County legislative clerk Randall Roth has the job of
reviewing the signatures to ensure they are certified as registered voters
in Ulster County. He has thirty days to complete the task and declare
the petitions valid, or otherwise. “It will take quite a bit of
time,” said Roth. “We’re going to do a fair process,
and that’s it.”
Once the petitions are accepted, said Josh KopIowitz, attorney for the
Democrats, “there is no plan to govern the election his November,
because the last pIan was declared unconstitutional and the new plan can’t
go into effect until, at earliest, November 2003. So it is our opinion,
the county must ask the court to establish a plan for the 2003 election.
I assume they will ask the court to use the plan they just adopted, and
we will argue that it shouldn’t be used and will be pressing for
adopting a single member plan.”
Koplovitz said time is an issue, because the judge will need time to craft
a voting planto ensure the upcoming county legislative election is fair.
Democrats have contended that a single-member district plan would be the
fairest way for county elections to proceed. At a news conference January
31, Parete, Kingston Democrat Dave Donaldson and Saugerties legislator
Gary Bischoff said that they had a legal single-member plan to present
to Bradley for his potential use.
Koplovitz said the results of the certification process must be known
by March 3. He said that within a month of that date, if the county leadership
is not in court requesting a judicial guideline for the upcoming elections,
then county Democrats will have to take court action, to ensure viable
electoral choices in November.
At issue are the district lines by which county voters elect and are represented
by their legislators on the 33 member county legislature . Every ten years,
after the federal census, counties are obligated to review their electoral
status to ensure that county government is run under the one-person-one-vote
principle. The Ulster County legislature has long been dominated by Republicans,
who currently hold a 24-9 majority despite the electorate being one third
Democratic, one-third Republican and one-third registered voters who choose
When the Republican majority approved the newest decade’s version
of a multi-member district plan in 2001, county Democrats went to state
court to protest the outcome, claiming unconstitutionality in that since
some citizens would have,in effect, seven representatives while others
only have two.
State Supreme Court Justice Vincent Bradley, in rulings issued in 2001
and 2002,agreed and declared that plan unconstitutional, though the earlier
ruling came too late to change it for the 2001 elections. But he ordered
it to be fixed prior to the 2003 county legislative election.
It is that new nine-district plan, barely approved 17-15 by county legislators
late last year, that will be the subject of the referendum, if the petitions
Koplovitz said a ruling by the state attorney general issued in 1981 seems
to suggest that only 2,900 voter signatures are needed to put the issue
to a referendum. But he said he expects Republicans to fight acceptance
of the petitions. “They obviously don’t want to go to a referendum,
they are going to say it’s ten thousand voter signatures that we
need,” said Koplovitz, who added he is confident the petitions carry
enough valid signatures to force a referendum. He said unlike petition
signature drives to get candidates into a race, the referendum petition
has looser rules. “If you have the legitimate signature, they are
not going to throw this out based on some little technicalities,”
he said, adding he based that opinion on “the tenor of the relevant
“Wemade a real effort to check the list of registered voters,”
said Koplovitz.“ Not that we’re guaranteeing every person
on the petitions is a registered voter, but we did a responsible job.
And there is such a cushion there, when they are done with the process
they will see there are enough signatures.”
After Roth makes his declaration, whether positive or negative, either
side has five days to challenge his decision. If he rules the petitions
have the requisite number of signatures, the matter will be slated for
the November ballot.
Peter Savago, the chairman of the county Republican party, did not return
a call seeking comment on the matter.
The meeting which about 100 attended, opened with committee
member Mike Ricciardella calling for Nolan’s removal from her position
as the committee’s secretary because he and othe rmembers accused
her of inserting and deleting text from the master draft of the plan without
the knowledge of the rest of the committee. Nolan however, staunchly denied
that she had covertly altered the plan.
