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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 23, 2007
Letsons paid $5K
GCSD settles harassment suit
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND The school district is paying $5,000 to the Letsons after the family sued four years ago, claiming Sarah Letson, then 15, "was subjected to sexual harassment while a member of the Junior Varsity volleyball team."
The notice of claim said, "The sexual harassment includes, but is not limited to, being required to wear a sign reading ‘Slut #1,’ and being subjected to the word ‘slut’ on frequent occasions by Coach Deborah Hayes."
The suit also claimed negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The Guilderland School Board approved the settlement at its June 19 meeting, as part of a consent agenda; the topic was not mentioned and there was no discussion before the unanimous vote, approving a group of items. Superintendent Gregory Aidala said the next day that he could not furnish a copy of the settlement which the board had approved because it had not been "executed."
The Enterprise filed a Freedom of Information Law request on June 22; Susan Tangorre, the districts FOIL officer, responded that she could not furnish a copy until the executed written document was received, which she anticipated would be available within 20 business days.
When, after 20 business days, no document was forthcoming, The Enterprise filed an appeal.
"Whatever it is they acted on should be public," Robert Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government told The Enterprise, indicating there should be no wait for an "executed" document.
The Enterprise received a copy of the 11-page settlement agreement last week.
The settlement says that the payment to the Letsons "is not to be construed as an admission of liability on the part of" the school district, "by whom liability is expressly denied" and that the Letsons agree to no further legal action.
Each side agreed to pay its own attorneys’ fees and expenses. Both parties also agreed "to keep and maintain the terms, conditions and amount of this Settlement Agreement confidential, except as required by law."
Freeman told The Enterprise earlier that courts have ruled that a contract with a public entity such as a school is public even if something within the contract says it is not.
The settlement with the Letsons says if they fail to comply, they will be required to return the $5,000 to the school district. Both sides are gagged.
Superintendent Aidala, when asked about the settlement this week, cited the agreement’s "strict confidentiality language," and said, "I need to abide."
Since school-district spending is a matter of public record, The Enterprise asked Aidala how much the district had spent on the suit, other that the $5,000 payment to the Letsons. "It’s covered by insurance," he said, "so it hasn’t cost the district additional expenses."
Aidala did answer a series of questions in general terms. (See related story.)
The Letsons did not return a call this week, seeking comment on the settlement, nor did the law firm representing them, OConnell & Aronowitz of Albany.
Carl and Laura Letson moved to Florida with their daughter in 2003 because, they wrote in lengthy letters to The Enterprise editor, they wanted to avoid the apparent retaliation their daughter has suffered after complaining about Hayes.
In their 2003 letters, they also detailed harassment they said their daughter was subjected to and described the school districts shortcomings in responding.
Carl Letson wrote how he learned from the parent of another volleyball player that she had found a sign in her daughter’s backpack naming her as "Slut #2," which Coach Hayes assigned her to wear.
"I decided to ask Sarah what, if anything, she knew about this incident," Carl Letson wrote. "Her response was, ‘What do you mean, Dad, I was "Slut #1." At first I was stunned, then outraged. How could this have happened" These girls had been branded, humiliated by their coach in front of their peers.
"We learned that the mother who had brought the matter to my attention had filed a complaint with the school and had little or no response. Our daughter also advised us that she has been pulled from class and interrogated by two teachers without any other representation."
Laura Letson, a one-time school board member, wrote, "Our daughter, age 15, cannot comprehend why school district employees, administrators, and elected board officials have gone to the extent demonstrated to date to protect a teacher at a student’s expense and well being...."
She concluded at the time, "It is our hope that an in-depth investigation of the athletic department will be undertaken, that the Guilderland community will take back control of their board of education, and restore faith in children that they can speak out openly and be heard."
Hayes, who was not tenured, resigned in the summer of 2003.
Deborah Hayes is now teaching at Ballston Spa High School and is "trying to get over" her treatment at Guilderland, said Paul Wein, of Wein, Young, Fenton & Kelsey, a Guilderland law firm which has represented Hayes.
"Do you think a male coach would be treated the way she was treated"" he asked this week. Wein said his son had played lacrosse at Guilderland and he had heard far worse language from football and lacrosse coaches at Guilderland than Hayes was accused of using.
Terming it "a double standard," Wein said, "This is a women’s rights issue."
Deborah Hayes began teaching physical education at Guilderland in September of 2000. Allegations of sexual harassment were raised on the teams Hayes coached during the spring of 2002 softball season and the fall of 2002 volleyball season.
After an in-house investigation, the school district hired an outside investigator, at the insistence of Sarah Letsons parents, Carl and Laura Letson.
