Robust Discussion Is Important: Responses to readers on the Clinic

responding to readers' concerns re the Methadone Clinic

I agree with Tina that citizens must pay close attention to their public officials and that robust, public, fact-based discussion generally leads to best outcomes. 

Ruth consulted the Corporation Counsel on recusal.  She was advised that she need not recuse, but should disclose the relationship between C.H.O.P. and Renaissance, which is informal and does not involve exchange of funds.  Jan Peek will not be, and never was considering, sharing the Corporate Drive building with Renaissance.  C.H.O.P.’s only relationship with Mr. Miller, the former owner of 3 Corporate Drive, is that he is the owner of the building in which C.H.O.P. rents one floor, at market rates.  Appearance is a factor to consider, but as in many legal issues, one must look at the situation from the point of view of a rational and prudent person would do/think.  I imagine the corporation counsel looked at all the facts and decided no rational and prudent person would think there was a conflict.

The skateboard park is in a separate industrial park on the other side of Highland Ave, not “right next door.”

What definition there is for ‘professional office” can certainly include medical offices.  According to the search engine provided with the code on the city website, the word “medical” appears nowhere in the code.  The code draws no line between medical office and clinic.  Professional offices are permitted in the C2 and C3 commercial districts as well as the M1, 2, 2A, and 3 industrial districts.  Given the lack of clear definitions in the code, one could argue that Hudson River Health Care, and possibly all private medical practices have no more or less right to be located in Peekskill than the methadone clinic.  As I understand it, the fundamental disagreement between the corporation counsel and the mayor’s attorney is how to interpret this aspect of the code.  That is why I expressed the hope that the mayor will take this issue to court, which is the appropriate place to settle such disagreements.

It’s too bad that disagreements with the EAF were not forwarded to the Planning Commission and the Planning Department during the public comment period, which did not end until 10 Oct.  It may still be useful to send any thoughts on this aspect of the application to Mayor Foster and the Common Counsel. I urge Tina to do so.

As I stated, the one thing I think we can all agree on is that the best possible scenario is the clinic staying in their little building on the hospital campus (which, by the way, is in Cortlandt, adjacent to a veterinarian practice and very near a nice residential neighborhood).  Unfortunately, that seems not to be an option, as the hospital’s spokesman has made quite clear (“The Journal News,” 24 July, page 7A).

Ruth received legal guidance that commission members can be liable for “punitive damages”  if they overturned their original decision in the face of the corporation counsel’s opinion that the clinic was an as of right use.  Our city’s insurance does not cover punitive damages against city officers.

My Patch profile has always stated that I sit on Peekskill’s Zoning Board of Appeals.  This matter never appeared before the ZBA, and is highly unlikely ever to appear before us, as the ZBA’s jurisdiction is quite narrowly defined (see my August post http://peekskill.patch.com/blog_posts/get-the-facts-before-you-complain  for a more detailed discussion of the ZBA’s powers and duties).

I'm thinking that it's time to let the courts look at this and decide which lawyers are correct.  I assume, and certainly hope, that the city will soon file an Article 78, which is an inexpensive way to pursue an appeal of the Planning Commission's decision.  It seems like the only way to get some clarity on this difficult and controversial issue.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

