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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 7, 2007

Despite success for fairgrounds
Villagers want to unplug Countryfest

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — As tickets are quickly being sold for the 2007 Countryfest at the Altamont fairgrounds, a mass-gathering permit has yet to be obtained from the town of Guilderland.

A group of village residents is actively lobbying against the event while the fair’s manager says such money-makers are vital to the fair’s survival.

Although Countryfest organizers hailed last year’s event as a success, it drew heavy criticism from local residents.

"I could have brought down 200 people today who are against the Countryfest," the Village of Altamont Neighborhood Association president, Norman Bauman, told the town board on Tuesday.

"We’re here, we’ve been here, and we’ll continue to have our events," said the Fair’s manager, Marie McMillen. "We understand we have a responsibility to mitigate the issues, and that’s what we’re doing."

Last year, the annual WGNA event was held at the fairgrounds after previously being held in Saratoga. It was one of the biggest single-day events of the summer there, attracting an estimated 30,000 people. The festival began 14 years ago.

Countryfest is scheduled for Saturday, July 14, with parking gates opening at 5:30 a.m.

At Tuesday night’s Guilderland Town Board meeting, representatives from the Village of Altamont Neighborhood Association told the board to deny the event’s mass-gathering permit. Bauman told the board that the heavy traffic, noise, and "drunk young people" make the event undesirable for the small village.

"It wasn’t just a problem, it was a major problem"We were told addressing the village board would be a waste of time," Bauman said to the town board. "What are you people planning to do"" he asked.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion later responded by saying, "Until we get more information, no permits will be issued."

Bauman contended that, in addition to last year’s complaints of impassable traffic and concert-goers urinating in horse stalls at the fairgrounds, people were also found urinating on residents’ lawns. He said the small village is unable to accommodate such large single-day events.

"Great family event"

Organizers of the event and the fairground’s manager disagree.

"The Altamont Fair has applied for a mass-gathering permit within the legal time constraint"We’ve met with the town and the state’s Department of Transportation to mitigate the issues," said McMillen. "Last year was the first year for the event and we learned a number of things from it. Those things are now being addressed."

Salena Dutcher, marketing director for WGNA, said extra precautions are being taken this year and that her company is footing the bill.

"We are working on a traffic study with Clough Harbor and Associates engineering," Dutcher said. "We’re taking every step to provide the event with minimal interference to the village"We are moving forward with every facet of bringing Countryfest back to Altamont."

Responding to the traffic mitigation study, Bauman said, "That doesn’t stop many young people who are drunk from urinating"People camped out at 5 a.m. and were drinking alcohol."

Dutcher said no large event is without problems and added that Countryfest brings a lot of business to the area.

"Any time you bring an event of this size, you will encounter problems," said Dutcher, but she also said it generates income for the village. Last year, Dutcher said, many of the local gas stations and convenience stores quickly sold out of items because of the high demand.

"This is the largest one-day country music festival in the Northeast. People come from all over the country to see this, people from New Jersey and Virginia, and, last year, as far away as Colorado."

Dutcher described Countryfest as a "great family event," and said that many people plan their summer vacations around Countryfest. She said the event left Saratoga because the venue was constantly expanding and under construction.

Bauman countered that Saratoga "threw out" Countryfest because of the "unruly crowds" it drew.

"Supervisor Runion has been nothing but helpful to us and only wants to best serve the people of Altamont and Guilderland," Dutcher said about having various meetings with town officials.

McMillen said that meetings have been held with emergency medical services teams and other emergency workers as well as with the local law-enforcement agencies.

"We’ve increased everything," said McMillen. "We have a formal plan for traffic, which will be approved by the DOT."

Both McMillen and Dutcher told The Enterprise that, with the proper planning and security measures, the fairgrounds can accommodate the expected crowd.

McMillen said that this year the fairgrounds have increased the number of on-site portable toilets from 50 to over 250, additional off-site parking areas have been acquired, the number of shuttle buses available will increase from three to 12, and more security is being brought in for the event. The costs of these improvements are being provided by both WGNA and the fairgrounds, she added.

‘Level of concern’

The Altamont Village board was meeting Tuesday night at the same times as the Guilderland Town Board. (Altamont is a village within the town of Guilderland and has its own governing board.)

Michael LaMountain of Maple Avenue told the village board that traffic at last year’s Countryfest was a "nightmare." He said cars were parked "anywhere and everywhere."