The outside investigator, Michele Paludi, produced a 27-page report, concluding that a three-page in-house report contained procedural errors. She wrote, "Ms. Hayes referred to some of her student/team members as ‘sluts’ and ‘slutty.’ By doing so, Ms. Hayes set up a hostile environment for these young women because of their sex. Ms. Hayes does not understand the consequences of referring to the young women as ‘sluts,’ especially as it relates to their self-esteem and identity problems."
Paludi also wrote that knowing a coach or teacher referred to women as ‘sluts’ "could potentially give full reign to other students, including young men, to consider the women as sexually experienced or seeking sexual experiences."
She went on, "Ms. Hayes’ behavior could have potentially created a situation where the women students could have been sexually assaulted. The hostile environment set up by Coach Hayes in her office extended throughout the entire high school, including classrooms in which these women students were taking courses."
Hayes, like other new teachers, was on a three-year probation, waiting for tenure, a permanent faculty appointment. Rather than being fired or given tenure, she was given an extra year of probation, on the recommendation of Superintendent Aidala. The school board approved his recommendation in March of 2003, by a vote of 6 to 1, with only Barbara Fraterrigo dissenting.
In April of that year, The Enterprise broke the story about the allegations against Hayes. While the high-school principal at the time, John Whipple, and the athletic director, Wayne Bertrand, didnt deny the allegations, they both extolled Hayess virtues as a creative and popular teacher who offered much of value to the school.
"As a superintendent," said Aidala at the time, "I depend on information reported to me from the athletic director and the high-school principal."
He also said, "The full investigation was handled in a very professional way. It helped to resolve the issue and put closure on the matter...I hope we will be able to move forward."
The next month, Jim and Debra McCarten wrote to The Enterprise editor that they believed their son, Jon, a Guilderland High School student and an accomplished gymnast, "needed a second shoulder surgery to repair damage that is believed to have been caused by his forced participation in Ms. Hayes’ physical education class."
They wrote, "We strongly believe that Ms. Hayes caused physical and emotional harm to our son and that he has been severely let down by this school district and the high school administration."
The McCartens said the district had not responded to their complaint.
(This year, The Enterprise wrote about Jon McCarten, now 21, and his career in music. After his injury, he switched the focus of his passion from gymnastics to music and, as a student at the University of Vermont, began playing with the well-known Gordon Stone Band. He has played internationally with the Emmy Award-winning Stone. McCarten told Enterprise reporter Rachel Dutil this May, "After my second shoulder surgery, it just really became difficult to come back" [in gymnastics]"Leaving something I’d been a part of for so long"there was a lot of questioning"I shifted all my focus to [music] and really gave it my all to try and make it work.")
Later in 2003, two high-school teachers and coaches spoke at a school-board meeting in defense of Hayes. Warren Bollinger said that Hayes had been both professionally and personally punished. "Ms. Hayes acknowledges that mistakes were made, has apologized to students and their families, and has undergone extensive training," he said. "Her probation has been extended for an additional year and her name and reputation have been ruined."
Anne Reed-Best described Hayes as a dedicated professional.
Robert Freeman, the expert on open government, said at the time that, since the school board had allowed defense of Hayes at a public session, comments must then be allowed on the other side as well.
At the next board meeting, three mothers Lori Tapper, Judy Palmer, and Pam Klarsfeld pointed out problems with Hayes or with the schools response to the allegations.
Lori Tapper, whose 16-year-old daughter played on the volleyball team coached by Hayes, said her daughter had felt humiliated by comments made by Hayes about her clothes looking risqué. Near tears, Tapper reported that Hayes had said about her daughter, "She must be in competition for Slut #3."
Tapper said that, at the time, her daughter was wearing a sweater that left no skin exposed except on her wrists.
Tapper said that comments made by administrators had trivialized the situation.
Judy Palmer and Pam Klarsfeld told the board that there was a double standard at Guilderland that allowed coaches to play by different rules than other staff members.
Palmer said that some coaches "give very demeaning messages."
Klarsfeld said that a district priority had always been "respect," and that she was saddened by the message some, not all sports teams, are giving to students. "It’s difficult to listen to your child be screamed at...," she said. "It turns my stomach."
In June of 2003, the Letsons filed their notice of claim and so did Carol Norfleet and her daughter, Ashley Goodwill, who was also coached by Hayes. Norfleet told The Enterprise that her daughter was repeatedly referred to in a derogatory manner by Hayes.
"The girls were afraid to say anything because she has a bad temper and they feared retaliation," Norfleet said in 2003.
She also said that she discovered a sign in her daughter’s backpack that named her daughter as "Slut #2" and that her daughter told her the coach wanted her to wear it.
Ashley had been an honor student, Norfleet said, but her grades fell into the 70s because of the harassment. Ashley also had stress-related gastrointestinal problems, Norfleet said at the time. "She can’t keep anything in her," she said. "She’s been through a colonoscopy and an endoscopy."
On July 1, 2003, the district reached an agreement with Hayes, under which she resigned.
