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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 14, 2005

Few assessments reduced

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Some residents are still fired up over the town’s reassessment and now plan on taking their complaints to small claims court.

Guilderland completed a town-wide reassessment of property this year, where the value of the average home increased about 40 percent.

As the board of assessment review ended its consideration of 488 complaints aired on Grievance Day in May, only 47 — or 10 percent of the assessments — were reduced, Assessor Carol Wysomski told The Enterprise.

Attorney Warren Redlich and three of his Suzanne Lane neighbors were among those who were denied reductions. All four households plan on filing complaints in small claims court, Redlich said.

Kevin Forbes, chair of the board of assessment review, was out of town this week and could not be reached for comment on the board’s decisions. Other board members were also inaccessible.

Redlich, a Guilderland attorney who has run for pubic office and who has challenged the town on other issues, told The Enterprise this week of his frustration with the long lines and disorganization at Grievance Day.

Tuesday, May 24, the state-set day for citizens to contest their assessments, was chaotic at Guilderland Town Hall as hundreds of angry residents waited for hours to have two minutes each with the board of assessment review.

The board, which meets once a year on Grievance Day, acts as a safety-valve, allowing people to dispute their property values set by the town’s assessor.

From 8 a.m. until midnight on Grievance Day, 238 residents went before the Guilderland board. Another 250 people filed their grievances and did not wait to speak to the board.

While Redlich criticized the town for not preparing enough for Grievance Day, Wysomski said earlier that she expected it. This is because, after six years, Guilderland’s properties have been reassessed and at a shocking rate.

In March, Wysomski’s office was bombarded with calls and visits from people who were alarmed with the level of increase to their homes, since taxes are based on property values.

The Enterprise reported then on the informal hearings Wysomski had scheduled for residents. Nearly 600 people came to her office and she explained to them how she came up with their assessments, she said.

The 488 people not satisfied with this, however, chose to come to Grievance Day.

For the past five years, the average home in Guilderland has been assessed at $125,000, Wysomski said earlier. The new average is about $180,000, she said.

"The market is up because interest rates are down," Wysomski said of the reason for the large increase. "I have 1,200-square-foot ranches in Westmere that were $119,000 that are now $180,000."

A review of Guilderland’s new assessment roll — which is available on the town’s website — shows that almost all properties have increased in value; very few have decreased or remained the same. Overall, the tax base has increased by about $800 million, Wysomski said earlier.

Of the residents whose assessments have increased, a third will have their taxes increase, a third will have lower taxes, and a third will pay the same tax rate as now, Wysomski said.

Revaluation is fair, Wysomski explained, because, without it, as newcomers move to a town, they pay taxes based on the price they paid for their property while parcels that haven’t sold recently usually remain at a lower rate, skewing the tax rolls.

Assessment changes

Every May, the town-appointed board of assessment review meets on Grievance Day, the fourth Tuesday of the month, to hear from residents who believe their assessments are not accurate.

The board then spends the next several weeks reviewing each homeowners’ information. The board decides if it agrees with Wysomski’s assessment or if it will lower the resident’s property value.

Asked why the board made the changes it did, Wysomski said, "It was probably incorrect data. Some people had some other information to submit to the board. Some got appraisals. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t...The board was maybe a little more compassionate..."

A total of $1,117,000 in assessments were reduced, when all 47 of the changed values are combined, Wysomski said. This was expected and will not have a big impact on the town, she said.

Redlich, who lives on Suzanne Lane, had his assessment raised from $183,000 to $268,000. His three neighbors, with homes similar to his, had their values raised even more, he said.

Redlich’s argument is that another neighbor bought a larger house two years ago for $210,000. That should be the standard price for similar houses now, he said.

"A hurdle"

Redlich — who challenged United States Congressman Michael McNulty on the Republican ticket last year and was soundly defeated, and, a few years ago, ran and lost for town board — has fought the town of Guilderland before.

In April of 2003, Redlich began using an office for his law practice at 1736-A Western Ave. The owner of the building, Shaw Rabadi, was later cited by the town’s zoning enforcement officer for Redlich’s not applying for a special-use permit for his business. He was also cited for not requesting a building permit or certificate of occupancy.

