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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 29, 2005

Kutey kills himself in jail

By Matt Cook

COLONIE — Jason Kutey, jailed for kidnapping and threatening his ex-girlfriend, killed himself in his cell Wednesday morning at the Albany County Correctional Facility, police say.

Kutey, 28, who in June had held his ex-girlfriend hostage in her new boyfriend’s home in Guilderland, was sent to jail last Tuesday. He was sentenced in Albany County Court to 16-and-a-half years in prison for second-degree kidnapping and first-degree burglary. In May, he had been arrested by the Colonie Police for using handcuffs to kidnap his ex-girlfriend and taking her to Lake Placid. A month later, out on bail, Kutey was arrested in Guilderland after holding the same woman hostage with an assault rifle in her new boyfriend’s home, on Woodscape Drive.

Under Kutey’s guilty plea, he received one sentence for both the Guilderland and Colonie charges.

Kutey’s lawyer, E. Stewart Jones, was unavailable for comment yesterday. Last week, after the sentencing, he told The Enterprise Kutey should have received a substantially-lesser sentence. Kutey has a history of psychological problems, Jones said, but he never intended to hurt anyone.

"He needs psychological help, counseling, treatment," Jones said. "The prison system is not good at providing that." Jones also said last week that Kutey was planning to appeal and that Jones was requesting Kutey receive counseling in prison.

Kutey’s ex-girlfriend said at the sentencing that she never felt threatened by Kutey, Jones said. "She said that Jason needs help," he said.

According to Sheriff James Campbell, Kutey’s body was discovered at 10:30 Wednesday morning by a corrections officer conducting a count. The officer found Kutey in his bed with a blanket pulled over his head, the sheriff’s department says. The officer pulled back the blanket and found a plastic bag tied over Kutey’s head with socks, the sheriff’s department says.

The jail’s medical staff attempted CPR, but Albany County Coroner Philip Furie declared Kutey dead at the scene, the sheriff’s department says.

Campbell told The Enterprise Kutey was not under observation for any psychological issues.

"He had no mental health problems," Campbell said.

Campbell said his department will conduct an investigation into the death, as will the New York State Department of Correctional Services. When asked if something was done wrong by the prison staff, Campbell said, "We can’t tell that right now."

This is the second suicide at the jail in 2005. The last was in June. Before that, Campbell said, there hadn’t been one since 1998. Currently, the jail houses 733 inmates.

"Obsessive love"

In court papers in May, Kutey’s ex-girlfriend described her ordeal as Kutey drove her up the Northway to a cabin in Lake Placid.

"I was very scared," she wrote. "Jason told me that he was going to kill himself and he wanted me to watch because I broke up with him."

After spending a night at the cabin, the woman told Kutey she would give him a second chance, and he agreed to take her back to her car in Latham. The Colonie Police arrested Kutey shortly after he dropped off his ex-girlfriend.

The woman’s Delmar roommate had called the Bethlehem Police after she couldn’t reach her roommate on her cellphone or Kutey’s cellphone. Kutey had called the roommate the night before and said his ex-girlfriend was spending the night with him.

"I was worried about her and, at that point, it just felt weird," the roommate wrote in a deposition. "I knew that [she] wasn’t going to get back together with Jason and that she was with a new boyfriend. It didn’t add up."

In June, over a hundred police officers and paramedics swarmed the quiet McKownville neighborhood where Kutey was holding his ex-girlfriend inside her new boyfriend’s house.

Albany Police Detective Jack Grogan told The Enterprise after the incident how, after two hours, he got Kutey to surrender to police and let the woman go.

Grogan didn’t think Kutey was a threat to the woman, he said. Grogan actually had to convince her to leave the house, because she was worried Kutey would kill himself, Grogan said. About 10 minutes later, he convinced Kutey to come out, too.

During the dramatic exchange Kutey had with Grogan, Kutey revealed that he just wanted someone to listen, the detective said.

"They broke up and he couldn’t handle it," he said.

"There’s no question the events that occurred were not normal circumstances," Jones said last week. "But, it was not a true hostage situation. He was not someone acting out of intention to harm. It was obsessive love. He had the misguided belief that he could win her back, that taking these steps showed he cared for her."

Guilderland police get 4% raises for two years

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — The town board approved a two-year contract for the Guilderland Police last Tuesday.

Sergeants, investigators, and officers will receive 4-percent salary increases in 2006 and in 2007, said Supervisor Kenneth Runion.

The Guilderland Police Department has 34 members. In 2005, their salaries ranged from $49,731 to $75,000, according to Stacie Brigadier in the supervisor’s office.

The Guilderland chief and two lieutenants are not part of the bargaining unit, Runion said, but all three will get a 4-percent salary increase. In 2006, Chief James Murley will earn $90,843. Lieutenants Curtis Cox and Carol Lawlor will make $75,869.

Other changes to the contract include the addition of a personal day for officers and changing in shift-bidding requirements, Runion said.

"And, there were technical language changes," he said. "There wasn’t a lot to it."

Asked if the contract negotiations had any sticking points, Runion said, "No, not really."

Officer William Dvorszak, the police union’s president, could not be reached for comment this week.

Last January, the town and police union agreed to extend their contract to cover 2005, instead of creating a new, two-year contract. This was because insurance and retirement costs had placed a large burden on the town budget, Runion said then.

The police department recognized the increased financial burden on the town, Officer Brian Forte, former union president, told The Enterprise in January.

"We wanted to work with the town in a good faith effort," he said.

Of Runion, Forte said, "He felt, with insurance rates so high and retirement costs this year, he wouldn’t be able to move on the items we requested."

So, the police agreed to a one-year contract extension for 2005, he said, with room for improvement in 2006. Under the 2005 contract, officers got a 2-percent salary increase on Jan. 1 and another 2-percent increase in July.

Asked this week if he felt the 2006 contract was improved from the 2005 agreement, Runion said he didn’t. Both contracts gave officers 4-percent salary increases, he said.

Other business

In other business, last Tuesday, the town board:

— Approved settlements for two property owners that contested their 2005 assessments. The town had its revaluation this year for the first time in six years. Many residents were upset because of the large increase in value of most Guilderland properties.

While 400 contested their assessments at annual Grievance Day, only 42 had their assessments reduced.

The town board Tuesday agreed to lower the assessment of Carpenter Village by $100 and to lower that of residents at 1 Ashford Drive by less than $10, Runion said.

More assessments, disputed in small-claims court, are being discussed between the town and property owners now, Runion said;

— Approved a warrant adjustment for 3416 Lydius St. because of a faulty water meter;

— Announced that the town’s reorganizational meeting will be on Tuesday, Jan. 3, at 5:30 p.m.; and

— Awarded bids for the sale of surplus items held by the police department.

Guilderland: 2005 in review

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — While angry residents stormed Town Hall several times this year, a resolution was found for nearly each conflict.

Large landowners met with town officials and both compromised on a final plan for rural Guilderland. The supervisor and Guilderhaven, a local group that cares for stray animals, found a way to work together and the town’s animal shelter was renovated. And, after many contested their high assessments on Grievance Day, most accepted their new land values.

In addition to Guilderland’s completing its rural guidelines, planning was an issue in other areas as the Northeastern Industrial Park submitted a draft of its environmental impact study and the city of Watervliet announced plans to raise the reservoir. The town also implemented a new water filtration system in September; it has seen cleaner water already, officials said.

