Saturday, December 6, 2014

U.S. Attorney will not pursue charges against CO Kevin Rogers


The U.S. Attorney, in a rare letter of vindication, said he will not bring formal charges against Kevin Rogers, the corrections officer who was being investigated for improperly spending union funds.

Rogers was the vice president of the now defunct Sheriff’s Employees Association of Rensselaer County. He came under investigation for spending union dues on dinners at expensive restaurants, strip clubs, charitable organizations he fancied and political campaigns of candidates he favored.
Sheriff Jack Mahar placed Rogers on suspension with full pay – about $75,000 - four years ago while the federal government investigated. Now that the investigation is closed, it’s unclear if Rogers will go back to work for his paycheck. Mahar has, in the past, said Rogers will never work at the jail again.
The union’s president at the time, Mark Piche, was also investigated. He pleaded guilty to tax evasion in an unrelated matter involving the Red Front Restaurant, which is owned by his family, and resigned his post as a corrections officer. As was reported earlier, part of that deal was his agreeing to testify against Rogers should the case ever made it to trial. 
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District Richard S. Hartunian, in the Dec. 5 letter to Rogers’s attorney Gaspar M. Castillo, said he would hand information over to the state Attorney General, but the statute of limitations is rapidly approaching. And, it’s widely believed, that if the federal government couldn’t find any crime after four years of probing, the state government will give it a cursory glance at best.
Sources say that investigators for the U.S. Attorney’s Office reached out to Rogers on a number of occasions – the latest being last week – saying they were ready to indict and that it would go easier on him if he cooperated. Rogers declined to talk and instead called their bluff.
Rogers never denied spending the union money in the manner stated above and most, if not all, of the transactions were recorded as expenditures in the union check book. However, once the investigation was kicked off, union members complained of not having access to the records, asked for a criminal investigation and voted to dissolve the union.
The initial complaint filed by some union members came after Gary Gordon challenged Mahar for sheriff in 2011. Personnel at the jail were split on which camp they supported during the heated, contentious campaign.
This fall, Rogers joined a handful of jail employees – civilian and uniformed - who filed a civil suit against Mahar and Rensselaer County for claims their medical records were accessed in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA. The county has settled one suit for $20,000.  
The U.S. Attorney – or any investigatory body – rarely sends a letter stating the case is closed and charges will not be pursued. The only other person to receive such a letter, in recent memory, was then Cohoes Mayor Bob Signoracci after the FBI concluded its investigation into a number of alleged financial improprieties without bringing charges in the mid-1990s.
More information as it becomes available.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A budget disaster nobody knew about

I was going to stay up late last night and write something about the most inept, dysfunctional, indecisive Council in recent memory but I figured if they can just blow everything off so can I.
I’m not paid for this, however, and I don’t have nearly 50,000 people expecting me to write this column a few times a week. The nine members of the Council are paid to pass a responsible budget.
Hell, the Council president, Rodney Wiltshire, wasn’t even there to pass the budget – the single most important thing he is elected to do. And he was absent for the second year in a row.
I suppose I could have kicked off this column by saying “despite the administration’s best efforts” but that would just be laughable.
Of course, I’m referring to the Council’s decision to not vote on the mayor’s budget during a Finance Committee meeting. Actually, they didn’t vote on any budget and as such the mayor’s budget – which is $30,000 out of whack – goes into effect.
The Council also didn’t officially  
set a tax levy so if they don’t reconvene and do that, Trojans won’t have to pay any taxes in 2015. Maybe that’s why they did what they did. What politician would not get elected if he or she abolished taxes altogether.
It’s been a disaster right from the get-go. Let’s recap:
-The mayor’s budget, proposed in October, included deferring $1.9 million in pension costs from ’15 to ’16 and a $650,000 one-shot from the sale of the old city hall site on Monument Square. That means ’16 starts with a deficit of about $2.5 million.
-The ‘15 budget also includes $14,000 for a new dais to be permanently installed in the Council chambers in the building the city rents.  
-The state Comptroller came out with a report telling the city it could run a deficit as high as $800,000 in ’14 and if that projection comes true it could mean the city is back under the thumb of the Financial Control Board for the first time in nearly two decades.
-The state Comptroller, in his annual review of the budget, said the city spent $5.9 million more than it took in from 2011 through 2013. It made ends meet – and ignored the structural deficit – by syphoning off the water fund and spending money in the accounts reserved for capital projects, future contractual obligations and other unspecified but expected costs.
-The Council asks the mayor to see what it would look like if he cut 3 percent from each department.
-The mayor did and it included laying off 10 firefighters and five cops plus three civilians from the TPD.
-It took the Council all of seven minutes to say we aren’t cutting the Police of Fire departments and blamed the mayor for not coming up with another idea.
-The mayor – to his credit – didn’t blame the Council for not doing their job and making their own cuts or coming up with any ideas to raise revenues. Didn’t mean they did any of the things they are paid for, but at least the mayor took the high road and didn’t make the Council look any worse. Yes, it would have been possible.
-Some on the Council, though, did take their shots at the mayor but it rings hollow because nobody came up with any other ideas.
-Throughout it all, the mayor and the Council made a deer caught in the headlights look like a Rhodes Scholar and claim they had no idea the city’s financial picture was this bad. Yes, ignorance is bliss. Or maybe it is disguised by feral cats, shady demolition projects, cheap sidewalks, racial tension, solar energy, a tech committee and ribbon cuttings.
-Someone had to know and that someone is Acting Comptroller Joe Mazzariello. But, since he works for the mayor, the mayor had to know, and since the mayor is required by the Charter to give the Council quarterly financial updates the Council had to know.
-But nobody knows nothin’. Even the state Comptroller didn’t know. I looked at the budget reviews dating to ’09 and not one goes back three years like it did for ’15. Amazing, really, how things can fall through the cracks if you push it hard enough.
-And someone was pushing for four straight years – 2011-2014. But, sooner rather than later, the crack closes up and the all the stuff shoved in will explode like one of those spring loaded gag gifts. Except it’s not a joke. We are talking about the budget, here, and that impacts everyone living in the Collar City.  



