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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 29, 2005

Batterer abuses a flawed system; woman hunted even after fleeing

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Orders of protection are easy to get but hard to enforce.

Victims of domestic abuse — most of them women — often spend years finding the resolve to seek help and get a court order of protection only to still be pursued by their batterers.

The problem is manifold.

It took years for law enforcement, like the rest of society, to realize domestic abuse is not a personal or family problem, but rather a crime. Enlightened and competent officers, though, can’t provide around-the-clock protection for women with orders of protection who are stalked by their abusers.

Some places, like New York City, Florida, Illinois, and California, are using electronic bracelets to track domestic abusers. These bracelets, however, are for paroled offenders.

Guilderland doesn’t have such a system.

"With the state of domestic violence in Albany County, there’s a tremendous amount of room for improvement," Albany County District Attorney David Soares told The Enterprise. "Our response to domestic violence in Albany County, I have felt for a long time has been poor."

He has ideas to improve the system — many that include coordinating communication among police and courts.

The city of Albany has the first domestic-violence court of its kind. But, Soares said, "That’s just a drop in the bucket in terms of solutions. Other jurisdictions are light years ahead of us in terms of their response."

"The abusive behavior can come out in a lot of ways," said Dr. Karel Kurst-Swanger, a professor of public justice at the State University of New York at Oswego, who has written several books on domestic violence and police and court responses to battered women.

The life of a Guilderland woman provides an egregious example. Her name is being withheld by The Enterprise.

She says she was physically and mentally abused by her husband for years. When she finally left her husband over a decade ago, the abuse didn’t stop, she said; it took on a different form. The woman claims, and court and police records examined by The Enterprise bear her out, that her ex-husband has been stalking her and making false reports about her to the police.

The ex-husband could not be reached by The Enterprise for comment.

He was arrested in another town in 2003 for falsely reporting an incident and unlawful imprisonment. Police say he forced a woman to call 911 and report illegal activity at his wife’s friend’s apartment.

He’s also made many false complaints about the woman to Albany County Child Protective Services, the woman said.

Marian Logan, director of child protective services, says such tactics are uncommon.

"Situations happen where there’s folks fighting in a custody battle and they call the other parent in," she said. "But, it’s not that frequent."

Still, Logan said, social workers must investigate every complaint that comes in, whether they believe the report is false or not.

While the Guilderland woman praises Guilderland Police for enforcement, she is still terrified and feels hunted. She describes how her ex-husband approaches her in public places, like the grocery store, but at a distance just outside that set by the order of protection.

He just watches her, she says. "That’s scary," she said. "I just turn away. I try to totally avoid him."

She gave an example: "I’m walking down the street and it’s dark out and he drives down Church Road with no lights on...He could be in any car in any parking lot. I’m hallucinating and delusional over this...

"I’m living like a criminal," she said. "I have to hide my car; he vandalizes vehicles."

She gets her mail at the post office and stays with friends, she said, to avoid having her husband find her.

When an officer tries to serve her ex-husband with court papers, he says he’s someone else, the Guilderland woman said, so he is not served. "He’s constantly misrepresenting himself and lying," she said. "He’s so slick. He gets away with it."

She concluded, "I’m afraid he’s going to burn this place down. He should be locked up."

Flawed system

Orders of protection won’t work unless the abuser respects the criminal justice system, said Kathy Magee, a department director at Equinox Inc., an Albany-based program that offers counseling, protection, and legal help for victims of domestic abuse. (See related story.)

The Guilderland woman sought refuge at and got help from Equinox.

If the abuser is not afraid of being arrested or going to court, he won’t care about violating an order of protection, said Magee. Also, she said, orders of protection are not useful unless local police and judges enforce them.

Although the Guilderland woman has an order of protection against her ex-husband, since she can’t prove he’s stalking her, he gets away with it, she says.

Her ex-husband tried to kill her by stuffing cleaning rags with toxins in her furnace vent, she said. She fears that he’ll cut the brake lines in her car, she said.

"My friends say I need a bodyguard 24/7," she said. "I’m living like a petrified cockroach and he’s trying to stomp me."

Kurst-Swanger said it is common for abusers to find other ways to control their victims, after they have left.

"She’s certainly not alone," said Kurst-Swanger. "Sometimes he’ll stay fixated. He’ll find another way he can control her and bother her and terrorize her."

The Guilderland woman expressed frustration with the legal system and the court system.

She has sought help through the Albany County District Attorney’s Office. Her lawyer called two assistant district attorneys several times without response, the woman said.

Soares told The Enterprise that the system is greatly flawed, but he has ideas to improve it.

"We need to improve our communications in law-enforcement agencies within the county...," he said. "I’ve asked all these law-enforce agencies to fill out a survey to tell what kind of communication systems that they’re operating with."

Situations happen now, he said, where two people from Berne could get in a fight while in Cohoes. Since police aren’t sharing one records-management system, responding officers won’t know that the couple has a history of domestic violence, he said.

"I’d imagine that the response from that officer would be entirely different than what it is now, which is: You don’t know these folks; it’s a misunderstanding; and off on your way," Soares said.

With "high-risk couples," every time there is a phone call to police from that residence, he said. "It should be blinking red, so that the response from law-enforcement is immediate and we understand it’s critical and we shouldn’t take any of this lightly."
Soares went on, "That’s where other jurisdictions are going and we need to get there. That’s 21st Century use of communications and we need to be more responsive and to save lives."

He cited Denver, Colo. as having "one of the most incredible responses to domestic violence."

In Albany County, Soares said, support that victims need is missing. "When her husband is the sole breadwinner," he said, "the wife may cooperate with [the district attorney] in terms of addressing the immediate assault. But, then, two weeks into the prosecution, when she realizes that she doesn’t have a place to live or rent and food and she’s got a child to support and he’s out of the house...those realities hit her. She’s less inclined to prosecute and work with us."

"The system’s not doing what it needs to be doing," said the Guilderland woman. "The judges are failing to do their part."

She cited a Guilderland judge, Steven Simon, whom, she said, won’t enforce the order of protection. When her husband appeared in town court for violating the order, the charge was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. This means that, if he’s not arrested in six months, the case will be dismissed.

Simon, a 25-year judge who is seeking re-election this year, told The Enterprise that he can’t comment on specific cases. But, he said, his decisions in domestic-violence cases are strongly affected by the district attorney or town attorney.

Usually the district attorney speaks for the victim and makes a recommendation to the judge, Simon said.

"That’s pretty important because I don’t have investigative powers," he said. "...Then I listen to the defense attorney."

Simon’s sentences can range from adjourning the case to ordering the defendant to counseling or jail time, he said. If the offenders have a history of domestic violence, he said, they are often sent to jail.

If the offender violates an order of protection, Simon said, "Usually the penalty is more serious."

These cases are difficult, he said. "Sometimes you don’t know if it’s a valid charge or isn’t," he said. "The police help, too. They know."

Simon added, "If it’s definite domestic abuse, we take it very seriously."

Soares said that, if someone violates an order or protection, a judge can appropriately sentence him.

Asked about violators getting their charges pleaded down, Soares said, "There’s a problem when that happens, but there’s a lot of circumstances that weigh into a prosecutor’s decision to plea a case down. It’s not all the same."