After a week-and-a-half trial in June, Erick Westervelt, a college student from Guilderland, was found guilty of second-degree murder. Although he and his family maintained his innocence, Westervelt was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

A month before, another Guilderland native, Hashim Burnell, was charged with the shooting death of Todd Pianowski, also of Guilderland. Burnell pleaded not guilty and a trial has not yet been scheduled.

At the beginning of the year, Pyramid Cos., the corporation that owns Crossgates Mall, the town’s largest taxpayer, ended its 12-year fight with the town and school district. It accepted the town’s assessment of the mall, which is over $80 million more than Pyramid had claimed it was worth.

In the summer, after arrests followed several gang-related incidents at the mall, its management enacted a curfew. Now, on Friday and Saturday nights, those under 18 need a parental escort to shop in the mall. Since the curfew, however, more people have been arrested at Crossgates.

Also this year, Guilderland Democrats again dominated November’s election, gaining all posts. And, Denise Randall made history as she was the first female to be elected judge in Guilderland.

By less than 200 votes, Randall ousted Republican Judge Steven J. Simon, who has been town justice for 25 years. This is the first time in Guilderland that both town justices will be Democrats.

This will be the third consecutive term in Guilderland’s more than 200-year history that the town board will be controlled by all Democrats with a Democratic supervisor.

But, the election was not without controversy, over debates, a candidate’s eligibility, and an incumbent’s nomination.

Rural Guilderland

In October, the town board changed the zoning in much of western Guilderland. The change was part of enacting the rural Guilderland plan — adopted in July and drafted over two years — that some residents first fought and then, with compromise, came to praise.

The new zones, called Agricultural-Rural 3 and 5, will keep the characteristics of the old Agricultural zones, but will encourage clustering and open-space preservation, said Supervisor Kenneth Runion.

The rural Guilderland plan was drafted by John Behan, of Behan Planning Associates, as part of the town’s implementing its comprehensive land-use plan.

Behan worked for over a year on town guidelines for farmland and open-space conservation. His plan consists of an open-space and farmland protection plan, rural design guidelines for the town, and a proposal for a new hamlet zoning district.

The first public hearing on the plan was packed with over 100 people and many voiced strong objections. Residents formed the group LOGIC, Landowners Offering Guilderland Intelligent Choices, which was among the protesters.

Some LOGIC members said that selling their land is how they plan to support themselves in retirement. If the town put zoning or lot-size restrictions on their properties, they said, the land will be devalued if they try to sell it.

Behan told The Enterprise in response that this wasn’t true. Smart zoning helps protect property values, he said.

The western half of town, which, except for the village of Altamont, does not have municipal water, is rural while the eastern part — with water — is largely developed.

During the earlier public meetings, some residents and LOGIC members said they wanted town water so their part of town could be developed. Others stated they were glad western Guilderland does not have municipal water, because that keeps developers away.

At the final hearing, no one spoke against the plan and LOGIC members thanked the town supervisor and board, the town planner, and Behan for working with them.

This is because the town and Behan agreed to slightly change the plan. The modifications included increasing the size of proposed country hamlet districts from 40 acres to 160 acres. The idea of clustering, to encourage open space, remains, but more businesses are allowed.

The adopted plan offers more incentives for maintaining open space in a country hamlet. Before, landowners who kept over 60 percent of their land as open space got a density bonus from the town. Now, if they maintain 75 percent or more as open, the landowner will be awarded additional bonuses.

Also, if developers agree to extend public water along corridors where water is not currently provided, they may be awarded bonuses.

Animal shelter changes

In November of 2004, Runion decided to change the policy at the town-owned animal shelter, so that dogs who are not adopted in a certain period of time would be sent to another shelter, where they could have been killed.

Guilderhaven volunteers were angry, their spokesperson, Sue Green, said in January after negotiations with the town broke down, because they spent months raising $100,000 — in cash and donated services — for renovations to the shelter on the premise that Guilderland runs a no-kill shelter.

Runion responded that the new policy would save taxpayers money and would be more fair to the abandoned animals at the shelter. Dogs would have had 90 days under Runion’s policy to be adopted before they were sent to a kill shelter. This, Runion said, was more humane then having an animal live alone in a cage for years.

A week after the Enterprise story ran, residents packed a town board meeting, speaking out against the policy. But Runion began the meeting by saying he had rescinded the kill policy. He was trying to do what was best for the town’s dogs, he said.

Under the town’s new policy, if a dog’s owner can’t be located and a rescue organization does not want the animal, the dog will be evaluated by an animal behaviorist and possibly trained.

Guilderhaven members were happy with this, but then another conflict occurred.

In July, Green claimed the town was not accepting Guilderland’s check for over $40,000 in cash donations for the shelter’s renovation.

Runion said he was willing to take the funds, but, the check came with a list of conditions, saying that the town can cash it if Guilderhaven has control over decisions for the project. Runion said the town was locked into a position where it couldn’t accept the money because of the conditions.

In September, after several rounds of negotiations, Guilderhaven agreed to give the town the funds with no strings attached. For the rest of the fall, work continued to rebuild and renovate the shelter.

Town revaluation

The town, including the village of Altamont, had its revaluation this year for the first time in six years. Many residents were upset because of the large increase in value of most Guilderland properties.

Tuesday, May 24, the state-set day for citizens to contest their assessments, known as Grievance Day, was chaotic at Guilderland Town Hall as hundreds of angry residents waited for hours to have two minutes each with the town’s board of assessment review.

From 8 a.m. until midnight on Grievance Day, 238 residents went before the Guilderland board. Another 250 people filed their grievances and did not wait to speak to the board. Only 42 had their assessments lowered.

Assessor Carol Wysomski said earlier she expected a high number of grievances. In March, her office was bombarded with calls and visits from people who were alarmed with the level of increase to their homes, since taxes are based on property values.

The Enterprise reported then on the informal hearings Wysomski had scheduled for residents. Nearly 600 people came to her office and she explained to them how she came up with their assessments, she said.

The 488 people not satisfied with this, however, chose to come to Grievance Day.

For the past five years, the average home in Guilderland has been assessed at $125,000, Wysomski said earlier. The new average is about $180,000, she said.

"The market is up because interest rates are down," Wysomski said of the reason for the large increase. "I have 1,200-square-foot ranches in Westmere that were $119,000 that are now $180,000."

A review of Guilderland’s new assessment roll by The Enterprise showed that almost all properties had increased in value; very few had decreased or remained the same. Overall, the tax base increased by about $800 million, Wysomski said earlier.

Revaluation is fair, Wysomski explained, because, without it, as newcomers move to a town, they pay taxes based on the price they paid for their property while parcels that haven’t sold recently usually remain at a lower rate, skewing the tax rolls.

As the town board drafted its budget, it decided to appoint extra members to its board of assessment review for next year. These members won’t be able to vote, but can hear cases and give their opinions to the voting members. This is to make Grievance Day run faster and more smoothly.

Industrial park plans

The privately-owned Northeastern Industrial Park — located on Route 146 in Guilderland Center — has, this summer, after years of requests by the town, submitted a draft of its environmental-impact study for the town’s master plan.

The town has been waiting since 1999 for the industrial park to submit its environmental impact study. The town and zoning board decided then that the industrial park was appearing before the zoning board too frequently for new development, Runion said.

