Response to Supervisor Greenstein’s call for NCNOW to check its facts
Tuesday, April 29, 2013
by Christine Yeres
Last week Rob Greenstein posted two non-anonymous comments to my article, Tensions surface over survey and funding, supervisor resigns his Master Plan hat, NCNOW.org, 4/25/14. Both are critical of my fact-checking. In one, he takes issue with my description of him as “an energetic proponent” of retail development at Chappaqua Crossing and the move of town hall to its cupola building; and—after recasting one of my “assertions” in the piece—calls it “so patently false that it is offensive and 100% wrong.” To support his claim, in another comment he produces an email from Sabrina Charney. In both comments, he urges me to check my facts, adding “you owe it to your readers—you owe it to the community.” My responses follow.
And by the way, although Rob doesn’t mention this himself in either comment, in “checking my facts” and going over the video tape again what leaps out for me is that Rob Greenstein and Sabrina Charney repeat (as both have stated repeatedly elsewhere) that there is no money budgeted for the Master Plan process. While it may be true that the 2014 budget contains practically nothing for the Master Plan, it is also true that if the Town Board wants to find dollars for it, it has the power to do so—plus, mortgage tax revenue is reviving, as the comptroller has told Board members (that’s a fact I triple-checked), which will send/is sending dollars into the reserve fund. The Steering Committee responsible for the Master Plan review are the ones to decide how many dollars they need for it. Without funding, the Master Plan review is set up to fail. Now to Rob’s comments.
To be clear, these were not conversations. They are Greenstein’s complete comments to my article, with my comments interposed after any point that I believed called for response. Parts of my responses appeared as “Editor’s Notes” within his comments. In some cases I have expanded on them here.
Greenstein’s comments to NCNOW are reprinted below, interspersed with my responses:
By Rob Greenstein on 04/26/2014 at 8:08 am: Really Christine!?!?! I am “an energetic proponent of a development plan that assumes approval of as much as 120,000 square feet of retail development at Chappaqua Crossing”. This is one of your more ridiculous assertions. It is not worthy of a response.
Also, your assertion that “that Town Planner Sabrina Charney had prepared a survey without asking Steering Committee members for input, and was on the point of sending it out to residents” is so patently false that it is offensive. It was absolutely sent to Steering Committee members and it was not even remotely close to being sent to residents.
Christine, as a reporter, you have a responsibility to check the facts before you print things.
Greenstein’s FIRST POINT: “Energetic proponent”
GREENSTEIN: Really Christine!?!?! I am “an energetic proponent of a development plan that assumes approval of as much as 120,000 square feet of retail development at Chappaqua Crossing”. This is one of your more ridiculous assertions. It is not worthy of a response.
YERES: First, if not “energetic,” then “tireless”? And I would say “both.”
I wrote “as much as 120,000 square feet of retail.” And you left something out, Rob. It was “plus the move of town hall to [Chappaqua Crossing’s] cupola building.” Yes, you have been a tireless proponent of both.
And as to the 120,000 square feet, here are your own words:
In the TB Work Session of April 1, 2014, Greenstein told Town Board members, ““He’d [Summit Greenfield’s Felix Charney] be willing to give us the land” for tennis bubble, but not have it count as part of the 120,000 square feet. The rent’s too low for his economics,” and that there might be “some fields at Chappaqua Crossing for the town.” Asked by email about the tennis bubble and field space, Greenstein responded, by email, “No tennis bubble @ Chappaqua Crossing & no fields. We are not adding anything to CC besides the retail which is replacing office space at a 1:1 ratio.”
I’ve asked our attorneys a number of times if can we approve less than less than 120,000, but the “Findings” and the Settlement specifically mention 120,000 square feet.
So if I’m trying to get 90,000 square feet [of retail at Chappaqua Crossing, down from 120,000] and build 30,000 in downtown chappaqua…. But I don’t want to talk about pretend stuff. I want to talk about real options.
“We’re still looking at 120,000 square feet of retail (total),” said Greenstein, “but if we can reduce some of that by, for example, a 30,000-square-foot gym, and hopefully a pool that the Greeley swim team can use…”
“But we’re trying to figure out possible options. We’re also talking to the developer about putting a tennis bubble and an indoor recreation space at Chappaqua Crossing. Now that won’t count toward the 120,000 square feet of retail—although I’ve asked a million times—it’s not happening, but I’ll continue to ask. That’s something we think many in the community would welcome. Maybe not. But we’ll find that out during the Master Plan process.”