Rabadi and Redlich, his lawyer at the time, maintained that the town has too much power and shouldn’t force them to get an unnecessary permit. They filed a lawsuit against the town in December of 2003 with the Supreme Court, the lowest-level court in the state’s three-tiered system.

The judge ruled in favor of Rabadi on his objections to the building permit and certificate-of-occupancy citations. Of the special-use permit, however, the judge ruled that Rabadi would have to apply for one. Redlich told The Enterprise that he wanted to appeal this ruling, but Rabadi, whom he no longer represents, decided just to apply for the permit.

Redlich admitted this week that he has a cynical view of Grievance Day. While he waited for hours to go before the board of assessment review, he said he knew his assessment wouldn’t be changed.

"The whole process to me is a hurdle to make people jump over," Redlich said. Residents often get discouraged and would rather accept their assessments than wait to be heard on Grievance Day, he said.

Redlich said the board of assessment review can’t fairly consider each grievance because it has so many.

Of taking his complaint to small claims court, Redlich said, "Finally, an independent person will review it."

It costs $30 to file a small-claims complaint; applications are due by the end of the month.

Town to include village in planning decisions

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — At Tuesday’s meeting, the town board set a public hearing to discuss creating a law requiring that certain planning and zoning decisions in the town first get an opinion from the village of Altamont.

Any proposals for land in Guilderland that is within 1,200 feet of Altamont’s border or its infrastructure would first be reviewed by a village committee.

This is similar to what the town does with parcels that are within 500 feet of county highways or infrastructure. The Albany County Planning Board first votes on the project.

If the county planning board — or as soon may be the case, the Altamont committee — disapproves of the project, it needs a supermajority from the town’s planning or zoning board to pass.

The idea to include Altamont in the planning and zoning process came about from discussions between town planner Jan Weston and village officials, Runion said.

He believes the Altamont committee would consist of village planning and zoning board members, as well as public works and other officials.

The hearing to discuss this will be on Aug. 23, at 8 p.m.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Unanimously approved the Rural Guilderland Open Space and Farmland Protection Plan and Rural Guilderland Design Guidelines.

It also established local laws for: a country hamlet zoning district; a conservation subdivision; a "Rural 3" zoning district; and a "Rural 5" zoning district.

The plan and laws, drafted by Behan Planning Associates, took over a year of public discussion and debate to reach their final form. After a third public hearing on June 21, where members of the public voiced strong support for the plan, the board was convinced to approve it.

The laws, like a Planned Unit Development, will take effect when a developer receives planning and zoning board approval for such a project;

— Authorized Delaware Engineering to prepare a feasibility study for the Route 146, Weaver Road, Route 158, Chandler Road, and Church Road water loops.

The $16,000 study will outline different options the board has for the project. It should take 90 days to complete, Runion said;

— Awarded bids for the rehabilitation of the Farnsworth Drive pump station;

— Authorized the sale of a surplus generator to the village of Fishkill for $15,000, as recommended by Guilderland’s department of water and wastewater management;

— Set a public hearing to discuss transferring $18,000 from the town’s assessment revaluation reserve account to pay for expenses incurred from the 2005 reassessment.

The hearing will be Aug. 23, at 7:30 p.m;

— Declared that the Northeastern Industrial Park’s draft of its environmental impact statement is complete. The statement, when in final form, is part of the industrial park’s comprehensive plan.

The public has 45 days to review the draft of the environmental impact statement and will be allowed to comment on it after that. It is available at Town Hall and at the Guilderland library;

— Decided to install a "No Parking Here to Corner" sign on the southwest side of East Old State Road, within 200 feet of Luigi Drive. This is because there have been issues with parked cars blocking drivers’ visibility, Runion said;

— Entered into executive session to discuss a personnel matter within the transfer station; and

— Announced that its next meeting will be Aug. 23. The town meetings are on a different schedule in the summer months.

Bomb scare shuts down rush-hour traffic

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — A simple laptop computer caused much chaos Friday after someone left it at the Guilderland Post Office, on New Karner Road.

The computer was in an unmarked box, found in the lobby of the post office, and postal workers called police, fearing that the box contained a bomb or other dangerous materials, Lieutenant Carol Lawlor told The Enterprise.