For example, he said, sometimes an order or protection is issued out of criminal court, but family court says the husband can have contact with his children. The man calls the house and he’s charged with violating the order or protection.

"So, you have two competing orders from two separate courts," Soares said. "The family court, where there are children involved, takes precedent."

He said, "When it involves divorces that are messy, you have battles that occur all over the Capital District. There’s cases where you have one person as a complainant in Albany and the same complainant is a defendant in the city of Troy. If these systems aren’t connected, which they usually aren’t, how do you sort out those messes"...It requires people sitting down and improving communications."

Of having offenders wear ankle bracelets, Soares said, ADT security company has that type of service, but it’s expensive.

"When you have the synergy between law enforcement, the not-for-profit based organizations, and our politicians, you make programs like this work," he said.

Out of the house

The Guilderland woman’s upbringing is typical of many battered women; she was abused as child.

She was born in Europe and came to the United States with her parents and five siblings when she was seven, she said.

Her parents, especially her mother, were very strict, she said. She was not allowed to participate in after-school activities, she said.

In ninth grade, the woman said, she went to a school dance. Her mother found out, went to the school, and saw her dancing with a boy, she said. Her mother beat her, she said, and called her names, like "slut."

"I was not allowed to date and I was expected to get married in a white dress," the woman said.

At 15, however, she did get a boyfriend. He would later become her husband.

"He was abusive right away," the woman said. "But, he was my first boyfriend. My parents didn’t like him but I figured, they were so strict, I just wanted out of that house."

The woman had lost her virginity at 15, she said.

"The first time I got pregnant," she said, "he made me get an abortion. At the doctor’s office, he said he was my brother."

When she turned 18, she left the house and married her boyfriend.

Her mother had continued to be physically and verbally abusive to her, the woman said.

"My mother would say, ‘No guy will ever want you. Since you’re not a virgin, you’ll be alone forever,’" the woman recalled as to why she chose to stay with an abusive boyfriend. "I was petrified."

"Marrying him was my only way out," she said.

On their honeymoon, the woman was beaten, she said.

"I became married to someone worse than my mother," the woman said.

Asked about her father, the woman said, "My father worked and did what she wanted. My mother was like the man."

She said she was brought up to believe, "You married, had children, and did what your husband asked of you — no matter what."

Almost as soon as they were married, the woman was pregnant with her first child, she said.

A few years later, the woman gave birth to two more children. Still, she said, the abuse continued.

"Once...I was lying on the couch," she said. "He hit me in the face with a leather jacket."

Blood poured down her face and she couldn’t see, she said.

"I was so scared; I lost my vision," she said. "I crawled down the street, without shoes, to my aunt’s house."

The woman later came home, she said, when her husband threatened to burn down her aunt’s house.

Like many batterers, her husband was overprotective to the point of abuse, she said. He was very paranoid, the woman said. He would check the mileage on her car and calculate how long and how many miles it should take her to go to the grocery store, she said.

"He’d come home and say, ‘Somebody was here. I smell smoke,’" she said.

The woman was allowed to go to the grocery store, if she took her children with her, she said. When they got home, her husband would question the children. If they reported that their mother spoke to any man or had her groceries checked out by a male cashier, she’d get a beating, she said.

"He’d have me paged at the grocery store, too, if I took too long," she said. "I was not a wife, but a slave."

When her children all started school, the woman got an office job.

"He did not want me to go to work, but I did," she said.

She described each morning, as she got ready for work. Her husband would stand in the bathroom doorway and call her names, she said. He would get in her face, screaming at her as she put on her coat, she said.

The woman would pray that she’d make it out the door that day, she said. And, as her husband continued to scream, she’d run out the door and get into her car, she said.

Her husband clocked the distance from their house to her place of work. On the way home, when traffic was heavy, the woman said, she’d drive through red lights because she’d be scared she wouldn’t make her deadline.

At work, the woman said, her husband would constantly call. He once accused her boss of sleeping with her, she said.

Out of the marriage

Leaving an abuser can be very dangerous for a victim, said Kurst-Swanger. The victim has to have a clear safety plan before leaving, she said.

After years of living with her husband, the Guilderland woman decided to get out.

"I thought, how much worse can it be leaving" I’d rather be dead than live like this," she said. "I was scared, but I decided it’s bad enough here. I might as well step out."

Before leaving, the woman went to a domestic violence program at the Schenectady YMCA, she said.

She would go, for an hour at a time, when her husband wasn’t home, she said. She’d also call a domestic-abuse hotline when she was alone, she said.

"They taught me to be open-minded, that there is hope," she said.

Then, one day in 1993, the woman took her children, left her house, and didn’t come back.

She sought help from friends and from Equinox in Albany.

The woman’s children, too, received counseling, she said. The woman claims that her husband was physically abusive toward her children when they were younger, especially the girls.

"When my one daughter was little, he would pinch her," the woman said. "He hated her, maybe because she resembled me."

She put her children in preschool when they were three years old, to get them out of the house and away from their father, she said. "I was so afraid," she said.

She said she was determined not to repeat the treatment she suffered from her own mother. "I never raised my children like that," she said.

When she is upset, for example, with her daughter’s decisions, the woman said, "I just love her. I’m not my mother. I’m not going to pull her hair out."

"Any time you have any type of violence in the family, it impacts the children," said Kurst-Swanger. "It impacts them emotionally and physically. They have stress, trauma, and fear."

After she left him, the Guilderland woman’s husband had custody of the children two days a week, she said.

Harassment through agencies

Once she was gone, her husband immediately began harassing her in a new way, the woman said. He’d repeatedly call Child Protective Services three times a week, reporting that she wasn’t taking care of their children, she said.

"The calls would be like, ‘Her new boyfriend is having sex with her daughter,’ or ‘Her father is there doing drugs,’" the woman said.

"Child Protective would come and see nothing wrong," she said.

She pulled out a file, about two inches thick, of complaints and responses from Child Protective Services. The file came from a large box, filled with other paperwork dealing with her husband.

"Dealing with all of this is a full-time job," the woman said.

The woman had also saved essays her children had written. One assigned topic was for students to write on the bravest thing they had ever done.

The Guilderland woman’s daughter wrote, "My parents were separated and going thorough a horrible divorce. My father would have my sister...and I do some horrible things to hurt my mother....We had to write whatever my father said or he would beat me and my sister up....

"He had CPS running to our home like the fire trucks responding to a burning home blazing with flames of fire. The Child Protective Services and the Guilderland Police responded to our school....My sister and I were called in for questioning for these ongoing events. The agencies were concerned with our welfare, and safety....

"The bravest thing I ever recalled doing was telling the authorities how my father was threatening us, and making me and my sister do all things, and they were not true. I felt bad for my mom who was not at all a hurtful person. My dad knew my mom was innocent, and was not aggressive to fight..."

The Enterprise reviewed the Child Protective Services paperwork. After nearly each page of complaint is a form from a social worker that says the complaint is unfounded.

One complaint from the husband states, "Mother is dealing drugs and is using cocaine with her friends in the house with the two girls...present. The men are walking around with no clothes on, and the men have groped at them inappropriately. Mother is well aware of their fright, and she still continues with her lifestyle. There is serious concern for the safety and welfare of the children."

A form from Child Protective Services states, "Allegations of...sex abuse on adults are being unfounded due to the lack of credible evidence. Men listed on the report do not live in the residence. There is no evidence of drug use or of anyone dealing in the home. Mother is being harassed by the children’s father. No protective issues seen in the home at this time. Report is being unfounded."

