Thursday, May 29, 2014

A possible third Democratic Party City Court candidate

There is a potential third Democratic candidate for City Court judge which, if attorney Keith Gorman is successful in getting enough signatures, would force a primary.
Incumbent Chris Maier is looking to get re-elected to a second term, and Corporation Counsel Ian Silverman also has the backing of the Democratic Party proper for the newly created full time, $113,900 a year judicial position in Troy City Court.
The lone Republican to express an interest is attorney Jill Kehn.
The way the elections - primary and general - will work, though, is the two candidates with the highest vote total will win so Maier will not simply defend his seat while the other two vie for the new spot.
Gorman has a practice based in Latham. Sources say he picked up walking sheets, petition forms and maps from the Board of Elections.
More information as it becomes available.
(Also, I will post something later tonight on the last night's Council hearing.)


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Former Mayor Tutunjian gets a subpoena (DOCUMENT) (UPDATED)

Well, it appears the Council is issuing subpoenas for tomorrow night’s hearing on two controversial demolition projects as well as other activity.
Former Mayor Harry Tutunjian received a subpoena and according to his Tweet: “I’m looking forward to testifying tomorrow at the Troy City Council demolition hearing. I wonder what they’ll ask me. Should be fun.”
Tutunjian said, in previously published reports, that he spoke with Don Boyajian, the owner of the King Street buildings that were demolished in August 2013 by emergency decree, about knocking the buildings down in 2011 when he was still in office.
Fire Chief Tom Garrett ordered the buildings leveled while City Engineer Russ Reeves was on vacation. Bombers Burrito Bar, located next door was allowed to stay open through the demolition, which occurred prior to any asbestos abatement.
One of the logical avenues of inquiry the Council is taking is what prompted the emergency demolition at that time when the buildings have been vacant for at least a decade prior.

As you can see, Tutunjian is "commanded" to appear at 6 p.m. at City Hall to answer questions and bring any and all documents related to the demolition of the King Street buildings and demolition at the King Fuels site.  
According to the Times Union, Boyajian will also testify along with John Torino, the owner of Provincial Contractor Services which has done work at King Fuels and Dan DiTonno, the owner of DiTonno & Sons construction company who did work at the King Fuels site.  


Good move by Mayor Lou; ball is in Wiltshire's court


Mayor Lou Rosamilia put the ball back in Council President Rodney Wiltshire’s court by saying any member of his administration will voluntarily testify so there is no need for the Council to issue subpoenas.
It was a good move by Roasmilia. He avoids looking like he was fighting the inquiry – as opposed to when he vetoed the ordinance allowing the Council to issue subpoenas – and rather makes it look like he and his administration are being nothing but open and transparent and willing to cooperate with the process.
Plus, and perhaps more importantly in the grand scheme of things, by hearing from the players directly involved in the demolition on King Street and on the King Fuels site, we are all closer to knowing who did what and why. Rosamilia - whether he knows or not or whether or not he wants to know or not - can say he and his have nothing to hide and if something untoward is revealed he can claim ignorance and be just as shocked and surprised as anyone else. Even Wiltshire, while on Talk1300, said he thinks Rosamilia was not aware of what actually transpired prior to the demolitions.
In other words, look for someone to be the “fall guy.” But the thing with “fall guys,” is sometimes they are the ones responsible and should be held accountable.
Anyway, some say the agreement waters down the investigation because as Wilford Brimley said in Absence of Malice: “Wonderful thing a subpenee.”
With a subpoena, the testimony is automatically under oath and the Council can also demand to see records like contracts, emails and other exchanges related to the two demolition projects.
Wiltshire can still put those giving testimony under oath, can still demand the related documents and proceed as if he were issuing subpoenas but he really had no choice but to accept Rosamilia’s fig leaf. If he didn’t, he ran the risk of appearing to politicize the process and so far he has kept the inquiry above the fray – which is no easy task in a city like Troy.  
In the end, Rosamilia had nothing to lose by offering up members of his administration. If he didn’t Wiltshire would have just overrode the vetoes, issued the subpoenas and they would be forced to testify anyway. Let’s see if they are under oath and if the Council also has access to all the relevant documents and communications.
  According to the Times Union, the eight who will testify are:
Fire Chief Tom Garrett, who ordered the demolition of the King Street buildings, a row of buildings owned by attorney Don Boyajian, Bill Dunne, the planning commissioner who is at the center of the King Fuels demolition, his assistant Andrew Kreshik, Dave Sheeran, a code enforcement officer, Andrew Peterson, an employee in the planning department, Corporation Counsel Ian Silverman, Mike Hayner, who is heading up the Department of Public Works and Deputy Mayor Pete Ryan.
Obviously Rosamilia has no control over those who probably have something to offer but are not employed by the city. They include Boyajian, J.R. Casale, the proprietor of Bomber’s and a representative from Ditano and Sons.   
This will be the third hearing held by the Council. The first featured former City Engineer Russ Reees and his assistant Barbara Tozzi. Both of whom have since left city employment. During the second, the Council heard testimony from four individuals who do not work for the city.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Buchanan and Cooney headed to retirement