Guilderland Police responded and closed Route 155, from Route 20 to Washington Avenue Extension. Since it was 5 p.m. — rush hour — much commotion ensued.

As Guilderland Police rerouted traffic and informed nearby residents of the suspicious package, the State Police’s bomb disposal unit X-rayed it with a portable machine, said Lieutenant Curtis Cox. The parcel was found to contain a laptop computer, he said.

The road was re-opened at 5:30, Lawlor said. The package was then turned over to postal authorities, Cox said.

Police have no further knowledge about the package, he said. He referred questions about the computer’s owner to postal authorities, who are conducting their own investigation.

A spokesperson for the United States Post Office did not return phone calls from The Enterprise.

Monday morning, a man called the Guilderland Police because he lost his laptop and he wondered if the package was his. It wasn’t, Lawlor said; United Parcel Service lost that man’s computer, she said.

Similar incidents have occurred in Guilderland in the past, Cox said. About a year ago, a man left his briefcase at a bank, he said. Police cautiously examined it, as if it contained a bomb. It turned out that it was harmless; the man inadvertently left his briefcase behind, Cox said.

Another time, a tool box was forgotten, near the drive-through window outside McDonald’s on Western Avenue. Police searched the tool box, Cox said, and determined that it, too, contained no dangerous devices.

A half-century of fighting fire

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Robert Perry shows all the signs of an experienced firefighter.

He’s nonchalant when he talks about entering a building just struck by lightning, or about needing stitches on his head, or about catching a child arsonist.

"It’s always an interesting challenge," Perry said of fire-fighting. "But, you get used to it."

The 76-year-old was recognized Tuesday for being with the McKownville Fire Department for 55 years. He received a proclamation from the town board and Supervisor Kenneth Runion declared July 12 "Robert Perry Day in Guilderland."

Perry, who looked fit and youthful for his age, told The Enterprise that he has no plans to retire from the department. His experience, he said, is useful in a dangerous job.

Perry has lived in McKownville his entire life. His father, uncle, and brother all belonged to the fire department. So, at 21, Perry naturally decided to join.

He served as chief for 15 years in the 1960’s and ’70’s, and again for two years in 1994 and 1995. He also spent many years serving as assistant chief and in other offices.

Perry spent 12 years in the 1970’s and ’80’s working for the town’s police department as an arson investigator.

"I had a police sergeant as my partner and, any time a fire was suspicious, we’d investigate," he said. "...We had a lot of suspicious fires, too. We found several people involved in arsons."

One sticks out in Perry’s mind. A few days after an elderly woman died, a child burned down her house, he said. The child used his homework to start the fire and not all of the papers burned. Perry was able to determine who started the fire, because the arsonist’s name was on the papers, he said.

For a living, Perry worked for Sterling Drug, a company that closed a long time ago.

"I played chemist most of the time," he said. "But, I’d still be in charge of fire protection. Fire showed up a lot in my career."

Answering the call

The biggest change between when Perry joined the department and now is the equipment, he said.

Before firefighters had masks, they had to rush into buildings with no protection from the smoke.

"I probably breathed in too much smoke early on," Perry said. "But, after the war, we got air packs."

Perry recalled the McKownville department getting its first fire truck in the 1950’s. The truck cost $8,000.

This is a contrast from today, he said, where trucks cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Of the first truck, he said, "We use it for parades now."

Another difference in the department is that, 50 years ago, all of the members lived right in McKownville. Today, many live outside the fire district, Perry said, and there are fewer firefighters around to instantly respond to a fire.

Perry praised the nearby University at Albany. Many students have joined the department.

"I can’t think of a bad kid that we had out of there," Perry said.

Perry is on call at the fire department during the day now, he said, because that’s when he’s most needed. He does not plan on stopping anytime soon.

"They need manpower and experience and I know what needs to be done," he said.

Perry said that, while being a firefighter is interesting, there are few surprises left.

"After this many years, we’re going into reruns," he said.

The job doesn’t even frighten him, he said.

"You get used to it," he said. "You learn to know what’s going on and when to back out. The younger guys just charge ahead....It takes a long time to get experience because you don’t have that many fires."

