MONTICELLO, NY — A March 18 meeting of the Sullivan County legislature touched on several points of confusion with the legislature’s administrative process. Specifically included were a …
MONTICELLO, NY — A March 18 meeting of the Sullivan County legislature touched on several points of confusion with the legislature’s administrative process. Specifically included were a pair of resolutions lingering on the agenda without discussion, and a tabled resolution that resulted in the legislature needing to waive its own rules.
The legislature hit a snafu during a discussion about the Sullivan County Land Bank (SCLB).
The SCLB runs a variety of programs to support affordable homeownership and decrease blight, including the renovation and the subsidized sale of foreclosed properties.
A resolution appeared on the legislature’s executive committee agenda on March 18 to appoint members to the SCLB board.
In discussions about the resolution, chair of the legislature Rob Doherty made a point of unclarity about the SCLB. “I’ve never seen anyone from this committee come in front of the board and explain where they’re at, the properties that they have, the successes or failures. I don’t understand how we just keep reappointing people to a board that doesn’t have to come before us.”
The legislature has received regular information on the aims and the activities of the land bank. A Monticello development from the SCLB came before the legislature in a public hearing on January 19; Jill Weyer, former executive director of the SCLB, gave a presentation on the SCLB during an April 7, 2022 meeting of the legislature’s planning, real property and economic development committee, a meeting at which Doherty was present; reports delivered monthly to that committee include regular updates on land bank activities.
Doherty said the SCLB should come before the legislature and give the general public information on its activities. He proposed tabling the resolution until after a presentation had been made.
Confusion ensued about the impact tabling the resolution would have. Heather Brown, stepping into the role of planning commissioner following Freda Eisenberg’s resignation, told the board that the SCLB planned to hold its reorganizational meeting the next week, and that without members, it would likely need to be delayed.
Could the board operate without the legislature’s resolution? Doherty asked.
“I don’t know,” said Brown. “I’m four days on the job.”
Ira Steingart, a member of the SCLB board due to his position as legislative minority leader, said he thought the current members could carry on without issue.
Between the legislature’s executive committee meeting and a following full board meeting, the legislature found out that was not the case.
Weyer had recently resigned as a county employee, and was no longer the SCLB executive director, but did continue to work with the SCLB. She had been watching the meeting over video, Steingart said, and told the legislature if it didn’t pass its resolution that day, she wouldn’t have a position with the SCLB.
The legislature waived its rules in its full board meeting and passed a resolution to appoint Weyer to the SCLB board.
A separate administrative issue has occupied discussion concerning the Sullivan County Legislature.
A steam autoclave proposal and a pair of ethics board appointments have lingered on the Sullivan County Legislature’s agenda for months.
Hughes Energy came before the legislature in November, seeking permission for a steam-autoclave trash-processing pilot project at the capped landfill in Monticello. Following discussion, chair of the legislature Rob Doherty removed it from the agenda by invoking one of the legislature’s rules, Rule 36.
Also in November, the legislature discussed appointing Len Bernardo and Robert Freehill to fill vacancies on the county’s board of ethics. The legislature tabled that motion following some legislators’ pushback against the candidates chosen.
While the actions of the legislature took both resolutions out of active consideration, both continued to appear on the legislature’s agendas.
Members of the public concerned about the Hughes Energy proposal have on several occasions expressed concern that the legislature would vote on the proposal during a meeting that had it on the agenda. The Catskill Mountainkeeper rallied supporters for a Thursday, March 2 meeting of the legislature in the belief that it would vote on the proposal at that meeting; the Mountainkeeper was later notified that the resolution was on the agenda in error.
Hughes’ appearing on the agenda when it wasn’t supposed to be voted on created unnecessary agitation, local climate advocate Rebekah Creshkoff told the legislature on March 2.
Neither resolution should still be on the legislature’s agenda, according to its own rules, frequent public commenter Ken Walter told the legislature on March 16. Rule 25 states that a resolution cannot be tabled more than twice, and that it must be withdrawn if not voted on at the next meeting after the second table.
“In other words, it’s dead, folks,” said Walter. “Take it off.”
The status of the Hughes Energy proposal remains uncertain.
Hughes Energy, a green-tech company, proposed to build a pilot steam-autoclave system at the Monticello capped landfill. The system would process the county’s trash to create a saleable fiber.
“Communities need to manage the waste they produce rather than handing it off to far off, often disadvantaged communities,” says Sheila Hughes McStravick, marketing and communications director with Hughes Energy.
Projects like the one Hughes Energy proposes could provide for an alternative to sending trash to the landfill. Sullivan County is in a place where it needs to consider alternatives—Seneca Meadows landfill, the place where the county currently sends its trash, is set to close within a few years.
Hughes Energy could install a demonstration plant within six months of an agreement, for a time limited to that determined by the Department of Environmental Conservation and by Sullivan County, creating recycled cardboard out of trash, says McStravick. “Sullivan County continues to evaluate its options for an organic food recycling demonstrator at the landfill to fulfill the requirements of the CLCPA [New York State’s climate law] and they intend to make a decision when their calendar allows.”
The company’s technology has come under question from local advocates concerned about its impact on the environment and its track record.
“Promising that their process is sustainable and efficient, Hughes has tried to sell this technology to communities throughout New York State for years,” reads material from the Catskill Mountainkeeper. “With no track record or scientific evidence to back their claims, Hughes’ proposals have been rejected by every community they have contacted.”
The legislature has not discussed Hughes Energy since November. The Division of Public Works 2022 Annual Report lists meetings with Hughes Energy in November and December to discuss the project.
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