 2007 11:46 AM, Seth Davis said:

Let me respond.

There is a thin line between what is “satire” and what is hurtful. This goes beyond what Georgianna Grant describes as going with the job. The rationale that comments on “public figures” are protected does not apply in the same manner in a village of 7,000 as it does at the national, state or even county level. You can draw a cartoon of George W. Bush looking like a chimpanzee, but when your back goes out, you don’t go to George W. Bush to have him manipulate your vertebrae. You can make jokes about Hillary Clinton, but you don’t have to worry about running into Hillary Clinton at the A&P.

Our village board members are our neighbors, and some of them may still be our friends. We should thank them for taking the time to do what they do—even when we disagree with them—instead of “satirizing” the way they bite their lip, or hold their chin, or pause to find the right words. Lord knows, I have plenty of disagreeable habits, and I would hate to have to sit up on that dais, endure the unfettered wrath of the so-called citizens participation period, and then have Crotonblog find something new for my neighbors to tease me about.

The real shame of your report on the July 16 meeting is that you had some very important, serious and troubling points. These points were, unfortunately, obscured by the silliness of the entire piece. You did indeed catch the Mayor in what appears to me to be more than a lie—an unexplained inconsistency shrouded in an incoherent explanation that requires clarification. But all anyone is going to remember now is that you find it annoying that he says “y’know” a lot. (I do too.)

The discussion over the changes to the wetlands law has still, to my knowledge, not been adequately explained, but as one of the authors of the “old” law it would not be proper for me to comment further. There is a substantive story there—but what your readers will remember is the gossipy suggestion of a tiff between old friends, and the criticism of one trustee’s grammar. (By the way—I couldn’t agree with you more that “gift” can never be a verb, but I do think that “author” can.)

You’ve got to decide what your role in this community is going to be. Are you going to advocate a political position? There are right ways and wrong ways of doing so. Are you going to be a source of humor? That’s fine—we all need more laughs. If you got tangible criticisms of the Mayor, then let’s hear them. Right now your silly points are obscuring serious ones that should be debated seriously.

Finally, you raise an issue most worthy of debate here on whether our Village form of government still serves us. This has been debated from time to time over the years here, with the general outcome being that things stayed the way they were—except when we formally adopted the village manager system in the late 60s or 70s. Montrose and Verplanck are “hamlets” within the Town of Cortlandt. Buchanan, like Croton-on-Hudson, is an incorporated village within the town. What would we gain or lose by reverting to hamlet status? Maybe it’s time to think about it again. Would we eliminate redundant services or functions? Would we make it harder for individual citizens to be heard? Would we pay more taxes or less?

These are things we should be worrying about—not whether Charlie Kane pokes himself in the eye.

On August 8, 2007 11:28 AM, sdavidson said:

Regarding the incident with the Mayor at The Cow…

I wasn’t there, so I can’t vouch for this story. That being said, this is the word on the street: The Mayor was waiting on line with a left-leaning acquaintance who frequents this blog. Said person made a remark about the nail salon. The Mayor erupted and LULZ ensued. He shouted that blogs are “destroying America” because there is no accountability. He is also said to have stated that Crotonblog is “ruining the fabric of Croton” or something like that.

On August 8, 2007 11:10 AM, TeaDrinker said:

Editor’s Note: Crotonblog is compelled to expand on the comments to our most recent Croton Follies piece.

First, this was the seventh in a regular series posted just before the next village board meeting. None of the previous six pieces elicited so much as a single comment, although we know that they had been viewed by a considerable number of readers.

Second, only one commenter seems to have recognized that the piece was satire. But then playwright George S. Kaufman is famous for his remark about satire’s box office appeal on Broadway. His sage observation: “Satire is what closes on Saturday night.” The rest engaged in rising to the defense of one commenter who can be counted on to have an opinion on everything and who is determined to be the first to register a comment and beat everyone else to the punch.

Third, Crotonblog will continue to poke fun at the antics—and the tics and quirks—of Croton’s amateur politicians. We do not agree with the suggestion made by Davis père that we practice self-censorship and abandon such commentary lest it discourage others from serving in poorly compensated positions. We understand that beneath the layer of affability and bonhommerie exhibited by the Mayor in public there exists a tyrant given to unreasonable rages of unbelievable ferocity, one who rules in private with an iron hand and will brook no dissent.