Recent records with the State Supreme Court show that a jury trial for Norfleet v. Guilderland Central School District, originally scheduled for June 4, 2007, has been adjourned to Jan. 7, 2008.
Aidala talks about issues after suit
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Has anything changed in this well-heeled suburban school district because of the claims of harassment raised against a coach four years ago, or because of the subsequent lawsuits"
Parents raised several issues in 2003 as allegations were made about Coach Deborah Hayes’s sexual harassment of her students. The superintendent of schools, Gregory Aidala, declined this week to speak about a settlement with a family who sued over harassment. However, he agreed to comment "in general terms" on these topics.
Deborah Hayes, a physical-education teacher and coach, did not have tenure, a permanent faculty appointment. The school board initially voted, based on a recommendation by Aidala, to extend her three-year probation, rather than fire her.
Aidala had said, four years ago, that he relied on the advice of the high-school principal and the districts athletic director when making his recommendation to the board.
A parent of a player on one of Hayess teams at the time was outraged at the school boards decision to extend Hayess probationary period a year and expressed fear that other students would be subjected to harassment.
"She should be fired," the parent told The Enterprise. "Our board members are supposed to protect our children. They didn’t protect my child."
The parent also said of the relationship between the principal, the athletic director, and Hayes, "They’re all too close; they protect each other. The system hasn’t worked."
The Enterprise asked Aidala this week if the district has reevaluated its tenure-granting process, perhaps to include an outside perspective, a parental perspective, or a peer perspective, particularly in problem cases or in cases where there are strong bonds of friendship between the evaluators and the teacher.
Aidala responded, "The backbone of the Guilderland Central School District is reflected in the quality of our teaching staff."
He said that he would be speaking next week to new teachers in an all-day workshop before school starts and that those same teachers had been attending seminars over the summer.
"Our goal is to help teachers grow professionally and help them to do an outstanding job," said Aidala. "We’re always very careful to give honest, direct feedback to an individual. People are not perfect but the important thing is: Are they growing, advancing""
He went on, to ask himself a rhetorical question, "Have we changed anything in terms of the chain of command" The answer is no. But we’re ever mindful of the importance of the tenure decision."
He then referred to a book he often cites, Good To Great, by Jim Collins, and said, "He talks about getting the right people on the bus. That’s what we do."
In letters to The Enterprise editor and in speaking to the school board four years ago, a half-dozen parents indicated there was a double standard that allows coaches to behave differently towards students than teachers and other staff members.
The outside investigator hired by the school district four years ago to investigate the claims of harassment against Deborah Hayes concluded that Hayes did not understand "the power differential between teachers and students and could not de-center from her own perspective and understand how her behavior was being perceived by students, the less powerful individuals in the relationship."
The investigator also found that the so called "team-building" exercise sponsored by Hayes, which led girls to wear notes on their backs labeling them as "slut," "was not thoroughly conceptualized on several levels by Ms. Hayes, who as of our interview, still does not fully comprehend the seriousness of her actions."
John Whipple, the high school principal at the time and a one-time swim coach, responded to Enterprise questions four years ago about the notes by describing the event in a coaching context.
"I used to coach," he said. "When you were getting ready for a big meet, managers would put signs in athletes’ front yards to draw special attention. All of those things were kid-driven""
Whipple said the notes in Hayes’s exercise "were to get kids pumped up for a big game. They would write phrases and put the notes on the backs of teammates"The term ‘slutty’ is the way teenage girls describe themselves, when they dress provocatively."
Whipple said Hayes had been reprimanded and was being monitored, and he said, "The term was offensive but I don’t think it was intended that way." He also said, "I personally feel this was dealt with sufficiently and I’m very surprised we are still addressing this."
This week, The Enterprise asked Aidala if he believed there is a double standard at Guilderland, if coaches are expected to follow the same protocols as classroom teachers, and if the district had had any discussions about it or made any changes in the last four years.
"We have a coaches’ code of conduct," said Aidala. Referring to the athletic director, he went on, "Wayne Bertrand meets with all the coaches and goes over a variety of issues"Respect"is very important."
Aidala went on, "One of the things we’re very proud of at Guilderland is we often win sportsmanship awards, which is a reflection of our coaches."
He said the district had just completed "a very successful season," not just in terms of its win-loss records, but in the high rate of student participation and in students’ having positive experiences.
"Wayne Bertrand and Regan Johnson [the assistant athletic director] work with our coaches, practicing respect on and off the field."
He gave as an example Bob Oates, the long-time cross-country coach. Oates kicked off the season recently with a parent-chaperoned sleep-over for the team in the school gym, said Aidala.
"They started off at 12:01, running laps around the track," he said, and they ended up with a healthy breakfast in the morning. Such activities promote camaraderie, said Aidala, "so every athlete walks away with a positive experience."
He concluded, "Our primary function is to provide quality education and athletics is a part of that."
