Tuesday, April 14, 2015
The town board is paying a Washington, D.C. public relations firm $25,000 to handle questions surrounding the controversial Chestnut Ridge housing complex and local lawyer Gary Greenwald is challenging the move.
In an exchange of letters with town supervisor Bill Herrmann, Greenwald, a Mamakating resident, called the unanimous decision a month ago by the town board to hire West End Strategy Team a waste of money. Greenwald said was improperly approved without prior public notice or a public hearing.
"It makes no sense to me," Greenwald said Monday. "It's absolutely unprecedented."
Greenwald complained about the hiring in a letter to Herrmann, questioning why it was necessary "to hire a press agent and what specific job is expected to be performed so that the community can comment on it."
In a written response to Greenwald, Herrmann said a public relations expense was not subject to bid but was rather "a one-time expense recommended by our attorneys as part of a legal support strategy."
Herrmann also said no public hearing was required, while noting the resolution was passed unanimously.
The town hired the firm, Herrmann said in the letter because a "certain plaintiff" and their associates "regularly make statements that the town's conduct is motivated by anti-Semitic animus and has publicized those false claims in the media."
The town and village of Bloomingburg has been sued in federal court by supporters of developer Shalom Lamm's attempt to build the 396-unit Chestnut Ridge housing complex. The project has been marketed to Hasidic Jews. The suit alleges the town and the village's opposition to the development has been motivated by anti-Semitic bias, a charge the communities have strongly denied.
Greenwald subsequently wrote back to Herrmann, saying that most of his letter was "simply puff."
"More to the point," he wrote, "what are these individuals going to do with you on the town board that you cannot do, and, secondly, why can't you do it?"
The website for West End Strategy Team describes itself as understanding "what our clients want to achieve and we create strategies to produce results that matter."
The firm accomplishes these results, through "our strong ties to journalists and our knowledge of the media landscape."
The firm's clients include Amnesty International, the American Council for World Jewry and Physicians for Human Rights.
Herrmann did not return several requests for comment on Monday. But Samantha Friedman, a managing director of the PR firm, did.
Friedman said Monday she was not a spokesperson. She was, instead, "helping them."
"We are not the story. It's about a way of finding ways to communicate a town transformed by others."
She forwarded two prepared comments attributed to Herrmann which repeated his arguments to Greenwald.
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