[Return to Home Page] [Subscriptions] [Newsstands] [Contact Us] [Archives]

Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 2, 2006

Wynantskill child porn

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — A Wynantskill elementary school music teacher has been arrested by Guilderland Police for possessing printed photos of child pornography.

One home computer and two school computers have been seized by authorities.

Mark S. Sardella, of 12 Norman Ave., Guilderland, was arrested at his home last Saturday night, after police say he downloaded "numerous photos of young children involved in sexual acts," on his home computer, according to Guilderland Deputy Police Chief Carol Lawlor.

Sardella, who is married and has children, is charged with "possessing a sexual performance by a child", a class E felony, with more charges pending, says Lawlor.

"Every picture can be a separate charge. Right now he is being charged with one picture," said Lawlor.

"Things are going as well as can be expected, but it is a difficult time," said Wynantskill superintendent, Christine Hamill.

The Wynantskill school sent home letters to parents last Monday and Tuesday, informing them on how the school is handling the situation and trying to keep the community informed on what is known at this time. Hamill said teachers and school officials are going into classrooms to answer questions students may have.

There is nothing to indicate anything inappropriate has occurred between Sardella and Wynantskill students, according to Hamill.

Sardella was arraigned by Guilderland Judge Denise Randall and remanded in Albany County jail without bail. He will be back in Guilderland court on Thursday night before going to Albany County Court.

Catching criminals

John Tashjian, a Guilderland Police investigator told The Enterprise yesterday that Sardella is going to be charged with 10 more felony counts for possessing pictures of child pornography in town court on Thursday night.

When asked how many pictures were found in Sardella’s possession, Tashjian responded, "Quite a few." The pictures depicted both male and female children in sexual acts and they were all downloaded from the Internet, said Tashjian.

Lawlor said there were up to 50 printed pictures of child pornography found at Sardella’s home and that there could be up to 2,000 pictures on his home computer.

Another Guilderland officer, Brian Forte, is part of a Federal Bureau of Investigation’s joint task force called "Innocent Images." The goal of this task force is to remove distributors and possessors of child pornography, said Forte.

There are only 28 Innocent Image task forces around the nation, and one is based in Albany with two FBI investigators leading the organization. Members from the Albany, Colonie, Guilderland, Bethlehem, and Waterford police departments are also apart of the joint task force.

Forte said there is a significant correlation between the use of child pornography and pedophilia, saying there can be an "escalation scale" between child pornography and sexually-related child abuse.

There is nothing to indicate this is case with Sardella, said Forte, and that no one has come forward with sexual abuse allegations against Sardella.

The Innocent Images task force uses undercover officers to infiltrate chat rooms and peer-to-peer networks, pretending they are minors in order to catch sexual predators on the Internet. They talk on-line with sexual predators and eventually attempt to meet them in person in order to make an arrest.

Forte gave an example of a task force arrest from last year: An Albany man was arrested for attempting to buy a child on the Internet, he said. Authorities arranged for the purchase, saying they were bringing the child up from New York City. When the man arrived, police moved in and arrested him.

Forte described the task force as "highly successful," citing a 95’ to 98-percent conviction rate.

"They are becoming more and more known to us," said Tashjian about the number of child pornography cases in the area. He continued, saying cases like this are not very prevalent, but that Guilderland Police are seeing an increasing amount of them.

If child pornography is downloaded from another country, then police have no jurisdiction to pursue the distributor, says Forte. They can pursue only the people who possess it. If a website can be determined to be within United States borders then the case will be sent to that district, where authorities can go after the distributor for prosecution, said Forte.

In these types of cases computers are confiscated by police and the hard drives, or brains of the computer, are "mirrored." From the hard drives, police can determine which websites were visited and where content sent over the Internet comes from, according to Forte.

The FBI has joined in investigating the Sardella case, Forte said.

Guilderland New Biz

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Those who love gourmet Italian food, but don’t like to travel, need look no further than Guilderland’s own Western Avenue.

Via Fresca, an Italian gourmet market, opened its doors in early December at 1666 Western Ave.

Going into the market a visitor steps onto yellowed marbled ceramic tile and smells freshly-baked bread. The soft track lighting above gives the market a home-like atmosphere, and the enticing rows of cookies and pastries on display beg to be sampled.

"We felt the community needed something like this," said Christina Randazzo, who owns the store with her husband, John.

The Randazzos spent 10 years working as chefs in the demanding and fast-paced restaurant industry in New York City, and have brought their experience and expertise back to the Capital Region. Christina Randazzo grew up in the Guilderland and the couple wanted to move back so they could be closer to home to start a family.

Within a year’s time, they also started a business. In that year the Randazzos created the business, picked the site, and completely renovated the location to fit their needs. In addition to the solid wooden doors and trim throughout the store, they built an addition on the back of the building for extra space.

"Fresh to go" is the store’s motto, and that is exactly what the market provides with its ready-to-order, chef-inspired meals, according to Randazzo.

"Everything is made on premises," said Randazzo, who believes her use of fresh ingredients and modern cooking facilities will seperate Via Fresca from the chain stores.

"We’re definitely using good ingredients, not like what you’ll find in the chain restaurants. People are used to tasting that....When people taste the difference they always come back," Randazzo said.

The kitchen is fully capable of catering events large and small. The market has already gained a reputation for its hot panini sandwiches, Sicilian arincini, homemade potato croquettes, and homemade sauces, Randazzo said.

It’s the panini and grilled sandwiches that people really seem to enjoy, which are served to order and popular with the lunch crowd, said Randazzo.

Via Fresca concentrates on Italian cheeses, but continues to expand its selection of French and Greek cheeses as well.