Parents complained four years ago that, although they followed the procedures at the school, their complaints were ignored. The Letsons, one of the families that sued, said their daughter was interrogated at school without their even being informed. Several parents said they got no response from school-board members after administrators had ignored complaints.
One parent said the school "circled the wagons" rather than trying to understand how a child had been hurt.
Asked if anything had been changed in the last four years to systematize communications or to insure parents are included and answered, Aidala said, "We welcome parents to come forward and advocate for their children. It’s very important for us to listen."
He went on, "We may not always agree. We try to work things out in the best interest of the students."
Aidala, who is retiring this fall after a 35-year career in education, said, "I’ve always felt the importance of home-school communication"is a high priority." He added, "There is always room for improvement."
Asked specifically if there is now some safeguard in place so that parents are informed if their child is being questioned as part of an investigation, Aidala said, "I think we would call parents if we were dong an investigation."
Asked if the district had learned anything from the Hayes case, Aidala said, "In general I’ve been a teacher and administrator for more than 35 years when you have an issue that comes out, there’s always a reason to go back and evaluate how something was handled, what went well, what didn’t go well. Otherwise, we’ll never change or make any improvements."
Two former UAlbany football players sentenced
By Jarrett Carroll
ALBANY Two former members of the University at Albany football team were sentenced last Thursday in Albany County Court for last falls on-campus gang rape.
Under a plea agreement, the two 19-year-olds, Julius Harris of Florida and Lorenzo Ashborne of Georgia, will serve six months in Albany Countys jail and 10 years of probation for third-degree rape, according to the Albany County District Attorneys Office.
The rape took place inside the room of Harris and Ashborne in the Onondaga Hall dormitory.
They were sentenced by Albany County Judge Thomas Breslin. The third defendant in the rape case, Charles Guadango of Texas, another football player who was convicted after the first two, is still under investigation and no date has been set for his trial.
He is still home on $50,000 bail.
The victim was also a first-year student and had met Ashborne during orientation earlier that fall, according to her statement to police. She said she met Harris through Ashborne. She has since left the school and has returned home.
Heather Orth, a spokeswoman for the Albany County District Attorneys office, declined to comment on the fathers statement of protest he read in court during the sentencing hearing.
"The prosecution and defense attorneys and the victim and her family were a part of the plea agreement process"We would not have done the agreement without the consent of the family," Orth said. "The victim was not interested in going to trial."
Harris and Ashbourne will have to register as sex offenders and cannot commit any crimes, even misdemeanors, while they are on probation, Orth said.
"They were sentenced to six months in jail and have to serve 10 year’s probation as sex offenders"which means that any crimes they commit could result in them receiving their maximum sentence, which is up to 10 years in prison," Orth told The Enterprise last week.
Harris and Ashborne have yet to be assigned a sex-offender level, under which they must register for the rest of their lives, as part of the Sex Offender Registration Act. A hearing, yet to be scheduled, will determine which of three levels they are to be assigned, said Orth.
A Level 3 sex offender is deemed the most likely to re-offend.
The New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives handles the hearings, and, along with presiding judges, determines whether or not convicts will be required to serve their probation in New York if they reside outside of the state.
All three men arrested in the university rape case live in the South, and they were all freshmen on the school’s football team at the time of the rape. Harris, Ashborne, and Guadango were expelled from athletic programs and from the university following the allegations and university officials condemned the incident as "unacceptable behavior."
Following the on-campus rape, the 17,000-student university announced the formation of the Task Force on Acquaintance Rape to target preventing rape by an acquaintance rather than a stranger.
Taxes up 1.2 percent
School board uses $375K of huge budget surplus to ease burden
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND School taxes for Guilderland residents will go up just 1.2 percent this year, half the increase predicted when voters passed an $82 million budget in May.
The school board was split Tuesday night with some members wanting to eliminate a tax increase altogether.
The district had $2 million left from last years $79 million budget and then got a surplus of $2.1 million from several other sources earnings from increased interest, and state aid from previous years as well as from the past year, particularly from reviewing aid for special education, for which the district had hired a consultant.
"Through good luck and good management, we have more money left over at the end of the year than we’re supposed to," said board President Richard Weisz.
State law limits school districts to 3 percent of their budgets being held in a fund balance; next year, that limit will rise to 4 percent.
Neil Sanders, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, recommended the board put $1.9 million into capital reserve in anticipation of a $27 million bond project to upgrade the district’s five elementary schools, improve technology and security, and build new district offices at the high school. The board is slated to vote on that plan in September and it will go to public vote in November. (For a full account of the $27 million project, go to firstname.lastname@example.org, and look under "archives" for July 12, 2007.)
If the bond passes, Sanders said, the $1.9 million would translate into a savings of $120 per year for the owner of an $180,000 home in Guilderland, the average assessment.