The McKownville Fire Department now has a quarter of the structure fires it had when Perry joined. This is probably because of smoke detectors, he said. But, he added, smoke detectors cause the department to get a lot more calls that turn out to be false alarms.

He has a lot of friends at the McKownville Fire Department. "We old-timers stick together," he said.

Tuesday, as Perry was honored by the town board, Chief David Clancy and eight other members of the McKownville Fire Department stood around Perry. Everyone looked proud, standing straight in perfectly pressed uniforms. Perry’s daughter and friends looked on.

"I’m surprised," Perry told The Enterprise of his award. "I think it’s nice to recognize people when they do something...Not too many people get to this point in life."

Most of his family members have died, Perry said, including his wife, Peg.

"I owe a lot to my wife," he said, looking down. "She put up with all the time I was gone."

Asked if his wife had ever been nervous about his fighting fires, Perry said, "No, she was a nurse."

But, he said, "She did get mad at me one time. We had a bad thunderstorm and we just had our first baby...Lightning hit a building and it caught fire and I took off..."

Perry was only hurt once on the job, he said.

"I got hit in the head with a hose and I needed stitches," Perry said. "It happened when I was loading it on the truck."

He concluded of fire-fighting, "It’s been my avocation for a lot of years. Each fire’s a little different. It’s an interesting challenge to go in and do your thing."

Guarded" Board decides on monitors at schools

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Two candidates who, before the election for school board president, said they had different leadership styles are now a leadership team.

Gene Danese was elected president last Tuesday over Linda Bakst in a 5-to-4 vote by secret ballot. Bakst then bested Barbara Fraterrigo, 5-to-4, for vice president.

The pair had their leadership skills tested as the board had one of the most divisive meetings in recent history.

At issue was whether to lock elementary schools and hire front-door monitors in an effort to keep the five schools secure.

Six parents, most of them members of a committee making the proposal, spoke to the board in favor of the plan, pushing for a September start. Four spoke against it, or against immediate implementation.

In a split vote, the board ultimately agreed to hire the monitors but postponed locking doors until the plan is evaluated further.

The board’s discussion, following the installation of two newly-elected members and one incumbent, was characterized by more drama than has been seen in a decade.

At one point, Peter Golden, a new board member, proposed that, if a child were to be harmed by an intruder, an intruder who would have been kept out by a locked door, then one of the board members who voted against the locked doors should be required to inform the family of the tragedy.

President Danese had tried to keep the matter from coming to a vote by stating such a motion wasn’t needed. "I think we would all feel bad if something happened," he said, stating it wouldn’t matter who had voted for or against the locked doors. "We all would apologize," he said.

The vote on that motion was the only near-unanimous vote in the long meeting. It was defeated, 8-to-1, with Golden casting the sole vote for it.

The plan

The security plan was developed by an advisory subcommittee of the district's Safe and Drug-Free Schools Committee. The advisory group had been formed after Frank Falvo, the parent of two Pine Bush Elementary School students, had told the board at a budget session in October that more school security was needed. He co-chaired the committee.

The matter became a budget issue in April when the board had a lengthy and heated debate before adopting a $76 million spending plan that was ultimately passed by voters.

Members of the subcommittee made a last-minute request in April to fund front-door monitors at the elementary schools; the district’s middle school and high school already have such monitors.

In June, the subcommittee presented its plan to hire five part-time security monitors for the five elementary schools, at an estimated cost of $32,500, and to install magnetic locks with entry buzzers at the main entrance of each school, at an estimated cost of $10,000.

Additionally a pass-key entry-access system would be installed at three of the elementary schools with the most outside use — Guilderland, Pine Bush, and Westmere — at an estimated cost of $16,500.

"The new piece to me is locking the doors," said board member Colleen O'Connell at the June meeting. "I think that is a change of culture...a change of atmosphere."

Currently, notices are posted at all school entrances, directing visitors to sign in at a central location where a log book is kept. Identification tags are required for all staff and visitors. And video cameras have been installed at the main entrance of Westmere and Lynnwood elementary schools and throughout Farnsworth Middle School, which is being renovated.

O’Connell also expressed concern at the June meeting that the security committee had not consulted with the five elementary-school PTA’s or with the building cabinets, which are the site-based management teams made up of administrators, staff, and parents.