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The unspoken items on some gratitude lists

It’s Thanksgiving Eve and I’m sure the elected officials and appointed officials in the Capital Region all have something – family, friends and other loved ones – for which to be thankful.
I’m sure too there are those things they are nearly as thankful for, and for which they mutter a quick prayer to the God of their choosing as they walk to the car after a day’s work or perhaps as they lie in bed waiting for sleep to end the day.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
-Mayor Lou Rosamilia: I am thankful I only have 13 months and three days left in this gig.
-Deputy Mayor Pete Ryan: I am thankful I only have 13 months and three days left in this gig … now if only the governor’s office would call me back so I can land over in Albany somewhere. If Mirch can get a job over there I can, damn it.
-Planning Commissioner Bill Dunne: Thank God we have 13 months and three days left. Think of the fun we can have. Come on guys, we have to get Mayor Lou re-elected.
-Fire Chief Tom Garrett: I am thankful the city is in such dire financial straits because nobody has mentioned King Street (outside of FBI, DEC and EPA agents Johnson, Johnson and Johnson … no relation) in at least a month.
-Police Chief John Tedesco: I am thankful the weather is getting cold and crime is back down to normal.
-Take Back Troy (collectively): We are thankful that someone just spit on the sidewalk so we can post about it on Facebook and then fight about who we’re supposed to call.
-Kevin McCashion: I am thankful I live in Troy and will never have a shortage of things to Tweet about because there is always something going on that is #troycrazy.
-Carmella Mantello: I am thankful the Board of Elections screwed up the 2013 election because now I can say I may have won and still be a viable candidate for mayor. I am also thankful the Republicans have all but thumbed their nose at me so now I can run a primary against whoever they put up and not feel at all bad about it.
-Rensselaer County Democratic Party Chairman Tom Wade: I am thankful for … well I’m not thankful yet but I will be thankful when Mayor Lou opts not to run again.
-Council President Rodney Wiltshire: I am thankful I’m not mayor and can blame the financial mess on Mayor Lou. At the same time, I can plead ignorance of the whole thing and get away with it, and I can hold hearings to get to the bottom of who knew what when about the King Street demolition. It’s good not to be king … yet.
-Lynn Kopka: I am thankful I’m not Council president any longer because these guys are harder to corral than feral cats.
-Rev. Willie Bacotte: I’m thankful I no longer live in Troy … those folks caught onto my scams pretty quick.
Former Police Benevolent Association President Bob Fitzgerald: I'm thankful I'm no longer president for the same reason Bacotte is ... except it took them a little longer.
-County Executive Kathy Jimino: I am thankful for Mayor Lou because he makes me look good. Or, if not good, then everyone just ignores me and that’s even better.
- Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin: I am thankful for Gov. Andrew Cuomo … since I live upstate all I have to do is mention his name and I get votes.
-Rensselaer County District Attorney-Elect Joel Abelove: I am thankful for the same thing McLaughlin is.
-City Court Judge-Elect Jill Kehn: I am thankful for Rich Crist and his ability to get me the minor party lines. Without them, the fact I practiced law without a license for six years probably would have kept me off the bench.
-Councilman Gary Galuski: I am thankful this is my last term on the Council. It’s a pain in the butt and the paycheck got me in all sorts of trouble with the state Department of Labor – it seems like they frown on collecting unemployment while earning money.
-Chairman of the Legislature Martin Reid: I’m glad to be a Republican but because I am one I am on the front page of the Times Union for the same thing Galuski got jammed up for and all he got was a passing mention.

-The Record editors: We are happy nobody reads our newspaper any longer because at least now nobody will know how bad it really is.
-Councilman Jim Gordon: I am thankful for Mayor Lou because now a Republican has a shot at becoming mayor. Now if only Carmella would go away the nomination will be mine by default.
-Councilwoman Erin Teta-Sullivan: I'm thankful nobody knows who I am.
-Former Mayor Harry Tutunjian: I’m thankful I’m not in Mayor Lou’s seat right now because there really isn’t anything anyone could do about the financial mess.
 -The UFA and the PBA (collectively): We are thankful nobody in government has a spine or they would take the next logical step and lay some of us off.
-Jim Franco: I am thankful that people still read my stuff.
-The Friends of 112th Street (Collectively): For all the above mentioned characters for giving us limitless material for jokes.
This list will be added on throughout the Thanksgiving Day and please feel free to add your own.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Troy cop indicted for tipping off drug dealers