The market offers everything from cold and hot subs, to fresh salads, to specialty panini. With prices for these items ranging from $5.79 to $7.99, Via Fresca’s menu not only looks good, but is affordable too.

They also have catering prices starting at $24 for small trays, which serve eight to ten people, and they also offer large trays, which serve 18 to 20 people. The catering menu boast a variety of selections from greek salads, to wild mushroom ragu, to filet mignon with mushrooms and risotto.

Open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. through 7 p.m., and Saturday, 9:30 a.m. through 5 p.m., the Randazzos invite all who love freshly-cooked Italian gourmet meals, to stop by Via Fresca and enjoy their selection. The number to call for delivery or menu options is 452-1179, and their website is www.viafresca.net.

"I like being a part of the community," said Randazzo. "It’s so nice being back home."

Health-insurance debate continues
Golden pushes for competitive bidding, new RFP

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — At its next meeting, on Feb. 7, the Guilderland School Board will consider three resolutions proposed by board member Peter Golden.

Golden, who took office this summer, has since September pushed the district to examine health-insurance costs. At a meeting last Tuesday, several on the nine-member board agreed with Golden that a request for proposals for a single insurer should be prepared by an independent agent.

An RFP prepared by Joseph Rogerson of Rose & Kiernan, Inc., a long-time advisor to the district’s health-insurance committee, went out on Jan. 15.

Golden raised the issue at the Jan. 10 board meeting that the Rose & Kiernan RFP could represent a conflict of interest — brokers are paid a commission — and he noted that Rogerson had said a single insurer was not the best option for Guilderland.

Currently the district offers four different health-insurance plans with four different providers — two are health-maintenance organizations and two are experience rated.

The RFP’s are due back on Feb. 3, after which the committee will look at the consultant’s analysis and make a recommendation to the school board.

"In order to do things properly, we really need an independent RFP," said board member Barbara Fraterrigo.

She asked, even if the RFP’s that come in this month show a $500,000 savings, "How would we really know we couldn’t save $800,000""

Board members Thomas Nachod and Colleen O’Connell also supported having an RFP by an independent person.

"I lost complete faith in them as a consultant," said O’Connell of Rose and Kiernan; she was frustrated during a November presentation to the board on health insurance when some questions went unanswered.

When the report comes back, O’Connell said, she would have no confidence in it.

Golden’s second proposal is that the district bid out for a wide range of insurance agents.

"To get the best deal," he said, the district should go to service providers and bid out to different agents.

While all of the board members appeared to support competitive bidding, several advocated waiting until the health-insurance committee had done its work and made a recommendation.

Golden’s third proposal is that the school attorney draft a letter to be signed by every member of the district’s health-insurance committee, stating that there are no existing conflicts of interest regarding the current insurance agent.

"The water is getting muddy," said Golden. "This is our job, by law and by contract," he said of school board members

"We all agree we want to reexamine how we purchase health insurance," said board member Richard Weisz. "The difference comes in how we get there."

Health-care benefits for Guilderland employees cost $3.2 million this year, or 10.8 percent of the district’s $76 million budget. The cost has about doubled from the $4.1 million the district paid five years ago; in 2000-01, health insurance accounted for 7 percent of the $59 million budget.

Insurance committee

Unlike most districts, Guilderland does not negotiate health benefits during the collective-bargaining process with labor unions. Instead, for more than 35 years, Guilderland has had a District Health Insurance Committee, which includes representatives from each bargaining unit.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders and Susan Tangorre, the district’s director for human resources, serve on the committee, representing management.

Four retirees also attend committee meetings as non-voting members. They offer advice, Sanders told The Enterprise this week, because health insurance covers retired employees.

The voting members are selected by their bargaining units, Sanders said, and consult with those units on decisions the committee makes.

"We’ve always had consensus from every union member," he said. "We’ve never had split votes. That’s why we could make changes across the district all in one shot."

Sanders supplied The Enterprise with a list of current committee members:

— Donna Abbruzzese, Chris Claus, Karen Cornell, Barbara Horan, Veronica Liegeot, and Robin Michaels from the Teachers’ Association;

— Martha Beck from the Principals’ Association;

— Shirley Carpinello from the Aides and Monitors’ Association;

— Patricia Hansbury-Zuendt from the Supervisory Personnel Association;

— Paula Krutz from the Management Confidential Personnel Association;

— Michael Liegeot from the Non-Instructional National Education Association (NEA) Unit;

— Claudia Marshall from the Tech and Communication Personnel Association;

— Brian McCann from the Administrators’ Association; and

— Joy Pierle from the Non-Instructional Supervisors’ Association.

The retirees on the committee are: Richard Byrnes, Sean O’Neill, and Margie Raymo from the Teachers’ Association and Arnold Rothstein from the Central Office Administration.

Sanders described committee meetings as similar to collective bargaining sessions where "a variety of perspectives" are explored.

When asked, he said, "No one, as far as I know, is an expert in the health-insurance field."

The committee uses two consultants from Rose and Kiernan — Joseph Rogerson and Kathy Clark.

Asked about the consultants’ role, Sanders said, "To guide us through the health-care decision-making process."

Typically the committee meets a few times in the fall and a few times in the spring, he said, but more "depending on the issues."

Asked what effect the board’s recent scrutiny has had on the committee, Sanders said, "It’s a different model...We’re all working towards the same path...to control health-insurance costs. That’s what the committee has believed its charge to be in the past. The board is headed in the same direction."

Asked if committee members had a reaction to the proposal that they sign a letter to indicate they have no conflicts of interest, Sanders said, "It’s a unique request. Committees have worked for years in the district and this request hasn’t been made of any other committee. It remains to be seen what the language might be."