As secretary, her duties are to keep meeting minutes
and send out meeting notices to the press. Members Gerry Setchko and Chuck
Perez said that unagreed upon additions to the plan came to their attention
at the committee’s December 9 meeting, when the committee first
saw text from the environmental subcommittee that had been added to the
The committee has worked in several subcommittees, with
each subcommittee arriving at its text and then putting it before the
committee as a whole for its approval or rejection. Nolan, herself did
not have direct access to the computer file, but gave her text to either
the committee chair John Mathiasson or to the committee’s intern,
Michelle Yost, to physically enter into the computer file.
“There was a lot of work being done very quickly
and being put together and reformatted. In the process people felt that
the document went out before they had a chance to really see it and they
wanted to find a reason for it,” explained Nolan the next day. “If
you missed one meeting, text could be in that you never saw before. It
wasn’t that anybody did anything wrong.” The motion to remove
Nolan was tabled until the end of the meeting, at which time Ricciardella
reintroduced it. “I believe that I have been unfairly characterized,”
said Nolan, “and I regret that people haven’t looked into
the facts. I only offered to be secretary to help. It doesn’t have
any power, any meaning. If you want someone else to be secretary of this
committee that’s fine with me. I don’t have any hidden agenda.
I withdraw. You don’t have to vote on it.”
Nolan was interrupted several times by hecklers in the
audience. The next day, one committee member said that the process was
so rushed that the committee as a whole was not able to review each section
so that it might appear that the text had been monkeyed with when in fact
it hadn’t been. In addition, the rush meant that a plan that most
members were not happy with went before the public, which then publicly
embarrassed the committee at last month’s hearing. In order to save
face, Nolan — who has frequently been a lightning rod for criticism
on local environmental issues—was singled out as the scapegoat.
During the procedural portion of the meeting, much argument
went back and forth about how the public’s four hours of oral comments
in addition to submitted written comments on the plan should be used to
edit the plan. Setchko suggested that everything in brackets, should be
thrown out. Portions of the text in brackets have either not been agreed
upon by the committee as a whole, or may not have even been reviewed by
He further suggested that everything in the plan covered
by existing state, county or local laws beremoved, and that the final
version be given to a professional planner to writeso that it doesn’t
appear to look like a law. Aftermuch back and forth — and frequent
interruptions from the audience—it wasfinally decided that five
criteria beapplied to everything in the plan to decide whether it should
stay or go:
1) does it replicate something already contained in existing
2) does it address a problem that the town might actually
3) does it have strong community support;
4) is it cost effective; and
5) does it reflect avision for the future.
When the committee began going through the body of the
text—skipping the executive summary since it is made up of material
contained within the body—everything they encountered was scrapped
except for the initial goal. That goal states: “Protect the fragile
features that form the mountain environment—steep slopes, shallow
soils, wooded hilltops, mountain streams—from physical and visual
degradation so that the town’s main natural and economic resources
are preserved.” The actions and objectives connected with the goal
were scrapped including theformation of the controversial Conservation
Advisory Committee. That committee is currently a matter being considered
by the town board, so its inclusion in the plan was deemed inappropriate.
The next meeting of the committee will take place Monday,
February 24, 7p.m. at townhall.
Furthermore, the situation has ended up forcing the
County Health Department to issue a “standard boil water precautionary
order,” according to county officials.
The century-old water system iscurrently awaiting finalization of a
sale to the town by developer Dean Gitter,the center of local controversy
because of his proposal to build a 1,900 acregolf resort in the Big
Indian and Highmount areas just behind the hamlet of Pine Hill. Long-needed
system repairs are expected to begin over the coming summer.
Al Frisenda, the Gitter employee currently serving as system manager,
said last week that he started noticing that reservoir levels were dropping
with the lowering temperatures and contacted town supervisor Pete Di
Modica on January 27 to advise him about "a potential problem."
"People were running water to keep their pipes from freezing, "Frisenda
said. "They were using so much of it that on top of our existing
leaks - we could never find them - thereservoir water was getting depleted."
Frisenda noted that he called Titan Drilling to hook the system up to
a new well they had drilled for the Pine Hill Water Company to replace
an older well now on state property. Then he started contacting Pine
Hill water users to try to stem the running water system, withthe help
of Di Modica and Lowell Smith of the Pine Hill Fire Company.
