Planning and Zoning Boards Abolished as Unnecessary!

If you’ve been paying attention to the Planning Board you’ve seen a woman trying to open a small dumpster business down along Rt. 9J in an area not zoned for that type of thing. I’ve seen her appear three times now with her plans, her engineer, her hopes and dreams for the future. During that same time I’ve heard only rumors of a similar non-compliant project going up at 1 Cooper Ave., off of Phillips Rd. Nothing before the Planning Board. Sewer connection made while under a town-wide moratorium. An old 1937-era garage was purchased and plans submitted to the Town for a simple $6,000 fix to the roof, walls and footings in November 2013. Fine. Somehow, without any plans or permission, that little upgrade turned into an office building! How? The owner and the builder JUST DID IT, providing drawings with no preparer’s name or stamps on them, just an address and a date: Nov. 2014, after the work had been done and like most things, only when outsiders took an interest.

Hey, nice dumpster lady trying to follow the rules: JUST DO IT! The Planning and Zoning Boards are irrelevant! Look at the documents from 1 Cooper Ave, and then read last night’s Planning Board investigation report from Judith Condo which basically says… JUST DO IT! The lesson here? If you have land and want to put up or change the purpose of a structure of any kind… JUST DO IT! Is this an indictment of the property owner? No. This is an indictment of the Town apparatus that allowed “the magic” to happen, that allows people to JUST DO IT.  It’s all so unnecessary because the Zoning Board probably would have granted a variance anyway. So why do it the wrong way? I have no idea, but whoever solves that question solves every other problem facing East Greenbush over the past decade. Dwight Jenkins

From Judith Condo’s Planning Board Recommendation:

“On January 2, 2015 Judith Condo visited 1 Cooper Avenue, Rensselaer, NY, the subject garage across the street from 2 Cooper Avenue, the business location of the property owner. She spoke to Brian Hart, the owner of 1 Cooper, LLC and 2 Cooper Avenue. She also spoke to the owners of two other commercial interests on the corners of Phillips Avenue and Iowa Avenue and Virginia Avenue. Of the surrounding neighbors west of Phillips Avenue, only one is owner-occupied residential at 102 Iowa Avenue. The other properties include an apartment building with five units next to the garage with an off-site owner in Scotia, NY and two single family rented homes owned by the Hart Family Properties, Inc. and another local businessman. Hart shares his parking area with tenants of the apartment building across the street which lacks parking.

Each owner was personally contacted and none raised any objection to the conversion of a two-story garage across from 2 Cooper Avenue. The business owner at 2 Cooper has been in continuous operation for many years and is deemed a good neighbor by those contacted. He states that his side of the street was commercial before the Zoning changed several years ago to R-2. He believed the street was zoned CI- Corporate Office/Light Industrial. His operation covers the entire block on the west side of Cooper Avenue between Iowa Avenue and Virginia Avenue and is parallel to Phillips Avenue. The subject garage is part of the property owned by the corporation and located behind and next to the house on the corner of Phillips and Iowa Avenues. The garage portion of the property has been subdivided from the Iowa Avenue house with its own 1 Cooper Avenue address.

Brian Hart is seeking a Use Variance in an R-2 Zoning District in order to convert a previously dilapidated two-story garage into a two-story professional office space intended for his brother’s engineering business. The garage had been a semi-commercial space used for auto repair by the previous owner prior to the Zoning change. According to the current owner, the condition of the garage was unstable to support the second story so new footings, walls and second story supports were constructed along with exterior siding applied to match the house on the property. The building construction was recently stopped awaiting a variance. The main entrance is adjacent to the house and leads to an interior staircase to the second floor. The garage doors have been removed. Both floors will be used for office space if the Use Variance is granted.

A Use Variance requires the satisfaction of four criteria including a demonstration that the property in question cannot realize a reasonable return if restricted to the allowable uses. The hardship is supposed to be unique and such that the new use will not change the character of the neighborhood. The hardship is not to be self-created.

From a planning perspective, the sought after use is a logical extension of the existing commercial and residential uses in the neighborhood. The garage was on the property purchased by Hart Family Properties and later sub divided. It is directly across the street from the other Hart property. This block has been largely used for commercial purposes, sharing parking with the owner of 2 Cooper Avenue. Without Mr. Hart’s permission, there would not be room for off-street parking anywhere on the block. The remaining permitted residential uses for the garage include a multi-family residence which would compound the parking problem and present a safety hazard posed by large trucks servicing 2 Cooper Avenue. The granting of a Use Variance would allow for a more cohesive presentation of the businesses owned by the Hart Family Properties.” 

 

Anonymous drawings submitted AFTER the building was up.

 

What it used to look like since 1937

What it used to look like since 1937

What it looks like today.

What it looks like today.

Original intent: fix up a sagging old garage.

Original intent: fix up a sagging old garage.

Expired permit for a different project at the site.

Expired permit for the original project at the site.

A Vision of What Could Be

Another night, another meeting, another opportunity to watch our town officials in action. The Planning Board acquitted themselves well last night, refusing to roll over for the casino developers. Tonight was a chance for the Town Board to do likewise, refusing to roll over for the budget developers. Board members Matters and Mangold had a number of questions about the budget, as well as the process that produced it, feeling as though they had been shut out of the loop. They exercised their right to call a special meeting tonight that went forward without Supervisor Langley ( who didn’t seem to want to schedule this for the ladies when they asked for it at the presentation of the Supervisor’s Tentative budget) and without board member Malone. Deputy Supervisor Gilbert ran the meeting in the Supervisor’s absence, and to be honest, Mr. Gilbert did a fine job without Mr. Langley. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the meeting was better without the brooding influence of the Supervisor. It didn’t feel like there were any egos in the room, just a quest for knowledge and a bunch of people interested in learning. We had board members, department heads, the town attorney, the public, and the Comptroller, George Phillips, all of whom contributed to what came off looking like a polished apple.

There were 19 pages of budget figures covering every aspect of town life, and not a few tough questions about some of the particular lines, but Mr. Phillips handled all of the questions in a reasonable and thorough manner. I didn’t sense any dissembling or fudging on Mr. Phillips’ part. That’s not to suggest he wasn’t careful at times, because the 90 minute conversation led down a number of paths strewn with political land mines, but even those were handled with grace and decorum, and we’ll cover some of those later.

The big story for me was on page 20: Analysis of Fund Balance. This is where we saw what our individual fund balances were at the end of 2013 and the anticipated end of 2014. The General Fund is operating at a deficit of $293,000 and the Highway fund at $390,000. These are deficit figures, not debt. The Town of East Greenbush owes money from the bad old days ( yet to be determined where those bad old days end and the good days begin)  on which it pays regular principal and interest. It’s a question that did not occur to me until the penne a la vodka was almost ready. Yes, we have an ongoing deficit, but we also have a looming, brooding debt that didn’t show up. How big?

While $290,000 in General Fund deficit spending doesn’t seem all that bad in a nearly $20,000,000 budget, an ominous, untitled entry just below the deficit number stood out like one of Clough Harbour’s 6′ red trial balloons: $458,538 set aside as prepayment of NYS Retirement contributions. As Mr Phillips said in his understated manner, “it makes our cash position more challenging.” The money must be in the State Comptroller’s hands by December 15th or we’ll face a $12,000 late fine. The Town has paid a lot of unnecessary fines and settlements over the years, but it’s nice to know the current Comptroller is keeping an eye on this one, as Pete Stenson did last year.

