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Scuffle breaks out at Common Council meeting

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    Amanda Purcell/Columbia-Greene MediaThe Hudson Common Council voted to authorize the mayor to re-institute the city's 2018 assessment roll.
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    Amanda Purcell/Columbia-Greene MediaCity Assessor Justin Maxwell speaks during Wednesday's special meeting of the Hudson Common Council.
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    Amanda Purcell/Columbia-Greene MediaIt was a full house at the special meeting of the Hudson Common Council on Wednesday at the Hudson Area Library, 51 N. Fifth St.
April 25, 2019 04:21 pm Updated: April 25, 2019 07:16 pm

 

HUDSON — A scuffle broke out Wednesday between one former and one incumbent councilman at a contentious meeting where the Hudson Common Council voted 8-3 to direct the mayor to reinstitute the city’s 2018 assessment roll.

The meeting, which was held in the second floor of the Hudson Area Library, 51 N. Fifth St., drew a large crowd, some of whom were pleased with the assessment process, but the majority expressed discontent.

When Alan Weaver, who owns a real estate company, attempted to speak without being recognized, Common Council President Thomas DePietro called for a five-minute recess and walked out of the room.

During the recess, an altercation erupted in the hallway between DePietro and former 3rd Ward Alderman John Friedman. Friedman was seen up against the corner of a closed doorway with DePietro’s face inches from Friedman’s, with DePietro appearing to block Friedman’s exit.

Eventually the two were separated, as 3rd Ward Alderman Shershah Mizan held back Friedman at the top of the stairs and 1st Ward Alderman Kamal Johnson held back DePietro.

Friedman left the library and the meeting resumed.

“All I have to say at this point is that as I was leaving the meeting last night, during the recess, Tom physically attacked me and had to be restrained by his fellow council members,” Friedman said Thursday. “My hands were in my pockets throughout and I didn’t threaten or provoke him.”

Friedman declined to elaborate on the manner in which he was allegedly attacked, or whether he would file charges with police about the incident.

“The less said about this unfortunate incident, the better for everyone,” DePietro said Thursday. DePietro declined to listen to Friedman’s on-the-record account of the confrontation.

“Mr. Friedman has a long, well-documented history of rude and abusive behavior,” DePietro said. “I do not.”

Johnson said he came over to help separate Friedman and DePietro.

“I heard John Friedman scream something, but didn’t make it out,” Johnson said. “People were yelling for me to come over and help. I did see him saying something, but I couldn’t make out what was being said.”

Third Ward Alderman Calvin Lewis said he had heard Friedman say something like “You should all be ashamed of yourselves,” which Lewis took to mean that Friedman was unhappy with the vote. At one point, Friedman called DePietro a “p***y,” Lewis said.

“I think that provoked it,” Lewis said. “I was actually exiting the hall to go back to meeting. As I turn back around, I see the two up against the wall. I didn’t see the actual initiation of any contact.”

Mizan could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

The passing of the resolution garnered applause from the majority of the more than 40 people gathered in the meeting room.

A representative from GAR Associates, the company hired to do the citywide revaluation in 2017, and City Assessor Justin Maxwell were on hand to answer questions, but neither were consulted before the council’s vote.

City Attorney Andy Howard told council members after the vote, as he was cut off from speaking before the vote, he maintained the position that only the assessor, statutorily and constitutionally, can set aside the assessment roll, not the council or the mayor. DePietro said that might be the case for the tentative or final roll, but what the council voted on and what has been submitted is the preliminary assessment roll.

Three members of the Common Council reached out to Maxwell before the vote — the same three who voted against the resolution: 1st Ward Alderman Rob Bujan and 5th Ward Aldermen Eileen Halloran and Dominic Merante. DePietro, who typically abstains from voting unless there is a tie, voted in support of the resolution to become the eighth vote.

“How do we find out the meaning of what we just did, you know, the impact?” Halloran asked after the votes were cast. She suggested that DePietro head a subcommittee to discuss the ramifications of the vote.

The 2018 assessment roll is based on the last revaluation, overseen by GAR in 2012. Given the drastic changes to the real estate market in Hudson, the 2012 roll is outdated and contains disparate assessments, in which some are not paying their fair share, Maxwell said.

Some information included in the resolution that was approved Wednesday was false, Maxwell said, and he believes that members of the Common Council would not have voted on the resolution if he had been consulted.

Mayor Rick Rector stood up to speak at the meeting in opposition to the council’s decision, pointing out that few council members spoke to GAR or Maxwell before the meeting.

“We’re dealing with a group of people [who oppose the assessment],” Rector said. “We have the entire public to think about.”

Hudson business owner Nick Haddad questioned the assessments done on commercial properties. When asked to see data or paperwork from GAR on how the company calculated its assessment, Haddad said he was given the 2018 assessment roll by the city clerk’s office.

“We have a commercial area that has no comparables,” 4th Ward Supervisor Linda Mussmann said. “No one on the commercial strip knows how they have been compared. There is nothing there.”

The resolution was in response to constituents’ concerns, DePietro said. More than 100 residents signed a petition and submitted it to the city opposing the GAR revaluation, 4th Ward Alderman John Rosenthal said.

“We have to take into account that this is something that is really affecting peoples lives,” Johnson said Thursday. “People were not there because they have nothing else to do.”

Lewis said he felt comfortable with his vote, given residents’ testimonials, which he found to be factual, and the petition signed by residents.

Fifth Ward resident Betty Badner spoke about how her assessments have continually increased over the years and was pleased with the assessment, anticipating a decrease in taxes this time around.

DePietro, at times, cut off fellow council members from speaking, including Bujan, who attempted to ask a question, and Merante, who had concerns about whether the vote should have gone to the council’s Legal Committee. DePietro said he interrupted them because he considered both their statements answered and resolved.

Rector has three days to veto the resolution. No veto was submitted to the Clerk’s Office by the middle of Thursday afternoon.

To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to apurcell@thedailymail.net, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.