In the City of Kingston’s Charter Article X section C10-1 (a) it says that “The Corporation Counsel shall be appointed by the Mayor. The Corporation Counsel will serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.”
That means that the mayor can hire/remove members of the corporation counsel at any time, serving at their “pleasure”. They haven’t civil service protection.
In section (b): “The Corporation Counsel shall be the primary legal advisor of the Mayor, Common Council and of all commissions, departments and other offices of the city. The Corporation Counsel shall conduct, supervise or monitor, as required, the prosecution and defense of all actions or proceedings brought by or against the city or by or against any of its officers in their official capacity and appeal from all such orders, decisions and judgments as he or she deems advisable.”
Building on that, the mayor’s counsel represents the mayor (executive branch) all boards, committees and commissions as well as the council (the legislative branch) and department staff too – who like everyone else at city hall, may or may not have civil service protection and can be hired/removed at the mayor’s whim.
Going further, in Article XV section C15-4 “other boards and commissions”
“…Successors to these other commissions, boards or agencies shall be appointed by the Mayor as their terms severely expire or as vacancies occur.”
In other words, the mayor has the authority to also appoint/remove all members of committees, boards and commission members, the community volunteers who we rely on to freely interpret our current policies and laws for the public good, are also guided by city hall staff. Going backwards, many of those city staff are beholden to the mayor.
That’s a whole lot of influence by one person and that’s obviously not a good scenario for a healthy democracy in Kingston. A monarchy is more like it.
The council understands that Kingston’s charter needs to be addressed in order for the legislative branch to provide its critical work in providing checks and balances to the executive branch. On June 17 of 2020, they invited Wade Beltramo, General Counsel of the New York Conference of Mayors – NYCOM to give a presentation and overview on charter reform.
As of late, the Kingston democrats have ushered in the Kingstonian PILOT for luxury housing, and initially worked against a censure for Hector Rodriguez’s reprehensible behavior in order to hoard power. But the recent Board of Education election and David Donaldson’s shocking loss of the recent primary to newcomer Phil Erner is proof that what once worked without question in Kingston isn’t going to work any longer.
If a holistic look at Charter reform is too much for Kingston right now, then how about amending the items we outlined above in a referendum including the council having mandatory training? It may not cost the community anymore then it does currently, as the mayor’s office has two full time corporation counsel staff. How about we move one of those salaries over to the council to hire their own?
We’ve done the work for the council and the community to begin with a resolution that is ready to workshop. If the current chock-hold blocks the community from holistic charter reform, then let’s do it piecemeal and get the show on the road. Let’s bring the obvious changes that we all can agree to in the charter to referendum in 2022 and let the public decide
VIEW: How Kingston got its strong mayor form of government
That is perhaps why the KLDC requested an outside lawyer to review the 21 N. Front street transfer. After a selection process, Harris Beech was selected to advise the KLDC on its transfer of 21 N. Front Street. Bob Ryan from the firm was in attendance at the May meeting.
What follows is a loose transcription of the May KLDC meeting. Video is available by visiting the City of Kingston’s YOUTUBEchannel.
Mayor Noble, who serves as the chair of the board of the KLDC, introduced attorney Ryan as having, “been able to look at all of the documents, policies and procedures” in order to provide some initial thoughts on the transfer.
Ryan’s recommendation for the city owned parcel was to create a three-way land development agreement between the city, the KLDC and the developer. This agreement would lay out and set forth all the terms and conditions for the transfer of the property as well as the development once that agreement was negotiated and developed. “Obviously we would come before the board with an authorizing resolution to consider in accepting the property and executing the land development agreement as well as make determinations that would be necessary under the Public Authority Accountability Act in addition.”
Once the land development agreement was authorized then the board could proceed.
“Why would a development agreement with anyone come before a discussion and a decision on whether or not to even accept the property into the KLDC?” asked Board member Hayes Clement.
