County attorneys discourage Government Center sale

Attorneys for Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and the county Legislature recently drafted a joint memo advising against selling the Government Center, an option that Neuhaus already rejected and lawmakers may no longer have unless they override his veto at their meeting next Thursday — their last chance to do so.

The county and its consultants are preparing to start a $68 million overhaul and expansion of the 45-year-old complex, which could begin as early as April with the demolition of one of three buildings in the complex and all but the concrete frames of the other two. But Manhattan architect Gene Kaufman has continued to press his proposal to buy the Government Center for use as an arts center and design new county offices nearby instead, an alternative he and preservationists are pushing to keep the landmark structure intact.

Thus far, no lawmakers have proposed overriding Neuhaus’ Jan. 5 veto of a law that would have enabled them to sell the complex, and their last chance to override is their March 5 session. With that date approaching, and with Kaufman and his supporters redoubling their campaign, County Attorney Langdon Chapman and Legislature Attorney Antoinette Reed drew up a list of reasons to rebuff both Kaufman and Pike Development, a company that submitted a rival offer last year to buy the Government Center and finance the construction the county already was planning.

Their Feb. 20 memo, addressed to Neuhaus and Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia, reiterates some familiar arguments, including a threat by the state Office of Court Administration to block state aid to the county if it deviates from its current plans, which include restoring use of courtrooms in the closed Government Center. But the attorneys also found a new analogy, certain to inspire dread, by warning that the Kaufman proposal could turn into another Camp La Guardia quagmire, invoking the stalled sale and redevelopment of the 258-acre property the county bought from New York City in 2007.

They argued that Village of Goshen officials, who have opposed Kaufman’s concept, “could tie up the project with a SEQRA review for months, if not years.”

“In essence, we could, depending on the outcome of any Lead Agency dispute, be ceding control of the project to the Village of Goshen, just like Camp La Guardia.”

Goshen Mayor Kyle Roddey offered a written explanation this week for his opposition, responding to a question from the Times Herald-Record about Kaufman’s complaint that village officials refuse to meet with him.

Roddey wrote in his email:

My main objection to the plan is not the plan itself, but the fact that our community needs the most time expedient result.  More than anything else the Village of Goshen needs the return of the county facilities.  The legislature has already debated, approved, bonded, and discussed at length the rennovations to the existing facility.  This work could begin as early as April from my understanding.

Any deviation from this plan, regardless of what it might be, will only lead to more delays, debates, and uncertainty.  What is more, any entertaining of the sale of the Government Center will only make it more likely that the County will remain on the Matthews St property in perpetuity which would be economically devastating for the community I represent.
Roddey is referring to the three office buildings on Matthews Street in Goshen where the county has rented space for its employees since then-County Executive Ed Diana closed the Government Center in 2011. Goshen merchants and officials have complained that moving workers from one side of the downtown area to the other — and more importantly the closure of the Government Center’s busy Department of Motor Vehicles office — has hurt downtown businesses, especially the eateries.

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Maloney undecided on attending Netanyahu speech

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney is still weighing whether he’ll attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday or join at least two dozen other House Democrats in boycotting the controversial appearance to show solidarity with the White House.

The Cold Spring Democrat has issued a statement criticizing House Speaker John Boehner for his “partisan and poorly timed decision” to invite Netanyahu to the Capitol to air his objections to President Obama’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. The impending speech, coming during the lead-up to Israeli elections, has inflamed tensions between the White House and a major U.S. ally and angered many Democrats, who view it as a snub of the President.

Here’s Maloney’s statement:

“Congress has traditionally set aside partisanship to come together to promote the safety and security of our strategic ally, and I strongly disagree with Speaker Boehner’s partisan and poorly timed decision. I continue to hope that all parties can make adjustments to ensure all supporters can be in attendance at this joint meeting of Congress.”

The Hill newspaper has so far tallied 25 House Democrats and four senators who have said they plan to skip Netanyahu’s speech, and counted many more who said they will go. Both Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Nita Lowey, a Westchester Democrat who represents a district abutting Maloney’s 18th, plan to be in the audience, according to The Hill.

Leaders of the Satmar Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel distributed a letter this week that their mayor, Abraham Wieder, sent to Maloney to urge him to boycott the speech. Though the letter bemoans the disrespect being shown to Obama, the underlying motivation appears to be the Satmar movement’s strongly anti-Zionist sentiment, which began with their founder, Joel Teitelbaum, and stems from the ultra-Orthodox belief that the state of Israel shouldn’t exist until the Messiah returns.