The Enterprise subsequently published two letters echoing those concerns.

Five families push for plan

At last Tuesday’s meeting, the discussion began as Robert Matthews, a parent of two children attending district schools, expressed his "frustration" that the process had taken eight months.

He said that the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999 and the terrorists’ attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 had "transformed how we view safety and security in almost every facet of our lives."

He said that airport screenings are accepted as "a matter of necessity."

"We do what we must," Matthews said, questioning why it was "such a big deal" to lock school doors and have monitors.

"Our culture has changed drastically and not for the better...Let’s deal with that reality," he said.

"The funding is available and already earmarked," Matthews told the board, urging, "Lead. Don’t wait for a public-opinion poll....Make the right choice and secure our schools now."

Falvo spoke next, telling the board, "The integrity of the district’s published policies must be upheld."

His wife, Tracy Falvo, also a committee member, said, "We also want our school perceived as welcoming."

She said the security system would be "done right" and the schools would continue to attract parents and volunteers.

She also quoted a security expert that the general populace is not knowledgeable enough to make judgments concerning security measures.

Her husband, too, referred to the experts the committee had researched and said, "Any rational person must agree that the local PTA and the building cabinets of this district simply do not have the qualifications" of the list of experts he named.

"Where’s the research children are scared because there’s a doorbell on their school"" asked Tracy Falvo.

"I pray you will do the right thing for the more than 7,500 children in this district," concluded Frank Falvo.

Don Hesler, the father of three children in the district, said that "proper review channels have been utilized" in developing the plan.

Carolyn Kelly, another subcommittee member, said that, while locking doors "is a change," metal detectors, retinal scanners, and finger-printing would be a big change.

"It is the duty of this elected body of officials to take the necessary action to protect our children," said Kelly. "All of you are extremely intelligent, highly educated people. Please do not let emotion enter into this matter."

She, too, advised, "Listen to the experts as you would in any other facet of your life."

Kelly concluded with an anonymous quotation: "Evil persists when good people do nothing."

Timothy Murphy said that he and his wife both work for the State Police and are the parents of three children and they support the security plan.

Four raise concerns

Michele Trembly, president of the Lynnwood PTA, urged the board to delay until parents are presented with more information.

"I don’t think it should be implemented until parents...know what’s going on," she said."

Karen Covert-Jones, the mother of two children in the district, said that she had read the subcommittee's report and disagreed with most of the recommendations.

"It is wrong to have a locked front door while school is in session," she said. "I do not want my children to attend school in a building with all the doors locked."

She went on, "As a parent, I want to be able to walk into the building, sign in, and then go where I need to go...It is wrong to try to force these recommendations on the school district without notifying parents."

She said she was also concerned about "a big, black hole" where more money is spent each year on security measures, taking away from teachers’ salaries, increasing class sizes, and lessening the chance for enrichment programs like foreign language at the elementary schools.

"I’m also worried about the paranoia I sensed while I read the report," she said. "I do not want my children...to be paranoid about going to school."

Cheryl Albens, the mother of two Guilderland students, said that she, too, was concerned with the tone of the report.

"I disagree, as a parent of an elementary student and a high-school student, that I am unable to ascertain a threat."

She also questioned the subcommittee's reliance on experts.

"For every expert on one side, there’s an expert on the other side and we have only heard one side of this," she said. "A more balanced approach needs to be taken before the school board makes a recommendation."

Eileen Dean, another parent, said, "I couldn't disagree with this proposal more...I don’t even know where this fear is coming from. I don’t understand what we’re supposed to be afraid of."

Board views

Board member Thomas Nachod commended the committee for using experts wisely and said, "At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids."

The board, he said, has to "listen to the pulse of the community."

He referred to a recent incident where Westmere Elementary School was locked down because of concerns about "a suicidal individual" in an apartment complex nearby.

"This is an area we should decide, not the PTA," said Nachod, urging the board, "Take action tonight. Do what’s right for the kids."

Nachod made a motion to spend roughly $60,000 to hire the part-time monitors, and install the locks and pass-key systems as the subcommittee had proposed.

Board member Linda Bakst said that she supported hiring monitors but the rest needed further discussion. She said that locked doors particularly troubled her and that would mark a culture change.