George acknowledged that the Ambulance District, Water, and Sewer funds had healthy surplus balances… for now. He dropped some troubling hints about problems at Bruen Rescue Squad that will be looked at later (we’ve heard this for what, about ten years?) as well as the probability of water and sewer increases down the road. A short road. Water is leaking from the budget black, and the sewage line is about to overflow like the waste water treatment plant dumping “extras” into the Hudson. The new WWTP is adding $60,000 in loan repayments next year, $180,000 in 2016, and $600,000 every year after that until most of us in that room will be dead or using diapers instead of toilets: about 25 years. He was also concerned about FedEx doing some “saber rattling” regarding a potential downward assessment of their facility, which would also  wreak some havoc with the budget. Couldn’t have seen that one coming…. Think a casino would ever do the same? Don’t think too hard. The answer is YES.

Question: how did we get to a zero percent tax increase? Is this a zero-based budget? No. Is it then an incremental budget? According to Mr. Phillips, no again. The goal was to have no tax increase, and to that end word went out to the department heads: shoot for 10% reductions.

Question: was the 2015 budget based on the 2014 budget? If so, how, since there’s so much we don’t know about where our finances are even at currently, given the recent (“recent” can be measured in years) debate about audits. The answer was a mixture of yes and no, a conundrum, because we found out tonight that the budget’s 2014 forecast projections are pure fiction. As Ms. Mangold pointed out with some frustration, we’re using fictional 2014 year end estimates to produce a 2015 budget? And we don’t even have 2013 audited and settled yet? And 2014 was built in part on 2013? Yes, yes, and yes. What we have is a faith-based budget and we’re just waiting for the financial compass to stop spinning so we can settle on an azimuth for the future. Hopefully 2015 points to true north.

We have a ways to go though. Ms. Mangold had a long conversation with a “Judy” from the Wojeski firm today, and Judy said our 2012 books were 100% matched to the General Ledger. The Toski firm, unfortunately, notes a million dollar discrepancy in 2013. Hmmm… Judy said the problem is that we’re still  not balanced, and haven’t been since 2012. George seemed to agree with this, noting that his own review of 2013 found a quarter of a million dollars in out-of-balance entries, and he didn’t go through them item by item. Bottom line: Sue wants the old audits finished and she wants both accounting firms to come in and make a presentation to the board. I think we’ll see that happen.

Mrs. Matters then asked something that we’ll probably never see happen: what about a tax cut? She feels that there may be room in this zero percent increase budget to actually provide tax relief. The Comptroller threw cold water on that suggestion with his bleak assessments of where we are and where we’re heading. Still, very few minds have yet gone into the making of this budget.  I think George the Comptroller will be happy if there are no additional lashes on our backs. Sue pointed out that we may be hurting ourselves by not having a town planner anymore, that we’re missing out on grants and needlessly heaping difficult fees on businesses looking to take root in East Greenbush. Despite that burden, she acknowledged that we have a lot of business happening around town, a sentiment echoed by the head of the Building Department, Joe Cherubino. He actually described our schedule of mitigation fees as bordering on “outrageous,” but in spite of this “the town has taken off all of a sudden, we’re moving.”

It was here that we began to see a little of the underlying resentment that some of the Town Board members are feeling.  Sue felt, like Mrs. Matters, that she’d been cut out of the process, a position she is definitely not accustomed to since she has always been in the majority. She wasn’t sure how, as a member of the minority, to go about making changes to this Tentative Budget before it turns automatically into a Preliminary Budget. The Comptroller gingerly suggested that if three board members could agree on a change then they could submit that change and it would have to happen one way or another.

The elephant in the room? Who has the majority and who has the minority now that Mrs. Matters has essentially declared herself an independent (with some heavy-handed prodding from a majority that didn’t know how to handle dissent.) Mr. Cherubino reminded all that his door is always open if there are questions, to which Sue said, in words made infamous by Donald Rumsfeld during Iraq’s insurgency, ” We don’t know what we don’t know!” Joe then turned to Mary Ann and said yes, a tax cut would be great, but first you have to know what we (meaning town employees) do! The audience not-so-subtly reminded him that a workload analysis would fill that void, a point Mrs. Matters had brought up earlier in the meeting. Per the Comptroller, we don’t do them. We’re more of a talking town. We talk it out. Talking is great, and a lot of it happened tonight in a very constructive way, but as with Civil Service Law, someday the town has to move into the 21st century and do things the right way, using proven business models, such as workload analyses. It’s the only way to truly determine how many employees you actually need, the only way to hold them accountable, the only way to build a workforce and a budget that points to north. Will we see that by 10/29/14, when the Supervisor’s budget turns into the Preliminary budget? No. Will we see it by 11/6/14, at the Public Hearing on the Preliminary Budget? No. Will we see it on 11/20/14, the date the 2015 budget becomes Final? No. Will we see it in our lifetimes? Almost certainly yes, and tonight was a very nice taste of what town meetings can and should be.  Real issues, real conversation, politeness and deference, and a willingness to conduct the meeting properly. Nice job to everyone involved.

 

 

 

 

 

Planning Board Caught in the Act

Another Planning Board meeting tonight, well attended by the public and well run by  Chairman Matt Polsinello and attorney Phil Danaher, with some unique planning expertise sprinkled in by Chazen Engineering’s Jim Connors, who represents the Town in place of a town planner. The people don’t actually have a representative, they have to pay for their own, which is why you should donate to Save East Greenbush if you haven’t already done so. Little tidbit overheard from the board as the meeting started: “Where’s Kelly? Is she coming?” The reference was to Planning Board member Kelly Sambrook. The answer: “No, she resigned.” Anybody know Kelly? Anybody know why she resigned?

The casino was on the agenda but first we had new business with a couple of Regeneron minor site plan modifications, including a massive 14 x 14 foot vestibule addition and an environmentally hazardous 20 x 22 foot thing for chiller pads, with a pump house. Public protest was non-existent; Planning Board interest and inquisition was very  much in attendance. Designer Steve Hart has been before the board so many times for little Regeneron projects like this that it makes you realize how differently different projects are sometimes handled.

Take Wal-Mart, for instance. They were up after Steve, looking to slightly shift the parking lot area on which they stack their Spring and Summer soils. Did you know the East Greenbush store is 2nd in the entire State in volume of packaged soils sold? Again, the Planning Board gave the Wally World guy a good grilling on what parking spaces were to be utilized, how high the pallets were to be stacked, how the shift would affect traffic, etc. The poor kid in the rumpled shirt who was handling the presentation didn’t even really know the answer to a Planning Boarder’s “Why are you doing this?” I felt bad for the guy. His head started to glisten under the line of questioning.  The  board actually ended up answering for him. I had just written on my note pad that the Planning Board asked tougher questions of rumpled Wal-Mart guy shifting stacked dirt than they did of Saratoga Casino and Raceway with their $300 million casino in a residential neighborhood. Within 15 seconds my wife got a text from someone on the other side of the room saying the same thing.