Troy Police Officer Brian Gross was indicted on a host of charges related to allegations he tipped off drug dealers ahead of a raid.
Gross, a 10-year veteran, stands formally charged with the felony of tampering with physical evidence, two counts of obstruction of governmental administration, divulging an eavesdropping warrant and obstruction of governmental administration.
 Gross was part of C-NET, a drug investigation unit headed up by the State Police that includes local law enforcement. The unit spent months investigating five drug houses in Troy, and while every indication was the Feb. 12 raid should have yielded a huge confiscation of illegal drugs police walked away with nothing.
Sources confirmed that Gross had a close personal relationship with a sister of one of the targets. Prior to the raid, Gross alerted the sister to the raid and told her to warn her brother. The sister, who has not yet been charged or named, works in the Child Protective Services division of the Rensselaer County Department of Social Services. T-Spin is withholding her name.
Since nothing came of the investigation or the raid the brother was not charged.
Gross was suspended without pay for 30 days but as per the union contract his pay was returned while he remains on suspension.
The first Obstruction of Justice charge is from the middle of January, according to the complaint, when Gross texted the sister and requested they meet. The sister told State Police investigators that Gross told her that her brother has to “’watch (his) back’ because (he) is doing something that had come to the attention of the State Police.”
According to phone records cited in the complaint, on Feb. 10, Gross texted the sister again and she told State Police Investigator Dennis Churns that Gross told her that “there better not be any drugs inside the home of (her brother) because ‘there was a good chance the police would get a warrant.’"
The sister then said she went to her brother’s home and told him that if “he is doing anything he needed to ‘cut the shit’ and get any drugs out of his house.”
Prior to the revelation of the friendship between Gross and the target’s sister, his arrest had many in the TPD scratching their heads and crying foul on his behalf. By all accounts he was an exemplary cop with an unblemished professional and personal record.
Gross is represented by attorney Steve Coffey. The office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is prosecuting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Layoffs hit TPD

Sources say five civilian employees at the Troy Police Department have been informed they will get laid off in January, 2015.
The five employees are members of the Civil Service Employees Association. Their titles and job descriptions were not immediately available. Civilian employees generally perform such tasks as automobile repair, data entry and secretarial work.
They were informed by Chief John Tedesco, Deputy Chief Richard McAvoy and other PD brass Wednesday afternoon.
The layoffs come as the city grapples with what the state Comptroller said could be as much as an $800,000 deficit this year and a report that said the city spent $5.9 million more than it took in from 2011 through 2013.
Mayor Lou Rosamilia sent a request asking that all city departments cut their budgets by 3 percent in an effort to save $1.9 million, the amount the city is deferring from next year to 2016 in pension costs.

More information as it becomes available.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A police complaint, a notice of claim and there is still a deficit

I was writing a Councilman Ken Zalewski vs. Councilman Gary Galuski column along the same lines as ChrisChurchill at the Times Union, but he beat me to it. And did a good job with it too.
Still, the one unanswered question – in addition to the fact the Troy City Council is squabbling over petty stuff rather than dealing with what is a major financial situation in the city – is why are they even filling a vacant position. Any vacant position. With anyone. It's in the budget, but so what. Spend it somewhere else. 
You can read Zalewski’s account of what transpired by clicking here.
Basically, the argument was about who the Council should hire as the assistant city clerk for $27,000 a year, Rebecca Sweeney or Rhonda Reed. The first is daughter to Board of Elections employee Mary Sweeney who is a loyalist to Democratic Party Chairman Tom Wade. The second is friend of Council President Rodney Wiltshire, or at least his wife. The first ran for a committee seat in District 8 and beat both Wade and Wiltshire (which is still kind of funny to me.)
During the public debate, Zalewski said the last city clerk, Bill McInerney, was touted by members of the Council, including Galuski, as a hard working member of the Democratic Party. Little did anyone know at the time the hard work he was doing included forging absentee ballots.
Galuski didn’t much like that since he was indicted in the scandal. The charges were later dropped but still, it must have hit a nerve, because he allegedly said to Zalewski: “If you ever embarrass me like that again I’ll take you out.”
According to the Times Union, Zalewski filed a complaint with the Troy Police Department. Now that crime is down in Lansingburgh – history tells us the wanna be gangsters who kept shooting everything up this summer don’t like the cold weather – the TPD detectives I’m sure will send this squabble to the top of their “to do” list.
And still the question remains … why not leave it vacant for a while, save a little bit of money and maybe help close the deficit a little. Instead, both sides were hell-bent on getting their own person into a job.  
The latest complaint comes on the heels of Councilmen Jim Gordon and Dean Bodnar filing a notice of claim against another member of the Council, Lynn Kopka, for an email that hinted the two may have not gone along with a piece of legislation because they were bought off.
Meanwhile, the city spent $6 million more than it took in over the past three years and is staring at what could amount to an $800,000 deficit this year.

The asinine notice of claim and the bogus complaint to the Troy Police Department are indicative of where everyone’s focus is – on petty BS and personal agendas rather than the big picture and what is actually good for the city.  

