Gaba Ousted as Village is in Turmoil
To say things at the Village Hall were tense would be a major understatement. At Tuesday night’s Village of Cold Spring Board workshop, sparks flew as Mayor Seth Gallagher and the Trustees got into a verbal sparring match and at one point, the police were called in to bring order to the meeting.
A central outcome of the meeting was that Village Attorney Steve Gaba will be replaced, as part of what seems to be a revolt against the Mayor. Gaba is regarded as being closely aligned with the mayor.
Something was in the air at the Village Hall as the meeting started. Members of the Historic District Review Board came in one by one and met separately in the small conference meeting room as the Village workshop began. The item that kicked off the controversy in the workshop was a request from the Historic board to solicit an independent legal opinion, from a lawyer experienced in historic preservation ordinances, to review the village code, as well as retaining a second lawyer to join with them at the Public Hearing.
The Historic Board’s reasoning: "To protect the interests of the village, it is necessary to have the advice of counsel, at the upcoming public hearing on the demolition of the Butterfield Hospital.”
The move toward independent counsel came after the last joint meeting the board had with the mayor and the board, at which the Mayor and Gaba disagreed with the Historic board “concerning the interpretation of the code.” It is believed the board members wanted an independent lawyer to cover themselves should they be called into a lawsuit, if developer Paul Guillaro decides to sue should he be denied demolition of the old Butterfield Hospital.
The Mayor was adamantly against the Historic board seeking counsel and observed they had already received a two-day training workshop given in 2008 by William Hurst: “We pretty much have what we need; we already paid for it,” although some members of the current board were not in attendance.
Trustee Matt Francisco said, “Clearly nothing came out of that…”
The Mayor continued to argue the point to no avail.
Kathleen Foley felt the workshop was too general and not specific. The Mayor observed that Gaba gave an apt interpretation of the code as Francisco continued to disagree and said, “The chair of this board [Historic] is asking for help to say we’re at a crossroads, we are on a different page on the interpretation of the code and their ability to move forward, and they’re asking for help and it's $1,500.”
Francisco tried to persuade the Mayor to let the Historic board secure counsel, but the Mayor balked every time and felt the Historic board did not agree with Gaba and said they wanted to go to another attorney to give them a different interpretation.
Trustee Ralph Falloon piped up, “Why don’t we get one attorney for all of us” – meaning dump Gaba, which soundly drew a large round of applause and a few hoots, as well. Gaba appeared put out by the comment.
Falloon was the first to bring up firing Gaba as he said, “We are using the same lawyer, start fresh if that’s what we have to do, it’s the fire department all over again...” That was a reference to the long dispute between the Mayor and the Cold Spring Fire Company over who should have keys to the firehouse.
In any case, the Mayor felt that getting a new lawyer would only exacerbate the situation.
Trustee Chuck Hustis made a motion to open up the floor to the members of the Historic board to allow them to speak.
Chair Al Zgolinski made it clear that the $7,000 for the training was not paid for by the village but by the state as part of the commission training. The Mayor said, “It is tax payer money.”
Zgolinski, observed that they were willing to abide by what attorney Hurst says: “We are comfortable with our interpretation of what the code says, we would just like to have legal opinion one way or another and then we’re willing to live by whatever his findings are.”
Foley observed that the issue of demolition was not specifically addressed in the training with attorney Hurst and felt that he could shed light on the subject.
The Mayor objected and argued with Foley, when she reminded him that he was the one that originally told them to seek independent counsel. The Mayor said “No I didn’t.” which raised the hackles of almost everyone at the meeting as Chuck Hustis and attendees began to over speak one another trying to rebuff the Mayor.
After much back and forth, the meeting was going in a circular motion. Special Board Member Stephanie Hawkins, who is usually a quiet presence at the villages meetings had had enough and spoke out loudly, “Here we go again.”
The Mayor said if she continued to speak he would ask her to leave, “No I’m not going to leave.” The mayor told her that he would call the police and have her removed. “Do it, do it, I’m not leaving,” Hawkins repeated, challenging him to make a move.
Hustis interrupted and made a motion for the village clerk to prepare a request for proposals (RFP) for new legal services for the village. The Mayor repeated that he did not need an RFP. Hustis snapped back and said, “You’re not supposed to have discussion when a motion is on the floor.” The Mayor would not allow the motion because Hustis was not recognized by the chair. Cold Spring Fire Company President and resident Michael Bowman said, “But he’s a Trustee?” Hustis repeated, “A motion is on the floor.”
Francisco said, “Will the chair recognize trustee Hustis?” The Mayor replied, “No.”
To which the trustees and members of the audience began shouting out. The Mayor said at times, “You’re out of order,” as Hustis tried to get him to recognize Bowman who had his hand raised.
Then the Mayor said that they were going to take a 10-minute recess as Francisco said, “A 10-minute recess – I want to go home.” There was much chatter during the recess about parliamentary order.
The Mayor returned with a police officer who stood at the door to keep order and said that he had the right to remove people who did not obey the rules and it seemed he was going to make good on it.
In the end, a motion was made to have the historic Board retain a lawyer not to exceed $1,800, all were in favor with the Mayor as the lone dissenter.
The motion was reintroduced by Hustis for the village board to direct the village clerk to produce an RFP for legal services for the village, Falloon seconded the motion and all were in favor with the Mayor opposed.
But after the meeting, confusion still reigned.
Trustee Bruce Campbell said that he did not know that he was voting to oust Gaba and would not have done so, but even if Campbell takes back his vote, there is a majority to give Gaba the boot.
With the resolution passing, the board will now interview new lawyers and when one is found Gaba will be in essence fired. Gaba of Drake, Lobe, Heller, Kennedy, Gogerty, Gaba & Rodd, was hired in August of 2007 at $175.00 per hour excerpt for litigation in federal court, when the village was billed at $195.00 per hour. In addition assistants and paralegals were billed at 90.00 per hour last year the firm.
For the fiscal year ending 5/31/2012, total attorney fees related to work performed by Gaba was $77,519.40