Sanders concluded, "It raises questions in people’s minds."

Maintaining trust"

"I still think there’s value to having a health-insurance committee," said Weisz at last Tuesday’s board meeting.

He advocated letting the committee make a recommendation on having a single-insurer and then the board can decide.

"It sets a bad precedent for inviting people to be on committees...to say, ‘We don’t trust you.’" said Weisz.

Long before the state required site-based shared decision-making, Guilderland used a system it called participatory management, where faculty and staff participated in running the schools.

Calling the health-insurance committee "a long-standing successful management-labor agreement," Weisz concluded, "I still don’t think it’s appropriate for the board to interject what we think the right factor is until we see their answer."

He said he had no problem with adopting Golden’s resolution for an independent person preparing an RFP for next year.

The district begins its televised budget-review process for the 2006-07 school year with a citizens’ committee on March 2. Sanders had told The Enterprise earlier that decisions on health insurance could be worked on "simultaneously" with the budget review.

Superintendent Gregory Aidala concurred at last week’s board meeting. Having the committee follow the process underway, he said, "doesn’t close the door for making changes."

Board Vice President Linda Bakst said that no one on the staff is an expert on health insurance and that the board itself has "been in a learning process."

She said she didn’t know if a parallel RFP would turn up anything different.

Questions were also raised about problems with having two different RFP’s out at once.

Fraterrigo quoted an adage she said she grew up with: "Two heads are better than one."

She went on to say that, a lot of times, committee members are "not generating their own options" and it was possible the members of the health-insurance committee were "being led by the consultant."

Fraterrigo said she was troubled that, over the years, the district hadn’t used competitive bidding for health insurance.

Board member Catherine Barber said that there was an assumption by certain people that the consultant is biased or working against the district, based on an hour’s presentation.

"That’s a big stretch," said Barber.

Golden objected that he hadn’t called Rogerson biased. The problem is, he said, is that Rogerson has an enormous interest in the outcome.

"It’s very, very murky," said Golden. "I’m trying to get some clarity."

"I’m all for competitive bidding," said board member John Dornbush. "At this point, we have an RFP for a single-source provider...I say we let the process work that we have initiated, see what comes back and take it from there."

Aidala asked what was being proposed for the next meeting.

Board President Gene Danese concluded there were "a lot of valid issues on both sides" and said it was important they be brought up as action items, so the board can vote on them.

"We’ve generally had a consensus we want to move forward as a board," said Aidala, noting his role is to prepare information.

"I’m confused by it all," said Aidala.

Golden then listed his three motions and said he’d like to consult with the school’s attorney on conflict of interest.

"Who has the conflict of interest"" asked Aidala.

"We have nothing from people on the health-insurance committee," said Golden. "I don’t know who these people are."

"Somebody might argue, ‘I have health insurance; that might be a conflict,’" said Aidala.

Golden said downstate school districts that got sued argued that they didn’t know.

"It’s very, very murky," he said. "I’m trying to get some clarity."

Bakst said she was not in favor of Golden’s first motion on the RFP. But, she went on, that, long-term, the board needs to look at who is on the health-insurance committee, how they’re selected, and if there is a need for them to have expertise available to them.

"There’s this innuendo there’s something nefarious or shady...I would like to move forward in the most professional way we can," said Bakst.

"Peter wants to introduce three motions at the next board meeting," said Nachod of Golden. "He has the right to do that and you have the right to vote it down."

Students celebrate a new year and another culture

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — A great red dragon with more than 100 faces roiled through the corridors of Pine Push Elementary School on Friday morning.

Students and their teachers stepped out of their classrooms to watch — some of them silent in awe, some of them waving and cheering.

The red beast drew admiring parents in its wake, some of them flashing pictures of its grandeur.

A girl in an embroidered red shirt giggled behind her brightly-crayoned dragon mask. A boy in a bright red T-shirt brandished the accordion-style paper dragon he had made, raising its wooden legs high over his head.

"Gung hay fat choi! "called out the students as they ushered in the Chinese New Year — the Year of the Dog.

Earlier that morning, Martha Beck, the school’s principal, had bid a fond farewell to Zhou Ji during a school assembly. Ji had spent the semester at Pine Bush Elementary as a cultural exchange teacher from China. He will now move on to Guilderland High School.

Ji is a husband and father, living with his family in Jiujiang. He is a middle-school English teacher, the head of the English department, and a head teacher.

He is spending 10 months here as part of the American Field Service International program. He has been staying with Jean Michelle "Mickey" Nieman, who has been involved with AFS for more than a decade.

AFS’s slogan is: "Walk together, talk together, all ye people of the earth, then and only then shall we have peace."

The program was founded in 1914 by a volunteer ambulance corps during the first world war that "thought that, if students from different countries saw what it was like to live somewhere else, it could prevent war," Nieman said earlier.

In his application to the program, Ji described himself as "a peace lover, and ready to devote my whole life to a peace-making career for our human beings."

"He has been an observer, a learner, and a participant," Beck told The Enterprise this week of Ji’s role at Pine Bush Elementary. Ji worked with Audrey Jurczynski in her second-grade classroom, and visited other classes "to share his culture," Beck said.

He was particularly helpful to the third-graders who study China as part of their curriculum, Beck said. The third-graders study three countries from three different continents — Kenya from Africa, Brazil from South America, and China from Asia.

"They’re at an age when they’re very open-minded about learning the way other countries do things," said Beck of the third-graders. "They haven’t formed opinions that one way is better than another," she said.

Beck said that, while the students and staff had gained much from Ji, she thought the learning had been reciprocal. She recalled a conversation she had with Ji at a farewell get-together on Friday.

