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EXTRAORDINARY SECRECY, FAVORITISM, VIOLATIONS OF OPEN MEETING LAW BY TOWN COUNCIL
Release Date: July 13, 2007
On July 9, 2007 Richard Troy, a principal of S&R Development Estates, filed an affidavit with the Greenburgh Zoning Board of Appeals contesting a determination made by the Town’s Commissioner of Community Development that the 1 Dromore Road property is in a particular zone. The underlying issue is whether this property can be developed as a multi-family structure or whether it cannot be so developed. The Town’s zoning map shows this property to be in a CA-1 zone, which permits prescribed multi-family development Without getting to the merits of the zoning issue, the affidavit, which everyone should read, reveals extraordinary secrecy, favoritism, avoidance of proper procedures, and violations of law by the Town Council. It also shows the power given by the Town Council members to Bob Bernstein and Michelle McNally to harm the rest of unincorporated Greenburgh in their secret dealings with the Town Council, and with Steve Bassand Francis Sheehanin particular. I am requesting that it be placed on the Town’s website at www.greenburghny.com, but in the meantime anyone who wants it can email me and I will send it to them.. firstname.lastname@example.org
The affidavit deals with the demands made by Bernstein and McNally earlier this year for a moratorium. The ostensible reason for the requested moratorium was to prevent an increase in the Edgemont school population. The real purpose appears to be much more devious and malign --to acquire property for a town hall for Bernstein’s plan for Edgemont’s secession from Greenburgh. These secret dealings with the Town Council are a threat to Greenburgh. While the entire affidavit is chilling reading, a few paragraphs bear special mention and I will quote them.
Paragraph 41(relating to a January 27, 2007a meeting between Mr. Troy and several of his associates, and Steve Bass, Francis Sheehan, Bob Bernstein and Michelle McNally.)
“Prior to the meeting, Councilmnan Bass directed that we could not have our attorney, Mark Weingarten, attend this meeting nor could we inform him that the meeting would take place. At the meeting Councilman Sheehan stated that if there was any discussion about this meeting with Supervisor Feiner he would ‘walk away’ from any agreement. Moreover, we were expressly forbidden to relate any discussion that took place at the meeting with Hal Samis, an outspoken commentator on Greenburgh politics. While we were uncomfortable with these gag orders and the ad-hominem attacks of Councilman Sheehan on Supervisor Feiner (“Feiner screws everything up. I have to stay up all hours fixing his screw-ups”) and their attacks on Mr. Samis, we reluctantly accepted these condition and proceeded with the meeting in the hope of working out an agreement to develop the Property. We reached an agreement that the EEC would create a new “park district” and accept a conservation easement covering a portion of the property...”
“Soon thereafter, S&R received a letter dated February 2, 2007from Robert Bernstein of the EEC contemplating S&R’s gifting of the Property directly to him. He sent us his draft of a Gift Agreement (Exhibit 19).”
“On February 3, 2007... another meeting organized by Councilman Bass and attended by Councilman Francis Sheehan, Councilwoman Eddie Mae Barnes and Councilwoman Diana Juettner, Robert Bernstein and Michelle McNally of the EEC... Councilman Bass and Councilman Sheehan had suggested that it would be appropriate for Councilwoman Barnes and Councilwoman Juettner to personally meet the principals of S&R since they would be formally voting to implement the Agreement. At this meeting, the parties again agreed: (a) S&R would grant a conservation easement on a portion of the Property; (b) S&R would grant an option to the EEC to purchase the Property for a price equal to S&R’s investment in the Property inconsideration of: (i) the Town’s agreement to modify the language of the proposed moratorium so that the Property would be excepted from its application, and (ii) the agreement by the Town and EEC to support our development application of a ten-unit town home development instead of the contemplated 37-unit development if the EEC did not exercise its purchase option.”
“At the February 3rd meeting, Robert Bernstein said that he would have Edgemont purchase the property through a bond offering by an Edgemont Park District he would create....Bernstein indicated that initially he would want to lease the land to the GNC [Greenburgh Nature Center]; thereafter he would want to use the land as the possible site for an Edgemont Town Hall if and when Edgemont seceded from the Town of Greenburgh. He stated that Edgemont did not own any other land as the possible site for an EdgemontTown Hallin the future. Regarding the park district, Robert Bernstein explained that S&R would grant the conservation easement to the park district and after Edgemont raised the funds to purchase the balance of the land Edgemont would own the entire property and be able to create a new town hall for itself upon secession...”
