In TB work session, argument breaks out over Greenstein’s place on Master Plan steering group

Greenstein resigns from steering group the following day
April 25, 2014
by Christine Yeres

Supervisor Rob Greenstein was fresh from a Master Plan Steering Committee meeting with its Pace consultant when he entered Tuesday’s Town Board work session.  His update on the Master Plan process triggered questions from Board members and a protracted argument with a member of Greenstein’s “commercial development and hamlets” Master Plan subcommittee.  Greenstein resigned his place on the committee the next day.

A video of the work session is embedded below.

Greenstein reported to Town Board members [Jason Chapin was absent] that the Steering Committee was planning four community outreach meetings—“not six or seven,” he emphasized, ”—the budget was for four meetings”—to be held in four schools on four different dates.  Schools were chosen because they are most conducive to the format of the meetings:  meet in one big space to begin with, then move into “break out” groups on five different topics, then rotate through the topics.  Steering Committee members had compared it jokingly to “speed dating.” 
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The town’s Master Plan review

The community outreach meetings are scheduled for:

Wednesday, May 7 at Bell Middle School 7:00 to 10:00 p.m.

Saturday, May 10 at Horace Greeley High School 9:00 a.m. to noon

Thursday, May 15 at Westorchard Elementary 7:00 to 10:00 p.m.

Wednesday, May 21 at Seven Bridges Middle School 7:00 to 10:00 p.m.

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Lisa Katz: is there training for the people running it?

Rob Greenstein: Pace is running it, professional facilitators are running it. For members of the Steering Committee, our role is signing people in.

Katz: Will the Town Board have input on what questions are asked?

Greenstein: I’m not sure about what questions will be asked.

Katz: Will this board be able to see those questions before they go out?

Greenstein: I don’t know.

NCNOW: Tiffany [Zezula, the Pace consultant] gave out sheets about what will be asked.

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Questions for the Master Plan Community Outreach Sessions

“For each of the following topics—Commercial Development and Town Centers, Environment and Habitat, Public Works and Infrastructure, Public Services and Recreation, and Housing—consider the following questions.  We need to know the priority issues, assets and challenges facing the Town in relation to its land use patterns.

What’s good now?
  What do you like?
  What should be maintained?

What’s not working?
  What do you dislike?
  What needs to be changed?

What are the strategies to overcome what is not working?
  What new things can we do to make it better?
  What opportunities are there?
  Where can we make these opportunities happen?

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Greenstein:  She hasn’t circulated questions yet.  We have our logo, tag line—What’s Your New Castle?”  [a play on the town’s website name “MyNewCastle.org”—and we scheduled four meetings.  This afternoon we talked about how the meetings will be run, the ground rules, the format.  We’re not at the point where we’re formulating questions.

Elise Mottel:  When there are questions, will the Town Board have a chance to see them?

Greenstein: Yes, but the questions are going to be very general. There will be five topics and although it’s not a good analogy, because we don’t want people to feel like we’re rushing them, it will be almost like speed dating—not that I’ve ever done that, although, I wish they had that when I was dating but they didn’t—but it would be that you basically go to the five stations of the five different work groups and you get to say what’s on your mind. I don’t know how specifically, but it’s going to give you the chance to discuss things in general.  There are no “questions.”

Adam Brodsky:  You know you can attend meetings…

Katz: I know.  I have attended them. I just think the whole board should know what’s going on.  Maybe we can have Tiffany [Zezula, Pace consultant] come talk to the board.

Mottel: Well, I don’t know if we can pay for that—we’re on a tight budget.

Greenstein:  People are going to come and talk and say things that are on their minds.  No specific questions.  There was talk of a survey, pretty much tabled for now. Where we left off—I was called away [for the Town Board work session]—is that we’re going to table the survey, have the outreach, get the sentiment of the town.  And then, if we were going to have the survey, what I suggested—and I think most people agreed—is that we would have to hire somebody. 

We’d have to dip into the reserve fund.  We wouldn’t have to do that till later in the year until we see how the reserve fund is doing because [town comptroller] Rob Dearie has indicated that the reserve fund might be increasing.  Because, again, we’re dealing with a budget that was passed last year.  So we may have to dip into the reserve fund more, if we can do that without hurting our Triple-A bond rating.

People [of the Steering Committee] thought we would have to have a paid survey company and they can handle it.  Because people are going to have a lot of issues with the questions and things like that…

Katz: Right.

