Clarkstown board meeting erupts into show down over Middlewood

Hoehmann and Borelli take on Lasker, Hausner, and Gromack; accuse them of holding secret meetings

By Maria Mirakaj Brownsell

At Clarkstown’s town board meeting on Tuesday night, GOP board members George Hoehmann and Frank Borelli found themselves dramatically at odds with Democratic Supervisor Alex Gromack and Dem council members Stephanie Hausner and Shirley Lasker.

Everything seemed to be moving smoothly Tuesday night, right until the end of the meeting when Councilwoman Hausner proposed to add a resolution that would set May 19 as a workshop meeting at Middlewood Senior facility, with the top bidder, Wilder and Balter, holding a discussion with residents about what would happen if the property were to be sold.

This sparked some extremely heated discussion from the board. Hausner may or may not have anticipated this with her proposal, but ultimately an hour a half fight broke out between board members.

Councilman George Hoehmann was first to speak out. He said the town should have a public meeting to discuss the sale of Middlewood.

“I’m not in favor of the sale of Middlewood,” said Hoehmann. “It’s a bad business decision. We’ve never been presented with other options.” He wants comptroller Ed Duer to compile an analysis of the numbers associated with the sale versus a partial sale versus keeping the property.

Councilman Frank Borelli agreed with Hoehmann, wanting to explore more options. Hoehmann said there have been small secret meetings that he wasn’t invited to with just Supervisor Alexander Gromack, Councilwoman Shirley Lasker, and Hausner.

He asked Mele if this is legal, but wasn’t given much of a response. He stressed that he was under the impression that there would be a discussion before making any decisions.

“I want to make sure we are not just selling an asset to plug a budget deficit,” said Hoehmann.

Lasker asked why Hoehmann voted on the resolution to bring in the realtors. Borelli said they were very clear when they voted that there would be a public discussion.

Gromack denied any private meetings, though other board members acknowledged being to at least one and a member of the public talked about one he attended.

“All this was is testing the market,” said Gromack. He said that there were a few stipulations to the sale including that Middlewood would stay senior housing, all seniors currently there would stay, rents wouldn’t change, and the town would have the right to first refusal. Twenty-seven companies expressed interest in the sale, and it was then narrowed to 12, out of which the town board interviewed the top five contenders as chosen by the firm Marcus and Millichap.

“There’s a feeding frenzy to purchase this place!” said Hoehmann. “It’s a money generating asset.” He over and over again stressed that the three different options of keeping, partially selling, and fully selling need to be looked into.

Hausner said she has done research personally into some of the other options. She said until they have a potential buyer, they can’t answer all the questions about what they would want to do with the property.

Before the public meeting, the board members went into executive session where they met with the firm Wilder and Balter. This firm was agreed to be the top contender by all five board members previously, but with no commitments.

“You have lied Councilman Hoehmann!” yelled Lasker about him not agreeing about the bidders. “After you didn’t show up to executive session!”

“This is a bait and switch! I said ahead of time I couldn’t be there on time, if at all,” said Hoehmann.

“No you are doing the bait and switch,” retorted Lasker. Gromack chimed in and pretty quickly Lasker, Gromack, Hoehmann and Borelli were all screaming over one another. Gromack referred to the fighting between Republicans versus Democrats on the board.

Hoehmann asked Gromack for a good reason as to why Middlewood should be sold from a business point of view. Gromack went on to explain how the seniors would get improvements to their complex, that they wouldn’t have rent changes, etc. but not how this will be a smart business decision. He said the town would receive between $11 and 13 million for the sale, but made no mention as to how much money they make per year if they kept the property.

Gromack said they could have Marcus and Millichap analyze the different options, but Hoehmann pointed out that the firm receives 4 percent of the sale, making their opinion slanted. They are a company that specializes in direct sale. He said he met with an HUD consultant in NYC two weeks ago who agreed this wouldn’t be a good financial decision.

“There are lots of rumors. Seniors are getting misinformation or wrong information,” said Lasker. “Their quality of life will be improved. It’s not only a good deal for the seniors, but also a good deal for us.

“I’m worried,” said Agnes Seal, a resident at Middlewood. “What’s scaring me is what we’re not hearing. You tell us you have not decided to sell but clearly you have decided. I don’t quite believe everything. People on the board do not listen to what each other are saying, they just want to say what they are saying.

“How did get from ‘we haven’t made a decision,’ to ‘we have a chosen one?’” said Stephen Levine of Congers.

“Supervisor Gromack, 18 times you’ve said, no decision has been made. Well, it’s clear that is where we are headed,” said Ralph Sabatini.

“What’s the rush with Middlewood? It’s bringing in a positive cash flow,” added Joe Ciardullo.

It was agreed to have two workshop meetings, where they first part of the meeting would include a financial analysis of the three options for Middlewood, then have Wilder and Balter there to answer questions for the seniors. The first would be at the regular scheduled meeting, and the second would be at Middlewood.

“Please do not sell Middlewood,” pleaded Agnes.