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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 3, 2005

Worker sick over pay policy

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — How many town workers take sick leave when they aren’t really sick"

Carl Burnham says many. Supervisor Kenneth Runion disagrees and says that any employees, like Burnham, who are caught taking sick days when they aren’t sick will be penalized either by pay or vacation time.

Burnham, who is 60, told The Enterprise this week that his plans to retire from the town’s water department last month were wrecked when the town supervisor told him his vacation time had to be used to cover the sick days he took when he wasn’t sick.

This isn’t fair, Burnham said, since his boss in the water department told him, and many retirees before him, to take the sick days off; it wasn’t his idea, Burnham said. Now, without the $3,500 in accumulated vacation time he thought he had, Burnham is working part-time at a saw mill to pay his bills.

Runion told The Enterprise this week that using sick days when an employee is not sick is simply a violation of town policy.

Burnham says William West, the town’s superintendent of water and wastewater management, told him to use his sick days as vacation days. West declined comment to The Enterprise since, he said, this is a personnel matter.

Whether West told Burnham to take the sick days off or not is irrelevant to the town’s allowing the action, Runion said.

"What Bill West may have told him was not in conformance with town policy," he said.

Retirement plans

Burnham has worked for the town’s water department for almost 14 years. He was a laborer, he said, operating backhoes and doing maintenence and repair work.

"It was a good job; I liked it," he said.

Burnham had originally planned on waiting until he was 62 to retire. But, he said, he changed his mind and decided to retire at 60.

Both of his parents and his brother died from heart problems, he said. Burnham decided to retire while he’s still healthy, he said.

"I wanted to ride my horse and have a good time," he said.

Burnham, who lives alone in Schoharie, spoke fondly of his horse, Jeff, whom he named after his grandson. Burnham got the five-year-old horse when it was a colt. It replaced another horse that he had for 30 years, he said.

Months before Burnham was to retire, he told his foreman of his plans, he said.

A few weeks later, he said, West told him to work three days a week instead of five. This is because, Burnham said, he had accumulated almost 28 sick days.

Burnham said it wasn’t his idea to take his sick days off for pay, it was West’s. "He approached me. I never said a word," he said.

Burnham spent weeks taking days off to use his sick time. Then, on Sept. 28, he worked his last day.

His retirement check wasn’t to come until the end of November, but he planned on being paid for the five weeks of vacation time he accumulated, he said.

Burnham took little vacation time when he was working for the water department, he said. He took days off only during hunting season or when a family member needed him, he said.

After Sept. 28, Burnham went to the water department to find out when he would be getting his vacation pay, he said. West told him to go to Town Hall, Burnham said.

There, Burnham met with Supervisor Runion, he said. Runion told him he wasn’t allowed to use his sick days unless he was sick, Burnham reported.

So, Burnham said, Runion told him that he wouldn’t be paid because he had no vacation time left. His vacation time was to be transferred to the "sick days" he took.

Asked what his reaction was, Burnham said, "I didn’t say very much then. I knew if I did, I’d go into a rage. They’d have to take me to the other side of the building, where the police department is."

Burnham is losing $3,500 in vacation pay, he said.

What angered Burnham the most is that he’s seen numerous workers from the town’s water department take their sick days off before retiring. They weren’t given any problems, he said.

Town policy

Shirley Gage, the town’s human resource officer, told Runion that Burnham was wrongfully using his sick time, Runion said.

"Sick days are for when you’re sick," Runion said.

Asked if she knew West told Burnham to use his sick days, Gage said, "That’s between Mr. Runion and Mr. West."

Asked if she knew of other employees who have used their sick days this way, Gage said she didn’t. She would have reported those people to Runion, as she did Burnham, Gage said.

"If someone had done this, I’d have known about it," she said. "All retirees come through my desk."

"No one’s done it since I’ve been here," Runion, who has been supervisor since 2000, said of using sick days as vacation time. "We have to follow the town policy very strictly. It’s very simple."

Accumulated sick time can be used when a person retires to extend his or her health insurance, Runion and Gage said.

Vacation time, Runion said, can also be accumulated. Many people retire and then get paid for a few more weeks because they have unused vacation time, he said.

Both Runion and Gage said that Bob Cardinal, a building inspector who just retired, used the balance of his sick time for health insurance and was paid after he retired for unused vacation time.

Full-time workers get eight hours of vacation time and eight hours of sick time each month, Gage said.

In the town’s policy, it states that sick pay can be used: by an employee due to the illness of his or her spouse, child, or parents, or for the illness of anyone residing with the employee; for doctor or dentist appointments; and for an employee to attend the funeral of relatives who are not members of his or her immediate family, as defined under the bereavement leave.

If a person takes five sick days in a row, the policy states, he or she must provide to the town a written excuse signed by a doctor.

"This is so there isn’t abuse," Runion said.

Employees must also provide an excuse if they call in sick the day before or after a holiday. If they do not, the employee will not be paid for the holiday and the holiday, too, may count as a sick day.

"It’s pretty clear," Runion said. "We have union contracts that are even clearer when you are to use bereavement time, sick time, and personal time."

Burnham said that West agreed to speak to Runion about the water department’s policy. He came to the Enterprise office, hoping that telling his story would help him get his vacation pay.

Runion, however, said this week that Burnham used his vacation days before he retired and he will not be paid any more.

In the meantime, Burnham is working part-time at Rudy’s Rough Cut Lumber, in East Berne. He’s doing this because he otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to pay his bills, as he’s not getting his retirement check yet, he said.

At the saw mill, Burnham is piling and moving wood that had been cut into slabs and boards, he said.

"It’s hard work, but I’m not worried about that. I know hard work," he said.

Salerno restructures Altamont Police

By Nicole Fay Barr

ALTAMONT — The village’s new police commissioner is restructuring the department. As part of this, three officers recently resigned and five others got letters from Anthony Salerno Monday, stating that he couldn’t fit them into the future work schedule.

One of the officers, Ryan Mahan, plans on discussing the legality of this, said his attorney, Stephen Coffey. Mahan could not be reached for comment.

Coffey also represents Officer Marc Dorsey, who is suing the village. (See related story.)

Asked why he thought Mahan might be upset, Salerno said, "I don’t have a clue. We have a new set of directives and we want those directives met. Maybe some people don’t want to work for a para-military organization."

Of Mahan’s situation, Salerno stressed, "No one has been fired. We’re strictly restructuring for the welfare of the community."

Mayor James Gaughan agreed, although, he told The Enterprise, the phrase "para-military" makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Perhaps Salerno chose the wrong description, Gaughan said. The commissioner was simply trying to convey that the police department is an authoritarian structure that depends upon a chain of command and following orders, Gaughan said.

New direction

The Altamont Police Department has seen several changes over the past two years, starting with a committee that was formed in the spring of 2004.

The committee was formed in the wake of villagers’ complaints that Altamont had too many police officers. While former Mayor Paul DeSarbo defended the force, he and the village board then agreed to appoint a committee to study the department.

A survey created by the committee found that residents and businesses wanted fewer part-time officers — it had 16 at the time for a village of about 1,800; more community policing; and a police commissioner able to make arrests who is a presence in the village.

Mahan wrote a letter to the village board at the time because he was switching from working full-time to part-time.

In the letter, he wrote of himself and other officers, "We have been picked apart by a new committee. Morale is very low right now."

At the same time, many residents shared warm memories of two long-time past police chiefs — Howard Diehl and George Pratt — who had personally known villagers as they enforced the law.

One resident wrote the Enterprise editor, "That was a time when the police (all of them) knew and respected the residents of this village. No police commissioners here, just a chief. He fostered respect from the children and adults because they knew that they would be treated in a just manner."