"He’s happy he got a true picture of America," she said. "Before, his perception was shaped by American movies.... He’s very pleased with the warmth with which he was received and he values the personal relationships....He said he will go back and tell his countrymen."

Beck said at Friday’s early-morning assembly that one of the good ideas he brought from his country was exercise at school. And, after the assembly, a group of kids energetically performed a set of calisthenics.

Zhou Ji flashed a bright smile as he accepted a book picturing New York wildlife from Beck.

"May our two countries always experience peace and friendship," he said.

Later, he took pictures of a presentation a Guilderland High School student made to classes of third-graders; Zhou Ji beamed as Paul Jones described many of the wonders of China, his homeland.

International traveler

Jones was one of 42 students to travel to China with the People to People Student Ambassador Program. The invitation-only program was started in 1956 under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, after the second world war, with the goal of achieving understanding among citizens of all nations.

Paul’s mother, Karen Covert-Jones, told The Enterprise he had received a letter in August of 2004, inviting him to participate and, after attending an information session, he was eager to go.

His trip to China was his first time away from home, she said, but she wasn’t worried; she was buoyed by her son’s enthusiasm, and by her own youthful travel experiences.

She had been an exchange student to Belgium when she was 15, said Covert-Jones.

Her son is now pursing more international travel. He’ll leave for India in three weeks, she said, traveling with two Guilderland friends, one whose father is from India. (The boys are currently collecting used solar calculators and laptop computers to give to students at a poor school they will be visiting, she said. Anyone wanting to donate can call the Covert-Jones household at 356-1167.)

Virtual tour

Paul Jones mesmerized the third-graders with his PowerPoint presentation about China.

"He’s one of our students," said Beck with pride.

The virtual tour of China began with pictures of Beijing and the Forbidden City, located at its center. The imperial palace was built during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Jones termed the Forbidden City, "One of the most phenomenal historic sites I’ve seen."

He asked how many third-graders had seen the movie Mulan; all hands went up as Jones indicated what should be familiar from the movie. The Disney movie, based on a 1,500-year-old Chinese ballad, tells of a girl who, disguised as a man, fights in her father’s place to save China from the invading Huns.

The Forbidden City has 9,000 rooms, Jones said, with "dragons all over, symbolizing the power of the emperor."

Jones’s tour moved along quickly as he next showed a picture of scaffolding, made of bamboo, and then photographs depicting the process of making cloisonné objects of brass and porcelain.

He had pictures of Xian, which he described as "the only city in China still completely surrounded by a wall."

He had pictures, too, of the Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses, "a huge cavalry made for the first emperor of China to protect him in the afterlife." Jones said, "Each soldier is different, with a different facial expression and hair style."

Shanghai, with its 17 million residents, Jones described as the "fashion and style capital of China."

He said it was his favorite city.

Jones next described the silk-making process — beginning with the worms, and moving to the cocoons, which are soaked and baked. And then he showed pictures of women doing silk embroidery.

In the factory he visited, Jones said, all the lighting was natural and no magnification was used by the workers. One particularly stunning photograph showed a woman at work, facing a copy of the Mona Lisa, recreating the Da Vinci masterpiece with silk threads.

Jones described Hong Kong as a "mix of new and old"; one of his pictures, taken during a boat tour, showed the modern city skyline in the background with a traditional boat in the foreground.

When Jones described the Great Wall, he sounded like the teen he is: "It was pretty cool," he said.

He reported the steps were uneven — some two or three inches and the next "a couple of feet."

He showed a picture of his "home-stay family" — an extended family complete with aunts and grandmother. One photo showed Jones with his Chinese brother.

"He has an American shirt on; I have a Chinese shirt on — go figure," said Jones with a shrug.

Photos taken at a culinary school showed an exquisite dragon’s head carved out of a radish, and carefully made spring rolls.

"Ours fell apart in little tiny pieces," said Jones of the visiting students’ efforts at making spring rolls.

As he flashed pictures of a Buddhist temple with prayer ribbons, Jones explained that Buddha has a third eye on his forehead. "That’s so he can see into your soul," he said.

Moving from the religious to the commercial, Jones displayed a picture of bags of potato chips from his hotel.

"Have you ever had cool cucumber"" he asked the third-graders. Other Chinese potato-chip flavors included five-flavored fish, and Jones’s favorite, Beijing duck.

His show ended with a picture of his favorite sign — a yellow street sign that said in Chinese and in English, "Appropriate Parking."

Eastern treasures

The third-graders pressed about Jones to see the treasures he had brought from his travels — a small replica of a Terra Cotta Warrior, a tiny cloisonné elephant.

"Please be careful of him," said Jones, as each child wanted to touch the brightly-colored elephant.

The stuffed panda bear he brought was strictly off-limits for touching; it was a gift for his younger sister.

"She said I could bring it only if no one touched it," said Jones. This assertion was greeted with solemn nods from the children.

Behind Jones was a display he had made showing "all the different kinds of foods in China."

"He ate his food with chopsticks the whole time he was there," said his mother.

Jones also held up the "passport and key we got when we entered Xian."

"Did you go in every room"" asked one of the third-graders.

The key, Jones explained, was symbolic.

As Jones displayed a motif with the Olympic rings, he explained the world games would be held in Beijing in 2008.

His tour group visited an Olympic school where the People to People Ambassadors played Ping-Pong with the Chinese students.

"They killed us," said Jones with a smile.

The last item he displayed was a sword, which, Jones explained, is "strictly ornamental" — it has no sharp edge.

As he pulled the sword from its sheath, a wave of "oohs" skittered across the group of young students.

