Our next question is...was an attorney retained by the school to review these documents and provide guidance to school authorities and the school board?
We didn't have to look very far to find out the answer to our question...the answer is at the bottom of the last page of the Option to Purchase. It says:
L:\AGHALLAKWew Hartford Central School\Option to Purchase -Ashford -NH- 12-27-2010.wpd (revised 1/25/2011)Obviously, the Option to Purchase is a document from the computer of Attorney Hallak of the Felt Evans Law firm; the same attorney that was noted on records for the George Ave vacant land purchase by Ashford-Clinton Corp. George Ave is one of the properties currently being proposed for purchase by New Hartford Central School on May 15, 2012.
According to information we received, Attorney Hallak was involved with another purchase made by Ashford-Clinton Corp...8 Daly Place.
At the time of the sale of 8 Daly Place to Ashford-Clinton Corp. in 2005, it was rumored that the property was being bought by someone who was going to donate it to the school and that Attorney Hallak took part in negotiating the purchase of the property for Ms. Romano.
We cannot confirm or deny that fact without another trip to Oneida County to search the records, but we do have a copy of the August 9, 2005 New Hartford Central School Board minutes that say on page 5:
EXECUTIVE SESSIONSince the only property the school was looking to purchase in 2005 was 8 Daly Place, it would seem to confirm the fact that Attorney Hallak was involved in the purchase by the school about a month AFTER Ashford-Clinton Corp. bought the property. Now why would the school be discussing the purchase of that property in August and put up a referendum to pay up to $95,000 in December when they could have bought it in July for under $60,000?
Mrs. Ksiadz moved Mr. Shaheen seconded, that the Board go into Executive Session for the purpose of negotiations, acquisition of real property and specific persons at 7:34 p.m. with Attorney Hallak in attendance.
Ayes 6, nays 0, motion carried.
According to an October 5, 2005 article in the Observer Dispatch:
"We won't spend that much, but we have to allow for that to be spent in case there are extra costs," Superintendent Daniel Gilligan said."What extra costs? The house was already demolished by the time the school held a vote to purchase the property...the school actually only bought a vacant piece of property in January 2006. The town's assessment database clearly identifies the purchase as vacant land.
According to Board Member Calli in that same article:
The amount spent on the purchase will be taken from the district's reserve fund, Calli said.Now where have we heard that same story recently? Oh, $300,000 for the purchase of 29 Oxford Road and George Ave is going to be taken out of reserve funds...as soon as the voters approve it.
Here is the timeline of the purchase of 8 Daly Place:
- July 5, 2005 - Ashford-Clinton [Ms. Romano] bought property on 8 Daly Place to include a house in need of major repair and a lot [60 ft. by 133 ft.] for $57,835.
- Sept. 30, 2005 – Press Release by NHCS regarding possible purchase of 8 Daly Place
- Oct. 5, 2005 – News article regarding school board approval of purchasing 8 Daly Place with referendum scheduled for December 13 for approval of the purchase.
- Dec. 5, 2005 – Article in Observer Dispatch…NH land acquisition discussion set…We learn that it is only land that is being purchased because the house has already been demolished. Again, they reiterate:
"District leaders have said the funds to purchase the property will come from its undesignated fund balance from the 2004-05 school budget and won't impact the 2005-06 school tax rate."
- Dec. 7, 2005 – Public hearing held on the purchase of 8 Daly Place. Robert Nole tells the attendees that it will cost $64,000 plus an additional $15,500 for demolition costs and asbestos removal, for a total cost of $79,500.
- Supervisor Dan Gilligan confirms at the Dec. 7, 2005 Public Hearing that the house has already been demolished and a neighbor confirms that he watched as the building was torn down.
- Dec. 14, 2005 – Voters overwhelming approved the purchase.
- Jan. 2006 - According to documents we obtained from FOIL, Ashford-Clinton [Ms. Romano] sold the property to New Hartford Central School for $76,130.
6. Superintendent Bathke notified the owners of 8 Daly Place, Ashford-Clinton Corp., that the contractors (Two Brothers) for the demolition of 8 Daley Place, are required to give us certification of the completed work. They have not responded to date. The Village was unaware of the demolition until its completion and the Village needs to verify the sewer lateral was properly capped and measurements of its location mapped.Now why wouldn't Ms. Romano, an attorney, make sure that she obtained all the necessary permits; particularly since it was apparent that they knew there was asbestos in the building? We would like to believe that Two Brothers [who according to their website, "is a licensed General Contractor, Demolition and Environmental Management contractor"] would have made sure that all necessary permits for the demolition were obtained before the work was started.
Apparently, that was not the case. According to page 4 of the January 9, 2006 Village Board minutes, Ms. Romano obtained a demolition permit...AFTER the house with known asbestos problems was already demolished.
In essence, the voters approved paying up to $95,000 to purchase a piece of vacant property that isn't even a buildable lot by today's standards, yet Robert Nole stated at the hearing that the total cost was going to be $79,500; $64,000 for the property and $15,500 for demolition costs and asbestos removal. Why were voters even asked to approve the additional $20,000?
Obviously, the school knew there was asbestos that would have to be disclosed to the NYS Education Commission prior to their purchase; so did Ms. Romano step in to buy the house and have it demolished before the school bought the property thus eliminating the need to contact the NYS Education Commissioner? That's what it appears...
Did the school get an actual appraisal before deciding to purchase the property or did they use another two (2) year old broker's opinion? Would the outcome of the vote to approve $95,000 for a vacant lot have been different if all the facts were known prior to the vote?
We will leave you with this...some of the people involved with the purchase of 8 Daly Place are also involved with the purchase of 29 Oxford Road and George Ave.
However, Robert Nole is now District Superintendent, replacing Dan Gilligan who retired and left the area.
Most of the board members in 2005 are no longer on the school board, but George Shaheen has hopes of being re-elected next week at the May 15th budget vote. Lisa Philipson, who wasn't on the board in 2005, but is an incumbant and was involved in the two (2) current purchase propositions, also hopes to regain her seat on the school board on May 15th.
Perhaps it might be worth noting an old adage...Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!!
To be continued...
As we always do, we will be making a spreadsheet of all residential properties available to assist those who wish to grieve their assessment. It should be online by Saturday, May 12, 2012.
Grievance Day is Tuesday, May 22, 2012.