When Robert Coleman, a retired Albany policeman, took command in 2001, the Altamont Police Department had nine part-time officers.

In addition to running the Altamont Police Department, Coleman was on the board of directors for the Eastern Law Enforcement Training Center, a new police training academy housed at the Peter D. Young Center, on Route 156 just above the village.

Coleman said he helped establish the school for those recruits not able to attend the full-time training center. Police agencies from a 10-county area, including some from Altamont, send their new recruits to the training center.

In this spring’s election, Gaughan, who chaired the police-review committee, ousted DeSarbo. Two other committee members, Kerry Dineen and Dean Whalen, also gained seats on the village board.

In January, Coleman offered his resignation as commissioner following the committee’s report to the village board.

Subsequently, the new administration went through a screening process to hire a new commissioner and, in August, Salerno was appointed.

Salerno’s appointment, Gaughan said Wednesday, "was because of his experience, knowledge, ability, and organization."

Salerno is also a barber, who works full-time at night as an investigator for the Albany Police Department, a job he has held for 19 years. He became interested in the Altamont position when several village residents suggested he apply, he said.

"When you’re fair, it sets a good example in today’s society and they know that about me," Salerno said in August. "It’s a position I feel I had to take for the community. My top focus is the people in the village."

Salerno told The Enterprise Wednesday, "We’re in the process of making a professional police department. We’re working out scheduling; we want to have permanent officers assigned to the same days.

"We want a cohesive force that’s accountable for everyone’s actions," he said. "We want to build a relationship in the community."

"He’s doing exactly what the village board has asked him to do," Gaughan said Wednesday. "He’s making a structured organization that depends on a very strict chain of command."

"I feel people are seeing a dramatic change," Salerno said. "We’re meeting the needs of the public."

Recently, three officers resigned from the police department. Asked why, Salerno said, "They realized they couldn’t meet their obligations."

His restructuring has included mandated training, he said.

Monday, five officers were told they couldn’t be worked into the police schedule right now, Salerno said.

When Salerno began working for the village, he said that many officers were employed by the village but never worked. "Or they worked when they felt like it," he said.

This is going to change, he said.

Of Mahan, Salerno said, since he works full-time in Saratoga County, it has been difficult to schedule him for Altamont work.

Five Albany teens arrested for 40 burglaries

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Police arrested five Albany teenagers, believed to be responsible for at least 40 burglaries, after a Guilderland woman came home this week and saw four of the five young men leaving her house.

Inspector Mark DeFrancesco, of the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, told The Enterprise that, last Thursday, a woman called Guilderland Police after she saw four men leaving her house on Kings Road. She wrote down their license plate number, DeFrancesco said, and officers put out an all-points bulletin on the car.

Within a short period of time, DeFrancesco saw the car in Albany, across from the county courthouse, he said. He found and arrested two of the suspects then, he said.

Later that night, a third suspect was arrested in Troy, police say, and a fourth was arrested this weekend.

Tyrone Torak, 19, and Patrick Rucker, 19, both of 93 Columbia St.; Paul Artis, 17, of 368 Elk St.; and Morvin Mahipat, 18, of 392 Orange St., were all charged with second-degree burglary and grand larceny, both felonies.

Also this week, Guilderland Police arrested a fifth person who, DeFrancesco said, was linked to the four. That person, whose name was not available by press time, could only be tied to one burglary in Guilderland, DeFrancesco said.

Police found that, since 2004, the men were responsible for at least 40 burglaries in Albany, Rensselaer, and Schenectady counties. They stole $12,000 in property, including computers, computer equipment, linen, video games, jewelry, and food, police say.

Both Torak and Mahipat were arrested by Guilderland Police earlier this year.

Torak was arrested on April 12, at the Guilderland Police Station, for fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, a felony. Guilderland Police said then that, at Crossgates Mall, Torak used a credit card that was reported stolen from the Guilderland YMCA earlier that day.

Mahipat was arrested on Oct. 6, at Crossgates Mall, for three counts of petit larceny, all misdemeanors. Guilderland Police said that, while employed at Filene’s, Mahipat stole from a cash register. He stole $300 on Sept. 30, $120 on Oct. 2, and $300 on Oct. 6, the arrest report said. He gave the store’s security a written statement admitting to the larceny, the report said.

Two days before being arrested by the sheriff’s department, Torak, Rucker, Artis, and Mahipat broke into two homes in Guilderland, DeFrancesco said.

Police in Guilderland, Schodack, North Greenbush, and East Greenbush assisted in the investigation.

The men would drive around, looking for houses that appeared empty, DeFrancesco said. The day they were arrested, he said, they tried to break into a home in East Greenbush. The resident was home, however, and, after the men fled, described their car to police.

They broke into homes by smashing doors and using screwdrivers and other tools to break locks, DeFrancesco said.

The men sold most of the items they stole, DeFrancesco said. Police traced some of the property to pawn shops and found other stolen items in the group’s car, he said.

"We were happy to get some of the property back," DeFrancesco said. He described the satisfaction of returning a checkbook to a man who didn’t realize it was stolen.

"We were relieved it was the same group of people doing the burglaries," DeFrancesco said. "We got a cap on it."

New filter at plant releases purer water

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — After a month of using an additional $1.7 million filtration system at the town’s water-treatment plant, officials say the town’s water is already cleaner.

The town now has to use only half of the amount of chlorine it previously used to clean the water, said Thadeus Ausfeld, the town’s water-treatment plant operator.

He and William West, the town’s superintendent of water and wastewater management, spoke passionately about their work this week. They said the new system is making Guilderland’s water safer than bottled water.

The idea for the new granular activated carbon (GAC) adsorption system was spawned almost three years ago. Then, an Enterprise article — "Hot spots: Water woes beneath the surface" — uncovered and publicized a problem.

Water in some areas of Guilderland had levels of disinfectant byproducts in the 100’s, mostly because they were at the end of unlooped water lines where chemicals became more concentrated. The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contamination limit is 60 parts per billion.

Higher chlorine amounts are typically needed to reach the end of a distribution system; at the end of a pipeline, water and chlorine are in contact for long periods of time. Often dead-end lines produce higher readings.

Chlorine is added to the water to make it safe from microbes. The disinfectant, however, can react with decaying vegetation or other organic matter and possibly create carcinogens. Two disinfectant byproducts are trihalomethanes (TTHM’s), such as chloroform, and haloacetic acids.

Past problems

In March of 2003, Guilderland’s average maximum contamination limit was 80 parts per billion; the standard is 60. The town was then required to send notices to residents using town water.

"Some people who drink water containing haloacetic acids in excess of the maximum contamination limit over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer," the notice sent by the town stated in italic print, attributing the information to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Residents should not be alarmed, West told The Enterprise at the time. The town was required to send the notice, under orders by the EPA, he said. "It’s more of a consumer’s right-to-know thing," he said.

Referring to the statement in the notice, West emphasized the word "may."

"To me, that’s a pretty broad statement," he said. "...The language is not that specific because the science is not that specific."

In April of 2003, the Guilderland Town Board hired Camp, Dresser & McKee, a national firm, to make recommendations on how to solve the problem.

That October, the firm made two recommendations. The first was to find another water source. This is not possible, West said then.

The town gets most of its water from the Watervliet Reservoir, the city of Albany, and town-owned wells.

The firm’s other recommendation was to implement the GAC adsorption system. The system is designed to adsorb, or hold to a surface, the residual organic compounds into carbon granules and reduce the formation of the disinfectant byproducts.

The town board then approved building this system, for about $1.7 million.

