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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 13, 2007

Ricard wins appeal, Redlich continues campaign

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — The complicated election law case between a Democratic Guilderland councilman — Michael Ricard — and a Republican challenger — Warren Redlich — just got more complicated.

On Tuesday, an Appellate Division panel granted an appeal to invalidate Redlich’s petition to run on the Republican ticket for Guilderland Town Board in November.

However, Redlich is still on the ballot and a split vote from the Albany County Board of Elections means that he may or may not stay there. Although Redlich’s first petition is no longer valid, he filed a second petition of substitution on Aug. 1, past the July 26 deadline.

Redlich used the wrong form in his first petition.

His second petition was not challenged and was accepted by the county board of elections. Redlich was substituted for Barbara Davis on the Republican ticket after she declined the nomination.

She was running with Republican Mark Grimm at the time. Davis now chairs Guilderland’s Republican Party and Grimm is still running for town board as a Republican; he is also seeking the Conservative line in Tuesday’s primary.

Incumbent Democratic Councilman Michael Ricard filed a suit against Redlich after his first petition was filed because, he said, Redlich did not have the majority of the committee to fill vacancies sign his petition.

Ricard lost his first suit last week in Supreme Court, the lowest level in the state’s three-tiered system. But he was successful in an appeal in the court’s Third Judicial District, Appellate Division, which reversed the lower court’s decision. The unanimous five-judge decision, however, did not comment on Redlich’s second petition.

The court’s decision stated, "Inasmuch as the validity of the certificate of substitution filed on August 1, 2007 is not properly before us, we will not consider it."

The decision was then sent back to the board of elections, which is run by a Republican and a Democratic commissioner. The commissioners voted along party lines in a 1-to-1 vote, pushing Redlich’s candidacy back into a legal battle between lawyers.

Ricard’s lawyer, Peter Barber, hailed Tuesday’s ruling as a success and said that his client never wanted to "knock Redlich off the ballot." Barber contends that Ricard only wanted to "preserve the integrity of the election process."

Responding through The Enterprise, Redlich said Ricard has "obviously become a political insider" and is using dirty tactics to "deprive the voters of a choice."

"If you’re a political insider, this is one of the tricks you use to knock out other candidates," Redlich said. "Why would he try to do this""Is he worried about me" As an incumbent, you would think Mike Ricard would have clobbered me in an election."

Ricard maintains that election laws and procedures need to be followed by candidates and that the decision to sue Redlich was "nothing personal." Ricard is the longest-serving board member in Guilderland, with 11 years as a councilman.

Redlich said he is pleased to still be on the ballot, but that, if he is removed, he will not mount a "write-in" campaign. Instead, Redlich said he will make a concerted effort to let voters know "why Mike Ricard kicked me off the ballot.

"I don’t have a party financing my campaign"I am paying for this out of my pocket," Redlich said. "If I had to, I would send postcards to every resident in Guilderland and I would write, ‘Listen, you can’t vote for me, and here’s why.’ And I would hand sign each one."

The Albany County Board of Elections’ Republican Commissioner John Graziano said, one way or the other, he thinks a decision should have been made.

"What happened next is that we took the position 1-to-1 to keep him on, with me voting for him," Graziano said of Redlich’s candidacy. "We accepted his petition, it was date-stamped, and we didn’t contest it"We thought the courts would make the decision on this."

Graziano said that election case’s like this are extremely complicated and that the court should have made a decision on the matter instead of sending it back to the board of elections unresolved.

Barber told judges on Tuesday that he doesn’t believe candidates should be granted or denied candidacy based on whether or not their submission was accepted or challenged by the board of elections.

"I can’t ask for something that I wasn’t aware was out there," Barber said of Redlich’s second petition filed after the deadline. "Why would we look after the deadline""

Graziano disagreed, saying, "Historically, everything is accepted"and if nobody challenges it, it stays that way."

According to New York State Election Law, a respondent has three days to appeal a substitution petition filed with the board of elections, said Barber.

"I would say ‘Let them decide,’" Graziano said of Tuesday’s appeal. "But they threw it back at us."

Barber said he is waiting for a written submission by the board of elections, stating they have voted on Redlich’s second petition.

Redlich said that, voters, not judges, should make this type of decision.

As it stands right now, Graziano said of Redlich yesterday, "He’s on the ballot for this fall."

Where the sidewalk ends angers office-building employees

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Angered over the removal of sidewalks around their office building, employees of the 1450 Western Ave. Picotte building have brought the matter to Town Hall.

The five-story Picotte building was undergoing exterior renovations and maintenance crews were installing drainage when they began tearing out sections of sidewalk. In response, workers sent e-mails to Guilderland’s chief building inspector and zoning administrator, Donald Cropsey.

