Daily Archives: July 6, 2007

Questioning the answers

John Zmich has made a sworn statement that he was present at a meeting with representatives of Newman Development Group and representatives of the Town (including Town Attorney Jim Coniglio, Town Supervisor Wes Kennison, and Town Code Enforcement Officer Ron Maxwell) at which Coniglio thanked Newman attorney Ken Kamlet for writing the Planned Development District (PDD) law.

That’s pretty damning stuff. No less an authority than Wes Kennison, responding in 2005 to the rumor of Newman’s authorship of the PDD, rejected the rumor as “stupid,” while conceding that allowing such involvement by Newman would amount to “extraordinary malfeasance” by the Town Board.

I believe John’s statement. As a person of integrity making a sworn statement, under penalty of perjury, he is certainly entitled to our belief. I don’t know why Jim said what he said or what, exactly, he meant. I don’t know the extent of Newman’s relationship to the Town or the precise steps through which Geneseo’s PDD law came to be drafted.

I also agree with Wes that allowing a private interest such as Newman such a significant role in the public process of making and enacting law would constitute “extraordinary malfeasance.” This entire process, beginning more than two years ago, has involved an intolerable level of secrecy, an ongoing effort by the Town to prevent direct public questioning of its actions, and nothing short of a “scorched earth” policy toward any and all impediments to Newman’s plans.

I also know that the Town’s response to Zmich’s affidavit raised more questions than it answered. According to the Livingston County News of June 28, Coniglio characterized the claim at the center of Zmich’s affidavit as “ludicrous,” while claiming that the PDD law was derived from laws on the books in Perinton and Onondaga and that “Newman actually offered criticisms of the law which we rejected.”

I’ve read the PDD laws in place in Onondaga and Perinton. Onondaga’s law bears no resemblance to Geneseo’s, making further consideration of it unnecessary. Perinton’s law, on the other hand, has some striking similarities to Geneseo’s, making it either a model for ours or a descendant of a common parent.

However, there are two striking differences: Perinton’s law is restricted to residential development and Perinton’s law requires completion and submission by the developer of a generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) with its application.

Geneseo’s law, on the other hand, was designed and enacted to permit large scale commercial developments where they are otherwise not permitted and it has no GEIS requirement. The latter is significant in that a GEIS provides for early identification of the impacts of a project, before a developer and Town officials become strongly invested in a project and at a crucial point in informing the public.

So, why is a law so clearly modeled on Perinton’s different from Perinton’s in these two important respects (both of which, probably not coincidentally, favor Newman’s interests)?

Related to this, exactly what criticisms of the PDD law were offered by Newman, when were they offered, and what form – email, letter, fax, phone – did they take? The crux of PDDG’s lawsuit against the Town was to obtain correspondence between Newman and the Town, much of it written in the period prior to enactment of the PDD law. Through his comments, Coniglio now concedes that such communication occurred.

We know these concerns were not expressed publicly. At the public hearing on the PDD law, now more than two years past, Newman offered no criticism of the PDD law. Its only public comment was to support the law. Apparently its criticisms were communicated privately and before passage of the law.

The public has an absolute right to see these items of correspondence. The Town has claimed they were destroyed. Yet, the Town has a clear obligation to retain such correspondence. Records related to the substance of laws and policies are required to be kept permanently under Schedule MU-1 Section 10.10 (c) of the regulations adopted under the NYS Arts and Cultural Affairs Law. (See PDDG’s Memorandum of Law) Where are they? If they were destroyed, why were they destroyed?

The Town’s answers to the questions raised about the PDD law serve only to raise more questions and more doubts about that law and about the Town’s relationship to Newman.

To begin to restore public confidence:

Is anyone willing to match John Zmich’s sworn statement with a sworn statement that Newman didn’t write or participate in writing the PDD law?

Is the Town willing to certify that it took every step to ensure that it searched for the missing documents and was unable to find them? PDDG has already provided the Town with the scope of such a search.

Is the Town willing to provide the documents in which Newman presented its criticisms of the PDD law?

If the Town can’t find these documents, is Newman willing to release their copies of all correspondence with the Town related to the PDD law or to their proposal?