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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 24, 2006
Despite protests VCSD continues with two civil suits
By Rachel Dutil
VOORHEESVILLE The Voorheesville Central School District has now spent over $100,000 in its attempt to recoup $216,000 from two former school officials.
The district is continuing on with its two civil suits one against its former superintendent, Alan McCartney, and one against its former assistant superintendent for business, Anthony Marturano. The two men were accused by the state comptroller in January of "inappropriately" paying themselves the money. The Albany County District Attorney found there was no basis to prosecute the retired administrators and said the school district’s "weak internal controls are what likely led to the problems."
Several citizens voiced their disapproval over the ongoing legal proceedings during last week’s school board meeting. A recent investigation by The Enterprise uncovered that the district has an insurance policy that protects it from "errors and omissions."
In a memorandum from current Superintendent Linda Langevin to the school board, dated Aug. 14, the costs to the district thus far were outlined, and totaled nearly $102,000.
William Parmelee, a former school board member, told the board that he does not believe that the two officials stole money from the district. He added, "I’d rather spend $5 million on the school, than ten dollars on legal fees."
Parmelee told The Enterprise later that he talks to people in the community regularly, and, he said "A very large part of the community wants to stop [the suits] now and go ahead with other stuff."
"The money should be spent on the school," he added.
David Gibson, the school board president, responded at last week’s meeting, "The school board is trying to handle this as expediently and appropriately as possible."
Michael Snyder also brought his concerns to the school board. He told the board that the city of Troy had a similar audit, in which school officials were accused of inappropriate spending, and that school board did not initiate any suits.
"I don’t know if lawsuits are the way to handle this issue," Snyder told The Enterprise.
"We are in a loss situation, or we are heading there quickly," he said.
Robert Burns also spoke out, telling the board, "You’ve hurt the district more than the people you are after."
Langevin told The Enterprise in July that when the board met in executive session to discuss the district attorneys findings, all its members agreed to continue with the suits.
The district attorney had said that the contracts for McCartney and Marturano "likely violated New York State contract and education law and contained impermissible provisions, however, the contracts were negotiated in good faith and we believe they properly reflect the interests of the parties."
The Enterprise earlier obtained copies of the contracts and found many ambiguities, including which contracts were valid.
Langevin said this week that the stance of the school board has not changed.
Errors and omissions
Because the case is still in litigation, Langevin told The Enterprise this week that she could not really discuss the matter. She did, however, reveal that the district has filed a claim with its insurance carrier.
Under the school district’s legal liability insurance, the board of education is covered for "errors and omissions."
Roger Cohn, a representative from the Kenneth Fake Agency, in an email to Sarita Winchell, the assistant superintendent for business, said on Nov. 29, 2005, "Voorheesville Central has SDLL [School District Legal Liability] to protect all employees, volunteers and the members of the Board of Education. It is for Errors and Omissions," he continued. "The limits on your policy are $1,000,000 each loss and $2,000,000 aggregate per year."
The Enterprise tried to get Cohn to further explain the policy; and he said he would be happy to sit down and explain, but would charge the newspaper $200 per hour for "insurance instruction." He urged The Enterprise to bring a copy of the insurance policy, which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request, to his office in Cobleskill for explanation.
The Enterprise was later told by Langevin that Cohn informed her that he was only joking about charging $200 per hour, but that it would be much easier for him to discuss the insurance policy in person.
The insurance works on a reimbursement basis, Langevin said. When the litigation is over, the designated insurance official reviews the case, and decides how much, if any, reimbursement should be awarded to the district, she confirmed to The Enterprise.
In other business, at its August meeting, the school board:
Approved the creation of an elementary school student council, and an elementary school drama club as new extracurricular clubs;
Approved two out-of-town student field trips. One will be a senior class retreat to the Rensselaerville Institute on Monday, Sept. 11, and the other is an eighth grade trip to New York City on Friday, Oct. 13. The cost will be $35 per student and chaperone for the senior class retreat, and the eighth grade trip will cost $45 per student;
Awarded the bid for roof replacement at the middle/high school to Waterblock Roofing and Sheetmetal with a contract of $126,929;
Awarded the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning maintenance and service contract to Technical Building Services, Inc. in the amount of $20,610. Gibson will sign the contract;
Approved use of school cell phones for Frank Faber, the career and technical-education coordinator and Langevin, making a total of nine school cell phones;
Approved the 2006-07 BOCES classroom rental and ancillary services agreements. The board of Cooperative Educational Services will rent two classrooms, with the possibility of renting a third for $30,000 per classroom;
Nominated a voting delegate and an alternate for the annual business meeting of the New York State School Boards Association in New York City on Oct. 28. The voting delegate is Thomas McKenna, and the alternate, Kevin Kroencke;
Approved a contractual agreement between Albany County and the Voorheesville School District to provide bus washing at the Albany County Department of Public Works;
Amended district policies for petty-cash accounts and tax-sheltered annuities;
Approved contracts with Dodge Chamberlain Luzine & Weber Associates Architects LLP for services in reconstruction work at the elementary school, and the high school. The board also approved the contract for the company to do a roof replacement at the secondary school;
Announced that there will be a public hearing at 7 p.m. before the next meeting on Monday, Sept. 11, in regards to the capital project; the regular meeting will follow at 7:30 p.m.