Another complaint says of the woman’s daughters, "Both children are frequently driving a four-wheel recreational vehicle on the main roads in a reckless manner. (They have hit and injured one small child in the recent past due to their driving this vehicle improperly.) Their mother is aware of this, but continues to provide little supervision of the children when they are using this four-wheeler.

"The police have been called several times to the home. (They have torn up neighbors’ lawns and almost [been] hit by cars going by them on the roadway.) There is concern for the safety of the children when they are using this four-wheeler with no adult supervision."

In a response, a social worker wrote, "Case is unfounded against the wife for...lack of supervision. Children do have a four-wheeler, but are not allowed to go off the property with it. They have a large backyard with a fence. They are also required to wear helmets. Both children and mother disclose this information.

"No police agency has been called to the house, according to the family and the Guilderland Police. There are no neighbors named in the report whose lawns have been torn up."

Another complaint says that the woman leaves her children alone for days. "Child is smoking marijuana with the grandfather. Child is throwing wild parties late at night and the grandfather has no control over the child," the complaint states. "Mother is aware that the child is out of control and that she is smoking marijuana with the grandfather. Tonight the child had a party going on from 11 p.m. till after 2:30 a.m. Grandfather is disabled and not able or unwilling to control the child’s actions."

A social worker wrote, "There is insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations....[The child] notes being upset because her father has a private investigator following her at all times. [The child] is using marijuana on occasion, but she does not have an addiction. Currently, [the child] is engaged through her school to address drug awareness. She was tested at Equinox, and the results were negative."

Another report states that the woman says her father is responsible, alert, and able to look after her daughter. "Grandfather denies smoking marijuana," the report says. "Grandfather notes he smokes cigarettes and smokes a pipe. [The child] denies having wild parties....The family is addressing their issues through counseling."

Lasting effects

Logan, of Child Protective Services, said the Albany County agency gets 3,700 reports of mistreated children per year. About 60 percent of those reports are unfounded, she said, because there is not enough credible evidence to prove the accusation.

"That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a true report," Logan said.

She would not comment on the Guilderland woman’s case, but spoke in general terms.

If the agency receives numerous calls from the same person and all the allegations are completely unfounded, Logan said, social workers will encourage the parent to request a referral from them. The referral will then go to the district attorney’s office.

This typically happens three or four times a year, Logan said.

Most people who call with a complaint really believe that the parent is acting inappropriately, she said. People very rarely call the agency with malicious intent, she said.

For a typical complaint, she said, a social worker will visit the home and assess the safety of the children. The worker then has 60 days to determine whether the allegations are substantiated or not, she said.

If the social worker believes the allegations are true, Logan said, the family will receive a notice. In most situations, she said, the children are referred for appropriate services.

The situation is sometimes so dangerous that the agency removes the children from the home, Logan said. Currently, it has 329 children in foster care, she said. Half of those children were placed in foster care from the county’s probation department and the other half were found by social workers to be abused or neglected, she said.

Another of the Guilderland woman’s Child Protective Services reports, dated March of 1996, states, "Project Strive, a private therapist, and the school the children attend confirm that [the father] is intimidating and threatening and that [the mother] uses poor judgment regarding her children and her personal life. The animosity between the two adults has impacted negatively on all three children.

"...[the father] has been arrested multiple times for violating the court order of protection and for stalking [the mother]. There are reports from both Guilderland Police and Rotterdam Police in the case record. The case remains open."

In another, undated report, it states, "Case is closed...as there are no child protective concerns....Concerns surround [the mother’s] safety regarding husband...he has violated every order of protection and makes numerous false reports."

Although Child Protective Services saw no concerns, Kurst-Swanger said the impact of growing up in an abusive home will stay with the children forever.

Asked if the children are likely to repeat the patterns of abuse, Kurst-Swanger said this depends on many factors. Some daughters of abusive parents marry abusive men and some sons abuse their partners, she said. Some children stay away from that type of behavior because they were hurt by it for so long, she said.

The woman’s children are all over 18 now.

Seeking protection

Both the woman and her ex-husband have orders of protection against each other.

Most orders of protection are granted when a person asks for one, said Kurst-Swanger.

But, Soares said, there’s a lot of confusion with orders of protection because victims want them issued immediately. Orders cannot be issued unless the defendant is present, he said.

"So," he said, "sometimes when there is an assault and a report is made by a woman and the defendant is out on the loose, you can’t issue an order of protection because the defendant does not have receipt of it."

This can’t be changed, he said, because a person can’t be punished for violating a court order that he is not aware of.

"Orders of protection are important and have the potential of working. They can be a very valuable tool," said Magee, the department director of Equinox’s domestic violence services.

But, she said, orders of protection won’t work unless the abuser respects the criminal justice system. If he’s not afraid of being arrested or going to court, he won’t care about violating an order of protection, she said.

"Orders of protection can be effective," said Kurst-Swanger, "but they are just pieces of paper."

Barriers exist, she said. For example, she said, with some orders of protection, the victim has to be carrying it when her abuser violates it.

Also, Magee said, orders of protection are not useful unless local police and judges enforce them.

"Some police still nowadays disregard or don’t arrest someone because they’ve violated an order of protection," she said.

In other cases, she said, when police arrive at the scene, the abuser has already left. Many arrest warrants are ignored because police are so busy with other law enforcement, she said.

Orders of protection "are helpful to police when issued and used appropriately," said Guilderland Lieutenant Curtis Cox.

Asked about those who disregard their orders of protection, Soares said, "For those people, unless you put someone on surveillance 24 hours a day, there are certain people that are not going to listen to what anybody says, whether its the police, a judge, or a prosecutor....There needs to be a different response for those individuals."

"Overwhelmingly, I believe orders of protection work," Soares said. But, there are communications problems, he said. Orders or protection issued out of family court don’t always enter into the police’s computer system so when police arrive at a scene, there’s no record of the order.

"We in the criminal justice system have to do a much better job of improving our communications and delivering service and that kind of protection to our victims of crime," Soares said.

Guilderland Police get a number of reports from women who have said their orders of protection have been violated, Cox said. However, he said, he could not estimate how many per year.

In reviewing its blotters entries, The Enterprise found that, in 2004, seven people were arrested for violating orders of protection. Three of those had assaulted the complainants and four had violated the orders by calling the compliant or visiting her house. So far in 2005, seven more people were arrested under similar circumstances.

In 2004, eight orders of protection were requested in town court as a result of arrests, such as for assault or harassment. This year, at least four orders of protection have been requested because of arrests.

Each case is different, Cox said, but, generally, if someone violates an order of protection in Guilderland, they will be arrested. The person doesn’t have to be caught in the act by police, Cox said; the complainant can write a sworn statement saying the order was violated, he said.

Violating an order of protection can sometimes result in a felony arrest, but courts are overcrowded, Magee said. It becomes easy for an offender to plea down his charge, so his penalty is not that severe, she said.

"That’s the downside of how things don’t work," Magee said. "Things shouldn’t be just between the abuser and the victim. The state needs to say, ‘We won’t tolerate this.’"

In some places, Kurst-Swanger said, offenders are being made to wear electronic bracelets. Then, she said, police can tell when they are violating an order of protection.