Wieder wrote on Tuesday:

The intent of this letter is three-fold: first to defend the honor and prestige of the office of the President; second to decry Netanyahu’s breach of diplomatic protocol and last but not least to repudiate his claim to be a spokesman of the Jewish people. Neither he nor his state represent world Jewry.

He concluded by telling Maloney his absence from Tuesday’s speech “would send a clear message that your constituents want no part of Netanyahu’s callousness toward the office of the President.”

 

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Currier Woods launches Family Court re-election bid

Orange County Family Court Judge Lori Currier Woods will kick off her bid for re-election to a 10-year term on Thursday at the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen.

Currier Woods, a Republican and former Monroe councilwoman who was first elected judge in 2005, said in a press release she has so far won the endorsement of nine town and city Republican committees for the GOP nomination: Minisink, Hamptonburgh, Crawford, Port Jervis, Greenville, Wallkill, Deerpark, Blooming Grove and Middletown.

Her shindig on Thursday is scheduled to run from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., at 240 Main St.

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Most voters in poll support part-time state legislature

A majority of New York voters polled by Siena College this month want to keep the state Legislature a part-time occupation with greater disclosure of outside income sources, rather than convert the Senate and Assembly to full-time jobs.

Most voters preferred a full-time Legislature with a ban on outside income over the current system, in which legislators work part-time in Albany and disclose only in general terms the amounts and sources of their additional earnings. The survey found 59 percent of voters would take the full-time approach over the status quo, which 35 percent favored.

But when given a choice between full-timers and a part-time Legislature with more detailed income disclosure, the latter option won by 58 percent to 40 percent.

In a separate question, 57 percent of voters opposed raising legislators’ $79,000 annual base pay if the Legislature became “full-time” (the survey gives no indication if that would mean increasing legislators’ workload or simply reclassifying them), while 40 percent support a pay hike under those circumstances. The survey didn’t even ask about raises under the current, part-time regime.

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“Ms. Convers, I’m not going to allow you to speak”

For anyone who has never experienced firsthand the raucous and sometimes surreal events known as Monroe Town Board meetings, here’s a particularly ripe excerpt from Tuesday’s cage match, a marathon session that stretched past 1 a.m. and veered from long stretches of dull to verbal combat between board and audience.

This clip, which comes courtesy of the citizens group United Monroe, shows what ensued when United Monroe Chairwoman Emily Convers stepped to the microphone to state her opinion about which municipality should lead the environmental review for an annexation proposal that would shift 336 acres of Monroe into neighboring Blooming Grove. (Town Supervisor Harley Doles had opened an impromptu public hearing on that subject prior to an unannounced board vote on declaring lead agency.)

Doles, after instructing the videographer to pause the town’s official recording of the session, tries at first to prohibit Convers from speaking, citing something she had said at a previous meeting. This does not go over well.

Hungry for more? View or scan the full 4 hours and 35 minutes of board deliberations here.

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Doles’ SUV cost town $37,000

One side issue that arose this week during the flap over Monroe Supervisor Harley Doles calling the cops on a political adversary was the black Chevy Tahoe that he stopped behind his quarry’s parked SUV before calling 9-1-1 and claiming incorrectly that the man’s driver’s license had been suspended.

The Tahoe belongs to the Town of Monroe. The Town Board authorized buying it from Healey of Middletown for $36,825 on Sept. 23, with no indication in the minutes of that meeting why the vehicle was needed and who would use it. Doles’ critics say he has effectively adopted it as his own personal wheels, parking it at his home at night.

Doles got testy when asked about his new ride in an interview on Wednesday, offering two arguments in its defense. One was essentially that he needed the SUV to navigate town roads during snow storms, because, as he claimed, the town highway superintendent, Anthony Rizzo, “stays home.” The other was that the SUV was shared transportation, available for any town employee’s use, and has been driven at times by Joe Brown, Monroe’s “commanding officer/captain of public safety.”

Former Orange County Executive Ed Diana also took heat several years ago for the black Tahoe the county bought for him for around $34,000, also with some weather-related reasoning: his spokesman said at the time that Diana needed four-wheel drive to venture out in harsh conditions, like the deluge and flooding of the previous spring. Soon after the 2008 purchase, Diana kicked things up a notch by having red emergency lights installed in the grill, although it turned out state regulations wouldn’t allow him to use those lights without claiming his Tahoe was an “authorized emergency vehicle.”

Diana’s successor, Steve Neuhaus, now drives the 2008 Tahoe.

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Weekend phone call polls local Democrat about Ulster County exec Hein

At least one phone call went out this weekend to survey people about what they think of Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, a source says.

