At last night’s anti-informational meeting in Hudson, County development czar Ken Flood did his very best Sgt. Schultz impression. Over and over, when asked substantive (and at times pointed) questions, Flood’s answer was “I don’t know.” Even though the County has supposedly been studying the topic at hand—the County airport—for over a decade.
Though billed as informational, Flood seemed to arrive totally unprepared. He delivered no presentation about the County’s push to spend over $600,000 (plus legal fees) to seize developer Carmen Nero’s Meadowgreens propety. Nor did he bother to make more than the most cursory introductory remarks, nor bother to call on Lt. Tom Lanphear, who was on hand to address the claimed safety issues behind that push.
Instead, the man often referred to as the County’s highest-paid employee turned the meeting over immediately to questions.
That move might have been viewed as an admirable step toward engaging the public, except for what came before and after, which made it just look like a lazy lack of preparation.
For nine months previous, Flood and his County cohorts such as Treasurer P.J. Keeler and attorney Brent Stack have been ignoring, deflecting and/or stonewalling Freedom of Information Law requests filed by Ghent residents about the airport. Detailed lists of official questions, such as those from Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin, have been similarly brushed aside.
Now, at last, Flood was opening the floor to the audience. But few answers were forthcoming. Roughly a dozen times, the large crowd in attendance heard him say, unconcernedly, “I don’t know.” Alternatively, Flood waved around one of two reports (one of them a whole decade old) full of consultantese, puffed-up numbers readily deflated by better-informed members of the audience.
(For example, the 2003 report hailed by Flood projected that the airport as of today would be serving over 40,000 takeoffs and landings annually. That would imply that something like an average of 110 takeoffs or landings occur every day of the 365-day year, which any neighbor or even casual visitor to the 9H corridor knows simply isn't happening.)
Flood’s one attempt to convince the audience of the importance of this costly eminent domain idea? To scare people that executives from companies like Flanders or Whittier nursing home would no longer be able to fly in to the County if the runway were shortened to satisfy FAA safety demands.
But Flood could not point to any proof that the FAA actually is making such a demand. Nor did he admit to knowing what type of planes those executives use, or how much runway their planes require.
Airport neighbor Michael Schrom, who has had a dialogue with Richmor Aviation going back to the 1970s, identified specific plane used by one such company, by name and model. He then cited for Flood the exact minimum number of feet such a plane needs—more than enough even if the runway were shortened.
The citation of detailed counter-evidence that blew his case out of the water did not seem to make any difference to Flood—nor to a majority of the Supervisors, who voted down Bassin’s motion to table any eminent domain proceedings until the County had better information.
Ghent resident Mark Johnson made the case against eminent domain from the other side of the political spectrum, arguing its use against a businessman like Carmen Nero was anti-American and dangerous to development.
The meeting was capped by a pleading of his case from an animated Nero, who speech (which involved a perambulation of the Board’s chambers) sadly was not captured on videotape. Suffice to say that one need not own a TV, if one has the schedule of local government meetings. Now that’s entertainment.
As Bassin wrote in an open letter circulated the morning after:
Unfortunately, the nine Supervisors who voted to continue with eminent domain have agreed to support that decision based on incomplete and possibly inaccurate information. This is not really about the Airport safety zone or eminent domain any more, but about the integrity and credibility of the County's decision making process, and the Supervisors and managers who guide that process.
Does the County offer any other high-paid jobs which require no preparation, no need to have answers, and no need to consider inconvenient facts? Seems like very nice work, if you have the political connections to get it.
(Note: If anyone from Richmor Aviation was present, they did not identify themselves, and did not speak up about whether or why they need this costly expansion.)