Two captains in the Troy Police Department are retiring.
According to a Facebook post by Capt. Terry Buchanan he and Capt. John Cooney are having their retirement party this Friday at the Park Pub at Frear Park starting at 4:30 p.m. Far be it for me to invite anyone to their retirement party but it was on a social media site and is does conclude with “all are welcome to stop by.”
I’ve known them both since I first started at The Record – and they were around long before I was.
Buchanan used to write a column for the paper and Cooney was the Police Benevolent Association President when I first came aboard.
Buchanan now heads up the Internal Affairs division and Cooney is the Public Information Officer.
BUCHANAN is sworn in as captain by TEDESCO
For what it’s worth, I found both men to be upstanding police officers and individuals. I could kill an hour talking – not just about cop stuff but anything - to Buchanan on Broadway and his opinion often played a part in formulating my weekly columns. And Cooney was always honest and forthright – he told you what he could on the record but more importantly made sure we of the Fourth Estate understood what was really going on.
I’m sure there will be all sorts of scuttlebutt about the reason they are leaving is the turmoil among the TPD hierarchy over the past couple years and that may have played a factor. But, they’ve been around long enough to know most turmoil is just a passing phase and in time things will go back to normal. Maybe not the same as it was pre-turmoil, but normal just the same.
In the end, while I have not talked to either of them yet, I’m guessing they just thought it was their time to move on and I wish both men well in their retirement. I’m sure their presence and professionalism will be missed at the TPD.
The upshot is, now maybe they can tell me all the stuff they couldn't tell me before.

Time for the board to cough up the records (DOCUMENTS)

It’s been six months since the polls closed, but a candidate for Troy City Council is still looking for a definitive answer to the outcome of the election.
Carmella Mantello, who ran for an At Large seat last November, filed an Article 78 (see below) in state Supreme Court demanding the Rensselaer County Board of Elections cough up the backup, paper records of votes that were cast on electronic voting machines.
Mantello, who lost to Councilwoman Lynn Kokpa by some 60 votes, doesn’t think any review of the paper records will change the ultimate outcome of the race, but thinks she, like any candidate for office, should have the right to review the results.
In this case, she has reason. According to emails Mantello got through using the state Freedom of Information Act, there were problems with the machines and the board and the vendor were trying to work them out as late as Oct. 9, 2013. Yet, the Board of Election used the new machines anyway despite ongoing issues with the way they scanned the paper ballots.
Previously, Board of Elections Commissioners Ed McDonough and Larry Bugbee, a Democrat and Republican respectively, said they would turn over the paper records but only if Mantello filed what they called the necessary paperwork in court.
She jumped through the hoops. So now it’s up to the board to not only stand by its word but follow through with what should be little more than common courtesy to anyone who sticks their neck out and runs for public office – full and unfettered access to the ballots.
The board has until May 29 to respond to the Article 78. As I said, I don’t think it can change anything, but Mantello certainly has the right to know as does the public.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Council should remember to KISS


The Council is making this a whole lot more complicated than it has to be.
According to the Times Union, Mayor Lou Rosamilia vetoed an ordinance authorizing the Council to issue subpoenas in its ongoing investigation into two controversial demolition projects and other things.
For starters, I don’t get why the Council sent the legislation to Rosamilia for his approval. The Charter clearly gives the Council the authority to conduct an investigation into any city activity and/or department. The mayor has no say in the matter because the Council is a separate and distinct branch of government with rights and duties exclusive to that branch.
It would be similar to the mayor vetoing the Council’s pick for City Clerk. He can’t. It’s a Council appointment.
That said, if he did have the authority to veto, it’s pretty apparent he has a valid reason. The process the Council approved to issue individuals subpoenas is either do it at a public meeting by majority vote or by five member signing a document.
The first makes perfect sense and is the process that should be followed. I’ve never heard of the second and nobody I talked to has either.  
It’s unclear why Wiltshire doesn’t just ask each member of the Council who they want to question, put it all on a big list and then pass the entire list. It doesn’t mean everyone on the list has to get called to testify but that is by far the simplest way to go about it and one that has the best chance of withstanding any legal challenge.
Then again, Rosamilia said subpoenas are not necessary should the Council want to question anyone in his administration. If that’s the case, why issue the veto? Obvious employees include Bill Dunne, commissioner of planning, his assistant, Andrew Kreshick, Fire Chief Tom Garrett and Deputy Mayor Pete Ryan.
I’m a big fan of the acronym KISS, or Keep It Simple Stupid. And that’s from a guy who can complicate tying a shoe – even if it comes with Velcro. Wiltshire and some of his colleagues on the Council have thus far done an admirable job in trying to find out what happened at demolitions on King Street and at the King Fuels site.
The first two hearings went off without a hitch and some good information was gathered. Now, though, it's getting down to the bottom of things and while the Council conducts its investigation there are no less than three federal agencies and a state agency looking into things too.
There might not be any easy answers to the questions, but it doesn’t mean the process has to get bogged down.
Just remember: KISS.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A good day for Uncle Joe and democracy

