Councilor Eddington makes a surprising admission while residents are accused by one Councilor of spreading “conspiracy theories” regarding the Foundry cleanup.
The January 4th City Council Meeting’s public comment segment, which included statements by three Geneva residents including a mother of three who lives in the contamination area, was covered in the following Friday’s Finger Lakes Times with a front page, above-the-fold headline in all capital letters (“SPEAKERS BASH CITY ON FOUNDRY ISSUE“). The headline prompted this comment from Geneva Believer reader Janice Loudon:
“I saw that headline and was taken aback. In all my time working for, and reading the Finger Lakes Times I have never seen such an emotionally charged presentation of an article. I think it really speaks to the management’s current leanings. And it is distressing to know that unless absolutely forced to report on something that may portray the city in a negative light, they will ignore issues of importance in our city. And when faced with them directly they will choose to attempt to sway public opinion.”
The headline may have simply been intended to drum up controversy and draw readers’ attention. Still, characterizing citizen engagement with City government on an emotionally charged issue as “bashing” the city is inaccurate and unfair. In addition, the article stated that “the criticism took place during a public comment period and was led by Jim Meaney, a city resident who is the author of a blog called “Geneva Believer.”” This is not just misleading but also untrue, as both of the women who spoke so eloquently about the issue did so because they felt strongly enough about the issue to speak, not because anyone “led” them to do so.
During the non-agenda-related public comment segment of the meeting, Geneva resident Antje Leo gave a poignant and powerful statement about her family’s life in Geneva and her concerns about the contamination issue. Without a transcript of the statement for reference, it’s impossible to provide a satisfactory summary of Leo’s comments. However, she expressed very clearly that she found it unacceptable for the City to push for completion of the vacant Foundry lot before the residential properties.
Next, I used my three minutes to offer a statement imploring the City to remediate the offsite properties prior to beginning any work on the vacant Foundry parcel(s). As noted in the recent correction published here, parts of my statement weren’t completely accurate, but I still used the opportunity to publicly address some of the most concerning aspects of the Foundry project.
Finally, Geneva resident Kathryn Haynes spoke, eloquently echoing the general message of the previous speakers, and pointedly questioning whether a similar situation arising in Ward 1 would have been handled differently.
When it was time for the ‘Mayor and Council Reports’ segment of the meeting, during which the Council and City Manager each provide monthly updates on various activities in their Wards and around City, some Councilors and the City Manager made surprising and unsettling statements in response to the three citizens’ public comments.
You Get What You Pay For?
Councilor Eddington utilized a portion of his Council Report statement to directly address me. In the past, I have seen Councilors directly address citizens during this segment of the meeting, and I’ve always found it awkward and unseemly, considering the fact that there is no opportunity for a citizen in attendance to respond to the Councilor’s comments.
Eddington stated that he did not read my “social media,” but had heard that he was referenced in a Geneva Believer article, and asked me to notify my readers of a specific detail regarding his work as a consultant for the City.
He wanted me to let readers know that he has done consulting work as a “volunteer” for the City, and does not get paid by the City for his services. Apparently, this arrangement was put in place after Eddington’s retirement as DPW director in 2011.
So, I will fulfill Councilor Eddington’s request:
Gordon Eddington is a volunteer consultant who has not been paid any money by the City of Geneva for his services since retiring in 2011.
With a looming multi-million dollar environmental cleanup of widespread contamination impacting hundreds of offsite properties, discovering that the City chose to have an unpaid volunteer leading the effort as their primarily liaison with the DEC is mind-boggling and distressing. It’s unclear whether Eddington was under contract as a consultant with an hourly rate of zero dollars, or if he was simply allowed to lead the project for the City as a citizen volunteer. It’s also perplexing to consider that Eddington felt that it was important that I bring this distinction to the attention of Geneva Believer readers, as if confirming his role as an altruistic “volunteer” for the City would help lessen any criticism of his handling of the Foundry issue.
If Eddington was not under contract to represent the City in talks with the DEC, who would be held accountable if Eddington were to fail to do the job properly? Why on earth would Eddington’s successors (Paul Cosentino from 2011-2014 and Mark Perry from 2014 to present) not be the primary contacts working with the DEC on this issue beginning on the day that Eddington retired, with Eddington providing support services as a “volunteer consultant”?
If Eddington wasn’t getting paid, Geneva residents should wonder if Eddington was sufficiently invested in the process, and motivated enough to keep the lines of communication open and to consistently follow up with the DEC on all matters.
An email exchange from 2015 provides an example of why assigning a “volunteer” to the Geneva Foundry issue may not have been an ideal course of action.
- On July 10, 2015, the DEC’s Jim Craft emailed Eddington about the Foundry issue, writing “Would you know if the City would be interested in the new ERP funding possibility? I’m developing a sampling plan and we have access to next-generation metal field analyzer that we’d like to try out for urban background and perhaps some yard comparisons. In that regard, would the City/you be able to secure yard access?”
- Twelve days later on July 22, 2015, Eddington replied “I met with Matt Horn (Geneva City Manager) last week. They definitely would be interested in the new ERP funding, let me know what’s needed on their part and I will get it to you. Once your sampling plan is set the City can definitely facilitate getting access to the yards for testing. Please let me know when you are ready to move forward.”
- On July 23rd, Craft responded with information on funding (recommending that Eddington check a website periodically for updates), on new testing technology, and on potential testing plans for properties. Craft asked Eddington to “discuss at your convenience” and “provide any input on the above.”