The workers say that, without sidewalks, people are now forced to walk in the roadway along with cars and tractor trailers in order to get inside of the building. The zoning board has ruled that approval was necessary before the sidewalk removal began.

"We got copies of an e-mail from people who work there," Cropsey said about being notified of the issue.

The town’s zoning board listened last Wednesday to Guilderland resident Jerry Hauser, who works in the building, about his dissatisfaction over the project. Hauser, who is active in the Guilderland Community Garden, also sent a letter to The Enterprise editor over the matter. (See letters to the editor.)

"The issue has come up whether or not they can do that," Cropsey said at the meeting of sidewalk removal. The owners of the building cited maintenance, safety, and the desire to expand the building’s landscaping as reasons for the sidewalk removals, according to Cropsey.

Picotte’s head of property management, Joe Miller, did not returns calls to The Enterprise for comment.

Hauser told the board that Picotte management removed two sides of sidewalks from the 26,000-square-foot building "despite the fact they were contacted that this may be inappropriate." The building had sidewalks on all four sides and is surrounded by parking lots and a "drive aisle" on each side.

The Picotte building is adjacent to the Burger King and diagonally across from Stuyvesant Plaza on Western Avenue in McKownville.

"As soon as you step out that door, you’re walking in the street," Hauser said at the meeting. "I can assure you that no one in that building is in support of this"They’re perplexed."

Hauser told The Enterprise that more than 400 people work in the building and that various visitors frequent the building as well. The Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services employ over 300 people and the remaining workers are made up of employees of the New York State Legislative Bill Drafting Commission and private companies.

Referring to an old site plan that Cropsey provided, Zoning Board Chairman Peter Barber determined that the owners of the building need the board’s permission to remove the sidewalks.

"In those old approvals, there’s always a condition that says ‘adherence to the plans as submitted,’ so I think the board was relying upon it," Barber said. "So, if they’re changing it, an amendment to the special-use permit is needed."

Cropsey said on Tuesday that he has been in contact with Picotte’s management, but that there has been no application made to the board for a special-use permit amendment.

The Picotte Companies, headquartered on a 200-acre office park at 20 Corporate Woods Blvd. in Albany, own several commercial buildings in the area.

Hauser said that much of the sidewalk has already been removed.

"When does landscaping take precedence over people’s lives"" Hauser asked The Enterprise.

Hauser stated at last Wednesday’s meeting, "If this weren’t so serious I would laugh at one of the reasons given by Picotte to remove the sidewalks is to put landscaping in."

Barber said that, although Picotte needs an amendment to legally remove the sidewalks, it wouldn’t happen "overnight," because of the time it takes to draw up new site plans.

"We’ve been requiring sidewalks on the side of buildings in which there is parking"I think we’ve always done this"because it’s logical," Barber said. "It doesn’t mean that an applicant can’t come forward and try to propose something different than a sidewalk. Maybe they can propose a different way to get pedestrians into the building."

Barber said that enforcement issues are handled by the town’s code enforcement officer, Rodger Stone, and by the town’s court, not the zoning board. But, he added, if an applicant deviated from a site plan they "might be asked to come back to the board to explain themselves and we could revoke the special-use permit."

The town’s code enforcement officers could also issue fines for being in violation of the town’s code.

Other business

In other business, the zoning board last week unanimously:

— Adjourned a special-use permit and area variance hearing for two weeks on the application of Rebecca Reed to construct a dog kennel on her 200 Foster Lane home;

— Granted an area variance for Mary Reed of 17 Pinewood Rd., to construct a 10-foot overhang onto her patio;

— Tabled the application for an amendment of a special-use permit by Key Bank, located at 2050B Western Ave., inside of Star Plaza. Key Bank has applied for the amendment in order to begin interior and exterior renovations of the bank, but will not expand or alter the footprint of the existing structure; and

— Tabled the application of a use variance for a month for Paul Sciocchetti’s in-ground pool located at his 122 Dedham Post Rd. home. Sciocchetti installed an automatic pool cover instead of the state-required fence around his in-ground pool and is currently waiting on a "pending matter in Guilderland Town Court" and a New York State permit.