New laws muffle sounds, support farming
By Rachel Dutil
NEW SCOTLAND Striving to preserve New Scotlands rural character, the town board recently passed two new laws a right-to-farm law, and a noise-control law.
The right-to-farm law says that "agricultural lands are irreplaceable assets and that farming is an essential activity."
The law, the fifth passed by the town board this year, was imposed to help "agriculture in general," said board member and New Scotland farmer, Douglas LaGrange.
LaGrange said that people move to areas like New Scotland for their rural appeal. "They don’t really realize that there’s dust, and noise, and smells, and slow traffic," he said.
The law aims to reduce nuisance lawsuits, LaGrange told TheEnterprise.
In other once-rural towns under development pressure like New Scotland, newcomers have sued farmers, sometimes putting them out of business.
LaGrange, along with Michael Mackey, the towns attorney, drafted the 10-page law. The draft was brought to a public hearing, where, according to LaGrange, it faced some questions, but no real objections.
The law will require that new landowners be informed by the town of farming practices in the area. "The Town Board, in an affort to promote and foster a harmonious relationship between the residents of New Scotland, and to conserve, protect and encourage the development and improvements of agricultural land for the production of food and other products, hereby also declares that it shall be the policy of the Town of New Scotland to provide reasonable notice to prospective landowners that farming activities may occur and are encouraged on neighboring lands," the law states.
Two years ago, The Enterprise took an in-depth look at farms in New Scotland. The newspaper found that there were 17 farms left in the town. Some of the farmers specialize in crops, which they grow, harvest, and sell. There is also a horse farm, a large beef-cow farm, and two large-scale dairy farms.
In addition to New Scotland’s right-to-farm law, Albany County has drafted a right-to-farm law, said Alexander "Sandy" Gordon, county legislator for Berne, Knox, and Rensselaerville. Gordon said that a final draft will proceed to committee and then go to a vote. This is a "county initiative that I have been pursuing for a while," he said.
It is in "good sense to keep the farms tangible," LaGrange told The Enterprise.
The town board has also adopted a noise control law, the sixth this year. The law is identical to one that the village of Voorheesville implemented in 2002.
The law is "to prevent unreasonably loud, disturbing and unnecessary noise and to reduce the noise level within the Town so as to preserve, protect and promote the public health, safety and welfare and to foster convenience, peace and quiet within the Town for the inhabitants thereof," the noise control law states.
According to Eileen Bates, a clerical assistant for the village of Voorheesville, "We don’t get that many complaints," she said of the four year-old village law, "So far it seems to be working well."
Mackey told The Enterprise that it is logical to have the same law applicable to the whole town.
The law defines "unreasonable noise" as "a noise which is of such character, intensity and duration, or of a type or volume, that a reasonable person of normal sensitivities would not tolerate under the circumstances."
Noise levels for motor vehicles, according to the law, are regulated by the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law.
Animal noise in excess of 15 minutes that "causes unreasonable or unnecessary noise" is prohibited.
Noise from meeting halls or private residences that can be heard between the hours of 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. is also prohibited.
Noise resulting from construction, defined in the law as, "the erection, including excavation, demolition, alteration or repair of any building," is prohibited between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.
The law is to be enforced by the towns code enforcement officer, the county sheriffs department, or the state police. Those found guilty of violating the law can be fined up to $250 for each offense.
LaGrange told The Enterprise that the right-to-farm law will supercede the noise-control law. He said that sometimes it is necessary for farmers to work late at night. "We don’t really enjoy working at 11:00 at night," he said. The weather determines when the work can be done, he explained.
Mackey told The Enterprise that the town is "hopeful that this will stop violations, which is the main purpose."
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