Approved: Board accepts water-system plan

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — The planning board here last Wednesday approved the controversial water-supply system the village of Altamont requested for Brandle Road, after noting wetlands not previously shown on the village‘s application.

Unwilling sellers Michael and Nancy Trumpler own the parcel of almost five acres outside the village limits in the town of Guilderland. The land sale is being disputed in court. The planning board gave the plan conceptual approval in September.

Earlier plans were designed to extend access on a farm lane across railroad tracks along the property. Access to the land from Brandle Road must cross the tracks, for which an easement is required.

Plans called for the .01-acre tip of the triangular piece of property around the well to be part of the proposed $125,000 purchase of five acres, creating access to the well lot.

"It’s still in litigation," Nancy Trumpler said. "Nothing has been resolved yet. I personally find it kind of incredible that you would approve a final" application, she told the board. "We’re perfectly willing to come to an agreement with them"but we don’t want our rights trampled. We appreciate you listening to us. This is our property. They’re taking liberty with the wording of the contract. It’s all in the Supreme Court’s hands."

"It’s a difficult situation," said Chairman Stephen Feeney.

Planning board attorney Linda Clark and Trumpler determined that a small triangular section of the parcel is in contention. Clark asked if there were currently a restraining order that would prevent the planning board from making a decision, and Trumpler said that she was unaware of one.

"Does Altamont have your consent to come before this board and make this request"" Clark said.

"No," Trumpler said, adding that she was against the application from the beginning.

Clark advised the board to make taking title of the property a condition for final approval.

"So, I wouldn’t sign a plat until it’s resolved," Feeney said.


Feeney said that the map of the well site submitted last week was different than one the board saw previously, and that it showed wetlands.

Engineer Richard Straut, of Barton and Loguidice in Albany, said that construction of the water system would disturb less than a tenth of an acre, but that the village would seek permits from both the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Feeney said that the map showed no detail on how the proposed road on the property would cross a creek.

Straut said that he would update the map when the village obtains a railroad easement for the property.

Board member Lindsay Childs said that the initial application stated that no wetlands were on the site.

"We’ll take care of that," Straut said.

Because the first application did not mention the wetlands, a state environmental quality review will be needed, said board member Paul Caputo.

"We’ll do a SEQR on the subdivision," Feeney said. He said that conditional approval would be granted only if the village receives the DEC and Army Corps permits.


Board member James Cohen wondered if Feeney would normally give so many conditions "with this many things up in the air."

Feeney said that he is less concerned about the number because the site is not residential. He does not like to delay applications, he said.

"The well is the well," Feeney said. The road and the well will not move in future plans, he said. "The well house needs to be right near the well," he said.

Board member Michael Cleary asked if the board could go forward with the application.

"The answer is ‘yes,’ but we don’t have to," Clark said. The board agreed that applications always have conditions, and that the planning board should go ahead.

"You’ve got to have title. That’s a big one," Feeney told Straut. "A little bit of a backwards approach to what we usually do."

The board voted unanimously to approve Altamont’s request, with the conditions that the village get the town highway superintendent’s approval for a curb cut, obtain a railroad easement from D & H Railroad, obtain state DEC and Army Corps permits, take title through the pending legal proceedings, show construction details for the proposed road on the property, and provide erosion- and sediment-control details.

Cohen and Childs both said they were uneasy with a vote on a property in contention.

Childs told The Enterprise that he took counsel’s advice and voted to approve the application. If all goes through and the legal issues are resolved, he said, "then we’re not holding anything up."

Other business
In other business, the planning board:

— Heard a proposal by Richard Ewing to subdivide 61.6 acres on Old State Road into four lots.

Ewing said that he wants to keep the land undeveloped.

"I love it out here," he said.

His proposal of three two-acre lots must be changed to three-acre lots because of the agricultural zoning, said town planner Jan Weston. She said that drainage may be an issue because the land sits low, and that intermittent streams on the property must be mapped. She said that Ewing could keep smaller lots if he legally preserves the open space.

"It could be private. It doesn’t have to be public," Feeney said. "It’s your choice."

Board member Thomas Robert told Ewing to think carefully about making his land forever wild.

"It’s kind of like getting a tattoo. Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it," Robert said; and

— Continued a public hearing for developer Michael Cleary’s request to subdivide 33 acres into four lots. The property includes his own home, Cleary told The Enterprise.

The board said that one of the lots may be unbuildable because of its grade, according to health-department standards.

"Why would we create a lot people can’t build on"" Feeney asked. On one lot, Cleary suggested that he could bring in fill for the 16-percent grade, and wait for a freeze-and-thaw cycle before testing for a possible water system.

"I’m not disagreeing with you, but, on its face, it doesn’t meet the standards. We’re just consistent on it," Feeney said.

Proposed: A fee for water hookups

By Matt Cook

ALTAMONT — The mayor and board of trustees have proposed a fee for new hookups to Altamont’s water system.

Mayor Jim Gaughan calls it a benefit assessment fee and said it’s to help fund planned improvements for the system.

"We need to really look at lessening the impact of our capital improvement projects," Gaughan told The Enterprise yesterday.

The water-strapped village has proposed a two-phase project. The first is to develop a new water source from a well on Brandle Road, outside the village, at a cost of about $1.4 million. The property owners who were selling the land to Altamont when the village drilled the well have since sued; the case has not yet been settled.

The main source of water for the current system is a reservoir in Knox.

The second phase is $1.1-million project to improve the water distribution system. Pieces of it are over 100 years old.

According to the new plan, the village will charge a fee of $2,500 per unit for each new residential unit hooking into the water system. Those already on the system will not be charged.