During the Aug. 15 zoning board meeting, the board unanimously:

— Approved a side-yard setback variance for William Goergen of 31 Providence St. to construct an addition to his home;

— Granted an area variance to Albert Barcomb of 14 Norfolk St. to construct a detached 20-foot by 24-foot two-stall garage on his corner-lot property. Cropsey said that a variance was necessary because Barcomb’s "house faced a different direction," than the other homes in the area;

— Approved a five-foot front-yard variance for David O’Hehir of 14 York Rd. to construct a 24-by-20-foot attached garage addition to his home. O’Hehir told the board that "being on a corner lot is difficult," and zoning board member Sharon Cupoli called the project a "marked improvement of the neighborhood"It’s nice to see that it’s getting done." Cupoli said she was "definitely in favor" of O’Hehir’s application;

— Approved a five-foot area variance for Joseph Silvestri to construct a 14-by-16-foot sunroom addition to the back of his 1004 DiBella Dr. home. The structure is to be built over an existing patio area, according to Silvestri;

— Granted a special-use permit to Nancy Wideman to create a hair salon inside of her 5 Velina Dr. home. The hair salon will be "by appointment only," according to Wideman and the zoning board found no objections to the application and determined that Wideman’s "doublewide driveway" provides adequate parking. Zoning board member Michael Marcantonio recused himself from the vote;

— Approved a side-yard variance to Pad Chappidi to construct a 12.5-by-8-foot storage shed on his 8024 Gregory Ln. property;

— Granted a sign re-approval to Stewart’s Shop for its Route 155, Mill Hill Court, location. The store made "slight changes" to its site plan by removing one of the four gas pumps originally planned because it could not be seen at the cash register and the store also scaled down its sign footage; and

— Appointed a town-designated engineer to the application of Clearview US, LLC, to install telecommunication towers on the town’s Fort Hunter and Westmere water towers and on Tower Place. Boswell Engineering was appointed to review the application before referring it back to the zoning board. Clearview currently has no antennas or communication towers in Guilderland and is looking to install new ones on three sites in town.

Piles of files
FOIL boxes in Comp’s office since 14

By Jarrett Carroll

ALBANY COUNTY — The Democrat challenging the incumbent comptroller has made a campaign issue of his not answering her request to see his audits.

But the comptroller said yesterday that the requested boxes of audits have been sitting in his office since Aug. 14.

Boxes filled with 128 audits requested by the Patricia Slavick campaign have been compiled for weeks, but no one has come to pick them up or look through them, according to Comptroller Michael Conners.

Slavick’s campaign manager, Donald Csaposs, who filed the Freedom of Information Law request along with Daniel Hornick, said yesterday they didn’t know the audits were ready and that they have not been contacted by either Conners’s office or the county clerk who processes the requests.

Slavick’s campaign workers sent three Freedom of Information Law requests to the comptroller’s office in July. Csaposs said that he was contacted by the county clerk at the end of July and told that he would have information on or before Aug. 15, but says that was the last time he spoke with anyone about the requests.

"I have never received any communication from the comptroller’s office," Csaposs said yesterday.

A copy of an Aug. 14 e-mail sent to Linda Donato in the County Clerk’s Office from Conners’s office confirms that the request was completed. The e-mail also states, "Please have Mr. Csaposs contact me to set up a mutually agreeable time to review the items. Thanks."

Conners’s office confirmed yesterday that the County Clerk’s Office received the e-mail "only minutes" after it was sent.

Csaposs said he never received any such e-mail or confirmation, either written or by telephone, that his FOIL request was completed.

"I didn’t think it was my place to call every two days and say, ‘Did you get anything" Did you get anything" Did you get anything"’" said Csaposs. Slavick agreed with her manager.

"I haven’t been notified of this," Slavick said yesterday of the audits in Conners’s office. "But typically, when a FOIL request is sent, there is some response in five days and then there is either an answer or a reason why the request was denied within 20 days."

The county clerk’s office could not be reached for comment before The Enterprise went to press on Wednesday evening.

Conners said that it was not his office’s responsibility to contact his rival’s campaign once he told the county clerk that the material was ready.

"If you’re really interested in getting some information, why wouldn’t you check up on it for several weeks"" Conners asked. "This manipulation of FOIL is a campaign tactic."

Slavick reiterated that she wasn’t aware of any correspondence between any of the parties involved and appeared surprised by the news.

Calling the audits sought by Csaposs a "substantial waste of resources," Conners said taxpayer money was wasted on answering a FOIL request that was not even accessed. Both Slavick and Csaposs maintain they were never contacted by the county.

As for the campaign at hand, Conners said he has run a "clean campaign" despite several letters written to The Enterprise editor written by his rival’s campaign manager, Csaposs, in recent weeks that he described as "personal attacks."

Conners said that Slavick appeared to be running against him more for political reasons rather than issues.

"This run is nothing but political retribution for running against Breslin," Conners said. "Their campaign has been against my political past"they tried to make an issue where none existed."

Conners unsuccessfully ran against state Senator Neil Breslin in 2004 and irked many fellow Democrats in the state and county parties.