While adding individual warehouses to the industrial park does not create a significant impact, many businesses do, he said. The town then asked the industrial park for an environmental-impact study.

Six years after the industrial park was to submit a plan, the draft of an environmental study was announced, at the July town board meeting.

The industrial park is located on 550 acres in Guilderland Center, along Route 146 and Depot Road. The industrial park has been in operation since 1969 and contains 2.9 million square feet of warehouse space.

Land use at the industrial park is primarily warehouses and offices to support the warehouses, the report says. Surrounding the industrial park are: the CSX railroad, along the eastern edge; residences and the Guilderland High School, to the north; residences, agricultural land, and forested land, to the west; and industrial, residential, agricultural, and forested land, to the south.

According to the environmental-impact statement, the industrial park’s yet-to-be-revealed master plan proposes 1.6 million square feet of new industrial use; 160,000 square feet of office use; and 190,000 square feet of research and development use. Also to be built are: a truck stop with a 16-unit motel; a convenience store; a diner; a fuel station; restrooms with showers; and 30 tractor-trailer spaces with hook-ups. These are to be used by park tenants rather than the general public.

The Northeastern Industrial Park, which is on the site of a former Army depot in Guilderland Center, wants to build in two places that the Army has classified as Areas of Concern, or sites that were determined to be a risk to human health.

This inflames local activists, who for years have been trying to warn residents about toxic waste buried at the former Army depot. The buried materials affect almost everyone in town because tributaries to the Watervliet Reservoir, Guilderland’s main source of drinking water, run through the industrial park.

The environmental-impact statement briefly outlines development to be built on Areas of Concern 1 and 7.

AOC 1, the United States Army Southern Landfill, in the southern portion of the depot next to the railroad tracks and bounded by Depot Road, has a pond on the site. It is about 1,500 feet from the main channel of the Black Creek and is classified as a Class 2 site by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, meaning it is a significant threat.

AOC 7, the Triangular Disposal Area, in the southeast end, roughly between AOC 1 and 4, has buried debris such as railroad ties and glass bottles.

The report also says that construction could impact AOC 8, the Black Creek, which flows through the property and into the Watervliet Reservoir.

David Buicko, chief operating officer of the industrial park, responded briefly to The Enterprise in September about worries about the industrial park building on the polluted areas of concern.

"Some things are common sense," he said. "If there’s an area of concern, we won’t build on it till it’s mitigated."

The town board has asked the industrial park to make revisions on the draft of its report.

Buicko also responded briefly to The Enterprise this month about a dump site on wetlands near the Black Creek in AOC 4, which the Army said occurred since the land became an industrial park. Buicko said the Galesi Group, which owns the park, is working with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to clean it up.

Toxic cleanup

In other news this year related to waste from the former Army depot, the Army Corps of Engineers in September started a massive cleanup of hazardous materials from 40 acres on Depot Road owned by Joan Burns. By the time the operation shut down for winter weather in December, 1,400 cubic yards had been removed and Burns, who had spent decades trying to get the site cleaned, said she was "very optimistic."

Gregory Goepfert, the project manager from the Army Corps, secured $650,000 for the project from the Defense Environmental Restoration Program for Formerly Used Defense sites, known as FUDS, which is greatly underfunded.

Three years ago, Goepfert secured FUDS funds, originally intended to clean up a former burn pit from which a toxic plume emanated. The money was used instead to clean up a site by Guilderland High School where the district was building a new bus facility, after buried Army debris was discovered there. That cleanup cost about half-a-million dollars. Goepfert then secured another $300,000 from FUDS to clean up the burn pit.

In the process of this year’s cleanup of Burns’s land, Goepfert said other wastes were discovered; one container tested high for mercury.

Asked in December if the work on Burns’s property is staying within the $650,000 procured, Goepfert said, "I don’t know that just yet."

Raising the reservoir

In August, the town board hired the engineering firm Barton & Loguidace to review the city of Watervliet’s proposal to raise the level of the Watervliet Reservoir.

Watervliet is asking for permission to put a gate on the Normanskill dam to raise the water level a few feet.

By doing this, the amount of water in the reservoir will more than double, from 1.7 billion to 3.5 billion gallons, Jim Besha, president of Albany Engineering Corporation, told The Enterprise earlier.

After the project is complete, the city will have more water to sell to other municipalities, like Bethlehem, New Scotland, and Duanesburg, Besha said.

The Enterprise reported on the reservoir project in detail in April. Then, environmental activists Thadeus Ausfeld and Charles Rielly said that the reservoir should be dredged and cleaned up, before more water is added to the supply.

Ausfeld and Rielly co-chair the restoration advisory board, founded years ago by the Army Corps of Engineers to advise on the cleanup of the old Army depot in Guilderland Center, which had used the Black Creek to remove waste.

Ausfeld, who runs Guilderland’s water-treatment plant, also worried that raising the reservoir will add more sediment and pollutants to the water supply. He says this will cost Guilderland because it has to purify the water before it can be piped to Guilderland homes and businesses.

Besha told The Enterprise then that the reservoir is not polluted and is "one of the cleanest water bodies." Many more studies will be conducted before the project begins, he said.

New filtration system

For cleaner town water, the town began using a $1.7 million filtration system at its water-treatment plant this year.

Since Guilderland began using the system in September, it now has to use only half of the amount of chlorine it previously used to clean the water, said Ausfeld.

He and William West, the town’s superintendent of water and wastewater management, both told The Enterprise of how the new system is making Guilderland’s water safer than bottled water.

The idea for the new granular activated carbon (GAC) adsorption system was spawned almost three years ago. Then, an Enterprise article — "Hot spots: Water woes beneath the surface" — uncovered and publicized a problem.

Water in some areas of Guilderland had levels of disinfectant byproducts in the 100’s, mostly because they were at the end of unlooped water lines where chemicals became more concentrated. The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contamination limit is 60 parts per billion.

The new system will help solve this problem, Ausfeld and West said. Also, this fall, the town board asked an engineering firm to create a feasibility study on looping dead-end water lines in western Guilderland.

Higher chlorine amounts are typically needed to reach the end of a distribution system; at the end of a pipeline, water and chlorine are in contact for long periods of time. Often dead-end lines produce higher readings.

Westervelt sentenced

Erick Westervelt, a Guilderland resident who last fall was studying at the University at Albany and aspiring to be a police officer, was convicted in June of second-degree murder. He was later sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

After a week-and-a-half trial and one full day of deliberation at the Albany County Courthouse, a jury handed down the guilty verdict. The 12 people were convinced that, using a hatchet, the 23-year-old Guilderland man beat Timothy Gray so severely in the head at his Bethlehem home that Gray died a few days later.

Although Westervelt left behind no DNA evidence, he did write and sign a confession. Prosecutors say he also had a motive: his ex-girlfriend had left him for Gray.

The defense tried to convince the jury that Westervelt was interrogated in such a way that he made a false confession. A psychologist testified about how, after hours of threats in an uncomfortable setting, suspects are often coerced by police into saying they did something they didn’t.

"I’m very pleased," Assistant District Attorney David Rossi, who prosecuted the case, told The Enterprise after the verdict. "I think the Bethlehem Police Department did an outstanding job."

"I respect the jury," Mark Sacco, Westervelt’s attorney, said in response. "But, my client maintains his innocence that he didn’t do it. The proof is not there; there’s no forensics or eyewitnesses. He’s got an alibi."