Water users in and out of the village will pay the same fee. This will take some of the burden off the village taxpayers, Gaughan said.

Benefit assessment fees are not uncommon, he said. In Saratoga Springs, a $3,000 fee is charged per unit for new connections. In the Latham Water District, new hookups cost between $1,125 and $3,470 per unit, depending on where the property is located, Gaughan said.

In Altamont, the $2,500 fee is half of the current fee for connecting to the sewer line. Sewer taxes are usually about twice that of water taxes, Gaughan said.

"We found that, given our experience, [the fee] should really be half," he said.

According to the proposal, an apartment will be considered a fraction of a unit depending on the number of bedrooms it has. A single-family home would be a full unit.

Commercial property owners will be charged by usage, one unit per 200 gallons of water used per day. Fractions will be rounded up to the next whole unit. So, for example, the village says, a restaurant projected to use 700 gallons per day will be charged $10,000.

If current building projects, now in the planning process, proceed, Gaughan said, about 30 new houses and 78 new apartments will be added to the water system, bringing the village about $140,000 in benefit assessment fees. That includes a large senior complex planned along Brandle Road by developer Jeff Thomas.

Gaughan said the fee is not targeted at the senior complex or any specific development. It’s to pay for improvements to the whole water system, he said.

"As I looked at the budget, there’s no evidence that there’s been a look at how to budget for these capital improvements," said Gaughan, who took office last year. "This is our attempt to be fiscally prudent."

The village held an information session on the proposal and has posted information on its website, www.altamontvillage.org. A public hearing on the matter will be held at the next village board meeting, Feb. 7.

"We’re looking for input from the community to help to come up with a fair and equitable system for everybody," Gaughan said.

Fire investigation reveals identity theft

By Matt Cook

ALTAMONT — An investigation into a fire last month in Altamont uncovered a case of one family member stealing from another, police say.

Thomas M. Stevens, 34, of 111 Park St., Altamont, was arrested on Jan. 27 at the Altamont Police station for second-degree grand larceny, and first-degree identity theft, both felonies.

Altamont Public Safety Commissioner Anthony Salerno told The Enterprise that Stevens, without permission, used the Social Security number and date of birth of a family member to set up credit-card accounts on the Internet. He used the cards to buy over $50,000 worth of merchandise, police say.

According to Salerno, police discovered the identity theft in the course of an investigation of a fire in Stevens’s home on Dec. 11, 2005. The fire was an accident, Salerno said, but a background check on the house’s residents, done for insurance purposes, alerted investigators to the theft.

Salerno would not say from what family member Stevens stole. When The Enterprise reported on the fire, in December, the fire department said a man and his elderly mother lived at the house.

Stevens was sent to Albany County’s jail.

World trekker Hickey hosts African Film Series to connect cultures

By Jarrett Carroll

ALBANY — Wanting to learn more about the world, Kevin Hickey hopped on a plane and then spent six years riding across Europe and Africa on a bicycle. He rode across 52 countries, covering a span 41,000 miles.

That was nearly three decades ago, when Hickey was 23.

He’s now an associate professor of English and Africana studies in the department of humanities and social sciences at Albany College of Pharmacy. He wants to increase global cultural awareness and realizes most people, including his pharmacy students, won’t do what he did.

So last year Hickey founded the college’s African Film Series. He’s hosting the second annual series this February for Black History Month. The series starts on Feb. 7, and will screen three films, each a week apart.

On the first night of the series, Hickey will present a slide show, set to music, of his travels around Europe and Africa.

Why travel"

Becoming the first American and fifth person ever to bike across the Sahara, Hickey said his love of travel began with his love of reading.

As an avid reader growing up, and throughout his academic career, Hickey said world literature fascinated him, but it was around his junior year in high school that his desire to learn about the world through literature turned into a desire to learn through travel.

"It started as a hitchhiking trip around the nation by the end of high school, then it turned into a bike trip around the world," Hickey said.

Although the hitchhiking trip never panned out, he surpassed his second goal; Hickey’s six-year trip is equivalent to traveling one-and-a-half times around the earth.

Hickey is a Cooperstown native who now lives in Guilderland.

"You can see me bicycling around Guilderland, but not on too many big trips anymore," said Hickey.

He has an impressive academic résumé outside of his globe-trotting adventures, and believes in the power of both reading and traveling.

Citing a story from when he was a teenager, Hickey shed some light on how far back his love of reading and African studies go. Right before Christmas during his freshman year in high school, Hickey stole his parents’ credit card, went to the local bookstore, and bought about 20 different African and African-American history books.

He doesn’t quite know where this interest in African studies came from at such a young age.

"Books were great, but I didn’t want to just learn from reading alone," said Hickey.

The journey

Beginning in 1978, after graduating with a bachelor-of-science degree in biology and pre-med studies from the University of Vermont, Hickey started his epic journey with $2,000.

That money lasted for only about a year-and-a-half, and Hickey lived on roughly $3 a day for all of his expenses. It was the generosity of locals, and a mix of other people like missionaries and Peace Corps workers, who helped him along the way.

To further fund his living expenses, Hickey performed various odd jobs including: collecting donations for playing his recorder on the street; giving slide-show presentations at schools, cultural centers, and embassies in Europe and Africa; writing newspaper and magazine articles published in Germany and Switzerland; publishing photographs from the trip; and even doing agricultural work in France.

With his bicycle strapped down with saddle bags, pouches, and backpacks, which could weigh from 100 to 150 pounds depending on the amount of water and food he carried, Hickey set out peddling across two continents.

Hickey said he was in "pretty good shape," as the result of cycling for at least five or six hours a day, some of it in mountain terrain. Hickey also dealt with multiple bouts of malaria and dysentery during his six years of travel overseas.

