- Editor's Note: It was written that Chadbourne & Parke LLP have represented GM in bankruptcy dealings. That is not the case, but the firm has represented GM in the past on other issues. We regret the error.
The first of two scheduled candidate debates in Sleepy Hollow struck a nerve on both sides as questions about conflicts of interest took center stage.
The debate, hosted by the Philipse Manor Improvement Association and the Sleepy Hollow Manor Association, took place at the Philipsburg Manor Restoration. About 50 people attended, and many of them did their homework on the candidates.
Harwood Avenue resident Peter Hildick noted that both mayoral candidate Daniel Scott and trustee candidate Sumantha Sedor worked for Chadbourne & Parke LLP in Manhattan. The law firm has been retrained by General Motors a number of times.
"How can you negotiate in good conscious when your paycheck comes, in part, from GM?" Hildick said.
Scott and Sedor both noted that they have not worked on GM projects and that there were strict ethical walls that could be put in place so there wouldn't be a perceived conflict of interest.
"We are a large company and we represent clients all over the world," Scott said. "My compensation is not related to GM, point blank."
But that answer didn't satisfy Mayor Ken Wray, who had an opportunity to give a rebuttal.
"It think it does matter, a lot," he said.
The question was only one of many accusations about conflicts of interest within the village that were raised by residents.
Trustee candidate Jack Gasko responded to further inquiries about Sedor's and Scott's employment by calling out Village Attorney Janet Gandolfo.
"Unless I am mistaken, we have a Village Attorney that wears several hats and has represented clients suing the village," Gasko said.
Incumbent trustee Bruce Campell shot back that the Village Attorney seperated herself from issues and makes $80,000 a year and has only filed for $67 in expenses. Campbell then turned the question to Gasko, whose son is a member of the Sleepy Hollow Police Department and is the president of the union representing local officers – The Police Benevolent Association.
"His son is a wonderful officer, but he is the president negotiating with the village, so he might have a conflict of interest as well," Campbell said.
Another resident noted that Proskauer Rose LLP, who has worked as legal counsel for the village during GM negotiations, has also worked for GM in the past, possibly raising yet another attorney conflict regarding the abandoned site.
Moving beyond GM, James Stever, son of a former trustee, noted that the village had recently offered the Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve a $1 million payment for the opportunity to build a larger water storage tank on the park property. The payment that has not been discussed in open session at trustee meetings.
"I think it was important to put a number that made sense that would get their attention," Wray said.
However, another resident pointed out the Deputy Mayor Tom Capossela is also on the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve.
"Yes, he is a member of the Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, he's also not running right now," Wray said. "So if you could keep your questions to the folks running and our qualifications and conflicts."
Both incumbents and challengers stated their commitment to avoid conflicts of interest moving forward.
"It's been clear, if additional steps need to be taken, they will," Scott said.
The debate started off with opening remarks. Incumbent trustees Barbara Carr, Bruce Campbell and Evelyn Stupel along with Mayor Ken Wray, stressed that they were running on a record.
"After a decade of downtown stagnation, there are signs of life on Beekman Avenue and Valley Street," Campbell said. "After a decade of waste, we've brought sound financial practices and accountability."
Challengers for trustee, Jack Gasko and Sumantha Sedor, along with mayoral candidate Daniel Scott, noted their frustrations with attempts to get involved in village government and to get information from the village on projects like GM.
Scott and Sedor stressed their legal experience and the leadership that they would bring to the village, while Gasko accused trustees of playing "musical chairs" with the position of Police Department Chief (there have been four chiefs in the past two years).
Wray was asked why he had previously voted against a plan to build a new water tank at Phelps Memorial Hospital, possibly solving some of the village's water problems.
The mayor responded by saying that a tank at the Rockefeller Preserve was ideal because new supporting infrastructure wouldn't be required and gravity would ensure the water would reach the entire village.
What is Holding GM Back?
Wray said there was an open public hearing on a revised GM plan and whether to issue a special permit. If a special permit was issued to GM to build the property, they would likely sell it to a developer and then the property would go back on the tax rolls. He said the special permit issuance would be the end to a 15-year process.
Daniel Scott said that GM's intentions were worthless and noted that the property would go back on the tax rolls in four years and that passing a special permit would not put the property on the tax rolls.
He said that he wanted to proceed with GM, but that it was time to slow down and reanalyze the project so as not to "sell us down the river." Scott said he wanted to make sure the village was protected as much as possible legally.
Route 9 Traffic
Sleepy Hollow Manor resident Chuck Lankester asked for mayor candidates to affirm their dedication to creating traffic-slowing measures on Route 9.
Wray said that the village was in line for a study to be conducted by New York State Department of Transportation. Scott said he pledged to follow up on the issue with the state.
One Manor resident asked about the New York State audit of the village and the funding for the Horseman Statue. Scott said he would be happy to work with the state and would provide a fresh face to take a clean look at the books.
Wray said a number of changes were already addressing the issues the state was looking into. He mentioned the hiring of a new Village Treasurer and getting a new auditing firm and financial software.
The Village Master Plan
Tracy Brown asked about the village's lack of a master plan to guide development in the downtown core.
Trustee Bruce Campbell said there was already a Master Plan - the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program. Wray said the LWRP's guidelines would impact all developments in the village up to Gory Brook Road.
Scott said the LWRP didn't address the real needs of downtown refurbishment. He said the village needed a plan that focused specifically on downtown, the businesses and zoning in the area.
Imposing Values on the Inner Village
Another resident asked if any of the candidates had told the downtown residents about their revitalization plans, and asked if they were imposing their values on the residents.
Sedor said what attracted her to Sleepy Hollow was the diverse community, while Scott said he wanted to focus on shared values and develop a plan to revamp downtown with the input of the Latino community.
Barbara Carr said the village was already making positive strides by enforcing stricter building codes and getting businesses involved in facade renovations – issues that would be beneficial to residents living in the village core.
Trustees will again debate next Friday at Kendal on Hudson. Patch election coverage and candidate interviews will begin next week.