Category Archives: Newburgh City Council

Councilwoman Holmes


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A co-feature today with

Winter Cooking with Grandma

One-way ticket out of town for courthouse bodies


©Jane Johnston. click to enlarge

Perhaps you remember when work began on the Newburgh City Courthouse in 2006 the controversy and surprise when bodies were found at the site of the old Broadway School.  A consultant was brought in from SUNY New Paltz, Dr. Ken Nystrom, and the bodies were carefully brought up to the campus to be studied.  So far so good.  A committee from various religious figures (Father Bill Scafidi, Dr. Benilda Armstead-Jones, Dickie Peterson, Pam Krizek) was assembled to advise.  They visited the African Burial Ground in NYC, and were very impressed.  According to this work session, from 2013 (the first recording, third discussion topic), money was to be allotted in a BAN or a TAN in the amount of about $250,000 for Newburgh’s own “Memorial” of a kind, next to AME Zion Church, the empty lot at 113 Washington Street.  This was in 2013; the lot is undeveloped, and Dr. Nystrom confirmed the bodies remain at New Paltz.


113 Washington St. Newburgh last week. AME Zion Church on left border.

Dr. Nystrom mentioned that the last he had spoken to the city was about a year ago, and the idea had been to have a mausoleum next to the courthouse.  Ann Kuzmik, who has since retired, had been instrumental in coordinating meetings.

I called the city manager’s office today and Lillian Burgarelli promised to look into it.  Everyone I have spoken to has agreed that the bodies should be returned to Newburgh, and buried and/or memorialized in some way, although when it comes to shelling out any amount of money for this or following through with plans so far nothing has happened.

Newburgh’s total dependence upon real estate

I read with interest this letter to the Times Herald-Record editor written by Hhans C. Sandiford of IOTAPLIST1, Inc., which was in response to the December 10th article about the City of Newburgh streamlining the process of pricing city-owned real estate.   Mr. Sandiford agreed with City Councilwoman Cindy Holmes, who was quoted in the original article, as stating that the city should “get out of the real estate business.”

It is curious to me that neither the original article nor the letter to the editor makes mention of the Newburgh Community Landbank.  One of the reasons landbanks traditionally are created, as in Michigan, has been to “do a better job” than the original municipality at disposing of unwanted real estate, and to prevent the sold properties from rebounding back into city hands due to delinquent taxes or other reasons.  The idea was that real estate professionals, people with expertise at planning projects and putting together successful deals, would have a better track record through a landbank instead of city officials doing their best.  (Of course, whether Newburgh’s landbank fits this description of superior performance, I am not qualified to say.)

As another note, it should be clear that the city will always be in the real estate business, even if the landbank handles 100% of reclaimed properties, because that is just the nature of the stewardship of government.  It goes with the territory.  Death… and property taxes.

Excuse me, do you speak English?

When I have traveled abroad I always feel so embarrassed when I happen to be in a country where I don’t speak the language and I have just no idea what to say except in English, and some broken French is not going to get me too far.  Even in places where “everyone speaks English” I still think it’s obnoxious, but if you really don’t know the language what choice do you have.

What I do object to is the bilingual council agendas, for both work sessions and regular meetings, that now populate the Newburgh City Council.  I did some digging and could not find another city in the US that publishes bilingual agendas–not Port Chester, NY, that was subject to the US Department of Justice’s noted Voter’s Rights Act lawsuit a few years ago; not Los Angeles, California, with all its Latinos; not Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, which is the state with the highest Hispanic population in the country, or even a smaller city closer to the Mexican border in that state, the City of Las Cruces.

It’s just a lot, visually to deal with, and cognitively as well, to have the English text followed by the Spanish text over and over again.  I recommend that if a Spanish version is desired that a separate copy be made, and let the clerk count how many copies are taken to gauge how many people are actually taking a Spanish version.

No conflict of interest, NYS Comptroller’s Office says

Yesterday I had a long email exchange with Madeline Fletcher, the Consulting Director for the Newburgh Community Land Bank, covering various topics including the issue of conflicts of interest.  I had asked her if anyone had ever covered Karen Mejia’s situation since she serves as a councilperson but she also has a part-time job with the Greater Newburgh Partnership and sits on the Newburgh Community Landbank as the council’s representative.  Ms. Fletcher was not immediately aware of anything.

