The City of New Rochelle announced this week the members of the Iona College planning committee. The announcement comes less than a month after the City announced its "planning framework" for student housing under which a committee would be selected in September but would not issue any public statements until February 2012, well after the upcoming City Council election on November 8th, 2011.
In early September, the City of New Rochelle announced its intention to create a committee consisting of 12 voting members and 3 voting members where City Manager Charles B. Strome picks 7 voting members and Iona College President Joseph E. Nyre picks 5 voting members. The 3 non-voting members including a Chairperson selected by the City Manager and City Council Members from District Three (Jared Rice-D)and Five (Barry Fertel-D).
Final recommendations of the Committee will require the approval of two-thirds (8) of its voting members.
Mayor Noam Bramson is the de facto head of the Democratic party in New Rochelle and controls the City Council. The City Manager serves at the pleasure of the City Council. Department heads serve at the pleasure of the City Manager. In other words, Noam Bramson effectively controls all three non-voting members including the Chairperson who sets the discussion agenda for all meetings and controls the two voting members who are municipal employees and the five voting members from the neighborhood associations.
The City Council consists of 4 Democrats and 3 Republicans but no Republicans from the City Council are on the committee.
President Nyre controls the 5 voting members from Iona College.
A search of public records shows that of the 5 voting members appointed by the City Manager as neighborhood representatives, the lone Republican, Robert Kelly (Beechmont Neighborhood Association), is a Bramson donor who has contributed $750 to the Mayor over the past 5 years.
The rest are Democrats or not registered with a party; the two Democrats are also Bramson donors.
Madeleine Peters (Greater Mount Joy Neighborhood Association) is a Democrat and Bramson donor who contributed $400 to the Mayor over the past 5 years.
Sara Dodds-Brown (Rochelle Heights Neighborhood Association) is a Democrat and Bramson donor who contributed $1,050 to the Mayor over the past 5 years.
Nick Williams (Halcyon Park Neighborhood Association) is not registered with a political party or listed as a Bramson donor.
Naomi Towers (Mount Joy Neighborhood Association) is not listed as a registered voter or listed as a Bramson donor in records reviewed by Talk of the Sound. If readers have information which might explain why she does not appear to be a registered voter in New Rochelle please let us know in the comments below (perhaps she uses another name?)
Noticeably absent from the Committee are two of the most vocal critics of the Iona Dorm proposal for Mayflower Avenue: Greg Varian and Bob McCaffrey. The first precondition for membership on the committee was to agree to "accept and not debate the goal or necessity of securing additional student housing."
Given that the Mayor controls a block of 7 votes on the committee and the chairperson and the 2 non-voting members and President Nyre controls a block of 5 that can prevent the Mayor from achieving the required two-thirds majority the entire exercise will likely come down to Mayor Bramson (assuming he is re-elected in November) and President Nyre negotiating a deal and instructing their block to vote for it -- once again creating the illusion of community input in New Rochelle while a few key figures engage in kitchen table negotiations to decide the fate of the City out of public view.
If Bramson and Nyre are not able to reach agreement, then Nyre will be free to simply proceed "by right" to build the dorm. This would occur after the 2011 election which suits Bramson's interest to take the issue of the table going into the November election contest.
The City's ability to threaten Iona College over its ongoing code violations diminishes with each passing day as they are tacitly accepting the higher occupancy rates in the existing three dorms. The longer the City fails to enforce the municipal code despite knowing of the violations the less likely the City will be to prevail if the matter goes to court.
The attempt to link the legal occupancy rates to New York State Dormitory Authority’s College and University Residence Hall Design Guidelines and/or relevant State building codes is a red-herring. Talk of the Sound recently confirmed there has been no communication between the New York State Dormitory Authority and Iona College since January 1, 2009. The New York State Dormitory Authority made clear in its response to a Freedom of Information request by Talk of the Sound that there is no reason for the State to have been involved in any way with any of the existing or planned Iona College dorms:
The Dormitory Authority searched its files for records that would satisfy your request and has determined that this is not a Dormitory Authority construction project. Iona is a private not-for-profit college and we would not have provided any construction services.
If Mayor Bramson, City Manager Strome, President Nyre and those involved in this committee want to keep holding up the New York State Dormitory Authority as a source of "guidance" on building codes for dormitories perhaps they should first demonstrate that they have been in communication with the New York State Dormitory Authority recently, know what the "College and University Residence Hall Design Guidelines" say, how that applies to Iona College, why it is relevant for dorms already constructed and what applying these new standards to Iona College will mean for the College of New Rochelle, Monroe College or any other post-secondary institution which may operate own or operate dorms in New Rochelle.
New York State Election Contribution filings for Neighborhood Representatives selected for Iona Dorm Committee.
Sara Dodds / 60 The Boulevard & 11 Slocum Street
Bob Kelly (Robert H.) / 96 Pryer Terrace
Madeline Peters / 112 Chauncey Avenue
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