Town Board Work Session
November 24, 2015
Personnel and vendor negotiations
1. Verizon Cell Tower
2. Ethics Code
After explaining that the purpose of an Ethics Code was to act as a guide and protection for town employees and officials and also to inspire the public’s confidence in town staff and officials, Steven Leventhal, the attorney hired by the board to review the current Ethics Code, proceeded to identify several sections of the code where he felt more clarity was needed. The discussion then changed to more substantive issues, including whether the code needed more “teeth” and if so, in what areas. The substantive discussion included:
Role of Ethics Board: Whether the Ethics Board should be an independent body with the ability to make its findings public or whether, as is the present case, its findings should only be recommendations made to the Town Board, leaving the Town Board with the ultimate power to accept or reject the Ethics Board’s recommendations. I noted that the members of the current Ethics Board felt strongly about the need for the Ethics Board to be independent and that members felt there was no need to have an Ethics Board if it wasn’t independent. Supervisor Grace disagreed and felt that the ultimate decision should remain with the Town Board and gave the following example: if an issue dealt with a CSEA member and possibly the union contract, only the Town Board could deal with that issue. Mr. Leventhal also pointed out an inconsistency in the current code that says that members of the Ethics Board are appointed for three year terms but also says that they serve at the pleasure of the Town Board.
Sanctions: There was no specific discussion on this other than Mr. Leventhal might propose a range of sanctions that could be imposed.
Revolving door (the ability of a former town employee or official to represent another person or corporation before a town body): Supervisor Grace argued against the provision in the current code that has a one year prohibition, calling it punitive for the former employee; he suggested that the issue of ethical behavior should be with the town body, not the former employee or official.
As a next step, Mr. Leventhal will provide the Town Board with a copy of the Town of Huntington Ethics Code, both the draft he produced and what ultimately Huntington officials adopted. He suggested that a committee review the document (the committee’s meetings would not be open to the public) and report back to the Town Board.
In general, Supervisor Grace considered the ethics issue one of personalities, not parties.
3. Marathon Development (322 Kear Street)
Marathon representatives appeared before the board seeking a general letter of support for their proposed project that they would submit with their application to the state housing agency that will be providing funds for the mixed use development. The project will also be part of the county’s affordable housing project. The board indicated its general support with Supervisor Grace adding that the overall aesthetics of the project were important. There was some discussion over the height of the proposed building and the setback from the street, issues that are currently being reviewed by the Planning Board.
Rents for 9 of the 12 units will be set at 60% of the area’s median income and 3 will be at 50%. There will be no rent subsidies. One bedroom rents would range from $1,012 to $1,250. Two bedroom rents would range from $1,215 to $1,502. Income limits would depend on the number of persons in the household and for 9 units would range from $44,400 for a 1-person household to $57,120 for a 3-person household. For the remaining three units, the income limit would range from $37,000 to $47,600. In comparison, it was noted that 20 of the units at the Underhill Apartments, also owned by Marathon, rent at less than 40% of median income and many other units receive Section 8 subsidies. No one had information about the rents for the apartment above Yorktown Glass.
4. Ianuzzi Flexibility request
Al Capellini, attorney for the applicant, explained the advantages of the flexibility option. The board had no problem with the request and voted to set a public hearing on December 15th.
5. Code Review
(See Town Board 9/23/2014 & 12/2/2014.) Ray Arnold repeated his earlier proposal for a three year contract at a cost of $21,000 to update the town codes. He gave examples of inconsistencies and omissions that were either wrong or outdated and should be addressed. He said that town staff did not have the time to take on the task and that he could work with them, at times being a buffer between the department heads and the Town Board.
I noted that there were two categories of needed code updates: correcting inconsistencies and substantive changes such as the effort currently underway to update the wetlands code. I felt that the latter was the more important category and because department heads dealt with the codes on a day-to-day basis and had a better handle on code issues, they should be the ones suggesting code updates. The board felt that both categories could be addressed at the same time, using both department heads and Mr. Arnold.
The discussion was deferred, however, to a future closed session as it involves contract negotiations.
6. Dogs at Jack DeVito Veterans Memorial Field
(See Town Board, 8-11-2015.) As a follow up to the earlier discussion, the Parks & Recreation Commission sent the board a memo recommending that the current signage at the field be changed to say that dogs are to be curbed or subject to up to a $250 fine. While the town code currently prohibits dogs from defecating or urinating in public parks, the current signs, that do not mention the fine, have been deemed unenforceable by the police. While Ms. McKenhie repeated her earlier request that dogs be prohibited from the field (she said this was also a recommendation of the town’s police chief), Supervisor Grace said he wasn’t prepared to go that far at this time. In response to my question whether the animal control officer had done any enforcement work at the field after the August meeting, no one had any information. I suggested to Ms. McKenhie that after the new sign/s were posted, she stay in touch with the animal control officer who would be able to issue tickets on the spot if he observed a dog defecating or urinating. I also urged her to work with the media so that the number of tickets be publicized as an incentive for dog owners to modify their behavior.
7. Hilltop Service Station
Diah Hamed, owner of the station, along with Chris Sciarra, appeared before the board to discuss what the owner had to do to correct the site plan violations on the site. (Note: the Building Department issued a violation notice but has not as yet issued a summons.) Councilman Bernard was especially disturbed by the situation, noting that after personally talking to Mr. Hamed,, the owner went ahead and made additional modifications to the site – and added more cars. When the discussion began to focus on fences and plantings, I expressed the opinion that the issue that needed to be decided first was the use of the site and I repeated my previous comment that the earlier rezoning specifically prohibited the sale of used cars on the site. (When Supervisor Grace said he thought the rezoning applied to the gas station parcel and not the parcel behind the station that abuts Route 6, he was corrected.) Fencing and landscaping requirements needed to be related to the use of the site, I said. Both Supervisor Grace and Planning Director Tegeder noted the aesthetic importance of the site as the gateway to Yorktown and the town’s ongoing efforts to create a greenbelt along Route 6. No board would want to see a used car lot so close to Route 6, the supervisor said.
That said, the discussion ended with the board advising Mr. Hamed to come back to the board “quickly” with a plan that could satisfy the competing objectives of giving the used cars a visibility while also hiding them. At one point councilman Bernard suggested that Mr. Hamed remove some of the cars while working out the details of his new plan, but there was no follow up to the suggestion.
8. Miscellaneous resolutions
Street sweeping. The board awarded a bid to Three D Industrial Maintenance Corporation for street sweping at the basic rate of $106.75/hour. (Note: Highway Superintendent Paganelli has earlier advised the board that it would be more cost effective to outsource the sweeping function twice a year than purchase an expensive and high maintenance sweeper. Street sweeping is required as part of the town’s annual stormwater practices. )