Greenstein: We’re well aware, and that’s why it’s good to have an expert. That way it would take it away from us, we give it to them and hope that people will respect their expertise—pretty much like what we’re doing with Pace right now. 

And think about it.  There’s controversy now, even with Pace.  Imagine if we didn’t have Pace to handle it. There’d be even more controversy.  It’s the same with the survey.  It literally could lead to World War III.  So I think we definitely need a survey company that would basically take charge, use their experience and expertise.

Brodsky: And the purpose of the Master Plan committee is to steer the Master Plan.  It comes back to the Town Board once the process has run its course, but we don’t have veto power along the way. That’s not our role.

Katz: if the point of the Master Plan is to determine the future of the town, for the Town Board not to be involved would be reckless and inappropriate.

Brodsky: I think the purpose of the Master Plan process is to assemble all the opinions of the community and to reach out.  And that’s what we’re doing.

Katz:  Aren’t you concerned about it?

Adam: No, because ultimately I’m confident that the members of the Master Plan Steering Committee—that this board voted on and approved—are adequately handling the task at hand and at the end of the day after they assemble the facts with Pace, they’ll bring it back to the Town Board and we’ll consider it.  Do I have more expertise than Pace? No. I’ve never done a Master Plan.

Katz:  I just want everyone on the board to know what’s going on, because having sat in on the Steering Committee meeting I just think it’s important for everyone to know what’s going on—and not to have it run its course without the town board understanding what’s going to be happening.

Greenstein: That’s your responsibility to attend the meetings or see them on video.

Katz:  Not everyone can do that.  That’s why I’m asking here.

Greenstein: And at the end of the day, as John Nolon [Pace consultant] has said, it’s the Town Board’s function to accept or reject some of what was said by the public outreach meetings.  So the whole Master Plan thing—because we have budgetary constraints, we have litigation, we have other issues out on table.  So we definitely have a role in the Master Plan.  Ultimately I think the Town Board has a fairly big role in the process.  The Town Board adopts the Master Plan that the Steering Committee is working on.

Mottel: I think we’re saying that we [Town Board members] may be the final decision maker, but we don’t want to be the final decision maker and find out when we get to the end of the process that something that should have been asked—that was important to us—wasn’t asked.

Yes, we’re the ones who make decisions that involve the litigation and all the other matters.  And I know that we selected members to steer this committee but I think we have to be very involved in that process.  We need to figure out a way to be involved in the process.

Greenstein: My role seems to have caused the most controversy.  When I did sign up for the Master Plan Steering Committee I actually offered to every person on this town board. 

Katz: Rob, I feel you’re getting contentious.  I’m just saying if you’re on it there should be a report to the Town Board about what’s going on.

Greenstein: Every person on the Town Board had the opportunity to be on that Steering Committee, sitting in my seat.  Nobody wanted to, and that’s why I stepped up—so we could move the process forward.

Mottel: Even if I’d had the time—meetings were at 4:00 p.m. [during the work day]—I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me as a Town Board member to be on the Steering Committee if I wanted to hear from the public. I signed up a year ago with Sabrina to be on a subcommittee, but [subsequently] felt I shouldn’t, as a Town Board member, be on it.

Greenstein: Maybe these concerns should have been raised when my predecessor was on the committee.  I’m sure you raised these concerns when Susan [Carpenter] was on the Steering Committee.  Did you raise those concerns then?

Betty Weitz [a member of Greenstein’s “commercial development and hamlets” subcommittee, speaking from the audience]:  It was wrong then [for Carpenter to be on it] and it’s wrong now [for Greenstein to be on it] and I’ll tell you why it’s wrong.  Because when you sit on our committee—the “commercial development and hamlets committee”—or when you sit on the Steering Committee as I observed you do today, you don’t take off your supervisor hat.  You continue acting as Supervisor and issue directives telling us we should be “for” development, that it’s good for the town.  That’s not the function of the Steering Committee.  It’s to elicit from the public what they believe.  I’m not offering solutions—as our consultant [Pace] told us today, we’re not supposed to offer solutions.  You do that [offer solutions], and you wear two hats at the same time.

Greenstein:  In your opinion.

Weitz: You issued a directive today.  You censored the [Steering Committee’s] desire, or the statement by Hala [Makowska, a Steering Committee member]—when Hala said they should have an independent survey done by a professional company.  You said “We don’t have the money.”  That’s not your place, Rob.  First let them come to a decision.  Then if they need to come to the Town Board as a whole for funding, then the Town Board makes that decision.  But you can’t cut off their decision-making process at that point.  You can’t wear two hats at the same time.  It interferes with the process. 