I decided to contact the NYS Comptroller’s Office to see if they could help, and, as it turned out, they could.  Brian Butry from the press office cited these two passages from NYS code :

Not-for-Profit Corp Law § 1605. Board of directors.
(c)  Any  public  officer shall be eligible to serve as a board member
and the acceptance of the appointment shall neither terminate nor impair
such public office. For purposes of this section, “public officer” shall
mean a person who is  elected  to  a  municipal  office.  Any  municipal
employee  or  appointed  officer  shall  be eligible to serve as a board

GML § 802. Exceptions. The provisions of section eight hundred one of this
chapter shall not apply to:
1.  ***
f. A  contract  with  a  membership  corporation  or  other  voluntary
 non-profit  corporation  or  association  including, but not limited to,
rural electric cooperatives….


In other words, from the first passage Ms. Mejia is eligible to serve on the landbank board even though she is a councilperson, and from the second passage, the “exception” it is referring to is conflict of interests enumerated in the previous passage, therefore, since the Greater Newburgh Partnership is a non-profit corporation it is exempt from the conflict of interest problems.


In pictures: Newburgh Community Landbank Meeting 4/16/14

AGSueSullivanThe meeting began with Sue Sullivan from the Greater Newburgh Partnership introducing a man from the state government who explained various timeframes for funding that could be applied for by the landbank.  (My descriptions are vague due to acoustic limitations as I will explain further below.)


“What’s that you’re saying?”–well that’s what I said, anyway, as it was impossible to hear much of the discussion without the board using microphones.  Here’s a shot of the audience on the other side of the room.


After asking once, I asked again and called out City Manager James Slaughter and Fire Chief Michael Vatter that they should be ashamed of themselves that between the two of them they were incapable of opening the closet that houses the microphone controls.  They promised to look it up for future meetings, and as a temporary solution for this meeting invited anyone having difficulty to the table.  I pulled up a chair.


Board members.  Most of the meeting was spent listening to very early pitches by potential developers.  I wish I could tell you more but those pretty little things on the table are just cosmetic, they don’t actually work as microphones!


More board members.  The conflict of interest updates agenda item was nothing to get excited about, just filling out a routine form.  Madeline Fletcher directed me to the landbank website to see the existing CoI form, but I can’t locate it anywhere.  I have emailed her and asked for a copy, as well as asking her if anyone has ever formally addressed the issue of Karen Mejia serving on Council, having a consulting relationship with GNP, and serving on the landbank for the council.  I’ll keep you posted.


These guys, sorry not perfectly photographed in all their Brooklyn glory, anyway they were the last presenters who maybe might be interested in developing a bunch of properties.  The two guys before them, two individuals who went up to the table consecutively, I could not hear anything at all.  Now I know how my deaf father feels.  So I don’t know what to tell you.

But, I think the idea of landbanks, and here we have the gap between theory and practice, the idea is that landbanks should bat better than average of your general municipal land disposal arrangement, because landbanks are Specialists who Handpick just the right projects and developers for each property they have, no matter how dilapidated or sad.  What seems to be going on at this meeting anyway is the landbank is just so grateful that anyone at all is expressing interest, they’ll go along with that.  Of course, I could be wrong about this, because after all, I was auditorily handicapped for more than half of the meeting.

At any rate, there was some dissension in the ranks, as the guys pictured above wanted restaurants and bars and multifamily housing and they just love Beacon and you can buy wine there, good wine for $15, to be interrupted by Karen Mejia with sharp words in an anti-gentrification speech about not pushing out the existing population.

To. Be. Continued.

Karen Mejia’s Ethics Problems (Some Good Old-Fashioned Text Art)

The blizzard has temporarily frozen my paints, so I revert to typing for this post.

Classy Civility takes a dump for Prison Minimalism

Yesterday I watched Monday night’s council meeting on the youtube channel.  Overall the meeting seemed fairly uneventful.  I’m a little dismayed by the new, expensive council table that dominates the room now, and am curious how work sessions are conducted since the table is unreceptive for visitors to “pull up a chair.”  Also sad to see go the floral painting that hung just above the employees’ seating.  It was a nice painting, I’ve probably spent many hours staring at it during idle moments over the years.  The overall effect of all these changes is a symbolic closure to the public, a more aloof and less friendly government, but one that perhaps thinks it will be more respected and/or protected from the unruly masses.

