Schenectady County

Schenectady Planning Commission chairman bumped from panel

Planning Commission Chairman Matthew Cuevas was unexpectedly bumped off the commission and replaced
Matthew Cuevas was named chairman of the Schenectady Planning Commission in Room 110 at City Hall Wednesday, September 16, 2015. Cuevas was not reappointed to the commission by Mayor Gary McCarthy.
Matthew Cuevas was named chairman of the Schenectady Planning Commission in Room 110 at City Hall Wednesday, September 16, 2015. Cuevas was not reappointed to the commission by Mayor Gary McCarthy.

Planning Commission Chairman Matthew Cuevas was unexpectedly bumped off the commission and replaced by a newly appointed member.

Mayor Gary McCarthy opted not to reappoint Cuevas — despite his interest in being reappointed — and instead appointed Albany attorney Randall Beach to the seat.

The City Council voted in favor of the appointment during a council meeting Monday evening.

“It’s always up to the administration to decide who they want,” said Cuevas, whose term expired in December. “I was surprised having been named chair and being there for a number of years that I was not reappointed. I was looking forward to leading the board for several years.”

Cuevas, who served on the commission since 1995, was unanimously appointed as chairman by his colleagues in September. Cuevas works for Albany engineering firm CHA, formerly Clough Harbour & Associates.

“If anything it was an honor to have a unanimous decision by the current board,” he said. “It’s an example of the 16 years I was vice chair.”

Councilman Vince Riggi — the only “no” vote on the appointment — said he believes the decision was political, noting Cuevas’ willingness to serve and qualifications to do so.

“It makes no sense,” he said. “Here we have someone with knowledge and he’s the one person being replaced on the board. There is an air of political impropriety involved in this.”

Cuevas was the only commissioner with an expired term who was not reappointed to the board by McCarthy. Mary Moore Wallinger (vice chair), Jason Bogdanowicz-Wilson, Christopher Rush and Bradley Lewis were reappointed.

“Here is someone that was just named chair and you’re telling him to step down,” Riggi said. “That’s the person the mayor is choosing to replace? It stinks.”

Cuevas was appointed as chairman after former chairwoman Sharran Coppola, who served in that role for 16 years, resigned in July.

Coppola said she is shocked that Cuevas was knocked off the board and that she believes he was highly qualified. Cuevas served as vice chair while Coppola was chair.

“I just can’t believe he would do that to Matt,” she said of McCarthy. “I don’t know what’s going on. I can only speculate that he’s probably ruffled some feathers. This is an opportunity to get rid of him and they did it.”

McCarthy said Cuevas has done a “great job” but that he’s looking to rotate members who serve on the commission.

“I’m looking to bring some new people,” he said. “You get a lot of requests for these boards and there are requests from people coming in who want to serve.”

Coppola noted there are other commissioners who have served just as long or even longer than Cuevas.

“In terms of longevity he is certainly not the longest,” she said. “Matt and I have not always agreed. But he’s a great person to disagree with and listen to. Matt certainly knew his material.”

Cuevas said he was never asked by McCarthy if he would like to be reappointed to the commission and that he learned about his replacement in a letter from the mayor’s office “saying my term wasn’t extended.”

The nine-member Planning Commission will vote for a new chair and vice chair during its next meeting on Feb. 17, according to the agenda.

Coppola said she’s “guessing” the position of chair will come down to Lewis and Thomas Carey.

“And there are some issues with that,” she said, referring to Lewis, who serves as vice chairman of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority board.

During the council meeting Monday evening, Riggi said he believes it’s a conflict of interest having Lewis serve on both the Planning Commission and Metroplex board.

In response, Councilman John Polimeni said he believes Lewis is highly qualified as a professor at Union College.

Cuevas, a registered Democrat, is the brother of Michael Cuevas, who serves as leader of both the city and county Republican committees and also ran as a candidate for City Council this past election.

Coppola resigned as chair of the commission following the board’s site plan approval of the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor.

Cuevas recused himself from voting on plans related to Galesi Group’s Mohawk Harbor development due to his employment at CHA, which works with the city on the 60-acre site off Erie Boulevard.

Cuevas’ replacement, Randall Beach, is a partner at Whiteman Osterman & Hanna with a concentration in commercial real estate development and economic development, according to his resume.

Cuevas said he has served on the Planning Commission under four administrations and that he has been outspoken during his tenure, which led to phone calls from several mayors.

“I just hope my fellow board members, who are probably in a little bit of shock, continue to do the wonderful job they’re doing,” he said. “I’m proud of what the board has accomplished and what I have been a part of over the last 20 years.”

Planning Commission members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council. Other commissioners include Julia Stone, Sara Bonacquist and Curtis Eatman.

Also during the council meeting Monday, members approved a local law establishing a sustainable energy loan program for commercial property owners in Schenectady.

The law will allow the city to partner with the Energy Improvement Corp., a state nonprofit agency, to provide financing for property owners to pursue big energy projects.

The city would not have control over which projects receive a loan and would be financially responsible if property owners do not repay the loan on their tax bills.

Riggi was again the only “no” vote, saying he believes there are too many unanswered questions and that he doesn’t see how the benefits outweigh the risks.

The council also agreed to raise rates at the Schenectady Municipal Golf Course for the 2016 season, which includes a $1 hike for residents and students, and a $2 increase for nonresidents.

A public hearing will be held during the next council meeting on Feb. 22 on removing the parking requirements for residential property in the C-4 Downtown District.

Reach Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro at 395-3114, [email protected] or @HRViccaro on Twitter.

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