When it came time for the casino we learned that board member Mike Bottillo recuses himself because he works for a company that is somehow involved with the casino people.  Didn’t know that. Thank you Lee for pressing to get an answer. The Chazen web site, accessible from the Town Board web site, now has all the public scoping comments available for review. Check to make sure yours is there. If you sent one in but don’t see it listed you can forward the original e-mail to leadagency@eastgreenbush.org. You have to do it by the end of the week though.

Board member Matt Mastin phoned it in, literally, tonight, asking via text or e-mail about the Route 4 Northbound land grab that will be needed to mitigate traffic and make commuting even better AFTER the casino than it was before the casino. That is Clough Harbour’s official position anyway. Matt wanted to know where the land for that lane was coming from and by what processes.  They call it “acquisitions,” I call it land grab, and it runs north along Rt 4 from exit 9 to exit 8. Lots of homes and businesses along that stretch, not much room to grab the necessary land in many cases. Will eminent domain be used? Sounds like NO. Per Chazen’s Jim Connors (one of the “ducks” Feathers needed to get lined up, along with Chairman Polsinello) the land grab will happen via “negotiated private sales.” In reality, everyone affected should meet and agree as one entity how that will happen in order to extract the greatest price from the developers. Really hold their feet to the fire and get them lined up our way. Jim also encouraged the Board members to submit written comments to him if they had questions. He’s only gotten a couple, along with some oral queries. As I said, rumpled shirt, piled dirt Wal-Mart guy had it tougher so far. The question was asked if it was legal to do so and Plannning Attorney Danaher said it was, since the e-mails become part of the official record. It’s true. You can FOIL them someday, and then be ignored, file an appeal, and be told there are no records responsive to your request. That’s unfortunately the way it goes in the the real world. Been there done that. Matt Polsinello asked about the social impacts of gambling (home values, crime, problem gambling, drunks, etc.) and would that be part of what Clough Harbour evaluates. Sounds like a waffling yes. Matt Mastin asked about home values. That will definitely be looked at.

As for the upcoming balloon test, look for 6 foot diameter standard testing balloons 135 feet in the air next weekend. The 6 foot red balloon will simulate the size and looming visual impact of a Dutch-themed architectural marvel that even an Egyptian pharaoh would envy . Really. So take pictures and send them to leadagency@eastgreenbush.org, but be sure to use a 50-55 millimeter camera. (Who the hell knows what that is?) Apparently 50-55 millimeters best mimics the human eye, even if you have glasses. No photo-shopping of demonic imagery into the pictures. Will the 6 foot red balloon be illuminated at night with 6 million candlepower, so we can see what the nighttime impact will be? No. You can’t illuminate a balloon and have it mimic a massive casino in full bloom.

Given the tight time frames surrounding the casino project (Schenectady just finished their SEQRA tonight,  I believe) and the importance of the project, Phil Danaher suggested that the board might want to consider extending the time period by which scoping is to be completed so as to give the members time to have a workshop solely for the purpose of discussing the scoping in a thorough manner. The board seemed to agree, although Clough Harbour did not like it. Phil’s “by mutual consent” language was unsavory to the CHA team, but as Phil pointed out with a smile: the option is “YOU KNOW WHAT!” I gather he meant the PDD would be denied, and CHA seemed to understand that as well. So by forced mutual consent there will be a public workshop on December 5th and a probable decision on the scoping document at the December 10th meeting.

Nice turnout tonight, keep coming, I think the board likes to see us.

 

Audits Bonus Round

While I understand the CFAC’s interest in letting bygones be bygones with regard to 2010-2012 Audits, Bob Gardinier’s Times Union story today should make everyone pause and ask themselves, “Could that ever happen here?” Bob reported on 33 year old Brenda Kennedy, former billing clerk with the Rensselaer County Health Department. In addition to billing and collecting for various County Health services,  she helped herself to $208,597 of our money from 2007 – 2012. How’d she get caught? An audit. We have a nasty little history of our own, with $140,000 in hidden stipends for friends and family going out the door in years past, as well as a Town Engineer who was paid as an employee without ever having been approved as such at an Organizational meeting, submitting time and accomplishment sheets instead as an independent contractor. Sometimes the time sheets were signed by the Supervisor, sometimes not.  If those outside audits are nearly done, as we’ve heard they might be, we deserve an accounting for 2010 – 2012. It’s already paid for. Hey, maybe we even paid for some other things we didn’t know about. Finish the audits and release the results.

* And by the way, did you notice from news accounts that it was initially thought Ms. Kennedy “only” took a few thousand dollars? That’s because initially the people looking didn’t go back very far. Once the State auditors got in there and started pulling back the years, like soiled sheets the extent of the theft became apparent. We’re not asking for a recreated General Ledger with new and corrected entries. Our understanding is that the accounting practices used from 2010 – 2012 were so bad, so inconsistent, that they cannot be recreated. But that doesn’t mean auditors couldn’t look for the obvious: unreported revenue, expenditures posted as income, etc. ANYONE with an education past 8th grade can see the obvious nature of Ms. Kennedy’s deception, but she was able to pull it off because she was the only one making the entries, the only one making the deposits! The process was wide open for corruption and theft. The State Comptroller found some of those same vulnerabilities here in East Greenbush when they performed their last audit. The process by which we handle money was deeply flawed, in some cases with too much general access to the books, and in some cases with too little oversight of the entry-makers.  Don’t think we couldn’t have a Ms. Kennedy in our own ranks because we absolutely could. The field was ripe for harvest and that is exactly why we need to know more about 2010 – 2012. Much more. CFAC, do not give up on those years, and FORCE the outside auditors to produce a document with their findings. If they won’t, file suit and take it to the press. Make it happen.

More of The Week That Was and Wasn’t: Audits

This is the memorandum that our Citizens Fiscal Advisory Committee recently sent to the Town Board on the subject of 2010 – 2012 audits, those pesky inconveniences many of us have been clamoring for since 2010:

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MEMORANDUM

TO: Supervisor Langley Councilperson DiMartino
Councilperson Malone Councilperson Mangold Councilperson Matters

FROM: Citizens Fiscal Advisory Committee

SUBJECT: A Recommendation Regarding External Audits for Past Years DATE: October 15, 2014

“The Citizen Fiscal Advisory Committee (CFAC), after more than four hours of consultation and discussion with those involved with the Town of East Greenbush’s financial situation, as well as experienced finance and governmental accounting professionals unaffiliated with the Town, offers this recommendation to the Town Board regarding the audits being attempted since 2009.

Our recommendation is that the time and efforts of town fiscal personnel and tax levy funding should not be used to pursue a reconciliation of or completion of previously attempted external audits. The concept of selecting a new starting point for moving forward should be pursued. The costs of attempting to repair the financial records would be a continued drain on staff and monetary resources, an added impact would be the difficulty of trying to work on past years while keeping the current data accurate and moving forward.

The Committee, comprised of 5 citizens with more than 115 years of combined work experience related to public financing, are committed to representing the best interests of the citizens at‐large and the Town. We offer our recommendation based upon the following information:

 The accounting standards in effect for the 2010 audit required that financials must be internally and independently produced to be used for the basis of external audits.