"You don’t turn on a dime," Bakst said of school districts. "We’ve heard from enough people that feel they’re being rolled over."

Bakst also said there would be practical problems, citing an example of a parent who rushes to school to pick up a sick child without having the proper identification to be admitted.

Finally, she said that she needed to respond to the "extraordinary rhetoric — as if my...thinking about this somehow constitutes an irrational mind. I feel insulted. I feel very insulted.

"I care about our children. I care about the message we send them. I care about their safety," she said, referring to both emotional and physical safety.

Bakst questioned the wisdom of the cited experts. "There is not scientific data," she said.

"I would really ask that the rhetoric be toned down and let’s engage in a discussion that isn’t about fear-mongering, that’s about what is a reasonable approach to take," she urged.

"I recognize the world has changed but sometimes I think it hasn’t changed as much as people are afraid it has," said board member Richard Weisz.

Weisz said he’d like more specific information on various aspects of the plan and would like input from teachers. "They’re the ones that will have to implement it," he said.

He suggested voting in September on a more specific plan.

O'Connell asked to hear from Brian Forte, the Guilderland Police officer who is stationed full-time in the high school as a school resource officer.

Forte said, "Locked doors are the greatest security measure you can take."

He also said monitors are more important, providing a face that people entering the school can relate to.

Forte went on about Guilderland, "I know we’ve always had this open-door, friendly atmosphere."

Then, providing the only levity in an increasingly tense meeting, Forte evaluated his comments, asking, "I’m really not saying anything, am I"...I should be a politician."

Laughter followed, then Forte answered a serious question about whether a monitor could stop an intruder. He said, probably not. The monitors would not be armed. Forte said, "I have nine shots in my gun. As soon as they’re gone, it’s duck and cover."

Golden questioned Forte on what would work best for security, asking if a combination of a locked door and monitor is perfect. Forte said it was, a statement Golden used later in his arguments.

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo said that she didn’t recall the board being asked about the installation of surveillance cameras in two of the elementary schools. "I think it’s left up to the experts...You do the right thing for the right purpose," she said.

"We’re all over the map," said Bakst about which groups had made security decisions.

"As a point of order, the board is responsible for this...You want input," said Golden, but to delegate is against the rules, he concluded.

"I don’t think it’s delegating responsibility; it’s listening to the community," board member John Dornbush responded.

Dornbush said he had come to support the monitors, but had just learned about the locked doors in June.

"This is a surprise to many parents," said Dornbush, noting there were strong feelings on both sides. He said more time was needed.

Many motions

O’Connell then proposed an amendment to Nachod’s motion.

She proposed hiring the part-time monitors but not immediately proceeding with the lock and pass-key systems. Rather, the cabinets and PTA’s at the elementary schools would be presented with the options for reaction and would report back to the board in October or November. Additionally, each of the five principals at the elementary schools would evaluate the monitoring system and report on the successes or problems with the program.

O’Connell said that teachers and staff need to be asked, "Do you think these other initiatives will affect the environment at the school and affect learning"" She concluded, "I don’t know how that’s going to come out."

At this point, Golden said he was confused. Referring to tapes he said he had watched of previous school board meetings, Golden said of Bakst, "Linda said she couldn’t counter the recommendation with any facts but she was uncomfortable with it...

"Quite frankly," he went on, "I’ve heard ignorance described as bliss but never as a virtue....The only answer to Linda’s discomfort is a tragedy which I suspect would lead everyone to lock the doors but by then one of the district’s children would have suffered from our neglect and I don’t know that I really want to do that.

"Another objection I heard came from Colleen," Golden went on, referring to O'Connell. "I heard quite a bit about this changing of culture," he said, speaking about segregationists who had opposed integration because it meant a change of culture.

"People don’t like change," said Golden.

He went on to refer to Forte’s assessment that locked doors and monitors would be "perfect."

Golden then asked the board to imagine itself as objective viewers as if on a jury, examining evidence, judging a school district that did not protect its children.

"I believe they would judge us harshly and that they should do so," said Golden, concluding, "It is a vote of conscience."

Later in the discussion, Bakst told Golden he had taken her comments out of context.

