MILTON – The Milton Town Board voted to purchase an extension of up to $20,000 with Twin Rivers Council (TRC) to amend an agreement and move forward with a permissive referendum vote in a continued effort to purchase the former Camp Boyhaven Boy Scout campground.
Supervisor Scott Ostrander announced at the Monday night meeting that Chairman of the Planning Board Larry Woolbright will no longer be in charge of negotiating with TRC on the town’s behalf. Woolbright claims he stepped down, while Ostrander contends the decision was mutual and appointed Councilman Benny Zlotnick as lead representative for the town.
Woolbright, who spearheaded the deal from its beginning last year, also acted as liaison between the now uninterested anonymous donor and the Saratoga PLAN fundraising campaign as efforts were made to aid in the town’s financing of the potential million-dollar deal.
Milton currently has $500,000 in bonded money ready to be spent on the deal, accruing $24 in interest each day. The town can’t pay off the bond until September, even if the deal falls through. The bonded sum and total of pledges and donations fundraised, estimated at over $120,000, are not enough to purchase the property. For the town to spend more than the $500,000 it would need to have a permissive referendum vote, which takes at least 75 days.
Resolution 33 initially allowed for the town board to delegate $5,000 to a “non-refundable one-time payment … in exchange for Twin Rivers’ agreement to enter into negotiations for a contract with Milton,” per the meeting’s agenda.
According to the resolution, TRC would not be able to sell the property for a period of 90 days if the extension is purchased.
Acting Town Attorney Tom Peterson advised the board after speaking to TRC’s attorney that the $5,000 offer was not acceptable. TRC is seeking to cover the operating costs of the camp for 90 days although financial disclosure of those costs was not made available.
Councilman John Frolish then proposed that the town give Councilman Benny Zlotnick, who replaced Larry Woolbright as the official heading the deal, authority to spend no more than $20,000 to assure that the town retain the ability to move forward with the purchase, a proposal approved by the board.
The money would be taken from the town’s “unappropriated funds balance,” which is currently more than $300,000.
The move was questioned during a public comment session by local attorney and developer Frank Rossi Jr., who criticized the board announcing their maximum offer for an extension, stating, “when there’s no contract signed and there’s negotiations going on, please don’t [announce it] in open session … it’s not negotiation anymore, you’re showing your hand.”
Town Supervisor Scott Ostrander agreed with Rossi in hindsight, telling The Ballston Journal after the meeting, “Mr. Rossi was correct on that, we shouldn’t have put that out there because they now know what our bottom line price is.”
A resolution to reallocate funds for a full million-dollar purchase, without a public vote, was circulated at the previous week’s continuation meeting, though it was not listed on the agenda and not voted on.
No board member officially came forward as the author of the document, but it was alleged that Councilwoman Barbara Kerr created and advanced it, according to members of both the public and media who reported receiving copies from Kerr.
Titled “Availability of Unappropriated Funds Balance,” the unproposed resolution sought to immediately reallocate town funds for the board to move forward with purchasing the property on the May 11 closing date for the full $1 million asking price.
The strategy outlined by the circulated resolution was heavily criticized by Recreation Management Supervisor Jason Miller who confronted Councilwoman Kerr after the meeting. Kerr left without answering to Miller’s accusation that she’s “spreading misinformation.”
Miller, who leads the town’s planned maintenance and development of currently owned parks, called the resolution “misleading” and “illegal.”
“I’ve worked on the budget quite extensively over the last year and there’s a lot of these figures in here that are inaccurate … to the average resident who would read this and look at these numbers they would be misled as to what we have available for this project.”
He also told The Journal that “nothing” has been accomplished regarding work previously planned for other parks due to under-funding and under-staffing, explaining that the money originally dedicated to park projects has been consistently spent on purchasing more parks and not the projects originally promised to Milton residents.
Miller believes that the Boyhaven deal represents a continuation of this problem.
“From the information I’ve gotten, I believe it is a good project if we were financially sound … the town has allocated $500,000 toward [Boyhaven] … to continue to try to put other resources to it would be a detriment to this town.”
When asked about the cost the demolition and reconstruction that the Boyhaven property will undoubtedly need if purchased, Supervisor Ostrander said, “We haven’t figured that cost out … I don’t think anyone has really sat down and came up with that figure yet.”
Councilman Zlotnick, who now is leading the town’s efforts to purchase the property, would not speak with The Ballston Journal, only saying “I have no comment to The Journal.
In a statement to another media outlet, Zlotnick was overheard saying, “I find it incredibly disappointing that … one or two people digging around where they shouldn’t have been is going to cost this town money and a shot at 300 acres of land,” referring to the anonymous donor of $500,000 recently pulling out from the deal after a video posted on The Ballston Journal Online‘s Facebook page questioned how the indirect gift was being tracked and reported to ensure compliance with all state and federal laws.
Supervisor Ostrander disagreed with Zlotnick’s disapproval of skepticism toward the donor, saying, “Is it a legitimate question? Absolutely. I don’t think that should have had any bearing on the guy pulling out or not.” Ostrander also confirmed that, “His name was not made public by anybody. It was said they might know who it is, but nobody ever put a name out.”
In documents obtained by The Journal through a Freedom of Information Law request, questions were also raised about a potential conflict of interest between Councilman Benny Zlotnick and the Boy Scouts, an organization he has been active within since his youth.
Zlotnick, who was Committee Chairman for the Boy Scouts up until March of 2017, signed an official disclosure statement in 2018 that stated that he did not have a relationship, compensated or non-compensated, with any organization doing business with the town in the year of 2017. In this official disclosure Zlotnick did not provide his role within the Boy Scouts. Milton’s negotiations with the Boy Scouts began in the spring of 2017.
When asked last week if this was a conflict of interest, Zlotnick said, “I think it said financial interest.” Upon being presented with the document, Zlotnick told The Journal that, “Boy Scout Troupe 1 does not do business with the Town of Milton … in my mind it’s not [a conflict of interest] … if someone else thinks there is [one], let somebody else smarter than me decide.”
Supervisor Ostrander disagreed with Zlotnick’s perception, saying “If he signed a document for 2017, I guess he’s wrong … the new year starts in January, if in March he was affiliated I’d say it’s definitely a conflict [of interest].”
Attorney Frank Rossi, who questioned the ethics of some Town officials in a lawyer’s letter circulated to the Board prior to last week’s continuation meeting, recommended Zlotnick come completely clean if he feels he should not recuse himself from future Boyhaven votes.
“Zlotnick suggested in a prior meeting concerning environmental issues that he was unable to speak fully with candor due to the position he was in concerning the issues discussed in that meeting. He subsequently has been reduced to tears supposedly based on his attachment to this property. People have suggested much less should lead to a recusal, so Zlotnick should explain exactly what his relationship and his family’s relationship is and was with the Scouts before explaining why recusal is not necessary,” Rossi advised.
When asked at the Monday meeting if he had any comment on his failure to disclose this information Zlotnick told The Journal, “I have no comment for you.” In an email late Monday night, Zlotnick denied purposely shunning the reporter and said “he’s got nothing to hide”.
Calls made on Monday to Twin Rivers’ CEO Mark Switzer were not returned.
Another special meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 22. The town is expecting to have an answer whether an agreement can be reached for the period of time necessary for a referendum.
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