 As a result of outdated and inefficient accounting software, historically inconsistent directives on posting transactions, failure to build acceptable transaction history during these years, and an incomplete internal understanding of the transactions, reconstruction of East Greenbush’s finances and accounting records will contain assumptions about revenue and expenditures which may or may not be accurate. In addition, the time, effort and resources required in an attempt to complete the prior year financials will hinder and delay the ability of the staff to focus on the Town’s current fiscal records and move the Town to financial statements that are accurate, accountable and transparent.

 There is a compelling need to continue the current focus upon day‐to‐day internally valid accounting practices to support the future purchase of a high‐quality, modern governmental accounting software system that can meet public finance and accounting standards and provide future accountability to East Greenbush’s citizenry. This is where Town finances and human resources should be dedicated.
Therefore, the members of the Citizen Fiscal Advisory Committee (CFAC) unanimously recommend that the Town Board support a more cost effective and forward‐thinking approach in meeting public demand for accountability by redirecting the highly qualified staff the Town now employs away from additional review of the incomplete 2010, 2011 and 2012 external audits. Instead, the circumstances leave us with no choice but to move forward with developing a functional financial history from a point deemed appropriate.”

—————

So, years of asking for audit results that would enable us to track money from the past boil down to lack of resources and better ways to spend money we don’t have in the now. By the way, a contact with a CFAC member today has made clear that my report from yesterday was apparently wrong, that CFAC did NOT believe the 2010 – 2012 audit results were critical or needed to be completed. My notes say otherwise, indicating that we paid for audits and should at least get a report without necessarily recreating old accounting ledgers, but I will defer. Despite the many years of financial experience on that committee,  some of us with no experience still believe that the audits we paid so much for should be wrapped up and finalized with whatever we have at the moment. It wouldn’t cost the taxpayers money or the Town Hall staff time if the Toski and Wojeski firms were simply to put something on their letterhead, something to explain why we can’t explain where the money is and why they can’t help us explain it either. I don’t think this is too much to ask, tens-of-thousands of audit dollars later. In fact, it seems the only reasonable course. Surely there must have been something these firms learned about our operation that can be shared with us in a publicly accessible format? I feel like I’ve paid a contractor handsomely for a new bathroom and four years later it still isn’t done, the job so badly botched that I have to start from scratch because everything I paid for has been scratched and dented in the process. That’s what we’re doing with our financials.

Not surprisingly this CFAC recommendation caused some rancor at Wednesday’s Town Board meeting. The Supervisor seemed to latch onto this report like it was a life jacket, agreeing with the recommendations despite what he described as residents’ ( insert an implied “overwrought” here ) concerns over the years. I would say they are well-founded concerns, but Mr. Langley reminded us that the Town had a limited staff of exactly two people to do the job and that Town business doesn’t stop just because we don’t know what happened in the past. Well, three years ago when he took over it wasn’t so far “in the past!” It was only one year in the past at the time, from the close of 2010 to the beginning of 2012! He naturally agreed with CFAC that we need to move forward instead of looking back. I found it unusual that he asked CFAC presenter Maura Ryan so many questions about that recommendation, questions suggesting that maybe he already knew the answers and was attempting to steer the discussion toward a foregone conclusion for the sake of the official record. Or maybe he really didn’t know, which is even more troubling, since he is the Town’s Chief Financial Officer. One other point: the timing of this fiasco is interesting. The comptroller for the period 2010 – 2012 was Jim Brieg. He started out as comptroller in 2013 but didn’t finish the year, resigning his position on March 15th. He is now the Deputy Budget Director for Rensselaer County. What happened from 2010 – 2012? Why are things so bad during this time that they cannot even be recreated? Are politics at work at the County level? What about at the Town level? It would be irresponsible not to ask the questions.

Regardless, Mr. Langley said, “We’re really trying to get this problem corrected. (I think he said the same thing about the Town’s uncertified payrolls for the last 22 months…) It’s great that you’re bringing  comments to the floor other than the casino.” BAM! Wrong response. About 50 people almost in unison shouted out “Well it’s YOUR OWN fault!” One citizen reminded him that HE was the one to open the door to a casino. The Supervisor said he was sorry…but only for many of us not liking his comment. He was in no way apologetic for letting us think that the April 16 vote was merely a resolution to allow the Town to entertain conversations with casino developers. He clarified that he was just making the point that other business happens at Town Hall besides casino business, and it deserves our attention too.

One citizen questioned THAT assertion but Mr. Langley said he didn’t understand the disagreement because there are many other things that deserve to be heard but haven’t had a chance to be heard because of the casino. The citizen reminded him that in fact there HAD been many other items discussed at Board meetings since April, and the monthly meeting minutes since April bear that out. If important business isn’t getting done because of legal requirements for public hearings and various board ( Planning, Zoning, Town) requisites, whose fault is that? The way it has always worked is the Town does what it HAS to do, we show up in great numbers and with greater logic to say what we feel COMPELLED to say, and then the various boards do whatever the casino developer wants them to do anyway. We might be adding some extra time to certain hearings or meetings in the evenings but we damn sure aren’t interrupting the flow of day to day Town Hall life.

When the Supervisor went on to say that the casino issue had taken an awful lot out of the staff, including time that could be spent on other things, the citizen reminded Mr. Langley that he could have saved time by having casino developer meetings with the Town Board members and the public all together in an open, transparent manner instead of secretly and individually at scheduled half-hour intervals. The Supervisor thought this was unfair, saying he was was just trying to accommodate Mr. Featherstonhaugh as a developer, as he would with any other developer, while staying in synch with the Open Meetings Law. The citizen loudly suggested that the Supervisor was actually trying to subvert the Open Meetings Law instead.  Another citizen took offense to the Supervisor’s complaint, reminding him that EVERYONE in East Greenbush has been affected by the casino, with many of us spending exorbitantly of our time and money to fight it.

Right about here my notes point to a conversation going on behind me as a gentleman talked about taking somebody outside and punching him “right in the mouth.” I turned and had some friendly words with the would-be pugilist; turns out that it was just a venting of frustration with the process, frustration with the people involved on both sides, etc. But that is where we’re at as a Town, ready to bash each other over slights real or imagined. We’re all just sick of it, but we’re not going away, and a great number of public comments Wednesday only reiterated that fact. New people join the No Casino ranks of the frustrated every day. The corrupt politicians can try to plop a paid-for casino here, but they can’t shut us up, even if they actually start bashing us in the mouth.

Dwight Jenkins

Next up: Matters/Mangold whispering causes whispers.

The Week That Was And Wasn’t

I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced a stranger week than the one we just had. So much happened, but so much didn’t happen as a result of those happenings. There were four very important meetings last week: Zoning Board of Appeals and Citizens Fiscal Advisory Committee on Tuesday, Town Board on Wednesday, and Ethics Committee on Thursday. Much that was undone was done, and much that was done was undone. A week of conundrums, outrage, in-rage, contradictions, steps and mis-steps, cues and miscues, mea culpas and not-my-culpas. Some of it almost defies description, but we’ll try to describe it anyway. Not all of it will be welcomed, but all of it must be told.