Slavick’s manager, Csaposs, contends that their campaign has been focused on the issues at hand and not political rivalries.

"Mr. Conners is expecting the power of incumbency to carry him into another term"We see no need for last-minute desperation," Csaposs said of the Sept. 18 primary. "And [Slavick] won’t be seen on the street corner holding a sign."

As for a debate between the two candidates, that’s also debatable.

Conners said he has asked to debate Slavick on at least two different occasions, but the Slavick campaign denies this ever happened.

"That assertion is a flat-out lie," Csaposs responded. "He has never communicated with Patricia Slavick whatsoever." Continuing, Csaposs said it is too late to arrange a debate and that if Conners wanted one, "He would have said something a month ago."

"This is last-minute grandstanding," Csaposs concluded.

When asked, Slavick said she was not contacted by Conners for a debate, but that, if she had been contacted earlier about a possible debate, she "would have taken it into consideration."

Conners said his auditing practices are solid and he is confident going into next week’s primary. He concluded by saying, "If you’re interested in a debate, what are you doing tonight or tomorrow""

Golden’s rule
Compare unto others in the largest league

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — One school board member says the district is selling its students short by not comparing itself to similar schools from across the state.

"We're not opposed to reporting on similar schools," says Superintendent Gregory Aidala. "It's out there," he said of data complied by the State Education Department.

Peter Golden, a frequently outspoken school-board member, noted at Tuesday’s board meeting that the school report card this year, which compiles data from required statewide testing, compares Guilderland to other schools in the Suburban Council.

He pointed out that the education department has grouped similar schools from across the state, based on district resources, student needs, and numbers of students with limited English proficiency.

"When I mentioned this to a couple of people involved in education, their response was, basically, that it is not fair for Guilderland to be grouped with downstate schools," he said.

He went on, "The worst part of bigotry is not that people give voice to their spectacular ignorance. It’s that those who are the focus of the prejudice begin to believe it"They internalize a diminished view of themselves."

In the "50-school league" grouped by the sate, said Golden, Guilderland is near the top in such subjects as French and European history but towards the bottom on the eighth-grade English exam.

He said it is "only honest that, if we are going to trumpet excellence at every turn that we compete in a more realistic arena and that we honor the hard work of our teachers and students by showing them that we believe they can compete with anyone, anywhere, any time."

Golden named successful people from upstate New York, ranging from comedian Lucille Ball to writer Joyce Carol Oates and including three United States presidents.

He said he will be presenting a motion at the next board meeting that the administration report the numbers to the board and the public, and that similar-school rankings be included in the district's annual report card.

Aidala responded that the information about similar schools wasn't available from the state this year at the time the report card had to be compiled. The Suburban Council schools, he said, are "our local comparison." Much like the Ivy League schools were initially an athletic league, so, too, were the Suburban Council schools, but both groupings have come to represent other similarities as well.

The report card for 2004-05, Aidala said, included information on similar schools and, he recalled, some board members asked at the time it was presented, "What does this mean in terms of Suburban Council schools""

"There are many, many ways to look at data," said Aidala. He said the most important focus at Guilderland is in using the data to assist students. Students who don’t score well on the state tests are given extra help.

"We have a full plate," Aidala said of the upcoming year. He cited a list of priorities including:

— Hiring a new superintendent and a new high-school principal;

— Launching a foreign-language program in the elementary schools;

— Passing a $27 million referendum to upgrade the schools, improve technology and safety, and build a new district office; and

— Implementing a new technology program.

The superintendent concluded, "I would take exception that in any way we sell our students short or that they are not comparable to their downstate peers."

"Numbers are numbers," said board member Hy Dubowsky.

He said that a $200,000 house here would be worth $1 million on Long Island.

"The concepts of measures is critical"," he said. "One measure is those lousy numbers."

Board President Richard Weisz said that Guilderland had often compared itself to the state's list of similar schools in the annual report card.

But his take, he said, is: "The district is trying to use these scores to improve the delivery of education to the students."

While Guilderland has great programs, he said, the challenge is to make sure it doesn't fail individual kids.

It's best to do the biggest and widest ranking, said Golden.

"We don't look at the test scores for ranking," said Weisz. "That's what the public does."

School board sets Nov. 13 for vote on $27M project

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Voters will decide on Nov. 13 whether the school district should spend $27 million to renovate five elementary schools, improve technology and safety, and build a new district office.

The eight members at Tuesday's school board meeting all voted in favor of a series of resolutions dealing with the referendum.

Board member Hy Dubowsky called it "a very good project." He said, "We will be pleased to go out there and talk to the community about it."

