Shultis denied the allegations cited in the letter in an October 15 interview. Subsequent interviews and a review of Planning Board records have thus far largely failed to substantiate the allegations, which were mainly twofold:
that Shultis was employed by a developer at a time when the Planning Board was considering the developer’s application for a subdivision;
that Shultis discussed future employment with the Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO), the developer of the proposed Woodstock Commons affordable housing project, while the Planning Board was reviewing the project.
Meanwhile, on October 18, the day before Andreassen confirmed to this reporter that he had written the anonymous letter, Woodstock councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum discussed with Andreassen the origin of the letter and Building Department documents that accompanied it.
According to Andreassen in the October 19 interview, Rosenblum asked him only about the source of the documents, which he denied providing. Rosenblum, however, said that she had asked Andreassen if he had written the letter and he “absolutely” denied having done so. When she was subsequently apprised of Andreassen’s admission that he wrote the letter, Rosenblum, who is the town’s deputy supervisor, said, “Just processing this (information) is very difficult. It’s a very sad thing. It never occurred to me that he would lie to me.”
In a follow-up interview on October 20, Andreassen confirmed Rosenblum’s account of their exchange two days earlier. “I did deny any involvement to her at that point,” he said, citing his concern that town employees who were in the vicinity at the time might overhear the exchange. In subsequent phone conversations, Andreassen intimated that other people, whom he would not identify, might have distributed the anonymous letter without his involvement.
“I regret that the letter got into various hands,” he said. “It was meant to bring to light what I perceived as inappropriate behavior by another public official. Everything I submitted is factual. Regrettably, it may have taken this (step) to bring this (matter) to the forefront.”
Andreassen took office last January, succeeding the town’s longtime building inspector, Paul Shultis Sr. (the father of Paul Shultis Jr.), who died in December 2009. During Andreassen’s tenure he and Paul Shultis Jr. have had seemingly minor public disagreements over certain matters, such as the building inspector’s recommendation that the town rescind a 2009 law restricting development in the vicinity of wetlands and watercourses.
The existence of the anonymous letter came to light at the October 5 meeting of the Town Board, when a local resident, Robin Segal, offered a copy of the missive, which she had received, to the board. (A Woodstock Times columnist and the paper’s editor received similar but not identical versions of the letter. In the October 20 interview, in which he acknowledged writing the letter, Andreassen denied sending a copy to Segal and said that he was not sure how she would have received one.)
Town supervisor Jeff Moran declined to accept the letter at the meeting, stating that it was his policy not to consider unsigned correspondence. Calls to the district attorney, Holley Carnwright, seeking confirmation that his office had received the letter, were not returned.
No time frame for employment
The first allegation in the letter referred to Shultis’s employment by the developer Michael Bacodari, who first applied to the Planning Board in 2006 for approval of a five-lot subdivision off Sawkill Road. The letter stated that Shultis “has been working for a developer while simultaneously this same developer having (sic) business in front of the planning board and still does.” The letter suggested that the district attorney contact Bacodari, among others, for information related to its contents.
In the October 15 interview, Shultis, an independent building contractor, said that he had been employed for a period of about three weeks, in late August and early September of this year, as project manager of the Bacodari subdivision. (His employment in that position ended, he said, because his computer skills were inadequate. Shultis is currently working as a construction laborer, employed by a subcontractor, on the Bacodari subdivision.)
In defending his acceptance of the job, Shultis raised two points. First, he said, the Planning Board had already issued a final approval of the subdivision application. Second, even though the application was no longer before the Planning Board, before accepting the position he sought the opinion of town officials on the propriety of doing so. According to Shultis, those present expressed a consensus that if a town official had not shown favoritism toward an applicant with previous business before his agency, “there was no real time frame” in which the official could properly seek employment from that applicant.
Shultis added that Woodstock supervisor Jeff Moran, among other town officials, “was well aware” of his employment by Bacodari. In an October 20 e-mail, Moran wrote, “I had heard from someone, I don’t recall who, that Paul Shultis Jr. had gone to work for Mr. Bacodari some capacity after his subdivision had been approved by the Planning Board.”
In the same e-mail Moran said that he did not recall receiving correspondence on the subject from Andreassen, who stated in the anonymous letter and in an interview that he had notified Moran in writing about Shultis’s alleged conflict of interest. The proper procedure in such a situation, said Moran in the e-mail, would be to refer the matter to the town Ethics Board, “which does maintain strict confidentiality.”