“[At about February 21, Mr. Troy] received a telephone call from Councilman Bass, who told me that he wanted to arrange for a referendum to be placed on the September primary voting ballot to approve a bond offering for the to-be-created Edgemont Parks Board to purchase our Property.....He asked me to ‘trust’ him that the bond offering would pass in September and asked me to make a gift of the Property immediately, without first being exempted from the moratorium. I declined his proposal.
“On February 26, 2007, breaching our prior agreements and after his ‘Trust Me’ telephone call, Councilman Bass sent out a ‘blast’ e-mail (Exhibit 24) ... stating that our Property was zoned R-20 (single family homes on half an acre). He went on to write that ‘The Town Council understands that the Greenburgh Nature Center’s board and Edgemont residents may prefer to see the Dromore Road Property not developed at all and have it preserved as open space. The Town Council will continue to explore with community leaders that possibility.’ Councilman Bass’ arrogance and his capitulation to the EEC and GNC is evident in this sentence. He continues to assert that the GNC and Edgemont residents should get to control our property.”
What all this means is clear.
First, as has become their standard operating procedure, Councilpersons Bass and Sheehan operate in secret about matters in which the public has great interest. The moratorium, which was really directed only at the Dromore Roadproperty, would have very significant effect on the Central Avenuearea. Discussions cannot be kept secret, especially when the matters discussed have such profound impact. The January 27 meeting, at which Councilman Bass commanded that S&R could not even tell their lawyers about it, is extraordinary, almost as extraordinary as Councilman Sheehan’s threat that if the Supervisor and/or Mr. Samis were told about the meeting he would walk away from any agreement -- an agreement that he was not authorized to make. I will not comment on the disrespectful and improper exclusion of the Supervisor in this matter because it is so obvious.
Second, instead of having public discussion, the discussions were limited to Bass, Sheehan, and Bob Bernstein and Michelle McNally. The latter two are not elected officials. It has been noticed for some time that Bernstein and McNally effectively run the Town Council, but this is the first time that this has been documented.
Third, at the February 3 meeting, all four Councilpersons attended. This was a blatant violation of the open meetings law. It is required that whenever a majority of the Town Board meets on town business, it must be a meeting open to the public. All four of the Councilpersons know this, and thus their violation of the law is all the more severe. It is interesting, by the way, that Bass and Sheehan said that Barnes and Juettner were there because they would vote on the agreement when, of course, the Supervisor also would vote on the agreement, but the Supervisor was not even told about the meeting.
Fourth, at the February 3 meeting, Bernstein made it obvious that his intention was for Edgemont to acquire the property not for park purposes, or to keep Edgemont school enrollment down, but to acquire the only possible site for a town hall upon Edgemont’s secession from Greenburgh. I suspect that what was meant was the implementation of Bernstein’s long campaign to make Edgemont a separate village, though it is not impossible that he actually means to secede and make Edgemont a separate town.
Fifth, Bernstein’s secession plan was obviously approved by the four Councilpersons, all of whom were present when he made his announcement. This is further evidenced by the fact that Bass called S&R to expedite the agreement, even asking Mr. Troy to transfer the property on trust -- an invitation Mr. Troy wisely declined.
Sixth, this entire story demonstrates that the Councilpersons have essentially turned over their governmental authority to Bernstein and McNally, to the great detriment of the rest of the town. The secession of Edgemont, or its incorporation as a separate village, would dramatically reduce the tax base of the town. Edgemont, which has the most expensive homes in the town, obviously pays relatively larger town taxes than less wealthy areas. Edgemont’s town taxes would be cut by more than 90% if it becomes a village, and disappear altogether if secession takes place. This would cause the town to eliminate or sharply reduce many of its services and programs, to the detriment of every other section of unincorporated Greenburgh. The effect on Hartsdale, Fairview, East Irvington, Donald Park, Orchard Hill, North Elmsford, Mayfair-Knollwood, and every other area of unincorporated Greenburgh would be enormous and these areas would suffer greatly. And yet, the four Councilpersons were, and are, quite prepared to let it happen in order to give Bernstein and McNally what they would like, irrespective of the impact on others.
I urge you to read the entire affidavit. You will be shocked and angry. And you should show both your shock and anger to the four Councilpersons.
You may call or write to me if you have any questions.