Dear Voters of Ramapo,
Yesterday I posted a letter that discussed my commitment to transparency and ideas as to concrete suggestions regarding transparency and yet I am still getting questions as to what transparency really means and why I say that the Specht administration is not transparent and does not consistently follow the law.
At the most basic level transparency means running Town operations in a manner that the public can follow. In Ramapo it is clear that transparency is at best lip service. In Ramapo there is a lack of transparency. The Town regularly posts agendas at the last minute, often with less than 24 hours notice, they vote on non emergency items not included on the agenda, they don't post draft minutes or meeting videos for the public to view and they don't approve minutes in a timely fashion. They purposely hold public hearings in the dead of August which is when the public is on vacation and won't commit to keeping hearings open to when It even means that the Town Board votes on land sales illegally, without following the law for public notice, as happened this past summer on July 11, 2019!!
In my book, transparency means running Town operation in a manner that the public can actually understand and participate in. Our state laws establish bare bones minimum rules for public notices, and then New York state offers government guides on how to implement good practices for running public meetings and involving the public. In the end it takes very little effort to follow the letter of the law. Unfortunately Mr. Specht does not consistently follow the law; he didn't as the attorney for the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), and he hasn't as supervisor. I will do better than following the letter of the law; I will run a lawful government and I will do everything I can to improve public notice and public participation beyond the bare bones minimums.
Michael Specht was not transparent in as ZBA attorney before he became supervisor.
Even last night when I was at the Planning Board meeting one of the subdivisions that was subject to a ZBA approval couldn't properly move forward because they couldn't find the ZBA decision. They even joked about Mr. Specht's notorious track record for filings ZBA decisions so late. New York State law says that ZBA decisions are to be filed within 5 days of the decision. This pretty much never happens. If the ZBA were run in a more thoughtful manner where they discussed their intent to approve a decision and why and then gave the attorney's office time to create a draft decision that could be digested and made sure to be complete and then approved in the following meeting this problem would be alleviated. I did a spot analysis more than a year ago of 39 decisions filed in 2016-2017 because I kept being so shocked at the lateness and found that the average amount of time that it took Michael Specht to file a decision was 292 days! (See chart at the bottom.) This has led to confusion between the Planning Board and ZBA many, many times.
Then there is the case that made the newspapers related to the Bluefield Extension application, where the ZBA failed to follow the General Municipal Law procedure for county planning review, Mr. Specht as ZBA attorney recommended proceeding unlawfully and simply pretending that they received a GML disapproval and wrote up a ZBA decision that lied about the existence of the GML approval. This falsehood was recognized by Judge Eisenpress in a September 2018 decision.
Michael Specht ran on a campaign platform of transparency that he has not fulfilled.
In 2017 the Ramapo for All platform included this promise:
The audit for the 2017 fiscal year shall be completed on time and made available to the public without delay. Likewise, the Town budget for each year shall be made available to the public in a timely manner to insure meaningful public participation.
Town Board workshops, meetings and public hearings, other than those for limited emergency situations, and Planning Board, and Zoning Board hearings, will be held in the evening to allow the maximum amount of interested members of the public to attend without conflicting with people’s work schedules. Agendas and calendars shall be posted on the Town’s websites at least 3 days before each regularly scheduled meeting."
It is now October 30, 2019 and the audit for the 2017 fiscal year has not been completed. (This can be validated through the Town Website.) Worse, the Town has refused to release even draft financials in response to FOIL requests specifically asking for it. How is the public supposed to be able to understand a proposed budget with no comments/explanation/assumptions that is released without even the current state of financials for the 3 years prior to the budget as was done this year.
Town Board workshops and meetings are not being held solely in the evenings at a time that doesn't conflict with work schedules as promised. When held in the evening, Town meeting are often held before 7:00 pm to give people time to come after work but frequently at 5:30 or 6:00 instead. In 2019 alone, there were 9 morning meetings, all the workshop meetings are at 5:30, and there were 6 town board meetings held at either 5:30 or 6:00pm. We need a predictable calendar of regularly scheduled meetings that take place when the public can attend. If there is an emergency that necessitates a special meeting, that reason is know the day its scheduled and should be divulged.
Worse, Town Board meetings are mislabeled. Under the Specht administration the once per month day-time meetings for police matters that used to be listed on the calendar as "Town Board Meeting - Police Matters" are now often listed as just "Police Commission Meeting" but still include many non-police matters.