This June, the town hired a different engineering firm to create a feasibility study on looping dead-end water lines. If this is done, the water supply on part of Western Avenue and in Guilderland Center and Fort Hunter will need less chemical treatment, Supervisor Kenneth Runion said earlier.

"The looping will have a couple of positive effects," West said then. "It’s a positive aspect for water quality in that, with positive hydraulics, we can move water better."

Water that is constantly flowing is less likely to have particles settling in the pipes and contaminating the water, he said.

"We have dead ends all over town, but those may be smaller," West said. "We try to loop wherever we can."

In June, The Enterprise reviewed the 2004 water-quality report, the most recent report, which showed that parts of Guilderland still had much higher levels of TTHM’s than acceptable.

In August of 2004, Guilderland High School’s level was 93.6 parts per billion. At Serafini Drive in August, the level was 115 parts per billion, and, in November, the level was 74.8 parts per billion.

Also, in August of 2004, Westville Apartments’ level of TTHM’s was 126 and, in November, it was 88. On Birch Court, it was 80 in August and 89.5 in November.

In February and May, the two other months when samples were drawn, the levels of TTHM’s met standards. This is because, in the winter months, acid levels are lower, dropping the TTHM’s levels.

The areas with levels above the maximum contamination limit didn’t show up in official reports because a system of averaging was used. The EPA is currently working on a new regulation that will eliminate averaging across the system, but it will not be in place for a few more years.

West said this summer that the town also does lead and copper sampling, and in most cases, the levels are normal. But, he said, old pipes can cause high levels of lead to contaminate the water. A house with old plumbing could show unhealthy levels, he said. The town would notify the residents of this house, recommending they let their taps flow for a few seconds before drinking the water, he said.

He added then that he was confident the new GAC system would help clear the problem.

Ausfeld, too, was excited about the new system. But, he continues to stress that the cleanup of the Watervliet Reservoir is still a major concern. Ausfeld co-chairs a committee that is looking at pollution at the old Army depot, which affects the water in the Black Creek, which flows into the Watervliet Reservoir.

New system

This week, West and Ausfeld, who have both worked for the town for more than 25 years, and Daniel Durfee, principal engineer of Camp, Dresser & McKee, gave The Enterprise a tour of the water plant and the nearby building that houses the new GAC system.

The GAC system took almost two years to build and the work included running several large water pipes underground, from the water-treatment plant to the new building.

The vinyl-sided building, which looks like a large garage, contains six large blue tanks that stand 10 feet tall. West compared the tanks — the heart of the GAC system — to six large Brita water filters.

Ausfeld explained the filtering process with a metaphor: Imagine placing a tea bag into hot water and later trying to remove the tea from the liquid. This is what the water plant does, he said. It absorbs the tea, or contaminants, from water before it is sent to residents, he said.

The GAC system, Ausfeld said, goes a step further and filters any microscopic particles of tea, or contaminants, from the drinking water.

Along the wall of the GAC building is a long, thick pipe that is half blue and half green. One end is connected to similar pipes that can be seen through grates in the floor of the building and the other end leads to the six tanks.

Ausfeld turned a knob on the green part of the pipe and, from a small, clear hose, water poured into a bucket. This, he said, is water that contains carbon and other particles.

He then moved over a few feet to the blue part of the pipe and turned a similar knob. The water that came out was just as clear as that which came out of the green pipe. But, Ausfeld said, this is clean water that’s been filtered through the tanks.

The tanks needs to be cleaned out and have their carbon replaced every two years, Ausfeld said. Large trucks attach hoses to the tanks and pump them, he said.

Although 2.5 million gallons of water run through the system each day, the building was quiet.

Town water may not always be filtered through the GAC system, Ausfeld said. In the winter months, when acid levels are much lower, the extra treatment may not be necessary, he said.

The GAC system, West said, "is really just polishing filtered water."

"It will give us a buffer," said Durfee, "if there’s ever a spill along the Watervliet Reservoir. There’s not much regulation of the watershed now, so there could be a spill."

The town wants to be prepared for not just an accidental truck spill, West said, but also for terrorists’ polluting the water supply.

"The water supply is very vulnerable," he said, adding that the watershed is 115 miles. "We can’t put a gate up and have dogs running around. It’s like trying to protect the border."

The water plant began using the GAC system in mid-September and workers have been testing the water since then, Ausfeld said.

The chlorine demand has dropped 50 percent, he said. Where before Guilderland was adding 80 pounds of chlorine to its water, now it only needs 40 pounds, Ausfeld said.

In a laboratory at the water-treatment plant, Ausfeld held up a clear glass container that was filled with what looked like black pebbles or crushed coal. It was carbon that had been filtered from the town’s water, he said.

"Our lab is the first customer in the water district," Ausfeld said. Before water is sent to homes and businesses, the water department samples and tests it.

Both Ausfeld and West spoke passionately about their work. They offered to give any resident a private tour of the water-treatment plant.

"Our people that work for the Guilderland water system, these guys are great," Ausfeld said. They know the pipes underground as well as the town’s highway-department workers know the roads, he said.

The town serves water to 8,500 houses and businesses, West said.

Residents may drink up to a gallon of water a day and use the rest for the shower, toilet, dishwasher, and washing machine, West said. But, he said, all public water is as clean as commercial bottled water, even the water that is in toilets.

The GAC system is designed with piping so that extra units can be added to it, Ausfeld said.

West said that the town tried to "look into the crystal ball," to plan for not just the present, but the future.

"We have one of the premier systems in the Capital District," West concluded. "We did the project within two-and-a-half years from ID’ing the problem; I think that’s pretty good....And, it’s funded without borrowing money and raising taxes."

Schools cool down, budget talk heats up

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school board last Tuesday seemed in easy agreement on lowering temperatures to save money but had a wide variety of views on budget priorities.

Because of rising fuel costs, the district will keep school buildings heated to 68 degrees this winter, two degrees lower than last year.

At current fuel prices, this will save the district about $25,000 for the year, said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders.

Students and staff members will dress differently, he said.

He said, if there were no objections, the district planned to go forward with the reduced temperatures.

The state sets a minimum temperature for schools of 65 degrees, Sanders said.

"This is a first step," he said of the two-degree drop. "We don’t want to get to the point where it’s uncomfortable to be in the classroom."

Board member Colleen O’Connell said she had changed the temperature at her house to 66 degrees and hadn’t told others in her family. "They didn’t notice," she said, adding the reduced temperatures in the schools would offer booster clubs and others a chance to sell fleece jackets for fund-raisers instead of "selling chocolates and all those yucky things we’re trying to get away from."

Budget priorities

Having heard budget comments from the public, Guilderland board members in the fall have, in recent years, set priorities to guide administrators.

This year, President Gene Danese tried a new approach, collecting written comments from board members ahead of time to streamline the process.

Danese summarized that, since all were interested starting in foreign-language instruction at the elementary-school level, that would be included in the budget. He also noted interest in investigating health-insurance costs, looking at outsourcing, and making a culture of savings.

While board member Barbara Fraterrigo wanted to make a resolution to have the administration prepare for the new foreign language program, board Vice President Linda Bakst countered that, while she supported such a program, it did not necessarily mean it would fit in next year’s budget.

As various board members stated their views on the issue, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress said, "We’re living in a very different time than last year."

A committee of parents and staff that had studied the program last year enthusiastically backed implementing it. This year, with new testing requirements, Andress said, the staff is under "anxiety and stress."

"It’s only a recommendation," said Danese.

And so the lengthy discussion went, with board members discussing a range of opinions on a variety of topics.