As I wrote, if it were you or me we would have taken a plea long ago, saved a bunch of money and went on our merry way.
Not Joe Bruno. He took on the federal government – or better put he defended himself against the federal government with its huge pile of resources and a bigger chip on its shoulder – and he won.
As you all already know, the jury came back and issued a not guilty verdict after hardly five hours of deliberations.
The federal government chewed on Bruno’s butt for nine years and the jury took only five hours to find the former Senate Majority Leader not guilty of corruption charges.
Amazing, really.
And pretty scary if you think about the fact the federal government could do the same to you or me if it puts its mind to it. The difference is most people don’t have the resources, or the balls, to take them on.
Bruno has both. He won. And good for him.
No, not everyone is a majority leader of the New York State Senate, but the feds could sink its teeth into anyone for anything - an anti-government blog, a conversation taped by the NSA ... even a "subversive" thought. 
In the Bruno case, as you know, the feds got two convictions on the first trial but that was when they could use the “theft of honest services” statute when they smelled something wrong but didn’t have any hard evidence to back it up. Obviously, that statute was deemed unconstitutional by the highest court in the land, the convictions were tossed out based on that ruling and the government, in all its arrogance, re-indicted Bruno and brought him back before a jury.
Today that jury spoke loud and clear.
In the end, it has been estimated the federal government spent $25 million to investigate and prosecute Bruno twice. Bruno said he spent in excess of $5 million.
Was it worth it? I guess that’s the system we live under and we have to have faith in it. Bruno, with the class he’s shown from day one, said as much after the verdict. I spoke to him off the record a number of times, including the day before this trial kicked off, and he had less than kind words about the judge and the prosecutors … and rightly so.
That’s also where the system fails. Bruno didn’t cave under what must have been unimaginable pressure, the government didn’t like it one bit and they did nothing but keep applying the pressure in an effort to break him.
He didn’t, he won and in the end maybe he knocked the federal government down a notch or two so someone with less balls and resources will be spared such an ordeal.
I say good for Uncle Joe. He did his job for the Capital Region and did it well. It's time to hop on  his white horse, ride off into the sunset and enjoy the rest of your life. 



Thursday, May 15, 2014

Germano's trial date set for June 2

In case you are wondering, F. James Germano, the former North Greenbush political boss, is still in hot water in Florida.
According to records from the Indian River County Court Clerk, Germano’s trial date was postponed again from May 5 to June 2. The now 85-year-old was initially slated for trial on April 7.
In one of the most bizarre stories I have ever covered, Germano was arrested in November, 2012 for allegedly offering a 12-year-old boy $50 for sex. The boy, who was waiting at a bus stop near his Vero Beach home, called him mother. When she showed up, Germano allegedly solicited her for sex too.
The charges of felony procuring a minor for prostitution and two misdemeanor stalking charges were dropped, but he was later re-arrested for felony charge of lewd and lascivious behavior and the initial misdemeanor count of solicitation for prostitution still stands. He is free on $65,000 bail pending his trial. The fact it’s been going on for so long, with the trial postponed twice, tells me the two sides can’t agree on a plea deal which probably doesn’t bode well for Germano. I'm guessing Florida authorities have yet to acquire a taste for Germano's charm.  
The story caps off what can only be defined as a colorful career. Germano ruled all things political in North Greenbush with an iron fist for decades until he was indicted along with former Rensselaer County Executive Henry Zwack for attempting to circumvent Civil Service law in exchange for political favors. All five defendants were acquitted in 2002.
What makes the solicitation story so bizarre is Germano could be cast as a Sporanos extra. Or, better put, the Sopranos extras could have taken lessons from the tough talking Italian politico - he wasn’t just playing a part. He is one of the legendary politicos in and around Rensselaer County, not only for his tireless work ethic but just because he is Jimmy Germano.
For example, when Rensselaer County Democratic Chairman Ed McDonough Sr. stepped down because of his own criminal problems, the
re was a skirmish over who would replace him.
Germano thought he was the heir apparent but Doreen Connolly had a different idea and thought the title should be hers. Germano, never on to follow rules all that closely, brushed her aside, determined he was chair and declared himself so.
The committee didn’t like that much and there was a bunch of behind-the-scenes maneuvering going on. One member, who was trying to keep a semblance of decorum, attempted to explain to Germano how the party should avoid becoming a Banana Republic. Germano took offense and asked with a unique mix of innocence and fury: “Did you just call me an ape?”
During the meeting where the committee eventually voted Connolly chair, one of her supporters said from the floor he would not allow the party to be taken over by a “thug.” Germano stood and calmly said: “If you call me a thug again, I’m gonna break your fu$#&ing knees.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