At the Black Cow coffee house recently, a wide chink in the Mayor’s armor was displayed that left bystanders wondering, “What was that all about?” Having created a commotion in the coffee line during a conversation with another person, the Mayor stalked out still shouting and exhibiting unstable behavior. Perhaps someone present at the scene will come forward anonymously and explain exactly what happened to cause the Mayor to rant and rave and release a torrent of abuse on one individual, presumably a citizen of Croton.

Why should this village expect individuals to serve it at peon’s wages or none at all? The best way to encourage service by competent individuals is to make the rewards fit the task. After all, since the village lavishes compensation on the village manager, treasurer, engineer and the head of the public works department far beyond the dreams of avarice, not to mention individual employees who are paid far more than private industry could offer them, why not reward those who actually direct their activities?

Truth be told, Croton and dozens of other small, independent villages in Westchester are continuing the wasteful traditions inaugurated in the 19th century that should have been long since abandoned in favor of consolidation. Smaller communities in Cortlandt like Montrose and Verplanck seem to function nicely without the claptrap and elaborate administrative superstructure that Croton has erected to govern daily life in the village. The hamlet of Chappaqua, larger than Croton, gets along very nicely without our layered, complicated village government. Centralization should be the order of the day in Croton and similar villages. Instead, it is business as usual, only more so.

On August 8, 2007 10:36 AM, Seth Davis said:

I guess you missed the two awards assemblies, Harley.

Yet another case of the Gazette not printing the full story.

On August 8, 2007 10:33 AM, TeaDrinker said:

My comment about Kevin Davis’ lack of graduation honors was based on the write-up in The Gazette newspaper. The June 28 issue listed the names and the honors awarded to selected members of the 118 graduates making up the Class of 2007. Of these 118 graduates, a total of 45 (or 38%) were members of the National Honor Society. A total of 33 graduates (or 28%) received the President’s Education Award. And 28 graduates (or 24%) were members of the National Honor Society and also received the President’s Education Award. The name of Kevin Davis was not included in any of these groups of traditional honorees.

On August 8, 2007 10:12 AM, Seth Davis said:

He’s 18.

On August 8, 2007 12:17 AM, Big A Little A said:

Verbally attacking a 17-year old over the internet. Fantastic.

On August 7, 2007 6:48 PM, sdavidson said:

I agree with Kevin and Seth. I can’t attest to whether or not the Davis household is a “barrel of laughs,” but I’ve known Kevin and his brother for years. They are both decent, funny people. You seem to confuse having a sense of humor with being a mean spirited, insufferable jerk who lives vicariously through his son. WCC is a decent school, and Kevin was taking classes there while he was still in high school. Didn’t Rob DiFrancesco attend WCC so he could focus on running the Croton GOP, etc.? Maybe Kevin would like to do something similar. Maybe he didn’t excel in high school the same way your son did because he was already taking college courses and making his voice heard in Croton’s political discourse.

On August 7, 2007 5:20 PM, a-gnostic said:

Harley Davidson, please refrain from personal attacks on any of our members; it takes away from the generally pleasant environment, and exposes you for what you really are. No matter how stinging or personal the attack, insults alone cannot make up for ignorance of the facts. Kevin Davis has been shown to an excellent student, friend, resident, and above all, human, and is not a fair target for you to vent your many years of repressed rage. Kevin graduated with honors from our great high school, and plans to continue his studies at Westchester Community College, as he has done over the past year. What, exactly, is wrong with that path? Does your lack of a high school education devalue the diplomas our sons and daughters have worked so hard for? No, it does not. Do not let your anger at yourself for failing to achieve what Kevin has make you ridicule him and belittle his educational accomplishments (which, apparently, are greater than yours) . Please, go back to living through and off of your sons accomplishments. Or, better yet, start taking some GED classes; it’s never too late to improve yourself. I mean, all the students a fraction of your age at the local “bottom drawer school” are only a decade or so ahead of you; time to play some catch up? It sounds like your son can help tutor you, if you just swallow your pride and ask..

On August 7, 2007 4:05 PM, Seth Davis said:

Harley:

I do not deign to respond to anonymous attacks except to correct inaccuracies.

My son did in fact receive two awards this spring—one from the New York State Attorney General’s Office and the other a high school scholarship named for two distinguished Crotonites (who happened to be Republicans) who gave many years of service to the community. Each of these recognized Kevin’s dedication to and involvement in community affairs and his interest in public service. I am as proud of him as you must be of your son.