Board member Peter Golden, who advocates "zero-based budgeting" as opposed to "incremental budgeting," said, "You have to look at some of these things and say, are we still getting what we set out to get""

"When I was in graduate school in 1980," Bakst responded, "zero-based budgeting was already out."

She went on to say, though, that, semantics aside, it makes sense to justify what you’re spending. Unlike in business, though, the output in education is not so easily measured, Bakst said. She said there is a difference in producing public good and producing widgets.

Board member John Dornbush reiterated a point he had made in earlier years: "We have to get better...at demonstrating that we are getting what we are paying for," he said.

Superintendent Gregory Aidala said, "We as a school district in Guilderland are dealing with issues occurring locally, regionally, state-wide, and nationally." He said, for example, "We know health-insurance costs are rising everywhere...It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study it."

He concluded, "Stay tuned and we’ll continue the discussion at our next meeting."

Aidala also said he would have suggestions at the next meeting on how the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee should proceed.

"Consummate professional"
Guilderland school community mourns Westcott, teacher of teachers

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

Dale Carlton Westcott was a teacher who inspired his students as well as his colleagues.

"Dale was serious but he had a wonderful sense of humor," said Judith Rothstein, who, like Mr. Westcott, taught for decades in Guilderland schools. "He took kids seriously," she said. "He wasn’t sarcastic. He didn’t make fun of them. He epitomized good teaching."

Mr. Westcott died on Oct. 25, 2005 in Beaufort, S.C., where he and his wife, Barbara, another Guilderland teacher, had recently moved to enjoy their retirement. He was 65.

"He was supervisor for math, science, and technology at the high school," said Gregory Aidala, superintendent of schools for Guilderland. "When Dale retired, he had completed 40 years of service in our district.

"To me," Dr. Aidala went on, "he was the consummate professional — very approachable, always with a positive attitude. People came to him for help. He so willingly gave of his time for students and for his colleagues."

Members of the Guilderland school community held a candlelight vigil for Mr. Westcott on Sept. 30 at Tawasentha Park. Cell phones on stage brought words of encouragement and music to the Westcotts in South Carolina. Mr. Westcott whispered "thank you" from a bedside phone, Tim Horan, a Guilderland teacher and vigil organizer, reported this week.

"He was well liked by the people he supervised," said Arnold Rothstein, another Guilderland teacher who retired as a district administrator. "He was well known and well respected at the State Education Department. He worked effectively with the elementary teachers on science curricula. As a supervisor at the middle school and high school, he oversaw at least three different disciplines."

Mr. Westcott had a passion for science all his life. He was born on April 6, 1940 in Plattsburgh, N.Y., the son of the late Carlton Westcott and Alice Cook. He graduated from the University at Albany in 1962 with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry, then received his master’s degree in physics from Union College in 1965. He earned his doctorate degree in science education from the University of Maryland in 1974.

While he worked for the Guilderland schools from 1962 until his retirement in 2002, he was also an associate professor at the University at Albany.

"He was very student centered," said Dr. Aidala. "He loved physics. He was a life-long learner," said the superintendent.

While his professional life centered on science, his interests were diverse, said the Rothsteins, close personal friends of the Westcotts.

Mr. Westcott was a photographer and, as part of his retirement gift, he was given a trip to the Galapagos islands, Mr. Rothstein said, where he photographed, among other things, the kind of tortoises Charles Darwin studied.

"He was a lover of music — all kinds," said Mrs. Rothstein, noting Mr. Westcott was especially fond of Broadway show tunes. Mr. Rothstein added classical music to the list.

A problem-solver

"I just have such positive memories of him," Dr. Aidala said. "He was very skilled at listening and able to hear what concerns people had. He was an outstanding problem-solver. He always made a good-faith effort."

Giving an example of Mr. Westcott’s problem-solving, Dr. Aidala said, "As a supervisor in math and science at the high school, inevitably situations would arise with parents...People were comfortable coming to him and seeking his involvement. He was willing to listen and investigate. And, he’d come up with a win-win solution."

The Rothsteins spoke similarly of Mr. Westcott’s problem-solving abilities and of the personality that made it possible.

"He was very nice to be around," said Mr. Rothstein.

"Easy going," agreed Mrs. Rothstein.

"I never remember him getting angry about anything," said Mr. Rothstein. "Never. There were some difficult situations at the high school. He was able to keep his cool."

"He was very even tempered," said Mrs. Rothstein. "Very straightforward."

Mr. Westcott had the ability to make difficult topics understandable and to encourage others to work with him. The Rothsteins said he used these qualities to the end.

"Barbara retired in June," said Mrs. Rothstein; Mrs. Westcott had taught at Pine Bush Elementary School. "That’s when they began living in South Carolina...A huge frontal brain tumor was found in mid-August."

"It was a very aggressive tumor," said Mr. Rothstein. "He had two brain operations...In the period before he went really downhill, as he was talking to the doctors about the radiation and chemotherapy program, the doctors were taken aback and amused by his grasp of it...Unfortunately, he was never able to begin it."

"Barbara was telling us," said Mrs. Rothstein, "when he was in the hospital, the nurses afterwards were saying, as he went through his own physical therapy, he let the other patients know how they were improving..."

Her voice trailed off as she described his selflessness in working with other people and how he was always a team player, building confidence in others.

"We are all so saddened by his passing," Dr. Aidala said of staff throughout the district. "He didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor."


Mr. Westcott is survived by his wife, Barbara J. Westcott, of Beaufort, S.C.; son, Donald, daughter-in-law, Amy, and grandson, Dylan, of Washington, Ill.; sister, Shirley Ryan, of Gramby, Conn.; brother, Keith, and sister-in-law, Rita, of Greenville, S.C.; nieces, nephews, cousins, and a multitude of friends around the country.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5, at The First Unitarian Society, 1221 Wendell Ave. in Schenectady.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Guilderland High School Scholarship Fund; send them to: Westcott Scholarship Fund, Guilderland High School, Box 37, Guilderland Center, NY 12085.

New GHS principal values personal connections

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Energy. Michael Piccirillo, newly named principal for Guilderland High School, has lots of it.

Last Tuesday, after being appointed unanimously to the $110,000-a-year post, Piccirillo thanked the school board with gusto and then zipped up the Northway to make a presentation before the school board for Shenendehowa — the largest school district in the Capital Region. Piccirillo is lead principal for the Shenendehowa Middle Schools, overseeing a program with 2,200 students and 250 staff members.

"It was an out-of-body experience," Piccirillo reported afterwards. "People said it was the best presentation I’d ever given."

In 1997, the district created a profile of Shenendehowa graduates featuring eight "critical attributes," he said.

"It defines expectations of whole people, not just academic success," said Piccirillo. "At the middle school, we said, the process needs to be tangible. Kids need to identify and then collect evidence of what’s important. They create a portfolio, not just grades on a transcript. We put together a process we’re really proud of."

He thinks a similar process might work at Guilderland "within the framework of what Guilderland expects of their students."

Piccirillo goes on, "The nice thing about the process is it focuses on student self-reflection. Kids learn to look at themselves honestly. They learn to set goals...If you ask them about being an involved citizen, they see what they need to do to achieve that."

Asked about a growing concern at Guilderland — that teachers may feel they have to sacrifice the richness of curriculum — a district priority — in order to meet growing state and federal test requirements, Piccirillo redefines the terms of the question.

"We need to get at three levels — the know, the do, the understand," he says. The first can be a matter of rote learning; the second, skills; and the third level, the most important, connects across curricula.

Piccirillo said he understands teachers are feeling pressure. "We have to meet the needs of all learners," he said. "But we don’t want to sacrifice the understanding part for the knowledge part. A lot of the know is the lower-level rote-type information. You can’t sacrifice the understanding...I’m a supporter of depth of curriculum, and enrichment of curriculum."