Mayor James Gaughan responded that Guilderland had met with the DOT to arrange shuttle buses for concert-goers from satellite locations and that Supervisor Runion has promised to look at safety issues before granting a mass-gathering permit.

"I take everything you say with a very, very huge set of seriousness," Gaughan concluded at Tuesday’s village board meeting.

Gaughan said yesterday that a safety plan is needed to address not only a traffic study, but all of the safety and health issues involved with large events at the fairgrounds.

"We’ve got to make sure we have exits and egresses and ingresses for our emergency plans," Gaughan told The Enterprise. "If the town decides to grant the permit"we have to work together to make it happen."

Saying that the village is involved with meetings and with the permit process, Gaughan said, that, ultimately, the decision is left to the town.

Runion did not return calls to The Enterprise yesterday for comment.

At Guilderland’s town board meeting, Councilman David Bosworth said the board had been unaware of "the level of concern" by village residents.

"Safety comes first"That’s why we have a permitting process," said Bosworth. "Fifty thousand people coming to Guilderland by July is something that we’re not ready to do."

Michael Ricard, the all-Democratic board’s longest-serving member, said he was stuck in the traffic from last year’s Countryfest and he saw people getting out of their cars to relieve themselves in the village.

"There were things going on that were not becoming of any adult," Ricard said. "It was really bad last year."

The Altamont Neighborhood Association’s vice president, Steve Reinemann, told the board that the traffic presented several safety risks.

"You’d never get fire apparatus through the village there," Reinemann said of Altamont’s main street. "If there was a fire, forget it; it would be impossible."

Runion recommended that village residents circulate a petition if they want to collectively voice their opinions.

"I would be glad to further discuss it with you," Runion told the association members. "Or you could sit down with the police department."

Bauman, who has lived in Altamont for three years, first formed his group as a neighborhood watch based on guidelines from the attorney general’s office.

Fairground fare

McMillen said the fairgrounds "desperately need" the revenue from outside events for upkeep and maintenance. The Altamont Fair alone cannot provide this, she said.

The once-a-year, six-day event serves Albany, Schenectady, and Greene counties, promoting agriculture and providing a midway and other forms of entertainment. The fair is over a century old and is mostly run by volunteers. The fairground serves as a venue for a wide range of events throughout the year

At last year’s Altamont Fair, the attendance rate was looking "very promising" by Wednesday and was looking like it could break previous records, McMillen said. However, three days of rain later in the week stopped the attendance rates from increasing any further.

"The fairgrounds have a huge footprint and maintains many buildings"It’s been very difficult for the fair," McMillen said. "We could have the best entertainment in the world and if it’s rainy people won’t stay and if it’s 90 degrees outside people will sit in front of their air conditioners at home"It becomes a very dicey situation to bank on just the money off of the fair."

Mayor Gaughan described the fairgrounds as an important part of the village.

"Although it’s a not-for-profit they still have to make money"It’s critical that they have successful events, but it’s a balancing act," said Gaughan.

The mayor said that it is always reported to him that the other businesses in the village profit from events at the fairgrounds.

McMillen ran off a quick list of some expenses the fair currently faces:

— $25,000 to$35,000 for one roof repair;

— $40,000 to $60,000 for annual blacktop repair;

— $50,000 for necessary electrical system updates;

— 15 new transformers costing $1,000 each;

— $25,000 to rebuild and update a covered stage;

— $200,000 to $300,000 to finish new bleachers with a cover; and

— "Three or four" annual salaries.

These are in addition to the regular annual expenses of the fairgrounds.

"We’re not here to get rich or pay a lot of salaries. We’re here to maintain the fairgrounds," McMillen said.

In the future, said McMillen, the fairgrounds will be looking to bring in "some bigger acts," but the fair has no intention of picking up any additional events.

"We are doing good enough now, picking up some smaller events along the way," McMillen said, but she added, "It’s important that we generate income"We will have that event."

Information about upcoming events is available on the fair’s website and in local newspapers, McMillen said, but she added that the fair does not mail out individual notices on events at the fairgrounds.

McMillen said many of the volunteers and board members for the fair live in or around Altamont and that they would not want to negatively affect the village. She added that she hopes that, in the future, neighbors will voice their concerns about an event sooner.

"We would rather people bring complaints after the event rather than the following year after we already booked the acts," McMillen told The Enterprise.

— Reporter Saranac Hale Spencer contributed the information from the village’s board meeting.

