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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 14, 2008

Just kidding"
Redlich’s posts on Spoof website creates furor at Town Hall

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Campaigns for the town’s hotly contested board seats ended in November, but partisans are still digging up dirt, and political signs from last fall are still making appearances at Town Hall.

Councilman Warren Redlich, one of two Republicans who took office in January on what had been an all-Democratic board, has been posting articles on The Spoof, a satiric news website, since May. Donald Csaposs, the town’s development director and a Democratic insider, calls Redlich’s articles "patently offensive."

Before the fall election, Csaposs said, he had seen articles written about Redlich on the site, and he went back to it this weekend to see if Redlich himself had written anything. The two have engaged in heated debates on local blogs.

Csaposs expected to find postings about Ron Paul, the former Republican presidential hopeful whom Redlich strongly supported, said Csaposs. When the site showed Redlich’s roughly 150 articles, Csaposs said, it was "Ron Paul, Ron Paul, Ron Paul, Ron Paul, and, all of a sudden, these young cheeks."

The bulk of Redlich’s posts focus on national political figures, but a handful center on young celebrities, like the one with a picture of a young woman’s be-thonged bottom that Csaposs cited. "Jamie Lynn Spears Promotes Teen MILF Fashion," is the headline for the story that goes on to detail a fictional line of clothing designed by the pregnant starlet.

"I write spoof news articles for a spoof newspaper," said Redlich on Wednesday when asked about Csaposs’s concerns. Referring to the town’s Democratic supervisor, he continued, "What’s going on is Ken Runion and Don Csaposs will do anything" to avoid talking about the real issues."

Redlich, who ran on a platform of assessment reform, had tried to get the issue on the agenda for Tuesday night’s town board meeting. In an e-mail to Supervisor Runion, Redlich asked that a discussion about assessment, centered on two properties on Route 20 with vastly different assessments, be added to the agenda. Runion answered that Redlich should discuss particular concerns with the assessor.

After the pledge of allegiance had been recited and before the board addressed its first agenda item on Tuesday, Redlich read the e-mail dialogue aloud and asked, again, that the discussion be added to the agenda. During the ensuing argument among board members, Redlich reached down and held up one of his red and white campaign signs, with "fair tax assessment" written under his name.

The content of some of Redlich’s posts are inappropriate for an elected official, Csaposs told The Enterprise. There’s a difference between a private citizen and a town board member posting things of that nature, he said. "There’s free speech, but free speech operates best when there’s some kind of moral compass," he said, adding that Redlich is supposed to act as the moral compass for Guilderland’s 35,000 residents.

"We have not yet had a genuine discussion about the assessment process," Redlich said on Wednesday. At previous town board meetings, he has brought up the issue and invited the assessor to attend a meeting and discuss the process with the board. "That’s what the voters care about," he said yesterday. "You can talk about moral compass till you’re blue in the face."

Redlich’s running mate in the November election, Republican Councilman Mark Grimm, said that he hadn’t read the Spoof articles and doesn’t plan to. "It has nothing to do with our broken assessment system or our secretive government," he said. Grimm ran on a platform of opening up Town Hall. "That’s what people are concerned with," he said, calling Csaposs’s making an issue of the articles a distraction technique.

"If I found that last fall," Csaposs, who was involved in the Democrats’ campaigns, said of Redlich’s Spoof postings, "I would have made every effort to use it to keep him from sitting up on that dais. I don’t think people take to that stuff."

When Csaposs looked at The Spoof last fall, he saw articles written about Redlich by Jeff Vachon, a comedy writer living in California. "I thought it was an interesting election with a lot of backstabbing and politicking," Vachon said yesterday. Although he doesn’t know Guilderland very well — he calls it "the virtually unknown town of Guilderland, N.Y." — he took an interest in writing on local politics when fellow Spoof-writer Redlich challenged Spoof contributors to write about him.

"I figured this was a golden opportunity to poke a little fun at one of the writers," Vachon said in a phone interview from California.

A disclaimer displayed on just about every page of the website states, "All items on this website are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental or is intended purely as a satire, parody or spoof."

"Disclaimer aside, I think that content is the product of a disturbed mind," said Csaposs. He called Redlich a "sexist pig" along with more accusatory epithets and he said, "I wonder whether a referral to Child Protective Services is in order."

Runion called the articles "offensive and degrading." If a town police officer were to do what Redlich has, he or she would be fired, Runion said. "The postings would violate the town policy," he said, referring to the sexual harassment policy, which, he noted, the town board is responsible for enforcing.