On Saturday, a source, who asked not to be named, says they received a live call asking questions related to Hein, a Democrat, and if they approve of his performance.

The source, a registered Democrat, says that most of the pollsters questions revolved around Hein but there was also a question about Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, state Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.

The pollster asked the Ulster County resident if they knew and would vote for Hein if they knew about his support of gay and lesbians issues, his battles against New York City in support of the local watershed, privatization of the county’s nursing home and mental health units and his efforts on taxes, the source said.

The source says there was just one question about Gibson: Whether they support him.

The source said they couldn’t remember a lot of the specific questions asked, but the way the questions were worded gave her a positive impression of Hein.

The source says that when they asked if Hein was a Democrat, the pollster either didn’t know or wouldn’t say. A specific elected position wasn’t mentioned.

Hein is expected to be running for a third term as Ulster County executive this year, with an election coming up this November. Hein’s name has also been bandied about as a possible candidate to take a run for New York’s 19th Congressional in 2016 when Gibson is expected to not run again.

If you’ve received a similar call this weekend, let me know. You can email me at jnani@th-record.com or ring me up at 845-340-4910.

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GOP Sen. Bill Larkin introduces bill for emergency medical marijuana program

Senior GOP state Sen. Bill Larkin, 86, has introduced a bill that would establish an emergency program to provide medical marijuana access to patients with epilepsy and other serious conditions before the official state program gets underway.

The state Assembly version of the bill, introduced on Feb. 4, is being sponsored by Assemblyman Brian Kolb, the Republican minority leader of the Assembly.

Larkin, from Cornwall-on-Hudson, cast a deciding vote in the finance committee last year that got medical marijuana legislation on the Senate floor. Before the vote last year, Larkin said that in his  ”heart and soul” he felt that this was something that needed to be addressed. The bill passed.

Larkin’s new bill language says that those suffering from severe epilepsy or other serious conditions “cannot wait the year or more that it may take for medical marihuana  programs established by that legislation to be operational.”

“In particular, these individuals need access to medical marihuana containing high amounts of the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) as soon as possible, so that they are not forced to seek treatment out-of-state at great  personal expense,” the bill language reads.

The bill language sets up a temporary patient certification process for patients and their caregivers. Within 90 days of its passage the state Health Commissioner would need to contract with the proper agencies to begin getting the drug to patients.

Here’s a link to the bill.


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Rep. Gibson shares love with Orange GOP

Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, will venture outside his congressional district to address the Orange County Republican Committee on Sunday in Middletown at the party’s annual Valentine’s Day gathering, sweetly known as the “Sweetheart’s Brunch.”

Gibson, who represents the sprawling 19th District to the north and way north of Orange County, has just started his third term in Congress and already has announced it will be his last. A professed believer in self-imposed term limits, the retired Army colonel plans to depart the House of Representatives at the end of 2016 and says he’s considering running for statewide office in 2018, which could mean challenging Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — the Democrat and former congresswoman whose House seat he won in 2010.

Gibson will attempt to win 18th Congressional District Republican hearts at Kuhl’s Mountain House at 512 Highland Ave. Brunching starts at 10:30 a.m. and concludes at 1 p.m. Tickets start at $50 and run as high as $1,000 for a block of eight for generous “champagne sponsors.” Details are available on the Orange County Republican Committee’s Facebook page.

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Bonacic led region’s state lawmakers in 2014 expenses

Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, collected almost $16,000 in reimbursements last year for meals, hotels and travel expenses, more than any other senator or Assembly member representing Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties, according to figures provided today by the state Comptroller’s Office.

The bulk of that money was $11,877 that Bonacic received for standardized “per diem” payments of $61 for meals and $111 for overnight stays that the state allows lawmakers to claim for each day worked in Albany, regardless of actual amounts spent. Not far behind Bonacic was fellow Republican Sen. James Seward of Milford, who had more than $15,000 in total expenses, including almost $13,000 for meals and hotels.

Here’s the full list of 11 legislators from the region and their expense tabs for last year.

Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope: $15,941

Sen. James Seward, R-Milford: $15,321

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh: $13,074

Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, R-NewHartford: $8,062

Assemblyman James Skoufis, D-Woodbury: $8,050

Sen. William Larkin Jr., R-Cornwall-on-Hudson: $7,695

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston: $6,786

Assemblyman Frank Skartados, D-Milton: 0

Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie: 0

Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam: not in office in 2014

Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, R-Deerpark: not in office in 2014

 

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    Chris McKenna covers Orange County government and politics for the Times Herald-Record. He has been a reporter at the newspaper since 1999. Read Full

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