Of the Guilderland woman, Kurst-Swanger suggested she look into getting a pendant-like panic alarm that has a system linked to the police. Then, she said, when the woman is in danger, she can notify police immediately.

Orders of protection, Magee concluded, "by no means guarantee personal safety." She said, "You can’t just assume everything is going to be okay. An order of protection says ‘stay away,’ but that doesn’t mean it will keep the abuser away."

False reports

As soon as the Guilderland woman left her husband, he stopped working, she said. He claims he’s disabled, she said, but she says nothing is wrong with him.

Her husband, who is in his 40’s, is unemployed and is collecting Social Security, she said. Although he claims a disability, he is not disabled, she said.

An acquaintance of the family told the woman that her husband was watching her closely.

"She said, ‘He talks about you every day. He knows where you are going and what you do.’ She told me my whole...schedule and I am scared to death," the woman said.

The woman said her husband has had women, whom she claims are prostitutes, call the police and falsely report incidents. He has also falsely reported incidents, she said, one of which has led to her being arrested in another town for threatening her husband. He reported to police that she said she was going to kill him, she said.

That charge was dismissed, she said, because she had a witness who was with her when he said she was making the threat.

He also accused her of being involved in a hit-and-run accident in a parking lot, she said. The woman got the surveillance tapes from the store there to prove that she was not in the parking lot that day, she said.

In an incident report dated April 29, 2003, in another town, it says that the husband was arrested for falsely reporting an incident, unlawful imprisonment, and second-degree criminal contempt, all misdemeanors.

In a court document, a police officer from that town states that, the husband forced a woman to call 911 from a gas-station pay phone. He forced the woman to report that, at his wife’s residence, people were being held hostage by gun and knife, the officer wrote.

On a different incident report, from Sept. 20, 2004, it states that Guilderland Police received a call from a cellular phone, from a woman who said she had gone to an apartment to buy crack cocaine.

When she entered the apartment, the woman claimed, a man held a gun to her head and she said she saw an unconscious female on the floor. The woman then called police, she said, because she was concerned about the safety of the unconscious female.

Police say in the report that they went to the apartment. "The complaint was found to be unfounded," the report says. "The victim [the Guilderland woman] has been the victim of similar incidents in the past..."

After further investigation, police say they saw the ex-husband, leaving the parking lot of the apartment with his headlights off. The ex-husband is violating an order of protection, the report says, and "further investigation will be conducted to determine the identity of the anonymous caller and additional charges will be considered against...the arrested [the ex-husband] for stalking."

The report then says that her ex-husband was arrested for fourth-degree stalking and disobeying a mandate for violating the order of protection.

A Guilderland court clerk told The Enterprise that, in June, these charges were adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. This means, that if the ex-husband is not arrested again before November, his case will be dismissed.

Lieutenant Cox would not answer specific questions about the ex-husband or about why he was not arrested on Sept. 20 for falsely reporting an incident. Cox referred The Enterprise to the New York State penal laws, which the Guilderland Police use as arrest guidelines.

Under the law for falsely reporting an incident, it says a person should be arrested if they know the information reported is "false or baseless and under circumstances in which it is likely public alarm or inconvenience will result..."

Anytime police make an arrest, they have to prove that the defendant committed the crime "beyond a reasonable doubt," Cox said.

But, Cox said, a person can be arrested without evidence if a complainant gives a sworn statement to police. It is perjury to lie in such a statement, he said.

Occasionally, police receive calls from people who are reporting something is happening that actually isn’t, Cox said.

If someone calls 911, Guilderland Police have a policy that they must investigate every report, Cox said. If someone reports something and then says, "Forget it," he said, police still investigate.

And, Cox said, if someone calls 911 and hangs up, police send officers to the scene anyway. With 911, police can track where a call is coming from, he said, but not necessarily the caller.

"If you call from a pay phone, we know where the phone is, but won’t know it’s you," Cox said.

"He’s here in the backyard. I have an order of protection against him. And I’m in trouble ’cause he says I tried to kill him," the woman said.

"I have to prove where I’ve been," she said. "He’ll file a false police report and have me arrested for something I didn’t do.

"Even though I got counseling and a support system, how much can they do if the system isn’t doing anything"" the woman asked.

When trust is shattered, Equinox offers refuge

By Nicole Fay Barr

Domestic violence is not uncommon in Albany County, but help is available. At Equinox Inc., on Central Avenue in Albany, victims of abuse can find emotional support, legal advice, and a place to stay.

A Guilderland woman told The Enterprise this week that she endured years of physical and verbal abuse from her husband. (See related story.) The woman eventually left her abuser, she said, and found support at Equinox.

Kathy Magee began working for Equinox 16 years ago "because it seemed important," she said. She is now the department director of Equinox’s domestic violence services.

Her thoughts today" "When we’ve got a perfect system, I can leave."

But, she said, over a decade-and-a-half, some things have improved for abused women.

"Victims are much more aware now of their options and rights. The general public is, too," Magee said. "When I first started, domestic violence seemed more personal, like a relationship thing. People were often more judgmental."

Today, she said, many more services are offered to abused women.

"The system, in general, is not perfect by any means and the judicial system has let us down, but it’s also worked well sometimes," Magee said. "The judicial system and law enforcement have a better understanding of domestic violence."

She told The Enterprise of the services her agency provides and of the psychology of being both a victim and an abuser.

Diverse support

Equinox is the primary source for domestic violence help in Albany County, Magee said.

The Enterprise visited the agency recently; at 95 Central Ave., it is impossible to tell from the outside what services are offered.

Visitors must be buzzed into the building for safety reasons. Inside the warm, comfortable office are friendly staff members and cheerful pictures children have made with crayons.

A woman in her early 20’s was let inside; she said she had an appointment with a counselor. She seemed relaxed and, as a middle-aged woman came to the lobby to greet her, the two clutched hands.

Equinox offers a 24-hour hotline; a shelter for women and their children; individual and group counseling; and advocacy services, such as education, legal counsel, and support for women going through the court system. The center also helps women obtain orders of protection and custody of their children, Magee said.

Equinox is funded by a variety of grants, from the federal government to the Albany City Council, she said. Albany County also provides funding for women and children staying in the center’s shelter, she said.

The agency, too, raises money on its own to fund various programs, Magee said.

Equinox has been providing advocacy and counseling services in Albany County since 1984. Its shelter opened in 1989.

Each year, Equinox has about 130 women and 100 children stay at its shelter, Magee said. They stay from one day to three months, she said.

Around 700 women and men — males make up about 3 percent — are served by the agency’s other programs each year, Magee said.

"We work with people throughout their experience," Magee said. "Some have left their abusers; some are thinking about leaving. Some were abused a long time ago, but it still affects their lives."

Those who seek help from Equinox range in age from 16 to 80, Magee said. However, she said, the most common age range is 18 to 35.

"We’re just getting ready to start up a support group of youth who’ve been affected by domestic violence," Magee said.

Most women who use the agency’s programs are working and live in Albany County, she said. Those who use the shelter usually don’t have jobs, she said, "because they’re in the middle of a crisis."

"Our population in terms of education and ethnicity runs the gamut," Magee said. "....Some are married, some were abused by former lovers. There have even been children abusing elderly parents or parents abusing children."