Sanders also recommended $490,000 be put in reserve accounts, most likely for tax cases and for the retirement system.
And Sanders recommended $375,000 be used to lower the tax rate.
Ultimately, after some clashing views were expressed, the board voted, 7 to 2, to use $375,000 of the excess to lower taxes.
Peter Golden, who voted against Sanders’s plan, said of the surplus, "It’s not savings. We didn’t earn this money. This is money we told people we needed and we didn’t need it." Golden wanted to further ease the tax burden.
"I have a problem...only returning $375,000," said Hy Dubowsky, who also voted against the plan. He advocated lowering the tax rate further. "In good times, we should share it," said Dubowsky. "It’s their money," he said of the taxpayers.
"It all has to be approved by taxpayers who vote," countered board member Cathy Barber.
"We’re being asked to determine whether this year’s taxpayers get full benefit...or it’s shared over the next few years," said Weisz. He said he’d be more concerned about returning all of it to the taxpayers if it weren’t for needed building repairs.
Vice President John Dornbush said that, if more were taken out of the fund balance, there could be spikes in the tax rate in future years.
"You’ll start seeing double-digit increases, like some of the other districts around here," he said.
"Aren’t we taking the decision-making power away from the people"" asked board member Gloria Towle-Hilt.
"We’re the elected representatives...," said Dornbush. "We make the decision."
"Surplus is like a four-letter word here," said board member Colleen O’Connell who urged the board to be thankful it had a surplus instead of a deficit.
Ultimately, Barber, Dornbush, Denise Eisele, Barbara Fraterrigo, OConnell, Towle-Hilt, and Weisz voted to use $375,000 of the surplus to lower taxes.
This means Guilderland residents will pay $19.16 per $1,000 of assessed value, a 1.2-percent increase over last year; Bethlehem residents will pay $16.67, a 4.7-percent increase, New Scotland residents will pay $16.22, a 1.9-percent increase; and Knox residents will pay $28.01, an increase of 14.4 percent.
Eisele expressed concern for school district residents in towns outside of Guilderland whose increases are higher. The Guilderland School District doesnt follow town lines; small parts of the neighboring towns of Bethlehem, New Scotland, and Knox are part of the district.
"Our personal taxes went up over $300 a month," said Eisele.
Superintendent Gregory Aidala said that the focus was on Guilderland residents since Guilderland makes up 92 to 93 percent of the assessed value within the school district while Bethlehem makes up 6 percent and New Scotland and Knox combined make up around 1 percent.
The state sets equalization rates so that residents in the same school district who live in towns with different assessing systems pay a fair amount. The tax rolls in Knox, for example, are skewed because the town hasnt recently reassessed property while the town of Guilderland has; the equalization rate accounts for that.
"We underspent our budget this past year," said Aidala. "That’s always our goal...If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, we have to be less conservative," he said of estimating revenues.
In other business, the school board:
Heard from Sanders that the library tax rates were finalized. The Guilderland Public Library follows school-district boundaries but has its own elected governing board.
Voters passed a $2.6 million library budget in May. Tax rates for next year are 89 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for Guilderland residents, a 4.6-percent increase over last year; 78 cents for Bethlehem, an 8.2-percent increase; 75 cents for New Scotland, a 5.3-percent increase; and $1.30 for Knox, an 18.2-percent increase;
Heard the schedule for next week’s "official wind-down of summer" from Aidala, beginning with new-staff orientation on Aug. 30 and ending with the first full day of classes on Sept. 6.
The district has 49 new teachers, an interim principal at the high school, and its first technology supervisor. (See related story.)
The high school has 13 new teachers, the middle school has 16, and the elementary schools have 20, Aidala said. Twenty-eight of the new teachers are long-term leave replacements.
"We have a young staff with many maternity-type of leaves," he said.
Aidala called the new school year "a source of great optimism";
Approved a BOCES consultant agreement for Guilderlands hosting the Summer 2007 Reading and Writing Institute;
Approved athletic trainer services for three years from Thomas Nicolla Consulting Service for $27,000 a year;
Approved bid awards for music equipment to eight low bidders, totaling $26,310.08 and for graphing calculators to EAI Education for $14,374.50, the lowest of five bidders.
Weisz called the calculators for middle-school students "another unfunded state mandate."
Fraterrigo said it was "a terrible injustice" to students whose parents couldn’t afford them and Aidala assured the board that students "in hardship cases" could take the calculators home to use;
Extended the contract of Bells Auto Driving School for behind-the-wheel driver education this year for $290 per student and appointed Roderick MacDonald as the in-class instructor for driver education, to be paid $47 per hour;
Approved an inter-municipal agreement with the Rensselaer-Columbia-Green BOCES for internal auditing this year;
Heard an objection from O’Connell that the board’s business-practices committee was "micro-managing" by reviewing the proposal for the $27 million facilities project "if four people in a room are going to undo what a whole community did."