Tuesday’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting at the American Legion Hall- Designed to accommodate large gatherings of happy people, the veterans hall played host to two reinforced platoons of angry No Casino activists, some of whom thought the microphone in the aisle meant opportunity to speak. Not so. The unused microphone stand only stood for nothing, the empty voices of townsfolk who just three weeks earlier in that very same hall had given the ZBA every possible legal reason imaginable why a Planned Development District for Capital View Casino should be and must be declared incompatible with East Greenbush Zoning Law. The ZBA, led by Tom Calamaras, instead found every excuse imaginable to declare that the State’s Gaming Law allows a casino to be placed absolutely anywhere. The vote was 4-1 in favor of communities having no control over their own destiny. Just one other NO vote would have and should have killed the casino PDD, but it wasn’t to be. A quick glance at that night’s draft resolution spelled it out in advance: all the “whereas and therefores” led to an inexorable YES vote, with the exception of Matt Ostiguy and Joyce Lapham. Matt’s NO vote counted because it was registered timely; Joyce’s intended NO vote came out as a short-lived YES, but the affirmation lingered long enough to be counted. Numerous witnesses were on hand afterward as she explained her erroneous vote. This is not meant to point the finger at her in any way. In fact, hers was the least noxious of the 4 YES votes because it was unintentional. The others have no excuse because they heard the arguments, read the rationales, and chose to vote YES anyway, knowing full well that the Gaming Commission had made clear from the very beginning, in question 327 of their Q and A responses, that only the casino itself was automatically permitted as a use, not the hotel, spa, parking garage, strip club (?) etc. Ah, what could have been…. Just another odd twist of fate in a process that has seen so many other well-documented affronts to reason and ethics along the way. We could stop there, but in the week that was this was just the beginning!

Wednesday’s Town Board Meeting- like Tuesday’s meeting, this one was a rollicking affair full of passion and rebellion. Unlike Tuesday’s meeting no police reinforcements were called in. It was a smaller crowd, and better behaved for the most part, but there were still some Brad Pitt FURY moments along the way, including several public demands that Deputy Supervisor Ed Gilbert be removed from office for his comments to the Gaming Commission’s Site Location Board. He has certainly been the object of intense distaste, with calls for his resignation from the Ethics Board at previous Town Board meetings. It’s another fascinating facet of town life, especially given Mr. Gilbert’s recent public apology for certain behaviors and attitudes, and his call for the East Greenbush Matters blog to be shut down or dramatically reformed. That’s the antiMatters blog that sprang up in the aftermath of Mrs. Matters publicly rescinding her casino votes. Taken on their own these confessions are merit-worthy. Repentance is at the heart of the Christian Gospel, after all, and not often seen in politicians or pastors who haven’t been caught in bed with each other.  Will it be enough? Time will tell.

Speaking of resurrection, Maura Ryan reported on the second meeting of the resurrected Citizens Fiscal Advisory Committee, a body that has been entombed for 10 months. Why did it take so long for the Town Board to ask for help from a group of fiscally smart, extremely accomplished citizens? The concept and existence of a CFAC has been in place for many years, but every time they really start making headway some politician develops a phobia and disbands or disregards the group. Ten months later they are back, in their 3rd installment, and already making progress, apparently. While they acknowledge the existence of non-existent financial records for the period 2010-2012, they DO NOT want the audit results we paid tens of thousands of dollars for. Why? The East Greenbush NY financial records for 2010-2012 are too mangled to fix. According to Maura this was because standard accounting and auditing standards weren’t in place. Therefore, the books can’t be recreated. Unbelievable. Our tax dollars went to an organization so disorganized or corrupt that the dollars can’t even be traced! Prior Supervisor McCabe would have been responsible for two of those years; current Supervisor Langley owns 2012. In this version of Mutually Assured Destruction neither political party can point the finger at the other. Sheer genius. What to do? According to the  CFAC and their consultations with outside experts, the smart way forward is to pick a new fiscal starting point and move forward from there. It sounds like we’ll be stepping off fresh in 2015. That means the years from 2010 – 2014 are going to end up as “anything went.” We paid for “anything went,” we paid even more for trying to make sense of “anything went,” and now those 5 years are gone. How much of our money was squandered, misappropriated, stolen? We’ll never know.

Oh, is that too harsh an accusation? Well, I’m not the only one making it! Councilperson Mangold, while stating that she was not the least bit interested in recreating 2010 – 2012 books, was adamant about wanting 2013 and 2014 audits. Why?  She said that in the current staff-shortaged Town Hall we have employees helping each other out with various tasks, a nice practice but one that leaves “so much room for theft and abuse.” And, with so many relatives working together in town (nepotism by any other word), the situation is “extremely dangerous.” She said she wants to know that the money was spent the way it was supposed to be spent. To that end she wants the town to spend whatever it takes to get the proper accounting software up and running in time for 2015, a goal that the CFAC members and Comptroller Phillips share in principle. Well, Sue’s absolutely right. We could have used that aggressive stance from her during the years 2010 – 2012, but we’ll take it now.

Honestly though, all the expensive software in the world isn’t going to help if the town continues it’s unlawful hiring practices. As Councilperson Matters correctly pointed out in painful detail, Civil Service Law is being completely disregarded in East Greenbush. While Town Attorney Dave Gruenberg  essentially acknowledged as much with regard to our payroll not being certified for almost two years, he seemed to downplay the ramifications or importance of following Civil Service Law, describing our actions in this arena as something that has been “percolating” for some time (years)  and is almost fixed in terms of position descriptions and proper classifications. Those things do no good though if you just hire your friends or family members to do a job they are in no way qualified for. That’s why Civil Service Law is so important, that’s why we’ve purposely been avoiding it, and that’s why Mrs. Matters seems so insistent on refusing to vote YES on hiring resolutions for which she has seen no resume. Case in point: a part-time data collector position filled last month on an “emergency” basis was vacated within the first two weeks after Civil Service became a new issue, again, in East Greenbush. It was so urgent that the Supervisor didn’t even bother to try and hire a new data collector this month. Fact is, you probably won’t get the right person for the job when you ignore Civil Service hiring practices, and that is exactly why years 2010 – 2014 will end up being unaccountable fiscal years. The town has to make Civil Service Law a priority in the years ahead.

That’s enough for now. More and worse to come.

Board of Education Backpedaled?

imageThe entire East Greenbush Board of Education was surprised to learn that the good folks from Capital View Casino had used Superintendent Nagle for what seems to be an endorsement of their proposal to bring a $300 million casino to Thompson Hill Road. At their 8/13/14 meeting last night Dr. Nagle and Shay Harrison, President of the Board, responded to the developer’s characterization as well as concerns about transparency in the process, specifically the lack of any notes or documentation regarding the meeting. What follows is an accurate reporting of the exchanges between myself, Dr. Nagle, and Dr. Harrison after a reading from the developer’s submission:

Dr. Nagle (explaining what led to the May meeting between Dr. Nagle, Dr. Harrison, and Saratoga Gaming and Raceway lobbyist/co-owner James Featherstonhaugh):

“We were called separately, I believe, that day, begging for an emergency meeting, so that’s why there was no documentation.” She said Featherstonhaugh presented the casino’s  brochure, “and walked us through that… He didn’t ask us for a position, and he didn’t ask for any information… It was basically explaining what the scope of the project was… He talked about coming to a Board of Education meeting later on… and give a formal presentation to this board. We never heard from him again. That was it.”