Family man

Piccirillo and his wife, Diane, have a daughter, Emma. She is two years and four months old.

"We adopted her from China when she was a year old," he said. "We’re having the time of our lives. I’m learning so much about life, watching through her eyes."

His wife’s mother lives with the family, too, Piccirillo said. "We benefit from having another generation," he said. "You have to take care of family."

Raised in Brooklyn, Piccirillo was the youngest of five siblings in a close-knit working-class family. He had two older brothers and two older sisters. Their father worked in an envelope-making factory and their mother worked as a waitress.

He started kindergarten in Public School 81 and then went to first grade at Saint Brigid’s.

"I loved it," recalled Piccirillo of his early schooling. "I was good in math, really good at multiplication tables. I loved history.

"We were taught by nuns or priests. We wore uniforms. It was very strict in terms of rules. It was a traditional learning environment that focused on the basics and gave me a good foundation."

After the fourth grade, he moved to Lake George Elementary School. "It was a totally different world. They had a multi-age, open classroom, where you worked at your own pace."

Piccirillo loved that too, he said.

"School-wise, it was a nice change of pace, more suited to the way in which I learn. I could go as fast as I wanted in math."

He concluded, "I’m pretty adaptable. I figure out what I need to do to succeed."

The move to Lake George was difficult socially, though.

"In New York City, your social life is out on the street; it’s right there, 24 hours a day," he said, recounting various games always in action. "At Lake George, I didn’t see my peers, except in school...It was a tough transition."

While he was active in high school plays and continued to do well academically, Piccirillo’s teen years centered around baseball.

"Baseball was my dream," he said. "I was a pitcher and played third base. I was known for my hitting."

He graduated from Lake George High School in 1980 and went to Ithaca College, a Division 3 school.

"I’m not ashamed to say it; I thought I might have a career in baseball," said Piccirillo.

While he made the team at Ithaca freshman year, he was only able to suit up for home games. "At that point, I decided I had to look at education," he said.

His family was facing a crisis as his oldest brother, Stanley, battled cancer. Stanley had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease when he was 16 but the cancer had gone into remission allowing him to graduate with a psychology degree from Syracuse University and begin a career as a social worker. The cancer returned, though, in 1981.

"I was 19 years old, a sophomore in college," recalled Piccirillo. "The baseball wasn’t working out. My family needed me."

He left Ithaca College half-way through his sophomore year and attended community college, he said, while he helped support his parents emotionally and financially.

His brother died at the age of 26.

Journey to a career

Piccirillo transferred to the State University of New York at Binghamton for his junior year. "I was able to resume and think about what I wanted to do," he said.

Piccirillo graduated in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. He and a friend then took a cross-country trip to California.

"We would bus, hitchhike, whatever transportation we could get our hands on," he said. "It was an amazing experience. I kept a diary of all we did and all the people we talked to. We tented in campgrounds and met the most interesting people...Everyone let their hair down."

Although, when the two friends set out, they thought they’d get jobs in California, Piccirillo said, "We didn’t want to work for Disneyland."

He came home with this thought: "I knew I wanted to work with people."

While his brother, Stanley, had worked with individuals as a social worker, Piccirillo said, "I liked to work with groups, to analyze people...I started to substitute teach and I really loved it. I loved being with the kids."

He earned a master’s degree in social studies from Binghamton and later completed administrative certification at SUNY Plattsburgh.

His first job, in 1987, was as a social studies teacher in North Warren at the Pottersville Middle School.

"It was a beautiful structure on the outside," he said of the school built in the 1930’s as part of the Work Projects Administration. "The stonework was nice; it even had molds of the faces of the workers.

"On the inside, you could see the age. The rooms were small. But the kids were fantastic...They came from a rural background...They really wanted to learn and to get to know you as a person."

It was there, at the Pottersville Middle School, Piccirillo said, that he learned the value of making a personal connection. "I used it as leverage to teach content and skills," he said.

Becoming an administrator

Seven years later, in 1994, Piccirillo had the opportunity to teach at his alma mater — Lake George High School. He was hired as a high school social studies teacher and also coached football and baseball and oversaw the yearbook production.

He became the school’s first assistant principal, a part-time post, which he enjoyed.

After three years, he decided he should either teach or be an administrator full-time. "It was difficult to do both well," he said.

He got a call to interview for a job as an assistant principal at Niskayuna. It was the Friday of Labor Day weekend, and he did not expect to get the job.

"They hired me before I left the building," he said, noting he had also been hired on the spot with his first job at North Warren.

He said of Niskayuna, "This was a big jump in size, a high-powered Suburban Council school district; it was very daunting."

He relied on what he had learned in his first teaching job — the value of personal connection.

"I started on Monday, Sept. 15. The first thing I did was get a yearbook and copy the photos of the staff members. I started saying hi to each one I recognized...The scuttlebutt was, ‘This guy knows our names.’

"People need to know you’re there to support them, that you’re available and accessible. I spent the first two weeks cruising the building."

He remembers walking by a band-practice room and stopping in. "I was drawn to the music," he said. "It was beautiful." He stayed for the performance, and applauded at the end, starting a long-term friendship with the band director.

"A student came up and told me, ‘The band director loves you. You’re the first administrator who’s listened to us,’" Piccirillo recalled.

As an administrator, Piccirillo said, "I try to keep up connections — with teachers, students, parents. To me, it’s all about personal connection. You can’t allow yourself to get caught up in paperwork during the day...We all need each other."

Although he missed the classroom — and still enjoys occasionally teaching — Piccirillo did not regret the switch to administration, he said.

After two years at Niskayuna, Piccirillo took a job at Shenendehowa to return to middle school. After being an assistant principal, he became principal of Gowana Middle School and then moved into his current post as lead principal.

"I’m the one who puts it all together," he said of his job as lead principal, which he enjoys.

However, a new reorganizational plan will eliminate the position, he said, and he didn’t want to bump his colleagues.

"It was a soul-searching moment for me," he said. "I wanted a position with a school district doing some great work."

He described Guilderland as being "high-powered, with a supportive community and excellent staff doing innovative things."

Piccirillo went on, "I thought I wouldn’t get the position being a middle-school person going into a high-school arena. I just laid out, ‘This is me.’"

He concluded "It’s a great match. What Guilderland is looking for is what I do well — connect things together, using all the stakeholders, creating a vision for their high school. He paused for just a moment and then re-phrased — "No, our high school."

"True vision"

Superintendent Gregory Aidala says it’s a good match, too.

"Mike Piccirillo has excellent experience as an administrator," he said. "He knows how to involve people in the process of running a school."

He said of Piccirillo’s work at Shenendehowa, "He’s got true vision. He was able to mobilize people in terms of a true team effort."

Twenty-four people applied for the Guilderland job, Aidala said, and six were considered in first-round interviews. The field was narrowed to two finalists and the committee making the selection reached consensus on Piccirillo, Aidala said.

Piccirillo will start work at Guilderland shortly after Thanksgiving, Aidala said.

He will work at first with interim principal Frank Tedesco, a retired administrator who spent three decades in education. Tedesco filled in at Guilderland High School after Ismael Villafane announced he was leaving in June. Villafane, who had been principal at Guilderland for two years, returned to Texas, where he had spent decades as an educator.

Villafane followed John Whipple, who was principal at Guilderland for 14 years.

"He’s upbeat and very excited about coming to Guilderland," Aidala concluded of Piccirillo, "and we’re excited to have him."

