on the News
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, D'Orazio said,
"Closing a school is a very divisive decision for a community.
I've been through the Indian decision [when the board attempted to remove
the high school's Indian mascot several years ago], I was involved in
that decision. It was extremely divisive and caused people to be elected
to the board on the back of that issue who had other agendas. And the
more I hear from various departments, the more I feel even financially,
closing the school doesn't make sense. There are hidden expenses. Although
we'll be saving of logistical and financial problems with transportation.
We're not sure we have a tenant for the building; BOCES might not want
The superintendent tells me that the other three schools
would be at capacity, and what if we need more space? Mr. Rosato said
it might cost a lot to reopen the building later."D'Orazio feels
the Princeton Plan would actually be beneficial to the district. "It's
a sound educational plan as presented to me by the superintendent, and
Meg Carey believes it's
good. It will unify the young people at an earlier age than they are
now. Students and parents [from West Hurley and Woodstock] will be forced
to interact with each other sooner rather than later," he commented,
referring to problems reported at the middle school, where children
from different elementary schools are stereotyped and treated with hostility
by other students.
Teachers, too, would be mixed together as some Woodstock
teachers would go to West Hurley and vice versa."Closing a school
is serious business," D'Orazio continued. "It's a psychological
blow that sends a message of pessimism. I don't want to do that to the
community. Now the board enjoys a quiet feeling of doing business. Once
the community is mad at us, people start making accusations of trustees
having ulterior motives—it creates a bad environment."
To accommodate the reduced savings of the Princeton
Plan proposal, administrators have been scouring the budget for more
areas to cut, said Rowe, including custodial staff and equipment, deeper
cuts in cafeteria services, supplies, textbooks, BOCES, and possible
reductions in programs rather than elimination of entire programs. When
student requests for next year's high school classes are made, he said,
"We will review everything with a low enrollment."
If the voters reject the board's budget, the board
has a chance to bring another budget proposal to a vote. A second rejection
will result in a contingency budget, limited to a three percent increase
over this year's budget. D'Orazio said the board would have to discuss
how to handle an initial rejection. "We can decide to reduce it
more [before the second vote] or we can put it out again, ask the voters
to think about it." If the district is forced to go to a contingency
budget, said D'Orazio, "Even then I would still not favor closing
a school to deal with it. We
could probably find other areas to reduce."
The contract was originally approved by county legislators
on April 11, 2002 and signed by county legislature chairman Ward Todd
and county attorney Frank Murray on April 15, 2002. It was set to run
for nine months, but legislators last week approved an extension for an
additional three years by a 20-10 vote. The contract calls for the tribe
to pay the county $15 million per year for seven years, if the casino
is ever built, in exchange for which the county must support the Modoc's
application, and actively help it to get situated.
But the signed contract resulted from a series of apparentlyunannounced,
unrecorded meetings that included Todd, Murray and county legislative
majority leader Richard Gerentine with tribal respresentives. How long
the meetings have been occurring is unclear, but they began no later than
the winter of 2002. The April 11, 2002 vote to approve the contract initially
was 25-8 in a body where Republicans hold a 24-9 majority. But legislators
learned of the contract for the first time the night of the vote, and
were not given a chance to examine it before voting. At least some of
the meetings that led to the contract were under auspices of a five-member
special committee appointed by Todd, and chaired by Gerentine. The meetings
were apparently attended by Murray. At least some of the meetings took
place in Todd's office, but those involved say no records are available
on who attended or when they took place.
"First of all, I didn't know it had to be in the public eye,"
said Gerentine regarding the Special Committee to Study Casino Gambling.
Gerentine was responding to a Freedom of Information act request for minutes
and other records of meetings that the special committee or any other
county officials had in relation to the Modoc Tribe and its casino applications.
"We had various meetings, there were no official minutes taken at
those meetings," said Gerentine. "There's no minutes. And I
was not aware that any minutes had to be taken."But the lack of meetings
is an apparent violation of existing statutes.
"It's been part of the state law since 1977," said Robert Freeman,
executive director of the state Committee on Open Government. He said
public officials are obligated to keep written records recording what
transpires, even motions that fail. The outcome of any votes, who voted
and what their vote was are the minimum acceptable records required in
minutes. "That is the function of minutes. The minute constitute
the official record, so we can look back and say, this is what we did,"
Freeman said.The meetings of the special committee have never been announced
to the media or the public, either before they occurred or even afterwards,
which violates the open meetings law.
"Every meeting of a public body must be subject to public notice,
given to the news media and the public," said Freeman. Special legislative
committees must comply with open meetings statutes. "The law applies
in the exact same way to the committee as to the governing body,"
Even the appointment of the special committee was done quietly. On March
7, 2002, one month before the county legislature approved the deal with
the Modoc, Todd sent a letter to the county clerk appointing its members.
But rather than notifiy the entire legislature of such key appointments,
as is customary, Todd's letter reads only "cc: All appointees"
County legislator Joan Feldman, the lone Democratic appointee to the committee,
was the only Democrat on the legislature to vote in favor of the contract.
