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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 10, 2007

Fireworks find sparks police investigation

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Police are investigating a tractor-trailer-sized cache of illegal fireworks and explosive material after an emergency medical call led them to the stash.

Guilderland Police say they assisted emergency medical services workers with a call to a Westmere home, 117 Brandon Terrace, and they found a car running inside of a garage. A man was then evacuated from the residence because of a carbon monoxide threat and taken to Westmere Elementary School where a medical helicopter landed and transported him to Westchester County, according to Lieutenant Curtis Cox of the Guilderland Police.

The man was listed as "stable" by the Westchester Medical Center on Tuesday.

However, said Cox, it was what police found inside of the house that prompted them to call the State Police Bomb Disposal Unit.

"Upon investigation, we found commercial-grade fireworks in a variety of locations around the home," he said. "Some of it was stored in large crates."

Both handmade and commercially-made fireworks were found in the home, as well as the raw materials to make fireworks, such as black powder and flash powder, said Chief Technical Sergeant Tim Fischer of the State Police.

"Although those are the most common ingredients in pipe bombs, there were no bombs being made there," Fischer told The Enterprise. "There was a small laboratory inside"He was making powders for fireworks."

The Guilderland Police and State Police are conducting a joint investigation into the incident, said Cox.

The case is still under investigation and no formal charges have been filed, Cox said, although they are anticipated.

"Fireworks are very volatile and certainly should not be stored in a house at that quantity," said Fischer. "There were enough fireworks and dangerous materials to fill a tractor trailer."

If the house were to catch on fire, Fischer said, it could have posed "quite a problem" for local emergency responders.

The law

In New York State it is illegal for an individual without a permit to "offer or expose for sale, sell or furnish, any fireworks" or to "possess, use, explode or cause to explode any fireworks."

Fireworks are defined by state law as any "blank cartridge pistol, or toy cannon in which explosives are used, firecrackers, sparklers or other combustible or explosive of like construction, or any preparation containing any explosive or inflammable compound or any tablets or other device commonly used and sold as fireworks."

Road flares, signal flares, cap guns, and ammunition for firearms are not considered fireworks under the law.

"Right now, the problem in New York is that it’s the same charge whether you have a tractor-trailer load of fireworks or a small quantity," said Fischer. "There have been talks in the legislature the last few years about changing that."

The Westmere man may also be facing reckless endangerment charges and storage violations, Fischer said.

Bomb squad

Fischer said he, and two other officers from the State Police Bomb Disposal Unit, who all have hazardous-material training, removed the fireworks and volatile materials from the home and placed them into a storage facility.

"We have storage facilities for the materials"Right now we’re holding it as evidence until a judge orders it to be destroyed," Fischer said. "As soon as we can, we destroy the material."

His unit destroys fireworks and other explosives in controlled detonations, said Fischer.

There are 13 bomb squads in New York State, one for every major city, such as Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and New York, and one for each large suburban county like Rockland, Westchester, Suffolk, and Nassau.

Fischer’s unit covers a large section of upstate New York, including Albany County, and has one of the biggest coverage areas in the state.

Included in its arsenal of equipment, the State Police Bomb Disposal Unit routinely use dogs, bomb trailers, robots, x-ray machines, and counter-explosives depending on the type of call they receive.

Cox said it’s standard procedure for the Guilderland Police to call in a bomb squad when they come across explosive material or "old munitions," like hand grenades, motor rounds, and other materials, which, Cox said, some people save as war souvenirs.

Fischer agreed that old munitions can pose a threat to public safety.

"We need to make sure the neighborhood is safe," Cox told The Enterprise. "That is why we take these types of actions and contact the proper agencies."

In 2004, Division Bomb Technicians handled 311 incidents in New York State, which included 90 commercial detonations, 44 items of found military ordnance, 52 recovered commercial explosives, and 42 incidents involving fireworks. The same year, more than 1,200 sticks of dynamite were destroyed and 50,000 detonators.

"We do this all the time"We have the majority of the state to cover," Fischer said. "I’ve worked in this area my whole life"All of my men are dedicated and work very hard at what they do."

County gets FEMA funds; state picks up the rest

By Jarrett Carroll

ALBANY COUNTY — A flood of FEMA funds are coming to town.

Last week, officials announced that the county will be eligible for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for damages from April’s nor’easter.

This week, Governor Eliot Spitzer’s office announced that the state will pick up the tab for the rest of the costs; usually, FEMA pays 75 percent, and the state and local municipalities split the rest.