King Fuels video explains a bunch (VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC LANGUAGE)

I’ll readily admit to not being an engineer, or versed in the standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or qualified in any way to determine what is safe and not safe when it comes to knocking down a building.
But, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that when one of your guys has to run away from the crumbling structure that there are better, and safer, ways to go about it.
The two videos below (they are the same but one is of better quality) is of the demolition at the King Fuels site that was shown at a recent public hearing held by the Council. Casale Excavating, which is associated with Casale Construction, was contracted to do work at the site, according to published reports. Though, it is unclear who actually knocked the building down. 

I saw a bit of it on the news but haven’t seen it since and have not see the entire thing until someone sent it to me earlier today.
I have to say it gave me a chuckle, and certainly justifies how upset former City Engineer Russ Reeves was with how things were being done down there. Upset enough to resign. 
Couple that with the fact patrons were allowed to keep patronizing Bomber’s while crews knocked the building down next door on King Street and there is also no reason to question why the Council is conducting an investigation into both matters.

It's really no wonder why there are three federal agencies and a state agency looking into things either. I mean, really, what's a little asbestos when you are dropping buildings on your own guys?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sully is no dummy; councilwoman's change of heart is telling


Councilwoman Erin Sullivan-Teta peeled away from her two Democratic colleagues on Monday’s vote to issue subpoenas in the investigation into controversial demolition projects in the city.
I’ve never met Sullivan-Teta, but a week ago she stood by Councilwoman Lynn Kopka, D-At Large, and Councilman Gary Galuski, D-District 6, as Mayor Lou Rosamilia decried the investigation as a “witch hunt.”
Her change of heart is telling.
For starters, it reinforces what everyone involved Capital Region politics already knows – her brother, Mike Sullivan, is no dummy.
Sullivan worked for former U.S. Rep. Mike McNulty for years and is now across the river working for Gov. Andrew Cuomo somewhere. He is a behind the scenes kind of guy but he knows the game as well as anyone – he learned from one of the best, Tom Matthews, after all - and I’ll be my house his consult was one reason his sister changed her mind.
Since Mike Sullivan, known as Sully, is no dummy, he must see the writing on the wall when it comes to Rosamilia. By that I mean the mayor is in such a weak spot on so many different levels that there is no way he runs again.
And if it’s not the mayor, then who from the camp of Chairman Tom Wade is left?
Kopka considered running when the nod went to Clement “Chappy” Campana more than two years ago and she is the next logical choice. But, she isn’t doing herself any favors by opposing the Council investigation into what is widely seen as a couple pretty big screw ups by members of the administration.
Then there is President Rodney Wiltshire. It’s no secret he has political ambitions and is thus far looking pretty good in what is a dicey situation. Thing is, he alienated the Wade crew by taking the Independence Party line from the Republicans and that helped knock Kopka, a Wade loyalist, out of the presidency last year.
So long as Wade is around, I don’t see Wiltshire getting the nod without a primary and he’s said he won’t primary Rosamilia. That was a while ago and things could change. If it comes down to a primary between Kopka and Wiltshire, the early money is on Wiltshire. Obstructing a Council investigation into what has been the most ineffective borderline corrupt administration in nearly two decades is not something to put on a palm card.
And then what happens to Wade?
I guess there are other Democrats who would made decent candidates like Legislator Peter Grimm, Legislator Cindy Doran, a registered Conservative, or even someone from a while ago like former Deputy Mayor Jim Conroy.
But, Troy voters, the majority of which are Democrats, have proven they will toss entire slates of either party if they don’t like what’s going on and I don’t see how anyone could like what’s going on right now. There are no less than three federal agencies and a state agency snooping around the Collar City.  
At this point he only thing the Democrats have going for them is the Republican Party. They have nobody, and there are some who would just as soon cross endorse Wiltshire instead of taking a pounding at the polls in November 2015.
Anyway, the vote to issue subpoenas passed by a 7-2 count and the method of issuing them passed 6-3 with Councilman Bob Doherty, D-District 4, voting against. Doherty may have a point in that a document signed by the majority of Council members as opposed to a formal public vote might not hold up to legal scrutiny. I honestly don’t know, and I don’t think anyone does until a judge rules, or if it will even goes that far. While I applaud Wiltshire for doing what he is doing, he is making it more complicated than it has to be. That said, he is plugging along.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Who gets a subpoena will come later (DOCUMENTS)

The Council will vote to issue subpoenas at tonight’s special meeting but it doesn’t give who it wants to subpoena.