She said the special committee has had "about four" meetings,
but is not certain if she attended all of them. "When there was a
meeting, they would call and tell me, Joan there is a meeting at such
and such a time. I was personally informed," she said. But when asked
what had precipitated the three-year extension of the contract, she said,
"I didn't sit in on that. There wasn't any meeting, I
just got a phone call."
The committee was not given any charge but was officially titled Special
Committee to Study Casino Gambling. Despite a resolution passed by the
county legislature requiring use of county departments and personnel,
including the planning department, sheriff's and mental
health, no studies were ever done. Who was in charge of ensuring follow
up? "Ward Todd and Gerentine, they were running this thing,"
Todd said that it is not his responsibility to ensure
that minutes are taken at meetings of the county legislature, even if
he is attending those meetings. "I didn't call the meetings, I didn't
schedule the meetings and I didn't do any of the work that went along
with those meetings. So it was not my responsibility," he said. At
least some of the meetings took place in Todd's office at the county office
building in Kingston, but Todd said, "I'm not sure if I attended
all of them or not." Feldman said that David Lenefsky, an attorney
working for the Modoc Tribe, had turned in at least one study to the special
committee. She said she believes it isa transportation study, but has
not seen it, saying Lenefsky said he had only one copy and would leave
it with Todd.
Gerentine said he did not know what had become of the study Lenefsky provided.
"I have no idea," he said. "I don't have a copy. I don't
know who has a copy." Asked what the committee had done to study
gambling in Ulster, he said he was researching consulting firms. "That's
part of my job as committee chairman," Gerentine said. "I
wrote to two or three different firms, I specifically outlined things
I would like them to look at and that's what I asked them to look at."
Those documents should be available, since all Gerentine's
official correspondence to private vendors is a public document, but the
letters were not in the file for public viewing available at the county
office building. The new contract brought forth by Todd and signed on
April 15, 2002 and extended last week between Ulster County and the Modoc
Indian Tribe contains some potentially unsettling and costly clauses for
the county environment and taxpayers. The contract acknowledges that state
environmental laws will not be the standard used in determining the environmental
mitigation measures associated with the casino, "by reason of variances,
grandfather provisions or other similar laws or provisions." As a
sovereign nation, Indian tribes are not held accountable to state laws.
Todd and county attorney Frank Murray say the environmental review for
any Modoc casino will be the responsibility of the federal bureau of Indian
Affairs. They saidsafeguards in that law are comparable to state law.
The $15 million annually paid to the county "are in full and complete
satisfaction of all local government" claims against the Modoc for
impacts from the casino, "whether or not [the impacts are] identified
in this Agreement," reads a clause on page two. School taxes may
be jolted even higher by a casino project. The contract, on page four,
says the Modoc may be responsible for providing funds beyond those agreed
to in the contract, for public school enrollment increases attributable
"to persons residing on tribal lands."Asked abut the provision,
Todd said, " I'm not sure whether the contract would provide
additional money to impacted school districts, but claimed it will protect
local towns and villages."
However, the Modoc cannot be asked to pay any additional money beyond
the $15 million annually to the county. And Ulster County has "sole
discretion" over how that money is spent, and will compensate what
the contract calls Locally Impacted Entities "according to their
impacts as determined by the county," reads a clause on page five.
But to receive any payment, the clause requires the community must"
Support and not oppose the 'Project.'" Additionally, the contract
requires the county "Assist the Tribe in responding to negative
comments about the Project."
The county must also go to court in support of the tribe. Todd and Murray
defended the contract as an insurance policy to Ulster County taxpayers
they would at least receive some financial considerations if a casino
is sited and built in the county.
The portion of Gitter's project that could benefit from using the hamlet's
treatment plant would produce 100,000 gallons of waste a day, according
to project consultant Gary Gailes, about 30 percent more than the amount
produced by the hamlet and Belleyare Ski Center combined, which Gailes
estimates to be 60,000 to 70,000 gallons daily.At this week's town board
meeting the issue of a sewer extension for Pine Hill was once again
raised by Al Frisenda, a resident and employee of Gitter, who has been
pushing town supervisor Pete Di Modica to pursue an agreement with New
York City for such an extension.The hitch with the extension is, according
to Di Modica, that the town would have to sign on to a sewer use ordinance
that could cost the town untold amounts of money in the case of litigation
arising from enforcement issues.
"Most of the heavy lifting for the enforcement of the sewer use
ordinance would be done by New York City," said Di Modica in a
prepared statement, "Nonetheless, the town would have to bear the
cost of prosecuting enforcement actions against those who are not incompliance
with the sewer use ordinance."Di Modica explained that the possible
costs to those currently using the system could not be borne out by
the benefits to be gained by those who would be hooked into it.He turned
directly to Frisenda and asked, "Al, don't you ownthree of those
properties?" Frisenda owns the building housing Railroad Pizza
and two residences in the area proposed for the extension.