Greenstein: Betty, did you hear the part of the meeting when I said I would bring that to the Town Board to discuss whether we could find the funding and whether we should dip into the reserves?

Weitz: You’re not supposed to do that, Rob.

Greenstein: Who says I’m not supposed to do that?  You, Betty? 

Weitz: You’re not on the Town Board when you’re setting on that committee.  If you were not on that committee they would come to a decision—“We do or do not want this”—and then they would approach the board, and you [Town Board members] would then make the decision to fund or not fund them.  You’re mixing the two.

Greenstein:  I appreciate that you’re entitled to your opinion.  But do me a favor: You’re criticizing me for something that I didn’t want to do.  I offered [the Steering Committee position] to many other people, including other members of our subcommittee.  I don’t want to be on the commercial development and hamlet committee or the Steering Committee.  I am doing it because nobody else wanted to and we had to move the process along. You’re criticizing me for stepping up to the plate to do something nobody else wanted to do.

Weitz: There are 12,000 adults in this town I think we can tease out one of them to take the position.

NCNOW: Rob, would you mind being relieved of the position if we could find someone? Because it has been a conflict.

Greenstein: If we think that there’s somebody who is capable of being on the Steering Committee I would certainly entertain it. But again, not just anybody.  For instance, our committee has someone who’s vehemently opposed to commercial development, so is that somebody we really want to ask?  No. Our committee also has [referring to Weitz, See: http://www.newcastlenow.org/index.php/article/index/new_pace_runs_one_master_plan_process_while_greenstein_runs_another, NCNOW.org, 4/4/14, where excerpts of Greenstein’s emails are published] someone who discloses things to the public that are said in private.  Is that someone we want to ask?  No. So it has to be somebody everyone’s comfortable with.  But yes, if you have names of people, we’d be happy to entertain it. 

We have a very difficult committee.  It’s very well known now.  There’s a lot of people a lot smarter than me who say “There’s no way I want to do that.”

Roberta Galant [another member of Greenstein’s subcommittee on commercial development and hamlets,” speaking from the audience]:  Excuse me, may I ask you a question? You have said previously that there’s someone on your committee—and I’m on your committee—and I pretty much know the people on it.  I’ve talked with them.  So this is the third time I’ve heard you say, “There are people on the committee who are against development.”  Now, I don’t know anyone on the committee who is against development.  And I’ve had conversations with them and I pretty much know where they stand. Some are for more development than others.  So I’m wondering, To whom are you referring?

Greenstein:  I don’t necessarily need to answer your question…

Galant: No, you don’t.

Greenstein:  But I will say this: My opinion is shared by many people on the committee—obviously not you—but my opinion is shared by many people on the committee.

Galant:  Well, I think, though, if you’re going to make a statement like that as a committee member, and as a Steering Committee member, as a Supervisor, you at least should let us know who you’re talking about.

Greenstein: You’re certainly entitled to think that.

Galant: And you don’t have to [answer]

Greenstein: Thank you, I appreciate that.

Galant:  And you can say “No, I’m not going to answer your question ...”

Greenstein:  I already did.

Galant:  And I’m going to say it flatly: There is no one on our committee who is against development.

Greenstein: And I’m going to say flatly that there is.

Galant: Then we disagree.  And you can’t say who you think it is.

Greenstein: I can.  I just choose not to.  Because here’s the thing: I respect that we have a committee that what happens in the committee stays in the committee.  And here we go, Roberta, that’s another problem we have on our committee: that what happens in the committee should stay in the committee.  And I’m going to keep to my word on that.  So I’m not going to sit here and tell you what I think based on what’s happening in the committee.  Now other people on the committee might choose to do that, but I don’t.  I’m going to stick with that rule.

Galant: We’re here now and that’s not what we’re talking about.  Within our committee you made that statement originally, then someone echoed it, then someone else presented it as fact.  As far as I am concerned, it’s just not factual.

Editor’s Note: At this point, the above discussion with Weitz had lasted for about ten minutes.  Greenstein moved to close the work session and go into executive session.  No board member seconded the motion.  Weitz rose to speak again, and the two argued for another 12 minutes.

Katz: Betty, it shouldn’t matter.  I think whether you’re pro-development or against it, I think all those opinions should be on that committee.

NCNOW: So, Rob, while we’re waiting for a second [to the motion to move to executive session], you would agree to have someone replace you whom the board agrees is qualified?

