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BETTER THAN HEARSAY - Where’s a Fly Suit When you Need One

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 12/1/23 | 12/1/23

By Michael Ryan

CATSKILL - I couldn’t find my fly suit so I wasn’t able to hang on the wall for a Greene County Legislature executive session, the other night.

The behind-closed-doors talks were requested by lawmaker Michael Bulich (District 1, Catskill), related to the awarding of bids for construction of a new Justice Center wing on the county courthouse.

There is a related story about the bids in our “Legislature Stuff” column, this week, where the drama leading up to the eventual awarding is detailed.

The more intriguing part of the tale is that while nobody was willing to go on the record, describing what unfolded inside the executive session, it was characterized as ugly at best and baselessly accusatory at worst.

One comment I heard repeatedly, trying to pry information out of the various lawmakers was, “I hope this doesn’t get worse.”

The thing about this particular private parlay was, there are questions surrounding whether it should have even occurred in that format.

It was ostensibly called to discuss “personnel and contractual matters” but there is reason to conclude there was nothing that couldn’t and shouldn’t have been talked about in a public forum.

One lawmaker, afterwards, said, “I would have preferred this was out in the open.” A second lawmaker said the talks quickly deteriorated into nothing but “bad-mouthing people.”

Be that as it may, the Justice Center has been on the table for roughly 18 months, breezily moving through the planning and design phases.

And approval of $25 million in bonds to finance the project went off without a hitch, although that harmony vanished when an additional $3.8 million was added to the overall cost, reportedly due to necessary engineering.

Even with that painful price increase, which was ultimately okayed by a wide margin, several lawmakers were surprised when four lawmakers seemed to inexplicably get their hackles up at the eleventh hour.

After the initial bid award snag (detailed in “Legislature Stuff”), a special meeting was called to return the bids to the agenda for a vote.

That’s when Bulich requested the executive session where he apparently grilled county administrator Shaun Groden and county attorney Edward Kaplan about the whys and wherefores of the project.

One lawmaker said Bulich “went after” Groden and Kaplan about a lack of transparency between the county and the job contractors, though he produced nothing to lend credence to any of it.

Bulich saw the situation as business as usual, saying in a subsequent interview, “I ask questions very directly. I expect direct answers.

“I don’t want to criticize my fellow board members but when someone doesn’t speak up, we are inherently not giving direction.

“The county administrator and deputy administrator [Warren Hart] need direction from this board. It’s not being given. That is why I speak up.”

Bulich said he requested the executive session because, “we would have been potentially looking at contracts and then personnel questions that shouldn’t be asked in public.

“Maybe they think I ask too many questions. I’m not laying blame. I’m just saying what I see. I could see frustrations about the administrative side, that we weren’t getting answers.”

Bulich suggested there had not been enough hands-on review of the plans as well as a shortage of pertinent information offered prior to a vote.

When the vote was taken by 14 legislators on approving four construction bids, there were five “no” votes (including one absent lawmaker).

“I don’t think any of the ones opposed were against the fact that we need space for the [District Attorney and Public Defender offices],” Bulich said.

“That space is mandated by the State. But when you get the [State] Office of Court Administration involved and see how much square footage is involved for one judge, then we should start asking hard questions.

“They are paying for their use of our building with my State income tax money. That doesn’t sit well with me. I say we should pause [with the project] but everyone felt it needed to be rushed and voted on.”

Legislature chairman Patrick Linger, in a subsequent interview, would not comment on the executive session, saying, “Mike is against the State getting use of our real estate without paying full market value.

“The bottom line is Greene County did not create New York State. We may disagree with what they send down the pike but that’s the system.”

It is expected the legislature will create an in-house committee to be closely linked to daily operations during construction. “Hopefully, I will be part of that committee,” Bulich said.

Meanwhile, the reverberations of the executive session are still being felt. “My biggest fear going forward is not the financing,” one official said.

“There is so much animosity on the board right now, with every decision being made. I wonder, ‘Are we going to become Washington D.C.?’

“I wonder, ‘How do these fences get mended?,’” the official said. There are currently 2 Democrats and 12 Republicans on the legislature.

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