Lessons in democracy: Building a longhouse

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Children gathered purposefully the morning of Oct. 21, bundled against the chill air; they sat on logs arranged in a circle around a glowing fire.

The fourth-graders at Lynnwood Elementary School had spent the week learning about the Iroquois by building a replica village; this was the closing ceremony. They were surrounded by their work.

"The kids, with help from some parents, built this in a day," Principal James Dillon told The Enterprise earlier in the week. They fashioned a longhouse out of bark-covered planks. They built a stockade by lashing together limbs, dragged from the surrounding woods.

Pretend animal skins were stretched on a frame of limbs at one end of the compound and, at the other, stood a replica of a Three Sisters Garden, with tall shocks of corn and bright orange pumpkins.

"Our democracy was based in part on the Iroquois government," Dillon had explained the year the project was started, in 1999. "The Iroquois had the idea of respecting other people and respecting the earth...The Native Americans would sit in a circle and talk things out."

And so the fourth-graders, playing the part of the Iroquois, sat on this Friday morning.

Among the ring of onlookers was Corrine Falope who helped initiate the project six years ago and has since retired as a Lynnwood teacher.

"I wouldn’t miss this for the world," she said. "It’s my baby." She praised the current teachers — Valerie Perotta, Kristen Jenne, Shannon Tougher, and Nell Ball — who are carrying on the project that she and Liz Augstell and John Miller, a special-education teacher still working on the project, had started.

Falope was especially appreciative that, with all the new state and federal testing requirements, the Lynnwood teachers were still making time for experiential learning. The state requires teaching local and state history in the fourth grade.

"It’s a lot of work, but it’s the best way for kids to learn — hands-on," she said.

Falope recalled how the girls in her class, in keeping with the matriarchal Iroquois tradition, enjoyed choosing the leaders. "I’d say, ‘We’re not choosing who’s cute,’ and they chose well."

They learned about leadership by reading the Native American legend, "How the Coyote Stole the Sun," which tells of a land without sun, where people are dying. The crane is cautious about finding a solution, but the coyote is bold. He finds a place where the sun shines all the time, and he steals it. Then he realizes some darkness is needed and figures a way the sun can rotate.

This year’s clan mothers, five girls, stood before the assembled throng and read a poem of thanks to Mother Earth.

"We’re culminating a wonderful week of immersing ourselves in Iroquois culture," said Ball. "We were all able to get along and work for the common good. We learned how the Haudensaunee lived 400 to 500 years ago."

"I learned..."

She asked the children to share what they had learned by passing a "talking stick" among themselves. As each fourth-grader spoke, the crowd would quiet, then the stick would be passed to another.

The week had included lessons in native pottery, games like wrestling and lacrosse, making ribbon shirts and corn-husk dolls, and learning about artifacts and technology.

"I learned that when the Iroquois or Haudensaunee were building the longhouse, they had to have a ton of people and work together," said one fourth-grader, sporting a Boston Red Sox baseball cap.

"I learned the Indians were a lot of men and women who survived and did a lot of hard work," said a boy.

Another boy stood as he held the talking stick and said, "I learned that back then there were no schools and there was no technology. The kids were home-schooled and they had to make all of this. They had to make pots out of clay that would come from a river and they had no homes like we do."

Someone from the crowd asked the boy who held the floor where the Iroquois got their food.

"They got their food from animals — fish and deers," he replied promptly, before passing the talking stick to a girl with a ponytail.

"I learned about the Three Sisters — corn, squash, and beans," she said of the traditional garden. "They even had a ceremony when it was being planted."

Another girl told of how she had dug by a creek near her house and found "a little bit" of clay.

"I learned how to make the rope from the inside of a tree and it just amazed me," said another girl.

"I learned, if you were born into a clan, that was your clan and if you married, you would go into the girl’s clan, the wife’s clan, but you could still visit your clan if you were a man," said a fourth-grade girl.

Another girl said she has learned, "If you didn’t work together, you wouldn’t be able to survive very well."

The dilemma

As the children shared their experiences, the sound of a flute and a drum could be heard in the distance. The music came closer and the children, in a great wave of curiosity, turned to look toward the sounds. Gasps and pointing greeted a band of grownups, emerging from a leaf-strew path.

One man carried a white flag, another a scroll. Principal Dillon was dressed in a scarlet cape.

"Do you know who they are"" the children were asked.

"Our teachers!" came one answer.

"Greetings, we come in peace from a far-away land," said the man carrying the white flag.

"They’re Europeans!" shouted a fourth-grader, as murmurs raced through the crowd.

"We end every year with the European invaders coming through the woods," Dillon had told The Enterprise earlier. "They know who it is on some level," he said of the children recognizing himself and the staff members in costume, "but they play along.

"They spend the week here in this village. They built it and they have a fondness for it. This makes them think about ownership."

Friday morning, as one European read a proclamation in a foreign tongue, another hooded figure in a dark robe stood aside coughing, perhaps to represent the diseases Europeans brought to Native Americans.

"We come to you bringing things we will trade for your land," said the flag-bearer, spreading a paisley cloth on the ground, placing on it "jewels and trinkets," a pot made of iron, and "magic glass" — a mirror.

At the same time, some of the invaders went inside the longhouse.

"They’re stealing," called out one boy.

The chiefs — boys decked out in paper headdresses and fringed garments replicating buckskin — talked with the Europeans.

Then, as suddenly as they had come, the band of invaders retreated, saying they would return for an answer.

The decision

"They want our land," said Ball. "Is it our land""

"I’ll fight for it," proclaimed one boy forcefully.

"We have these strangers bringing many things we’ve never seen before — pots not made out of clay, shiny objects," said Ball. "Should we trade with them""

"No!" came the resounding reply.

Then the talking stick was passed from child to child, this time with more urgency.

"Just kill ’em," said the first boy to get the stick.

"I think we shouldn’t do it; I think we should trade," said the girl who spoke next.

"I think we should take it down and move to a different place," said the boy who spoke after her, gesturing to the village around him.

"I think we should settle this with war," said the next boy.

"I think we should share," said a boy in a New York Yankees cap.

"We shouldn’t trade," said the boy who spoke so eloquently early on about the Iroquois way of life. "It’s nice stuff but we have something better."

"Steal their guns," said another boy.

"Make peace," said yet another.

"I think we should take the nice things and then attack them," said another boy.

"We don’t own this land," said a girl, who advocated moving on.

"I think we should, like, just make peace," said another girl. "We should share the land. They could have another place."

"We have many different viewpoints," concluded Ball. "Some people say we should go to war —"

Her words were interrupted with cheers and cries of, "Yeah!"

Ball continued, unruffled, "Some say share the land. Some say move on..."

Her voice was solemn as she went on, "War means that you loose people. And you have just told us that the Haudenosaunee did well because they worked together...The people lost in war are the men who make the longhouse and kill the venison. We will not survive if we lose them...

"Many said we should take down the village and move on and that’s what they would have done. They valued their friends and the people in their tribes."

Ball then looked to the tribal chiefs and asked, "Chiefs, what do you think we should do" We’ll listen to what our leaders say."

A chief, played by Matthew Cerutti, stood and addressed the crowd. "We should move on and look for a new place," he said.

"The chief has spoken," said Ball. "We will share in a meal...from Mother Earth."

A final lesson

Cider that had been warming in a pot over the fire was passed out as were cornbread and muffins. The kids eagerly ate the food and a random banter filled the hollow as the walking stick lay still.

Then a teacher raised her hand to quiet the crowd. She said groups would form to take down the village but that she was disappointed in the children’s behavior after spending a week learning about the Iroquois’ emphasis on sharing.