F. James Germano gets yet another trial date


For at the fifth time, F. James Germano’s trial has been postponed.
The former North Greenbush political boss stands charged with the misdemeanor solicitation for prostitution and the felony of lewd, lascivious or indecent behavior in Indian River County Court. His new trial date is Dec. 15.
According to court records, Germano stipulated to a surveillance video and hearsay testimony – which means they will be entered into evidence should the case make it to a jury.
Germano was arrested on Nov. 2, 2012 by Vero Beach Police. The 85-year-old was initially charged with procuring a person under the age of 18 for prostitution, a felony, and two misdemeanor counts of stalking. Those charges were thrown out and he was arrested for the two crimes he stands charged with now.
According to Vero Beach police, Germano allegedly offered a 12-year-old boy money in exchange for sex while the boy was waiting for a bus near his home. The boy called his mother on a cell phone and when she came to the bus stop, Germano allegedly made her a similar offer.
He was last set to go to trial on Aug. 25 with a conference slated for Nov. 6. Germano was not in court for the conference but Judge Robert L. Pegg set the new trial date.
He remains free on $65,000 bail.
Before stepping down after three decades as the town's Democratic Party chair, Germano controlled all things political in North Greenbush, and his influence was felt throughout Rensselaer County and across the river in Albany too.
He was tried along then County Executive Henry Zwack on charges the two – plus three of Zwack’s top aides – conspired to circumvent Civil Service Law. The five allegedly tried to give Germano’s grandson another crack at the physical agility portion of his Civil Service exam so he could remain a North Greenbush cop and in return Zwack would get the Conservative Party endorsement for his re-election bid. All five were found not guilty.
Here is a link to some older stories.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Troy Council to vote on excessive force settlement

HOULE shortly after his 2012 arrest
The City Council will vote to settle for $60,000 a federal lawsuit brought by freelance photographer Brian Houle at next month’s meeting.
The ordinance, which the Council will first discuss at the Finance Committee meeting on Nov. 20, will satisfy claims that officer Kyle Jones and others used excessive force while arresting Houle on June 26, 2012 in front of his South Troy home.
Prior to the questionable arrest, Houle and Jones got into a dispute on Facebook over what constitutes a “hero.” Houle referred to himself as one as he described how he extinguished an automobile fire after an accident.
Jones disputed there was a fire, Houle took exception. Jones then called Houle and the two continued the debate on the phone – a conversation Houle recorded and distributed to the media. Jones didn’t outright threaten Houle but he came close.
He was arrested for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct for allegedly blocking traffic during the early morning hours of June 26, 2012.  Those charges were dropped.  
Houle’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, named Jones and other officers as well as Chief John Tedesco, for failing to supervise or train his officers, and the city.
He initially asked for $3 million.
Internal Affairs investigated Houle’s claims against Jones and found the officer violated the department’s computer policy but did not use excessive force.
If the Council does not accept the mayor’s recommendation to settle, the case will proceed to trial.
Houle is represented by attorney Danielle Neroni.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Kopka grew a set (WITH EMAILS)

