Apparently unwilling to face mounting questions about his alleged mishandling of the WestHELP affordable housing lease, as well as questions about his recently concluded pact with one of the Town’s three labor unions, Town Supervisor Paul Feiner closed tonight’s public town board meeting before the public even showed up — less than ten minutes after the meeting began.
Mr. Feiner began the meeting shortly after 7:30 p.m. with two town council members present, Kevin Morgan and Ken Jones, both of whom went along with Mr. Feiner’s unusual maneuver.
Town board meetings rarely begin on time, and when they do begin, they usually start with a presentation and tonight’s meeting should have been no exception, with a presentation scheduled to honor a long-time town employee who was retiring. The public usually arrives shortly thereafter.
Tonight, however, the presentation was canceled – with no advance warning to the public – and Mr. Feiner, seeing no one present, apparently due in part to a torrential thunderstorm raging at the time — seized on the opportunity to race through the board’s agenda for the evening before anyone from the public showed up.
When Town Councilwoman Diana Juettner, who said she was delayed by the storm, arrived at 7:50 p.m., she discovered to her surprise that the meeting was already over.
For his part, Mr. Morgan left Town Hall immediately and Mr. Jones left shortly thereafter, refusing to answer any questions from soggy members of the public who had braved the bad weather and were expecting to address the board.
Mr. Feiner meanwhile closeted himself in his office to write a press release telling the public what the board had accomplished in its abbreviated session.
Mr. Feiner, who issued his press release at 8:18 p.m., made no mention that he caused the meeting to end less than ten minutes after it started – without even waiting for Ms. Juettner to arrive.
Francis Sheehan did not attend because of an illness in his family.
Ms. Juettner and Mr. Sheehan are both running for reelection this year, as is Mr. Feiner.
Mr. Feiner has been under increasing criticism the past few days for having unilaterally contacted over the weekend certain of the applicants seeking to enter into a long-term lease for the WestHELP apartments in order to get them to revise their bids.
Contacting one or more applicants who have already submitted a bid in response to a public RFP to revise their bids raises the possibility of collusion between Mr. Feiner and the successful bidder, which could be a ground for nullifying any bid that is ultimately accepted.
Earlier today, the ECC called on Mr. Feiner to level the playing field by releasing copies of his communications this weekend with the applicants, but he has refused to do so. In addition, Mr. Feiner was asked to produce copies of all the revised proposals. Mr. Feiner has refused to do that as well, choosing to produce only two of the four revised proposals he received.
In the meantime, many residents who watched the town board work session Tuesday when Mr. Feiner and other town board members interviewed the applicants were appalled at the apparent lack of preparation by town board members who appeared unfamiliar with the proposals, the obligations of the town under the lease, and the type of work a company that manages affordable housing apartments actually does.
By abruptly closing the early meeting tonight, Mr. Feiner prevented the public from voicing that criticism publicly.
Members of the public who arrived to speak at tonight’s meeting – but were told to go home before the meeting was over – said they wanted also to speak about the Town’s recent settlement with the CSEA, which is one of the Town’s three major labor unions.
On the agenda for approval tonight was the CSEA’s new labor contract, which is a five-year deal backdated to January 1, 2010 and ending on December 31, 2014. Residents wanted to know how much the settlement was going to cost, whether it was provided for entirely n the Town’s contingency budget or whether it would be paid out of the Town’s shrinking fund balance. Mr. Feiner succeeded in blocking discussion of that issue as well.