We'll join the chorus of state Adirondack Park Agency commissioners in publicly praising and thanking Cecil Wray for his service to the Park, the state and the people in his 14 years on the APA board.
Wray retired Thursday. He could have waited until his presumed replacement, Hudson lawyer Karen Feldman, is confirmed by the state Senate, but now that he's nearly 80 years old, he announced Thursday that this month's meeting was his last.
The Enterprise has covered each monthly meeting in those 14 years (we think so, anyway - if we missed one, we can't remember it), and we can say without reservation that Mr. Wray was an excellent commissioner. We didn't always agree with him, but he didn't seem to care whether people agreed with him or liked him or whatever. We respected him for that.
Cecil Wray argues a point at a state Adirondack Park Agency board meeting.
(Enterprise file photo)
He certainly sympathized with the environmentalists - he had, after all, been on the Adirondack Council's board before joining the APA's - but some Adirondackers saw him, simplistically, as an advocate for that cause. That's not true.
Rather, he was a commissioner from outside the Park - even though he owns a second home in Keene Valley - and he knew it. He was there to make sure the APA followed the law, not just what locals want to see. That's a critical role, and he was the right man for it: frank but respectful, collegial but not back-slapping, studious but not pedantic, willing to compromise when it made sense, able to see both the letter and the spirit of the many, complicated and often vague laws and regulations that governed the agency. He's very smart - that certainly helps - and better yet, he also puts great emphasis on clarity.
We like what board Chairwoman Lani Ulrich said about him Thursday: "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."
Mr. Wray also brought a rich background to the table, including being a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark and an adjunct professor at New York Law School.
His legal mind, his pragmatic mind and his open mind were at work as the APA Board of Commissioners tried to unravel knotty issues like the definition of a boathouse, whether floatplanes should be allowed on Lows Lake, and the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake.
On floatplanes, he pushed to restrict them. On boathouses, he warned of excessive restrictions. On the ACR, he agonized and finally voted in favor, sticking to the legal guideline about whether it would have an "undue adverse impact."
"I think it's clear that there's an impact," he said at the time. "I think it's very clear that there's an adverse impact. The whole thing, to me, depends on 'undue.'"
That's a sense of justice for you. He wasn't afraid to be nonpartisan, and Adirondackers shouldn't be, either.
It's rare for the Enterprise to pay a tribute like this to a retiring APA official, and we expect Mr. Wray will be shocked to read it. Nevertheless, we feel his long, consistent, intelligent and sometimes unpopular service deserves it.
The Enterprise has editorialized several times in the recent past that in-Park APA commissioners should be elected rather than appointed by the governor. We still feel that way, strongly. But Mr. Wray, over the last 14 years, has also shown the value of having out-of-Park commissioners to keep us on our toes. We wish him well and look forward to running into him when he's up this way.