As if to answer the immortal challenge put forth by Parks and Recreation head George Rogers – Councilwoman Lynn Kopka, D-At Large, is the only I know of who looked at Troy's fiscal dilemma and grew a set.
She is not afraid to look at the deficit (which, according to the state Comptroller, is currently $6 million and climbing) and look at where the most money is spent (51 percent of the budget on pubic safety) and put two and two together.
It’s kind of like legendary thief Willie Sutton. When the FBI asked him why he robbed banks he said:  That’s where the money is.”
Politically, to even look at cutting public safety takes guts or, as Rogers said, “balls.” But what are the alternatives? Jack taxes through the roof? That just chases some people out and deters others from moving in. I’m sure there are other spots in the workforce or the budget that can get cut too, but public safety is the big enchilada and it’s always been sacrosanct.
Sutton didn’t rob quicky marts.
I’m not even sure if she proposed the idea of closing the Fire Department’s North Station, but the fact she supported at least talking about what is a pretty decent idea brought down a flurry of nasty emails from her colleagues on the Council.
They can be read below since I generally get the juicer ones sooner or later.
(My favorite is from Councilman Bob Doherty, D-District 4, asking why Kopka is sending former Councilman Mark McGrath the emails.  “As has happened before when you email speculate using our communications to Mark they wind up in Franco’s [hands] with accusations of black people colluding or other’s alleged criminal behavior,” Doherty wrote on Nov. 9. I really have no idea what he’s talking about when he says “black people colluding” but I’ve been called worse. At least I think I’ve been called worse.)
Back to the issue … What Kopka is proposing, or supporting, makes at least some sense since the North Station is tiny with only one door and is home to just one pumper truck - although, someone did send me a photo of an ambulance sitting outside the station at the corner of North and River streets on Sunday. Provided the ambulance will find a permanent home along the curb of North Station, I can’t help but wonder what will happen should it get called out in January at, say, 3 a.m. Let’s hope the patient can wait while firefighters scrape the windows.
Also, while there is just one pumper truck – and possibly an ambulance – it has to be manned with two firefighters 24-7, which equals the full time equivalent of 14 shifts.  And when one of those 14 firefighters calls in sick or goes on vacation, that shift is filled with another firefighter on overtime.
It was closed down in 1993 when Central Station was opened on Sixth Avenue, the 14 shifts were disbursed to other stations and it was re-opened for political reasons a few years later. Then it was closed again, and then opened again. I don’t think many knew if it was open or closed for the last two decades.
Troy currently has 133 cops, which is the most since I’ve been at The Record. And shortly before I started covering Troy it was under 100. And Troy just hired 14 new firefighters. Not everyone loves cops but everyone loves firefighters.
It takes a “set” to even talk about cutting the Fire Department.  
Without further ado, here are the emails (I just cut and pasted them so I can’t take credit for the typos):
From Councilman Jim Gordon to Kopka on Nov. 7 at 5:40 p.m.
“I'm hearing that you and Erin are in favor of closing the North Central fire station. This would be a huge hit for this community, loosing it's police substation and now you want to close its fire house. 
I'm sure you're well aware of the minimal manning clause in the UFA agreement, are you willing to layoff firefighters to be able to realize any cost savings from this closure - after just hiring 14? Are you aware of how operationally this rig works with engine 1 in Lansingburgh? Would there be a public safety and first responder safe concern?
There has been no constructive bargaining sessions with the UFA, why aren't you calling on the mayor to initiate constructive negations. This could address cost savings and open the door for discussion on FD operations. Just like with the PBA contract, efficiencies can be had if we had the leadership in our administration to properly negotiate.
Additionally, you voted in support of the purchase of a new fire truck and two new ambulances, now what do you do with equipment such as this, that I believe is in the process of being ordered at a hefty price tag, and the debt it creates.
While I applaud your ambition it sounds like this proposal wasn't that well thought out before making public statements. Is the mayor supportive of your proposal? Is there more to the story than we are understanding? Please enlighten us.”
From Kopka to Gordon on Nov. 7 at 10:59 p.m.
“Rodney does not speak for either Erin or me. If you wish clarification on our suggestions, please contact us directly.”
From Councilwoman Anastasia Robertson to Kopka on Nov. 7 at 11:50 p.m.
“Regarding the suggested closure of any FD house is not a viable option especially in the North Central community.
Concerns addressed by Council Gordon are definitely issues that should be researched before any such closure were to be suggested let alone take place. North Central has minuscule resources and cannot afford to have more deflected to Lansingburgh or any other community.
Both Lansingburgh and North Central seem to shoulder the bulk of both fires and crime. Would you consider the FD house servicing your area for closure as the need appears to be less? I don't believe you would see that as a viable option.
I realize the constraints and fiscal responsibility we are facing there are many things to consider but to suggest taking resources out of a suffering community is not right or responsible.
On another note I also do not agree with decreasing the NI Grants to 6500 from 9k. This grant though small in scale serves many communities with an opportunity to beautify and in a small way bring a touch of sunshine and neighborly cohesion. If there were other grants for communities to draw from I might begin to understand, however this is not the case. The NI Grant is a viable and necessary grant toward the building and bridging of positive communities.
If you believe there are one or two who failed to utilized their grants, then next year deny those applicants.
Just my thoughts. ...”
From Kopka to Robertson on Nov. 8 at 1:02 a.m.
“Anastasia - Had you participated in the Wednesday caucus, you would know that I did not suggest that we close a firehouse. I did suggest that Troy adopt the Albany model of identifying savings in the public safety area (where the OT is creating problems) thru joint efforts - the administration and the police and fire work together to identify achievable savings.
Again, had you participated in Wednesday's caucus, you could have voiced your opposition to the NIP cut.
In order to accomplish the ads that many members wanted (Code Inspector, Grant Writer, Comptroller, Powers Park, etc), reductions in expenditures must be found. As it is, the majority submitted $47K in ads (not including fringe benefits for the positions) and has not identified a like amount in expenditure reductions.”
From Doherty to Kopka on Nov. 8 at 5:47 a.m.
“If there is a concerted effort to manage and reduce personnel costs, it must target the workforce in its entirety. Assuring management effectiveness to accomplish budgeted targets is our core responsibility of stewardship and accountability to Troy’s citizens. Because the uniformed Public Service sectors are our largest costs does not mean they become the sole target of attention and actions. Given the fundamental critical support of safety to citizen’s wellbeing, we should not speculate on drastic proposals, unless and until our reviews efforts are universal. The only effective effort will be a shared one with Administration. If there is not willingness on all of our parts, that must be addressed and remedied.
Passing our budget and acknowledging the content of the State Comptroller’s communications is the immediate challenge. Our next responsibility is to gain accurate and timely reporting of fiscal performance. We must start gaining the tools we need that will lead to control and stability. Controls and varied effective administrative actions to produce necessary outcomes need to be applied forthwith and continually throughout the year.
Speculative targets that gain attention for discussion don’t get us nearer to accomplishing our tasks.”
From Kopka to McGrath on Nov. 8 at 9:25 a.m.
“Mark - here is why it would be difficult to close a firehouse.”
From Robertson to Kopka on Nov. 8 at 11:10 a.m.
“Is there a reason why the council's communications are being shared with Mr. McGrath?”
From Kopka to someone on Nov. 8 at 12:19 p.m.
“I wanted to let him know about the feasibility of closing a firehouse”
From Doherty to Kopka on Nov. 9 at 8:22 a.m. (my favorite)
“Then please write your own communications and do not use mine. Adding Mark to our communications render them subject to hyperbole and insult.  As has happened before when you email speculate using our communications to Mark they wind up in Franco’s with accusations of black people colluding or other’s alleged criminal behavior.
Sincere interest in solving problems or even being thoughtful of the interests of Troy become an opportunity to scorn.
I’m disappointed you continue this behavior in spite of the chilling effect it has on your participation and reputation.  The answer to the question “Do you ever embarrass yourself?”  Is  apparently never.  It is impossible to know when you are being your usual contemptuous hurtful self or when you might actually want to be taken seriously.  I had hope you might collaborate and dialogue about City finances, but disruption is more to your liking.  Bob”