"The idea of sharing a meal means waiting till you are served," she said. "I was a little surprised when children were asking for seconds while others hadn’t yet been served.

"I want to hear what you’re thankful for, so we can wrap this up on a positive note before we take down this beautiful village we built together."

With that the talking stick came out again.

"I’m thankful for all the nice friends and people that helped us build the longhouse," said a fourth-grader.

Then Ball concluded, "We’re thankful for the great job all of you did working together."

Kids with a passion for science learn before others get to school

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Demian Singleton, the supervisor for math and science at Farnsworth Middle School, wanted to set the record straight about the earth- science course the school offers.

He said he fears the message sent to parents and teachers by school board members last spring. Tuesday, he made a detailed presentation to the board.

Accelerated eighth-grade students at Farnsworth can study earth science, typically offered freshman year of high school, in the morning before regular classes begin.

Earth-science students learn the basic concepts of astronomy, geology, and meteorology.

The course maintains a middle-level philosophy while meeting all requirements for a high-school course, said Singleton. It is one of four courses that Farnsworth students can take for high-school credit; the others are in math, art, and foreign language.

Before students can take a Regents exam in science, they need 180 minutes of class instruction a week and 1,200 minutes of lab work. The June exam consists of a laboratory performance test and a written test.

"Never do we want to improperly place a student," said Singleton, adding that the risk of a poor grade would defeat the purpose.

Students at Farnsworth continue to exceed expectations, said Singleton, with mean scores of 93 percent or higher over the years.

On average, he said, 61 students a year take the accelerated course. But this year 80 students are studying earth science in three sections of about 27 students each.

"We’re certainly feeling the pinch," said Singleton.

While Singleton said he has the "utmost respect for the board," he went on to express distress with some "unfair statements" and "inaccurate comments" he said board members had made last spring.

Responding to a comment that the early-morning class was "torture," Singleton said students take the accelerated course because they have a "passion for science." He compared this to the way students with a passion for art pursue that during their lunch period, or those with a passion for sports pursue that after class, or those with a passion for music practice with the select band or choir before class.

He also said it was necessary that earth-science students take the regular eighth-grade science course as well, because that course, which he said was improperly characterized by board members, builds a strong foundation for later study of chemistry, biology, and physics.

Singleton referred with "a heavy heart" to the late science supervisor Dale Westcott, who had died that day. He said Westcott had collected data on accelerated students who had skipped eighth-grade science and he found that four years later these top science students were struggling immensely with chemistry and physics.

"We view science as a process," said Singleton.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard from Carolyn Kelly, a parent who served on a committee that studied school security and recommended monitors be posted at elementary schools to buzz in visitors through locked doors. The board had compromised on hiring just the monitors and planned to evaluate response.

Kelly said she was disappointed with a "misleading questionnaire" that was sent to parents without previous information. She called it "an insult to parents on the committee."

She asked the board to direct the administration to disregard responses to the questionnaire; to schedule, before Dec. 1, presentations for parents at the five elementary schools; and to send a new questionnaire to parents in December, asking for comments on monitors only.

Superintendent Gregory Aidala thanked Kelly for her comments and said elementary-school principals would make a presentation on the subject at the Nov. 15 board meeting;

— Adopted policies on student complaints and grievances, energy conservation and management, and no idling for school buses;

— Unanimously accepted the state-required independent auditor’s report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2005.

A shareholder in Dorfman-Robbie Certified Public Accountants, P.C., presented the report, noting it stated, "There were no instances of reportable conditions, material weaknesses, or noncompliance..." which he said "is the highest level of assurance we can give on financial statements";

— Established an audit committee, as now required by state law, which will be made up of three school board members and two district volunteers with financial expertise;

— Agreed to set aside $100,000 in a tax certiorari reserve fund to pay for challenges to assessments.

The town of Guilderland this year revalued properties town-wide, leading to a large number of challenges. By law, if the money in the reserve fund is unused after four years, it will go back to the district’s general fund;

— Learned that students will be dismissed early on Nov. 8. Elementary teachers will confer with parents; middle school teachers will map curricula, and high-school staff will be involved in professional-development activities;

— Accepted a donated stove and refrigerator from Mary Summermatter, principal of Farnsworth Middle School. The appliances will be used by home-and-career students at Farnsworth;

— Heard congratulations for fourth-grader Ben Beckman, whose poem "Horses," was published in November’s Highlights magazine; and

— Met in executive session to discuss teacher and administrator performance reviews and to review the superintendent’s contract.

Cop sues village

By Nicole Fay Barr

ALTAMONT — An Altamont police officer, who has been suspended since December of 2003, is suing the village for about $48,000 in back pay and is asking for his job to be reinstated.

Altamont’s mayor, James Gaughan, said that Marc Dorsey had a four-month window after his suspension to take action. Asking for nearly two years in back pay now is unfair, said Gaughan, who was elected this spring.

Dorsey’s attorney, Stephen Coffey, said that Dorsey was suspended for an Albany stalking arrest and, since those charges were dismissed in June of 2004, he should have been given a hearing about his suspension.

Gaughan told The Enterprise that he agrees that Dorsey deserved a hearing. But, he said, it’s too late now.

The village is required to answer the charges made in the suit on Nov. 7. It will ask Supreme Court Justice Joseph C. Teresi to dismiss the suit on the technical grounds of timing, Gaughan said.

"He’s interested in getting his job back and they’re not interested in talking to him," Coffey said of Dorsey. "They owe him money."

People who live in Altamont might be upset about the lawsuit and think that an officer is trying to get money that he’s not entitled to, Coffey said.

It’s understandable that Dorsey was suspended when he was arrested, Coffey said. But, he said, when the charges were dropped and Dorsey had a good record with the Altamont department, the village should have given him his job back.

"They’re ignoring him," Coffey said. "What is their basis for not bringing him back""

Dorsey isn’t working now, his lawyer said, but he is looking for other employment. "He’s not sitting at home with a funnel through the roof waiting for the money to come from Altamont," Coffey said.

Coffey also represents Ryan Mahan, an Altamont officer who may also take legal action against the village since he was removed from the work schedule this week. (See related story.)

The Dorsey lawsuit, Gaughan said, "is just another example of what we’ve been left with from a former administration....I’m trying to help the village not get dragged down a path where it has to pay..."

The suit

In the suit, Dorsey names as defendants: the Altamont Village Board; Gaughan; former Mayor Paul DeSarbo; and the former Commissioner of Public Safety, Robert Coleman.

The Enterprise read the legal papers filed at the Albany County Courthouse. The suit states that the village violated the state’s Civil Service Law by suspending Dorsey without giving him a hearing or a list of disciplinary charges against him.

It requests that the village reinstate Dorsey as a village police officer and pay him the full-time salary he would have been paid from the time of his suspension until now.

Dorsey, 35, was appointed as a full-time officer in September of 2002, but, Gaughan said, he never actually worked full time.
"It was a highly irregular appointment at the onset," Gaughan said.

Former Mayor DeSarbo, who heard of the lawsuit yesterday from The Enterprise, suggested that Dorsey and other officers only worked full-time for the police department for a short time, so they could get a full-time police job elsewhere.

Then and now, DeSarbo said of Dorsey, "He was trying to hoodwink the department and the village."

In court documents, Dorsey states that, on Dec. 2, 2003, he was arrested in Albany for stalking, a misdemeanor.

On Dec. 4, 2003, he was suspended from his village employment without pay. The court papers include a one-paragraph letter, written by then-commissioner Coleman, telling Dorsey he was suspended because of his arrest.

Coleman could not be reached for comment this week.