- On August 13th, after receiving no email reply from Eddington, Craft stated that he had started testing in accessible areas (parks, church yards, etc.) and provided some of those results.
- On September 4th, after receiving no email reply from Eddington, Craft offered more information on the preliminary testing.
- On September 11th, after receiving no email reply from Eddington, Craft provided a spreadsheet of data for samples collected in July/August 2015. Craft requested a meeting during the next week to discuss site issues.
- On September 18th, after receiving no email reply from Eddington, Craft emailed an urgent message to Eddington: “Given the year-end grant deadline, we need some feedback on sampling issues. Hopefully the City has started the process of seeking access from property owners. Can you confirm whether this is the case? And we should meet soon to discuss details; can you meet sometime next week?”
- Eddington finally responded on September 21st:
From: Gordon Eddington
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2015 10:21 AM
To: Craft, James H (DEC); David K. Meixell
Cc: Perretta, Anthony C (HEALTH); email@example.com; Sowers, Frank (DEC)
Subject: Re: Geneva Foundry – soil sampling
Sorry I haven’t been very responsive to your recent messages. Unfortunately personal obligations have been taking most of my available time. I appreciate the work that you have been doing on the residential properties. I have asked the City to assign someone (hopefully Neal Braman) to the project to begin contacting the home owners for permission. I will be out of the picture for the next couple of months tending to my personal commitments. I have also asked Dave Meixell to coordinate with you regarding what needs to be done with both the residential properties as well as the remaining cleanup of the actual site. As was mentioned before the City is still interested in breaking the project into two (2) operable units. Dave can discuss this more with you.
Dave will be touching base with you shortly to get the ball rolling. Please keep me in the loop as things progress, I look forward to seeing this project come to a close.
Gordon P. Eddington
So, after years of being the primary contact with the DEC on the Foundry project, when it appears that an extensive round of residential testing will be finally be undertaken and the Foundry cleanup is nearing completion, Eddington hands the baton to (hopefully) Neal Braman, Development Services Manager for the City of Geneva. And the process of arranging access from property owners would not begin for another week.
Eddington does not name the “personal commitments” that distracted him from communicating with the DEC and addressing the Foundry crisis in a timely manner. However, in the summer of 2015, Eddington was in the midst of campaigning for a City Council seat. A City Council campaign, especially for non-incumbent candidates, can be time-consuming and can require a signficant amount of attention and effort. With Eddington stating in September that he would be “out of the picture for the next couple of months tending to my personal commitments,” it could certainly appear that with Election Day in November rapidly approaching, Eddington’s attention was being pulled away from his Foundry cleanup responsibilities by his political aspirations.
At this point, we know that as recently as 2015, the City had just two consultants handling all direct communication with the DEC:
1. David Meixell of Plumley Engineering, who reviewed the same testing data as the DEC and concluded that there was no offsite contamination from the Foundry except on one adjacent property, prompting the DEC’s Craft to state that Meixell’s “data analysis appeared incomplete and somewhat skewed,”
2. Gordon Eddington, unpaid volunteer consultant.
Concerned Citizens, Conspiracy Theories, and Volunteer of the Year Award Goes To…
The rest of the Council Reports segment of the meeting had more surreal moments.
Ward 3 Councilor Steve Valentino took issue with the suggestion from the three citizens who spoke that the City was prioritizing development of the Foundry site over the residents, referring to such claims as “conspiracy theories” and insisting that this was not the case. It was startling to hear, in response to residents (including a mother of three who lives in the contaminated area) who expressed their fears and concerns, Councilor Valentino dismissing these concerns as “conspiracy theories” without offering any sort of explanation regarding the documents that prove that the City was pressing for a prompt cleanup of the Foundry so that it could be sold to a developer, rather than prioritizing the cleanup of the yards of hundreds of families first.
According to Friday’s Finger Lakes Times front page article, “Ward 2 Councilor Paul D’Amico said there was far more to the events surrounding the contamination, but he did not provide details.” So in the midst of dealing with an environmental crisis in which hundreds of residents were not told about toxic contaminants in their yards for decades, D’Amico assured everyone that there was “far more” that we still didn’t know (but he did), which was ostensibly supposed to help everyone understand why a vacant lot is being cleaned up before hundreds of lead and arsenic contaminated residences.
D’Amico also offered praise for all the years of work Eddington had performed for free for the City, prompting City Manager Matt Horn to chime in and describe how the Eddington was providing valuable expertise to the City while saving taxpayers “thousands of dollars.” So, in response to a citizen’s concern that Eddington may have done something untoward, D’Amico and Horn chose to respond by heaping praise upon Eddington for working cheap and awarding him their personal votes of confidence.
Tell the City Council and the DEC: Families First, Vacant Lot Second
If you feel that the City should be cleaning up the offsite properties first before cleaning up the Foundry site, you can let City Council and the DEC know about it.
You can find City Council contact information by clicking here: CONTACT CITY COUNCIL
The DEC is taking comments from the public on the Foundry remediation until January 28th.
Comments on the city’s brownfield application, proposed Remedial Action Plan and Revised Supplemental Remedial Investigation/Alternatives Analysis Report must be submitted no later than Jan. 28. A copy of the application, proposed remedial action plan, revised supplemental remedial investigation and alternatives analysis report and other relevant documents are available to view in the Geneva Public Library at 244 Main St.
Information regarding the site and how to submit comments can be found at www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/60058.html.
Comments can be sent to Frank Sowers, project manager, NYSDEC-Region 8, 6274 East Avon-Lima Road, Avon, 14414. Sowers also will take comments at (585) 226-5357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.