"We’re just going to try to generate questions," said Golden, who chairs the committee.
"I think it undermines a district-wide committee," said O’Connell who served on the facilities committee which proposed the project.
"Someone told me many years ago, ‘Measure twice, cut once,’" said Dubowsky, adding, "I’m sure this will absolutely go forward."
The board is slated to decide at its next meting, Sept. 11, on putting the project up for vote in November; and
Met in closed session to review the new superintendents contract and to discuss a teacher.
Aidala said yesterday that no actions were taken after the executive session. Asked if the board had chosen a superintendent since it was reviewing a contract, Adiala, who is retiring in the fall, said, "It’s getting close."
Wrangling continues with Redlich, Ricard
By Jarrett Carroll
GUILDERLAND Legal wrangling continues in the New York State Supreme Court over the nomination of Republican Warren Redlich to run as a Guilderland councilman in November.
In July, incumbent Councilman Michael Ricard, a Democrat, challenged Redlichs nomination substituting for a candidate who dropped out and he brought a lawsuit against Redlich, the Albany County Republican Party, and the Albany County Board of election.
Ricard told The Enterprise at the time that he was not trying to block a potential candidate from running against him, but that Redlich did not follow New York State Election Law when he filed paperwork with the board of elections.
Redlich says that Ricard is trying to do exactly that take the choice away from voters. (See letter to the editor.) And he says, that, since Ricard is not a Republican, he has no standing under the law to challenge a GOP nomination.
A closed-door meeting was held last Friday between the parties named in the suit and state Supreme Court Justice Roger McDonough who is hearing the case. McDonough listened to the arguments and collected documents during the hearing, which was not open to the public.
Oral arguments were scheduled to be heard on Aug. 31, but, according to Redlich, he withdrew his request.
"I wanted to have a hearing"and get Ricard on the record and ask him why he wants to take the choice away from the people," Redlich said on Monday. "The judge didn’t think that was necessary."
A decision by Judge McDonough will either allow Redlich to stay on the ballot and run against Ricard for Guilderland Town Board, or remove Redlich from the ballot.
No date is scheduled for Judge McDonoughs decision, but, according to Ricards attorney, Peter Barber, election cases take precedence over other cases and a decision is expected soon.
Barber, who is the current Guilderland zoning board chairman and former zoning board counsel, is representing Ricard in the case. He is a paid Guilderland employee who ran unsuccessfully on the Democratic ticket for Guilderland town judge in 2001.
Redlich is representing himself and pointed out that Barber works for the town.
Barber said he has previous experience with Election Law and sees no conflict of interest in representing Ricard. Barber is representing Ricard as a citizen and as a Democratic voter, not as a town board member, he said.
"The main argument is that the certificate of substitution on July 22"was not properly executed," Barber said on Tuesday. "The people who signed it were not authorized to fill a vacancy"A committee to fill vacancies is supposed to fill vacancies."
Redlich said that, during Fridays meeting with the judge, Barber made it very clear that his and his clients intention was to knock him off the ballot.
Barber denied this, saying that he stated, "The certificate that’s been filed should be invalidated. He conceded that the end result of his request, if he’s successful, will be that Redlich is removed from the ballot.
Getting on the ballot
Originally, Barbara Davis was running with Mark Grimm on the Republican ticket for the two open seats on the Guilderland Town Board against Democratic incumbents, Councilman Ricard and Councilman David Bosworth.
When Davis declined her partys nomination and backed out of the race, Redlich, who was handing out campaign literature for both Davis and Grimm at the time, was substituted in her stead.
Barber said Redlichs substitution certificate was signed by the Albany County Republican Party.
"That’s part of the problem. They are relying on people outside of the town for a town race," Barber said.
Saying Redlich used improper forms to get on the ballot, Barber said that is the only reason why his client, Ricard, brought the suit.
"In reviewing the application, we realized this almost immediately," said Barber.
In response, Redlich says his opponent is merely trying to block him with technicalities and that he has the right to run for an open seat on the board.
In a letter to the Albany County Board of elections on the matter, Redlich wrote, ""Mr. Ricard is not a member of the Republican Party. He has no standing under Election Law 6-154 (2) to make such objection" to his candidacy.
Barber said the decision will ultimately be left to the court and to the board of elections.
"It’s hard to be objective when you’re in the case"but I believe I should be on the ballot. In my mind, I should," Redlich told The Enterprise. "Redlich said before that he would debate me"about anything. The topic I want to debate him is about this"His phony lawsuit and his phony assessment."
Redlich is making a campaign issue out of what he calls unfair and improper assessment practices in the town of Guilderland and has repeatedly accused Ricard of having a "sweetheart deal" for his personal home assessment. (See letter to the editor.)
Ricard denies the claims, calling his claims "absolutely untrue." Town Assessor Carol Wysomski also said the claims were unfounded.