Finding help

Most of the women who seek help from Equinox are mothers, Magee said.

What sometimes causes these women to reach out for help is that their children are being hurt or witnessing abuse, she said.

"A lot of it is opportunity," Magee said of when women attempt to get out of an abusive relationship. "Some people, if they’re highly dependent on an abuser and don’t see an alternative to getting out, are less likely to try to leave."

She went on, "A lot of times it’s not them getting beaten up, seeing they’re black and blue in the mirror, and wanting to leave. They have to think about leaving for a long time."

Victims of domestic violence may have many obstacles blocking them from leaving an abusive relationship, Magee said. It may be more dangerous for them if they try to leave and the abuser is after them, she said.

Children complicate matters, Magee said. "You have things like school and their feelings about the abuser," she said. "And there’s the logistics of hauling kids around."

Where a victim of domestic violence gets the strength to break away from the relationship is "quite individualistic," Magee said. "Each case is its own separate situation."

Asked why some women stay in abusive relationships, Magee said, "A lot of times, there’s a lot of hope that the victims express and, most of the time, their relationship didn’t start out that bad. There are times when it’s not all bad and they don’t want to give up."

She went on, "A lot of women blame themselves. They feel a sense of responsibility and guilt. If something goes wrong, they think, ‘It’s my fault. I’ve failed in this relationship.’ The abuser says, ‘It’s your fault.’"

Many women are also financially controlled by their abusers, Magee said.

Some women are frightened, she said, that, if they try and can’t get away, the abuser will severely hurt or kill them.

"If you’re a battered woman and you want abuse to stop and the abuser doesn’t want it to stop, you have to leave," Magee said. "But, you have to leave your home, all your things, your relationships."

Some victims also feel sympathy toward their abuser, Magee said.

"They worry what he’s going to be like if they leave," she said. "They worry how he is going to take care of himself."

It’s common for the abuser to use "emotional blackmail" to keep a woman from leaving, Magee said.

They coax their wives or girlfriends by saying, "Oh, it won’t happen again," she said.

The abuser

With domestic violence, it’s common for the abuser to be jealous and accuse the victim of being unfaithful, Magee said.

"It’s not uncommon for the abuser to monitor where the victim is," she said. "She faces all sorts of accusations that get pretty wild and next he says, ‘You’re having an affair.’ The woman second guesses herself and thinks, ‘I shouldn’t have talked to that man.’"

"A lot of victims experience physical abuse, but all experience a lot of emotional abuse," Magee said. "It has an effect on how they see the world. That makes it much more complicated."

The Enterprise asked Magee why some men abuse women.

"There is a lot of cultural stuff about the roles of men and women and an emphasis on macho controlling behavior," she said. "In movies, you see it all the time, so people do still operate that way."

Some men believe their wives should be submissive and not disagree with them, she said.

"Insecurity is a big piece of it and a lot of times there is anger involved," Magee said. "With most abusers, if you confront an abuser, it’s not often they admit it. They have a lot of rationalizations for why they did something and a lot of times they don’t think they did anything wrong."

The best way for a woman to end domestic violence is to leave her abuser, Magee said.

Asked if there is any hope of the abuser changing, she said, "Everybody has the possibility to change. The first step is for them to recognize what they’ve done."

Many times in court, an abuser is sentenced to attend an anger-management program. This can help, Magee said, but studies have shown that recidivism in domestic violence is high.

"Definitely if you have the motivation to stop being abusive, you could change. It’s just not very common," Magee said.

Advice for victims

Asked if the best solution for a battered woman is to move or hide away, Magee said, "Again it’s very individualistic. Many women we’ve worked with have done that. That can be a solution, but it’s not easy because you have to leave behind so much else."

In the advocacy program at Equinox, hiding is one of several solutions that the agency discusses with women, Magee said.

Women are always better off getting out of the relationship, she said.

Asked what advice Magee would give to an abused woman, she said, "Call a hotline like ours and talk to somebody. Much of the time, women are in a situation where they try to make a decision in a vacuum. They’re isolated."

Equinox’s 24-hour hotline is 432-7865. The hotline gets about 3,000 calls a year, she said.

Magee suggested that an abused woman look to the immediate future. Thinking too far ahead, she said, "can make the situation seem too monumental to get out of; it can be so overwhelming."

Calling a hotline helps, she said, because women can speak to an objective listener, rather than a family member who is emotionally involved.

It may be difficult for women to make decisions in an abusive home, Magee said.

"I would encourage her to recognize when you’re in such a hostile situation, it’s hard to think straight and it is helpful to come in to a shelter, just to think about your options without the pressure," she said.

Women can go to the shelter just for a few hours, she said, to think things through.

Asked if women who stay in long-term abusive relationships are likely to be killed by their abuser, Magee said, "That’s another situation where it depends. It’s hard, it’s impossible to tell what might happen."

But, she said, "A lot of times the victim has a good sense of how violent her abuser is, of what he can be capable of."

It is important for friends and family members to know that it’s hard for battered women to leave their abusers, Magee said. Many times, she said, women leave their husbands or boyfriends, but go back several times.

Family members may want to take control of a situation, Magee said. For example, she said, the father of an abused woman may want to physically hurt his daughter’s abuser. This, Magee said, may push the victim away further.

Friends and family members can also find help by calling a hotline, she said.

Guilderland town workers to get 4-percent raises

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — While Supervisor Kenneth Runion seemed firm at the first budget workshop that town employees’ salaries be raised no more than 3 percent, he changed his mind this week.

Now, according to the proposed budget for 2006, all town employees will receive 4-percent raises. This is to get non-union employees more in line with union workers’ salaries, Runion said.

The proposed budget for next year is $18 million, including $3.7 million in highway expenses. The town board will vote on the budget at the end of next month, after a public hearing.

The 2005 budget was $17 million, with $3.6 million in highway costs.

Next year’s increase in raises will add $19,000 to the total budget, Runion said, which is less than 1 percent.

The town has not decided yet, he said, whether the raises will be 4 percent in January or 2 percent at the beginning of the year and 2 percent more in July.

In next year’s budget, about $9.3 million will come from sales taxes; $1.2 million will be from mortgage taxes; and $700,000 will be from property taxes, Runion said.

The rest of the town’s funds will come from park and license fees and various grants, he said.

At the town’s first budget workshop, on Sept. 15, Councilman Bruce Sherwin rallied for several employees to get 4-percent raises. He said they deserved more than the standard 3 percent.

Guilderland employees often ask for raises above 3 percent, comparing their salaries to workers in other suburban Albany County towns — Bethlehem, which is about the same size as Guilderland, and the larger Colonie. The Enterprise compiled a list of the 2005 salaries in these towns. (See related chart.)

At the first budget meeting, Runion seemed intent on holding the line. The town has always been more fiscally conservative than other towns, he said, adding that, if one employee gets a raise above 3 percent, many more workers are pounding on his door, asking for more.

But, Runion said then, perhaps if the budget looks good and has no tax increases, some non-union employees who are falling behind in salary should be given 4-percent raises.

At last Thursday’s budget workshop, Runion gave board members a computation of both 3-percent and 4-percent raises for all non-union employees. He said it’s not much of a difference to give everyone an extra 1 percent.

Sherwin, who is not running for re-election this year, was not at the final workshop.

