Forays into the newest potential site for a joint municipal center — the Gateway building on North Chestnut Street — have led to more tension and more split votes at the New Paltz Town Board table. Even agreeing on whether to discuss the matter in executive session couldn’t get a unanimous vote last Thursday night.
Supervisor Neil Bettez asked for the executive session to discuss the acquisition of real property, but council member Marty Irwin wanted to know what property before the vote was taken.
“That defeats the purpose of executive session,” Bettez told him.
Irwin’s interpretation of open meetings law is that unless there’s a contract being negotiated, but Bettez’s understanding of the law, article 7 of the state public officers’ law, is broader. A read of the language shows that one of the enumerated reasons for executive session is “the proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property or the proposed acquisition of securities, or sale or exchange of securities held by such public body, but only when publicity would substantially affect the value thereof.” Bettez stated he believed that discussion about the sale in public could impact its value, and only Irwin and Jeff Logan voted against moving into executive session.
Village officials were given different advice by their attorney, and have openly discussed the building in question at their meetings. That’s a point which Irwin has made more than once.
Once they returned to public session, Bettez moved to appoint commercial real estate broker Matt Eyler to work with town officials on the transaction in question. Irwin wanted to ask him about his qualifications prior to voting, which Bettez insisted should also take place in executive session. That secrecy is permitted for “matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person,” but when Eyler was asked if he’d be willing to speak in public, he was amenable.
Logan grilled Eyler on exactly what services he’d be providing, and noted whenever his words appeared to contradict the brokers’ agreement. For example, Logan pointed out that Eyler advised in that document that he cannot provide technical or financial services, yet he was apparently being asked to do such things. Eyler tried to clarify, explaining that a financial analysis of real property is not the same as financial services, which Logan identified as the purview of the town’s bond attorney in this context. Logan did not appear to agree with Eyler’s assessment of the extent of what he might be able to do for the town.
Irwin, saying he wanted to avoid a “rush to judgment,” asked Eyler if he’d be able to analyze the subject property against building new on the town’s Veterans Drive property. The town government moved into its modular digs on Clearwater Road in 2014 due to persistent health woes traced to black mold infestation in the old town hall on Veterans Drive, which was demolished this past June. Irwin and Logan maintain that acquiring a building that’s more than 50 years old would not be as cost-effective as starting from nothing. Bettez has, in the past, articulate a strategy that’s based on the various state grants which are offered to encourage shared services or outright consolidation of governments.
Part of the rush, Logan said, was the idea that anyone would be purchasing a building which is not only old, but currently subject to a moratorium in the village. That six-month moratorium was adopted on February 22, and cannot be renewed.
Bettez finally cut off discussion, saying that it had devolved from interviewing Eyler to grandstanding about the broader issue, and Eyler’s services were secured 3-2, with Irwin and Logan again opposed. Eyler will only make money if a purchase is made, and that commission would be paid by the seller.