Having known both Ricard and Redlich because of their political histories in town, Barber criticized Redlichs political past of running campaigns in the late 1990s on both the Democratic and Libertarian tickets, and now running as a Republican.
"He’s been a kind of a flavor of the month kind of guy," Barber said. "Why Mr. Redlich chose to use an improper form, I have no idea."
Guilderland Politics Spoofed for the world to read
By Jarrett Carroll
GUILDERLAND Town officials are being "spoofed" on the Net.
An international, Internet-based satire newspaper called The Spoof, has run several articles using the names of local politicians and political challengers.
The articles, on www.thespoof.com, appear to be a take-off on Enterprise coverage of the current political contentions between Democratic Councilman Michael Ricard and Republican hopeful Warren Redlich.
The website uses parodies of current events written by anonymous authors from around the world to mimic a real newspaper, much like the more widely known The Onion, which started in 1988 as a college paper in Wisconsin. There are many disclaimers throughout The Spoof website that state, "All items on this website are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental or is intended purely as a satire, parody, or spoof."
The Spoof describes itself on its website as "providing an irreverent and satirical slant to the current big news stories throughout the world, bringing you more funny stories than you can shake a stick at."
It was created in 2001, but had a predecessor website called "There’s no place like home," which was created by Paul Lawton in 1997. The website was then called "Laughsend" in 1998 before becoming The Spoof nearly seven years ago.
New farm and feed owner sells with a conscience
By Jarrett Carroll
GUILDERLAND The owner of the new Farmers Feed & Tractor Supply store on Route 20 is selling more than grain and chainsaws; hes selling an old-fashioned way of doing business.
"We’re farmers here," owner Tim Alund told a customer who was scratching his head. "Where I come from, we do million-dollar deals with a handshake."
Alund had just sold a tractor to a man and then told him to take it right off the lot and not worry about his first interest-free payment for another two months.
"Why would you do that"" the confused man responded.
"Why wouldn’t I"" Alund answered with a big smile. "If you trust me, why wouldn’t I trust you"
As the man walked away in disbelief to get his new tractor, Alund gave him his personal cell-phone number and told him to call if there were any problems or if he ever "just needed a hand with something."
Thats the way Alund does business.
"Everything we do, it’s all based on trust"People look at me like I’m a crack," Alund said. "Ninety-percent of the population wants to do the right thing"You’ll find one or two people who aren’t good, but overall, people are good."
Alund said that many of the old clichés such as "What comes around goes around" and "You reap what you sow" still hold a lot of truth.
"What is the downside of being nice"" Alund asked. "The idea behind this is"old-fashioned business, old-fashioned service, with old-fashioned values."
"Open when they need us"
His brand new store at 2337 Western Ave. is a dealership for Husqvarna, Stihl, Purina feeds, and Kioti Tractor and it has a full line repair shop to service all makes and models of equipment. The store also provides maintenance services such as tune-ups and chain-sharpening.
Alund’s first "customer" was a man who knocked on the door before the store was even open while he was stocking the shelves. The man ran out of chainsaw bar oil and needed some to finish a job. Alund gave the man some oil without charging him and sent him on his way.
When people come in with broken equipment, Alund said, he offers them a "loaner" to get their jobs done.
"If you’re trusting me with your equipment, then why wouldn’t I trust you with mine"" he asked. "I have their equipment right here in my store."
The big thing, Alund said, is that the store is open seven days a week and offers pickup and delivery of equipment or parts.
"What’s the point of being around if you’re closed on the weekends and the evenings" That’s when people are doing work and that’s when they need us," Alund said. "We service a lot of farmers, rural homeowners, and seniors. That’s why we work seven days a week. We’re not in a rush."
His over-4,000-square-foot warehouse in Guilderland is Alunds first expansion store from his much larger Schaghticoke store. However, both stores have the same look and feel with a wide-open showroom and knotty-pine paneling on the walls and ceiling.
The walls are decked with power equipment such as chainsaws, weed trimmers, and blowers, and the show floor has tractors, lawnmowers, and trailers parked in neat rows. Various types of grains and feeds line tables in front of big bay windows facing Western Aveune.
"Work and effort"
Alund started his business a mere 18 months ago and hes growing fast, too. He said he is planning a third store in the Clifton Park and Saratoga area. He started with himself and two other employees and now has 20 people working for him.
One of the reasons Alund built his first expansion store in this area was because of the high volume of equipment and products he shipped to the Hilltowns last year, he said.
"I love this area," Alund said. "The town and the zoning and planning boards couldn’t have been more helpful. They told me everything I needed to know. Don Cropsey came down here and he was great; he was a big help in making this happen."
Donald Cropsey is Guilderlands chief building inspector and zoning administrator.
The reason Alund got into the business, he said is because he loves equipment and what it represents.