He had a full beard then, and weighed about 35 pounds less than now. As he traveled through unfamiliar lands, he saw many of the different indigenous animals and ate an array of unfamiliar cuisine.

Hickey has collected over 400 recipes from his travels and has eaten a foods that include: termites; grubs; grasshoppers; snakes; jungle snails and frogs; several monkeys; baboon; hippopotamus; camel; antelope; ostrich; chicken-head soup; raw pig liver; sea urchin; goat skin; and cane rat, boiled whole.

Many times relying on help from locals, Hickey found that people were very generous and kind to him during the trip. Accommodating people would often provide him with food, water, and shelter along the way, he said.

It was during this journey that Hickey met his future wife in Basel, Switzerland, at the Swiss Tropical Institute, where she worked studying diseases. His wife, Hanna, is currently a French and German language teacher at Guilderland High School. She joined Hickey through Africa during the last two years of his trip.

In his own words

Kevin Hickey is in the process of putting down his travel experiences on paper and writing a book. In the past, Hickey has written articles and travel pieces for cyclist magazines and various other publications. In a piece published in Cyclist magazine in 1988, he wrote:

"Curt [Hickey’s brother] sucks meat from the backbone of a giant rat. Masticated skin scurries down my throat. The woman with octopus hairdo sets a plate of baseball-sized snails before us. Kwami smiles as the people filling Kwami’s single-room home watch us eat. When we finish, the woman pours water over our hands.

"We lay out our mats and sleeping bags, hang our mosquito net....Our fourth-class tickets allow us deckspace amid the goats and poorest people. The passengers observe Ramadan so strictly that they don’t swallow their own saliva, and the decks are flung with spittle as if hosting hordes of small gray grasshoppers. But as we near Timbuktu on the third evening, the spitting stops and a calm overtakes the passengers."

In another piece Hickey submitted to Bicycling in 1982, he wrote:

"Other than awakening one morning to a tent covered with a passing battalion of army ants, I had nothing but good experiences. The day peaked at over 100 degrees, but there were always springs gushing with cold clear water along the way. Farmers looked on as children ran to the road, offering me buckets of just-picked apricots or plums. Restaurants gave me desserts and teas, gratis. I was welcomed into many homes. Turkey was the most wonderful place I had ever been."

The lone desert cyclist

Hickey crossed the Sahara alone on a bicycle, facing temperatures that ranged from 20 degrees up to 115 degrees. Other dangers in the Sahara included fierce sandstorms and dehydration.

Hickey said, near the end of his Sahara trip, when it was getting warmer due to spring approaching, he consumed up to 18 liters of water a day. He relied on traffic traveling across the desert to replenish his water supply. There were mainly traders crossing the desert for business, limited to three or four cars a day. Water conservation was key, says Hickey.

At one point during his trip, the roads disappeared, and Hickey was forced to dismount and pull his bike across the deep sands. The bike weighed over 100 pounds and the distance he covered on foot was 400 kilometers, which is roughly the distance between Albany and Buffalo.

Hickey makes a distinction between travel and tourism. While tourists go out to enjoy themselves and relax, travelers go out to discover new places. Tourists do not really connect with the locals, he said.

"You’re not really connecting with the people," said Hickey about tourists. He said traveling allows you to see how different cultures interact and gives a new perspective on the lives of others.

Traveling with a bicycle is also a much more intimate way to travel according to Hickey, because you are not locked up in a vehicle and you have to depend on the people more. If you’re out in the open, he said, you can experience the world around you.

"It is really utopian to think we can have one big happy world. Certainly, when you do travel...you see the importance of reaching out and connecting," Hickey said.

"We’re in this together, one world," said Hickey.


The African Film Series will be shown at the O’Brien Building, room 218, at the Albany College of Pharmacy campus, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Feb. 7, 14, and 21. Admission is free and open to all Pharmacy students, faculty, staff, and to the public.

Allah Tantou (God’s Will) will be shown on Feb. 7. Directed by David Achkar, Allah Tantou follows the film-maker’s search for his father, a leading figure in the Ballets Africains who served as a United Nations ambassador for Guinea before being incarcerated for treason.

Ndeysaan (The Price of Forgiveness) will be shown Feb. 14. Directed by Namsour Sora Wade, the film chronicles the murder of a man by his best friend. It is based on a novel by Mbissane Ngom, who descends from the Lebou ethnic group of fishermen on the southern coast of Senegal.

Karmen Gei will be shown Feb. 21. In retelling Carmen in a contemporary Senegal setting, director Joseph Gai Ramaka has used indigenous Senegalese music and choreography mixed with a contemporary jazz score.

For more information on the film series, Christine Shields can be reached at the Albany College of Pharmacy, at 694-7389. Parking for the series can be found off of Holland Avenue in Albany, on Notre Dame Drive. Follow the signs for the film series to the O’Brien building on the college campus.

Church and county sued by man who claims abuse

By Matt Cook

ALBANY — An Albany County man is suing the county and the Albany Catholic diocese for, he says, allowing him to be sexually abused by a priest in Altamont in the mid-eighties, not prosecuting the priest, and harassment by the probation department.

In his lawsuit, filed last week by his attorney, John Aretakis, the man asks for $2 million from the county and $1 million from the diocese. He names seven defendants: former District Attorney Paul Clyne, probation officer Linda Stippe, the Albany County Department of Probation, Albany County, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, and Bishop Howard J. Hubbard.

The man blames the agencies and people named in the lawsuit for his life-long hatred of authority.

