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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, January 18, 2007

Berne makes2007 appointments

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — Before holding its first meeting of the year, the Berne Town Board made its appointments.

Supervisor Kevin Crosier wished all in the packed town hall a happy new year and called the organizational meeting "housekeeping."

In 2007, Highway Superintendent Ray Storm will be able to spend up to $2,500 without the board’s prior approval. Two years ago, at the 2005 re-organizational meeting, the town board increased the amount of $1,000 to $2,500, noting that Storm occasionally spends more than $1,000 without approval because not making repairs, which routinely come in above $1,000, can slow down the department.

The town’s officials, boards, committees, and designations for 2005 are:

Deputy Supervisor: Joseph Golden;

Supervisor and Director of Emergency Management: Kevin Crosier;

Town Board: Joseph Golden, James Hamilton, Wayne Emory, and Carol Crounse;

Marriage Officer, Registrar, and Deputy Tax Collector: Patricia Favreau;

Town Attorney: William Conboy II;

Building Administrator and Code Enforcement Officer: Peter Schaming;

Zoning Administrator and Code Enforcement Officer: Paul Jeffers;

Dog Control Officer: Cheryl Tefts-Baitholts;

Chairman of Assessors: Brian Crawford;

Deputy Town Clerk: Anita Clayton;

Deputy Highway Superintendent: Kenneth Weaver;

Bookkeeper: Andrea Cornwell;

Court Clerk and Highway Department Clerk: Patricia Boice;

Solid Waste Coordinator: Kevin Kemmet;

Town Historian: Ralph Miller;

Constable: Willard Schanz;

Youth Director: Jane O’Shea;

Assistant Youth Director: Melissa Worden;

Official Bank: The Guilderland branch of Citizens Bank;

Official Newspaper: The Altamont Enterprise;

Planning Board: Gerald Chartier (chair), Alan Rockmore, Tim Lippert, Michael Vincent, and Dan Burns;

Zoning Board of Appeals: James Fallon (chair), John Carsten, Terry Adams, Werner Knopp, and Killeen Cirella;

Assessment Review Board: Charles Turner (chair), George Christian, Marie Flagler, David Smith, and Emily Wright;

Conservation Board: Terry Schwendeman (chair), Kathy Moore, Harold Lendrum, Patricia Rexinger, and Al Raymond;

Youth Council: Kathy Brown, Jennifer Fuller, Alan Zuk, and Philip Place; and

Library Trustees: Jane O’Shea, Avis O’Malley, M.A. Molgard, Joan Mullen, Helen Lounsbury, Marsha Descartes, Mary Kinnard, and Alberta Wright (emeritus).

Residents petition to escape Camp Cass problems

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Following multiple escapes from the Cass Residential Center — the most recent in November of last year — nearly 500 local residents are petitioning the town, county, and state to close Cass down.

"Our citizens are in fear, and the state is neglecting us," Councilwoman Myra Dorman told The Enterprise last week.

The Cass Residential Center, located on Camp Cass Drive in Rensselaerville, is a juvenile detention center, run by the state’s Office of Children and Family Services. Within a two-year span, seven youths have escaped. The most recent escapee stole money and a vehicle from a nearby resident’s home.

The petition, circulated by a former Cass kitchen worker who was raped at knifepoint by a Cass resident two years ago, was presented to the Rensselaerville Town Board last Thursday.

Brian Marchetti, spokesman for the OCFS, told The Enterprise this week that Cass residents are between 14 and 18 years old. Their charges are: violation of parole, possession of marijuana, sale or distribution of a controlled substance, and criminal mischief. The center’s goal is to help young offenders develop the strength and skills to avoid future problems. Currently, there are nine or 10 residents at Cass, Marchetti said.

"I didn’t come to speak here. I came to listen," said State Assemblyman John McEneny at last week’s Rensselaerville meeting. "Cass has been beneficial. Maybe we can get back there"There’s no question that we can’t get there if the policies aren’t changed."

Rensselaerville Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg and Dorman told The Enterprise they had attended a Dec. 27 meeting with Cass officials, who outlined a plan to erect a fence around the facility.

Marchetti told The Enterprise in November that a fence was part of a project, which also includes new basketball courts and a greenhouse, to begin in the spring of 2007.

Last Thursday, reporters, television crews, state, county, and town officials were at the town board’s meeting as residents, fearing for their safety, crammed into town hall to hear an update from Cass officials, and discovered no representatives from the juvenile correctional facility were there.

Nickelsberg said the town sent a letter to the camp, inviting officials to the January town board meeting. OCFS responded with a letter, saying, "We will be unable to attend."

"Their arrogance was rather amazing. They’re not here to talk to us about this," said Nickelsberg. He added that he thought an appearance by Cass officials would help "build bridges."

At the December town board meeting, Nickelsberg had said the security at Cass is "a joke," and said Camp Cass’s director, Tim Kelso, would attend the Jan. 11 meeting and update the town.

"We were bluntly told that they didn’t think they should come," Councilwoman Dorman said.

Ed Ausborn, the deputy commissioner for OCFS responded to the invitation with a Jan. 5 letter that says, "I would like to thank you for your invitation to OCFS, but unfortunately, we will be unable to attend""

Nickelsberg read the letter aloud at last week’s meeting, in which Ausborn asked, "that in my absence you include my letter and sentiments in your meeting minutes."

"The security of our facilities is our top priority," Ausborn’s letter says. "Three years ago, we began a plan to enhance security measures at all of the OCFS facilities. Cass Residential Center was provided with door alarms, key boxes, exterior lighting, and a camera system, all of which has greatly increased and enhanced the security of the facility.