Enterprise, Probst aid in collaring jewel thief

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — After years on the run, Carl Dinatale has been caught. Police have charged him in several jewelry heists along the East Coast — one of them in Guilderland.

America’s Most Wanted, the national television show, has credited The Enterprise and a former Altamont resident for identifying Dinatale and linking his string of robberies together.

A viewer of the popular television show called and said Dinatale may be living in the Boston area after seeing his story, according to American’s Most Wanted website, and police arrested him.

Ells Probst, a faithful Enterprise reader, retired from the New York State Bureau of Criminal Investigation and moved near Raleigh, N. C. Probst tipped off Raleigh police last spring after he remembered reading a Dec. 8, 2005, article in The Enterprise about a diamond robbery in Guilderland.

"They only had a composite [of Dinatale]. I called them up and told them the Guilderland Police have a photograph," Probst said last year.

Guilderland Police had surveillance video photographs of the robber, which The Enterprise ran with its article.

Public information officer Jim Sughrue, of the Raleigh Police Department, said at the time that Probst and The Enterprise "played a key role" in identifying Dinatale.

"He’s not a young guy anymore; it’s going to be harder and harder for him to outrun people," Probst said about Dinatale last spring.

Now, Dinatale is facing larceny charges in Raleigh and Boston and grand larceny charges in Guilderland and possibly in other locations.

In Guilderland, a man who police now identify as Dinatale walked into Northeastern Fine Jewelry on Western Avenue in December of 2005 and pretended to be a customer, according to Guilderland Police. He asked to see two diamond rings, worth $45,000, and, after a sales clerk handed him the rings, he ran out of the store, police said at the time.

A red jeep Cherokee was waiting outside and Dinatale and the driver got away, said Guilderland Police who found the vehicle parked at Crossgates Mall later that the day. The vehicle was reported stolen from another town and no evidence or merchandise was ever recovered.

America’s Most Wanted wrote on its website that Probst was visiting his family in upstate New York, and that he "brought back his hometown newspaper. An article in The Altamont Enterprise described Dinatale’s alleged heist in Guilderland and the ‘snatch and run’ style stuck in the retired cop’s mind""

No stranger to the Capital District, Probst retired from the state BCI in 1982 and then opened a private investigators firm in Voorheesville. His wife, Edie, was a town clerk for New Scotland. The couple moved to Wilmington in 1998 and enjoy their new home.

GCSD honors 16 of its finest

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Friends, family, and colleagues came out to cheer for the 16 school-district employees who won awards for their loyalty and leadership, their innovation and expertise.

Their contributions were diverse. Groundskeeper Oliver Leach was hailed as "the god of sod" while teacher Yvette Terplak was lauded as "the glue of Altamont Elementary."

Following a 30-year tradition, the award recipients were nominated by their colleagues and co-workers.

"Thank you for being a leader," Susan Tangorre, assistant superintendent for human resources, said to the recipients at the close of the ceremony. "You are an inspiration for all of us."

These employees were honored:

— Jill Bierman, a teaching assistant at Westmere Elementary School, was described as a kind and giving person who shows patience and care for her students. Principal Deborah Drumm credited her with spearheading the creation of the Westmere courtyard and concluded, "Her presence is everywhere in the Westmere school community";

— Kristine Culotti, a reading teacher at Guilderland Elementary School, regularly attends school board meetings as the Guilderland Teachers’ Association building president and listens to the needs and wants of teachers. Principal Dianne Walshhampton said, "She enjoys helping parents understand their children’s reading instruction." She concluded by telling Culotti, "I value your integrity and dedication to children and to excellence";

— Debra Erickson, a teaching assistant in the high school’s learning workshop program, "feels a responsibility towards all students," said Dean Lisa Patierne. The dean went on to describe the way Erickson put aside her own grief at a funeral for a young student and "fighting her own tears" signed for the deaf and hard-of-hearing students who were there to mourn their friend. She concluded by quoting Albert Schweitzer that example is not the main thing in influencing others; it is the only thing;

— Crystal Fox, special-education administrator at Farnsworth Middle School, advocates for children and is "always responsive to staff," said Stephen Hadden, the district’s administrator for special services. She was lauded as a model of grace under pressure and praised for her energy, dedication, and insightful understanding of students, building an atmosphere of trust and confidence;

