Friday, September 05, 2008

ESDC: hearing officer in Columbia case makes for "judicial and impartial" process

From a New York Times article today on the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) hearings on eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion plan:
But while the two-day hearing featured testimony from a former mayor, members of the State Legislature and the president of Columbia University, the group that will make the ultimate decision, the development corporation’s board, was not there.

Instead, a lone hearing officer, a lawyer named Edward C. Kramer, listened stoically to more than 13 hours of often emotional testimony.

No ESDC board member attended the Atlantic Yards public hearing two years ago, though ESDC staff members were there. ESDC board members, upon voting approval of the Atlantic Yards plan in December 2006, showed themselves to be rather uninformed.

"Judicial and impartial"?

Apparently, the conduct of the hearing became an issue, according to the Times:
Some speakers pointed to the absence of the development corporation’s board members at the public hearing as a sign that the agency had already decided to grant the university eminent domain rights.

But Warner Johnston, a spokesman for the development corporation, said it was the agency’s practice to hire a hearing officer during eminent domain testimony rather than having the board listen to testimony firsthand to ensure that “the process is as judicial and impartial as possible.”

That same hearing officer, Edward Kramer, presided over the Atlantic Yards public hearing and the two follow-up community forums. The public hearing, however, quickly went off track when Kramer and the ESDC neglected to enforce time limits for speakers.

At the follow-up community forums, speakers found the microphones cut off after three minutes, a much more fair practices.

(I don't know if that policy was continued at the Columbia hearing--readers are welcome to let me know.)

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