A vocal opponent of the relocation of the Jan Peek House homeless shelter in Peekskill has requested the city’s Board of Ethics review the roles of two appointed city officials with the controversial $1.5 million project.
Lindsey Fitzgerald, who is spearheading the community established group Peekskill Safe and Strong, asked the Board of Ethics in a February 14 letter to determine whether Planning Commission Vice Chair Ruth Wells and Cynthia Knox, executive director of Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill (CHHOP, the non-profit organization that runs the shelter), who also is a member of the Board of Ethics and Peekskill Housing Authority, violated the city’s Code of Ethics and Standard of Conduct.
Fitzgerald stated in her correspondence, in an August 8 submission to the city’s Building Department for the project at 851 Washington Street, where the only shelter in northern Westchester is proposed to move from North Water Street, Wells signed the documents as owner of the building, and Knox notarized them. In fact, Fitzgerald stated, city tax rolls show the building at 851 Washington Street is owned by Lorraine J. Portman.
“Ms. Wells and Ms. Knox are both city officials in their appointed roles, and Ms. Wells is also representing someone other than herself in these documents,” Fitzgerald stated. “Her influential role on the Planning Commission also may give this preference or give the appearance of preference. The Planning Commission is integral in the Building Department process and will have to take official action on this agreement.”
According to the Code of Ethics, “A City official or employee shall not, with or without compensation, represent, directly or indirectly, any person in connection with any transaction or contract before any City body or court.”
On January 18, CHHOP officially filed for a zoning text amendment with Peekskill to relocate the Jan Peek House Shelter. If a special use permit is approved by the Common Council, the zoning law change would apply to all districts in the city, thus allowing shelters in any C-3 zones. Separate approvals would be needed from the city’s planning and zoning boards.
The Jan Peek Shelter, the only year-round, 24-hour shelter for homeless adults in northern Westchester, has been open on the banks of the Hudson River since 1988. In September, Knox said her organization did an extensive search and settled on 851 Washington Street since it can be renovated to serve its needs and is close to a bus stop. The building on Washington Street was purchased by CHHOP for about $900,000 and is in dire need of expensive repairs.
Knox and Fitzgerald have been sparring on Facebook, with Knox recently addressing last week’s Common Council meeting.
“To the Peekskill Community: As many of you may be aware, the level of divisive and uncivil discourse about the relocation of the Jan Peek House has reached an unparalleled level of vitriol and personal attacks. At Monday’s Common Council meeting, numerous personal attacks, including spurious allegations of ethics violations against CHHOP Board member Ruth Wells, and me, were made by Lindsey Fitzgerald to a cheering crowd of relocation opponents. It saddens me deeply that some opponents of the relocation appear to thrive on attacks and vitriol,” Knox stated.
“We know that not everyone who has concerns or opposes the relocation is motivated by animus. We thank the members of the community, supporters, opponents, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and Socialists, who are sincerely interested in helping us ensure the safety and security of all residents, including those who are hungry and without homes,” Knox added.
Fitzgerald stated she has tried to meet with Knox and other CHHOP members since last September without success.
“At the City Council meeting yesterday, it seems clear that the City of Peekskill is not interested in collaborating and the history of responses I have from CHHOP show the same pattern,” Fitzgerald stated on Facebook. “It seems the only way the City will help is if there is an official vote. Even with that, I am still suggesting that it would be a good idea to work together. Members of the community, including myself, continue to be frustrated with the lack of openness and collaboration would help with those frustrations. Should you change your mind, you have my contact information. I look forward to hearing from you.”
Knox responded, “From the outset, you have made it abundantly clear that you are unable or unwilling to engage in genuine dialogue and collaboration. Any successful collaboration or negotiation rests upon a foundation of trust and mutual respect. Through your actions, you have repeatedly demonstrated a complete lack of respect for me, the CHHOP Board, and, most importantly, those whom we serve. Many of your most egregious misrepresentations have been made on social media, put forth at Peekskill Common Council Meetings, and parroted by your followers.”
More than 200 people showed up at a fundraiser last Thursday in Peekskill to benefit Peekskill Safe and Strong. Fitzgerald said the funds would be used to retain legal counsel.
“It’s a tell-tale sign that it’s the city’s biggest and most important issue for people from all of Peekskill,” she said of the turnout at the fundraiser. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. So far it feels like it’s been a done deal.”