New Lebanon Supervisor Michael Benson appears to be having a bit of trouble adjusting to the world of public governance—perhaps being more used to running his own private show as a construction magnate.
Last week, Benson was exposed for trying to close down the County’s newly-formed airport committee before it gets a headwind behind it. In a widely-circulated email, Benson not only sought to end the committee’s fact-finding mission, but do do so in a secret executive session. (According to New Lebanon sources, Benson routinely takes his Town Board into Executive Session, regardless of whether the topic qualifies for such secrecy under State Law.) Committee chair has sent concerned residents email assurances that its work will continue.
Following that counterproductive episode, Benson tried a new tactic to distract from the substantive work of the committee. Showing little interest in anything pertaining to actual airport operations, Benson trained his sites on a much more important meta-question: the airport committee’s email list. Who was on the cc: list, he demanded to know over the weekend—and why?
Benson chose to lead off his tirade about this vital matter with an example that blew up in his face.
“I see Cindy Hall’s name, but I don’t see Greg Fingar’s name,” Benson thundered, referring respectively to the County Democratic and Republican chairs—in an apparent effort to imply that Bassin had some partisan agenda in forming the email list.
“This just doesn’t look good,” Benson concluded, wringing his hands: “In fact, I am deeply concerned.”
Unfortunately, Bassin had a ready answer for Benson. “The names on the list at this point,” Bassin patiently explained, “are all people who have voluntarily expressed an interest in being on the list.”
Then came the kicker: “I actually asked Greg Finger if he wanted to be on the list last week, and he said no.”
In other words: Benson was whining about Fingar being left out—but Bassin had gone out of his way to try to include Fingar, but he refused to be included in the discussion.
Oops. Sometimes what is allowed in private business just doesn’t translate to public debate.
New Lebanon’s Mike Benson calls for secret session to shut down airport debate
The Columbia County Board of Supervisors has taken over a decade—more than 120 months—to get around to addressing alleged safety issues with the County airport in Ghent.
But apparently even a single month of research and public participation is too much for one Republican supervisor to bear.
In a typo-filled email sent early this morning to the newly-formed airport committee, Benson calls for a secret session to end debate after just two meetings. He then goes on to vent his spleen at unnamed “groups” who have attended meetings, and to argue Richmor Aviation’s case against that of the County itself.
Benson rants about his impatience to “put this matter behind us.” The New Leb super and BCI Construction magnate then “strongly” urges chair Art Bassin of Ancram “to hold and [sic] Executive Session (of the Airport Committee) next week, so we can consider making a recommendation (on that same night) to the full board.”
His demand would appear to be illegal under the State’s Open Meetings law. That law only allows a limited number of specific reasons for going into executive session, a practice often abused by local and County agencies.
Not satisfied with ending the conversation before the committee has completed its tasks—which Benson did not object to when they were set forth—he then proceeds to become Richmor’s advocate against the public, and even against the County’s own legal interests.
Richmor, Benson thunders, must not “be subjected to too many more parades in front of groups looking to drive [them] from Columbia County. This group, which it appears at times that we are ‘reporting to’ is intent on doing just that; driving business from Columbia County and I do not support that and furthermore I do not want to be a part of it. I would go so far as to say; I am embarrassed by these actions.”
Clear statements have been made by the public at meetings that no one wants to shut down the airport; indeed, attendees have expressed support for the continued operation by Richmor at existing, manageable levels. At an earlier information session, Hudson 5th Ward supervisor Rick Scalera called for a show of hands of anyone who wanted the airport shut down; no hands were raised. (Perhaps Benson missed that meeting.) Richmor’s owner Maylon Richards himself has publicly claimed that he does not wish or expect to expand operations.
Nevertheless, Benson throws a tantrum on behalf of “Richmore”—the airport operator whose interests he’s decided to champion, but whose name he cannot be bothered to spell correctly.
Bassin’s agenda for the upcoming meeting includes a list of yet-to-be-settled questions for Richmor to address as part of the committee’s ongoing research into options to bring the airport into compliance.
Benson then attempts a fear tactic, arguing against the County’s own legal interest in favor of a private corporation. He tries to claim that the County “may be walking dangerously close to a breach of that contract if we do not facilitate the terms and conditions of it.” Benson apparently is not concerned with evidence which has come forward suggesting that the County is not enforcing its end of the contract as far as collecting its full share of fees from Richmor for landings by turbined planes. (More on that in a future post.)
“We need to move on to many other issues,” Benson concludes, without specifying either what issues he deems more pressing, or why he believes his fellow Supervisors are incapable of dealing with more than one issue at a time.
In a polite and sober reponse, Bassin agrees to put Benson’s motion on the agenda, but points out that such a decision should not be taken in executive session. More importantly, Bassin asserts that the only way to move forward speedily and cost-efficiently on the runway issues is to shorten it, rather than expanding it.
Bassin’s full reply is below.
Mike, Thanks for your note. I think its premature to decide this now, but I am happy to put this issue on the Agenda for Wednesday. We should have this discussion in open session, not executive session. If we wanted to make a decision or recommendation next week, common sense and logic would suggest we recommend shortening the runway to 4500 feet. That decision would immediately put us in compliance with the FAA safety zone guidelines & standards, eliminate any insurance risk, and not have any impact on the Richmor business. And we can continue to explore the logic and rationale for expanding the safety zone as has been proposed. If we were to do this, one runway will still be 5350 feet with a 1000 foot safety zone, and the other would be 4500 feet, with a 1000 foot safety zone. And the FAA has told us that the 4500 foot runway can still accommodate class C and D jets as long as they are not "fully loaded". It is unlikely anyone will be flying into or out of the airport "fully loaded". Not shortening the runway immediately leaves us exposed us to being out of compliance with the FAA guidelines & standards and to possible insurance risks for another 3 years. This seems like an unnecessary set of risks to continue to take. I think we all share your concern for Richmor, and I am looking forward to hearing how they feel about this set of issues. I suspect there may be investments in the airport that would be more valuable to Richmor's business than adding a 1000 foot safety zone by buying the adjacent land...like additional hangar space or an ILS. And I am not sure what the need to rush is...we have been working on this for 10 years already...another couple of months is not going to matter. Even if we decide to recommend that we immediately shorten the runway to 4500 feet to immediately comply with the FAA's safety zone guidelines and standards, we can still explore the benefit and logic supporting buying the adjacent land and adding the 1000 safety zone. If we can make that case, we can always implement that plan down the road. Art
ThIs NBC News van was parked for much of Wednesday outside the XtraMart in Germantown.
Reporters have swarmed the small Columbua County town in hopes of sniffing out details about the life of Metro-North driver William “Billy” Rockefeller. Rockefeller is the local resident now the center of an investigation into the recent train crash in the Bronx.
One local business owner (who deflected reporters’ persistent inquiries for the past two days) suspects some of the supposed media members may in fact be attorneys or private investigators representing victims of the accident.