Feb. 25, 2009: Conflict of interest for planning post

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To The Editor:
It was with great interest that I read the February 11 edition of the Catskill Mountain News. I refer to the article referring to the Middletown Planning Board applicants. It was refreshing to note the interest in our community for a planning board position. However, as I scanned the prospective candidate list, Kate VanBenschoten’s name was listed as a prospective candidate.
VanBenschoten has a serious “conflict of interest” dilemma. Both she and an immediate family member are employed by a local prominent insurance provider. This agency, by their own admission, provides some, if not all, coverage to Crossroads Ventures LLC and its subsidiaries. Also, her other immediate family member is employed by Crossroads Ventures LLC as its media spokesperson.
NYS Town Law is very specific regarding “conflict of interest” and the “appearance” of a conflict of interest issues. Town law sternly advises against even the “appearance” on any and all municipal boards and committees. There are numerous NYS Attorney General Opinions that support this town law. The Town of Middletown’s Code of Ethics should also address this same issue. I make no accusation of “conflict” but surely, given the accompanying circumstances anyone can see the “appearance” aspect of this issue.
It needs to be pointed out that the Crossroads Ventures Project will be the single largest project to ever be reviewed by the Middletown Planning Board. We hope that this project can stand on its merits and would not need a “ringer” on the planning board. In discussions regarding this issue it was stated that it could be years before this project reaches planning board review. A planning board appointment is for a duration of seven years. For the sake of all the affected communities one would hope that a final decision is reached well before this appointment expires.
In closing, I can state for the record that Crossroads must be given credit for the following: it has divided and pitted neighbor against neighbor in all our communities! We can only hope that someday these wounds can be healed.

Jerry Fairbairn,
Supervisor, Town of Hardenburgh

Editor’s note: The signature attached to a letter in last week’s paper by Jerry Fairbairn was incorrectly attributed to Mr. Fairbairn as Supervisor of the Town of Hardenburgh, rather than Mr. Fairbairn, who is also a private citizen and a resident of the Millbrook Valley. In the letter Mr. Fairbairn was expressing a private opinion, not the opinion of the Supervisor of the Town of Hardenburgh.