The names will come at a meeting where the Council will address “a subsequent ordinance, specifically identifying and approving the individual or entity to be subpoenas and directing the appearance at subsequent public hearing to provide testimony and documents related to the questions and activities referenced in this ordinance.”

That’s according to the ordinance the Council will address tonight (which can be seen below) which authorizes the Council to investigate “city activities and processes concerning the following; demolition in and around the King Fuels site, demolition in and around the King Street site oversight and direction of the Code Department.”

Obvious names of people in city employment include Planning Commissioner Bill Dunne, Assistant Planner Andrew Kreshick, Fire Chief Tom Garrett, Deputy Mayor Pete Ryan and possibly even Mayor Lou Rosamilia.

The ordinance also gives the Council the authority to subpoena “private individuals.” Obvious names that come to mind are attorney Don Boyajian and contractor J.R. Casale.

I will go into what each could bring to the table, and possibly add more names in a later post.

It seems to me this ordinance should have been passed weeks ago when the Council first questioned former City Engineer Russ Reeves and his assistant Barbara Tozzi. But, they testified voluntarily at the first public hearing so it’s no big deal. The second hearing also featured testimony from those there voluntarily.

Now, though, as the Council gets into the nitty-gritty, it can expect opposition so President Rodney Wiltshire - who has thus far, outside of one misstep, handled the entire thing with a unique mix of professionalism and political savvy - is going by the book.

I say there will be opposition based on the dog and pony show put on by Rosamilia and three members of the Council who are opposed to the inbestigation – Lynn Kopka, D-At Large, Gary Galuski, D-District 6, and Erin Sullivan Teta, I-At Large.

Rosamilia called it a “witch hunt,” which is akin to telling the Council to sit down and rubber stamp my administration instead of doing your job and being a check and balance.

Kopka said Wiltshire has not listened to the entire Council regarding who to subpoena. Galuski said he didn’t try to participate but he wasn’t asked to either.

My guess is, once the ordinance passes tonight, Wiltshire will ask his eight colleagues for a list of people they would like to question.

Why not? The more the merrier and it certainly trumps the “he didn’t include me” argument.

In addition to the Council probe, according to the Times Union, there are no less than three federal agencies and a state agency looking into the projects.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Witch hunt or check and balance?

Is the Council investigation into the administration’s actions a witch hunt or is it just doing its duty as a check and balance?
Think of it this way, with the number of missteps – and that’s a kind word to describe some of what has gone on - over the past 10 months or so, what do you expect any member of the Council who takes his or her job seriously to do?
Sit back and watch?
It they did, observers, taxpayers and columnists would bash them for not doing anything. I can hear it now, just like I’ve heard variations of it before: “Where does the Council stand.” Or, “What does the council think about that?” Or “didn’t the Council have to approve it first.”
By holding public hearings, President Rodney Wiltshire is doing his job and so are the members who support the investigation.
Mayor Lou Rosamilia is correct in calling it a witch hunt. But, he only has to worry if the Council actually finds someone turning people into newts (for you Monty Python fans out there) or casting evil spells and not just an eccentric old woman who talks to her cats.
Bad analogy, I know, but the fact remains if Rosamilia and company have nothing to hide, they shouldn’t worry about answering a few questions by a part time legislative body and they should just step up and answer the questions. Just as it’s the Coucnil’s obligation to ask, it’s the mayor’s to answer.
Instead, we have Rosamilia bashing the inquiry and Councilwomen Lynn Kopka, D-At Large, Erin Sullivan-Teta, I-At-Large, and Councilman Gary Galuski, D-District 6, killing the vote on a technicality. Of all the blatant violations of the Charter I’ve seen over the years, not starting a meeting at 7 p.m. is up there with the most petty.
To the Rosamilia apologists who will certainly get on my case and say but “you said the Council should to stay out of the Police Department,” I will say you are correct. I did. But it’s apples to oranges. There wasn’t a sniff of corruption surrounding Police Chief John Tedesco. Anthony Magnetto was given the commissioner’s job as a political payback to some on the Council to appease the Police Benevolent Association. There wasn’t any asbestos strewn about a city street. There weren’t buildings being knocked down without appropriate engineering oversight. And there weren’t any land deals that just don’t pass the smell test.
Funny, I remember when Councilman Bill Dunne first got elected – or it may have been his second term – and I repeatedly called him an “effective check and balance” to then Mayor Harry Tutunjian. And he was. He watched Tutunjian like a hawk and I applauded Dunne for taking his job seriously and doing it well.
Now Dunne is at the center of about every controversy being discussed and he is, obviously, Rosamilia’s planning commissioner. That means Rosamilia is responsible. And Wiltshire and company are watching him like a hawk. The difference is Tutunjian is a staunch Republican and Dunne is as staunch of a Democrat whereas Wiltshire and Rosamilia both ran and won with the Democratic Party support.
Galuski is in his last term but Kopka, who served a terms as Council president, likely has her own ambitions. I’ll give her one name to think on: Beth Walsh. She was Council president before getting beat out by Frank LaPosta and the following year got beat outright on a Republican sweep mainly because of her support of Pattison’s attempt to do away with term limits. Walsh is now a Family Court judge, but I don’t think Kopka has a law degree.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Council to vote on issuing subpoenas tonight

