Law­suit says bal­lot mis­lead­ing

The suit ar­gues bal­lot claims about Fam­ily Court are not sub­stan­ti­ated by facts

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Pa­tri­cia Doxsey pdoxsey@free­manon­ pat­ti­at­free­man on Twit­ter

KINGSTON >> At­tor­ney Daniel Hepp­ner on Wednes­day ac­cused county of­fi­cials try­ing to sway the vote on mov­ing Ul­ster County Fam­ily Court with a mis­lead­ing bal­lot propo­si­tion in­tended to tip the scales in their fa­vor.

Hepp­ner, who is rep­re­sent­ing county Leg­is­la­tors David Don­ald­son and John Parete in a law­suit against the county, ar­gued be­fore act­ing state Supreme Court Jus­tice Denise Hart­man that the bal­lot to go be­fore vot­ers in Novem­ber makes claims that can’t be sub­stan­ti­ated by facts.

Rather he said, the claims are “to­tally sub­jec­tive and spec­u­la­tive.”

But Michael Cook, the at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the county in the law­suit, ar­gued that the county has done nu­mer­ous cost stud­ies re­lated to Fam­ily Court over the past two years and that the bal­lot lan­guage was de­cided upon by the ma­jor­ity of county law­mak­ers.

“There’s noth­ing mis­lead­ing about the state­ment,” said Cook.

Don­ald­son, D-Kingston, and Parete, D-Boiceville have filed a law­suit against County Ex­ec­u­tive Mike Hein, Leg­is­la­ture Chair­man Ken Ronk, RWal­lkill, Leg­is­la­ture Clerk Vic­to­ria Fa­bella, and the county’s elec­tions com­mis­sion­ers over the lan­guage of a propo­si­tion ask­ing vot­ers whether Fam-

ily Court should be moved from it’s cur­rent lo­ca­tion on Lu­cas Av­enue in Kingston to the Busi­ness Re­source Cen­ter in the town of Ul­ster.

The county has come un­der in­tense pres­sure by the state Of­fice of Court Ad­min­is­tra­tion to up­grade its Fam­ily Court fa­cil­i­ties, which the state has called “wholly in­ad­e­quate.”

County lead­ers have said it would be more cost ef­fec­tive to move the court op­er­a­tions to the county-owned Busi­ness Re­source Cen­ter than to buy and ren­o­vate the Lu­cas Av­enue build­ing the county cur­rently leases for Fam­ily Court.

Mov­ing the fa­cil­i­ties out of the city, which is the county seat, can only be done with voter ap­proval.

On Wednes­day, Hepp­ner ques­tioned Ul­ster County Deputy Ex­ec­u­tive Robert Sud­low about a se­ries of seem­ingly in­con­sis­tent cost es­ti­mates for ren­o­vat­ing the Lu­cas Av­enue build­ing and mov­ing the op­er­a­tions to the Busi­ness Re­source Cen­ter.

One es­ti­mate, pre­pared by ar­chi­tect Scott Dut­ton for GD Realty, pre­pared in

June 2014, pegged the cost of ren­o­va­tions at roughly $3 mil­lion, while a study done for the county by an­other firm in 2015 put the costs of those ren­o­va­tions at $6 mil­lion, in­clud­ing the cost of pur­chas­ing the build­ing.

The same 2015 study es­ti­mated that mov­ing court op­er­a­tions to the Busi­ness Re­source Cen­ter would be about $5 mil­lion, while a study done in April 2016 by a third firm put those costs at roughly $9.987 mil­lion and an­other done a month later put the pro­jected cost, if con­struc­tion be­gan in 2018, at $10.43 mil­lion.

“So your own ex­pert said it would cost $6 mil­lion to stay at Lu­cas Av­enue?” asked Hepp­ner.

“At that point in time, that is cor­rect,” Sud­low said.

Un­der cross ex­am­i­na­tion, Sud­low said that in con­ver­sa­tions with the prop­erty owner, the county was in­formed that the cost to the county to pur­chase a ren­o­vated Lu­cas Av­enue fa­cil­ity would be closer to $8 mil­lion, which he said, didn’t in­clude the costs as­so­ci­ated with the needs for the third Fam­ily Court judge that was seated in Jan­uary 2016.

The build­ing was listed for sale on Oct. 5 for $2.5 mil­lion.

Sut­ton, who was also called to tes­tify Wednes­day, said he worked closely with the state Of­fice of Court Ad­min­is­tra­tion in de­sign­ing ren­o­va­tions for the Lu­cas Av­enue build­ing.

He said the cost es­ti­mate did in­clude the third court­room, but did not con­sider the costs as­so­ci­ated with pay­ing pre­vail­ing wage.

In oral ar­gu­ments be­fore the judge, Hepp­ner said the county had done noth­ing to sup­port its claims that fam­i­lies would be bet­ter served, that prop­erty taxes would be low­ered or that the Busi­ness Re­source Cen­ter was a “more suit­able” lo­ca­tion. He called on Judge Hart­man to force the county to change the bal­lot lan­guage, say­ing that vot­ers de­serve the op­por­tu­nity to de­cide with­out be­ing swayed.

Cook ar­gued that much of Wednes­day’s tes­ti­mony was “a smoke­screen” to de­flect at­ten­tion from the is­sues. He said the county spent two years study­ing the var­i­ous op­tions for court fa­cil­i­ties and said the lan­guage ap­proved by the Leg­is­la­ture gives the pub­lic “the best op­por­tu­nity to know the con­se­quences of their vote.”

Judge Hart­man is ex­pected to rule this week on the bal­lot lan­guage.

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