BY MICHELE JUSTIC
“So, you want to save your park? That’s nice but it doesn’t really affect us.” This statement has been repeated by hundreds of Five Towners over the past month. Needing to explain that this is not merely a NIMBY issue is standard procedure. The potential rise in traffic and crime and decrease in home values would affect everyone in town. But what is startling is the growing number of legal questions involved. This should have been a basic matter: the school board received many bids, they pick the top or second highest bid, they put the issue to vote, and let the populace decide. As American as apple pie.
From the beginning, this issue has been shrouded in secrecy, rumors, questionable involvements, and conflicts of interest. It began with the president of the school board, Asher Mansdorf, being friends with the attorney for Simone, Ben Weinstock. Ok, friends often do business together and there’s nothing wrong with that. Secondly, Ben Weinstock is also deputy mayor of Cedarhurst. Well, in small town politics, people often hold dual roles so that shouldn’t be an issue. Except for the fact that Cedarhurst businesses and organizations expressed fear at coming out publicly against the Simone deal for fear of being denied permits etc. Whether this fear was warranted or not, I believe in the interest of fairness, Mr. Weinstock should have resigned from his position as deputy mayor, at least for a designated period. But again, we are still in the realm of normal, small town politics.
Then commenced a number of legal rights turned into legal fights. The voting times, locations, and whether poll watchers were allowed are all taken for granted in previous elections but became matters of back and forth between attorneys to finally grant the voters their legal rights to a fair election within a reasonable timeframe and convenient locations. Why the struggle?
Some issues were never fairly resolved. The Community Coalition of the Five Towns had been previously informed that the election had to be held on March 20 due to certain contract stipulations. Basically, the conflict with Pesach prep was a regrettable but unavoidable fact. But it turns out that according to the recently released contract, the vote could have been held as late as April 12. Enquiring minds would like to know: was this vote purposely scheduled at the most inconvenient time possible?
Even the matter of basic communications and publicity was handled in an odd way. The district clerk never had any intention of sending out postcards informing residents of the election information. They intended to rely on posted legal notices. Who reads legal notices? I never did but I guess I should. Who knows what important information can slide under our radar in legal notices? Even after voting hours and locations changed, no notice was posted. In fact, the information was posted on Simone’s Number Six Referendum website before it was posted on Lawrence.org, or before the CC5T was notified. It concerns me that had it not been for a few erudite citizens who made this issue public, no one would have even known of any election or issues.
After scaling those obstacles, it seemed like fairly smooth sailing. Those advocating for “vote yes” as well as those advocating for “vote no” seemed to be handling their campaigns in a legitimate fashion. The CC5T held information sessions around town in addition to the usual print and social media. The Simone group held a Town Hall, a doctors’ meeting, and also made use of print and social media. Then suddenly, rumors flew everywhere, from trusted sources, and were publicized in trusted periodicals. Mt. Sinai pulling out? Simone pulling out? Election off? None of it turned out to be true. This is known as an old underhanded campaigning technique to diminish voter interest when all else fails.
The real hot potato came out only last week. The contract was actually released. The wording raises endless questions regarding Simone’s promise to pay taxes, the proposed timeline, exemptions, and even their involvement with Mt. Sinai. Mt. Sinai is not mentioned in the contract at all. Simone claims they would like to close entrances on Church Avenue and Ibsen Street but cannot promise it.
Simone is allowed to conduct environmental tests on the property and if remediation costs over $100,000, Simone can back out. Anyone who knows this area knows the extensive hurricane damage to even a modest home can cost that amount, let alone a property of that size. The most troubling of all: the answer to the famous line, “Show me the money!”–There is none! Simone would be applying for tax benefits from the Industrial Development Agency of the Town of Hempstead. The sale would be on hold until that permission is granted, if it is granted. Then, they are entitled to appeal a few times and see if the results work in their favor. The school board is required to pay for upkeep of the property for at least two to three years while all this is taking place.
Many of the promises made in the Simone ads are not contained in the contract and are not legally enforceable. Simone could legally buy the property on the cheap, rezone, and resell. The images of a great medical facility in our midst would be a distant memory.
Not great for the town, the district, or anyone. How did this clunker make it through the gate? So little information was ever released by the school board that the information has been gathered piecemeal by a few intelligent citizens committed to preserving the community.
Many questions. Few answers. The only clear answer is to vote no on March 20. If you would like to work on resolutions for the future, visit www.cc5t.org. v