Dr. Harrison (explaining the absence of meeting notes as the result of a last minute request from Featherstonhaugh to meet): “Yup, I can be there in 20 minutes ( he happened to be working closer to home that day)…that’s why there’s no meeting minutes… We went into it thinking, ‘Let’s just hear what they have to say, and move on…'” He took issue with the developer’s characterization of this meeting as “an interview with Dr. Nagle,” stating, “That is absolutely an incorrect characterization of what that meeting was. They asked to meet so that they could present what their plans were, and that’s what went on…”

When I asked if Dr. Nagle in fact said the things attributed to her, she said “Yeah, but the context and the way it’s presented in there…it’s absolutely inaccurate.” She went on to say that she personally doubted the money promised to the schools would come back to the district: “No direct source of revenue ever comes back to a specific school district.” She said she didn’t believe the numbers were accurate and she took it with a grain of salt.

I then asked a direct question: “Do you intend to clarify with the Gaming Commission what this body’s position actually is? Seems rather important.” She said, “This body was never asked for a position.” My response: “But he gave you one,” to which she replied, “Well, that’s quotes and that’s politics, and you’re often quoted incorrectly. That’s how I look at it. A vote of support from this body would have been them coming to a board meeting and this board approving a resolution. We have been very, very clear that we’re not taking a position. It is not our position and not under our purview to do so, and that’s the position the entire board and myself have taken.”

I advised her that the Gaming Commission was not going to know any of that. “They’re going to see what’s in the developer’s submission and say, ‘East Greenbush seems to be on board with this, the school district. The only problem that you seem to have was traffic.”

At this point Dr. Harrison stepped in rather forcefully to say, “If you want to write a letter and say ‘I talked to the board at a board meeting and I was told, you know, in public session… that the characterization of this meeting is inaccurately portrayed in that document, I would be glad to provide a supporting, I mean, I’m not getting involved, from the word go, I’m not getting involved in this casino thing. But if you want to make that letter, I would write something in support of what you’re saying, or to send along the meeting notes of tonight, but I just, I’m not getting, I just…”

Dwight: Well unfortunately you ARE involved.

Dr. Harrison: No, I’m not.

Dwight: Well no, they made you involved!

Dr. Harrison: No no no, because THEY made that decision doesn’t mean I’M involved. We’re going to be consistent. I understand your point, but you have a point of view. You’re against the casino, right?”

( Inject widespread laughter here )

Dwight: Yes.

Dr. Harrison: There’s a certain faction in the school district, or in the community, that is FOR the casino. I’m not taking sides. Fortunately I didn’t run for Town Board, so I don’t have to, right, so I’m not getting involved one way or the other, and that’s…they inaccurately put that in there, that’s their problem, and if you want to call them on it I’m glad to…I don’t want somebody coming in who’s pro-casino saying, ‘Why did you write a letter saying that they inaccurately quoted you, are you against the casino? I’m not…whatever is decided by that Gaming Commission is totally decided, and I’m not a big enough player to have any influence on that. I just…I understand what you’re saying but I’m not picking sides. And somebody coming in here at the next board meeting, saying, ‘Why are you against the casino? Why did you support Mr. Jenkins in what he said?’ I’m just telling you that a characterization is inaccurate and I would be glad to say THAT in support of a letter you might send, but no more than that.”

Dwight: I think that’s all anybody’s really asking for.

Dr. Harrison: I’m not writing that letter though on my own, meaning I’m not sending my own letter to the Gaming Commission saying… I just want to point out, if you want to write something, I will say, you know, Mr. Jenkins’ characterization is accurate, that’s about all I’ll be willing to say.

Dwight: I would be tickled to have you do that.

* And within 12 hours of my sending him that e-mail request, most of those being spent in sleep, he was true to his word. I then forwarded the same to the Gaming Commission.  Why not write it himself ? Better yet, since he was at the Featherstonhaugh meeting but never referenced in the developer’s write-up, why wouldn’t Dr. Nagle herself want to set the record straight with the Gaming Commission, to let them know in no uncertain terms that the Board of Education in this town takes a NEUTRAL stance toward the project?  It’s not just politics, it’s a de facto admission, in my mind, that there are other things at work. But that’s just the way my mind works. If in any way I’m found to have misrepresented anyone or misquoted any part of any conversation last night: I don’t want to hear about it. It’s just quotes…

 

 

School Superintendent Supports Casino????

image

Rogue Supervisor? No way. Rogue Casino Developer? Way.

As was previously reported from documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, we know that James Featherstonhaugh of Saratoga Gaming and Raceway met with East Greenbush school superintendent Dr. Angela Nagle sometime in early May, 2014. The notes obtained from Town Hall indicate that on 5/9/14 Feathers and PR representative Julie Miner met with Town Supervisor Langley and town employees “Meaghan, Denise” to discuss various matters including Feathers’ meeting with Dr. Nagle. The notes indicate that two topics of discussion were “Hospitality + gambling academy” and “internship support from Feathers.” Seeking to confirm this meeting I filed a Freedom of Information request with the school district and in response received only an e-mailed copy of the same tired old, wildly bloated casino brochure that was making the rounds. No notes, no agenda, no nothing. Seems strange, yes, to have a high-powered lobbyist and a school superintendent in one room with no notes, and no record of the meeting? Very strange, especially after reading the 5/28/14 Board of Education meeting minutes in which, under direct questioning, the board responded in no uncertain terms that they were not taking a position on the casino! From the minutes:

Public Forum
Ms. Lang asked if the Board had issued a letter of support for the proposed casino. Dr. Harrison responded no and that there has been no commitment from the Board either for or against the proposed casino. Ms. Garrigan-Piela said the Board would not be coerced into making any commitment. Mr. Dunn said that it was a Town of East Greenbush issue not the purview of the Board, and that the Board represents residents from six jurisdictions.

Seems pretty clear. The Board of Education, for whom the Superintendent is really an employee, refused to take a position. Very troubling, then, to peruse the casino developer’s application, under Sub-Binder 2- Local Impact and Siting Factors/08 Assessment of Local Support And Mitigation of Local Impact, and read the following:

Angela Nagle, superintendent of East Greenbush schools, told us in an interview, that a casino in East Greenbush would benefit her school district of 4,600 students.
She sees it as a boost to the region’s sluggish economy. People would be able to find jobs or find better jobs with higher salaries than they currently earn, Nagle said.
East Greenbush is operating under capacity so it could easily absorb additional students that might result from a new casino. The board of education considered but rejected a plan last year to close one of the district’s five elementary schools. “We have seven empty classrooms,” Nagle explained, noting that the problem of shrinking enrollment is only getting worse. People move out, Nagle said, because they cannot find suitable employment. Nagle is hopeful that some of funds that are provided to East Greenbush as a result of it being a host community will find its way to the school district. One problem, she said, that needs to be addressed is traffic.