At a special meeting tonight, the city Council will vote on whether or not to issue subpoenas for its ongoing investigation of controversial demolition projects in the city.
According to the notice, the Council will hold a special Finance Committee meeting and then a special meeting of the Council to “discuss and act on an ordinance to issue subpeona’s (sic) for the Council’s investigations.”

The Finance Committee will meet first following the 6 p.m. hearing tonight where four people will answer questions from the Council and the special meeting will convene shortly thereafter.
There are no names associated with the legal notice and it’s unclear if any names will appear on the actual ordinance the Council will vote on tonight.
Obvious names include Fire Chief Tom Garrett, Planning Commissioner Bill Dunne, Deputy Mayor Pete Ryan, Assistant Planner Andrew Kreshik and possibly Mayor Lou Rosamilia.
It’s unclear how the Council will vote but I’m hearing it won’t be unanimous.
The special meetings follow last week’s hearing that included testimony from former City Engineer Russ Reeves - who resigned amid the King Street demolition and demolition project at King Fuels in South Troy – and his assistant Barbara Tozzi, who submitted her retirement papers earlier this week.
Tonight, the Council will hear from four people: Mike Cristo, who owns the company that demolished the King Street buildings; Flora Carr, who was the point person for Bethel Baptist Church when it wanted to buy land behind Bomber’s Burrito Bar on King Street; Jack Haley, an engineer who was initially called to inspect the common wall between Bomber’s and the buildings that were demolished but was called off at the last minute; and Ryan Preston, who was described to me as an engineer working for the Troy Local Development Corp.
Those four witnesses are testifying of their own volition and were not issued subpoenas. 

The FBI is investigating the King Street demolition as well as the proposed and squashed sale of the Scolite property and the installation of sidewalks in North Central. The King Fuels demolition was shut down while state and federal agencies investigate the discovery of asbestos at the site.   

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Four witnesses slated to testify in front of Council Thursday

Four witnesses are slated to testify Thursday night in the city Council’s ongoing probe of two controversial demolition projects.
 Mike Cristo, the owner of the company who demolished the buildings on King Street; Flora Carr, who was the contact person for when Bethel Baptist Church wanted to buy the lot behind Bombers Burrito; Jack Hanley, who is the backup city engineer and was going to examine the common wall between Bombers and the buildings that were demolished until he was called off; and Ryan Preston, who was described to me as the Troy Local Develop Corporation’s engineer.
Those witnesses are coming of their own volition and were not issued subpoenas.

Council President Rodney Wiltshire and his colleagues are holding the hearings to determine what, if any, improprieties took place on King Street of at the King Fuels site in South Troy.

The buildings on King Street were demolished last year after Fire Chief Tom Garrett declared the buildings unsafe and ordered an emergency demolition. Questions about asbestos, why it was declared an emergency and why patrons were allowed to stay in the adjacent Bombers arose practically before the buildings fell.

Bethel Baptist wanted to purchase the lot behind Bombers from the city to use as parking but the Council opted not to sell it along with a host of other city owned properties.

Last week Barbara Tozzi, an assistant to former City Engineer Russ Reeves, told the Council Hanley was set to inspect the walls but she was told to call him off shortly before the demolition commenced. Reeves resigned among the King Street controversy and when crews at the King Fuels site endangered life and limb by dumping debris on a natural gas main. Tozzi put in her retirement papers earlier this week.

The King Fuels demolition is currently on hold while state and federal officials investigate the discovery of asbestos scattered about the site. The LDC, headed up by the city Planning Commissioner Bill Dunne, owns the site and awarded the demolition contract to Casale Excavating.

The FBI is also investigating King Street, the sale of the Scolite property, which was squashed by the Council, and a controversial sidewalk installation in North Central. Dunne was suspended for five days following the sidewalks that were installed near the Sanctuary for Independent Media using federal money.

Dunne, Garrett, Deputy Mayor Pete Ryan and possibly even Mayor Lou Rosamilia could testify in front of the Council in the near future. It's unclear if they will come voluntarily or if they will require a subpoena.  