Last year, Guilderland’s long-time police chief retired after being accused of sexual harassment, among other things.

"Number one, he owes the town residents an apology for engaging in that type of behavior," Runion said of how Redlich should react. Of residents, he added, "They should be calling for this guy’s resignation."

To the same question, Csaposs answered, "I think for me to say he should step down over it would be wishful thinking."

Legal action"
Top cops threaten to take town to court

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Two police officers vying to be chief served a letter on the town, warning of likely legal action.

"Please be advised that I represent Acting Chief Carol Lawlor and Lieutenant Curtis Cox in connection with a matter that I expect will come before the Town Board in the near future," wrote attorney Paul Clyne to the town in a letter dated Feb. 11.

Guilderland’s long-time police chief retired last year after allegations had been made against him. Lawlor has been acting chief and Cox is second in command. The town board has yet to name a new chief, but the two recently-elected Republican councilmen have advocated widening the search beyond Cox and Lawlor and accused the Democrats of only looking in-house.

Clyne’s letter cites a quote from a Times Union blog entry posted by Republican Councilman Warren Redlich in which he refers to the two officers as "political flunkies." The Feb. 7 post also says that one police-chief candidate had eight lawn signs on his small parcel supporting the Democrats in the fall elections. And it references an officer’s appearance at the Democrat’s election-night event: "The appearance of court officials and police administration at a partisan event does not bode well for Guilderland," wrote Redlich.

Section 201-d of the state’s labor law, as noted in Clyne’s letter, protects employees from discrimination based on their political activities.

A letter dated four days earlier, on Feb. 7, from Democratic Supervisor Kenneth Runion to Redlich says of the councilman’s blog post, "The comment indicated a discriminatory bias against two members of the Guilderland Police Department." The letter goes on to cite the same section of law: "Unfortunately, as the Town’s Affirmative Action Officer," Runion, a lawyer, wrote, "I believe your comments" may be interpreted as a violation of Section 201-d of the New York State Labor Law which prohibits an employer from discriminating against individuals for their political activity or beliefs. Section 201-d authorizes individuals who are aggrieved to commence an action for equitable relief and damages."

There are a couple of "remedies" available to Lawlor and Cox, Clyne said on Wednesday. He named money damages or equitable relief, which would keep parties who have demonstrated an unfair bias against them from voting on their appointment.

Clyne, the former Albany County District Attorney, who has practiced mostly criminal law for the last 20 years, said that he has never seen someone who is in a position to vote on a Civil Service appointment say, before the test has been taken, "This person is not my cup of tea."

Both Lawlor and Cox are set to take the March 8 promotion-class Civil Service exam.

Redlich, a lawyer, isn’t opposed to either of the candidates from the Guilderland Police Department, he said. And, more than once, he said, "We just want an open process."

He doesn’t expect that any litigation will come, because, he said, the chief of police is a policy-making position and he cited a Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, summarizing it in an e-mail message, "Although a firing based on an employee’s political affiliation ordinarily is an infringement on First Amendment rights, ... the Supreme Court has indicated that, for some positions, political affiliation is a permissible employment criterion. In Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois... the Supreme Court summarized the exception it had developed in Elrod and Branti: ‘In Elrod, we suggested that policy-making and confidential employees probably could be dismissed on the basis of their political views.’"

Redlich said he looked up that decision after the town board discussed Clyne’s letter in executive session on Tuesday night. The town board voted 3-2, along party lines, to hire attorney Claudia Ryan, for $175 an hour and a retainer not to exceed $2,650. Redlich said that he voted against the motion because, "We’ve got a bunch of lawyers on the board." In addition to Redlich and Runion, Councilman Paul Pastore is also a lawyer.

Runion, who voted for the motion, said that the town chose Ryan because she had worked with Guilderland before, so she’s familiar with the town’s policy, and she specializes in employment law.

"She represented us in the Murley case," Runion said. James Murley had been the town’s police chief for 30 years. He resigned in May after being suspended following charges of not keeping accurate attendance records, misconduct with vendors, sexual harassment, and violating the town’s ethics law. Lawlor has been acting as chief since his departure.

Lawlor and Cox sought a lawyer because they wanted "a fair playing field," Lawlor said yesterday. "I’m a believer of promoting from within if you have qualified candidates," she said. "You have two qualified candidates."

Other business

In other business at its Tuesday meeting, the board:

— Voted unanimously to authorize the highway superintendent to bid for items for use in 2008;

— Voted unanimously to grant permission to the residents of 3 Paden Circle to build a garage on part of a sanitary sewer easement. Superintendent of Water and Wastewater Management William West said that there would be no negative impact from the project;

— Voted unanimously to set a public hearing on the agency plan for the town of Guilderland Section 8 housing choice voucher program for 7:30 p.m. on April 1;

— Voted unanimously to waive the building permit fee at 403 Vesper Court since the home had been destroyed by fire;

— Voted unanimously to authorize the superintendent of the transfer station to go out to bid for the grinding and removal of yard waste for 2008;

— Voted unanimously to authorize the transfer station to hold two hazardous waste days at the highway department. One will be on May 17 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the other will be on Sept. 20 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The transfer station will also participate in the Regional Electronics Collection Day on April 26 from 7a.m. to 1 p.m.;

— Voted unanimously to authorize the submission of a grant application with the state’s department of environmental conservation in the amount of $39,875 for conduct of two hazardous waste days and participation in the Regional Electronics Collection Day;

— Voted unanimously to approve the designation of Menger Lane as a private road, which will help sort out confusion for 911 calls between two residences with similar addresses;

— Voted unanimously to appoint Thomas DeLeon as director of emergency services from the Albany County Civil Service list;

— Voted 4-0, after Redlich recused himself because he has practiced law in Guilderland Town Court, to appoint John Thornton as a part-time court attendant;

— Voted unanimously to appoint Joseph M. Normandin as a police officer as a lateral transfer to fill a vacancy, effective March 3; and

— Voted unanimously, after discussion in an executive session, to promote Officer Eric Batchelder to sergeant from the Albany County Civil Service list, effective Feb. 25.

Closed captions costly

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — While campaigning last fall, Councilman Mark Grimm heard resident Albert Molis’s concern about the lack of closed captioning available for the hearing impaired on the town’s public television channel.

Now Molis is looking for the town to deliver.

"There are a lot of citizens, seniors and other, who are hearing impaired and need the captioning for all their television programs," wrote Molis in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week.

Tom Quaglieri, of What’s Happenin’ Productions, the company that handles the broadcasting of town meetings, estimated that closed captioning would cost between $250 and $300 per meeting. "It would be quite expensive," he said, guessing it could cost roughly $30,000 per year for the town to provide the service for all of its meetings.

Governor Eliot Spitzer is encouraging wider use of closed captioning, Quaglieri said.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion estimated an "initial investment" of $7,000 and then about $30,000 a year to provide closed captioning on town meetings. He has asked the town’s grant writer, Donald Csaposs, to look into grant opportunities in light of the governor’s interest in the service, he said on Wednesday.

When asked on Wednesday about the campaign visit, Grimm recalled it, saying, "We should take a look at it." And, although it wasn’t part of his platform, he said, he’d like to see it happen, "If it’s financially feasible."

Westmere, Giffen students combine to rap Origin of successful blacks

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — "Entrepreneurs, they never give up. They’re always on the rise and they’re always moving up," chanted the kids lining the stage at Westmere Elementary School Tuesday morning.

The cacophony of sound from the enthusiastic crowd of spectators quieted as the steady beat of rap music filled the air.

Every kid on stage knew the words, and they spoke as one. They looked proud and self-possessed, more like seasoned performers than 10- and 11-year-olds.

"They completely owned it," said Westmere teacher Todd Giagni. "The process was meaningful to them. They lived it so much, they knew it was important."

Black and white kids performed the rap song together in celebration of Black History Month. Half of the fifth-graders were from Westmere, in suburban Guilderland, and half were from Giffen Elementary in the city of Albany.

The theme for Black History Month at Giffen this year is to recognize black entrepreneurs.

Tuesday’s performance, which will be repeated today at Giffen, started with four students defining the word "entrepreneur" and presenting pictures and biographies of African-American entrepreneurs — ranging from the famous like Oprah Winfrey and Duke Ellington to the lesser known like John H. Murphy, who published newspapers in Texas, and Frederick McKinley Jones, an inventor with 60 patents, most of them in the field of refrigeration.

The lyrics the kids had hammered out together, in catchy rhymed couplets, told about these entrepreneurs. "Frederick McKinley was a hardworking man," they sang. "He never gave up, and he always lent a hand."

"They love hip-hop"

The project was the brainchild of two teachers who are also musicians and use music in their classrooms — Jeremy Dudley from Giffen and Todd Giagni from Westmere.

They came together at the suggestion of Micki Nevett, Westmere’s beloved librarian who died in December of a heart attack. She had seen Dudley, a rapper who goes by the name of "Origin," perform and suggested Giagni give him a call.

Dudley — who has, for three years running, been voted the best local hiphop artist by the readers’ poll at Metroland, Albany’s alternative weekly — performed at the Westmere assembly Tuesday.

He seemed to snatch words from the air as he got the kids in the audience to shout in unison, completing the couplets to "An Unfinished Song."

With the agility of a cat, he leapt about the gym, in nearly constant rhythmic motion, gesturing to his ear when it was time for the kids to complete a rhymed line.

"This is the last verse; let’s see what you got, ready or —"

"Not!" shouted the kids.

Dudley told The Enterprise after the show that he was introduced to rap in the ’80s by his aunt and it seemed natural to him to use it in his teaching. He’s been at Giffen for eight years.

"We try to meet our students where they’re at," he said. "They love hip-hop music, hip-hop culture. They enjoy performing. If I can give them math facts to a beat, they love it."

When kids tell him they want to be in his class, he said, "I always tell them to be careful what they wish for. We work hard."

Asked if it is unusual that he is a rap artist since he is white, Dudley said, "In the mainstream, yes, but not in the underground."

Would he like to be mainstream" "I would like to reach as many people as I can," said Dudley. "I’m not after fame and money...I want to make widespread change."

He gave as an example a song he wrote called, "Come Home, Dad."

"It’s about children that don’t know their fathers," said Dudley. "It makes such a difference to have a father in your life, like I did," he said.

"An easy transcender"

Giagni’s father was important to him, too. His father started out in a warehouse and worked his way up to become vice president of a company.

"My father loved reggae," said Giagni. He would talk to the workers in the warehouse; a group of them were musicians from South America and Jamaica. They would come over to the vice president’s East Greenbush house to play reggae, accompanied by Todd Giagni, a drummer.

Asked if it made a difference that Giagni was white, playing in a reggae band, he said, "Music is an easy transcender. If you know the roots of the music, anything goes."

Rather than going right to college after high school, Giagni played in a series of bands. He made a promise to himself at age 17: "If I didn’t make it in music, I’d go to college," he said.

He was true to his word. Giagni, at 38, has a bachelor’s degree from The College of Saint Rose, a master’s degree from the University at Albany, and he’s currently studying at Saint Rose for a school building leadership certificate with the goal of becoming a principal.

When he came to Guilderland four years ago, Giagni started using music in his classroom. He got a Macintosh computer with GarageBand software, which, he said, is "like a mini-recording studio."

"I decided to record my kids’ poetry," he said. He played different beats for his students and told them, "Think about the mood and theme"See what would fit your needs."

"I ended up creating original music for them," he said. "They love it. They take the CD, download it, put it on their iPods, and share it."

Giagni and his wife, Kelly, who is also a teacher, taught at a town camp last summer in a program they named "And the Next American Idol Is." The kids wrote original songs, which Giagni recorded.

Working with Dudley and the Giffen students added a new dimension.

"For us, there was a tear in our eye," he said of watching kids from two different communities come together. "They just saw kids who were 10 years old. We were waiting for comments," he said on racial or economic differences, but there were none. "That was the beauty of it," said Giagni. "It doesn’t even cross their minds," he said of the division between suburban and city communities. "It’s created."

The students visited each other’s schools, researching black entrepreneurs together online and in encyclopedias.

Dudley presented them with 10 different beats and they voted on their favorite.

"Jeremy started playing it and talked about writing couplets," said Giagni.

The students then worked together on coming up with the words to fit the rhythms and then rehearsed the final version.

"The tearjerker for me," Giagni said on Tuesday night, "was some of the kids who aren’t performers every single day"I need to call their parents and say, ‘He was a different kid today. Something was magical.’"

Giagni said that, after the performance, other teachers said of Giagni and Dudley, "Both of you were entrepreneurs. You took a risk in doing this."

He concluded, "Here the schools are just two miles apart and they seem a world away."

Deborah Drumm, the principal of Westmere Elementary, closed Tuesday’s program by reading a poem by Muhammad Ali: "Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside of them — a desire, a dream, a vision."

Drumm concluded, "It’s one world and we’re all in it. We all care and appreciate one another."

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