"I spent 15 years of my life with this on my shoulders....I hated anybody with authority," he said. "I had a real bad attitude about life because of it."

He spoke to The Enterprise on the condition of anonymity.

In 1985, at the age of 15, the man says, he was ordered by the Albany County Court to live at the Father Gerald Miller Home for Wayward Boys in Altamont. He was on probation for stealing.

"I was a stupid teenage kid; I stole a dirtbike from a neighbor," he said.

At the home, the lawsuit says, the boy was "repeatedly sexually abused and sodomized by Fr. Gerald Miller." He was a victim of "rape, sodomy, and repeated acts of vile and illegal sexual abuse," the lawsuit says.

The man, who is now in his thirties, said he can’t bear to speak of the acts, they are still so upsetting to him. Two other boys that he knew of were being abused in similar ways by Miller at the time, he said.

Miller was a member of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, a Hartford, Conn., based order of priests and monks. The order could not provide The Enterprise with information on Miller, who is no longer a member. Aretakis said Miller fled New York to avoid prosecution. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Aretakis has been zealous in his pursuit of a wide range of cases alleging abuse by priests. He has been accused of harassing parishioners at the Holy Cross Church in Albany.

His client was part of an $85 million settlement from the Boston Archdiocese, Aretakis said. He received $300,000.

The man said, and the suit alleges, as a teen, he reported the abuse to his probation officer, Joseph Fahey, who, the man said, told him that if he left the home, he would be sent to jail.

So, the man said, "I just dealt with it. I was a 16-year-old kid. I didn’t know any better."

After months of abuse, the man recalled, "I went to visit a family friend, a wealthy guy in the area. I told him what was happening. He told Probation he would not send me back there. He told them they could press kidnapping charges, but he wouldn’t send me back to that."

The friend, Gary Bovina, intervened and took the young man out of the home, the lawsuit says. Once Bovina became involved, Fahey acted "like he was the hero," the man said; he did not send the boy back to Miller.

Soon after, the man said, the home, which had moved from Altamont to the grounds of the La Salette seminary on the outskirts of the village, was closed. Two other boys received settlements for accusations of abuse, the man said. He called it "hush money."

For years, the man said, he kept the abuse to himself.

The man is married now with two children and a job as a trucker, but he says it took him years to develop a normal life.

"I was a real stupid kid," he said. "I thought that I deserved it all."

Finally, in 2004, Aretakis sent a video of his client to then-Albany County District Attorney Clyne. In the video, the man described Miller’s abuse.

Clyne did not investigate, the lawsuit says. Aretakis claims this was part of a pattern of Clyne’s, ignoring abuse victims.

"He basically says, ‘Here’s Bishop Hubbard’s number. Call him,’" Aretakis said.

At the time, the man said, he was serving probation for a misdemeanor, illegal use of a computer.

After he submitted his complaint to Clyne, he says he was the victim of harassment from the county. According to the lawsuit, the department of probation and the man’s probation officer, Stippe:

—Called him a pedophile and a pervert;

—Strip-searched him, touching his genitals;

—Didn’t allow him to visit his sick and dying grandfather;

—Repeatedly threatened and intimidated him;

—Made him see Stippe once a week instead of once a month;

—Informed his neighbors of his criminal history;

—Required him to enroll in an anger management class shortly before his probation was up; and

—Lied and tried to hurt him in a custody case.

Also, the lawsuit says, the county and the city of Albany started to regularly ticket the trailer he drove for work.

"Nothing ever happened to me before I went to Paul Clyne and, all of a sudden, everyone in the county started harassing me," the man said.

No one ever told him the harassment was because of his abuse complaint, the man said. The treatment ended when his probation did, he said.

Patricia Aikens, director of the Albany County Department of Probation, referred questions to Albany County Attorney Kristina Burns.

Burns, speaking on behalf of the probation department and the county, said she couldn’t comment on pending litigation. She also would not comment on the Father Gerald Miller Home for Wayward Boys.

Fahey, now an employee of the state Department of Parole, was not available for comment.

Clyne did not return phone calls. He currently works for the New York Prosecutors Training Institute.

In the 2004 election for district attorney, Clyne lost to David Soares. Aretakis said the lawsuit doesn’t name the district attorney’s office because Soares, "does the right thing" with priest-abuse cases.

"This is a Paul Clyne mess," Aretakis said.

"Paul Clyne or his agents were acting in a manner to continue to aid, assist and facilitate the defendant Albany Diocese pedophile priests," the lawsuit says.

Aretakis’s client told The Enterprise this week, "I’m hoping Albany County will be held liable for its role. They’re just as guilty as the priest is."

The question of ordered priests

Even though Miller was a member of a religious order, Aretakis claims the Albany Diocese is partially responsible for his client’s abuse because the diocese oversees all priests within its boundaries, including ordered priests.

"When you go to a host diocese, that diocese and that bishop is in charge of you and supervises you," Aretakis said.

Among other things, Aretakis cites the fact that the diocese includes ordered priests among its internal statistics of abuse. He also cites Catholic Canon Law—incorrectly, said Kenneth Goldfarb, spokesperson for the diocese.

An ordered priest must only ask a bishop’s permission if he is going to perform a religious service in the diocese, a wedding, for example, Goldfarb said.

"This Home for Wayward Boys does not fall under that category," Goldfarb said.

Though Aretakis claims Miller did, on occasion, perform mass at St. Lucy’s in Altamont and St. Bernadette’s in Berne, "The lawsuit does not involve his work in a parish church," Goldfarb said.

"Father Miller is not and has never been a part of the Albany Diocese," Goldfarb said. The diocese first heard of the complaints against Miller when the lawsuit was filed, he said.

[Return to Home Page]