Supervisor’s Statement 5.21.2020
Much of my time lately has been taken up in preparing for the Phase 1 re-opening of Dutchess County, whenever that can occur, preparing for the next phases which will involve our recreation program and local restaurants and businesses, and keeping our numerous projects going under significant difficulty.
To that end, I would like to talk here a moment about a document the Town Board received on April 26th via email purportedly being a petition to call a referendum for the purchase of 12 N. Main. As you know, we have been in a Permissive Referendum period since our last Board Meeting in which by unanimous vote, the Town Board approved the purchase of this property for the town’s use.
While we are very sympathetic at this time to the concerns implied by the document, it would have been wholly irresponsible to accept this document as a real legal petition necessitating the instigation of a referendum which is a very costly undertaking for a town. The document submitted to us did not contain a single address for any of the signees as is required by law. We determined that almost half of the names were of people who do not live in Pine Plains, and the Court ruled that the document did not even have a stated purpose. Given the fact that it contained no valid signatures—and mindful that we are in a time of stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic—we might have taken it more seriously had there been at least valid addresses given. As it was, some people only signed their first names. In order to take this document seriously, we unanimously determined to treat it as possibly valid, and hired an attorney to work with the County Court to determine that. The decision was delivered to us on Tuesday and here are the last 2 paragraphs:
“Understanding our present circumstance, it understandable that obtaining actual signatures may have been difficult for the respondent. However, the petition is deficient in more ways than lacking actual signatures. The respondent made very little effort to conform with the formalities of a petition, and specifically failed to articulate a purpose for the petition, so that the Town or anyone else would know why a referendum was wanted by the respondent or the residents.
Coupled with the lack of authentication of the signatories, demonstrating that the signatories are actual residents of the Town, who opposed the Resolution for the same reasons . . . . the respondent has made little effort to oppose this motion, [his] second chance to give a basis for the petition. It is submitted late, as a letter, and still fails to provide some statement of purpose and reasons for its failure to adhere to the protocols of filing a petition. His neglect to do so appears to have little to do with [him] not being an attorney . . . . In light of the foregoing, the respondent has failed to give this Court a basis to not invalidate its petition. There is no stated purpose behind the petition that warrants overlooking the technical defects of the petition, even during this health crisis.”
Moreover, if the Board had accepted the flawed document, and ran an expensive referendum, we would have exposed the Town to the certainty of costly lawsuits by other Town residents who do not want the expense of a referendum. Court papers would rightly argue that the Board has no right to conduct a referendum on a legally flawed petition and counsel has advised that the Town would likely lose any such lawsuit.
Accordingly, the purchases of the properties in question have been conducted by the Board in good faith, in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, all with an eye towards achieving the Town’s stated goals.
However, despite this ruling, I just want to say that we hear those who signed this document, and take quite seriously your concerns. To that end, we also feel that our decision to purchase the property is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the town to acquire enough land downtown to make a difference in public life here, no matter what we do with it. Our ability to purchase a property appraised at over $230,000 for a price of $100,000 at an historically low interest rate of 2% is unheard of in any times. We have received many emails in support of the purchase, and a full history of how we reached this decision will be shortly up on our website under a new page called Current Town Projects. But just to remind you, we voted, again unanimously, to make our offer at the February 20th Board Meeting, then hired a lawyer to help with the contract, discussed the purchase extensively at the April 13th Town Board Workshop Meeting and voted again unanimously to make the purchase at the regular Town Board Meeting on April 16th, all to the letter of the law.
I want to end this statement by talking about some real heroes in town during this pandemic, people who have used this time to help others: Pat Nannetti and Ted Mallozzi of the Food Bank, Nelson and Lisa Zayas of Willow Roots, the new folks at the Old Library, who launched a campaign to raise money for out-of-work local restaurant workers, garnering over $28,000 from more than 100 townspeople and distributing all the money to 73 individuals; and Paige Arent, a 14-year-old student, who launched her own campaign to help people out of work, and raised more than $1500 all on her own. All of these people have been tireless in their dedication to helping others through the pandemic, and I want to thank you all on behalf of the whole town for your amazing accomplishments.