June 25, 2008: Horror show
To The Editor:
The Movies on Main Street that delighted so many area-residents last summer and was scheduled again this summer, but in the new Pavilion, has been cancelled. Jonathan Starch, co-owner of the Galli-Curci Theater, decided not to proceed because the Margaretville Village Board, in a letter to him, placed conditions on the project that make it impossible. The grounds for these conditions turn out to be totally unfounded and the process by which the village board arrived at them was completely unethical and dominated by a blatant conflict of interest.
A village trustee, who should have recused himself since he is suing the Galli-Curci and its owners, instead dominated the discussion of the outdoor movies at the very first meeting of the new village board. I was at the meeting, though I am not involved with the Galli-Curci or Movies on Main Street. This trustee said the board had to be extremely careful because there had been a successful lawsuit against the village by some businessmen who said it was illegal to use public property for private businesses. He stated that the Regulation of Parks and Other Municipal Property [published by NYS] backed him up. He asserted that for the movie to operate legally it had to be under the auspices of a non-profit and could not charge admission but only take voluntary contributions. The board then sent the letter with the severe restrictions to Mr. Starch.
In fact the trustee in question produced no documents nor did he quote any regulations to back up his assertions and all of these assertions were wrong. There was a successful lawsuit by some businessmen against the M-ARK Project and the Town of Middletown [NOT the Village of Margaretville] because they proposed moving the Farmers’ Market to the land on the Arkville Cutoff where the ARC facility is now located. That land was acquired by the town with HUD funds and HUD regulations prohibited using its funds to support businesses in competition with private local business. However, those HUD regulations have no relevance at all to the village park. On the contrary, the Regulation of Parks and Other Municipal Property specifically says [on page 2] “For example, permitted uses include: Incidental opportunities for recreation and innocent amusement, including concessions to private persons who furnish food or refreshments or means of innocent entertainment and amusement.” Contrary to everything said at the village board, these regulations explicitly contemplate private persons doing business in the park. The movies are exactly the kind of thing envisioned by these regulations. The regulations nowhere prohibit those private persons from charging for what they provide yet that is exactly the condition the village board placed on Mr. Starch. This is the same as killing the movies since no vendor would do business without the right to charge for his product or service and recover his investment.
The result of this shameful mess is that the private agenda of one trustee has prevailed over the interests of the residents of Margaretville. Despite the fact that it would be clearly both legal and fun for everyone, we will not have movies this summer since some people don’t want us to see how nice it would be to have movies here in Margaretville, the way it used to be.
This should never have happened. The board has made some major ethical and legal mistakes and the only honorable thing to do is set it right. They must rescind the letter sent to Mr. Starch and apologize for the shabby way in which this very generous citizen has been treated. They should offer to help bring the movies back even though the delay caused by their errors may now make that impossible. They should censure any trustee who crosses commonly recognized ethical boundaries or provides the board with untrue information in order to convince it to go along with his private interest.
All this should be done immediately to minimize the damage done to the village, to Mr. Starch and to the reputation and standing of the village board.