Agendas and calendars are not posted 3 days ahead of regularly scheduled meetings as promised. Here is the most recent example of no agenda posted the afternoon before a meeting the following morning at 9:00am. This is not unusual.
Michael Specht allows voting to occur on non agenda items regularly. Forget proper notice to the public, the supervisor doesn't even respect the need to properly notice his own Town council. The Town Board has a rule: "to the extent practicable, no resolution may be brought for a vote unless printed or digital copies are presented to each Board member 24 hours prior to the opening of the meeting." Since January 2018, the Town has waived this 24 hour rule at least 29 times. Pretty much at every Town Board meeting this rule is waived. So not only does the public have no notice of these items, this means that even the board members themselves have no notice of these items. Sometimes the items are mundane and sometimes they relate to important matters, rarely is there a reason stated as to why the matter is so urgent it can't be discussed at the meeting and voted on at the following meeting.
Minutes of Town Board meetings are not posted in draft form and are often not approved for months. As of today the minutes of the meeting of August 15th, 19th and 22nd, September 19th and 25th, and October 4th and 17th are not posted in either draft or final form.
Planning Board and Zoning Board Decisions are supposed to be filed in 5 days; doesn't happen. As already commented on there is a massive problem with ZBA minutes not being filed in a timely manner. I am still waiting on a FOIL request for minutes from a ZBA in July. New York State Town Law §267-a(2) says decisions should be filed in 5 days and (1) says that minutes should be kept. Well decisions continue to be filed months after the fact and often minutes are not filed at all. Town Law §274-a(8) says site plan decision should be filed in 5 days; doesn't happen. Town Law §274-b(6) says special permit decision should be filed in 5 days; doesn't happen. Town Law §276 says the same for subdivision plans, etc, etc, etc; doesn't happen. At last night's planning board meeting, on the agenda was the "Adoption of the Planning Board Minutes" of September - December 2017!! You can't make this stuff up.
Michael Specht has allowed land to be sold unlawfully without legally required public notice.
Then you have action like the illegal voting that took place at the Town Board meeting of July 11, 2019, where a declaration of land as surplus and proposed to be sold, that was legally supposed to be subject to a public hearing, with 10-days notice in the newspaper, under Town Law §198 (12)(a), wasn’t even on the Town Board agenda, but was snuck in and approved at the tail end of a meeting that started at 9am.
The purpose of the land sale was to enable the owner of 25 Highview (at the corner of Remsen) to subdivide that property in two against the opposition of the neighbors, the DPW and county planning. Watch how it was snuck in and apparently without the Town Council AND the Supervisor Specht even getting paperwork ahead of time. You can watch the board fumble through the calculations of what the actual sale price being proposed would even be. It is patently obvious that this was not a prepared resolution and that the Town did not follow the law denying the public the opportunity to comment on the decision as is legally required.
While the neighbors may disagree, perhaps this decision had merit. Making the decision illegally like this makes no sense at all. The discussion of the matter was not inappropriate but the rush to make a motion is what made it illegal. Then to make matters worse the Town did not clearly articulate their motion. They discussed selling a strip of land 25' x 175' at $7/sq foot and confirmed the price should be about $31,000 (actually $30,625). Then Councilman Wanounou recommended adding in the cost of the appraisal which they guessed would be $1,500.
So you would expect a price of $32,500 to be reflected in the decision in the minutes along with the requirement that the applicant be required to install sidewalks. The approved minutes of July 11, 2019 proves there was no public hearing, doesn't discuss the waiver of the 24 hour rule, shows a different amount of sq ft., didn't include the town's appraisal costs as proposed and agreed, and didn't include the express requirement that they install sidewalks as Weissmandl added.
This was not an emergency. There was no reason to disregard the administrations responsibility to follow the law. This kind of behavior must stop.
Our Town is still reeling from the maladministration of the St. Lawrence administration. The most important objective for Supervisor Specht was to restore good government procedures and restore trust. As a supervisor I will report to the Town Board and take direction from the Town Board but most importantly I will bring a commitment to lawfulness and transparency to the Town Board.
Details of claim made regarding ZBA late filings
|ZBA File #||Decision Date||decision filed||Days|
|Average days from meeting approval to filing decision:||292|