Councilpersons Patricia Slavick and Michael Ricard agreed with Runion. When he first joined the board 11 years ago, Ricard said, "What I walked into wasn’t right." Non-union employees were paid a lot less than union workers, he said.

Runion said that, in the late 1990’s, the administration balanced the budget on the backs of non-union employees and didn’t give any raises.

"I don’t think it affects the work product, but it creates an atmosphere that’s unhealthy," he said.

Councilman David Bosworth was more cautious. He asked if giving an extra 1 percent to non-union employees would hurt the town when union workers negotiate their contracts and ask for more money.

Bosworth also questioned the fairness of across-the-board raises. He asked about employees who had worked for the town a long time or had added responsibilities.

It’s a complicated issue, Runion said, with some employees working overtime and different jobs being hard to compare to each other.

Bosworth suggested that a policy be created to make the salary determinations more fair. Runion said that some sort of management survey should be conducted by an outside agency.

The board then agreed to give 4-percent raises in 2006 and consider doing a survey before the 2007 budget is created.

Open workshops"

According to the state’s Open Meetings Law, if a quorum of the board is discussing town business, such as a budget, the meetings must be open to the public.

Mike Donegan, a Republican running for town board, wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor, complaining about the all-Democratic town board violating the spirit of the law.

Donegan described how hard it was to find the meeting room for the first budget workshop and how budget documents were not made available for his review at the meeting, making discussion difficult to follow.

No chairs were set up for the public. At the first session, Donegan was one of two members of the public — both candidates — to attend. At the second and final workshop, just one member of the public — Democratic candidate Paul Pastore — attended. The Enterprise was the only press to attend the sessions.

"I think our meetings are pretty open," Runion responded through The Enterprise.

Board members spend a lot of time discussing town employees and their salaries, he said, which normally is done in executive session.

"We’ve always done the meeting in the conference room," Runion went on. "That way, board members can sit around a table and take notes, and it’s more of an informal setting....Attendance is never that great, so we play it by ear with the chairs."

Donegan also wrote that council members Slavick and Bosworth passed notes and kept budget documents from Donegan’s view.

Bosworth told The Enterprise that he did pass a note to Slavick, asking her to move a document so he could read it.

"I wanted to be able to read her papers; she had a paper that I didn’t have," Bosworth said. "She had it facing away from me and upside down."

When asked, Slavick agreed. This was the only note that Bosworth passed that night, both he and Slavick said.

Of whispering or holding papers in front of his face so Donegan couldn’t hear him, as it is asserted in the letter, Bosworth said, "I don’t recall whispering anything; I have a loud voice...I moved some paper in the meeting. Certainly that wasn’t intentional."


Although town taxes appear lower this year, that may not be the case for all residents. In 2005, the tax rate was 32 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. In 2006, it will be 24 cents per $1,000.

However, because of reevaluation this year, it is difficult to calculate the impact rate, Runion said.

The town does reassessment every few years 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.

Runion estimated that, in 2006, half of taxpayers will have their taxes stay the same or decrease and half will see their taxes increase slightly.

For the average house this year, highway taxes will increase by less than 2 percent, Runion said. This is mostly due to the increasing cost of fuel, he said.

Because of fuel, Runion said, the highway superintendent kept the rest of his spending down and has planned no big projects for 2006.

Sewer taxes, for those with town sewer services, will increase about 4 percent and water taxes will increase less than 1 percent.

The sewer increase is due to the upgrade of the Nott Road sewage-treatment plant.

At the first budget workshop, water and wastewater superintendent William West said he plans on painting two water towers, which will cost the town $175,000.

This work needs to be done every 20 to 25 years, he said.

"If you let them go, you ruin the tower," he said.

"Less than one percent [tax] increase is good since energy costs are taking a hit," West said. "We’re not raising the rate of water itself."

West also noted that the post-filtration granular activated carbon (GAC) adsorption system will be working soon. It just needs final approval from the state’s Department of Health, he said.

The system will adsorb the residual organic compounds into carbon granules and reduce the formation of disinfectant byproducts. In the past, Guilderland’s level of disinfectant byproducts had exceeded state standards.

Johnson’s job cut

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — In the town’s budget for next year, Jean Johnson’s job has been eliminated. Johnson founded the town’s art program for senior citizens and ran it since 1993.

This has enraged some residents, who called Town Hall and the Enterprise office recently. They said that Johnson, who is 75, was forced out of her job. Johnson declined comment to The Enterprise.

Johnson was replaced, the callers said, by the 19-year-old daughter of a department head.

Town Supervisor Kenneth Runion said Monday that this isn’t true. Johnson’s $7,453 a year job was not replaced, but eliminated, he said. She left her job in July and was paid $3,661.27 this year.

Of the 19-year-old, Runion, a Democrat, said that Alicia Gifford, daughter of the Republican highway superintendent, Todd Gifford, is an intern who works for the town during the summer and in between classes in the fall.

Cindy Wadach, who runs the town’s senior-services department, told Runion that she and her staff can handle Johnson’s job, he said. Johnson had only worked a few hours a week, Runion said, and was only in charge of scheduling.

The Enterprise interviewed Johnson in 2000. Then, Johnson spoke about bringing various photographers and painters to lecture to Guilderland seniors and about taking the elderly residents on trips to local museums and galleries.

Johnson, an artist herself, described how she was visiting an art exhibit when she saw an elderly woman looking frustrated. "I wish I knew more about it so I could enjoy it," the woman told Johnson.

Johnson then thought, "Wow! Wouldn’t it be nice if I could help people enjoy it"" she recalled of creating the art program with Peggy Glenn, then Guilderland’s director of senior services.

In an unsigned letter to the Enterprise editor, it says that Johnson was "summarily dismissed without any warning or notice."

The writer, who said he feared retribution as a "whistle blower," wrote that the move was due to "political favoritism and age discrimination."

Gifford did not replace Johnson, Wadach said. Gifford’s job "has nothing to do with who she’s related to" and Johnson’s leaving "had nothing to do with her age," said Wadach.

Gifford could not be reached for comment.

Gifford does more than run the art program; she helps with everything, Wadach told The Enterprise.

She helps coordinate programs and classes, handles paperwork, and "helps with every facet of the operation," Wadach said.

Gifford has worked for the town, full-time, for three summers, Wadach said. The Union College student continues to work for the town two days a week, Wadach said.

"After the first summer, we could tell she was an outstanding employee," Wadach said. "I asked if they could budget her extra during the year."

She went on of Gifford, "She’s outstanding. In all my years of management, she’s the most outstanding, intelligent employee."

Wadach would not comment on why Johnson left the department.

Some residents called Town Hall, upset that Johnson had left, Wadach said.

"Anytime you have change, people are worried," she said. The art program will continue, she said.

"Alicia [Gifford] is helping with the program, but she didn’t take Jean’s [Johnson’s] place at all," Wadach said.

"There’s a lot of misinformation when people are moved around," Runion said. "People just don’t like change."

Slavick quits job due to Hatch Act

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Democratic Councilwoman Patricia Slavick, who is running for re-election in November, says she has chosen politics over her career.

Slavick quit her job with the state’s Office of Mental Health three weeks ago, after she was told she violated the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act is a law that prohibits federal and certain state workers from running for an elected office.

The Hatch Act applies to executive-branch state and local employees who principally work in connection with programs financed by loans or grants made by the United States or a federal agency.