What does this mean for local municipalities and their residents"

It means 100-percent reimbursement for storm-related damage occurring between April 14 and 18.

"I’m sure glad to hear that," said New Scotland Supervisor Ed Clark. "There was some significant damages to our roads"which comes totally out of our highway’s operating budget."

Clark said New Scotland will be looking to apply for "between $75,000 and $100,000," citing extensive road damage along Krumkill Road.

Berne town supervisor, Kevin Crosier, said many of the roads in his town were damaged by erosion and other water-related issues.

"This is great news"It’s always good news when you have a flood situation and can get some assistance," Crosier said. "The town of Berne has a very large road infrastructure and a small population to support it."

Guilderland was also hit hard by the storm.

"It’s going to be very helpful," said Guilderland Supervisor Kenneth Runion. "Highway crews were working for days to clear debris from streams and drainage areas"and I know we used well over 100 hours of overtime just in the police department alone."

Runion said the damage to Johnston Road was estimated at "several hundred thousand dollars." A section of the road was closed down during the storm and, after it reopened, the Albany County Department of Public Works placed weight and speed-limit restrictions on it due to damages.


According to Gene Romano, a FEMA spokesman, after a disaster declaration is made, FEMA traditionally provides 75-percent of the eligible cost and the remaining amount would be split between the state and the local municipalities.

"Those people who have losses should apply," said Romano.

With this particular designation, however, the state will cover all of the cost.

"This gives some relief to the local government," said a State Emergency Management Office spokesman, Dennis Michalski. "The damages have been catastrophic in some instances."

Some of the county’s town supervisors were not aware of the state’s intention to pay the remaining cost from the storm this week when The Enterprise called them, but all of them were pleased with the news.

Michalski couldn’t say whether this arrangement would be provided in the future or specifically why the governor is using state funds to cover all of the cost in this particular instance.

Michalski did say there have been several requests for emergency funds in the recent past and it has put "extensive strain" on the local municipalities.

Eleven counties besides Albany are getting assistance: Columbia; Dutchess; Essex; Greene; Orange; Putnam; Rockland; Schoharie; Suffolk; Ulster; and Westchester counties. In addition, Albany and Dutchess counties and the borough of Staten Island in New York City are eligible for individual assistance.

Individual assistance

Romano says affected Albany County residents and businesses will be able to apply directly for any damages sustained from the storm. Applicants have until June 23 to file for assistance claims.

"We ask that people not wait until that date. The sooner you apply, the sooner we can process your claim," said Romano, adding, that work already completed can be reimbursed by the assistance funds.

Low-interest small business loans are also available from FEMA.

To register, the following information will be needed: Social security number, and spouses; private insurance information, if available; address and zip code of the damaged property; directions to the damaged home or property; and a telephone number where FEMA can contact you.

Renters, homeowners, and businesses from Albany County can register for the aid by calling 1-800-621-FEMA between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily and those who are hearing or speech impaired can call 1-800-462-7585. People can also apply online at www.fema.gov.

Romano said a $5.4 million grant, which does not need to be paid back, has been approved for the state from the federal government. In Albany County, 2,300 individual applications have already been processed, he said on Tuesday.

Kerri Battle, spokeswoman for Albany County Executive Michael Breslin’s office, said residents are encouraged to apply and that $2.4 million, out of the $5.4 million, has been allocated to Albany County. The cost to repair damages to county roads totaled $330,000, she said.

Non-profit organizations, such as volunteer fire departments and school districts will also be able to apply for aid. Many emergency crews in the area worked in 24-hour shifts during April’s storm.

The Enterprise reported on a half-dozen local fire departments each of which pumped out scores of flooded basements.

SEMO is holding a meeting next week in Cohoes for municipal officials to gather and learn about the application process and exactly what aid will be available for specific damages.

More information can be found about the aid at www.albanycounty.com.

Cuts sting
Guilderland scales back retirement benefits

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Town workers may be surprised, when they look at their new employee handbooks, to see that some benefits have been cut.

Starting Jan., 1 2008, the town of Guilderland will no longer provide Medicare reimbursements to retirees — but, those already retired will be grand-fathered in at the same rates they are currently receiving.

"They will continue to receive the same reimbursement rates as they did," said Supervisor Kenneth Runion. "But, if the Medicare cost increases, the reimbursements will not."

The town board, without public discussion, decided to cut the reimbursement when revising the employee handbook last year.

Several workers and retirees did not know about the cut until The Enterprise called.

"Wow, that’s not going to settle well," said Pat House. "Boy, everything changes, doesn’t it."

House, a former town animal-control officer and long-time secretary at the police department, said she retired "quite a while ago."

A former town supervisor, Anne T. Rose, a Republican, said she was not aware the cuts had been approved.

"I had heard rumors, something about"they were looking to cut back," Rose said. "But I’m grateful that I have insurance"it’s the health insurance you want."

Rose said that some people are on "very fixed incomes" and would need time to save the extra money.

"I thought, out of courtesy, they would have sent a letter," said Rose. "Just to give people a heads up out of kindness."

Runion told The Enterprise that other towns have done away with Medicare reimbursement programs, or simply never had them, and that Guilderland "held off for as long as we could."

"They just keep chipping away at it," Runion said of insurance providers. "Health insurance has become a large portion of our annual budget"with double digit increases in recent years."

The town used to get a deduction from its insurance provider for the reimbursements, but this year that stopped.

"This year, they don’t differentiate it," Runion said. "You pay the same premium no matter what"We’d be paying more for the retirees than for the working ones."

Runion said town employees are being notified of the change in benefits and that letters will be sent out to individuals.

"We normally don’t do anything retroactively," said Runion. "We normally do things with cutoff dates."

Town workers are not a part of negotiation processes, revisions, or renewals of employee handbook policies, nor are they consulted about them, because it is an "administrative process," Runion said.

"It’s a policy decision established by the town board," he said of the town’s all-Democratic board.

Current workforce

Runion said the number of people retiring from the town is no greater now than it has been in the past, and that it’s not putting a tremendous strain on the town budget. He described the current work force as "mixed" in terms of age.

The town has several types of employees on its payrolls, including union and non-union workers, Civil Service employees, and both appointed and elected officials.

Currently, there are 35 retired town workers over the age of 65, according to the town’s personnel administrator, Stacia Brigadier, and five surviving spouses of retirees, she said.

Depending on the number of years an employee has worked, surviving spouses receive either 35 or 50 percent coverage from Guilderland, according to the 2007 employee handbook.

Medicare is the largest health-insurance program in the nation and is administered by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It covers nearly 40 million Americans who are 65 years or older. Some eligible recipients under the age of 65 who have disabilities can also be enrolled.

Brigadier said nearly 270 employees are listed on the town’s payroll, but, in summer months, the number increases by an additional 150 seasonal part-time employees.

The Police Benevolent Association has 35 employees working in Guilderland and there are 18 Teamsters, who are all on the paramedic staff in the town’s emergency medical services, said Brigadier.

Runion said the PBA "has an entirely different retirement system" than non-union employees.

The town also has a number of Civil Service Employee Association workers.

"It is clear that post-employment benefits are not protected by the unions," Runion told The Enterprise. "There is no union involvement in these matters"because there are no union contracts after they retire."

Aidala’s rule causes flyer flap

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — In a hotly contested school board race, candidates have been told they can’t distribute flyers on school grounds.

"I was flabbergasted," said Barbara Fraterrigo, one of the candidates. "This is a 10-year past practice"You want to educate voters to go into the voting booth, knowing as much as possible about candidates. It has served the district well. I see it as a total infringement of free-speech rights," she said yesterday of the ban.

Superintendent Gregory Aidala, who issued the new rule, said, "The board of education is responsible for how its facility and resources are used. We have to maintain the appearance of not permitting partisan activities on school grounds."

Five candidates are running in the May 15 election for three seats on the nine-member school board.

Two candidates — incumbent Colleen O’Connell and retiring teacher Gloria Towle-Hilt — are running together with the support of the teachers’ union.

The other three candidates — incumbent Fraterrigo, and newcomers John Fraher and Carolyn Kelly, an accountant and an auditor — are running together with the endorsement of Guilderland Parents Advocate, which said, "This next election will be the pivotal point for progress."

On Monday evening, Fraterrigo, her husband, and Kelly handed out election flyers after a school program at Guilderland Elementary School.

Fraterrigo described the flyers as "biographical" and said they were careful to hand them out after the program, so as not to be disruptive; people could choose to read them on their way home or throw them out, she said.

Aidala said someone questioned the school principal about the practice and she passed the question along to him.

"When I don’t know the answer, I call the school attorney to see if it is permissible," said Aidala.

He consulted with Kathy Ann Wolverton of Girvin and Ferlazzo, he said, and was advised against the practice.

Since Altamont Elementary School had a concert scheduled for Tuesday evening, before he had time to call the candidates, Aidala said, he asked the Altamont principal and the district’s music supervisor to tell candidates "politely, this is not permissible."

Fraher and Fraterrigo’s husband had plans to distribute flyers at Altamont Elementary School, which they then abandoned.

On Wednesday, Aidala said, "I telephoned each of the five candidates and explained the situation to them." He followed up with a letter, which he mailed and e-mailed.

"This decision applies to all five candidates equally," he said. "This is not partisan politics on my part."

Fraterrigo, who heads the school board’s policy committee, took exception to the Guilderland decision being based on two decisions by the state’s education commissioner, which she said were not applicable.

"Neither specifically dealt with candidates informing people in the community about their biography or viewpoints," she said, adding that she had consulted with lawyers who saw the commissioner’s decisions as irrelevant to the situation in Guilderland.

"In the old days," said Fraterrigo, "people would hand out literature in the commons." She likened the practice to that and went on about the superintendent, "He said it gives the appearance we’re endorsing a candidate. If I were to hand out literature in Tawasentha Park, would that mean the town was endorsing me"" asked Fraterrigo.

"You want an educated voter," she said. "The other candidates are free to use some shoe leather."

Fraterrigo also said, "There is no policy in place".so you should go with past practice. That would be the fair thing to do."

"Has it taken place previously"" asked Aidala of candidates distributing flyers at school programs. "Yes," he answered himself. "But we had never asked a legal opinion until yesterday," he said on Wednesday. "Now that we asked for a legal opinion, we need to correct it," he said of the practice.

The Enterprise asked Aidala if flyers will be allowed on election day as long as they are distributed outside the 100-foot limit set by election law. "I don’t know the answer to that yet," he said, but the school attorney is working on it. Aidala said he expects an answer by Friday and will be in touch with the candidates about it.

Fraterrigo said that her group had planned to hand out flyers outside the polling places on May 15.

Aidala said that, after the election, he will recommend the board’s policy committee look at it.

"We should have a frank discussion afterwards," agreed Fraterrigo.

But there the agreement ended.

"What schools do in terms of budget votes and board-of-education elections," said Aidala, "is we try to provide information through several vehicles — the newsletter, the district website, the May 2 meet-the-candidates night which aired on Channel 16"We also have The Altamont Enterprise."

He concluded, "I would encourage everyone to vote on May 15."

"Aren’t we all about education" This should be the primary focus," said Fraterrigo. "We should want to reach the electorate so they can vote in an informed way. They put a squash on that"

"I’ll abide by that," she concluded. "We’re not going to raise a stir here." But, after the election, she said, "I would lobby for open government."

At long last
Coherent contract for Guilderland Employees Association

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — For the first time in nearly two decades, the school-district workers who drive the buses, maintain the buildings, and feed the students have a substantially re-written contract.

By unanimous vote Tuesday night, the school board ratified a four-year contract with the Guilderland Employees Association, which has 207 members — not quite a quarter of the district’s employees.

The contract is retroactive to July 1, 2005 and runs through June 30, 2009.

Raises are 3.72 percent for the first year, 3.78 percent for the second year, and 3.9 percent for the third and fourth years of the contract.

School board President Richard Weisz called the contract "a significant negotiation" and said it was "a great effort" on both sides.

"I’m glad it’s done," said board member Peter Golden. "I know it’s been a long time."

Bruce Shank, the association’s president, told The Enterprise that the vote among members had been 150 for the contract, and 20 against.

What he is most pleased about, Shank said, is, "We got to rework the whole contract. It hadn’t been updated in years."

He and Treasurer Joseph Neil estimated it had been 18 years.

Shank praised school administrators for the time and effort they put in. Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Susan Tangorre and Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders negotiated for the school district. Attorney Thomas Jordan represented the association.

The workers left the National Education Association about 13 months ago. "We’re on our own now," said Shank. "The NEA wasn’t getting the job done for us."

The biggest problem, he said, was the relationship the union had with the district. Shank, who has been president of the unit for three years, said, "If you treat people respectful, you get that back."

Tangorre, who has been head of human resources for two-and-a-half years, said yesterday, "We have 12 bargaining units"of very different kinds of people who do different kinds of jobs. We need them all to function as a district".

"Neil and I have approached each group with an equal level of respect"I always value people. It’s a great deal about respect. When you model that, you get the same in return."

"Common ground"

The contract was delayed not because of any standoff in negotiations, but because the association was changing its affiliation. "We were all waiting to start the minute they got acknowledged from PERB," said Tangorre of the Public Employment Relations Board.

The negotiation process itself took time, Tangorre said, because the core contract was at least 18 years old and had many disjointed modifications. "It was really a compilation of about 20 different documents, not bound together in sequential order," she said. "It was really very difficult for employees to know their rights and benefits and for management."

The mission was to write a single contract "in laymen’s terms," said Tangorre. "We took out the ‘whereas’es," she said. Yesterday, she said, she was still doing the final editing on the 42-page document, in preparation for its signing.

Tangorre termed it "a very unusual but collaborative process."

While Jordan said the association was pleased with the contract, he said, "I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘collaborative.’"

"We found some common ground," he said. "We both agreed the document was insufficient. We worked on the language to clarify purpose, to prevent grievances and misunderstandings. It was really cooperation," he said.


The new contract "represents significant gains in compensation," said Jordan.

The wages it outlines, he said, are "comparable if not better than groups in other school districts." He termed the raises "fair, given the cost of living increases everyone is facing."

Jordan went on, "They’re not exorbitant. Most of our members are Guilderland residents and it could affect school-district taxes" if raises were too high.

Tangorre listed for The Enterprise the range of hourly wages for each of the three major categories of workers.

For the current school year, an entry-level custodial worker earns $11.44 and a 10-year worker — at the top step — earns $17.24. In the final year of the contract, 2008-09, an entry-level worker would earn $12.35 and a 10-year worker, $18.61.

A food-service worker at the entry level now earns $9.65 and, in the final year, will earn $10.42. while a 10-year worker now earns $12.95 and, at the end of the contract, will earn $13.98.

A bus driver at the entry level now earns $13.93 an hour and in 2008-09 will earn $15.03 while a 10-year bus driver now earns $20.41 and in the last year of the contract will earn $22.04.

About a third of the association members are part-time workers, said Tangorre.


The new contract sets up a more extensive evaluation system. Workers will now be rated at five levels — unsatisfactory, needs improvement, satisfactory, exceeds expectations, and outstanding.

"Outstanding" is a new category, said Tangorre and, while there are no monetary rewards for the designation, there are psychological benefits, she said. "There are no trips to Aruba," she quipped. "We’re not a corporation."

New employees will be evaluated their first year and, after that, at least once every three years, she said, in five categories — work habits, job knowledge, quality of work, quantity of work, and job attitude.

"Both employees and evaluators make comments," Tangorre said, and there is a written plan for improvement with follow-up within 60 days.

"At each step, the employee has a right to make a comment," said Tangorre.

"Setting forth expectations of employees is a great step forward," said Jordan. "It represents progress". The employees are looking for what the employer expects in terms of job performance. We’ve put in clear expectations. That was never there before. And we’ve set specific time periods for when evaluations should occur."

In the past, Jordan said, workers had not been evaluated "in a timely manner."

Also, he said, for the first time, there will be "objective standards for those evaluations."

Another change Tangorre highlighted from the contract is that the district will provide uniforms for custodial workers, cooks, and food-service workers, so they will be "easily identifiable to the public."

Also, she said, while random drug testing is required by law for bus drivers, the contract also includes it for bus attendants. "They’re the people who are attending to our children," said Tangorre.

A final change is the creation of a labor-management committee. It will be made up of six members — Shank, Tangorre, Sanders, and representatives from food services, transportation, and building and grounds.

The committee will meet regularly, she said. The intent, she said, is not to go directly to grievance. "We can have conversations on contractual issues, safety issues, training or in-service, anything that involves change, like the school calendar," said Tangorre. "It provides a forum for bringing concerns and working out solutions."

"One of the problems the district had in the past," said Jordan, "was there was no effective means to communicate ideas."

The association, he said, has "quite a cross-section" of workers. The majority are bus drivers and so discussion of issues was often dominated by bus drivers, said Jordan.

"Now all issues will be voiced," he said.

Budget review

No members of the public spoke Tuesday at the state-required hearing on the school budget.

Sanders reviewed the $81,942,000 budget proposal and the other three propositions on which voters will decide May 15:

— $835,000 to purchase 11 school buses and a maintenance truck;

— $175,000 to buy eight-tenths of an acre of land on Route 20 in front of Guilderland Elementary School;

— $600,000 to establish a capital reserve fund for renovations to the district’s elementary schools.

Money for the last two propositions would come from the district’s surplus fund balance, Sanders said, "at no additional cost to the school district."

Polls are open at each of Guilderland’s five elementary schools from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Sanders also went over tax rates. This year’s school tax rate for town of Guilderland residents was $18.93 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Since the average house in Guilderland is assessed at $180,000, Sanders said, the average homeowner paid $3,407.04 in school taxes.

If the budget passes, the estimated rate for next year would be $19.40, meaning owners of the same $180,000 house would pay $3,491.53, or about $7.05 more per month in school taxes, Sanders said.

"There are a lot of things to vote on," said school board President Richard Weisz.

In addition to a five-way race for three school board seats, the Guilderland Public Library has two candidates on the ballot for trustees in an uncontested race. The library, which follows school- district boundaries, but is governed by its own board, has a $2.8 million budget up for vote.

To read in-depth coverage of library and school budgets and of school board candidates, go to www.altamontenterprise.com and look under "archives" and then under "Guilderland" for these dates: School budget stories appeared on March 8 and 29 and on April 12; the library budget was reviewed on April 26. School board candidates were profiled on April 19, interviewed on issues on April 26, and the race was covered on May 3.

Contingency budget

If a school budget is voted down, a school board has three choices. It can put the same budget up for vote again one more time. It can come up with a different budget for voters to decide on. Or it can move to a contingency budget.

Last year, Guilderland’s proposed budget, which passed on the first vote, was less than the contingency budget, based on a state-set cap.

"That should never happen again," said Sanders, based on the state’s new approach.

Sanders told the school board Tuesday night about the recent changes the state has made in formulating contingency budgets.

"When they change the definitions three times in two weeks," said Weisz, "there’s this feeling maybe it’s not the concrete line it’s supposed to be."

Sanders said that, in 1998, the state’s legislature capped contingency budgets at 20 percent above the Consumer Price Index or a 4-percent increase, whichever is less.

The first formulation this year excepted debt service and meant, if Guilderland’s $82 million budget were defeated twice, $560,000 would have to be cut.

Then, Sanders said, the state determined foundation aid could be excluded from the cap like debt service. That calculation put Guilderland’s $81,942,000 budget proposal $369,000 below the contingency cap.

Then last week, Sanders said, the state made a further clarification. If a district’s budget proposal, like Guilderland’s, came out to be less than the contingency budget, it would revert to a different model where contingent items would be backed out, so a contingent budget would always be less than a proposed budget.

Under this model, a contingency budget for Guilderland would be $368,500 less than the proposal taxpayers will vote on on May 15.

"The contingent budget changes with what the state wants to convey to taxpayers," said Weisz.

He also said that the point of the state’s most recent formulation is "so the taxpayers have a feeling, if they say no, it matters."

Dorsey strikes out

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Marc Dorsey, a former Altamont police officer who was removed from the force in 2003, will not get a hearing after all.

A decision last Thursday from the Appellate Division, the middle level of New York’s three-tiered court system, reversed a lower-court judgement that had granted Dorsey a hearing after he made claims for back pay; reinstatement to his job; and a hearing, pursuant to section 75 of the state’s Civil Service Law.

Dorsey was suspended from the Altamont department in December of 2003, following stalking charges filed against him in Albany. The charges were dropped in June of 2004, but he was never reinstated.

Dorsey sued the village in the fall of 2005. The following April, Supreme Court Judge Joseph Teresi granted that he was entitled to a hearing.

Section 75 of the Civil Service Law states that an employee with a competitive Civil Service job cannot be removed for disciplinary reasons without a hearing.

The latest ruling, though, says that Dorsey waited too long to make his claim for a hearing. Because Dorsey "took no action to demand pay or reinstatement until November 2004, he exceeded the four-month period permitted to make a demand as well as the four-month period thereafter within which to bring a proceeding," Thursday’s decision says. The panel of judges also ruled, "In light of this determination, we need not address respondents’ remaining contentions."

Dorsey was made full-time under former mayor Paul DeSarbo’s administration. "We were trying to just do him a favor," DeSarbo said of Dorsey, who had been aiming for the Albany Police Department and needed to be full-time in order to get there. "He kind of pulled a fast one on us," DeSarbo said, this week.

After the Albany Police Department found out about the stalking arrest, Dorsey wasn’t hired there, said DeSarbo. He did not know what Dorsey is currently doing. Dorsey could not be reached for comment and his lawyer, Brendan Tully, did not return calls before press time.

As a result of the stalking arrest, Dorsey lost his license to carry a gun, said Dionne Wheatley, who handled the case for the village. Altamont hired Wheatley to handle the case, rather than the village’s lawyer, Guy Roemer, because "Guy’s expertise is not in that area," Mayor James Gaughan said.

The case involving Dorsey’s license revocation was decided by Teresi, the same judge who ruled that he was entitled to a hearing, Wheatley said.

Also, upon finding that the address Dorsey claimed on employment paperwork was false, the Albany County Department of Civil Service revoked his permanent appointment, retroactive to 2003 or 2004, Wheatley said. He had written an address that was within the village; in order to get a permanent appointment in Altamont, one must live in the village, she said.

Dorsey can now file a notice of permission to appeal to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, but the case must address a unique or novel issue of law to be heard, Wheatley said. "It’s my belief that it would probably be dismissed," she said.

Gaughan said of Thursday’s decision, "I’m very pleased its done and over with and behind us."

DeSarbo, too, said that he was pleased with the outcome. He said of Dorsey’s requests, "He didn’t deserve it, nor should he get it."

Luck from around the world charms Altamont

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Years ago, a swaggering kitten, dark as a blackberry in the ripest part of summer, got the name Tuffy, short for Tough Guy, from a man who says he was good luck.

Before black cats became synonymous with misfortune, English sailors prized them for their luck, said Rob Curtiss. Sailors knew that black cats brought good weather because they tested the theory, he said matter-of-factly.

Curtiss has an exhibit of international good luck charms on display at the Altamont Free Library this month.

Part of the display is a carved wooden head of a serene black cat, paw raised in greeting. It is a Japanese prosperity cat, Curtiss said. He cupped his hand next to his ear, mimicking the carved cat, and waved demurely, eyes cast upward, as he told of how the cat waved to the samurai that were coming to raid its monastery.

After the soldiers came, he said, a storm broke and they were trapped. While the storm raged, the monks told the soldiers the story of Buddha. In the end, the samurai became the monastery's greatest benefactors, he said.

Curtiss has taken great care in arranging his various trinkets in the library's glass display case, each with its own hand-labeled sign. An Egyptian scarab sits next to a rhinestone-encrusted ladybug pin, which isn't far from a framed Australian butterfly.

"I’ve traveled," Curtiss said of how he acquired the luck menagerie. "I like to stop at garage sales," he added.

A simple wooden cross, hung with tiny tin charms, is his favorite part of the collection. It is a Milagros, he said, from South America, and it is used to express gratitude for blessings. The heart is the most important charm, he said, because it represents human relationships. Curtiss found the Milagros at a Methodist church sale in Delmar. "They have all sorts of treasures," he said.

Curtiss has long been in the business of curiosities. Doing research for Ripley’s Believe It or Not he discovered an area nurse who had collected hundreds of bed pans; her collection is now on display at the Ripley’s museum, he said.

Once, Curtiss said, he collected research for a series he called: Secrets of Longevity From 100-Year-Old People. What he found, he said, was that the centenarians had spirituality and a support system. "Of course," he added, "genes help, too."

His latest project includes the head of a Buddha statue; its placid face lies sideways on the bottom shelf of the Altamont Library's display cabinet next to a sign labeling it: Smiling Buddha. Rubbing the belly of a Buddha is good luck, Curtiss said. And, as for where this particular head came from, he said, "It might have been at that wonderful church in Delmar."

Another treasure from the East on display is part of a Chinese wedding robe, embroidered with bats for good luck. Bats make a sound that is similar to the Chinese word for luck, said Curtiss, which is something he learned from an artist selling her paintings in the Stockade area of Schenectady — his own hometown.

"I like it when they have a history and they have a life," he said of what draws him to the good-luck charms. "You ever go to the bingo parlor and see all the charms"" he asked.

With high hopes of landing five in a row, people bring along rabbit feet and worry stones rubbed bare, he said; tables at the bingo hall are always piled with good-luck charms.

"Everyone has anxieties," he said. "So they need something strong in their life to cling to."

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