On the first point raised by Shultis — that the Planning Board had approved the Bacodari project before he went to work for the developer — Mary Burke, a clerk-typist in the Planning Department, said on October 20 that Planning Board records showed that Shultis signed a final plat, or map of the subdivision, on September 10, 2009, approximately a year before he accepted the project manager position with Bacodari. Planning Department records further indicate that the plat was subsequently filed, as required, with the Ulster County clerk’s office, apparently on June 15, 2010.
In an October 20 interview, Andreassen maintained that, at least in a technical sense, the Bacodari project remained unfinished business for the Planning Board. Funds deposited into an escrow account had yet to be returned to Bacodari, pending certification by a town engineer that road work on the project had been successfully completed, said the building inspector. When Shultis was employed as the project manager, said Andreassen, he called the Building Department and spoke directly with Andreassen about Bacodari’s request to release the funds. Moreover, he said, the matter of the escrow account appeared on a recent Planning Board meeting agenda.
“Prior to any involvement I had with Michael Bacodari, all approvals were given by the Planning Board,” said Shultis. “The only items remaining were the return of a maintenance bond in February or March of 2012 and a minor escrow account, which I left up to the Town Board to address with (town attorney) Drayton Grant. I recommended that the bond be released after a letter of approval (had been received) from the Planning Board’s consulting engineer. That’s the only (Planning Board-related) determination I’ve made since I did any work for Bacodari.”
Shultis cited Burke — who, apart from her clerical job with the Planning Department, is chair of the Woodstock Environmental Commission — and either Rosenblum or councilman Jay Wenk as among those who attended the meeting of volunteer chairs at which he sought an ethical opinion. Burke had no recollection of the meeting. Wenk could recall the session vaguely, if at all, but offered a comment on the subject. “My thought, ethically, is that if the business was taken care of and the official could have no undue influence on the matter, why shouldn’t a citizen of the town accept work? If the issue has been settled, let it go,” said the councilman.
Councilman Bill McKenna, like Wenk, had no clear recollection of the chairs meeting, but recalled a conversation with Shultis in which “it was my impression that there was probably no issue about (his) taking a job.” On other, unrelated occasions, said McKenna — who, like Shultis, is an independent building contractor and longtime community volunteer — he and the Planning Board chairman had commiserated about finding work in an economic downturn.
In the October 19 and 20 interviews, Andreassen elaborated on, and modified, the charge, contained in the letter: “It is also well known that he [Shultis] has been negotiating with RUPCO for a position with the Commons Project once it’s underway (call Guy Kempe at RUPCO).”
According to Andreassen in the interviews, such a discussion occurred between him and Shultis during a visit to the project site last spring, with RUPCO official Guy Kempe present at the visit but not a participant in the discussion about employment. “It was a general conversation, not an invitation or an offer, but it was discussed,” said Andreassen.
The Planning Board unanimously approved the Woodstock Commons site plan on August 5, about a month after it favorably concluded its environmental review of the 53-unit development.
Shultis deemed the letter’s allegation a “false accusation” when he was interviewed on October 15. “I have had no contact with RUPCO about any future job or position with their organization,” he said, while acknowledging that he had thought about the desirability of working as the caretaker of a new development. “It was just a thought that I had. I’m really glad that I never contacted Guy (Kempe, RUPCO’s director of community development) or Kevin (O’Connor, the organization’s executive director),” added Shultis, noting that such an action might have prompted talk of “kickbacks.”
Kempe in an October 20 interview acknowledged that he was present at the site visit, but emphatically denied ever discussing the possibility of RUPCO’s employing Shultis. “That has never, ever been discussed with me,” said Kempe. “I can’t stress too strongly that I can’t imagine what Paul Andreassen is referring to, or what he would have heard that could be interpreted that way. I’m more than a little surprised. I have no recollection of anything that could be construed that way. I’m frankly shocked. This approaches something like character assassination and offends me. It’s crap.”
In a phone conversation later in the day, Andreassen assessed the events surrounding the anonymous letter. “It’s unfortunate that the whole thing has come into the public eye, but there has been no resolution to the behavior I have witnessed over the past nine months. I felt that I had no choice but to bring it into a public discussion. The bottom line is, Is there unethical behavior being conducted by public officials who should have at least known better? If I have to keep my side of the street clean, I expect the same of those around me, especially those who are criticizing me.”++