On June 23, 2004, the stalking charges against Dorsey were dismissed. The court documents contain a decision from Judge Thomas Keefe, an Albany City Court justice. Keefe states that the charges were dismissed because "the complainant has failed to detail the manner in which she sustained ‘material harm’ to her mental and emotional health."

The village’s decision to keep Dorsey suspended, even after the charges were dismissed, "was an abuse of discretion," the lawsuit states.

"When the charges were dropped, we wrote a letter and heard no response," Coffey told The Enterprise. "They’ve got to give him a hearing and fire him or bring him back and put him on the job."

In May of this year, Coffey wrote a letter to the village, asking that Dorsey get almost two years of full-time back pay — about $24,000 a year — and be reinstated as an officer.

The next week, village attorney E. Guy Roemer responded, in a letter to Coffey, that the village was not going to do this. Dorsey was entitled to bring forth an Article 78 lawsuit on or before the four months after he was suspended in 2003, Roemer wrote. An Article 78 suit allows citizens to challenge government actions.

"Failure to do so bars him from seeking payment," Roemer wrote.

"That’s not the case," Coffey told The Enterprise in response this week. Those four months were up while Dorsey’s charges were still pending, he said. The four months shouldn’t begin until Dorsey is refused a hearing, he said.

But, Coffey said, even if Dorsey had only four months past his suspension to take action, what the village did was wrong. Coffey suggested that the village intentionally waited the four months and then said, "Too late; tough luck."

At Tuesday’s village board meeting, after discussing the matter in executive session, the board appointed the law firm of Roemer, Wallens, and Mineaux to defend the village in the case, at the rate of $175 an hour.

James Roemer, brother of the village attorney, will handle the case, Gaughan said.

"I don’t think he deserves anything," DeSarbo told The Enterprise of Dorsey. "He didn’t follow the procedures in the time allotted."

DeSarbo declined further comment, since he hadn’t heard about the suit. "The village is keeping me in the dark," he said.

"I believe everybody who should be protected under the law should be given a hearing. He should have gotten a hearing while the other administration was in place," said Gaughan, who ousted DeSarbo in the spring election. But, Gaughan said, Dorsey took action too late.

Address discrepancy"

Dorsey, who now lives in Selkirk, is listed in court documents as living at 103 Severson Ave. in Altamont, at the time of his employment.

Dorsey’s address was the same that Officer Ryan Mahan had previously used. In 2004, allegations arose that Mahan didn’t live in Altamont, but used the address as his own.

Full-time officers must live in the village of Altamont while part-time officers can live anywhere, according to the current public safety commissioner, Anthony Salerno.

The village appoints officers who are on a Civil Service list. The applicant’s score on a Civil Service exam determines their placement on the list, Gaughan said, and the village must interview the top three candidates on the list.

Mahan, Gaughan said, was, at first, numbered on the list in the 300’s.

But, Gaughan said, applicants can get themselves higher on the list by living in the village or town they are applying to. The mayor questioned whether Mahan and Dorsey were truthful by listing Altamont as their homes, to boost their rankings on the list.

Last September, in an article about an Altamont Village Board meeting where Mahan was appointed full-time, and questions were raised about his residency, The Enterprise printed Mahan’s Altamont address: 103 Severson Ave., the same address as listed for Dorsey. Mahan was angry at the newspaper then because, he said, publishing his address put him in danger.

Through a Freedom of Information request in November of 2004, The Enterprise found that Mahan applied for a full-time job in another county, while working for Altamont full-time.

Shortly after, Mahan resigned as a full-time officer in Altamont. In a letter to the village, he wrote of his anger that a village official told The Enterprise his address. He also described a village employee reading the house’s water meter, to determine if more than one person (the landlord and Mahan) lived there.

At the time, Mahan told The Enterprise that he planned on moving to Saratoga.

Of his Altamont address and his landlord, Dan Jacobson, Mahan said, "The lease was all worked out just between me and him."

Jacobson said then, "He was broken up with a girlfriend so I let him stay with me over the winter months....It was a short time."

Since, Mahan has worked for Saratoga County full-time and Altamont part-time; he does not currently live in Altamont, according to Salerno.

Gaughan spoke of the Mahan situation and said he is investigating the address discrepancy because, if Dorsey said he lived in Altamont when he was appointed as a full-time officer, but didn’t, then he had to have lied on his application, Gaughan said.

Coffey said that Dorsey lived in Altamont in 2003. The village claimed earlier that he didn’t, Coffey said, "but that was disposed of. He had valid residency."

Caregivers has a caregiver: Thomas to donate office space

By Jo E. Prout

ALTAMONT -- The Community Caregivers hope to have a new home next spring, thanks to local philanthropist and developer Jeff Thomas.

Caregivers representative Donald Stauffer told The Enterprise that the organization will move into the former Helderberg Bible Chapel on Gun Club Road, after both interior and exterior renovations are complete. He did not have a set date for completion, but he said that "very roughly," the move would take place in the spring of 2006.

Thomas told The Enterprise that he entered a contract over the last six months, and that he hopes to buy the property by the end of the year.

"I set up a foundation to purchase the church," he said.

Thomas, who lives in Knox, is the owner of WeatherGuard Roofing. He will be recognized with the Caregivers’ first Founders Award on Nov. 18 at the organization’s annual gala.

Thomas had offered space before to the Caregivers’ organization, which started in Altamont in 1994, and now serves 450 people in Guilderland, Bethlehem, New Scotland, Knox, and Berne.

The not-for-profit organization has occupied two rent-free locations — first in St. John’s Lutheran Church in Altamont and currently at Fountain View Senior Assisted Living Center in Slingerlands.

Stauffer said that the current space has a small office for the full-time director, and two small ones for the rest of the part-time staff. Stauffer said that the offices do not have enough storage space.

The organization uses volunteers to offer services to those in need, ranging from child-care for an ailing single mother to car rides for medical treatment needed by an elderly man.

Thomas first offered the Caregivers space at his proposed Brandle Meadows senior housing complex, to be build just outside of Altamont, but delays in approvals and water access have pushed back the construction schedule.

"Their needs are now," Thomas told The Enterprise. He said that the Caregivers had long before approached him about using commercial space he owned. He said that the church has about 2,500 square feet of usable space on about an acre. It is located near the village’s Bozenkill Park on Gun Club Road.

"It was a nice fit for them," Thomas said.

Stauffer said that the move to the chapel will be permanent. "We will not be moving to Brandle Meadows. One of the senior citizens told Thomas [about the site] and suggested getting the Bible chapel"because we’re so desperate for space," Stauffer said.

Thomas said that the proposed offices will be "rent-free as long as they’re the Caregivers and dedicated to helping the elderly, disabled, and homebound. As permanent as permanent can be," he said.

In addition to new offices, the former church has a gathering room with a fireplace and stage, as well as a kitchen, Thomas said. The space could be open to any non-profits who help other people, Thomas said. "We don’t want to limit that gathering area," he said.

"Everything is contingent on the town of Guilderland approving the use," Thomas said.

The chapel building on Gun Club Road started as a dance hall called Pat’s Ranch and then was owned by the YMCA before the church bought it.

The Helderberg Bible Chapel closed its doors last November after 17 years when its minister, John Roberts, moved south to marry. Roberts said at the time that the building would be sold and the funds given to the Christian Missionary Alliance, the chapel’s denomination that has a goal of promoting the Kingdom of God.

The small working-class congregation was largely from the Hilltowns, never really attracting people from the village of Altamont, Roberts said. "We were really a rural, blue-collar church," he said.

"We have a lot of needy people here in our own community, surrounded by all these lovely houses," Thomas concluded. "Thank God, thank God for the Caregivers."

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