The rest of your letter is not worthy of my or anybody else’s time.

Seth Davis

On August 7, 2007 3:11 PM, TeaDrinker said:

Life in the Davis household can’t be a barrel of laughs if they don’t recognize the satirical nature of Croton Follies. I enjoyed it immensely. To anyone who remembers the lies, tricks and deceitfulness of the recent Republican election campaign in Croton, Mr. Davis’ suggestion that the Crotonblog should go easy on the Republican majority will fall on deaf ears.

Some fair weather liberals see nothing wrong with cartoons portraying President George W. Bush as a child or a chimpanzee sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office. But if one of their sacred cows are mocked in a caricature, satire or parody, concern for freedom of speech goes right out the window and they start screaming for censorship. As Harry Truman said, “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.”

I never finished high school and I am mostly self-taught to make up for it. My roots are deep in the labor movement. I believe the senior Mr. Davis is an attorney. He should know the Supreme Court has described the ability to criticize government and public officials as “the central meaning of the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

My son, a hard worker like his proud Dad who holds two jobs, just graduated from high school with honors and a grade point average a hair under 4.0. He was on the high honor roll every term. He also lettered in two sports and was accepted at one of the most selective schools in the U.S. with an academic scholarship. Hard work and study paid off.

I feel sorry for young Mr. Davis. He apparently graduated from Croton High School without a single honor. I hear he will be attending Westchester Community College, a bottom-drawer school. Had he spent more time with his textbooks and less time offering snap opinions on every topic to everyone…

On August 6, 2007 8:58 PM, Seth Davis said:

Georgianna:

One of the many things I always admired about you is your thick skin. Maybe if mine were half that thick I’d have run for something.

I would just like people to be able to think about what they could offer to the community rather than what little mannerisms or habits they have that could be caricatured in a “letter” to the Gazette or featured in the Follies here.

Seth

On August 6, 2007 7:40 PM, weewill said:

Seth - No one knows better than you after your many, many years on various government boards and committees what thick skin one needs to be involved in public service. You know it, your wife, Elisa knows it and I certainly learned it from my many years on the board. We hear the relentless tirades and harangues of the same few people week after week, month after month, year after year who have all the answers! ! We don’t see many of them coming forward to take a little of their own medicine. They apparently can dish it out but squeal when hit themselves.

While it’s unpleasant, it goes with the job and I don’t believe it deters good people from coming forward. Those of us who love this village and feel we can make a contribution to the betterment of its future will continue to speak out. regardless of irrelevant criticism. The Village is the great place it is because of all the good and decent people who have served over the years. As you say, the important thing is not how you sit or hold your chin or fumble with full thoughts. The important thing is the dedication and commitment of the good people who do serve, regardless of how ruthless and irritating the naysayers can get.

On August 6, 2007 6:08 PM, Seth Davis said:

You know, besides the big bucks we pay our Village Board members, one of the chief benefits of what would otherwise be a thankless job is the opportunity (which cannot be declined) to appear on cable TV so all sorts of folks can see them and poke fun at their habits, speech patterns, grammar, or whatever.

Since this article takes great pains to make silly, irrelevant and irritating comments about board members of both parties, one needn’t be a partisan to voice an objection.

It strikes me as curious that the Editor, having not long ago publicly admonished my son for not thinking before he posted something, took a full three weeks of, one would assume, very careful thought before publishing a piece this annoying. Ergo, he really meant it.

If Blog readers share my view that we have to do a lot better in attracting quality candidates and volunteers to Village service, we all have to create an atmosphere that will at least not discourage such people from coming forward.

On August 6, 2007 10:34 AM, KWilly said:

1) The comment about Ann Gallelli and Fran Allen was really uncalled for. The comment had nothing to do with local politics.

2) This post in general is too personal and has alot of irrelevant details. Who cares if Charlie Kane holds his chin because id rather have a politician like Charlie Kane who holds his chin and is smart than a politician who is dumb and does not hold his chin. As for the Mayor saying “you know”, the remark seemed to have no relevance at all except for attacking the Mayor.

3) This post has some good information but i think it overshadowed by some of the irrelevant remarks. Stick to the important political issues rather than focusing on Charlie Kane holding his chin.

Kevin W. Davis



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