Rockers for Bruno

It’s no secret former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno has a bunch of support in the Capital District as he literally fights for his freedom.
But today, on Live from the State Capitol with Fred Dicker on Talk 1300, he got a plug from an unlikely source – Jay Jay French, a founding member of the heavy metal band Twisted Sister.
French toed the line defending Bruno along with Dicker, the longtime state editor at the New York Post, who has spent hours on his radio show, and rightly so, bashing the U.S. Attorney’s Office for going after Bruno for a second time.
The politically astute French not only gave Bruno some lip service but the two are friends. Bruno has joined the rocker for dinner in New York City and Bruno has had him up to his Rensselaer County home for some R&R.
It’s an odd couple for sure. Twisted Sister epitomized the Big Hair Era of the 80s complete with long hair, ripped jeans and a devil be damned attitude, while Bruno was the “Dapper Don” of the state Senate always with an impeccable coif and tailored suits.
In addition, Dicker, who has an extensive collection of folk music he plays on air some of each Friday, played one of Twisted Sister’s most famous songs, “We’re not Gonna Take It.” Given the circumstances, I don’t think Pete Seeger did more than a quarter turn in his the grave.    
In the end French called the Bruno trial a “witch hunt” and echoed Bruno’s main argument all along – that legislators are part time and being a consultant should carry the same import as being an lawyer.
French also summed up what must be one of Bruno’s biggest fears as the trial begins its third day – People think “all rockers are drug addicts and all politicians are corrupt.”
I'll link the podcast of Dicker's show as soon as I can. Until then, enjoy some Twisted Sister.

Monday, May 5, 2014

King Fuels demo site shut down (UPDATED)

File photo of King Fuels demo

Once, a while back, I was helping a friend build some step in front of his Center Square house. We got a late start and work was slowed by the onset of darkness and the more than a few beers.
It was getting to be around 10 p.m. or and I (we) was almost done and the remnants of a day’s work – the old steps, some new boards and the left over scraps from the boards I used - were scattered about his courtyard. I was bent over the steps with tool belt on and hammer in hand and a police officer knocked on the gate.
“We got a couple calls about someone in the area sawing and pounding” he said in a pleasant enough manner.
I stood up, hammer in hand and said: “It wasn’t me.”
I thought of that story when I first heard about the latest controversy at the demolition site at King Fuels.
Sources tell me one of the excavators had some concerns about what was going on down there, called the authorities and low and behold – they found asbestos scattered about the site. Work was stopped while authorities figure out how much is there and what to do about it. Now state and federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the matter.
Some of the buildings that were getting knocked down or have been knocked down did have asbestos in them, according tothe minutes of the Troy Local Development Corporation. The city, however, claims it wasn’t from the demolition but someone else could have dumped it down there.
I took a ride down there, after I posted about the site getting shut down, and while I don’t doubt someone could have dumped asbestos or anything else down there but the more likely deduction is that it came from the guy doing work down there. Just like it was the guy in the tool belt holding a hammer who was making all sorts of construction racket keeping the neighbors up.
J.R. Casale is the contractor and I covered the infamous Water District No. 14 in North Greenbush a while back. There were a number of complaints regarding the quality of his work – fire hydrants sticking up two feet out of the ground, driveways and front lawns that were supposed to be repaired were left chewed up or repaired halfway and staggering cost overruns.
Knowing that about Casale – yes, he claims it’s his son’s company but Jack Cox Sr. once said his junkyard in Grafton was owned by his daughter too – I can see him not following the strict rules governing the demolition of asbestos laden structures.
But, according to the city it’s not his fault.
And it wasn’t me who was doing the sawing and nailing. After I told the police officer as such, he laughed, asked how many cuts I had left and said to finish up as quickly as I could. I complied too the best of my ability.
The King Fuels, however, is not a courtyard in Center Square and illegally disposing of asbestos is a far cry from keeping a neighbor awake past 10 p.m.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Salem Witch Trial in Albany

At one point in time – around when magistrates were hunting witches in Salem Mass. – it was common to torture those accused of a crime until they confessed.
Now-a-days, the stocks in the village square are replaced by leaks to newspapers and floggings are replaced by financial ruin. If in the cross hairs of the federal government it’s just as easy to plead guilty than suffer the consequences of fighting the charges. Guilt or innocence may not even factor in.