Westervelt is appealing and his family believes in his innocence. During the trial, both of his parents testified that he was at home with them on the night of the murder.

Burnell charged

A young Guilderland man was killed in May in his Western Avenue apartment. The man arrested for the murder maintains his innocence.

Todd Pianowski, 22, was found dead on the floor of his living room, shot in the head and upper torso with a .40 caliber handgun. Pianowski was a student at Hudson Valley Community College who loved bowling.

Hashim Burnell, 19, formerly a Guilderland resident, was charged with the murder. He pleaded not guilty in Albany County Court.

Guilderland Police Chief James Murley said that, at 2:30 p.m. on May 5, Pianowski’s girlfriend returned to the home they shared — in the 1700 Designer Apartments, at 1702 Western Ave. — and confronted the killer.

"He held a gun to her head," just before he ran out of the apartment, Murley said of Burnell.

Guilderland Police and State Troopers then launched a massive search and, after about eight hours, arrested Burnell and charged him with murder.

Burnell was an acquaintance of Pianowski, police said. Murley told The Enterprise that he believes Burnell intended to shoot Pianowski and his motive "was a drug-for-money deal."

Paul DeLorenzo, Burnell’s attorney, said that the district attorney’s office is misinterpreting witness statements. He said he has evidence to convict someone else.

"We do know who did it," DeLorenzo told The Enterprise in May. "We have some good evidence that strongly indicates it was someone else." He would not reveal who that person is.

Burnell is in jail now, awaiting trial.

Crossgates settles

Pyramid Cos., the town’s largest taxpayer, ended its 12-year fight with the town and school district in January. The corporation, which owns Crossgates Mall, will not be paid back the $24 million in taxes that it had fought to regain.

Pyramid this year accepted the town’s assessment of Crossgates Mall, which is over $80 million more than Pyramid had claimed it was worth.

"It’s very beneficial to the taxpayers," Runion said. "It puts 12 years of litigation behind us."

School Superintendent Gregory Aidala agreed. "We feel we’re at peace now that this ends 12 years of legal entanglements," he said.

The settlement removes the possibility of litigation for the next five years, Runion said. However, if Pyramid chooses to challenge its assessment in 2010, the town and school district will fight again, both Runion and Aidala said.

Pyramid Cos. contested the town-set assessment of Crossgates, contending that the mall is worth less, and therefore Pyramid should pay lower taxes. Last year, the town assessed the mall at around $198 million and Pyramid said its value was $115 million.

The town and school district joined forces to defend the town’s assessment; both were confident that Pyramid would lose if the case had gone to trial.

Represented by the Syracuse law firm Hancock and Estabrook, the town and school district have won in several rulings, but still had more to deal with, along with Pyramid’s appeals. The case never went to trial.

A spokesperson from Pyramid did not return calls for comment on the settlement.

Curfew enacted

This July, Crossgates Mall enacted an escort policy, which, according to mall management, would reduce violence and arrests. Under the policy, on Friday and Saturday nights after 4 p.m., those under 18 must be escorted by a parent or guardian who is over 21.

The idea for the policy came after two gang-related incidents occurred in March at Crossgates Mall. Then, police arrested at least eight people and, with a Taser gun, stunned two of them.

And, on May 7, a 25-year-old man was stabbed at the mall in what police said was another gang-related brawl.

These incidents, Chief Murley said then, and "increased violence on a weekly basis" at the mall, caused the escort policy.

However, after the May incident, no such arrests occurred, either before the escort policy or after.

Carousel Center in Syracuse — owned Pyramid Cos., which also owns Crossgates — enacted an escort policy in 2003, to answer complaints of disruptive teenagers roaming the mall.

Since then, Carousel has had more visitors and increased sales on the weekends, Michael Bovalino, chief executive officer of Pyramid, told The Enterprise earlier.

With the Crossgates policy, on Fridays and Saturdays after 4 p.m., shoppers under the age of 18 need a parent or guardian, who is over 21, to escort them.

At Crossgates, extra security guards check shoppers’ identification cards at the entrances to the mall, stopping anyone under age and without an escort.

The Crossgates policy does not apply to the mall’s cinema area, to teen employees of the mall, or to the mall’s anchor stores with separate entrances.

Teens under 18 can enter those stores, do their shopping, and leave. Or they can go to the theater, see a movie, and leave. What they can’t do is congregate in central areas like the food court without being escorted by their parents.

A Guilderland police lieutenant told The Enterprise in October that she thinks the policy has been effective.

Lieutenant Carol Lawlor said that the police department has heard from many people that Crossgates Mall’s atmosphere is better on Fridays and Saturdays.

"We’re very supportive of the mall’s decision," she said.

However, The Enterprise calculated the number of arrests at Crossgates Mall for 10 weeks before the policy and 10 weeks after and found that, since the police has been enacted, the number of arrests has not decreased. In fact, 87 people were arrested since the policy began, compared to 82 who were arrested in the 10 weeks before.

While the number of shoplifting arrests may be the same, because the mall’s anchor stores are still open to anyone, violence at the mall has been reduced, said Lawlor.

The mall hasn’t had as many fights since the policy or shoppers calling the police to report concerns about large crowds that may get violent, she said.

Still, at least a dozen people were arrested since the curfew because they refused to show their identification to the guards at the mall’s entrances. When pursued by the guards and later asked to leave, they refused and were then arrested for trespassing. Some got violent and were charged further with disorderly conduct.

Election friction

The Democrats celebrated on the night of Nov. 8, as the voters reaffirmed the party’s control of the town. Incumbent Patricia Slavick gained the most votes for town board and her running-mate, Paul Pastore, came in second.

Democrat Denise Randall was the first woman to be elected town justice in Guilderland, ousting long-time Republican Judge Steven J. Simon.

Also, unopposed Democratic incumbents — Supervisor Kenneth Runion, Town Clerk Rosemary Centi, and Receiver of Taxes Jean Cataldo — retained their posts.

However, the election wasn’t without controversy.

In May, as the Republicans announced their candidates for town board, Democratic incumbent Bruce Sherwin told The Enterprise that, although he wanted to run for re-election, he was not being nominated by his party.

Sherwin said that, because of his independent voice on the board, he was ousted and branded disloyal by David Bosworth, the Democratic chairman and town board member.

Most of the time, the board’s members — all Democrats — vote unanimously. Sherwin had at times cast the only dissenting vote and, most of the time, was the only board member to draw heated discussion.

Sherwin described a time when Bosworth was challenged. Bosworth made a motion that no one seconded. Sherwin said that Bosworth then sent an e-mail to town board members, scolding them for embarrassing him.

"I may have commented once that I didn’t get a second," Bosworth told The Enterprise earlier in response. "It’s good parliamentary procedure...Without a second, you can’t have a lot of discussion. I thought I should get a courtesy second."

Bosworth also said then that he does not decide who the committee endorses. He is only one of 64 committeemen and one of 8,500 Democratic voters, he said.

The Democratic party later chose planning board attorney Pastore to run in place of Sherwin, but, Bosworth said, this was the party’s decision.

In September, more conflict arose since leaders of the Republican party had complained to Patricia Slavick’s employer that the Democratic incumbent was violating the Hatch Act by keeping her job and running for town board.

