ELIZABETHTOWN — The Board of Supervisors filed into their chambers at the Government Center on Tuesday, June 3 after leaving an 87-year-old man to wait on a hard wooden bench for nearly an hour before telling him that they were officially rejecting his winning bid for the former Frontier Town property in North Hudson.
The four remaining parcels, which George Moore offered $49,500 for at a competitive auction that was advertised for months, would have completed his empire.
After the announcement, the man’s lawyer ushered him outside.
George Moore sighed:
“Are we dead?” he asked his lawyer, Andrew Russell.
“They won this round,” said Russell. “But until the deed is signed, we’re not dead.”
While Essex County has argued that they had the right to reject any bids at the auction to sell off tax-delinquent properties on April 30 — they rejected Moore’s bid of $49,500 on the grounds that it did not meet the minimum reserve on taxes owed before voting to kick it over to North Hudson for $60,000 — Moore’s legal team is claiming that they were not informed of a minimum reserve, either verbally or in written materials.
The Valley News reviewed the legal materials provided by the firm that brokered the auction and did not see any indication of a reserve.
George Moore later upped his bid to $65,000, $5,000 more than North Hudson’s bid, but supervisors still voted June 3 to accept the bid made by North Hudson Supervisor Ronald Moore on behalf of his town.
“It’s just wrong,” said Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, who voted against the handover. “The bottom line is that you better have good reason why you reject the bid. This wasn’t a good reason.”
Ronald Moore (no relation to George) told county officials that his town’s economy was crippled by the large amounts of state-owned land that prohibited economic development. The parcels, he said, would act as a much-needed lifeline.
Joining Scozzafava in voting against what many perceived as a backhanded deal between the board and the North Hudson leader was Gerald Morrow (Chesterfield), David Blades (Lewis), Mike Marnell (Schroon Lake), Bill Grinnel (Ticonderoga) and Dan Connell (Westport).
North Hudson will hold a town meeting on Thursday, June 12. There, the town board will officially vote to purchase the parcels for $60,000, cash that will come from the town’s general fund.
Town residents have a say. They can file a petition requesting a permissive referendum to allow a vote to determine if they want the parcels or not.
Sindy Brazee, a North Hudson resident who is suing Essex County for ownership of a pair of properties on the Frontier Town lot under a claim of adverse possession, said local residents are “petrified” of going on record against the town’s desire to acquire the properties.
“They go after you with code enforcements,” she told the Valley News. “They’re terrified of speaking out. If your assessment goes up, you can’t fight it because they stack the code board.”
TO THE COURTS
Russell has indicated that he will sue the county on behalf of his client.
Last month, County Attorney Daniel Manning acknowledged that the two parties were in the early stages of litigation and the 55-minute private discussion in the middle of a public meeting last week was designed for him to give legal advice to the board of supervisors, who are technically his clients.
That private meeting was exempted from the provisions of the open meetings law that seeks transparency in government affairs.
Despite what happens, a lawsuit on behalf of George Moore would mark another black spot on the tiny town’s record.
The county is currently in litigation with Brazee over adverse possession rights. The town of North Hudson is locked in combat with elected assessor Bruce Caza over a residency issue.
“So many people have contacted me who are against the sale,” said Russell. “The board is doing this based on speculation — that’s the scary part. It shows favoritism. And the taxpayers are losing.”
“I firmly believe this land acquisition offers all of those opportunities for economic growth to the town,” said Ron Moore. “I believe that both the town and the county will eventually benefit from this. If I was not convinced that this was in the best interest of the town of North Hudson, I would have never considered it.”