Slavick’s Republican challenger, Mike Donegan, says that leaving her job isn’t good enough. She "got caught with her hand in the cookie jar," Donegan told The Enterprise, and she should drop out of the election.

Slavick and Democratic Chairman David Bosworth, who is also on the all-Democrat town board, insist that Slavick did nothing wrong. She did all she could to get permission from her employer to run for town board, they said. When she was told there was a conflict of interest, she quit, they said.

Candidate’s confusion

For the past 15 months, Slavick had worked as an accountant for the state’s Office of Mental Health. She said that she was told a few weeks ago that, since her salary comes from the federal government, she is in violation of the Hatch Act.

If a person’s salary is financed from the government or if the main duties of her job are connected to a federally-funded program, she cannot run for public office in a partisan election, according to the Hatch Act.

Slavick wasn’t told until last month, two weeks before the Democratic party had its nominating caucus, that her running for town board violated the act, she said.

The town’s Democratic committee selects its preferred candidates in June, but doesn’t hold its caucus until just before the primary.

"I did everything I needed to do to inform the agency I was running," Slavick said. In January of this year, she said, she told her employer that she wanted to run again for town board.

She also asked about it when she was interviewed for the job, in May of 2004, she said.

"They should have told me then," she said.

It wasn’t until the end of last month, Slavick said, that, since she holds public office, her job violated the Hatch Act.

"Her supervisor said, ‘Leave or withdraw from the race,’" Bosworth reported. "No formal action was taken; this was just a conversation. They said it’s a possible conflict of interest and, if she violates the act, she’d be reported to the Office of Special Counsel," he said, referring to a federal agency.

"But I did my due diligence," Slavick said. "It was a very hard decision. I felt I did everything in my power to inform them I was running...I’m the type of person that dots my i’s and crosses my t’s. I did that over a year ago."

"Pat wrote five memorandums to her ethics board," Bosworth said. "Everybody thought she was on pretty solid ground."

Casey Cannistraci, a spokesperson for the Office of Mental Health, told The Enterprise that she can’t comment on Slavick because of privacy laws.

The agency notifies all of its employees about the Hatch Act each year before election time, Cannistraci said. Any problems or concerns are referred to the Office of Special Counsel, she said.

The decision to leave her job, Slavick went on, was "very painful."

"It’s very painful," Bosworth said. "Pat’s without employment. She has a young son in college....It’s very curious that this happened to her two weeks before the caucus."

Slavick said that, until this May, she could have gone back to her former accounting job. But, after being gone for more than 12 months, it was too late.

"Lack of integrity""

Slavick’s conflict was called to the attention of her employer after someone complained that she might be violating the Hatch Act, she said.

A few weeks ago, Tony Cortes, Guilderland’s GOP chair, told The Enterprise that he was investigating whether Slavick violated the Hatch Act. He had read about her job in a short profile that The Enterprise ran on Slavick in May.

This week, Donegan said that the leaders of the town’s Republican party complained to the Office of Mental Health.

Donegan works as an attorney for the state’s Commission of Corrections. When deciding to run for town board, Donegan inquired about the Hatch Act and was told he was not in violation. This is because his salary is not federally-funded, he said.

"As a fellow state employee, we’re all very well-versed in the Hatch Act and its ramifications," Donegan said. He went on of Slavick, "She should have stepped down when she found out she was Hatched."

Early in 2003, Republican Brian Hartson announced he was running for town board. That July, however, he dropped out of the race after he was found ineligible to run because of the Hatch Act; Hartson is a labor service representative for the state’s Division of Research and Statistics. The Republicans found no candidate to replace Hartson that year.

Slavick should have shown the integrity that Hartson did, Donegan said this week. She violated the Hatch Act for a long time and she "violated the spirit of the letter of the law," he said.

Donegan wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, complaining about the way he felt the Democrats on the town board, particularly Slavick and Bosworth, abused the Open Meetings Law at a budget workshop. (See related story.)

"If my party leaders hadn’t complained, she’d likely still be violating the Hatch Act," Donegan said. "For her to ask forgiveness rather than permission shows a lack of integrity and a cavalier attitude toward the Hatch Act."

The decision to choose the town board over her career was difficult, Slavick said. She told The Enterprise that, on Sept. 8, she left her job and she is currently looking for other work.

Bosworth was angry that the Republicans complained to Slavick’s employer.

"We found out two weeks before the nominating caucus," he said.

"I decided I like the town board and serving the residents of Guilderland," Slavick said. "I’m here to serve the town."

"The voters themselves should decide what’s right and wrong here," Donegan concluded. "But she should step down from the election to remove any cloud of impropriety."

Minister spirited about expansion of Bethel Full Gospel Church

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Although the congregation is small, the minister of the quiet church just on the edge of town wants to triple its size. This has one neighbor concerned, as his house is already only a few feet from the existing building.

However, Steve Foti, the minister of Bethel Full Gospel Church, said he is willing to do whatever it takes to make his neighbors and the zoning board happy.

Last Wednesday, the zoning board continued the proposal made by the church, at 7315 Route 158, so an engineer can study the application.

The church is requesting a special-use permit to build a 48-by-120-foot addition onto the rear of the existing building. The addition will be used to seat a congregation of up to 186 people. It will also have a nursery, a kitchen, and three offices.

The existing building will then be converted to Sunday-school classrooms.

The church is also asking for a variance so it does not have to install a sidewalk on Route 158. The town has a sidewalk ordinance that states owners of any new buildings are required to put a sidewalk in front of their properties.

A sidewalk that starts and ends on the church’s property does not seem necessary, said Foti.

"Nobody, nobody walks down 158," he said. "At least not down our way." No one who attends the church walks to it, he added.

Foti has been with Bethel Full Gospel Church for two-and-a-half years. He is the third pastor to bring plans forward for expansion, but the first to get this far, he said.

He doesn’t like to think of the church as a business, he said, but it is. With a wife, two children, and bills to pay, Foti said this expansion is important for him.

"We’ll bend over backwards to make it agreeable," he said.

Neighbors’ concerns

Bethel Full Gospel Church is on a rural stretch of road, on the Guilderland and Rotterdam border. It has a vacant lot to the left, owned by Vince Viscusi, and a house, owned by Jim Torre, to the right.

Other houses on the road are dozens of feet apart.

Viscusi told the board last Wednesday that rainwater from the church’s property often floods his land. He worried about the septic tank proposed for the back of the property, he said.

Stormwater drainage will be collected by in-ground catch basins and piped away, Foti’s architect said.

Chairman Bryan Clenahan told Viscusi that a town-designated engineer will address stormwater runoff and drainage before the application can be approved. Foti later said he’ll do everything he can to alleviate drainage problems.

Next, Torre told the board of his concerns with the expansion.

Earlier in the meeting, Foti said that the way the church is currently constructed is a problem because building setback lines require the addition to be placed so close to Torre’s property.

The church is willing to reconfigure the placement of the addition, if allowed by the zoning board, Foti said. He is also willing to plant trees or add a fence for buffering between the two properties, he said.

"Mr. Torre has been a very good neighbor," Foti said. "We’ll do whatever we can do."

Before Torre spoke, he said he’s always gotten along well with members of the church. He said he was hesitant to state his concerns.

"I’ll continue to try to be the same neighbor," Torre said. "I won’t try to stop the project, but I’m here to raise concerns."