Troy's North Station was closed before and few even knew

In a scathing audit, the state Comptroller said Troy has run a $6 million deficit over the last three years.
That’s not a slight miscalculation – that’s a structural problem. In other words there is no money from anywhere to continue operations as they are now. The water and sewer funds are tapped to the max, the contingency fund has been spent down and the capital fund was spent on operational costs rather than things like paving roads.
The city has to cut expenses or raise more revenue and it doesn’t appear anyone has any idea how to go about doing that.
Mayor Lou Rosamilia has ignored the problem and his proposed 2015 budget includes massive one shots on each side of the ledger, a $650,000 source of revenue for the sale of the old City Hall site and he proposes to defer $1.9 million of pension costs until 2016.  That’s just pushing the problem off and will make things worse.
Council President Rodney Wiltshire, appearing on Talk1300, said Trojans can expect a tax hike. That’s pretty much a given at this point in time but the revenue generated could be offset by people moving out.
Councilman Jim Gordon has the most creative idea – eliminate public safety from the budget and charge everyone a fee, including the non-profits which currently don’t pay taxes. But, that’s years out since it would take participation from the state Legislature and turn the entire taxing structure on its head.
One proposal, though, that makes sense and supported by Councilwoman Lynn Kopka, is closing the Fire Department’s North Station. It would bring immediate and long term relief, but for some reason her Council colleagues crucified her for even talking about cuts to public safety.
Here’s a bit of history.
The Fire Department’s central offices were located in the Police Department building and while it wasn’t practical or efficient it was crowded. So, the city set out to find a new home and set its sights on what was then Bloomfield’s junkyard on Sixth Avenue.
Part of the justification behind building a new station was the savings generated by closing the North Station at the corner of North and River streets. It’s a small station with only a pumper but it is manned 24-7 and that constitutes some 14 shifts that have to be filled by firefighters. And the city just hired 14 new firefighters ... get the possible correlation?
In 1993 Central Station was open and, with the union’s blessing, North Station was closed. As an aside, at the time Gary Favro was head of the Uniformed Firefighters Association and there is no one I know of who is more of a union guy than Favro.
Skip ahead four years, Mayor Mark Pattison had been in office about a year and a half. In an effort to help an ally on the Council, Christine Stone, win re-election in District 2 Pattison re-opened North Station. Stone lost anyway.
Skip ahead a few more years, the station was close for about 18 months for repairs that included a new roof and other structural work. I’m guessing nobody noticed.
And nobody would notice if it were closed now. Central Station is blocks away and was designed to handle the calls taken by North Station.
Kopka has the the wherewithal to realize the city is in deep trouble and the guts to say public safety is not sacrosanct.
Public Safety constitutes 51 percent of the city’s budget. A bank robber goes to the bank for one reason – that’s where the money is. If you want to fix structural deficiencies in the budget – you have to look in the same place.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Comptroller: Troy spent $5.9 million more than it took in from '11 through '13 (DOCUMENT)

From 2011 through 2013, the City of Troy spent $5.9 million more than it took in, according to a scathing report by the office of state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (see below.)
According to the 10-page report, the city operated at a $2.3 million deficit in 2011, a $1.3 million deficit in 2012 and a $2.4 million deficit in 2013. The report comes about a week after the Comptroller warned the city that if it closed this year at a projected $800,000 deficit, it could come back under the control of the Financial Control Board for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Mayor Harry Tutunjian's last year in office was 2011 and Mayor Lou Rosamilia took over on Jan. 1, 2012.
In addition, the Comptroller points out that the city has transferred substantial amounts of money from the water fund to help offset the deficit, an option the Comptroller warns will be limited in the future. In 2011, the city took some $300,000 from the water fund, in 2012, $1.2 million and in 2013, $1.5 million.
Furthermore, the Comptroller says the city failed to adequately budget for capital expenditures and instead relied on borrowing. From 2011 through 2015 the Comptroller estimates the city’s capital improvement fund will decrease from $6.2 million to $175,000.
The Comptroller also points out that next year’s budget, which has not yet been approved by the Council, includes a one shot $650,000 of revenue from the sale of the old City Hall site and an approximately $1.6 million of savings by deferring three months of its pension contribution until 2016.
  “As a result, the 2016 budget must contain provisions for a significant increase in retirement appropriations,” according to the report.
More information as it becomes available.  

Here is a link about the Comptrollers report written by a seasoned reporter.

Here is another link, about the same by a talented writer and ambitious young reporter who unfortunately has no editorial oversight and nobody above her willing or able to pick up the slack when a major story breaks late in the day.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Race for DA is too close to call


The race for Rensselaer County District Attorney will go to absentee ballots.  

According to unofficial results from the Board of Elections, Republican Joel Abelove ended the night with 50.36 percent or 21,857 votes to Democrat Carmelo Laquidara’s 49.58 percent or 21,518 votes.
There were about 2,700 absentee ballots issued and 1,814 were returned to the BOE.
The re-canvass of machine votes generally takes place the day following the election. It’s unclear when the two sides will sit down and go through the arduous process of counting the absentee ballots.
The two are vying for the seat vacated when Rich McNally was sworn in as a Supreme Court judge on Jan. 1.  