Slavick, an accountant, told The Enterprise that she’d done all she could to clear her candidacy with her supervisor at the state’s Office of Mental Health. The Hatch Act is a law that prohibits federal and certain state workers from running for an elected office.

When told just before the Democratic caucus in September that her job was in conflict, Slavick decided to quit, she said.

Still, Republican candidate Michael Donegan told The Enterprise that Slavick’s leaving her job wasn’t good enough. She violated the law for too long and she should drop out of the race, he said.

Through October, Donegan and Republican Ed Glenning wrote several letters to the Enterprise editor calling for a debate with their Democratic opponents.

They wrote that the Democrats were afraid to debate and, again, said that Slavick and Pastore were controlled by Bosworth who called the shots and refused to let the candidates debate.

Bosworth responded through The Enterprise and in a letter to the editor that the Democrats aren’t opposed to a debate, but, if invited to one, would need time to get organized and set rules both parties could agree on. He added that he doesn’t control any Democrats.

The McKownville Improvement Association held a "Meet the Candidates" night, as it has the past several elections. While this isn’t an official debate, Bosworth said, residents are given an opportunity to ask questions of all candidates who attend.

Candidates from both parties attended the McKownville event and an official debate was never held.

Robber takes cigs

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — On Dec. 24 at about 6 a.m., a man walked into the CVS at 2040 Western Ave. and handed the cashier a note indicating it was a robbery, say Guilderland Police.

"He didn’t brandish any weapon," said Investigator David Romano.

Asked what the man took, Romano said, "At this point, we know he took two cartons of cigarettes. We’re still waiting to hear from CVS if any actual money was taken."

The robber was caught on video and was described as being a white man, 30 to 40 years old, weighing 180 to 220 pounds, and wearing a blue jacket with blue jeans. He was also wearing a wig with long blond hair under a white ball cap, which Romano said was probably to disguise his true hair color.

He was also wearing a nose ring that the witness thought looked fake, Romano said.

Asked how the man left, Romano said, " We don’t know, after he walked out, if he got in a car or what. No one saw him get in a car."

Romano said that the Guilderland Police are tracking down leads and trying to see if it connects to other area robberies.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Guilderland Police Department at 356-1501.

Downs returns to Crossgates — left in peace

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — A peace walk at the local mall Friday was a victory for free speech and a chance to protest the war for some of the two dozen who participated but, for some of the bystanders, it was an annoyance or even an insult.

Wendy Dwyer, an organizer of the just-before-Christmas event, now in its fourth year, believes the war is wrong and protesters are helping to right that wrong. She said the mall walk is a reminder that the nation must work to create a foreign policy that values peace on earth.

Dwyer, who grew up in Guilderland Center, has become increasingly active in protests in recent years, she said.

Brian Perazone of Roxbury said he came to the mall to shop and enjoy some time out with his sons. "If I wanted to hear protest songs, I’d go to a peace rally," he said. "That’s not what I came for here for."

Perazone told The Enterprise he had recently spent a year in Afghanistan with the 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division and a year in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne.

"They offend me," he said of the protesters. " These people have never set foot in Iraq or Afghanistan. They say, ‘Support the troops; bring them home.’ That’s like saying you support your high school team by hoping they lose."

"A big change"

Some of the walkers gathered at the Bricklayers Hall on Centre Drive near Crossgates Mall at 5 p.m. last Friday to talk to the press before going to the mall.

Dwyer recalled for The Enterprise the first peace walk in December of 2002. "Twenty-some of us went," she said. "We had three messages — ‘Drop toys, not bombs,’ ‘Peace on earth,’ and ‘Don’t attack Iraq.’

"We were quickly accosted by mall security and asked to leave. We said, ‘Why" We’re wearing T-shirts and shopping.’ They got Guilderland police involved and threatened us with arrest. They physically removed us."

Stephen Downs, a lawyer, learned about the December, 2002 incident, Dwyer recalled, and about two months later, in March, he went to Crossgates and had a "Peace on Earth" T-shirt made, which he wore as he shopped.

"He refused to remove his shirt and was arrested," said Dwyer. "That galvanized the national media."

For Downs, who was at the Friday peace walk with his 94-year-old mother, Eleanor Downs, the walk was a "reminder of the primacy of civil liberties in the face of the Patriot Act and the climate of fear of dissent fostered by Bush’s ‘war on terrorism,’" he said.

There were no arrests or threats of arrests at Friday’s Crossgates gathering and the press was not stopped from covering the event, unlike at some earlier rallies.

Al Doney, head of security for Crossgates Mall, did not return a call from The Enterprise this week.

"This is a big change," Stephen Downs told The Enterprise during Friday’s rally. "The whole atmosphere has changed."

He went on about the war, "People have caught on to Bush and aren’t afraid anymore. The troops will be coming home soon I think."

Downs also said, "I’m very humbled by my small role."

Downs, at the time of his arrest on March 3, 2003, was an attorney with the New York State’s Commission on Judicial Conduct. He has since retired from his state job.

Asked about his pending suit, Downs told The Enterprise that there had been difficulties deciding whether it belonged in state or federal court and it had been decided it was a state case.

"It impacts exactly what we’re doing here today — free speech in the mall," said Downs.

In the wake of Downs’s arrest, the New York Civil Liberties Union pledged its support for a bill to protect free speech in malls. An amendment to the state’s civil rights law, the bill would make malls into a public space. Currently defined as private property, shopping malls would be required to define themselves as places of public accommodation.

The NYCLU campaign included a billboard on Route 90 West featuring a photograph of a gagged person and the message, "Welcome to the mall. You have the right to remain silent." This is a reference to Miranda rights, which are read to a person under arrest.

New York assemblymen John McEneny and Steven Englebright sponsored the bill. Dawn Dugan in McEneny’s office told The Enterprise this week that the bill died in committee in 2003 and was re-introduced in 2004; it has no companion bill in the State Senate, she said.

Melanie Trimble, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told The Enterprise this week, "It’s just languishing. It gets re-introduced every year."

She referred The Enterprise to Christian Smith-Socaris who said of the bill, "It hasn’t moved...We had a lot of hope at the time that the story would put momentum behind the legislation.

"It’s really difficult to get legislation passed that affirms First Amendment rights. If there’s an uproar, a window of opportunity opens up, but then it closes again."

Mark Mishler, a lawyer working pro bono for the NYCLU on Downs’s case, told The Enterprise Wednesday that the suit is pending in New York State Supreme Court.

"Our position is both the mall, through its security personnel, and the town of Guilderland, through its police department, violated Mr. Downs’s rights in that he was arrested for wearing a peace T-shirt," said Mishler.

Crossgates Mall, however, has said that Downs and his son, Roger, put their shirts on and then argued with and bothered customers who did not agree with the messages.

Downs and his son told The Enterprise at the time of the arrest that the only contact they had with customers was when they were approached by shoppers who agreed with their messages of peace, complimented them, and asked where they could purchase similar shirts.

"We haven’t seen any documentation of disruptive conduct," said Mishler on Wednesday. "And, even if there was a complaint, it would not have justified being told he had to remove the T-shirt, leave the mall, or be arrested.

"He was given three options," said Mishler. "We believe his rights were violated."

If the lawsuit is successful, on the "immediate level," Mishler said, "Mr. Downs’s rights will have been vindicated."

And, Mishler went on, "Potentially, it could have quite a profound impact on how malls operate in New York State...Individuals would be assured they could exercise their constitutional rights."