“Because if you don’t like the terms and conditions you wouldn’t accept the property. I wouldn’t recommend that you accept the property without knowing the terms and conditions of the disposition of that property and the development of that property…” Ryan said to describe the KLDC as being implemented to be used as the agency to best advance the city’s project.
“When the Common Council approved to turn the land over to the KLDC was it to be used for a specific development?” Clement continued.
“It has a specific purpose in the city’s resolution to be used for public parking and a park…We would start by drafting the land development agreement and try to work with all the parties to come up with an agreement that is acceptable to all parties that would be reviewed by the board. If acceptable then the agreement would be authorized and take place prior to a fee title being transferred from the city to the KLDC. Once that agreement is developed and all parties are in agreement, the board would approve to execute it and issue a 90-day notice under the Public Authority Accountability Act. At which point we can work on the actual transfer of title from the city to the KLDC. The subsequent step would be transferring fee title from the KLDC to the developer pursuant to this land development agreement.”
Ryan recommend an appraisal of the property as a first step to be placed in the file of the disposition and also, because under the land development agreement there might be additional steps required by the Public Authority Accountability Act.
“Have you seen or personally had all the contracts that originated with the city and the developer starting from the Request For Qualifications (RFQ) to know that everything is in order?” asked board member Glen Fitzerald.
“I believe I’ve seen everything.” said Ryan. “There may be stuff that I have not, but I do have the RFQ and the agreements going back a number of years.”
“The answer seems a little vague,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s been quite a bit of reporting that some contracts aren’t available or haven’t been seen and so our question is we don’t want to transfer something or get involved in something that is not precise right from being the initial RFQ. I would say that if you’ve seen it and had it in your hand it would be part of your file.”
Ryan assured Glen that by the time that a resolution is put before the board that he would ensure that he would have seen the entire record and would provide an opinion as to “the sufficiency of what took place”.
The board agreed to select an appraiser located out of the area. Board member Paul Casciaro asked whether the appraiser would take into account the value of the property at the time the RFQ was initiated, as in today’s market, it would likely be valued at ten times more than it was back then. Ryan answered that the original value of the property might not have been originally based on its highest value but rather on other goals that could take precedent such as parking. The appraisal that the KLDC would ask for of 21 N. Front Street would therefore reflect the fair market value at the current time it is transferred. Board member Feeney reminded the KLDC that it was not involved at that time.
It is significant to remind readers at this point that in the developer’s original application, the KLDC was not listed as an involved agency. The transfer of lands and Fair Street Extension was to all be handled by the Kingston Common Council. During the May Board of Education vote, the public sent a clear message that it understood the devastating impacts the Kingstonian PILOT could have on Kingston’s school budget. With nearly all of the Kingston Common Council members voting in favor of the Kingstonian PILOT last year, they are likely heaving a sigh of relief that they are not embroiled in negotiating more public assets during this years election cycle. Hopefully, the public will not forget the council’s involvement in the PILOT approval. The same is true for David Donaldson who is facing a primary for his seat (District 6) on the Ulster County Legislature on June 22 and who championed the PILOT process from start to finish.
Toward the end of the meeting, board member Miles Crettian asked Ryan, “Is it an issue that the original RFQ from 2016 was not and could not be awarded to the current Kingstonian developers (although the transfer was to JM Development Group, Brad Jordan’s Herzog Supply Co. was a partner and at the time served also served as a member of the City of Kingston’s KLDC and police commission) and in terms of the KLDC’s disposition, how can it know it is following the guidelines laid out in that RFQ if the original recipient of the RFQ was another entity which is no longer a party to this process?”
“We can certainly discuss these issues…and into the possible ramifications…but I’d prefer to do that in a non-public attorney/client privilege situation.” said Ryan.
The next KLDC virtual meeting is on Thursday, June 17 at 8:00am. WATCH on the City of Kingston’s YouTube channel or call in to listen: