At the March 3, 2021 City Council meeting, Councilor-At-Large Frank Gaglianese put forth Resolution #19-2021 to declare City Council’s intent to preserve Loomis Woods, a 15-acre natural area owned by the City of Geneva, as perpetual open space/parkland.
Gaglianese’s resolution stated that the permanent protection of Loomis Woods “is critical to the health and well-being in this increasingly densifying city.”
However, during Council’s discussion about the resolution, Gaglianese explicitly stated that his “reason” for the resolution was to “give comfort” to the “two or three people that live on Cosentino Way (in the Town of Geneva)” adjacent to Loomis Woods who were concerned that the parkland could be developed.
A search of public records shows that the three houses and five parcels adjacent to Loomis Wood on “Cosentino Way” (also known as Wood Haven Lane) are all owned by members of one family, including one house owned by a former city employee.
Did Gaglianese expose his own conflict of interest and violate the City’s Code of Ethics by putting forth a resolution in order to benefit a small number of people from one family in the Town of Geneva?
Council Rejected Sale Of Loomis Woods In January
According to a February 16, 1909 article published in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, “Henry H. Loomis, Geneva’s oldest citizen,” gifted the City the parcel now known as “Loomis Woods.” The article states that there were “practically no conditions” for the gift, except that the deed stated:
“the land named shall be a public park and playground and that it shall be called Loomis Park, as a memorial to Henry Loomis and his sister, Cordelia C. Loomis, who died a few weeks ago.”
At the January 6, 2021 Regular City Council Meeting, Council discussed the offer the City received to purchase Loomis Woods, and what steps the City would need to take in order to sell a city park.
City Manager Sage Gerling provided an overview of the many challenges that would face City Council if they wanted to approve the sale of Loomis or other City parks:
(Gerling) noted that any deed restrictions would need a court determination for a change, significant public input would be critical, and any sale of the property would need a public hearing. She said that the State Alienation Requirement is when a municipality wishes to convey, sell or lease municipal parkland or discontinue its use as a park, and the land was acquired or improved with State or Federal Parks grant funding, the municipality must receive prior authorization first from the State in the form of legislation enacted by the NYS Legislature and be approved by the Governor.
She said that if we chose to alienate the property, we would need substitute land at the same or greater appraised fair market value. She said this would require SEQRA review to consider any significant adverse environmental impacts as well as cultural impacts. The transfer would require at least two- thirds of council to approve.
So, in order to sell Loomis Woods, it would require:
- a court determination to change the deed restriction,
- legislation to be enacted by the NYS Legislature and approved by the Governor,
- a different 15-acre parcel within the city limits to be converted to parkland to replace the park being sold,
- a SEQRA environmental quality review,
- and a super-majority approval by City Council.
Although it would appear that the possibility that Loomis Woods could be sold in the future was exceedingly slim, and that Loomis Woods was safe from development, Frank Gaglianese wasn’t satisfied.
And in March, Gaglianese took the initiative to bring his resolution before City Council.
“They got nervous…and as a Council we support this resolution to give them comfort.”
Gaglianese read his resolution during the March 3, 2021 City Council meeting. The resolution aimed to preserve Loomis Woods “as open space/parkland” and to “reject any attempts to materially modify, rezone, sell or remove the perpetual local deed restriction that the Loomis Family has attached to this property.”
When the floor was opened for discussion of the resolution, Ward 4 Councilor Ken Camera stated that he didn’t support the resolution and gave his reasons. Gaglianese interrupted Camera twice in order to respond:
Camera: “I don’t support the resolution. I think the deed restriction is sufficient. I, partly, don’t like the way the thing’s worded.
I just wondered…if the deed restriction has kept it parkland, or wild land, for a hundred years, what’s it not doing?”
Gaglianese: (interrupting) “Are you asking me?”
Camera “I don’t know, I’m asking anybody because it seems like it’s political.”
Gaglianese: (interrupting) “I would like to say two things. Ken, you always have resolutions for things that are outside of the City of Geneva, we all partake in them, for one reason or another, we have faith in what you’re doing.
And for this reason here, there are people that live around that area, two or three people that live on Cosentino Way who purchased that property knowing that this property has the deed restriction on there. It was brought up in a City Council meeting that it could have possibly went up for sale, because somebody made a proposal to the City to buy that property. They got nervous, so to just keep them at bay and say that this council here understands the deed restriction, and as a council we support this resolution to give them comfort. That’s all it says.”
Although Camera had not mentioned anything about the resolution’s impact on areas outside the city limits, Gaglianese’s immediate response was to argue that Camera had previously offered unrelated resolutions for “things that are outside of the City of Geneva.”
Why was Gaglianese so adamant about pre-emptively defending his resolution from potential accusations that it wasn’t directly related to the City of Geneva?
His next comments seem to indicate that his primary reason for authoring and putting forth the resolution was to “bring comfort” to one family whose members own the five parcels off of Carter Road and adjacent to Loomis Woods.
According to public records, all five of those parcels are owned by members of the Cosentino family, which explains Gaglianese’s reference to the street by it’s “unofficial” name “Cosentino Way.”
The only other comment Gaglianese made during discussion of the resolution was in response to a question from Ward 3 Councilor Jan Regan. After Regan wanted clarification that the resolution would not change any existing stipulations surrounding Loomis Woods, but instead would simply “further enhance it as parkland,” Gaglianese impatiently replied:
“It’s something simple. You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
Gaglianese didn’t argue that he proposed the resolution to help the schoolkids who use Loomis Woods for lessons and exploration, nature and story walks, nature time as class reward, outdoor physical education, clubs and PAWS Nights.
Gaglianese didn’t argue that he proposed the resolution to help the community to continue to join in nature walks, trail/plant identification, volunteer upkeep, or to enjoy the wildlife habitat and national wetland.
Gaglianese argued that he proposed the resolution to “bring comfort” to a small number of Town of Geneva residents from the same family who were concerned about development happening in their backyards, in the City of Geneva.
And one of the “two or three people that live on Cosentino Way” that Gaglianese was apparently representing is the former Capital Projects Manager for the City of Geneva.
City Code of Ethics – Tenet 8 (Conflict of Interest) and Tenet 1 (Act in the Public Interest)
Did Gaglianese violate the City Code of Ethics with his Loomis Woods resolution?
Here is Tenet 8, which addresses conflicts of interest.
TENET 8: CONFLICT OF INTEREST
In order to assure their independence and impartiality on behalf of the common good, Public Officials shall not use their official positions to influence government decisions in which they have a material financial interest, or where they have an organizational responsibility or personal relationship which may give the appearance of a conflict of interest. In accordance with applicable law, members shall disclose investments, interests in real property, sources of income, and gifts; and they shall abstain from participating in deliberations and decision making where conflicts may exist.
Gaglianese admitted that the “reason” he wrote and presented the resolution was to “give comfort” to “two or three” people, including a current City employee, who live adjacent to the city park.
It would seem that by using his position as a City Councilor to present a resolution to protect the property investment of a city employee who lives in the Town of Geneva, Gaglianese’s “organizational responsibility or personal relationship” with that employee would present “the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Another applicable tenet may be Tenet 1:
TENET 1: ACT IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
Recognizing that stewardship of the public interest must be their primary concern, Public Officials will work for the common good of the people of Geneva and not for any private or personal interest. They will assure fair and equal treatment of all persons, claims, and transactions appearing before Public Officials.
By using his position as a City Councilor to present a resolution to protect the property investment of a former city employee who lives in the Town of Geneva, Gaglianese appears to be working on behalf of a “private or personal interest.”