"Diligent work"

Downs said on Friday that a lot of people at Crossgates had been supportive of the peace walkers’ messages.

"My mother talked to security [officers] about it," he said. Asked if she had raised her son to be an activist," Eleanor Downs smiled and told The Enterprise, "No, he got me into this. This is my first protest."

Dwyer said, since participating in the Crossgates demonstration in December of 2002, she has been in protests where she has been arrested, but at the first Crossgates peace walk, she said, "I wasn’t ready then. I was new to this."

Gene Kotrba, a friend of Dwyer and an activist from Ohio, said, "It needs to be strategically planned."

The plan for last Friday, they said, before heading over to Crossgates, was to walk through the mall wearing messages of peace.

Both Dwyer and Kotrba wore black T-shirts with messages written in white. Kotrba’s said "Peace" in large capital letters. Dwyer’s had a picture of a dove carrying an olive branch and said, "Proud Supporter of Veterans for Peace."

Then, Dwyer said, the walkers will converge at the food court at 6:15 p.m. "We’ll sing, ‘All we are saying is give peace a chance," said Dwyer, noting the 25th anniversary this month of John Lennon’s death.

"Our diligent work is paying off," said Dwyer. "The government is being exposed for the liars and snoops they are...People have felt unpatriotic and afraid to speak out with a war on. That’s changing."

After the peace walkers sang John Lennon’s song on Friday evening, they moved on to another sixties standby, derived from an African-American spiritual: "Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside...Ain’t gonna study war no more."

They clapped in rhythm to the music as they sang some new words: "Gonna wear any shirt I want, down by the Crossgates Mall...Ain’t gonna study war no more."

Beyond the shirts, the outfits of some of the protesters were colorful. One man wore a top hat, festooned with bows, that said, "Imagine Peace."

Patricia Beetle of Castleton, wore a bright red elf-like hat and a hand-lettered shirt, with a rainbow on top, that said in many colors, "Peace on Earth — Yes!"

A Quaker who attends the Albany Friends meeting, Beetle has been a peace activist for decades. She participated in a seven-year-long vigil in front of the state capitol against the Vietnam War, she said, and she currently stands in front of the capitol every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m., protesting the war in Iraq.

Noting a shift in public opinion over the current war, Beetle said, "The woman who hands out the flyers on Wednesdays says people are friendlier now than they were in the early days."

Family loses home on Christmas Eve

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — On Christmas Eve, the Berschwinger family fled their smoke-filled Belleview Drive home, and volunteer firefighters arrived to battle the blaze.

"It took 45 minutes to technically knock the fire down," said Bill Kanas, chief of the Fort Hunter Volunteer Fire Company.

A Fort Hunter lieutenant was injured, said Kanas, with burns on his ear and the side of his face. He declined naming the firefighter, but said the lieutenant was treated Dec. 24 at St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady and released that night.

"He’s okay," said Kanas. "He’s got a bandage on his ear. He went to visit family for Christmas."

The Berschwingers — parents Rick and Dawn and the three of their four sons who were home — all got out of their house uninjured but they are now dealing with the aftermath of the fire.

Relief fund

"They lost everything on Christmas Eve," said Joe Abbruzzese, who described Rick Berschwinger as his best friend. Abbruzzese has set up a relief fund to help the family.

"Everybody got out of the house," he said. "They’re shook up but they’re thankful that it didn’t happen three or four hours later, when they would have been asleep."

The call came in after 8 p.m.

The house where the Berschwingers have lived for about a decade, Abbruzzese said, is destroyed. Whether they rebuild will depend on the insurance, he said.

Rick, who works for Freihofer’s as an account executive, and Dawn Berschwinger have four sons, he said.

"His four kids are the exact same ages as my four kids," said Abbruzzese. "We got to know each other through Little League and through kids’ events. We’ve been friends for close to 30 years."

One of the Berschwingers’ sons is married, said Abbruzzese. "He and his wife had just left" from a Christmas Eve visit at the Berschwingers’ home when the fire broke out.

The Berschwingers, Abbruzzese said, have had a rough year. "Rick’s mother died just two weeks ago," he said, and Dawn Berschwinger’s mother died this summer.

"After her mom died, her things were moved to their home. They lost it all," he said.

"Everybody’s sort of in shock," Abbruzzese said of the Berschwingers. "They’re all staying in different places."

People in the community have been generous in making donations, he said. "My house is filling up with clothes."

The Abbruzzeses have set up a fund for monetary contributions. It’s called The Berschwinger Family Relief Fund; checks can be sent to Dawn Abbruzzese at 3546 Carman Road, Schenectady, NY 12303 or to any Trustco Bank.

"This is so they can buy what they need, stuff that fits, to tide them over until they get their insurance money," said Abbruzzese.

"Doing a good thing"

Chief Kanas described for The Enterprise events as they unfolded on Dec. 24.

Kanas was the first to arrive on the scene, he said. "The first thing I checked was to make sure everyone was out," said Kanas. "Then I called mutual aid."

Fire companies — all volunteer — from Rotterdam District 2, Carman, Guilderland Center, Guilderland, and Westmere all arrived on the scene. The Altamont Fire Department stood by at the Fort Hunter station in case another fire were called in.

Information from the homeowner was that it was a chimney fire, but, said Kanas, "Once we got inside, we realized we had a lot more."

He described the house at 7243 Belleview Drive, off East Lydius Street, as a two-story split level and said, "The whole house was damaged...There was a lot of heavy fire in the rear of the house in the family room."

Two nearby fire hydrants functioned well, he said. Altogether about 45 volunteer firefighters battled the blaze, said Kanas.

While the fire was "knocked down" in less than an hour, the firefighters didn’t finish at the scene until about 1 a.m. on Christmas morning, said Kanas.

"I saw Santa fly overhead," Kanas quipped.

The chief then went on in a serious tone, "It’s important for people to know we are volunteers," he said.

Local firefighters have had a tough holiday season, with a long-term fire smoldering for days in a grain silo in the industrial park at Guilderland Center. That fire is out now, Kanas said on Tuesday, but it took its toll on the personal lives of local firefighters. Tim McIntyre, an East Berne firefighter, working with the Altamont department three weeks ago, broke his leg fighting an earlier fire at the same grain silo.

Kanas, who is 44 and works in sales, has been a member of the Fort Hunter Volunteer Fire Company for 12 years.

Asked if it was hard for his six- and nine-year-old sons to have their father leave on Christmas Eve to fight a fire, Kanas said, "They know I’m doing a good thing. It’s like that for all of us, all volunteers — we do what we have to do."

Altamont: 2005 in review
Village restructures PD, wrestles with water

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALTAMONT — The Altamont Fair was vibrant this year with a beautifully-restored Flower Building at its center. The Altamont Free Library got a new director — the witty Judith Wines — and a new home — the historic train station in the center of the village, which it is raising funds to restore before moving in.

The village celebrated itself this summer with an old-fashioned picnic where it honored three citizens of the year:

— Andrea Dean in the youth division. The Russell Sage College student, majoring in criminal justice, works two jobs in the village, volunteers on the rescue squad, and serves on the comprehensive planning board committee.

— Gilbert DeLucia in the village division. The former owner of Altamont’s pharmacy was honored for "lifetime achievement," said Beth Shaw, president of the Altamont Community Tradition, which organized the event; and

— Tim McIntyre, as the General Citizen of the Year. The head of public works for Altamont "goes above and beyond what he needs to do," said Shaw.