And then, of course, are the excerpts of emails from you to your Master Plan subcommittee members:
“As I previously mentioned, we are heading towards retail @ Chappaqua
Crossing. And this is happening despite the work of this committee.”
“This group’s job is to help shape Chappaqua Crossing—to make it a win for the community. . . . So, let’s not waste our time debating whether we think there should be retail @ Chappaqua Crossing.”
Greenstein’s SECOND POINT: Whether Steering Committee members other than Greenstein (who is no longer on the committee) had input into a survey meant to be released this Friday, May 2
GREENSTEIN: Also, your assertion “that Town Planner Sabrina Charney had prepared a survey without asking Steering Committee members for input, and was on the point of sending it out to residents” is so patently false that it is offensive. It was absolutely sent to Steering Committee members and it was not even remotely close to being sent to residents.
Christine, as a reporter, you have a responsibility to check the facts before you print things.
YERES: First, Rob, you’ve got my assertion wrong. My assertion was made from my observation of the meeting. I wrote: “Bob Kirkwood, Dick Brownell, Hala Makowska and Maud Bailey seemed disturbed, for example, that Town Planner Sabrina Charney had prepared a survey without asking Steering Committee members for input, and was on the point of sending it out to residents.”
My “assertion” was that—based on their reactions in the meeting—the four Steering Committee members “seemed disturbed” that Sabrina or Tiffany (they, too, seemed not to know which one had authored it)—had prepared a survey without their input and meant to send it out soon in a mailing.
Now you can seize on the fact that—as no one knew and everyone learned in the April 22 meeting—it was Tiffany Zezula and not Sabrina Charney who had composed the survey. But both women denied its existence when asked directly about it.
You and I were both at the Steering Committee meeting. It was evident that at least four members of the committee (only you seemed unfazed by it) had not had anything to do with the survey that was poised to be sent out in the town’s storm-water mailing. Sabrina told me on April 22 that the date for the storm-water mailing was Friday, May 2.
It was very unclear in the April 22 meeting exactly how the survey originated. At first Tiffany and Sabrina said there was no survey. But one of them had spoken the word “survey.”
At that, Betty Weitz asked: “What survey? I’m on a committee. I never saw a survey.”
“Hold on a minute,” said Tiffany. “It hasn’t even been…”
“Is it formulated?” asked Weitz. “Is it written?”
“No,” said Charney.
“Is it written?” asked Weitz.
“No,” came from two voices this time.
“What does ‘written’ mean?” asked Tiffany.
From the audience, someone offered, “Do you have a piece of paper with the survey on it?”
“Yes, there are draft questions,” said Tiffany, adding, “I have drafted questions.”
“But it’s a draft survey,” said Maud Bailey. “We haven’t even discussed it.”
“Hold on,” said Tiffany. “Can we talk about the survey in the next five minutes?”
“This is where we, as a Steering Committee,” said Bailey to Tiffany and Sabrina, “are going to have to have a discussion about this.”
YERES: That’s how the dialogue went, Rob. I’ve just located it in the tape (embedded below) at the 1 hour 15 minutes mark—have a listen.
Later in the meeting Tiffany said that the survey was a sort of amalgam of surveys she’d used in other communities. She explained that she understood that there were cost constraints on our Master Plan review and that there would be no opportunity—i.e., money—for a second mailing—it had to go out with the storm-water mailing.
In the general hub-bub of the group moving to a table, Maud Bailey said, “No one has had any input into this document.” Once they settled at their table together, Tiffany told Steering Committee members that the survey she drafted was meant (considering the Town Board’s time and cost constraints) to be very general and “to raise people’s ideas and curiosity.”
To ask specific questions in it would be inappropriate, Tiffany Zezula said, explaining: “We can’t be throwing options in people’s faces right now because they haven’t even told you what they’re thinking about their general goals regarding [for example] housing and commercial development. If you put a solution in there, or a specific about ‘Where do you want such-and-such to go?’ or ‘What kind of zoning would you like …’ – what the public is inferring from that right away is that the decision is already being made. We’re not there yet. We’re at the first step, which is their vision and their goals.”
To that Maud Bailey said, “I want to respond to that. One, it wasn’t presented like that. It was presented as ‘This is going to go out.’ And that’s is very different. Two, it’s OK, but—sorry—it’s not a great survey. ‘How long you’ve lived here’ is meaningless for your demographics. It doesn’t tell you whether you have kids in the school, what grades they’re in …
“Your concept of not putting specific plans in is completely appropriate. I don’t have a problem with that. I still don’t like the way it’s structured. I think it needs to be talked about. This group [the Steering Committee] has done a pretty good job of not talking about things specifically.