Keep in mind that the criteria for this section of the application is as follows:

IX.A.5 – School Population
Submit as Exhibit IX.A.5. an assessment of the likely impact on school populations in the Host Municipality and nearby municipalities resulting from new jobs the Gaming Facility provides, and the Applicant’s plans and commitments to remedy or mitigate any negative impacts. Provide copies of any contracts, agreements or other understandings evidencing such mitigation commitments.

Sounds like two different sides of the same conversation. A fortuitous encounter with a Board of Education member this morning found them perplexed and troubled by the developer’s quotes. This individual did not know that the developer was painting a picture of support when in fact there was none! Not only that, the individual was concerned that maybe the head of the board, Shay Harrison, as well as the Superintendent herself may not have known about the developer’s recollection, so both were contacted. Good thing they were. Both describe a last minute, gotta be done today request for a Feathers meeting. Both recall that Feathers wanted only the two of them together, and that no notes were taken by anyone, which would explain my empty FOIL request nest. Most importantly, both recall that Feathers was fishing for a letter of support but that none would be forthcoming. The 5/28/14 meeting minutes remain the official position of the School Board and the Superintendent: Swiss neutrality.

So what then does an interested party make of the supposed quotes from Dr. Nagle in the casino developer’s submission to the Gaming Commission? Dr. Nagle apparently denies the quotes and statements in whole or recalls them as being taken out of context in part. Bottom line: despite what Feathers and Co. wrote and submitted as part of their official application to the Gaming Commission, the EG School District takes no position on the casino. Period. If you are interested in seeing this put to bed in an official manner, for the record, plan on attending this Wednesday’s 8/13/14 Board meeting at Genet, 7:30 P.M. They don’t want any confusion on the matter, and I’m sure the Gaming Commission doesn’t either.

Bound by the Binders: Fake Resolutions

Applications for casino licenses are now up on the Gaming Commission’s web site. The East Greenbush site is organized into binders and sub-binders by category. I’d like to explore some of those binders in detail, pointing out some of the key areas in which Supervisor Langley, the East Greenbush Town Board, and Saratoga Gaming and Raceway manipulated our perceptions of reality to gain a vote of support for planting a casino in East Greenbush. I find Sub-Binder two especially interesting because it deals with all of the little local people: how we should feel, how we should think, and why we should trust the deceitful people behind this foolish plan. Sub-Binder 2 is organized as follows:

Index of: Sub-Binder 2 – Local Impact and Siting Factors/08 Assessment of Local Support And Mitigation of Local Impact

Exhibit IX.A.1.a Town Board Resolution of Support
Exhibit IX.A.1.b Other Evidence of Local Support

Exhibit IX.A.2.a Costs to Host Municipalities and State
Exhibit IX.A.2.b Local and Regional Impacts

Exhibit IX.A.3 Mitigation of Impacts

Exhibit IX.A.4. Housing

Exhibit IX.A.5. School Population

We’ll take them one at a time and pick them apart a bit, like an autopsy, allowing us to see in some detail the disease that is afflicting our society, our Town, and our politics.

1.a. Town Board Resolution of Support

There were actually two Resolutions of support. There was the initial lie foisted on us in April as a non-binding resolution, allowing us to entertain the mere prospect of a casino. In fact, that resolution actually put us all into Saratoga Gaming’s headlock, a grip from which we have yet to escape. How were we duped by Supervisor Langley and his Feathered friend? Look at some of the language in Resolution 65-2014, dated April 16, 2014. We were told that we needed a casino to bail us out of difficult fiscal constraints, but that nothing was final. Supervisor Langley and the entire Town Board were purposefully and maliciously manipulative:

WHEREAS, the Town Board of East Greenbush is responsible for ensuring the fiscal stability and economic vitality of our community; and

WHEREAS, siting of a casino in a host community is worth millions in host fees and increased property tax revenue, and this Town Board believes it prudent for the town to indicate support to allow for any reasonable casino siting offers to be presented to the town for consideration and due deliberation; and

WHEREAS, this Town Board further recognizes the host fees from a casino would be of significant benefit to the residents and taxpayers of the town, especially given the fiscal conditions the town is now facing; and

RESOLVED, the Town Board joins Rensselaer County and other area communities in declaring support for the siting of a casino in East Greenbush to allow for presentation of proposals that benefit the town and its residents.

Councilperson Mangold made a motion to amend the above Resolution to read:

WHEREAS, Audits for the Town have been stopped, the Board has not seen fund balances, year to date variance reports or reporting on any financial matter since the beginning of the year.

WHEREAS, the fiscal conditions of the Town are not known to the Board; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, the following wording from 6th recital “especially given the fiscal conditions of the Town is now facing” be removed.

The motion to amend was duly moved by Councilperson Mangold and seconded by Councilperson Malone and brought to a vote resulting as follows: ( What followed was pure party-line posturing and voting: the Republican-aligned members shot down the Democrats’ truthful concerns about the fiscal condition of the Town.) Four months later we STILL don’t know the true fiscal condition of the Town, but that Resolution certainly made it sound dire, didn’t it? Once the posturing was voted down the Board took up the actual vote, and the Resolution was unanimously approved. Not to worry though, the Resolution came with a pat on the head from Supervisor Langley: Scary as it might sound, the Resolution was simply “to allow for presentation of proposals that benefit the town and its residents.” This was, of course, a total lie. East Greenbush was the first of the original five proposed sites to have this Resolution up on the Gaming Commission’s web site as proof that we needed and wanted a casino.

Two other things to remember: Councilwoman Mangold later stated that she didn’t realize the vote that night was binding; Councilwoman Matters later rescinded her support for the casino in The Advertiser and subsequent media interviews.

Now fast-forward to the Special Meeting vote in June, the meeting held at the inconvenient time of 4:30 in the afternoon, the meeting held on a day other than the normal 3rd Wednesday meetings at 7:00 P.M., the meeting held in violation of the Open Meetings Law by planning for a downsized and irregular venue too small for the crowds that the Board knew would come, leaving dozens of residents disenfranchised out in the hallway and unable to participate in the civic life of the Town, and leaving untold residents inside the room just as disenfranchised by Supervisor Langley’s arbitrary decision to stop the public comment period before everyone who wanted to speak could do so. That meeting. The site-specific one for Thompson Hill Road. Look how different Resolution 85-2014 reads on June 14, 2014:

Supervisor Langley opened the public portion at 4:32pm.The supervisor stated that residents are limited to two minutes each and remarks will end at 5:30 pm. There were 32 residents that spoke against with the same concerns, children, to close to schools and in a residential neighborhood. There were 10 residents that spoke for stating the tax on the land alone will help the town financially. Be this duly noted that the Town Clerk as received written complaints from the following and are on file in the Clerk’s Office: Jennifer Delgrosse, Laurraine Wiese, Christine Tierney and Community Gospel Church. (That made at least 36 against a casino, since the Community Gospel Church has more than one member, and ten in favor of a casino. 236 to 10 would not be unfair to state.) Open portion closed at 5:40pm.