This winter, Altamont again rang in the holidays in Victorian style during a day of snow-filled festivities, ranging from caroling to carriage rides.

Defining election

But the news in Altamont in 2005 was dominated by issues that were clearly delineated in the March 15 election. They included police, water, and planning.

The incumbents were ousted as a slate of newcomers was elected to lead Altamont.

In what many called the village’s most divisive campaign, Altamont voters elected James Gaughan as mayor from a field of four, and they elected, also from a field of four, Kerry Dineen and Dean Whalen as trustees — all by wide margins.

Gaughan, who is retired from a career with the State Education Department, ran with Dineen, an Altamont native and Guilderland music teacher. Both of them were critical of Mayor Paul DeSarbo’s administration’s lack of outreach to village residents.

Their campaign focused on the need to include villagers’ opinions before decisions are made at board meetings.

Whalen, an architect, tied his victory to his profession. He said his success showed village residents wanted more people on the village board with technical backgrounds. He ran with mayoral candidate, Trustee Harvey Vlahos.

Vlahos, who retained his board seat, said on Election Night that the difference in the campaign was the money Gaughan spent.

Gaughan’s campaign statements showed he raised just over $5,000. The other candidates for mayor — DeSarbo, Vlahos, and Jerry Oliver — each spent under $1,000.

Gaughan disagreed that campaign finances were the main reason for his win, saying, "It’s the people who made the difference. All the money in the world would not have meant anything."

Gaughan garnered 42 percent of the vote compared to Vlahos’s second-place finish with 26 percent. Oliver and DeSarbo each received about 16 percent of the vote.

DeSarbo, who had served as a village trustee, was named mayor in 2000 to fill a vacancy when Kenneth Runion left the post to become Guilderland’s supervisor. DeSarbo ran unopposed the following spring.

The election was not a successful one for the incumbents as trustees Wayde Bush and Anne Faulkner were also soundly defeated.

Four candidates were on the ballot for two trustee seats — incumbent Bush, running with Mayor DeSarbo; Dineen, running with Gaughan, and Whalen, running with Vlahos.

Faulkner, who was appointed in July, was knocked off the ballot after Dineen successfully challenged her petition; Faulkner fell one short of the required 50 signatures. She subsequently launched a write-in campaign and received 28 votes.

Bush, who works for Guilderland in water and wastewater management, had been a trustee for 12 years; he came in third with 198 tallies.

Robinson, the associated operations manager for the University at Albany’s East Campus, was making his first run for office; he came in fourth with 139 votes.

Whalen earned 266 votes and Dineen was the top vote-getter with 333. She even bested Village Justice Neal Tabor, who ran unopposed. Tabor, who has been village justice for 24 years, received 300 votes.

Trustee William Aylward said on election night that it was obvious from the vote tallies that the community was divided. While he expressed his regrets to Mayor DeSarbo, Aylward said he could work with Gaughan to improve feelings in the village.

"I want to be a force for healing and bringing harmony to the village," said Aylward.


Citizens complained last year about excessive police presence in the village, which is covered by the Guilderland Police Department, the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, and the State Troopers as well as the Altamont Police. The village board appointed a citizens’ committee to examine the department; it released a report in January which favored keeping a police department in the village but was critical of a full-time commissioner that couldn’t make arrests and so many part-time officers. Subsequently, the commissioner, Robert Coleman, offered his resignation.

All three of the newly-elected Altamont leaders — Gaughan, Dineen, and Whalen — had served on the committee.

The DeSarbo slate had favored keeping the commissioner in office along with part-time officers.

The new village board hired Anthony Salerno as Altamont’s public safety commissioner in August, after completing a three-month search. The 19-year Albany Police Department investigator was also the village barber.

Trustee Harvey Vlahos, who coordinated the search, said the village received 14 applications for the $40,500 full-time post.

Village residency was a key criteria set by the board; Salerno, his wife, and two children, have lived in the village for more than a decade.

The trustees also required the candidates to be a certified police officer. Acting Commissioner Coleman, who applied late and did not meet the criteria, was not among the three finalists for the post.

When the mayor was asked how he expected Salerno to split his time between Albany and Altamont, he said, "I have asked him to be full-time-plus in Altamont. Tony will work for Altamont in the day during the work week and also on weekends." Salerno works the late-night shift in Albany.

"It’s a position I had to take for the community," Salerno said at the time of his appointment. "My top focus is the people in the village."

Salerno restructured the police department this fall. As part of this, three officers resigned and five others got letters from Salerno, stating that he couldn’t fit them into the future work schedule.

At the same time, because of a situation that predated Gaughan’s administration and Salerno’s tenure, the village was sued by an Altamont police officer who has been suspended since December of 2003. Marc Dorsey is seeking about $48,000 in back pay and is asking for his job to be reinstated.

Dorsey, 35, was appointed as a full-time officer in 2002, but, Gaughan said, he never actually worked full-time.

Former Mayor DeSarbo suggested that Dorsey and other officers only worked full-time for the police department for a short time, so they could get a full-time police job elsewhere.

"I don’t think he deserves anything," DeSarbo told The Enterprise in November. "He didn’t follow the procedures in the time allotted."

Dorsey’s attorney, Stephen Coffey, told The Enterprise this fall that Dorsey was suspended for an Albany stalking arrest and, since those charges were dismissed in June of 2004, he should have been given a hearing about his suspension.

Gaughan told The Enterprise that he agrees that Dorsey deserved a hearing, but, he said, it was now too late.

Dorsey had a four-month window after his suspension to take action, Gaughan said; asking for nearly two years in back pay now is unfair, the mayor said.

"We’re in the process of making a professional police department," Salerno told The Enterprise in November. "We’re working out scheduling. We want to have permanent officers assigned to the same days.

"We want a cohesive force that’s accountable for everyone’s actions," he said. "We want to build a relationship in the community."

Salerno said when he began working for the village that many officers were employed by Altamont but never worked. "Or they worked when they felt like it," he said.

His restructuring has included mandated training, he said.

He has also used a police officer on a horse and another on a bicycle.

"He’s doing exactly what the village board has asked him to do," Gaughan said in November. "He’s making a structured organization that depends on a very strict chain or command."

"I feel we are seeing a dramatic change," Salerno said. "We’re meeting the needs of the public."


The village’s water supply, from two reservoirs and one well, was taxed so the village had hired an engineering firm, Barton and Laguidice, which found a source of water on Brandle Road, just outside the village.

In January, over the objection of its engineers and its superintendent of public works, the board, under the leadership of Mayor DeSarbo, agreed to provide sewer and water service to a proposed senior complex.

Developer Jeff Thomas told the board in January that Brandle Meadows would be dead unless he received approval that night. His lawyer, Paul Wein, told the board, "We are going to try to expedite this and get into the ground in the summer and get it open January first."

"He’s painting a nice picture for you folks," said Tim McIntyre, Altamont’s superintendent of public works, "but the reality is the well doesn’t produce a lot in the summertime and the reservoirs also get shut down in the summertime; they’re off now; they been off for two months. So it’s a juggling game for me to get you folks water, quality water, every day, 365 days of the year."

At the January meeting, Wein also took issue with caution expressed by an engineer hired by the village to manage water issues. Wein suggested if the engineers couldn’t have new wells on-line by early 2006, they should be fired.