Weisz responded to Golden, "I don’t think this is a vote of conscience...I think we’re all in favor of what’s best for the kids. I think it’s a vote of pragmatism."

He said that, when Westmere Elementary first started locking its back door, it was often propped open.

"If we’re going to have a locked-door policy, we need to have people buy into it," said Weisz. He concluded, "I don’t want to have parents having conflicts with staff on a policy no one has bought into, which will fail unless everyone buys into it."

Catherine Barber, the other new board member, weighed in with her opinion, based, she said, on her reading of the subcommittee's report.

She said the recent incident at Westmere showed the lockdown procedure worked. "I don’t understand why permanent lockdown is necessary, based on this report," said Barber.

She also said, "I don’t know if...generalized anxiety about the times we live in justifies implementing a procedure to lock all the schools."

Barber added, "When I read the report, I had many, many questions."

She pointed out that just two experts, according to the report, had recommended the locked system with a monitor — a State Trooper who visited the schools and National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm.

Barber went on, "It’s a bit heavy-handed...to say to the board, ‘If you don't agree with us, you don’t care about the safety of children...’"

Her experience, Barber said, is that the staff at the school does a really good job looking out for the children. She pointed out that high-school and middle-school students have more freedom, while elementary-school students are generally in the classroom with their teachers or escorted in orderly lines in the hallways.

"Why the concern" Why now" Why the elementary schools"" Barber asked.

As Fraterrigo proposed another motion to increase security spending to pay for full-time monitors, Danese squeezed in his opinion, following the board’s tradition of the president giving his views last.

Danese said he fully supported the recommendations of the subcommittee stating that, before students could reach self-actualization, they needed security.

"It’s a different world today," said Danese.

O'Connell asked for a vote on her proposal while Nachod said his was on the floor.

Superintendent Gregory Aidala interceded to say if O'Connell's amendment passed, it would replace the original motion.

In a split vote, 5 to 4, the board then passed a motion to replace Nachod’s motion with O'Connell's for just the monitors. Bakst, Barber, Dornbush, O’Connell, and Weisz voted for the motion.

Nachod said that school board members at Columbine were being sued. He urged the board to consider what kind of liability it would have if, "God forbid," there were a tragedy and the board had ignored the subcommittee’s advice.

It was at this point that Golden made his motion, requiring school board members voting against locked doors to inform a family of its tragedy.

After that motion was defeated, O'Connell's proposal, for just the monitors and a fall evaluation, passed in a split vote, 7 to 2. Golden and Nachod opposed the motion.

Fraterrigo then proposed beefing up security by outfitting the three elementary schools without surveillance cameras — Guilderland, Pine Bush, and Altamont — with the "unobtrusive systems."

She said the cameras would "complement the monitors."

Dornbush said it appeared the committee had other priorities, and money would be needed for that.

Fraterrigo said the cameras would be instead of the buzzer system, so the costs would be roughly the same.

That motion, too, was defeated in a split vote, 5 to 4. Danese, Fraterrigo, Golden, and Nachod voted for it while Bakst, Barber, Dornbush, O’Connell, and Weisz voted against it.

Thomas Sues Trumplers for $17 million

By Bill Sherman

ALTAMONT — Making good on his earlier promise in June, developer Jeff Thomas has filed a $17 million lawsuit against Michael and Nancy Trumpler for what Thomas called the "tortuous interference" with his plans to build a senior housing project just outside the village of Altamont, on Brandle Road.

Thomas is counting on municipal water from the village of Altamont for his project. The village had drilled wells on property owned by the Trumplers on Brandle Road and had a contract to buy the five acres.

The Trumplers, however, objected to Altamont’s plans to give water to a developer outside the village and also had procedural concerns.

They filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court challenging the validity of the option agreement they signed to sell up to five acres to the village. The Trumplers sought no money from the court, just a ruling on the contract’s validity. The village then filed counterclaims against the Trumplers for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The village board last week approved authorizing up to $10,000 for the litigation costs associated with the Trumplers’ lawsuit. Village Attorney E. Guy Roemer will be paid $125 per hour to defend the village against the Trumplers’ suit.

In strongly-worded court papers filed earlier this month, Thomas said Michael and Nancy Trumplers’ actions against the village of Altamont were "maliciously interfering" with his contractual relations between the village and the town of Guilderland.