Then there were the closing comments, and I was intrigued to hear Councilwoman Karen Mejia provide an answer to something I have wondered about in the past, whether she was working for the Greater Newburgh Partnership or not.  She is, part time.  To me this appears to be an ethics violation.  Of course, we have no ethics board, so there is no one to address complaints to.  I know from experience the council will do nothing; that is what they did when I brought up the Rick Herbek ethics problem.  Why bother writing about it here?  I have no idea.  I suppose I am writing to my imaginary friends out there, as if this would make a difference.   But really, no one will listen to this.  They can’t hear the conflict in City Hall because the city government is too dependent on GNP/(St. Luke’s) lobbyists/donors/grantwriters/etc.  The hospital is an old hand at threatening the city to get them to do exactly what they want.  So it goes.

Anyway, my robot friends, here are some excerpts from the code of the City of Newburgh that seem relevant:

34.2. Code of Ethics

B. No City officer or employee shall:

(1)  Act as attorney, directors broker, agent, consultant, representative, or employee for any person, firm or corporation interested directly or indirectly in any manner whatsoever in business or professional dealings with the City.

This seems pretty obvious to me, although I am always appreciative of legal counsel.  How can Ms. Mejia deny GNP is not “interested directly or indirectly in any manner whatsoever in business or professional dealings with the City”?

34.2. Code of Ethics

B. No City officer or employee shall:

(4)  Appear before any agency or board of the municipality except on his or her own behalf, or on behalf of the municipality, when so authorized and directed.

This also seems totally obvious… and something she may have actually violated Monday night, in appearance or spirit if not in fact.  Ms. Mejia clearly sided and identified with GNP when denigrating the city government in her remarks.

The full code of ethics article is available here:

Ms. Mejia might argue that she can recuse herself, but if I were on the Ethics Board I would say that’s not sufficient, as for example her remarks Monday night show.  If she has such a high opinion of what private partnerships can do, and such a low opinion of democratically elected public office, then it is time for her to live by her convictions and resign her city council office so she can better serve the private businesses of the City of Newburgh.

New DP techniques: Two Thumbs Up

I was unable to attend Tuesday, November 12th’s Newburgh City Council meeting so I caught up with it today by watching it on the city’s youtube channel.

I was overjoyed to see the return of good director of photography practices, such as zooming in appropriately on the speaking subject, instead of the practice of yore of sitting like an unattended security camera on the council table, even when the public would be giving comments.  They may be only my two thumbs, but nonetheless I lift them up to you, IT department, for doing a proper job.

As for the rest, it was refreshing to have a prayer that was light on the Praise Jesuses and the hallelujahs and surprisingly brief.  Although the council agreed on most resolutions, and disagreement was limited to one dissenting party, the dissent was presented in a civilized and reasonable manner for the most part.  In the case of Mayor Kennedy’s astonishing dissidence with the Mid-Broadway project, I’m disappointed we haven’t heard from this mayor before–it sounds like she has some important things to say.  Although in the end the majority ruled, and we will have our preposterously double-parked, wooden-constructed shantytown over a discount supermarket, whether it brings disaster (as some say it will) or more development (as others say it will) remains to be seen.

Ain’t I Newburgh

With all due respect to the memory of Sojourner Truth.

I went to Horizons-on-the-Hudson Magnet School in the 1970s.  Ain’t I Newburgh?

At HOH in those days, they taught us to think critically and ask questions.  Some of the junior high school teachers would complain about us HOH kids because we asked “too many” questions.  Ain’t I Newburgh?

I prefer not to confuse advertising campaigns with religious movements.  Ain’t I Newburgh?

I believe that negative thinking can be lifesaving.  Ain’t I Newburgh?

I hope that when you see the “I am Newburgh” signs, you will also think about what they ain’t.  Ain’t I Newburgh?

Work session recordings now available

Today I received an email from Ann Kuzmik, Administrative Assistant to the City Manager, that the work session recordings are now available thanks to the city’s IT department.

You can access the recordings here:

Many thanks to the city manager, city council, and the IT department for making this possible so swiftly after my request at Tuesday night’s council meeting.