APA commissioner saluted as he retires
RAY BROOK – Cecil Wray was praised for his legal insight, his quick wit and his dedication to the Adirondacks at his last state Adirondack Park Agency board meeting Thursday.
Wray, a lawyer who lives in New York City and has a second home in Keene Valley, has been on the APA board for 14 years. He’s set to be replaced by Karen Feldman, a lawyer from Hudson who was recently nominated to one of the agency’s three out-of-the-Park seats by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Feldman still has to be confirmed by the state Senate, and Wray could continue to serve until then, but he said Thursday he’s decided to retire.
“I’m pushing 80, and for me to come up here is a 600-mile-round trip drive for every meeting,” Wray said at the start of the meeting. “There may be other things I can do with my time. The law provides for me to continue until my successor is confirmed. I do not plan to take advantage of that, and this will be my last meeting.”
Wray was given a standing ovation by the audience of APA board members, staff and guests.
Wray retired as a full-time senior partner at the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton in 1997. Before that, he served as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark. Wray is also an adjunct professor at New York Law School and is a former board member of the Adirondack Council.
He was appointed to the APA in June 1999 by Gov. George Pataki. During his time on the board, Wray has often been an advocate for environmental protection and development limits, basing his stances on various issues and projects on the APA’s legal statutes.
For example, in 2008 he fought hard to curtail a proposed 10-year phase-out of floatplane access to Lows Lake, saying it was inconsistent with the State Land Master Plan. In 2009, when the APA sought to redefine the term “boathouse” in its regulations, Wray argued that it didn’t have the legal authority to set a size cap on boathouses.
“We are a creature of the law. Our charter is in the law,” Wray said at the close of Thursday’s meeting. “I urge you all, as you make decisions, to make sure what we do complies with the law.”
Wray also served a long tenure as the head of the APA’s Enforcement Committee. He was involved in several high-profile legal battles, including a six-year dispute over the Spiegel house in Lake Placid, which the agency won, and a major clash over farmworker housing with Essex farmer Sandy Lewis, which the APA lost. He’s among the defendants named in a still-pending federal lawsuit filed by Silver Lake resident Leroy Douglas, who claims the agency conspired with environmentalists to reopen an enforcement case against him.
Wray said Thursday he has mixed feelings about leaving the board.
“This is a wonderful, collegial group and collegial atmosphere,” he said. “I’ll miss you all. I love you all. It is, on the other hand, a somewhat liberating feeling.”
APA Commissioner Art Lussi said he was awed to learn about Wray’s legal background when he first joined the board.
“It’s an honor for me to sit with a person who was clerk for the Supreme Court, and to have had an opportunity to discuss sensitive legal issues with such a poignant mind. It’s a luxury that we’ve had,” Lussi said. “I don’t mind duking it out with Cecil on issues, but we always learned from each other, and that’s something that makes this board so special.”
Others said they’ll miss the sense of humor Wray brought to the board table.
“Certainly your word plays are beyond compare,” said agency counsel James Townsend, a former commissioner alongside Wray. “I appreciated the quick wit, the way we arrived at things together. One of the things we all will miss is that his roots are pretty obvious. His Tennessee twang comes out every now and then.”
“You brought the credentials everyone has mentioned,” said APA Chairwoman Lani Ulrich, “and at the same time, you gave us all permission to say, ‘I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about.’ You’ve given us all courage to be better servants, to ask the questions and make sure everyone understands. When I think of a gentleman and a scholar, nobody compares.”
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.