"Our ongoing efforts include"a CANS system — a Community Alert Network — to let the community know of any issues that arise at Cass"In addition, as with other facilities, we are recommending the installation of a perimeter fence. Currently, the fence is in design. As the project proceeds, we will keep you apprised of all progress made."

Reverse 911

In November, a 15-year-old resident of Cass escaped, stole money and a vehicle from a nearby home, police have said, then fled to his home in Poughkeepsie (Dutchess County), and was turned in to authorities by his father.

The escape reawakened fear in residents. Many had not received an emergency notice (known as a "reverse 911 call"), telling them a Cass resident had escaped. Residents who received the recorded message by telephone said they did not get accurate information.

The message, issued from the Albany County Sheriff’s Department’s computerized system, did not reach all surrounding residents, and the message was misleading. Rather than saying a resident from the facility had escaped, the message said a "15-year-old boy was missing" and "had last been seen in the area of Cheese Hill."

Robert Johnston, whose house was broken into, told The Enterprise that, after the incident, he kept a gun by his bed. He told The Enterprise this week that he still keeps a gun by his bed. He has added a motion sensor, and keeps his doors locked.

At last week’s meeting, Johnston’s wife, Joan Johnston, said the message issued to surrounding residents should have said: "We have an escapee from Camp Cass. Beware."

"That’s what you should have been told," said Craig Apple, deputy chief of the Albany County Sheriff’s Department. Apple also said the sheriff’s department does not know the charges of Cass residents or who is at the camp.

"We don’t know who’s coming and going," he said.

Change in attitude

Dorman, a member of the Cass Residential Advisory board, said she, "over the years, has had good relationships" at Cass. "In the last few years," she said, "the attitude of the people in charge" has changed.

She added that, at the December meeting with Cass, officials used a map to outline a proposed security fence around the perimeter of the facility. At the meeting’s end, she said, Cass officials "just took [the map] down, and said, ‘Well, we’ll see when this gets done.’"

The security fence, she said, was spoken about as "a possibility, nothing definite."

Many area residents have speculated about Cass residents’ crimes, saying the offenders at the camp are now more hardened criminals.

"Get the violent offenders the hell out of there," said Rensselaerville resident Bob Bolte.

According to the Cass Residential Center’s program description, the budgeted capacity for delinquent male youths is 25. The center, it says, provides group and individual counseling on a regularly-scheduled basis. Cass’s goal is to help its residents target their risk area and develop the strength and skills to identify and avoid their risk areas in the future.

According to the program description, the facility includes a dormitory, a dining hall and kitchen, and an administrative and education complex. The center has an education coordinator, two full-time teachers, and a part-time aide. Cass also offers two vocational programs affiliated with Cornell University Cooperative Education, one in food preparation and the other in horticulture, and it offers recreational activities from flag football to board games.

Marchetti said the facility currently has 12 youth division aids (counselors), and residents stay a minimum of four weeks. The release of a resident depends on his treatment needs.

Bolte, once a member of the Cass Residential Advisory board, said he doesn’t understand why the facility is without a fence. Bolte told The Enterprise this week that residents of Cass need to be taught trades. In the past, he said, the residents were provided tools and were involved in community projects.

Bolte said the state hasn’t taken sufficient measures to contain violent offenders.

Farmers, he said, are smart enough to have a fence put in place before bringing pigs home from an auction. Bolte added that he doesn’t understand why the state doesn’t have a fence erected at the camp to contain its criminals.

Three to four years ago, Bolte said, he quit his role on the advisory board. While serving on the board, Bolte said, he collected Christmas gifts for Cass residents. Now, he said, he stays away.

"I will not go back up there," Bolte said.

The petition

Albany County legislator Alexander (Sandy) Gordon, on behalf of the Cass worker who was raped two years ago, read a petition, signed by nearly 500 area residents, that calls for Camp Cass to be closed.

In July, 2005, Michael Elston, who escaped from the facility in late December, 2004, was convicted of first-degree rape and second-degree kidnapping, for forcing the 51-year-old female kitchen worker from Camp Cass into an office and forcibly raping her.

He then forced her at knife-point into her car; she escaped when he stopped to make a phone call, police have said.

"I got raped 15 feet from a guard," the rape survivor told The Enterprise earlier, stating that the proposed project to fence the facility was not enough.

Gordon said he was "humbled" to speak on her behalf and called the rape "a most egregious crime."

The petition states: "The Office of Children and Family Services, which controls Cass Residential"must be held accountable and the public be made aware when escapes and incidents happen at Cass. They must also be held accountable to follow their own procedures and policies which are not being followed; it’s the state’s responsibility to maintain safety for all of us.

"There are documented cases over the past several months and years of escapes, AWOLs, assaults, kidnapping, hostage taking, and rape from Cass Residential. When this happens, the public isn’t even aware that the community is in danger. What is going to happen next" Is one of these residents going to break into someone’s house and murder them" The state, OCFS, and Cass must be held accountable and stop the cover-up of these incidents.

"These types of inmates shouldn’t be allowed in a non-secure facility, where the inmates can just walk away. Now, we ask the citizens and town board to stand up and do something about this unsafe facility in our community. It’s time the town board and the communities stand up and take action."

Gordon, after reading the petition, said the primary responsibility is to "cease her victimization."

"I think it’s clear. Close it down unless there’s 100-percent security," Nickelsberg said, and added that the role of government, "first and foremost, is the health and safety of the people.

"We’re on it. We’re going to stay on it," he said.

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