JM October 16, 2012 at 11:27 AM
Robust discussion, ok. Here is my question: Why does it seem to me that this city sets the bar of success so low? The time, energy and financial resources (now) devoted to this methadone clinic benefits who exactly? Where was this city three years ago when Tiffany & Co. (TIF) was searching for a new manufacturing home, which would employ 300 professional jewelry makers (average starting salary north of $50K). They picked Louisville, KY, btw. That type of job-creation ''bar'' should be the discussion, in my view, which benefits 1) professional job creation, 2) city hall's income, 3) community as a whole because those same professionals could live and spend their cash here, too. TIF is just one example... there are many more.
Praetell Boch October 16, 2012 at 12:14 PM
I think it's only fair to offer nearby residents some free samplings of the new clinic. When a bakery opens, they frequently give out some pastry samplings to entice customers. When can I get some free meth samples? Phil Miller plays a mean horn. By the way, which one's pink?
Leslie Lawler October 16, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Thanks for the lengthy response/commentary, Jim. However, it might be nice for Ruth, since she sits on the Planning Commission as appointed by this Mayor, to speak for herself. Are you her spokesperson and is there any reason she can't weigh in herself? She is accountable to us, you know.
Liz Claire October 16, 2012 at 01:13 PM
You and Ruth were misled. There is no personal liability for making decisions on the Zoning Board. Peekskill is a public corporation. Punitive damages against a public corporation are not allowable under the law. If you were misled on this legal subtlety, who's to say you weren't also misled about "as of right use"? You yourself qualify it as an "opinion". Zoning board members exercise their judgment all the time, either granting or denying variances on properties whether or not the proposed action is "as of right use". The way you describe it, your wife is trying to escape responsibility for exercising independent judgment. Why have a zoning board if the Corp Counsel presents faits accompli to empty suits in empty chairs? The zoning board is to reflect the will of the community, not adopt a legal INTERPRETATION by someone who fails to appreciate that (a) municipal corporations are not liable for punitive damages, and (b) members of boards make decisions as officers of the City not in their individual capacity.
Betty Hill October 16, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Now that is funny.
Peter Goodson October 16, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Enough already. Jim is just continuing his work for the local dem party to help them try and fool the public about this issue as he has done with previous issues. It is the only reason he blogs to begin with. He was let go from the a local press outlet when they figured out he was only "reporting" to hide the facts that hurt his friends. This is a joke. Foster, Klaxton, Rigger and all the council approved this clinic coming to Peekskill. Knight's wife was the director of the homeless shelter (and officer in the dem party as Jim himself was) where the clinic operates now to serve the homeless and the owner of the building is a friend and contributor to the dem campaigns. Now, they got caught and are desperate to make it look like they want to fight it. THE PLANNING BOARD DID THEIR BIDDING TO BEGIN WITH! A sitting mayor and council suing their own Planning Board - this has never happened and is a clear sign they know how bad this is hurting their election next year. They are the laughing stock of not only the county but the entire Hudson Valley! Don't be fooled people.
Tina Bongar October 17, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Thanks for responding Jim -- so what that the Skate Park is across the street from Corporate Drive? There's nothing separating them but asphalt! I'm just very discouraged because this young, interesting, progressive business (hey, isn't this supposed to be a vision of the Dem's?), could establish Peekskill as an a destination for outdoor recreation and sports, like the nearby Annsville Creek Paddlesport complex and instead of compatible use we get this. (To not let this point go easily, Councilperson Torres was forward-thinking enough to suggest building a Pump Track and create an attractor for younger people but Bernis Nelson squashed that, like she tried to do with the Tattoo Parlor -- and now Cortlandt is vying to do this (thanks for the idea Peekskill but we actually get things done...) I certainly would like real manufacturing here. It's my understanding that's supposed to be the professional objective of the Economic Development person. Let's see how this goes, I hope for the best. Back to General Municipal Law -- I believe Ruth was poorly advised, because as a prudent and rational person, it seems to me that it would be in her best interest, because her interest is that of the continued health and status of CHOP as a renter, and "informal" makes me very nervous. Again, this is the appearance of a conflict of interest according to General Municipal Law. FYI had I seen or had access to the EAF I certainly would have challenged it. I will certainly give input to the City.