He said, "No matter how good things are now, if I had my choice, I would not have this."

Looking out his back window, he said, all he will see is the church addition and parking spaces.

For the project, 64 more parking spaces will be added to the side and rear of the building; the existing lot in front of the church will remain.

Foti said he is willing to eliminate the side parking, near Torre’s property.

Clenahan said this sounds like a good idea, if there would still be enough spaces.

In designing the plan, Foti said, the church is figuring on the maximum use possible. While it will build to seat a congregation of 186, the church currently has only a fraction of that number of congregants now, he said.

"When we did the septic, we tested it at 400 flushes in two hours," Foti said, laughing. "We don’t need that, unless we have Tex-Mex night at the church."

The current church is small and its parking lot has about 25 spaces. Torre said he’s never seen the lot full. Sundays, he said, 25 or 30 people attend church. On Wednesdays, he said, about 10 or 15 go to meetings there.

"Perhaps the project should be scaled back," Torre said. "Maybe it’s not my business, but I’m concerned with the finances of the church."

He asked if the church can afford to maintain such a large addition.

"Will the building end up in someone else’s hands that won’t be a good neighbor"" he asked.

Torre also asked about stormwater drainage and traffic. Cars often use the church parking lot to turn around, Torre said, and he worried about his young children playing nearby.

He suggested the church install speed bumps. Foti later said he’d be fine with speed bumps. He said he recently installed a sign that tells people not to make U-turns there.

The town board then appointed Boswell Engineering to examine issues such as drainage, traffic, water quality, and landscaping.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Continued a request made by David Fusco, of Fusco Enterprises, at 1769 Western Ave., for a use variance to demolish an existing car wash and build a new one. The board asked for more financial data, to prove that the car wash cannot make a reasonable rate of return in its current state.

Board members also asked that the applicant’s accountant be at the next meeting, since his attorney, Victor Caponera, was unable to answer questions interpreting the initial financial information submitted.

Veil replaces helmet — Firetruck serves as a wedding limo

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALTAMONT — The bride’s veil fluttered in the evening breeze Friday as she stood outside St. John’s Church, its steeple piercing the blue sky. She stooped to talk to the flower girl, her two-year-old daughter, Madison.

"That’s my ride out of here. That’s my limo," Sue Soloyna said, pointing to the gleaming yellow New Salem firetruck parked at the curb in front of the church.

Soloyna is a captain, the first female line officer in the history of the New Salem Volunteer Fire Department.

She became a firefighter six years ago at the same time as Assistant Chief Mike Galvin.

"We joined together," said Galvin, the groom. He was talking, an hour before the wedding, about the fire company not the matrimony.

The couple met when the bride worked at Voorheesville’s grocery store, Nichols’ Market.

"We’ve been together seven years," said Galvin.

They share four children. Fifteen-year-old Richard was best man. Nineteen-year-old Katie was a bridesmaid, and Madison and four-year-old Morgan were flower girls — all of them decked out in autumnal shades of plum.

The bride now works for the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance and the groom works as a laborer for the Department of Public Works in Voorheesville.

"She’s a go-getter," said Galvin, describing his bride with admiration. "She doesn’t like being on the back burner — which is cool."

The couple lives in New Salem and much of their life centers around the fire department.

Occasionally, they’ve fought fires together, Galvin said. "That’s tough," he said, "especially with the children."

He said that the movie Ladder 49, a film made last year about a veteran firefighter who reflects on his life as he is trapped inside a burning building, inspired them with the idea of having a firetruck at their wedding.

"That sparked the idea," he said.

On Friday evening, the bride walked into the church on the arm of her father and emerged on the arm of her husband, to the cheers of her friends, many of them fellow firefighters.

"This is a great day for the New Salem Fire Department," said Dan Coons, captain of the fire police, who helped put a safety harness on the bride before she stepped up to the back of the truck.

He described her as "a wonderful firefighter" and he also recalled the movie Ladder 49, which he confessed had brought tears to his eyes. A few in the crowd of well-wishers were wiping tears from their eyes Friday evening as the bride stepped onto the back of the truck.

One little girl begged to ride on the truck, too; she wanted to sit on top. The bride arranged for her to ride inside the cab.

The groom hopped on the back, and the crowd called for a nuptial kiss; the newlyweds obliged to more cheers.

Then, they were off, down Maple Avenue, with a procession following. Onlookers pointed from their yards. And one boy stopped skateboarding long enough to shout to his companion, "Look! A bride on a firetruck!"

The couple and their caravan were off to their reception. Where" The New Salem firehouse, of course.

And the honeymoon" The groom said they weren’t interested in lounging around on some beach. The newlyweds are going to Dover for the NASCAR races.

Commish, parent clash over incident

By Bill Sherman

ALTAMONT — Teaching kids lessons before their mistakes have serious consequences is a focus of Altamont’s new public safety commissioner, Anthony Salerno. Salerno says he also knows parents will respond to this brand of community policing differently.

Such was the case recently when Salerno says he was told of two youths throwing a gas cap against a street sign. In a letter to the Enterprise editor, Anne Faulkner questioned Salerno’s handling of the situation involving her 15-year-old son, Max. In contrast, Salerno said, the other child’s parent was "very gracious and concerned."

The commissioner said he did not fault Faulkner for defending her son.

"Often a parent tells me, ‘My son wouldn’t do that,’" Salerno said.

He said he does not like to discuss specific incidents involving juveniles. However, he said, the child’s "actions brought this attention onto himself."

If nothing happened, the police would not be involved, he said.

No charges were filed in the case.

When talking with The Enterprise on Wednesday, Faulkner said she felt the situation was blown out of proportion by Salerno.

Salerno said his main concern is for the welfare and well-being of village residents. This includes addressing even minor problems in the hope they don’t become reoccurring, he said.

"These are situations that can get bigger down the road," Salerno told The Enterprise.

Faulkner also stated she felt the police are "a little more apt to overreact because of community pressure." In her letter to the editor, she questioned if the three police committee members on the village’s board of trustees were putting pressure on the police to be more aggressive.

Lsat year, villagers complained to the board about the large number of unfamiliar part-time Altamont police officers making frequent traffic stops. The board appointed a committee which surveyed Altamont residents and businesses and concluded the village should keep its police force, but restructure.

Subsequently, the mayor and Faulkner, a trustee, along with another trustee, were ousted from their posts and three of the police committee members were elected: James Gaughan, as mayor, and Kerry Dineen and Dean Whalen, as trustees.

The current board hired Salerno as public safety commissioner.

Both Mayor Gaughan and Commissioner Salerno disagreed with Faulkner’s assertion about pressure.

"There is not pressure to do anything other than run a highly professional and efficient police department," Gaughan said. "I am not directing [Salerno]. He’s the expert and he is held accountable for that."

Salerno also said, "Not everyone is going to like me. You will see a concerned commissioner and police department that leads the village down the right path."

Salerno said he expects to "build up youth leaders in this society so others can follow and do the right thing."

Part of this plan includes addressing minor infractions in the village.

"I don’t want officers driving around and not addressing things. I want these things addressed," said Salerno. Not everything will result in formal charges, he said.

Salerno added, "I feel very grateful to be here and I accept the role. Not everyone will be happy with me. However, the majority have been greatly supportive."

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