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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, January 24, 2008


After guilty plea, Francis disbarred

By Tyler Schuling

ALBANY COUNTY — Jonathan P. Francis, a lawyer who waged a standoff in May with police after threatening suicide, was disbarred last week since he pleaded guilty to a felony charge.

Francis practiced law in the village of Altamont and ran unsuccessfully in 2003 for town judge in Knox where he lived.

In October, Francis pleaded guilty in Albany County Court to criminal contempt, a class E felony. An Appellate Court decision followed last week, which granted the Committee on Professional Standards’ motion to strike Francis from the roll of attorneys.

According to the decision, Francis is no longer able to practice law in any form — either as a clerk or employee. He is also forbidden to act as an attorney before any court or judge, board or commission, and he may not give legal advice or opinions.

Francis could not be reached for comment, nor could his lawyer, James E. Long.

His father, Jay T. Francis, who is the pastor of the Rock Road Chapel in Knox, spoke about his son yesterday.

"Jonathan is headed in the right direction, and I expect good things from his life," said Pastor Francis.

Jonathan Francis’s license to practice law was suspended indefinitely on April 5 of last year for failure to complete a drug-treatment program and comply with a subpoena regarding several complaints of professional misconduct, according to an Appellate Court decision.

Troubled history

Francis has a history of run-ins with the law.

In 1991, when he was 23, Francis was arrested for falsely reporting an incident after he called a secretary at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school to report that he shot himself in the head, according to papers from the Knox Town Court.

On May 12 of last year, State Troopers and officers from the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, the Guilderland Police Department, the Altamont Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and negotiators responded to Francis’s Lewis Road home in Knox after he had called a suicide hotline around 11 a.m., threatening to kill himself and anyone who arrived with lights on top of his car, meaning police, James Campbell, Albany County’s sheriff, said in May. Campbell said Francis had been drinking and taking drugs the previous night.

A four-hour standoff with police ensued. When police finally made contact with Francis, he requested to speak with Campbell’s son, J.T. Campbell Jr., an investigator with the sheriff’s department who had dealt with Francis before. J.T. Campbell was able to get Francis to come out of the house with his hands above his head.

As it turned out, there were only two BB guns in the house, Sheriff Campbell said at the time.

Francis was taken to the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany and there were no charges.

The standoff followed Francis’s arrest for harassing his wife, who had an order of protection against him.

The previous month, Francis’s license to practice law was suspended indefinitely for failure to complete a drug-treatment program and comply with a subpoena regarding "several complaints of professional misconduct," according to an Appellate Court decision.

"I can’t justify his actions," said Pastor Francis in May. "Yet, I can say that Saturday doesn’t define who he is."


New BKW administrator
Business is elementary for Mr. Holmes

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — Yesterday morning, Timothy Holmes, the new business administrator for the Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools, was getting acquainted with his new job and the area as he prepared to meet in the afternoon with architects about the school’s renovation project.

Holmes, 44, began working for BKW on Jan. 14, replacing David Weiser, who was hired as BKW’s business administrator in the fall of 2006. Weiser left BKW in the summer for a position at the larger suburban Bethlehem Central School District.

Holmes will earn $93,000 annually.

Originally from Binghamton, Holmes received his certification in school business administration from the State University of New York College at Brockport in May. Holmes was previously a business manager for Candor Central School District, a rural district where he worked for six-and-a-half years. Before that, Holmes worked at Susquehanna Valley schools for three-and-a-half years as a business accountant.

Holmes is married and has two sons and two daughters. His 25-year-old son attends SUNY New Paltz. His daughters, ages 17 and 12, and 14-year-old son attend Chenango Valley schools.

Holmes’s family is currently living in Chenango Bridge (Broome County), and he is living in South Westerlo.

"I didn’t want to pull [my oldest daughter] out of her senior year. So we’re going to let her graduate. Then my family will move up here. We’ll be looking for a home at that point," Holmes said.

His 14-year-old son, he said, is a good athlete and plays both football and baseball.

"I promised him that he would attend a school that has a good football program and a baseball program, so...we’re still getting an idea as to where we’re going to live," Holmes said. BKW has no football team.

When searching for a job, he and his wife were looking at the lower Hudson Valley up through the Albany area because they love the mountains, he said.

"Then this district came up on the Internet," said Holmes. "Then we kind of scoped out the area. We’re near Albany, which is a definite benefit, but we’re also in the mountains...So I came and applied and fell in love with the area."

Asked about his first impression of BKW, Holmes said, "The school itself — I love the school. I come from a rural school so I’m used to that. People have been very helpful, very nice, very professional. So far, my impression’s been very good."

The biggest challenge facing BKW is the high number of special-needs students, "which is very costly to the district," he said. "And, basically, that’s out of our hands as far as the cost, but is a concern to me because of costs to the district."

BKW currently transports 33 special-needs students to 24 different schools, said BKW Superintendent Steven Schrade. This year, BKW did not develop a new special-education program, but one is in the planning stages, which would keep two, three, or four students at home, Schrade said.

Asked why David Weiser left the district, Schrade said Weiser had indicated that, though he had been a business administrator at two other school districts before he was hired at BKW, he had started a family, and all the responsibilities were more than he was able to take on. Weiser is now an assistant business administrator at Bethlehem, Schrade said, in a larger district.

