A funny thing happened at the latest Plattsburgh Common Council session: the meeting ended, but the mayor kept speaking into a live microphone. The inadvertent recording of the mayor and a city councilor is upsetting the city labor force and relations with the adjacent town.
Following the regular session of the Plattsburgh Common Council last Thursday, the web-streaming system had been left on and a nearly 20-minute conversation between Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read and Ward 2 Councilor Mike Kelly, both Democrats, was broadcast. When officials realized what happened they deleted that segment of video. But it had already been captured on social media.
Read expressed his thoughts on how to change retirement benefits for city employees. “I’m worried about having in 20 or 30 years time something that’s sustainable...”
Read: “…knowing that we’re still caught with some legacies for now.”
Read: “Let’s not try to design a system for the people we have now. Let’s design the system we want, figure out a way to get the people we have now transitioned. We could pay them out, we could get some restructuring board money to give them bribes to move to the new system.”
There were also comments about possible city dissolution, the quality of the city’s workforce and considerable talk about a PILOT, or Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, agreement, with the Town of Plattsburgh. The mayor told the councilor he thought town officials were being “duplicitous.” “We think that the town has been holding back a sum that could be into the seven figures that the city really deserves. You know like could be as high as $10 million that they’ve tricked us out of.”
Councilor Kelly weighed in a few minutes later. "You know there’s something fishy they’ve done to enrich themselves at our expense.”
Read: “Yeah it’s hard, it’s very upsetting. I think, we don’t know for sure so I don’t want to draw any hard conclusions but I think it happened in 2008 with Bernie Bassett.”
Reached Monday, Mayor Read explained the PILOT is based on a 1992 agreement between the city and town regarding property now owned by Falcon Seaboard. “It was by far and away the city’s largest property revenue source. Somehow in 2009 the amount that went to the city declined by about 90 percent. Then in 2017, just over the last few months, another set of negotiations occurred, again without an inclusion of the city, which brought the city’s share down dramatically again. So we’re trying to understand how all that occurred.”
Bradley: “Why did you remove the video of your conversation with Councilor Kelly.”
Read: “I’m not going to comment on any issues having to do with a private conversation between myself and a councilor.”
Former Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Bernie Bassett served during part of the time the mayor referenced. He recalls the PILOT came about before he came into office after the city threatened a hostile annexation of the disputed property. “There were a lot of negotiations and the town would receive the payment because the business was in the town and then write a check, two-thirds of that payment, back to the city. The $200 million utility tried to close. There was an agreement that would provide to the town as a result. I mean the impacts would’ve been awful. And everything went along and percolated as it has until the microphone was left on and that and a number of other interesting topics and issues were mentioned.”
During the overheard conversation the duo criticized current Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman, saying he was holding back information and a liar. Cashman was much more charitable in his response: “My interpretation is that Mayor Read misunderstands a great deal of the situation and in some cases is conflating some things, as often can happen when two people are having a private conversation. This was a hot mic situation and it certainly is disheartening to say the least. But the issues before us demand a greater attention than finger wagging. I have even suggested to bring in a mediator. I can only imagine that Mayor Read and Councilor Kelly are embarrassed.”
New York State Committee on Open Government Executive Director Robert Freeman hadn’t viewed the video, but said he’s not surprised that the city removed the segment from its website. “The fact is that the meeting was over and it seems unlikely that there would have been any intent on the part of the city or the city council or any city official to let the tape keep rolling. But it happened. So it’s not as though they’re taking something down that ordinarily would have been up. Ordinarily the world wouldn’t have heard this conversation.”