Sunday, December 25, 2016

Infighting Plagues Plattekill Library Board

By Mark Reynolds

    In the past few months it has become apparent there are sharp divisions among trustees of the Plattekill Library on where to locate a home for a new library and how to go about it. 
    Most recently the board voted to stop consideration on a parcel, known as the Cider Mill property, that is just down from their present location on Route 32. The board has already spent $17,000 on structural and environmental studies on this parcel and sent the owner a deposit check of $9,250 in April 2014, which he cashed. In November 2014, the owner sent a check of his own back to the Library board’s attorney with all indications that the deal was off. Library Board President Lynn Ridgeway is on record stating that the library’s attorney decided on his own to place the seller's check in “escrow” and at this point, due to the passage of time, the check is no longer valid. Ridgeway also stated that no one on the Library Board instructed their attorney to take this action. The actual record, however, does not back Ridgeway's claims. A source who spoke on the condition of anonymity, pointed out that in a phone conversation the library board had with their attorney, he insisted that it was the board who instructed him to hold the check. The attorney did not mention a particular person but additional records reveal that Ridgeway is the sole individual on the board who has spoken with their attorney throughout the entire process. 
    Recently, in a December 6, 2016 email, Ridgeway asked the library attorneys, Robert Scofield and John Allen of Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna, if they have any record of who decided the fate of the seller's returned deposit check.
    Ridgeway wrote "I was under the impression that the check was put in escrow. You made it clear to me last week that it was not. It was simply put into a paper file. Whose responsibility was it to notify the Board that the check was about to become stale dated in order for us to make a decision on what action to take, if any?"
    The response from both attorneys indicates that Ridgeway's questioning is at odds with the recollections of both attorneys. Schoffield wrote that he and Allen "are quite frustrated that there has been any insinuation that our firm did anything improper, with regard to the deposit check." Attorney Allen elaborated, pointing out that Ridgeway knew about the seller's returned deposit check in November 2014. He stated that during 2015 and 2016 his firm tried to "get the transaction to the closing table" and continued to negotiate the deal for the Cider Mill property, noting that the library board did not tell him to cease trying to make the sale happen. He stated to Ridgeway that she was the "conduit between me, as the attorney representing the board on the real estate transaction, and the board itself. I have never spoken directly to the other board members, so I am dismayed that members think that I misled the board or took any action with the purported deposit refund, other than the action which was discussed with you before being taken, and of which you were aware for the entire period since my November 17, 2014 letter."
    Allen's reference to a November 2014 letter was a response he sent to the seller's attorney after receiving a check for $9,250 from the seller with the implication that from his perspective the deal was terminated. In the letter Allen stated  that the library was willing to buy the property "as is" along with a few remedial but not "mandated" conditions that were listed in the contract. He informed the seller's attorney, however, that "in the interim" he was holding onto the check that was sent to him.       
    After the library board's recent decision to end consideration of the Cider Mill property, Allen sent a new letter to the seller's attorney requesting that the deposit money be returned  since the November 2014 check was no longer legitimate. Allen pointed out to the library board that the Cider Mill owner may oppose returning the $9,250 and advised the board that if they were to file a lawsuit they could end up spending more trying to recover it. 
Since 2014 Ridgeway and board Vice President Valerie Smith have insisted to the rest of the board that the library has a contract for the Cider Mill property, despite the returned deposit and the owner failing to show up for two scheduled closings. Only after board member William Farrell pressed Ridgeway to provide proof of a contract did she seek an opinion from their attorney who stated in writing that a contract did not exist. Ridgeway chalked the entire matter up to a “misunderstanding,” however, the email record from Allen to Ridgeway clearly shows that while he tried to bring about a closing, he told her "we have never said in words or substance that the library is still under contract."
    Board member Joseph Egan recently laid bare the disarray that has troubled the inner workings of the library board for years. In two emails he sent to Ridgeway, dated December 2 and 10, 2016, he noted that a recent appraisal the library board had done of their present property, which they are considering purchasing from the town, has not been shared with the Town Board for their review. Egan characterized this as “unfortunate...we should share this information, this would show good will toward the town and prove we don’t have anything to hide…being secretive at this time is not good or needed. We cannot expect the town to show good will if we are not. Have we not learned anything from our discussions with Rebekkah [Smith Aldrich of the Mid Hudson Library Association], the Town of Highland [library director] and ourselves about openness and inclusion of all parties? The only reasons not to do this in the open is that we have something to hide or people do not want to move forward with purchasing the current property or at least see if it is a viable option.” 
    Board member Farrell agreed with Egan's comments. In a series of emails, Ridgeway stated that she wanted to keep the appraisal issue confidential, with Farrell questioning the reason for the Library Board to keep it from the Town Board. 
    "It gives us a starting point in regards to an actual price so we can discuss [it] with the town. Furthermore, since we used taxpayer money to pay for this, anyone can FOIL it [under the Freedom Of Information Law]." Ridgeway's one sentence reply was "They can FOIL it once they know it exists." In a direct response to  Ridgeway, and copied to the entire library board and to the Mid Hudson Library Association, Farrell criticized Ridgeway's actions.
    "I would think that after your boondoggle of misleading the Library Board for two years, claiming we had a contract when we didn't and now the fiasco of who's responsible for not cashing the check from Nemeth [Cider Mill owner], which will cost the taxpayers $9,250, you would wake up to the fact that this [library] board is not some 'secret society' that is supposed to keep everything from the public."   
    At their December 8 meeting, the library board unanimously approved $2,500 to pay for the town's attorney and consultants to review a possible sale of the present property to the library but voted not to share the actual appraisal of the library with the town by a vote of 3 yes, 2 no and 1 abstention. Bill Farrell, Joe Egan and David Padilla voted to share the appraisal while Ridgeway and Valerie Smith voted against the measure and Luz Ledesma abstained. Member Karen Adamson was absent. It did not pass because a majority of four votes was needed for approval, according to the NYS Education Law [sec. 266 (1)] which governs the Plattekill Library.
    Egan voiced dismay in how the library board has been operating, stating that "misinformation, resistance to opposing views, and bullying, both verbal and visual, i.e. threats to walk out, slamming of [the] desk to get a point across and disdainful looks when questions are asked that differ from some people’s views, just to mention a few things.”
    Lynn Ridgeway did not return a call for comment for this article by deadline. 

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