BKW had had a long-time business administrator, Perry Kane, for decades followed by a period of short-term administrators.

A shortfall in revenue in the school’s budget was discovered in 1999 by Stephen Bangert, who left the district in January of 2000 for the Hoosic Valley School District. BKW then hired Gregory Diefenbach as its business administrator. Asked if he is concerned about a shortfall recurring, Schrade said a shortfall only occurred once, in the 1999-2000 school year, and had not occurred before then or since.

"I have absolutely no concerns at this time," Schrade said.

Asked what guides the budget process, Holmes said, "I think the most important thing is keeping the taxes low without hurting your program. I think that’s key.

"In a lot of districts, we’re overtaxed so we have to be very mindful of the taxpayer. But also, you want to make sure you have the best program possible. So, you don’t want to cut teachers or do any of that kind of stuff," he said.

"You want make sure you maintain a good education for the community because," Holmes said, "a lot of times, in rural districts, the community revolves around the school district — the school district is the main employer and the main focus of the town."


Knox cell phone uses to say, ‘Can you hear me now"’

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — As the town board considers two sites for a cellular tower, residents and officials voiced concerns and asked questions Tuesday at an informational meeting.

One site is at the town park in the hamlet. The other is adjacent to the town’s transfer station. The town owns both properties.

Supervisor Michael Hammond has lauded towers erected by other towns — Richmondville and Middleburgh — and the income they have generated.

As cell phone reception in Knox is sporadic and often non-existent, officials have also discussed raising a cellular tower for safety reasons.

Public forum

The town board gave a PowerPoint presentation on Tuesday of the proposed sites, using computer-generated images of both a 195-foot-tall monopole and a lattice tower superimposed on the vistas.

The Street Road property was donated to the town. It is in a land conservation district near the town’s transfer station along the Helderberg escarpment. It is also near the Hudson and Nancy Winn Preserve, a 158-acre tract of land donated to the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.

Residents asked whether a tower should be placed anywhere other than at the highest elevation in the town and which of the two sites would serve the most people.

Hammond said the Street Road property would serve the most residents. Robert Price, the chairman of the town’s planning board, said earlier that the highest point in the town had been considered previously, but that it was abandoned because cellular reception would not reach into the pockets and valleys of the town.

A resident asked if a two-mile radius is the area that would be served by a tower. Price said a two-mile radius is where cellular companies say a person will get good reception. However, Price said, if you live behind a hill, you may not get good reception. When a resident asked if the town has approached cellular companies, Price said someone from Verizon was in the room. Price said he knows, personally, of six people in the town who have been approached by cellular companies; one lives at an elevation comparable to the Street Road site.

One man pointed out that, though a person with a cellular phone could be standing right next to a tower, he may not get any reception.

"Absolutely correct," said Price.

Dana Sherman, president of the town’s volunteer fire company, said that, for three years, the fire company has been pursuing a cell tower for income and emergency reasons.

"It’s bad up here for the guys," said Sherman. He said the fire company will keep pursuing a cell tower.

Because the proposed tower is less than 200 feet tall, it would not be subject to the Federal Aviation Administration’s mandate that requires a red light during the night and a white strobe light during the day, Price said. Neither a monopole nor a lattice tower would require guyed wires as anchoring points, he said.

Planning board concerns

On Tuesday, Daniel Driscoll, a long-time member of the planning board, outlined an analysis by six of the seven members of the planning board of the Street Road property encouraging the town to consider another site.

All of the members but Price are concerned about a cellular tower being erected at the property on Street Road, citing its location in a land conservation district and the purpose of the district as defined in the town’s zoning ordinance.

As the town board considered rezoning the land conservation district to allow a tower earlier this month, Councilwoman Patricia Gage said she didn’t want to set a precedent and go against the planning board’s recommendation.

Placing a cell tower at the Street Road property would result in significant aesthetic and physical impacts, according to six planning-board members — Driscoll, Bob Gwin, Betty Ketchum, Brett Pulliam, Mike Scott, and Tom Wolfe.

The six have also raised concerns about contaminating wells and construction of a tower on the land. According to the six members of the planning board, "virtually" the entire Street Road property is limestone, and, because of its many crevices, the bedrock may be unstable, which would pose a challenge when constructing a 195-foot freestanding tower.

Price said this month that a cellular tower at the Street Road property will be more centrally located than at the town park, will be at a higher elevation, and will be "relatively hidden."

Price said a tower at the town park would be "grossly visible."

The six members of the planning board say, "At the town park, the contextual difference would be less striking [than at the Street Road site] since the tower would be surrounded by various other man-made structures and visitors would likely be focused on a variety of other activities."

Graphics at Tuesday night’s meeting show images of towers from different locations within a two-mile radius.

Those who visit the land conservation district expect to experience a land conservation area or nature preserve, Driscoll said.
"A cell tower at the entrance of [the land conservation district] would be completely out of context for the many people who visit, resulting in a significant visual impact," says the analysis of six planning-board members.

The proposed site along Street Road is adjacent to the transfer station. Hammond cited changes made there in the 1990s and current conditions.

"The transfer station needs are growing," Hammond said.

At the end of the meeting, he said the board would like to make a decision about a cell tower within six months.

Hammond said he didn’t want to sound arrogant, but the town is not subject to its own zoning laws. Instead of the board taking that approach, he said, the board decided, "Let’s talk about it first."


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