At a later point in the meeting Nagy asked whether the town would have
to adopt a comprehensive plan to getfunding from the city for such an
extension, with the rationale being that the town should guide its future
development with a vision, not with its sewer lines. Frisenda denied
that that was the case. In fact the 1997 Memorandum of Understanding
between New York City and the west of Hudson communities states that
before funds to build extensions to the city-built and operated wastewater
treatment plants are disbursed, "the relevant local government
(Town or Village) must take the following actions, to the extent not
already taken: (C) Adopt and maintain a comprehensive plan, subdivision
regulations and appropriate land use laws and ordinances
assuring that future growth within such area(s) can be adequately serviced
by, and will not exceed the capacity of, the sewerage collection system
and the WWTP to which it is connected." "Perhaps [Frisenda's]
misstatement was an attempt to prevent the public from finding out what
could very well be behind the loud cry for the so-called "Shuster
Plan" by some Crossroads Ventures' employees and supporters,"
said Nagy the day after the meeting. He was referring to a previous
version of the comprehensive plan, which is seen by opponents of the
Belleayre project as being toothless and making way
for the resort. "It's no secret the developer would love to hook
his project to the Pine Hill Sewage Treatment Plant," Nagy said.
"With that hope, it seems the developer needs to get a comprehensive
plan in place, no matter how bad it is, to get the city to pay for a
sewer extension leading towards the Belleayre Ridge portion of the development."
Gailes denies Nagy's contentions, saying that the current plan calls
for building two treatment plants on site, one to accommodate the Belleayre
Ridge side, the other to accommodate the Wild Acres side.
"What Mr. Gailes is saying and what seems to be Crossroads'intention
through reading the New York State Draft Environmental Impact Statement
are two different things," responded Nagy. And even if the project
wanted to hook into Pine Hill's treatment plant, Gailes maintains
that no extension would be necessary. "The sewer runs right past
the entrance to the resort, and could be connected just west of the
plant," said Gailes. "It looks like some of that sewage might
have to go uphill to get to that point, then," responded Nagy.
All are here on the day before the fifth Sunday in Lent
to take part in an
Episcopal service, a service that is as quirky, intelligent, caring and
inclusive as are its congregants, a shifting collection of people who
have been meeting twice a month since July 2001. This spiritual group
was formed as a mission of St. Gregory's, a parish in the Diocese of New
York, and alternates its meeting between the Pine Hill firehouse and the
lovely old Victorian home of the Smiths. Most of those here today are
technically located in the Diocese of Albany, but have chosen to affiliate
themselves with that of New York because it is more inclusive and accepting
all around, and particularly of those who are openly gay. At each meeting,
a biblical passage is read, those gathered silently meditate on it for
a few minutes, the passage is read again, and then discussed for 45 minutes
or so. While The Reverend T. Gerald Brooks is present, he is largely just
another voice in the discussion, not in anyway putting forth his opinions
as the correct interpretation of what has been read.
And a heady discussion it is, too. Call it Egghead Episcopalianism, ranging
over early Christian history, scriptural interpretation, and comparative
religions. "Jesus came to take away your sins, not your mind,"
says Eve later, explaining one of the slogans used by an Episcopal group
that she became involved in while a student at Bard College many years
ago, a slogan that applies equally well to this group.
Today, the discussion centers on a passage from the Gospel of John: "He
who loves his life loses it. And he who hates it will keep it for eternity."
"If your whole life is wrapped up in everything you do, then you're
spiritually dead. If you take a rest from it, then you can connect with
the spirit," puts forth Adam Cohen.
"But everything I do—whether it's work, writing,
or putting seeds in a pot—everything is religious," says Eve,
who's having difficulty making sense of the passage. "It's like that
saying, 'Do you live to work or work to live?'" says Tiger Buchanan.
Eventually, the discussion comes around to mortality. "When you're
older, you become invisible to people," says Joyce Granger. "With
every year, I'm saying goodbye to something. The day I can't drive a car,
or the day I can't read a book…Oh God!"
"But you know, everything can be enlarged now," says Eve, who
continually brings the discussion back to the pragmatic. "It was
like a revelation, the day I discovered that I could go to Kinko's and
get everything enlarged." Laughter.
On a more serious note, one man present says that he
started getting involved in the church just before he was given an HIV
positive diagnosis. "It's because of the diagnosis that I even looked
for something spiritual," he says. The conversation also heads into
the war in Iraq, and whether such a crusade would be conceivable if the
tenets of Christianity were being followed.
"The idea of owning land or owning oil is so crazy,"
says Eve. "You only rent anyway," adds Buchanan. After communion
is taken, a huge potluck dinner is served: white lasagna, a generous salad
with walnuts and pieces of orange, creamed spinach, home-made noodles
and a curried cauliflower dish.
"I love coming here," says Brooks, who formerly worked for GE,
and now has his own consulting business. Brooks was ordained in 1965,
but has not practiced as a priest for more than 30 years. "It's been
years and years since I've had a job to do, and what a job it is! Everybody's
enthusiastic and encouraging. It's fun."
It is. All are welcome. The group meets the first and
third Saturday of each month. For directions, call: 676-3395; 254-5304