Thomas blamed the Trumplers’ lawsuit for delaying the final negotiations and groundbreaking for his senior housing projects known as The Meadows.

Michael Englert, the Trumplers’ attorney, said Thomas filed the lawsuit for "retaliation against the Trumplers for daring to go to court" to seek direction on the option agreement.

Thomas’s attorney, Paul Wein, told The Enterprise this week that the $17 million lawsuit has nothing to do with money. Wein said, "Jeff Thomas truly believes he has a promise to the seniors in this town" to build the senior housing project.

Wein continued, "Jeff doesn’t want a dime from the Trumplers. If they met their contractual obligation, this would all go away."

Wein said the Trumplers’ lawsuit was "sour grapes" because they were "jealous" Thomas received a zoning change for his project while the Trumplers had to drastically modify their plans for building a dual-family home on their Brandle Road property.

The Trumplers sought to renovate a barn on their property into a two-family home to accommodate Nancy Trumpler’s mother and themselves, while selling the old farmhouse across the street to her brother. However, because the area was zoned agricultural, a two-family dwelling was not allowed.

The Trumplers scaled back their proposal, to receive a variance for a temporary in-law apartment.

Wein said Thomas’s proposal for a re-zone from agricultural to multi-residential won approval because senior housing is greatly needed by the entire community.

The town board approved a re-zone last July despite a moratorium on building in the rural western part of Guilderland. Thomas presented plans to develop his 14.6 acres with 80 housing units — a tenfold density increase over what would have been allowed in an agricultural district.

"It’s a first-class project that is overwhelmingly supported by the community," Wein said this week.

Englert said that Wein is trying to "make as much about this as he can," and that Wein’s statements do not deserve a response.

Wein also said he can’t understand why the Trumplers are so concerned about who receives village water from the new well site. He said the village has lived up to its end of the bargain by providing two residential wells as compensation for the option agreement they entered into with the village. This is in addition to the $25,000 per acre from the village, the Trumplers will receive if the village ultimately buys the property.

Englert said the Trumplers’ lawsuit against the village is not so much about who gets the water. Englert would only say, "Upon learning the facts, we believe the option agreement is invalid."

He had said earlier that Thomas and Wein were trying to prevent a judge’s ruling on the fairness of the contract.

"Apparently Mr. Wein believes my clients are not entitled to use the judicial system to obtain a clarification on the validity of a document," Englert told The Enterprise in June.

The Trumplers’ court papers state "the alleged option is null, void and unenforceable" because it was never authorized by formal resolution of the village board of trustees. Roemer said it was the village’s position that the "trustees, in perhaps more than one resolution, approved the action taken."

The Trumplers also contend that there is no constitutional or statutory provision that authorizes a village to obtain or purchase water outside its territorial boundaries for sale. Roemer simply responded, "I just don’t agree with it."

He pointed out the village has had two reservoirs in the town of Knox for many years. Several local municipalities, including the cities of Albany and Saratoga Springs, also are served by water sources outside their city limits.

Mayor James Gaughan told The Enterprise, "We believe we have a valid option to buy the property."

He continued, "I’m concerned that we need to have an expeditious resolution" to the lawsuits. Gaughan said the village does not have an adequate drinking water system and needs to move quickly to obtain the additional water source.

He added that he was confident the village and the Trumplers could still work out a solution out of court. "My role is to listen and try to resolve it," Gaughan said.

However, when asked what the village was willing to give to settle the dispute, Gaughan said, "That’s a hard question to answer." He also was not sure what the Trumplers wanted to settle the suit.

A phone call placed at the Trumpler home was not immediately returned.

Wein said Thomas would drop his lawsuit immediately if the Trumplers agreed to do the same in their suit against the village. When asked what Thomas would do if the village rescinded its offer of water to Thomas’s project, Wein responded, "That’s a bridge I hope we’ll never have to cross."

Wein concluded by saying, "It’s a win-win for everybody. I just don’t get it. Do you ruin it for the village and the seniors just because you are jealous that Jeff got the re-zone and you didn’t""

Englert said he expects a decision on the Trumplers’ case very soon after July 29, the date the Trumplers are required to file their last brief.

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