"I’ve always owned equipment and loved it," he told The Enterprise. "I always saw equipment as representing work and effort"I respect that."
Alund said business is great; he restocks his Guilderland store daily. "I couldn’t believe" all of the young 19- and 20-year-old men that come to get equipment for their businesses, he said.
"These kids are awesome. I absolutely think the world of them"I would be proud if they were my children," said Alund. "They have smiles this big," he said, holding out his hands with his arms outstretched, "and they just love what they’re doing."
In conclusion, Alund said his business model is simple: He doesnt have one.
His bottom line has nothing to do with dollars and cents, Alund said; hes more interested in informing people with information that makes sense.
"People certainly seem happy. We aren’t here to sell anything, We are here to assist them. Read about it. Be informed. Take your time and then get what you need," Alund said. "We don’t do mission statements or any of that crap; the proof is in the pudding."
Neighbors put down roots together
By Saranac Hale Spencer
ALTAMONT Hanging upside down, in the shadow of the Helderbergs, are 60,000 bulbs of garlic.
Strung up in bunches, with their roots falling down in ragged curls, the five varieties of garlic have been drying for about four weeks, and last Saturday, Gardnerville farms opened for business.
Vic Altimari and Jerry Donato, two Gardner Road neighbors, decided to go into organic farming to save a little bit of farmland and find some peace of mind, Donato said from under the rows of garlic lining the roof of a barn he built for the crop.
A former contractor who built pole barns, Donato put up the structure a few weeks ago to dry the garlic and, the enterprising pair said, several passers-by have stopped in to find out what it is.
"People ask if it’s tobacco," said Donato.
In addition to garlic, theyve been growing hot pepper, herbs, and berries, he said. The farmstand on Gardner Road opened on Saturday, but the garlic, which sells for between $7 and $10 a pound, is also available at Gade Farm in Guilderland and Indian Ladder Farms in New Scotland.
"We try to stay local," said Donato, who grew up a quarter of a mile from Gardnerville Farm. "Mom still lives there," he said of his boyhood home. "Dad passed, cancer."
Thats why its important to keep the farm organic, he said; its healthier.
"We do just fine without chemicals," said Altimari. "So why use them""
Big names boost fair attendance
By Saranac Hale Spencer
ALTAMONT Last weeks 114th tri-county fair was a success, say officials, although the final attendance numbers wont be available for several weeks.
"We know we had a fantastic year," said Marie McMillen, the Altamont Fair’s director. She also said that the fair’s board of directors will re-examine two issues that drew criticism from village residents and fair-goers before next year’s fair.
"In a big organization, when the train starts rolling down the tracks, it’s hard to do a reversal," McMillen said of the decision to close Gate 4 on Grand Street. The Enterprise received several letters to the editor, complaining that the original entrance, flanked by two recently-refurbished Victorian buildings, was closed.
This year, the fair board placed three people at each gate one ticket seller, one ticket taker, and one security guard, McMillen said. In previous years, each gate had a ticket seller, but, she said, "This year all tickets were ripped, and that takes another person."
Ripping the tickets upon entrance prevents reuse of the same ticket, she said. The fair tried to recruit volunteers to staff the Grand Street gate, she said, but couldnt find anybody at the last minute.
The fair kept the nearby Altamont Elementary School parking lot entrance open; it has served for years as an entrance for those with handicaps, McMillen said.
In a related change for this years fair, the board stopped its CDTA (Capital District Transportation Authority) bus service from Albany and Schenectady to the fairgrounds. Last year, the service brought in 972 people, all of whom were dropped at the Grand Street gate, which inflated the number of people using that gate, a factor that contributed to the decision to close it, McMillen said.
She likes the idea of bringing people from the cities out to the country for the fair, and, after she got about 12 phone calls from people who had used the bus service in the past, she looked into the cost of it.
"I realized this was a good sponsorship arrangement," she said. Last year, the $8,000 cost of the bus service was split between the fair and CDTA; it was offered for free to riders.
"We’ll go back and review it because nothing is cast in stone," McMillen said of both the bus service and the use of Gate 4.
Overall, she said, the fair was well attended this year, which she attributes to an increased budget for advertising and entertainment. The fairs two big acts, The Outlaws and The Jonas Brothers, drew crowds, she said, although the rain and wind on Friday night interrupted the Jonas Brothers show.
"The weather on Friday evening had a devastating effect," she said. Crowds of people had entered the fairgrounds on Friday, a night that usually lasts until past 11 p.m. at the fair, she said, "It was 20 after nine and people were leaving in droves." A surprise storm that brought strong winds and rain shut down the music on the main stage, turned off the rides on the midway, and stopped the Zoppé Circus in mid-performance.
McMillen expects that the board will try to bring in some big acts for next year, too, she said. Of this year’s increased budgets, she said, "We’re happy with what we’ve seen."
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