“This survey, at the end of the day: one, I don’t think will be returned, and two, I don’t think would be really useful. What I brought up in the last [Steering Committee meeting] was a more scientific survey. If we can’t capture who’s [returned] the survey it’s not helpful to us.”
YERES: So back to your email critique of my reporting, Rob: my account was not “patently false.”. I was mistaken only about the author of the survey. And you see above how that happened: when questioned directly, initially, neither Sabrina nor Tiffany took ownership of it. Both denied its existence. And it was slated to go out Friday, May 2 with the town’s one big post-office mailing, in order to save on postage, Rob.
On the other hand, what might seem patently impossible is this: Once Sabrina and Tiffany allowed discussion of the survey, Sabrina began by saying—as though it had been the plan all along—that there would be no survey going out before Steering Committee members had seen it, shared it with their groups, and approved of it.
I suppose that could have been accomplished—sending out to group members, approving content, printing, and mailing—by May 2, but I doubt it.
Since Steering Committee members [and by this I mean the four other than yourself; you were the only member who didn’t seem surprised or annoyed by it] seemed not to have had anything to do with the “draft survey,” I had a hunch – which I did not include in my story—that this was a new position taken by Sabrina, most likely the result of Steering Committee members’ reaction to having had no input into the survey. And now you have provided (below) a way to check not only my facts, but my hunch as well.
In another comment, Greenstein provided an April 14 email from Sabrina Charney to Master Plan Steering Committee members. Below, I have reproduced the entire email, but with my remarks interposed in response. To view the email without interruption, click HERE.
GREENSTEIN: Christine, on April 10th, Sabrina sent an email to the entire Steering Committee attaching the DRAFT survey. It said draft, and it was a draft. A few Steering Committee members commented on the survey.
YERES: Rob, this April 10th email may clear things up. Since you have been so forthcoming with other emails of Sabrina’s, you won’t mind providing me this one too—especially since you’re offering it as proof that my reporting on this is “100% wrong.” And let me FOIL for it as well:
Freedom of Information Act/Law Request
Please send me an electronic copy of the April 10, 2014 email from Town Planner Sabrina Charney to “to the entire Steering Committee attaching the DRAFT survey.” Please include the draft survey.
YERES: I won’t ask to see Steering Committee members’ comments on the survey—you say that a few of them “commented on the survey.” But my guess is that their comments were not input on the survey but, rather, objections to having had no input.
GREENSTEIN: On April 14th, Sabrina sent the following email to the entire Steering Committee.
YERES: Thank you for publishing this email. Please note that this email was sent four days after—as you’ve just revealed—the “DRAFT survey” was sent. Again, I need to see the text of the April 10, 2014 email that preceded this, because I’d say that the email you’re providing below reads like a response to responses from Steering Committee members who—judging from what you and I heard them say in the April 22 meeting—were probably displeased that they had not been consulted on a survey that was slated to go out in a mailing ten days later, on May 2.
Greenstein provides Sabrina Charney’s email of April 14, 2014, below. [Here, too, I have interposed my comments; to read the email in its entirely, uninterrupted by my remarks, click HERE.]:
Town Planner Sabrina Charney to Master Plan Steering Committee Members:
CHARNEY: Dear Steering Committee-
Regarding discussions that were being had on the survey, I was hoping to take advantage of a town-wide mailing and include a survey that mirrored the public outreach sessions which we will be holding in May. A town-wide mailing runs approximately $4,000.00 for copy and postage and additional money for data input and analysis.
YERES: The $4,000 is for printing and mailing alone? How much “additional money” for “data input and analysis”? Would this be for “data input and analysis” on the draft survey that was the subject of discussion on April 22?
CHARNEY: As you all know there is no budget at this time for the master plan update.
YERES: The Master Plan Steering Committee didn’t seem to accept this well in the April 22 meeting, Rob, when you reminded them of it. And as I reminded you and the Committee members during the April 22 meeting, your comptroller Rob Deary says that he can always find money if the Board directs him to do so.
CHARNEY: The outreach meetings to be held in May are general in nature to get people out and involved. Tiffany will discuss this more on the 22nd, but the outcome of the public meetings will be the community thoughts on the various topics as well as some of their ideas to deal with some of the problems.
The survey that was circulated [...]
YERES: This is the “draft” survey, circulated by Sabrina in the April 10 email you have referenced, Rob. I need the full text of that email.
CHARNEY: [...] was a general survey used in other communities to get people talking and get them more importantly on notice for the public meetings. It was intended to be goal oriented, and purposely was not to contain specific or leading questions.
