Sunday, August 07, 2011

Greene Goners

The Village of Catskill is losing its head.  Vincent Seeley, president of its  governing board of trustees for the past six years, the most industrious and involved president in memory, is moving away. What with the death last year of both parents, and perhaps with a sense of exhaustion, Vinnie is moving, with his wife Gwen and their two daughters, to Minnesota.  There the Seeleys will be close to the headquarters of his employer, Optum Health, and to Gwen’s kinfolk.  They will be leaving a community that he tried, with extraordinary dedication and an insomniac’s endurance, and in the face of harsh economic realities, to deserve the billing he gave it on the web site he instigated/instituted: “the ever-improving village of Catskill.” 
There will be no real successor.  The current vice-president, Jim Chewens, is limited in availability for Village work by his job as a prison correctional officer.  The other three incumbent trustees are similarly constrained.  And no fresh candidates for the five-member governing board have surfaced so far.
STREET TALK.  The imminent departure of Vinnie, along with the scarcity of revnues and of prospective candidates for trustee, has revived local interest in a Village-Town merger.
Soon to depart from Catskill, and from GreeneLand, is the giant HSBC bank.  Its local branch is one of 183 up-State offices that, by the end of this year if not sooner, on the basis of a billion-dollar deal that was announced recently, will become properties of  First Niagara Bank.  Since First Niagara already has a branch right next door to HSBC’s, at 341 Main St, Catskill, the present HSBC branch surely will be vacated.  An exceptionally imposing building, rich in history, will be added to our abundant stock of vacant commercial properties.
 In global terms, London-based HSBC is closing hundreds of retail branches, including half of its United States outlets.  Its program already has involved the elimination 5000 jobs and is expected to eliminate 25,000 more by 2013.  The announced rationale is concentration on corporate finance, international connections, and growth markets. During the first half of this year, HSBC’s corporate parent made a 3 per cent, $11.5 billion, gain in pretax profits.
Not announced so far is abandonment of the company slogan, “the world’s local bank.” 
The GreeneLand HSBC branch began life back in 1803, as Catskill National Bank & Trust Company.  It was sold in 1971 to Marine Midland Bank East and then to HSBC.
In recent months, or years, the place has been almost a hollow shell. Although it is open on weekdays, it cannot be reached by telephone. 

Retiring from part-time public office in GreeneLand is Jack Van Loan, head since December 2003 of GreeneLand’s veterans’ service agency. He will be replaced by appointment by Michelle Romalin Black of Greenville.  She is a GreeneLand native, an Air Force veteran and, according to County Administrator Groden and to key county legislators, she did very well on a rigorous accreditation test. 

     Another retirement has paved the way for departmental consolidation.  With the departure of Thomas Yandeau as head of the county’s Department of the Aging, County Executive Shaun Groden, with the hearty approval of the elected legislators, has placed that office under the guidance of Therese McGee Ward, head of the Youth Bureau.  The merger will produce more job cuts.  

Soon to be leaving the Cairo-Durham school system, after a long local career, is Superintendent Sally Sharkey.  As reported in the Daily Mail, the school district’s trustees decided back in May to give Ms Sharkey a one-year notice of termination, and then decided, by a vote of 5 to 4, at a stormy public meeting on June 30, to uphold that notice.  Ms Sharkey was a music teacher in the district before she acquired an administrative degree and then was appointed in 2005 as superintendent, followed in 2007 by a five-year contract extension.  Demands to give reasons for the termination were declined by the trustees.  One of the protestors, Adrienne Gatti, said (Daily Mail, 7/14) that Ms Sharkey is “the lowest-paid superintendent” in “surrounding counties” and “has not taken a pay raise for two years.”  According to State Department of Education figures, however (see, her salary of $135,523 plus a benefits package valued at $41,127) is second-lowest among GreeneLand school superintendents.  The lowest salary goes to the superintendent in the smallest (in population) district: Hunter-Tannersville, at $126,838 plus a benefits package valued at $42,244. 
The other figures are $138,030 plus $59,760 (Windham-Ashland-Jewett—and that benefits packages is the fattest of the six); $140,057 plus $34,316 (Greenville); $143,000 plus $10,940 (Coxsackie-Athens, and a remarkably small benefits package); and $162,081 plus $44,729 (Catskill). 

Then we have the case of GreeneLand’s semi-governmental Industrial Development Agency.  The abrupt departure of veteran Executive Director Alexander Mathes was followed soon after, not coincidentally, by the resignations of three veteran directors: Robert Snyder, the president; Hugh Quigley, an I.D.A. founder and leader during the past 20 years; and board secretary Martin Smith, who is chairman of the board of the Bank of Greene County.  Although Rene Van Schaak has been moved up to the post of interim executive director, and although four governing directors remain  (Dan Frank, former county executive; Eric Hoglund; Sy DeLucia; and Willis Vermilyea, retired county treasurer) and although office manager April Ernst is still on the job, the I.D.A. is in a state of limbo.  No minutes of meetings ( since May.  The agency was crippled by controversy last year over the $175,000big bonus that the directors gave to Mr Mathes in 2009.   It has been hurt too by a report from the office of the State Controller.  The report imputes a lack of transparency to many local agencies.  More broadly, it voices concern about results, in terms of jobs created relative to the scale of tax exemptions granted.  

Already gone from GreeneLand, happily, is Nicholas Barcomb.  He came over the Rip Van Winkle bridge from Hudson last January and, wielding a knife, stole $729 from Tori G’s restaurant. According to District Attorney Terry Wilhelm, Barcomb was nabbed by police, charged with felonious armed robbery, and housed in the county jail, entered a plea of guilty, and was sentenced by Judge Pulver Jr to a ten-year stretch in State prison.

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