Kehn beats Gorman for second Troy judge seat; Maier cruises to another term

Jill Kehn will become the second city court judge alongside incumbent Judge Chris Maier, who led the three candidates running for two spots on the bench, according to unofficial results from the Rensselaer County Board of elections.

When she is sworn in on Jan. 1, she will become Troy's first ever female city court judge.
Kehn, who ran on the Republican, Conservative, Independence, Green and Working Families Party lines, ended up with 30.48 percent, or 4,457 votes to Democrat Keith Gorman’s 24.74 percent, or 3,618 votes. Maier, a Democrat who had four additional lines, ended with 44.55 percent, or 6,515 votes.
The newly created position carries a 10-year term.
Gorman beat the Democratic Party’s pick, Troy Corporation Counsel Ian Silverman, in a primary to earn a spot on the ballot.

Kehn came under fire when it was revealed her law license was suspended from 1999 to 2005 because she failed to follow the two-year registration requirements. It was also disclosed she practiced law during the time her license was suspended. She said she was unaware of the suspension because she was raising her children, taking care of an ill family member and had moved.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Across the board public safety fee is an idea worth exploring

For years, decades even, the City of Troy has tried to get Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to pay for city services and for years, decades even, the college has refused.
The easiest way to accomplish that would be to charge a nominal public safety fee, as it’s been called in the past, as part of the tuition and that money would pass through the college to the city. But, the city can’t just impose a fee on RPI or any other specific entity without imposing the same fee on all properties, like the recycling fee. And it can’t tax any of the non-profits.
As I mentioned, this has been going on for decades. Now, though, there is a sense of urgency because the city is in the worst financial shape in 20 years.
Councilman Jim Gordon, R-District 1, while appearing on Talk 1300, said he and his Republican colleague, Councilman Dean Bodnar, R-District 3, will propose a possible way to get some much needed cash from RPI and other non-profits.
It’s an out-of-the-box idea, and I have no idea if the city can find a way to implement it, but on the surface it is worth exploring.
According to Gordon, he wants to take all or part of the public safety budget – which equals about half of the city’s total spending per year – and rather than pay for it with taxes spread the bill out among all the properties in the city – including non-profits like RPI – and have them all pay a fee. By bringing such huge non-profits like Samaritan and St. Mary’s Hospital and RPI into the mix, the average homeowner will see an overall decrease in what he or she owes Uncle Sam per year while at the same time it represents a huge, untapped source of much needed revenue.
There are all sorts of road blocks in the way – including how much each property will pay, how to collect the fee, what happens if the fee isn’t paid, odds are the state Legislature will have to pass some sort of law and God knows they can complicate tying a shoe and that’s if the city can even come up with a rationale home rule request.
But, as reported in the Times Union, the city is facing an $800,000 deficit, which is more than 1 percent of the budget. If the city runs the deficit through the end of the year it risks again coming under the auspices of the state Comptroller’s Financial Control Board. That means the Comptroller will pretty much take away the city’s check book and every other aspect of the city’s finances.
Not surprisingly, police and fire overtime are over budget as is temporary help, which is surprising. At the same time some revenues aren’t coming in as predicted such as building permit fees – which I wrote about more than a year ago – and collection of vehicle and traffic fines.
My guess is if the administration of Mayor Lou Rosamilia is saying there is an $800,000 deficit then it’s really $1 million-plus, which will be even harder to make up before the books are closed at year’s end. Or maybe all the mayor, a former accounting professor at Hudson Valley Community College, is worried about is getting the deficit below the 1 percent threshold, or about $750,000.  
And that’s not going to help out next year or the year after that at all. If anything it will just make it harder to get a balanced budget. All of the unions are without a contract, reserves have been spent down in recent years and the city already deferred $1.6 million in pension costs from next year to 2016.
Troy maybe in a little worse shape than other upstate, older industrial cities but it’s not alone in its financial woes. It’s also not alone in having a huge number of non-profits – close to 50 percent – that require a huge amount of city services they don’t pay for.
That’s why Gordon’s idea is at least worth exploring. Of course there will be naysayers and it certainly isn’t going to be an easy lift. But it’s better to get a little creative and explore new ideas rather than point fingers and unilaterally raise taxes on the average homeowner.



Sunday, October 26, 2014

You can't make this up: Councilmen files notice against fellow councilwoman (with EMAILS and DOCUMENTS)