According to Frisenda, one woman he called said that in addition to
running taps, she had fixed her home's three toilets to also stay running.
"That equals 10,000 gallons per24 hours for each toilet,"
Frisenda said. "The minute she stopped I could see the reservoir
level go up."
The water system manager added that the whole situation ended up representing
a potential problem "nipped in the bud."
And yet the averted problem still managed to raise controversy in town.
First, on the evening of January 27,Pine Hill Arms owner Bob Konefal
raised the subject of depleted water resources as part of an impassioned
speech at a Comprehensive Plan meeting, saying that the town's inability
to purchase the system, or allow Gitter to get the grants to fix it,
was causing water problems that could force him out of business.
Then an e-mail started going out among Pine Hill residents on January
28, suggesting that the water problems were the fault of a break near
Konefal's business and exacerbated by Gitter's removal of two questionable
water sources from the system.
Finally, at the Saturday town board meeting, Frisenda held up a copy
of the Jan. 28 e-mail, purporting it had come from a local newspaper.
Di Modica pointed out that his accusation was based on confused facts:
the news story Frisenda said was the source of the e-mail had instead
utilized the missive, and not vice-versa. The story of the averted break
was then related.
"There was no main break,"Frisenda said this week. "The
(County) Board of Health said it could be possible but we can't know
until the Spring."
He added that currently frozen pipes are likely under driveways and
not repairable until a full thaw occurs.
County Environmental Sanitation Director Alan Dumas and Senior Public
Health Engineer Chris Costello said this week that they put out a boil
water order when the reservoir level got so low they started to worry
about the “contact time” for chlorine to cleanse the system.
Although, as of press time, the two said they were close to lifting
the order because the system’s reservoir had refilled, they were
still worried about high per capita usage due to leaks and running taps.
Dumas and Costello added that similar systems in Delaware and Greene
counties were facing similar boilorders, a situation they’ve called
for Pine Hill before.
";There's always been problems with water," said Richard Schaedle,
whose family owned the Pine Hill watersystem from 1950 to 1991. "As
long as you have pipes and water flowing through them, things happen.";
Schaedle is currently head of the Pine Hill Water District Coalition,
an ad hoc group, founded by Di Modica before he became supervisor, dedicated
to ensuring the sale of the system to the town.
"I think this all started because Al thought there
was a leak," Schaedle added, noting how heavy useof the system
by Pine Hill hotels in the 1960s caused past problems similar to what
just occurred. He further noted that the amount of repairs needed by
the system are great, and should be addressed as soon as possible.
According to Di Modica, the town should be able to complete its purchase
of the water company by the end of March, when the state Public Service
Commission reviews the sale by Gitter.
"I'm currently working with HUD and the Environmental Facilities
Corporation, neither of whom wants to release their funds until the
other does," said Di Modica. "I've been sending tons and tons
of stuff to both agencies - resolutions, contracts, public notices -
it seems to be endless."
Frisenda added that he believes the town has been handling everything
well, and that the final shift over of responsibility should occur by
"Dean made sure all the grants he was to be getting were preserved
so they'll be there for a system renovation," Frisenda said. "They'll
have to hire a licensed operator, you know."
Dumas and Costello said that the Pine Hill system should theoretically
have enough water -- given it can fix its many leaks. They both seemed
enthusiastic about the pending sale of the company, as well as the fact
that both Gitter and the town are poised to recieve grants for renovations
over the coming summer.
“The water there isn’t being used, it’s being wasted,”
“The most prudent thing for everybody out there would be to start
in on the needed repairs as soon as possible.”
Schaedle said that although he wasn't a licensed operator, he'd be willing
to work gratis as a consultant onthe system he grew up with.
Frisenda noted that, with two and a half years experience running the
system, he would be happy to continue as a town employee. He estimated
his job has cost him an average 20 hours each week, although he also
pointed out that once renovations are completed, the work load would
likely drop considerably.
"Whatever happens with the district's supervision will be decided
on by the people of Pine Hill." DiModica, sidestepping the question
of who will be running things once the sale of the water system has
been completed. "We'll get to that one in due time."