“Supporting the Location of a Gaming Facility in the Town of East Greenbush”

WHEREAS, an application will be filed with the New York Gaming Commission by a joint venture of Saratoga Casino and Raceway and Churchill Downs, Inc., for the location of a casino facility on Thompson Hill Road in the Town of East Greenbush; and

WHEREAS, the law governing the establishment of casinos under the recent constitutional amendment mandates a casino operator to make a substantial annual payment to the host community; and

WHEREAS, in addition to a substantial host community fee, the casino facility will be required to pay all of the required property taxes, school taxes and other real property tax levies, based upon the assessed value of the property; and

WHEREAS, in addition to a sizable revenue source to the Town, a new casino facility would create new jobs in the Town of East Greenbush, both in the construction of the facility, and in the operation of the facility; and

WHEREAS, any such facility, if approved by the Commission, must still go through the SEQRA process, with the Town being the lead agency; and

WHEREAS, the Commission has required the applicant to provide a resolution from the Town Board in support of the location of a casino facility; now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED, the Town Comptroller has certified that there is no adverse impact to the Town finances; now, therefore

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that in furtherance of the above goals, the Town of East Greenbush hereby agrees to the location of the gaming facility on Thompson Hill Road in the Town of East Greenbush.

The foregoing Resolution was duly moved by Supervisor Langley seconded by Councilperson Malone and brought to a vote resulting as follows …”

What followed was, of course, another 5-0 vote in favor of a casino. Keep in mind that it was at this vote that Councilwoman Mangold predicted that none of that night’s Board Members would likely be re-elected because of their votes, putting the lie to “the silent majority” theory of residents’ Town support for the casino.

But look at the language of the 2nd vote: it was clearly a vote on an actual casino, not just the idea of a casino; gone is the language about the Town’s dire financial need; and amazingly, in the absence of any studies or corroborating evidence, the Town Comptroller George Phillips assures us that a casino will have no adverse impact to the Town’s finances! How’s that working out in Atlantic City, and in various casino-towns all over the country? All of this, of course, came after Feathers and friends secretly courted the Town Board members and local authorities and businesses over the two months in-between the two votes, filling their heads with sugar plum promises of millions in revenue and supercharged economic vitality. Remember, the initial bait used to entice the Board and the Town was dire financial need. But in a required “independent review” done by the gambling industry’s Spectrum Gaming, Supervisor Langley let the truth slip out like a fart at a cocktail party: “Langley noted that the town is experiencing slow, steady growth and that the outlook for the town, even without a casino, is good.”

Notice also the promise of jobs. Saratoga Gaming and Raceway told us week after week after week that this project was going to produce 3400 much-needed local jobs: 1700 of them being good, full-time jobs with benefits, and 1700 construction jobs. You’ll see these numbers pop up repeatedly throughout the various binders that make up the application, as sucker after sucker bought the lie they were being fed. But those are not the numbers that actually got submitted in the application. They’re down to about a thousand jobs, with many if not most of the important, higher-paying jobs simply shifting down from a dying Saratoga Racino. People, we were lied to, over and over and over. And that’s just in the first of 7 parts to Sub-Binder Two…

A Thorny Little Project

From the Town of East Greenbush Building Department site:

“Many questions are asked concerning when a building permit is required. All persons proposing to construct, erect, relocate, alter, repair, extend, remove, demolish, or structurally change any building, structure or portion thereof, shall apply to the Building Inspector for a building permit on the appropriate form. Included also are: swimming pools, (above and in-ground), blacktop driveways (new or resurfaced), fences, sheds, siding and roofing. Signs are regulated by the Town’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. Please contact the Building Department if you have any questions concerning the law.”

http://www.eastgreenbush.org/downloads/doc_download/574-building-permit-application

Below is the text of an e-mail I just sent to the Town Board and the Panning Attorney. Basically what it means is that you can’t put up a deck, build a patio, install a wood-stove or in-ground pool without a getting a building permit from the town.  You CAN, however, put up a 23 lot major subdivision without one as long as you have enough money and influence. The lesson here is don’t waste your time and money on getting town approval for anything. JUST DO IT! If anybody questions you about it just say, “Thompson Way.” 

 

Hello Phil, Board Members:

I picked up my “Thompson Way” FOIL documents today, and there was nothing in the file to indicate Final Plat approval for this project. No building permits, no resolutions, no votes, nothing. Well, not actually nothing: there was a November 14, 2011 letter from Boswell Engineering’s Dominick Arico to NYS DOT’s Mark Kennedy, PE (Schenectady) stating the following: “Boswell Engineering received final plan approval for the above referenced 23 lot subdivision in the Town of East Greenbush, NY. …” THIS NEVER HAPPENED, and yet somehow Planning Board Chairman Matt Polsinello signed off on the Final Plat on 1/15/14, more than two years AFTER the alleged Final Approval.

Further, there is another letter dated November 14, 2011 from Boswell’s Dominick Arico, this time to NYS DEC’s Derek Thorsland, PE (Environmental Engineer) for Region 4. Document #7 on the list of attached documents: “Two (2) Sets of Final Subdivision Plans, last revised 11/14/11 (stamped & signed). This couldn’t have legally happened since there was no Final Plat approval by the Planning Board and no Planning Board Resolution or vote on the project. In fact, “Thompson Way” received Preliminary Plat approval and Negative SEQRA Declaration on 1/12/11. That was the last time “Thompson Way” appears in the Planning Board public record. Matt Polsinello did not sign off on the Final Plat until 1/15/14.

Mr. Arico also submitted two sets of Final Subdivision Plans, last revised 11/14/11 (signed and stamped) to the Rensselaer County Dept. of Health on November 14th, 2011. That just wasn’t possible, and yet the County Health Dept.’s Professional Engineer and the Public Health Director, Mary Fran Wachunas signed off on the project, form EH 821, on 5/3/13. Two years prior, on 4/7/11, Mr. Arico sent what seems to be the only extant legitimate letter to that same Ms. Wachunas to advise her that “Boswell Engineering has received preliminary plan approval for a 23 lot subdivision in the Town of East Greenbush…Enclosed are two sets of plans prepared by Boswell Engineering…Upon final plan approval by the Town of East Greenbush, a formal application will be submitted for RCDOH permit approval.” THAT FINAL APPROVAL IS STILL MISSING, and yet the first house is moving along nicely right next to me. Here it is:

 

Mystery House

Mystery House

 

On 3/26/13 Mr. Arico wrote to East Greenbush Town Engineer Richard Benko with regard to “review comments from your consultant and town staff for the above (Thompson Way) project… We trust this meets your approval and look forward to obtaining a permit for construction in the near future.” There was no permit in the FOIL materials, nor did anyone contradict me about this at Wednesday’s Town Board meeting.

So how does this happen? Corruption. That’s how the elected officials of East Greenbush, and their unelected helpers, make things like this happen. Supervisor Langley, Town Board members, you do not have the luxury of pointing the finger at the Planning Board just because they approve subdivisions. A corrupt Planning Board IS your problem, and the Town’s problem. I have contacted every local, county, state and federal oversight and law enforcement agency possible about this in the last week. Maybe you’ll get lucky and no one will take an interest. Then again, maybe I’ll get lucky. And speaking of luck, how about that stupid $300 million casino project you want to place in a nice rural neighborhood…

Dwight Jenkins