Of course, I’m referring to former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno who goes back on trial Monday. He has thus far withstood the modern day tools of torture and rather than take a plea – I’m, told he could have gotten off with a slap on the wrist, saved some of the more than $3 million he’s going to spend and not go to jail – he is continuing the fight.  
Everyone reading this knows the story but to recap:
Bruno was indicted on eight counts of theft of honest services that did not include bribery. Before his first trial was set to start, the U.S. Supreme Court opted to hear a challenge to the theft of honest services statute. After he was convicted on two of the eight counts, the Supremes ruled the statute too broad and as such unconstitutional unless if included bribery or kickbacks. Basically, theft of honest services was employed by the feds when they suspected something was afoul but didn’t have any hard evidence to back it up so they would indict on bullshit and implement the tools of torture to get a guilty plea.
Thanks to the Supremes, Bruno won Round I. The feds, in their infinite wisdom, rather than letting it go and saving some taxpayer money – the investigation and prosecution is estimated to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million - indicted Bruno for doing the same thing but changed the charges around to include bribery.
(As an aside, speaking of taxpayer money, where are the other area representatives in Washington – Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Paul Tonko, Chris Gibson. In every other instance they jump through hoops – and even elbow each other out of the way - to bang the drum about wasting taxpayer money.)
Many screamed double jeopardy but this is the federal government and there is no higher power to appeal. The cliché is “you can’t fight city hall,” but try fighting Washington with its bottomless pockets and endless resources. Most just don’t have means or the heart.
Another reason to take a plea is that Bruno is 85 years old is coming off his second round against cancer and will go to jail if he’s convicted. If history is any indication, Judge Gary Sharpe not only won’t do Bruno any favors but will likely side with the prosecution on about every ruling he has to make. Knowing the Supremes were going to weigh in on theft of honest services, the judge went ahead with the first trial anyway so don’t expect him to do anything but put Bruno behind bars pending a certain appeal should the jury convict.
Christ, the judge already put a gag order on Bruno to avoid the daily press conferences Bruno held during the first trial. Sharpe must think stifling First Amendment rights is more favorable than having Bruno make him look bad. How is that for the integrity of this federal judge - he thinks personal appearances are more important than the Constitution.
Another reason to take a plea is that Bruno’s legacy is already established. The last leader from the Capital District of either Albany chamber was Oswald D. Heck, who served as the Assembly’s speaker from 1937 until his death in 1959. Bruno was a once-in-a-generation politician and all one needs to do is look around – at the airport, the train station, GlobalFoundries, The Joe baseball stadium and countless smaller projects he funded or spearheaded – to see the impact he’s had.
I don’t write history books, but I hope the Bruno prosecution is remembered as fondly as the Salem Witch trials, I hope two or so weeks from Monday he walks out of the courthouse a free man, and I hope the feds learn a lesson.   



Friday, May 2, 2014

Council heads to Round II without legislation


The Council did not address any legislation at its regularly monthly meeting Thursday about the issuance of subpoenas for next Thursday’s public hearing centering on two controversial demolition projects.
In fact, it never voted to conduct any investigation, which started earlier this week with the testimony of former City Engineer Russ Reeves and his assistant Barbara Tozzi. In the past 36 years, both similar investigations were kicked off by the Council first passing legislation approving a probe.
According to the City Charter:
“This Council may make investigations into the affairs of the City and the conduct of any City department, office, or agency and for this purpose may subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony and require the production of evidence. Any person who fails or refuses to obey a lawful order issued in the exercise of these powers by the Council shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.”
I’m not trying to interpret the Charter, I’m just going by past practice and the guy who wrote the initial clause, which was updated in 2003, told me that’s what it means.
No, the Council didn’t pass legislation before issuing subpoenas to Reeves and Tozzi, but they were willing participants. Something tells me members of the Executive Branch will be less so.
By not passing formal legislation, the Council gives the next round of witnesses – which could include Planning Commissioner Bill Dunne, Fire Chief Tom Garrett, Deputy Mayor Pete Ryan or even Mayor Lou Rosamilia – an easy out.
In fact, I think Councilwoman Lynn Kopka, D-At Large, who is tight with Rosamilia, set the stage for the procedural fight when she mentioned the Council should have passed legislation before issuing subpoenas to Reeves and Tozzi.
Council President Rodney Wiltshire took note of Kopka’s objection and, based on what he said was advice from counsel, went ahead with the hearing anyway.
The only thing I can think of is that Wiltshire didn’t propose legislation - which would guarantee avoiding a hitch in what has so far been an enlightening inquiry  - is that he is daring members of the administration to say “we aren’t coming because …” That would not look good at all. In other words, Wiltshire – who is proving himself a pretty savvy politician – could be giving them just a little more rope. Wiltshire certainly has the votes if he chose to go the other route.
Regardless of his game plan or his end game, you have to give Wiltshire credit because, so far, the inquiry has been, as I said, enlightening. And, so far, has been handled with dignity and decorum. We’ll have to see how round two goes and/or if the FBI steps it up a notch.  
 And before you ask, the Council does not have the authority to call attorney Don Boyajian, who owns the King Street buildings, anyone from M. Cristo Construction, the company that tore the buildings down, or J.R. Casale, who tore the buildings down at the King Fuels site. Casale spoke at the first hearing but it was voluntary and, more than likely, ill advised. The Council’s authority only extends to city employees and city departments, so I’m told.