— Maria Jasenski, a middle-school math teacher, was called "one of Guilderland’s finest" by math and science supervisor, Demian Singleton. She is widely known as "Mama J," a nickname that is "symbolic of her caring demeanor," said Singleton. "Her advice goes well beyond mathematics," said Singleton, who also said her reputation has spread throughout the Capital Region;

— David Lansing, district-wide computer technician, has a "rare combination of both technical and people skills," said Joe Laurenzo, his supervisor. Lansing has made more revisions to the report-card format than our founding fathers made to the Declaration of Independence, said Laurenzo. He praised Lansing for his "gourmet lunches" and for improving the "tech savvy" of everyone around him;

— Debra LaPietro, a teacher at Westmere Elementary School, was lauded by Principal Deborah Drumm for her "positive attitude, initiative, and attention to detail." She is known for her devotion to students and recently helped a family who lost everything in a fire, Drumm said. She visited her student’s home and found a Lego man in the rubble and brought it to school for him. "You should have seen the smile on his face," said Drumm. "She really knows how to make everything right";

— Oliver Leach, a district-wide groundsperson, is called "the god of sod," said his supervisor Bob Collins. Without being asked, he’ll rake or re-mow athletic fields to make sure they are perfect for the big game. Collins choked up as he said, "He wants to be sure the children will get the best";

— Mark McDonald, a physical-education teacher at Pine Bush Elementary School, was described as "skilled, energetic, friendly, rock-solid reliable, and dedicated to his students" by Principal Martha Beck. He is an "innovative educator" who organizes an annual field trip to a local curling club and creates obstacle courses that have become legendary, said Beck. He is a "father figure" to the girls he has coached in gymnastics, she said, and, in organizing the annual Fun Run, he personally goes to the orchard and brings back apples for each student;

— Christine Monlea, an art teacher and Lynnwood and Pine Bush elementary schools, has "an almost magical skill" for inspiring children to create high-class works of art, said the Pine Bush principal, Martha Beck. "Their self-confidence blooms." Monlea initiated the Pine Bush art gallery on-line and she decorated Liberty, "one of the purloined pigs" in the town-wide Pigtacular, said Beck. When the pig was stolen, Monlea was more concerned about the children and their feelings of loss, said Beck. Once Liberty was found, the fiberglass pig was put on wheels and brought in every night. Monlea, Beck concluded, "brings light, color, texture, and celebration to the halls of Pine Bush Elementary School";

— Micki Nevett, library media specialist at Westmere Elementary School, encourages visits with celebrated authors whose "work inspires students and staff alike," said Principal Deborah Drumm. She has served on the prestigious Caldecott and Newberry award selection committees. Noting that Where the Wild Things Are is one of Nevett’s favorite books, Drumm concluded, "Let the wild rumpus start as Micki brings books alive";

— Michelle Romano, art teacher at Farnsworth Middle School, is a Guilderland graduate and was described as "homegrown" by her supervisor, Sheila Elario. She also said Romano is "an ongoing learner" and has a "high level of perseverance and energy." She was credited for turning the school’s walls into art galleries, displaying student work. "There’s no stopping Michelle," said Elario;

— Mary Schmitz, a teaching assistant at Guilderland Elementary School, was lauded as a true professional who constantly assesses the needs of her students, creating and modifying materials and brainstorming with teachers to best meet each child’s needs. She sweeps the building during fire drills, looking out for each student’s safety, said Principal Dianne Walshhampton. "Mary Schmitz sees a need or anticipates a need and offers to help," said Drumm;

— Demian Singleton, math-science supervisor at Farnsworth Middle School, "translates passion into action," said Principal Mary Summermatter. His colleagues call him creative, energetic, and supportive — a model of professionalism, she said. "Demian inspires, enriches, and raises the bar, bringing out the best in all of us," said Summermatter;

— Yvette Terplak, teacher, was lauded as the glue of Altamont Elementary School. She was praised for her positive attitude and for the many activities she has been involved with outside of the classroom in her 35 years with the district. The current Altamont principal, Peter Brabant, read through decades of praise of Terplak’s teaching from previous principals. He quoted Susan Tangorre, saying Terplak is "a bit like the Energizer Bunny: She keeps going and going and going";

— Bernice Williams, secretary at Lynnwood Elementary School, was called a mainstay in the office for more than 15 years who always has a smile and a friendly attitude. Principal Jim Dillon said, "Bernice and I are real kindred spirits." He humorously described some of the escapades they’d been through and said he couldn’t have "stayed principal all these years without her." Williams, he said, "keeps the heart and spirit going at Lynnwood with joy and love."