Board President Richard Weisz told the architects from Collins & Scoville who had worked for months with a committee, developing the plans, "We hope the community will join us and celebrate the work you did by turning out for the vote."

Superintendent Gregory Aidala said yesterday that, if the project is approved, the average Guilderland homeowner, with a house valued at $180,000, would pay under $30 a year in taxes.

On Tuesday, the board passed a State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) resolution, naming itself as lead agency and asserting that the project, which involves "maintenance or repair," will have no negative environmental impact.

Second, the board established a $750,000 capital reserve fund, which, Weisz said, "allows us to use the money to reduce the borrowing." The district is required by the state to have less than 3 percent of its budget in a fund balance and Weisz said the new reserve fund will "help solve" that problem.

Third, the board established Nov. 13 as the referendum date; voting will take place all day at each of the five elementary-school polling places.

Finally, the board agreed that, if there are excess funds from the project, it can, at a later date, decide to use those funds for second- and third-tier priorities set up by the facilities committee.

If the public approves the project in November, it could be completed by September of 2010, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told the school board in July.

The plan calls for $17.4 million in renovations to the high school and at the district's five elementary schools.

Upgrades across the district in technology and in safety and security are slated at $5.7 million. And relocating the district office from a building near the middle school to the high school is slated at $3.9 million; the old office will be used for storage.

Opening stats

The district, which has been anticipating a 10-percent drop in enrollment, had slightly more students than it projected for the opening week of school.

"We welcomed 5,404 students," said Superintendent Aidala; this is about 52 more students district-wide than projected but still 21 fewer students than last June.

Elementary enrollment totaled 2,173, a drop of 17, but still higher than expected. Altamont remains the smallest elementary school. Pine Bush gained 20 students and is now just two students shy of the largest school, Guilderland Elementary; if the trend continues, it will be the largest next year, Aidala said.

Middle-school enrollment this year is 1,303. The drop of 59 students was "not a surprise," said Aidala, and was 17 more than projected.

High-school enrollment is 1,928, which is 55 more students than last year and 30 students more than projected.

The district also has 49 new teachers, fairly evenly distributed among the three levels; two-thirds of them have master's degrees, said Aidala.

"We're off to a great start. There inevitably are glitches"" he said of the new school year, "but, for the most part, things are going smoothly."

Other business

In other business, the school board:

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress that she and Westmere Elementary School Principal Debbie Drumm will co-chair an advisory committee that will look at the pros and cons of a full-day kindergarten program. Guilderland currently has a half-day program.

The committee, which will include administrators, teachers, local child-care providers, school-board members, and parents, will study the capacity of the school district to hold a full-day program and also look at other eligible agencies. It will also consider budget implications and the way in which a full-day program may be implemented.

— The committee will present its recommendations to the school board in March;

— Entered into a municpal cooperation agreement for energy purchasing services;

— Approved service contracts with the board of Cooperative Educational Services.

"What really drives most of these programs," said Sanders, "is it would be cost-prohibitive to offer them in -house.";

— Heard from Weisz, who heads the school board's audit committee, that the state comptroller's office, which has audited the district, is expected to give the committee "a first look at their draft comments" on Sept. 27;

— Heard from Denise Eisele, who heads the board's communications committee, that it has "a busy year ahead."

The board will continue to offer "coffee talks," informal meetings with constituents. Pairs of board members are scheduled to be on hand from 10 a.m. to noon on three dates — Oct. 13 and Nov. 3 at the Guilderland Public Library, and Oct. 24 at the YMCA.

Board members will also promote the $27 million project to upgrade facilities at school open houses and PTA meetings.

And the committee plans to discuss teachers' websites. Board member Colleen O'Connell said the goal is to "try to streamline it and get a dialogue going";

— Heard from Weisz concerns about "the annual week of sticker shock." He said he'd like the board's policy committee to look at dealing with the cost of school supplies, currently shouldered by parents.

"Maybe it's time for us to see if we can come up with a way to ease the individual family burden," said Weisz.

Aidala said that this year, for the first time, the middle school purchased materials in bulk and then set up four days in August where the supplies could be purchased at school.

"What we didn't sell, we returned to the vendor," he said.

Weisz said that sometimes a well-meaning teacher asks for a certain kind of notebook, making it more costly for parents. "We need to have a policy that encourages our parents and staff to talk," he said;

— Heard a request from Weisz that each board member present their concept of technology to help guide the staff which must design a technology program; and

— Met in closed session to review four things — a student matter, administrative performance, the contract for an about-to-be-hired superintendent, and candidates for a new high-school principal.

Aidala told The Enterprise yesterday that no actions were taken after the closed session.

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