And, to be fair, I want to say that Tiffany [Zezula, of Pace] is proceeding with the Master Plan.  For those of you who are interested—she has not crossed off certain subjects.  As far as she is concerned, people will be considering all matters they wish to consider.  It’s going to be a very free—even fun, she says—thing to participate in a big brainstorm.  Tiffany is proceeding as though this is true. 

Mottel:  You mean it could be the wish-list of—anyone’s wish-list?

NCNOW: Yes.  Despite interior conflicts that have been set up.

Greenstein:  There’s no conflicts, Christine.  What I’ve said a million times—and it’s worth repeating—is that at the end of the day—and this has been in your newspaper.  I know that sometimes when you read a lot of the comments things go off on these crazy tangents—but what I’ve said very strictly is that at the end of the day the Town Board is going to be making some decisions based on legal re-al-i-ties, and that is what I’ve said.

NCNOW: And you’ve said what those decisions are going to be [that the Town Board’s hands are tied, that there will be retail at Chappaqua Crossing].  [See Ltr from Super: To what degree prior TB has “tied our hands” on Chappaqua Crossing approval, NCNOW.org, 4/8/14

Greenstein: That’s actually what John Nolon [of Pace] said: that at the end of the day the Town Board will have to make decisions.

Weitz:  Right!  That’s why you can’t be on this committee.  Because you’re on a decision-making body and this is not what this Steering Committee is about.  It’s self-evident.

NCNOW: So we’ll look for candidates?  The Board can look for candidates [to replace Greenstein].

Weitz [responding to Greenstein’s complaint that she quoted emails of his in a meeting with Pace]:  I think that the public trust is more important than 17 members of [Greenstein’s “commercial development and hamlets”] committee.  And when one of our members [Greenstein] says, essentially, ‘Screw the public. I’m going ahead with this development anyway,’ they have the right to know.  ‘Transparency’ was the main plank of your campaign.

We have nothing to hide.  I’m not going to breach the public trust.  I’m not going to sit on a committee where someone says ‘Who cares what they say? I’m moving ahead with it anyway”—and pretend that I don’t know that.

Editor’s Note: Greenstein and Weitz continued to argue about the wording of the emails Greenstein and members of the committee have exchanged on the subject of whether committee email conversations should be considered as private.

Greenstein claimed that his group has “clammed up” as a result of her disclosures. “When people in the group besides me want to speak openly they don’t want a member who’s going to turn around and then release it to the public.  So as a result, everybody has clammed up.”

“Nice try,” said Weitz. 

Greenstein argued that everything he has said in committee he has said publicly also, that Weitz would have been justified in repeating his public opinions, but that he took issue with revealing committee communications—quoting his emails in a meeting with Pace. She was “someone who doesn’t respect the rule of ‘What’s said in the committee stays in the committee.’”

NCNOW:  When Betty read those emails she was in a Steering Committee session with Pace consultants, appealing to a Pace consultant, asking ‘What do we do about this unresolved conflict?’  She’s allowed to ask Pace.  The committees are not secret committees.

Greenstein:  The reason people like you, people in the press, are not on the committees is because—and Pace has said this and Sabrina [Charney, Town Planner] has asked people not to go public with things that are said in the group.  Because they want a free exchange of ideas.  There were rules in place asking not to do it. 

Weitz disagreed that such a rule had been promulgated. Greenstein said he would produce emails to the contrary.

NCNOW:  But that’s a group discussing what they’d like the policy to be.  It’s not a law.  It’s not Town Code.  It’s people discussing ‘How should we proceed?’”

Greenstein: You’re right, Christine, it’s not a town code.  It’s just a rule of etiquette that people told us to follow and unfortunately one person [did not].

Greenstein moved again to go into executive session, saying, “Betty you cannot come here and monopolize our meetings all night long.”  The two argued another few minutes about the content of certain emails.  Brodsky broke up the fight.  “We’re not in a bickering session.  We’re in a Town Board meeting.”  He seconded the motion and the Board began its executive session.
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Visit NCNOW’s archived articles on the Master Plan review by clicking HERE.

Greenstein’s update on the Master Plan review begins at the 59-minute mark, the argument with Weitz begins at the 1-hour, 11-minute mark and ends at the 1-hour, 32-minute mark.

New Castle Town Board Work Session 4/22/14 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.

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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

Tensions surface over survey and funding, supervisor resigns his Master Plan hat, NCNOW.org, 4/25/14

Master Plan and Chappaqua Crossing: An update from Supervisor Rob Greenstein, NCNOW.org, 4/25/14

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