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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 7, 2010

Vlahos calls APD a political instrument
Mayor says police at polls for public safety

By Philippa Stasiuk

ALTAMONT — Amid whispers, mumbling, and the occasional outburst of “incredible” by members of the public, Harvey Vlahos accused the village police department of being a political instrument of the current administration.

“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck,” Vlahos said during the public comment portion of the village board meeting on Tuesday evening. He began by saying that he had previously raised the issue of why there were five police department members in the village hall when he went to vote during the elections last March but had never received an adequate response from the board.

Vlahos was defeated by incumbent Mayor James Gaughan last March, garnering one-third of the votes. The two ran against each other four years ago in a four-way race for mayor when Vlahos was a village trustee and Gaughan was making his first run for public office. The expense of and role that the Altamont police play in village life were major issues in both elections. Throughout his campaign this past year, Gaughan had defended the importance of Altamont’s police, but Vlahos had argued that a police force of only two full-time officers would be better for the community and cost less money than the current structure of a police commissioner supervising many part-time officers.

Before anyone on the board responded to Vlahos’s accusation on Tuesday, one woman in the audience said, “You try and find the negative in the village.” Vlahos replied he was only trying to get his question answered.

Trustee Kerry Dineen, who ran successfully with Gaughan and was re-elected for a second term, was the first board member to respond, saying, “Our silence is because I can’t believe what I’m hearing about a year later [than the elections]. What speaks more to this problem is your history of issues with the police department.”

Vlahos explained that he was bringing up the issue again after recently hearing that, during the town elections in November, which were held at the same village community room, there were no police officers until 4 p.m., at which point there was only one.

“I’ve also since found out that at the school election there were no police officers,” he said of the May vote. “I’m assuming that people who voted in that election are also entitled to public safety.”

Barbara Quackenbush, who spoke on a different matter prior to Vlahos during the public comment portion of the meeting, then returned to the microphone.

“In school elections, normally it is the superintendent of schools that requests police coverage that they want so that is where the request would come from,” said Quackenbush.

Vlahos, referring to the disparities in coverage, said he wanted the board to consider creating a consistent policy for elections. “I’d like to see a well thought-out policy of why a police presence is needed and how much is appropriate, if at all, and make that consistent across the elections.”

Commissioner of Public Safety Anthony Salerno then walked to the microphone and explained that police were present at the village elections last March because of an incident that happened around noon when a man attempted to vote without being registered to do so. Salerno said that, after being turned away from the polls, the man became angry and began to shout obscenities at the poll workers.

Salerno initially said that he had received a call from the village clerk, who at the time was Jean LaCrosse, but told The Enterprise after the meeting that he had misspoken and that it was a poll worker who had verbally requested help. He also said that five police were never assigned to the polls but that there were two police working the polls. The Enterprise ran a picture in its March 19 edition with the election story, taken mid-day, that showed a little boy in the foreground and three Altamont Police officers in the background, keeping an eye on the polls. Salerno later told The Enterprise that the elections last year were held on a Wednesday and therefore there had been police around. preparing to conduct court business. 

Trustee Dean Whalen then responded, saying, “I’m uncomfortable creating a policy if one is not necessary to unduly micromanage one of our departments, unless there was an incident and there wasn’t police coverage and there should have been.”

Mayor Gaughan agreed and told The Enterprise via e-mail, “Representation by word or picture to suggest or claim that there were many police there all day or to claim that police were there for reasons other than public safety, as mentioned last night by Mr. Vlahos, is simply not true, in our opinion.  There were several police, volunteer fire department people, and many other interested citizens present to view the results of the election at the end of the night, which is to be expected because of Altamont citizens’ and employees’ interest in their government.”

Other business

The board also:

— Heard from fire department Chief Paul Miller that he had ordered a new American flag for the village hall, and said he hoped it would be in the community room at the next meeting. At the December board meeting, village resident Jim Gaige of 115 Prospect Terrace complained about the condition of the current American flag in the community room, prompting the mayor to request that the fire department order a new one. Commissioner Salerno requested that the old flag be given to the police department for its “sentimental value.” When asked to clarify what he meant, Salerno told The Enterprise, “When I’m elderly, I hope they don’t throw me away”;

— Heard from Donald Cropsey, zoning administrator, that the State Employees’ Federal Credit Union at 763 Main St. is looking into options to improve the lighting at its automated teller machine.

Cropsey was charged by Mayor Gaughan to meet with SEFCU officials after hearing a complaint from Danny Ramirez of 141 Maple Ave. at the December board meeting. Ramirez said that the lights on the bank’s ATM no longer had deflectors, making the reflective glare dangerous during foul weather.

Cropsey also reminded village residents that state building codes require all houses to be numbered and that doing so would be a big help to the fire department, emergency vehicles, and building inspectors;

— Heard from Barbara Quackenbush, speaking on behalf of the Altamont Free Library, that the library had received $1,903 from the Community Arts Grant for concerts in Orsini Park.

Quackenbush said that last year, through the same grant, the library had been able to sponsor three concerts in the summer, and that this year, with the help of additional $500 funding from the village, the library would sponsor five concerts: Jazz Latino Sextet, Renée Lussier and Branchwater, Kim and Reggie Harris, Fairview Avenue Band, and John Kirk and Trish Miller. The concerts will be held on Tuesday evenings in Orsini Park between July 13 and Aug. 10.

“This year’s schedule promises to be a very exciting, culturally and musically diverse, and family-oriented series of programs,” Quackenbush said yesterday in an e-mail to The Enterprise. “Last summer, we were very warmed by the number of folks — from the very young to those seniors who live around us — who came out for the three concerts we were able to sponsor. Many brought picnics, bought food from local restaurants, and made an evening of it with their families and friends….The concerts in the park brought a new liveliness to the village, giving an old-time Americana atmosphere to this really charming old village”;

— Unanimously approved adopting a law to codify local laws, ordinances, and certain resolutions of the village into a municipal code called the “Code of the Village of Altamont”;

— Unanimously approved submitting the Sanitary Sewer System Inflow and Infiltration annual SPDES (State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) report prepared by Barton & Loguidice, P.C. to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation for review. The report outlines the proposed schedule under review by the board to both reduce inflow and infiltration in the sanitary sewers and upgrade the treatment plant through budget year 2013. (For the full story, go online to www.altamontenterprise.com and look under Guilderland archives for Dec. 17, 2009: “Over 15 years: Village plans $3.7M fix for sewer problems”); and

— Unanimously approved paying $3,745 to “Virtual Town Hall” for a new website for the village. 

Gaughan called the current website “bereft with viruses” and said that the new software company, which is based in Maine, would be a vast improvement. 

Gaughan said he had hoped to be able to include online video of board meetings but that that the village had not received the grant he had hoped to get to cover costs. Gaughan added that, due to volunteer efforts, $6,000 allotted for the Maple Avenue Park had not been spent and that money could be used to pay for the new website.

Linda Cure, public relations officer for the town of Guilderland, spoke at the meeting and called Virtual Town Hall, which the town of Guilderland uses, an efficient company with incredible support that would help the village design the website. The village would then be responsible for the new website’s administration and pay a yearly fee of approximately $750.

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