A law in the Town of Kent meant to severely curb concrete plants was struck down by a New York State Supreme Court judge earlier this month after it was ruled a conflict of interest occurred on the town board.
Justice Victor Grossman in his Feb. 8 ruling stated that Supervisor Maureen Fleming, who had recused herself from any decision regarding the legislation, did not entirely remove herself from the work leading up to the creation of the law, which marred the entire process. The law, which was passed 4-0, would prohibit the production of
concrete, the operation of a concrete products plant, or the manufacture in any form of concrete in town except in the Industrial-Office-Commercial District. Any business currently and lawfully producing concrete prior to the law being passed would have two years to cease its business, according to the proposal.
The law, passed in 2017, put the Kent town board at odds with an unpopular business in town, Titan Concrete on Route 52, because it would effectively put Titan out of business at that location. Titan sued the town as a result. Because Fleming is part of a neighborhood association, Hill and Dale, which is suing the town in another lawsuit over a zoning board of appeals ruling that gave Titan the OK to operate, she did not cast a vote on the law, but Grossman ruled she was too involved regardless.
“In light of the fact that Supervisor Fleming did not properly and completely recuse herself from any discussion with respect Local Law No. 4, the Court finds that the entre process was tainted, rendering Local Law No. 4 invalid,” Grossman stated.
Grossman, a Putnam resident and even a former chairman of the county Democratic committee, spent much of his ruling pointing out ways Fleming, a Democrat, failed to separate herself from the process.
Grossman stated Fleming engaged with residents during public meetings and voted on aspects of the law, including referring it to the planning board and adding it to the agenda. Fleming also mentioned that she spoke with residents outside of formal meetings about the law and was in several executive sessions where the Hill and Dale lawsuit against the ZBA could’ve been discussed.
“Her mere presence, in front of her neighbors and the public, where it was well known that her homeowner association’s lawsuit was pending, could have influenced her fellow Town Board members,” Grossman stated. “And even if it did not, it had the appearance of doing so.”
Grossman stated there was no evidence that Fleming sought an opinion from a local board of ethics about how she should handle herself with regards to the law on banning concrete plants in most of town.
Fleming declined comment because of her recusal regarding the concrete law.
The attorney representing the town, Mark Radi, said the town has filed a notice of appeal in hopes of getting the ruling overturned.
“We disagree with the decision,” Radi said. “The town is considering all other available options that they might have.”
Councilman Paul Denbaum, who spearheaded the now-defunct law as a result of Titan Concrete’s strained relationship with nearby residents, said it was unfortunate after all the work the town board did to pass “this important piece of legislation,” that Fleming’s actions have caused the law to be invalidated. Denbaum, who is an attorney, said anytime he has had a conflict of interest in front of the town board, he has totally recused himself, including, but not limited to, not joining executive sessions on the topic.
“I won’t speak for Maureen or how she views her conduct on this matter, but it not is how I would have proceeded,” Denbaum stated. “This decision did reach the merits of the law, and I’m confident that if, or when it is judged on its merits it will be declared proper.”