All three of the candidates who were successful in the March election — Gaughan, Dineen, and Whalen — said that the moratorium for granting water outside the village should not have been broken, as it had been for the proposed senior housing project, without a public hearing.

In April, Nancy and Michael Trumpler, who own the property on Brandle Road where the village found water, filed papers in Albany County Supreme Court to have a judge decide whether the village’s contract for the five-acre well site was legal and binding.

The Trumplers objected to Altamont’s plans to give water to a developer outside the village and also had procedural concerns.

"We didn’t sue for any money," said Nancy Trumpler at the time, stating that the Trumplers just wanted to make sure the process was fair. The village responded by filing counterclaims against the Trumplers.

The village had spent about $20,000 for the litigation costs associated with the Trumplers’ lawsuit, Mayor Gaughan said. Village attorney E. Guy Roemer is being paid $125 an hour to defend the village against the Trumplers’ suit.

In June, Thomas sued the Trumplers for $17 million over "interference" with his plans to build his proposed 72-unit senior-housing project. Wein said the suit was not over money; Thomas just wanted the Trumplers to drop their suit.

In July, Brandle Road residents raised concerns about dirty water since the village had done exploratory drilling. Guilderland’s zoning board then hired a town-designated engineer to study the effects that new village wells on Brandle Road have on the quality and quantity of water from neighbors’ wells.

The Trumplers, too, had said in May that the water from their taps had been brown and undrinkable.

Mayor Gaughan responded that the village was looking into the Trumplers’ problem and an engineer with Barton and Laguidice told The Enterprise that the problems with the Trumplers’ water were in no way related to the nearby village wells and did not indicate that the future village water supply could become polluted.

In October, an Altamont committee appointed to review zoning projects in Guilderland but near the Altamont border, ruled that Thomas should get public water only after the village water supply is proven adequate. This position — from a committee headed by Gaughan — was very different from that of the previous administration.

Thomas seemed unperturbed after the meeting. "We’ve always planned on having an additional source," he said of his hopes to find a high-volume well on his Brandle Road property. "We’re going to continue to go forward," he told The Enterprise.

The Enterprise reminded Thomas that less than 10 months ago he had stood in the same room and said the project would be dead if the village board didn’t promise him water that night; it complied.

Asked what had changed since then, Thomas said, "We would have lost interest. I had an option on the property."

Although Thomas had initially said he planned to open the complex in January of 2006, he said, in October, "This is a lengthy process."

On Nov. 10, an acting Supreme Court judge dismissed the Trumplers’ motion for summary judgment; their lawyer, Michael Englert, said the Trumplers would stay the course, pursuing legal action against the village. He estimated the trial could take two years.

A motion for summary judgment is a request for the judge to rule on a case with no further evidence because the law and the facts are so clear; it is an expedited decision without a trial.

Englert told The Enterprise he had believed the law was clear. "This just simply means the lawsuit goes forward, " he said. "None of our claims have been denied or thrown out...They are still viable."

Mayor Gaughan responded, "The Trumplers took their best shot and they came up short. It’s very unlikely there’s any other facts to help them go forward...It’s up to them, but I hope this decision brings a sense of reality."

Also in November, as elderly Altamont residents continued to wait for a home in Brandle Meadows, Guilderland’s zoning board approved Thomas’s project, but said its special-use permit would be good only when Thomas and the village work out legal and water issues.

The village board held a public meeting in December to make the public aware of its settlement offer. The board unanimously voted on two letters, affirming that they reflect the village’s position in the matter.

One letter states that the village will drop its counterclaim if the Trumplers drop their suit, and, since the village has incurred significant attorney’s fees, the Trumplers will give up a 20-foot easement from Brandle road to route 156.

Neither Englert nor the Trumplers were at the meeting, but Roemer said Englert had said the Trumplers were willing to go forward with the settlement.

The second letter that the village board adopted says that Altamont will provide Thomas’s project with village water and sewer service after he gets a building permit from the town and after the village has its supplemental water service on-line.

"My latest understanding is the contents of the letter fall somewhat short of what Mr. Thomas says he needs to go forward and settle with the Trumplers and build the complex," Roemer told the board. "He wants water from us whether or not our supplementary water source is on-line."

Wein sat silently behind Roemer during the meeting. Afterwards, when Wein looked visibly angry, Roemer asked Wein what he had said during the meeting that wasn’t accurate. Wein said litigation should be discussed in executive session and that he’d be happy to tell the board how he feels in private.

"I never said he wants water no matter what happens," Wein told The Enterprise. "Mr. Thomas has said he is not going to take water if it jeopardizes the village."

Meanwhile, Wein added, senior citizens are waiting for a complex to be built so they have a place to live. "That’s killing Mr. Thomas," he said.

Subsequently, Englert wrote in a letter to the Enterprise editor that Thomas had initiated the settlement process and "he and the Trumplers have proposed a manner of settling this three-way dispute that requires essentially nothing of the village of Altamont that it had not already purportedly agreed to, other than good-faith cooperation. For reasons unexplainable to me, however, the village appears not to be interested in resolving this matter and allowing Mr. Thomas’s proposed project to progress."


The town of Guilderland drafted a plan to maintain the rural quality of the western part of town. Altamont is the only area of concentrated development in the western part.

The Open Space Institute this year released a report documenting sprawl in the Capital Region and noting that the state allows five planning methods for municipalities, including a comprehensive plan.

The Enterprise asked the candidates for the village election in March if they thought Altamont should have a master plan. The three elected candidates favored Altamont’s developing such a plan.

In September, the board of trustees unanimously adopted a moratorium on subdivisions within the village.

Citing significant concerns over the village’s water supply, Trustee Whalen proposed the one-year moratorium.

Donald Cropsey Jr., the village’s building inspector, said in September that, until this year, he has not received any application for subdivision in the village during the last five years. The century-old, mile-square village is largely developed.

Cropsey said he had recently received an application for a 32-lot subdivision on Bozenkill Road and he believed the moratorium would postpone the project. Roemer disputed Cropsey’s view that an application had been received by the village.

After the September meeting, Troy Miller told The Enterprise that he and Jeff Perlee had plans to develop property they had owned on Bozenkill Road. They planned to build "higher-end" houses, ranging in price from $300,000 to $400,000, he said, but they sold to Ken Romanski five months earlier, after receiving concept approval.

Romanski told The Enterprise he had planed to proceed with what Miller and Perlee had proposed, building 25 to 30 homes on the Bozenkill Road property, and he hoped a moratorium wouldn’t stop his plans.

Trustee Whalen also told the village board in September he wanted to review Altamont’s zoning laws before any subdivisions occur.

Whalen told The Enterprise in November that, within 10 months, the village hopes to have created a master plan to help build the future of Altamont.

The village, he said, is looking for a planning consultant, creating a survey for residents and business owners, and preparing to hold public workshops.

The village’s zoning ordinance was established in the 1970’s, Whalen said. It hasn’t been studied or changed since then.

"The mindset in the late ’70’s and early ’60’s was a suburban model," Whalen said. "A lot of it is written on that premise."

Now, he said, the committee he is working with must find out, "What is the vision of the village" What does the constituency want" How does the village itself reinforce that""

Whalen concluded, "We have to make sure we’re open to what the village wants and part of that is to ask questions. What do the people want" What do developers want""

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