Kicked out at Christmas
Village stops Fisher’s water, leaves her homeless

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Last Christmas, the Fisher family awoke to polyester bedspreads and unfamiliar pictures on the wall. After the village shut off their water in December, they moved into a hotel on Washington Avenue where they opened presents around a $29 Christmas tree from K-Mart.

Water flow to their house, at 6319 Gun Club Road, had been cut to one hour per day after Alice Fisher, a widow with six children, fell behind on her water bill.

"She has been grossly in arrears in her water and sewer," said the village’s lawyer, Guy Roemer, on Wednesday. According to documents from the Albany County Clerk’s Office, Fisher owes the village $6,732 for water.

In a resolution passed by the village board on Nov. 21, 2006, the board agreed to accept a second mortgage from Fisher and a portion of her wages, together with a title search and money to cover court record costs, which amounted to about $100, in exchange for continued water service to her house. Roemer said that her lawyer, Nicholas Grasso, never provided the title search and that there were already three mortgages on the house.

"That means that we would not be getting a second mortgage," he said. "We would be getting a mortgage that has basically no value."

Grasso, who was working pro bono for Fisher, did not return calls from The Enterprise over the course of months, but stated in an affidavit dated Dec. 21, 2006 that the additional mortgages had been discharged in bankruptcy.

"It’s very humbling," Fisher said yesterday with a quiver in her voice. "I’ve never been homeless in my life. It’s embarrassing." She checks in on her house regularly, to mow the lawn and get the mail, she said. It needs some repairs, too, she said, like a new roof and doors.

"We couldn’t stay at the hotel," said Fisher. "After a couple of months, I couldn’t afford to pay it anymore." She works at a day-care center and is taking classes at Maria College in Albany with the goal of becoming a junior-high teacher, she said.

Fisher hadn’t expected the stay would be that long, she said, and five of her children were living with her at the time. "I promised my kids I wouldn’t split them up, but I ended up having to."

One of the hardest things, she said, was having to give up a grandchild because the courts determined that she was homeless.

Things have been hard for all the children, she said, ever since their father, Robert Fisher, died in a tractor accident while working at Altamont Orchards in 1998. He "was hardworking and honest, a good-hearted guy," a fellow employee told The Enterprise at the time. "They don’t come much better than that."

Fisher hopes to move back into her house soon. She’s kept up with the mortgage and heating bills, so her pipes wouldn’t freeze over the winter, said Amanda Vennard of Senator Neil Breslin’s office. Fisher approached Breslin for help after the village turned off her water.

Fisher, like other residents of Gun Club Road, lives outside of Altamont, but receives village water for a higher fee.

For the roughly two months that Breslin’s office was involved, Vennard said, "We were doing our best to reach out to the village on her behalf, to let them know of the financial hardships this has put on her." Several people, including Fisher’s Maria College professors, approached the village on her behalf, said Vennard.

"It really comes down to the village making the decision whether or not they want to allow her to go on a payment plan or garnish her wages," Vennard said.

Mayor James Gaughan would not discuss current litigation "because," he said, "it is not following due process."

Roemer said the current legal situation is at a standstill, although he isn’t handling the case himself.

In December, Grasso filed an order to show cause. He was attempting to enforce the village’s November resolution, which accepted Fisher’s wages and a second mortgage in exchange for turning on the water. It was dismissed in February. Roemer said that there is another case filed against the village by Fisher, though neither he nor Gaughan would discuss it.

During an executive session on Tuesday night, the village board discussed current litigation concerning Fisher, Gaughan said after the session.

Asked earlier this spring for copies of all the resolutions made by the village board in the month of November, Village Clerk Jean LaCrosse gave The Enterprise a copy of the minutes of the November village board meeting, omitting the Nov. 21 resolution. A Freedom of Information Law Request filed on Wednesday by The Enterprise for information regarding the resolution went unanswered. When asked for the information later in the evening, Mayor Gaughan said that it was "unreasonable" to expect a response immediately; the law allows five days.

Before Christmas, Fisher bought some used games to put under the tree for her son, "just little things like that," she said. "Socks and underwear, things that you need, but you can unwrap." For dinner, she cooked a small ham. "We ate very quiet, very solemn," she said of Christmas dinner with her children. "I heard a lot of complaints from them, but the quietness is almost worse."

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