Jim Knight October 18, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Hi Peter, I don't work for or, even belong to, the Dem city committee, or any other Dem organization, beyond being simply a registered Democrat. Nor do I work for any individual Dem candidates or electeds. I was not "let go" ny North County News, I resigned. And no, I was niot asked or compelled to resign. Feel free to ask Bruce Apar, publisher and editor, about it. My sense is that the mayor and council do not support locating the clinic in Peekskill. I'm waiting to see if they spend the time, effiort, and money on a court battle. If they do, they're serious. If they do not go forward with this after hiring their own lawyer to make an argument to the Planning Commission, we will have to assume that the lawyer was mere stagecraft. Jim Knight
Michael Morey October 19, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Tina, I agree with you strongly about the location of the Skate Park. As the father of two, it makes me very, VERY uncomfortable that more consideration wasn't given to this fact. Mere yards away from the proposed site of this methadone clinic will be a place where young people congregant. It's poor planning. Whether next door or across the street, the proximity, and frankly the danger, still exists. Years ago many of us were able to successful advocate against putting a parole board next to an ice cream shop. The same common sense holds here.
Tina Bongar October 19, 2012 at 09:44 PM
I'm glad to know you're opposed Michael. Is there any way you can encourage the Mayor and Council to file an Article 78? I'm getting the impression there are some who don't think they will go through with having their attorney file an Article 78. Is there any influence you carry through the Democrats to encourage them to do this? When you challenged the Parole Board next to the Ice Cream shop, which I'm assuming is zoning issues, was this through a City-hired outside attorney or the Corporation Counsel?
Liz Claire October 19, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Tina, I hate to bear bad news but you deserve the truth. Let me preface my remarks by saying that society has an interest in combating heroin addiction & methadone treatment is the only known effective treatment however imperfect it is. The hope to help addicts is enough for the public to fund methadone treatment. If you look at the Renaissance Project's audits and 990s, you'll see that that nearly all of their revenue comes from government grants, Medicaid, & Public Assistance. If you look at their statement of functional expenses, more than three-fourths of the money they spend goes to salaries and benefits. Typical mismanaged not-for-profit. It's managed as poorly as Foster runs the City. Simply put, the methadone clinic is less a project to help addicts change their lives than a way to provide plum jobs to loyal Democrats. And that is why the Common Council will do nothing about it. The methadone clinic is about Dem patronage jobs and votes, and not the recovering addicts who deserve our support. Morey is about to leave town, he doesn't care. He's leaving because he won't put his children through Peekskill schools. It doesn't cost him anything to triangulate the issue by giving lip service to stopping it. That's what he & Foster are doing. Triangulating the issue to save face and wash their hands with the dirty water of partisanship. See http://www.charitiesnys.com/RegistrySearch/show_details.jsp?id={87779074-0C43-4291-971C-218EC2C2C919}
Liz Claire October 19, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Tina, You might quibble that the Dems can deliver their plum patronage jobs closer to the Hospital, which is true. But Renaissance used taxpayer money to buy property from the Dem loyal who owned 3 Corporate Drive, someone everyone knows is a heavy contributor to Foster and the local Dems. This is the ultimate patronage con, paying off a contributor holding undesirable property in a down real estate market and at the same time delivering plum patronage jobs to the Dem faithful. Ain't politics great?
Leslie Lawler October 19, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Tina, years ago, as Mike correctly notes, many of us indeed advocated against the Parole Board being located near the ice cream store upon on Main. However, that was a different time with a different administration and different Planning Commission. No attorney was involved because the community outrage was such that the administration listened and ultimately knew it was wrong, therefore it never went forward. Liz is also correct that one of the differentiating factors this time around is the political contributor that is involved, and I might add, with this administration it's not the first time campaign contributors get rewarded and awarded.
Tina Bongar October 21, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Well, there's no way I want to let anyone off easy on this. These partisan, I mean patronage, jobs and property-buying is exactly why I believe Ruth should have recused herself. Over one-thousand voters, I mean VOTERS, signed against the Methadone Clinic going to Corporate Drive, and a majority of Democrats, I imagine, see the Clinic next to the Hospital -- where it belongs. A GREAT STORY here -- hint hint Patch -- would be what would to take to keep the Clinic project there. I still don't want to lose faith in them hiring this outside attorney. I think the key is in challenging the Planning Commission's decisions and City's EAF (Linda Puglisi, a neighboring Town Supervisor, wants a DEIS for goodness sakes, this has to mean something). The key may also be in our vague zoning ordinances, and the need to articulate "clinics" more clearly. (Jim didn't understand that I'm saying the Vet clinic use near Corporate Drive doesn't bode in this argument's favor. But I imagine that Vets are regulated differently than our clinics based on some of the scary lack of cleanliness in Vets offices I've seen.)


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