March 29, 2005

Perkins issue on WHCU

I'm always happy to listen to Tom Hatfield, the Town of Dryden Republican Committee chairman, when he's on Casey Stevens' show on WHCU 870. Usually the conversation is about county news with a bit of Dryden - I picked up an item about a Town Republican fund-raiser there once.

Tom had a tougher ride today, specifically about Dryden issues. It sounds like Casey Stevens saw my entry about the golf course auction, in which one of Mahlon Perkins' clients tells the Dryden Courier that Perkins told him the price the town, another Perkins client, was willing to bid for the golf course.

I'm not sure how best to report on this, as Tom's had fun putting me in the story, so I think it's probably best just to transcribe it. I wish WHCU offered recordings on their site, as you really need to listen to this to get the full flavor. (I originally did a full transcript, but then it occurred to me that WHCU might not appreciate that. I've reduced my original version substantially, and feel that the newsworthy character of this information should keep it within the fair use provisions of copyright law.)

Casey Stevens: There are many things to talk about with Tom this morning, and yes, there will be a little bit of a controversy involved here, but also we'll talk about process in that. I am opening up a can of worms which has been open actually a couple weeks ago. The warring factions in the Town of Dryden (laughs) and I guess at this point what I'm trying to do is to try to get people to talk about this openly instead of on blogs and accusations back and forth. Not a "he said, she said" but we'll talk about that with Tom....[announcements, local news]

Casey: Tom Hatfield is my guest. He's on the Planning Board of the Town of Dryden and also spent what, six years?

Tom Hatfield: Eight years.

Casey: Eight years on the board.

Tom: Just state where you're going.


Casey: The blog. The blog says that there was a conflict of interest.

Tom: That doesn't surprise me, if you're talking about the blog that's written by the Town of Dryden Chair of the Democratic Party. [laughs]

Casey: And I'm sure that we'll probably end up with people saying look, they want to say their point too, but the issue basically came down to, let me see if I get this right, I'll try to squeeze it, was that the town wanted to put in a bid for the Dryden golf course.

...[much good information about foreclosure process]...

Casey: Now the Town of Dryden wanted to perhaps at least discuss putting a bid in on this golf course.

Tom: Well, my understanding is the town board authorized the town supervisor to bid up to a certain amount of money in hopes that perhaps it would be a bargain of some sort that would arise.

Casey: OK.

Tom: I don't believe the circumstances presented themselves in such a way that it allowed the supervisor to feel comfortable making the bid, and that was within his purview.

Casey: The Town Attorney was at that executive session.

Tom: That, I don't know. I wasn't at that meeting, of course, and had I been at that meeting, it was in executive session. Typically the Town Attorney would be invited into an executive session. In this particular instance the Town Attorney from day one recused himself, because the Town Attorney, in terms of Mahlon Perkins, represented the mortgagor and he made that clear very day one. From the very first time this issue came up with respect to the town, and the Town Board, to their credit, retained and hired, sought, other legal counsel in this matter.

Casey: But yet the Town Attorney knew the amount of money that the town could bid for that property.

Tom: That's very possible. Again, that's a fact I don't know. I understand there's a quote in the paper that the mortgagor said that his attorney advised him that the town, you know, may be in a position to bid. But you know, saying that the Town would bid versus may bid is a very significant difference. Again, the Town Board authorized the Supervisor to act in his discretion with Board authority, to bid up to a certain number, and I know from talking with the Town Supervisor from time to time that he and the Board pretty much strongly felt that this property should remain in private hands. I mean, you're talking about taking a fairly significant piece of property overlooking one of the most beautiful vistas in Dryden ...[more on golf course]...

Casey: Well, the appropriateness is though, the fact that you can't serve two masters,

Tom: Right.

Casey: And Mr. Szlasa, who owned the golf course, and who put the bid in, was told by the Town Attorney how much the town was authorized to bid. So, what he's doing, is he's serving two masters.

Tom: Is he? He recused himself from the process at the beginning.

Casey: But how could he be in the same room and then tell another client how much the town was going to bid for it? I mean that sounds to me, like what is this, but serving two masters and I wonder that these people aren't thinking that there's some kind of hanky-panky going on.

Tom: What people are thinking that? The mortgagor bid in the amount of his mortgage, the referee accepted the bid, the mortgagor now owns full and clear title to the property.

Casey: Quote "My attorney told me" - in other words, this attorney, who represented the town in almost any other aspect, who was at that meeting, then turned around and came to him and told him what was said in executive session. My understanding of an executive session is that you don't carry those words outside of that room.

Tom: Okay, again, I can't speak, cause I wasn't there

Casey: No, I wasn't either, but is that your understanding, that executive session, you keep quiet?

Tom: Executive session, you're supposed to keep quiet, certainly, but I know from eight years of experience that quite often it's not kept quiet. It was a major issue in couple of very controversial issues that we dealt with when I was on the Town Board where, you know, the executive session privileges were not honored.

Casey: Did ethics ever come up in that question?

Tom: No.

Casey: But ethics have come up now.

Tom: Well, you're saying they have.

Casey: Well, people are questioning professional ethics at this point.

Tom: What people?

Casey: Oh, obviously it's political.

Tom: Correct. Exactly the point.

Casey: But that doesn't demean it, that doesn't diminish it.

Tom: The Chairman of the Town of Dryden Democratic Party is raising the issue in hopes of creating some kind of political storm around this. And with respect to that, hey, that's fine.

Casey: Okay, so what I'm saying is that I think that the county, if the county was going to jump in and try to do politics on Alan Cohen and Ed Hershey, that the County Ethics Committee ought to now jump into Dryden politics and say maybe we ought to investigate this stuff too. Where is that ethics committee now from the Tompkins County Legislature?

Tom: Casey, that's a very interesting observation.

Casey: Tom Hatfield, my guest. 8:23... [weather, news, etc.]

There are lots of interesting issues here. Tom (with Casey's assistance), paints this as a controversy stirred up by blogs, I guess my blog in particular. I didn't have to stir very hard, as the heart of the matter is a quote in the Dryden Courier. I can't say I've had a lot of screaming headlines or editorials about it here, though I did point it out.

Tom also discussed the county jail expansion (or lack of it), the county executive issue, and the problem of low turnout for county elections. Tom said at one point said that he "cherishes every vote," and concluded by saying, "People, you got to go vote!" I'd be happy to work with him on improving turnout for local elections - that's one of the key goals of this site.

Posted by simon at March 29, 2005 12:52 PM in ,
Note on photos