YERES: In the April 22 meeting with Pace, my impression was that the Steering Committee members were not particularly worried about the degree of specificity of the survey or whether its questions should be “leading.” Instead, they were annoyed that someone intended to mail the survey—or, if you want, let’s call it the “DRAFT survey”— without consulting them about its content. In fact, Maud Bailey agreed that such an early survey attempt should remain general in nature. Her objection to the draft survey was that it was it was not well thought-out.
CHARNEY: The specificity that I think all of you are looking for [. . .]
YERES: Again, from what I heard in that meeting, the Steering Committee members were not looking for specificity.
CHARNEY: [. . .] is scheduled to come this fall- after the general public outreach is accomplished and after the work groups have examined the 1989 TDP [Master Plan] in relation to the public outreach meeting conclusions and your work group work. The fall round of public outreach will be to obtain feedback and get the public’s priorities on the steering committee’s work regarding goals, objectives and implementation strategies. We will use this time to ask any specific questions that are needed. This is Master Planning.
If a general survey does move forward, I will need to have something ready to print by May 2nd, if we want to leverage the town-wide mailing that is being done. Obviously, this does not leave much time, as Tiffany and I are unavailable from April 25- April 30th.
If it is decided that we move forward with a general survey, it may be possible to include a section which addresses specific questions related to “live applications” before the Town Board- I can think of one- Chappaqua Crossing.
YERES: So a general survey – the draft survey that was slated for mailing – would have been permitted to carry with it specific questions on the “live application” of Chappaqua Crossing?
CHARNEY: Specifically, we could include questions related to moving Town Hall to the Cupola Building and repurposing the Town Hall property in Chappaqua.
YERES: There is it, Rob, the other part of your plan that includes retail at Chappaqua Crossing: “moving Town Hall to the Cupola Building and repurposing the Town Hall property in Chappaqua.”
So does this mean that sending out a specific question—about your town-hall-to-cupola plan for which you are the “energetic proponent” I described—in the “general,” non-specific survey would have been permissible because related to the “live application” of Chappaqua Crossing?
CHARNEY: Discussing things that are not yet pressing [. . .]
YERES: This might be a typo. Let’s ask Sabrina about this wording. Should it read: “Discussing things that are pressing,”i.e., the “live applications”?
CHARNEY: [. . .] would be inappropriate to the Master Plan process, but we have an obligation to try and make headway with the reality we are dealing with.
YERES: Is this the “reality” you mention frequently—that the previous Town Board has tied your hands and approval of retail at Chappaqua Crossing is a given, because, as Sabrina’s email says, “we have an obligation to try and make headway with the reality we are dealing with”?
CHARNEY: Again, this effort would give us an opportunity to get some quick feedback and gives us an opportunity to spread the word about coming out to the larger meetings.
We have a lot to discuss on the 22nd so if folks want to talk more about the survey, can people be available before or after our next Steering Committee meeting or another day? I will try and make myself available as much as possible to make this work.
Please let me know your thoughts,
GREENSTEIN: So, Christine, once again, your comment that Steering Committee members were not asked for input and the survey was on the point of sending it out to residents is 100% wrong. Please check your facts - you owe it to your readers - you owe it to the community.
YERES: Well, Rob, seeing Sabrina’s email of April 10, 2014 will enable me to check my facts for my readers and the community. But I also have eyes and ears, and I attended the April 22 meeting. It looks to me as though Sabrina may have invited input on the survey only after objections were raised by committee members.
So until you show me the April 10, 2014 email you referenced—from Sabrina to Steering Committee members—I don’t think we can say that I was 100% or any other percent wrong when I wrote that “Bob Kirkwood, Dick Brownell, Hala Makowska and Maud Bailey seemed disturbed, for example, that Town Planner Sabrina Charney had prepared a survey without asking Steering Committee members for input, and was on the point of sending it out to residents.” And, depending on the text of Sabrina’s April 10 email, even your inaccurate paraphrase of my account may be proved 100% correct—that “Steering Committee members were not asked for input and the survey was on the point [of being sent] out to residents.”
I will copy Town Clerk Mary Deems and Town Counsel Ed Phillips on the FOIL request this morning.
For NCNOW’s archived articles on the Master Plan, visit our Master Plan page.
On four days in May, tell us about the future of Your New Castle, NCNOW.org, 4/25/14
Master Plan and Chappaqua Crossing: An update from Supervisor Rob Greenstein, NCNOW.org, 4/25/14
Tensions surface over survey and funding, supervisor resigns his Master Plan hat, NCNOW.org, 4/25/14