Opponents of court move press for probe
Parete, Donaldson allege pertinent information was withheld before vote
Ulster County lawmakers are being asked to initiate an investigation into whether information was withheld from the Legislature and county residents in advance of the Nov. 8 public vote that approved relocating the county’s Family Court.
Legislators John Parete and David Donaldson, vocal opponents of the move, contend an existing plan for renovating the current court, which is in a leased building on Lucas Avenue in Uptown Kingston, should have been made available to lawmakers and the public.
“In Supreme Court of New York state, we found out that, in August of 2015, there was a fullblown plan to renovate the existing facility,” said Parete, DBoiceville.
“I don’t know if it was a good plan or a bad plan,” he said. “I didn’t know about it. I, at the time was, the [Legislature] chair. I haven’t found one legislator who said [they] knew about it.”
Parete and Donaldson, D-Kingston, filed an unsuccessful lawsuit earlier this year in state Supreme Court against County Executive Michael Hein, Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk, R-Wallkill, Legislature Clerk Victoria Fabella and the county’s elections commissioners, seeking to have “more neutral” language used in the proposition.
The judge who ruled against Parete and Donaldson said the ballot language, which cast the relocation
in a positive light, was “leading” but not “misleading.”
County residents ultimately voted 46,078 to 18,304 in favor of moving the court from the leased building in Kingston to the county-owned Business Resource Center in the neighboring town of Ulster. The vote was required because state law says the public must approve a county court moving out of the county seat, in this case Kingston.
County Legislator Peter Loughran said he was told a renovation plan for the Lucas Avenue building “was put together by the owner of the building and
“I understand [the late] Abel Garraghan asked the architect to put together the plan,” the Kingston Democrat said. “It was up to the owner of the building to inform us or anybody else if he intended to make that offer. It wasn’t up to anybody in Ulster County government to inform us; it would have been up to the owner of the building. The owner of the building did not do that.”
Deputy County Executive Robert Sudlow also has said that plan never was provided to the county, but Parete contends the Hein administration was aware of the plan and tried
to bury it.
In 2014, Sudlow told county lawmakers the building’s owner had developed a $7 million renovation plan, though that number was changed to $6 million — including the purchase of the building — in 2015. In 2016, the idea of renovating the building was no longer being presented by the Hein administration as an option.
The proposed relocation of Family Court was the result of longtime pressure from the state Office of Court Administration for Ulster County to improve what the state office called a “wholly inadequate” facility.
The Ulster County Family Court building is on Lucas Avenue in Uptown Kingston.