In all my years of covering the Capital Region, in all the arguments, name calling, finger pointing and backstabbing I’ve seen nearly countless members of elected boards engage in with each other, I’ve never seen one sue another one.
But, this is Troy and the electeds here tend to set the bar for everyone else.
Last week, Republican councilmen Dean Bodnar, District 3, and Jim Gordon, District 2, filed a notice of claim against Councilwoman Lynn Kopka, D-At Large, for allegedly libelous comments she made in an email.
What makes it even funnier, Kopka inadvertently sent the email where she allegedly slanders Bodnar and Gordon to Bodnar and Gordon – and who knows who else. Honestly, you just can’t make this stuff up.
The email in question was about a piece of legislation that would require any contractors doing a project for the city worth more than $250,000 to implement an apprenticeship program. The non-union shops are against it while the unions – and by extension the shops that hire union help – are in favor of it. The program would make projects more expensive for the city because the contractors would be required to hire the apprentices. On the flip side, it does provide young people an opportunity to learn a trade.
(It’s odd in that a liberal Democrat like Kopka would be staunchly against a piece of legislation favored by the unions and seemingly go out of her way to stop it while two Republicans voted for it. Again, you can’t make this stuff up.)
Kopka, in an email note, to Josh Reap, legislative representative to the Associated Builders and Contractors of New York State, said:
“I thought the 2 republicans - Dean Bodnar and Jim Gordon - were leaning toward a no vote. I think the unions bought them off somehow. They do not have any of the info you provided to me. If you approach them, please do not mention my involvement - just tell them that you represent various contractors, etc and are aware of the legislation.
Your info and a call from a Troy contractor may push them to call the mayor to veto. Time is ticking thought. Keep me posted.”
Bodnar was infuriated and sent this scathing email to Kopka:
“It's 7:50 am on Saturday, and I'm seeing this for the first time. When you phoned me yesterday you didn't mention exactly what you'd written in this email which you'd sent to Jim "by mistake". You just said you sent him something and that now Jim had probably sent it on to everybody in the world...
REALLY? You're accusing Jim and me of being "BOUGHT OFF" on this issue? Do you have any idea what you've said here? Damn it Lynn, I want you to march right over to your acting district attorney and insist he impanel a grand jury to look into this. How can you possibly assert something like this when all we did was disagree with you on a legislative issue. I'm shocked and disgusted--what the hell kind of person are you? I'm copying Kelly Cramer on this---Kelly, please inform us if we have legal grounds for a suit for slander.
Jim's right--the ABC and anyone else who opposed the apprenticeship resolution had every opportunity to speak to all councilmembers for weeks prior to the vote. Where the hell were they? In fact, Jim and I had many conversations during that period in which we actually solicited opinions from local contractors to get their input on this. We honestly studied the issue, presented concerns in public forums on two occasions, sought dissenting views, and ultimately voted in favor based on the information provided. Isn't that what legislators are supposed to do? And because our vote was at odds with yours, WE WERE BOUGHT OFF???
Lynn, I really don't get upset very easily, but if you smear my reputation, or try to hurt my family--that gets me upset. You've got some serious backtracking to do here. If Jim and I decide to go public with this, you've got one hell of a PR problem 
. And maybe a legal one.”
Gordon too took exception. Here is his email to Kopka:
“This is an interesting thread. Interesting that you suggest that we were "bought off somehow". That's is a very serious accusation especially in the word of public service and ethics. I don't know who Joshua Reap is, but he along with anyone else had the opportunity to express their concerns during the two council meetings this was debated at for several hours. I did have a number of concerns with the original draft and those concerns were mitigated. Additionally, we were assured that any non-union contractor, through their association with the ABC had access to the AP and therefore would be a "qualified" contractor with the city.
Finally, I am assuming my eyes were never intended to read this email. And you simply where attempting to make claims regarding myself and Dean privately and suggesting Mr Reap lobby and pressure us to change our mind long after the fact. The issue has passed and is over.
I wonder how many other people may receive this email accidentally...”
 The two Republicans, in turn, filed a notice of claim against Kopka. The opening paragraph of the draft notice of claim states: … “the claimants, Bodnar and Gordon, hereby claim and demand from respondents, Kopka and the City of Troy, monetary compensation for the compensatory and punitive damages sustained by reasons of respondent Kopka’s malicious composition and publication of an electronic email containing numerous libelous statements made of and concerning the claimants.”
  In the end, at the July 10 meeting, the legislation passed by a vote of 6-2 with two other Democrats, Gary Galuski, District 6, and Erin Sullivan-Teta, At Large, voting no and Kopka being absent.
And finally, here are texts of the emails between Kopka and Reap prior to the one Kopka sent to Bodnar and Gordon where she is trying to steer Reap into the best way to get the mayor to veto.
Kopka to Reap on July 24:
“I have not spoken to the mayor yet. will do so later today.”
From Reap to Kopka later that day:
“It was a very good opportunity to voice some concerns and share with the mayor the potential legal problems this legislation may cause both for the city and the many contractors who currently do work for Troy but would no longer be able to do so, should this bill become signed into law.
I have reviewed the legislation you sent me last night and I'm drafting a letter which will highlight our position as well as some of our concerns with the legislation. I will be happy to share a copy with you once its complete. I also got to speak with Bill; it was productive.
I want to thank you for inviting me to that meeting.”
From Kopka back to Reap:
“Josh - get the letter to the mayor (and me) as soon as you can. He only has a day or so before he must act. Happy to include you. All the material presented prior to today's meeting was one-sided.”
Reap to Kopka:
“You got it; letter will be shared tomorrow.”
Kopka to Reap:
“I am not optimistic that the mayor will veto - he is concerned that the council will override (currently split 6 for; 3 against).”
Back to Kopka:

“Thanks. Are there members of the council who voted "yes" but were on the fence?”
And that’s when Kopka sent the email to the world – where she accuses Gordon and Bodnar of being bought off - she thought she was sending just to Reap.
And here is a draft of the notice of claim: