Potsdam settlement with toilet garden impresario included $25,000 payment directly from village
BY ADAM ATKINSON
North Country This Week
POTSDAM — The village has apparently paid at least $25,000 to settle its dispute with toilet garden czar Hank Robar, but the sum could be part of a larger payment.
A heavily redacted copy of the settlement agreement supplied to North Country This Week by Mayor Ron Tischler on Oct 9 describes the “Settlement Payments” in a footnote at the bottom of page 4 as including one draft “issued directly by the Village of Potsdam in the amount of $25,000.”The agreement describes the settlement payments as “settlement of any alleged claims and alleged damages, injuries, and/or losses” suffered by Robar, as well as “all attorneys’ fees or costs incurred.”
Robar won a lawsuit he initiated against the village in 2020 after the village ordered him to disassemble his toilet gardens on property he owns on Market and Maple streets. His lawsuit sought $7 million in damages but both parties have refused to disclose the settlement amount, citing a confidentiality agreement.
The retired businessman set up old toilets with plastic flowers on seven locations starting in 2005 to protest the village’s denial of a zoning variance to allow him to sell property for construction of a Dunkin’ Donuts.
Legal wrangling by the village over the years to have the toilets removed finally resulted in the municipality rolling out a revised junk storage code in 2018 which included rules on bathroom fixtures, including toilets and toilet fixtures. Several citations for Robar followed and finally the village’s resolution ordering the bowls be removed.
Robar then launched his lawsuit arguing that the toilet displays were essentially folk art and protected free expression. In February of this year the village board voted unanimously to rescind its July 20, 2020 resolution that directed Robar to empty the properties of all toilets and bathroom fixtures
What is unclear from the redacted copy of the settlement agreement is the total payment received by Robar. He may have received more payments from another source, such as the village’s insurance carrier.
It is also not clear if Robar received payment for his legal fees separately or if the cost of his attorney and lawsuit would be covered in the payment from the village cited in the agreement.
NCTW filed Freedom of Information Law requests on Monday in an attempt to provide clarity on the issue and determine costs the village has incurred defending itself in the case.
Tischler on Tuesday declined to provide clarification or comment further.
NCTW received the redacted settlement agreement Saturday following a rare state Committee on Open Government advisory opinion critical of the village’s denials.
The village originally denied NCTW’s requests claiming the settlement agreement was “confidential,” but the advisory opinion stated that is not “statutorily permissible grounds for denial.”
The Committee’s opinion weighed in favor of release of the settlement information to the newspaper and the public.
The settlement agreement between Robar and the village was reached during U.S. District Court-ordered mediation.
The newspaper and the Committee both contend that while the mediation process was ordered confidential, the end resulting settlement is public information, a stance backed by extensive case law.