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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 15, 2010
Salerno lauded by Village Hall crow
By Jo E. Prout
ALTAMONT A week after learning that Public Safety Commissioner Anthony Salerno either had not taken, or had not passed, a Civil Service exam to keep his post, several residents publicly thanked Salerno at last week’s village board meeting. Salerno, who must now exit the position within the next two months, told meeting-goers that he had decided several months ago to retire.
The issue came to light at a June 1 board meeting when the board was asked if Salerno had taken the required May exam; no one gave an answer.
Afterwards, Trustee Christine Marshall, saying she spoke for the board, told The Enterprise, “We have not been looking for someone else. We’re very happy with Mr. Salerno’s performance.”
Salerno, who, when asked if he had taken the exam, refused to answer and threatened legal action against The Enterprise, publicly told the small crowd at the July 6 meeting that he had already planned to retire.
“I did not take the Civil Service exam for that reason,” Salerno said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the people and the officers. That’s where the key is. It’s not me.”
The Enterprise, which broke the story on the required exam, was compared to supermarket tabloids.
The village has changed the title of its police leader twice, from chief to officer-in-charge to public safety commissioner, to avoid Civil Service exam requirements when its officers could not, or chose not to, pass the exam.
Gaughan said last month that the commissioner post should be exempt from a Civil Service exam. The village sought to keep the position as a non-competitive post, meaning Salerno would not have to take and pass the exam, but its request was denied by the state Civil Service Commission on July 15, 2009.
The state Civil Service Commission found a “lack of compelling evidence” in support of the request the village had made. The commissioners also cited the “clear practicability” of the examination. According to the county’s Civil Service department and the Albany County Executive’s Office, the exam that Salerno was required to take is identical to the one given to police chiefs. The exam includes questions on enforcement methods, preparing and understanding written materials, supervision, administration, and knowledge of state laws. No other municipality in the county has a public safety commissioner; those with police departments have a police chief.
Rather than focus on the legal requirements of the job, those who spoke at the July 6 meeting gave heartfelt reasons they wished Salerno could stay on in the position.
“I don’t think you people have done a good job,” Jack Pollard, who lives outside the village, told the board. “You let a good man get away from you. A real chief is worth $100,000. What’s Tony get?”
Told that Salerno’s salary was about $40,000, Pollard said that Altamont’s leading police officer should get more money and “everything but underwear.”
Salerno is eligible for pension payments from his five years of work in Altamont and from his two decades of work as a police officer for the Albany City Police Department; his Albany pay in 2008 was $57,806, according to Civil Service records obtained from the city.
Mark Johnson, press secretary with the Office of the State Comptroller, said that each municipality paid into the system for the time worked.
Salerno was able to collect his pension from Albany $3,756.88 a month or $45,082.56 annually while he worked for Altamont because he had a 221 waiver approved by the Civil Service to work while being retired, Johnson said.
Pollard urged the board to do what it needed to do to make its own decisions, including changing legal wording regarding state laws.
“They aren’t in stone,” Pollard said. “Don’t let this happen, again.”
Thomas Pollard, who was groomed to be police chief when George Pratt retired, had been unable to pass the required exam in the 1990s and so was named officer-in-charge.
One woman, who said her family had needed police protection, said that Salerno’s job was like the president’s.
“You can’t judge what is going on behind the scenes,” she said. “Tony was there for us. He was an exceptional policeman.”
Elaine Clark, who referred to her neighbors’ “sensitive issues,” was impressed when Salerno helped her get out of an insurance scam.
“There was always discretion, always calm,” Clark said. “You felt you could share anything with him.”
Marijo Dougherty, the village’s archivist, said that parks in other cities or villages could have drug needles or dog droppings, but that the children at the recent Altamont Community Tradition strawberry festival were able to run barefoot through the park, thanks to Salerno.
“I’d like the board to really try to find a Tony clone,” Dougherty said.
“It’s a sad thing to see a technicality take out a good man,” said one resident.
Another, a foster parent of teens, said that Salerno had helped his family often.
Linda Cure, president of the Altamont Free Library Board of Trustees who works as a publicist for the town of Guilderland and village of Altamont, said that Salerno was a huge asset to the community.
Mayor James Gaughan told the audience that the board would soon canvass the people who took the Civil Service exam for commissioner. (He has detailed the process in his “Mayor’s notes” column this week.)
According to the Civil Service exam results released two weeks ago, Matthew McCormick scored highest on the exam with a 99. Dennis Marcel received a score of 90, and Kevin McKeon received a score of 82. A fourth candidate, William Riley, is not considered reachable; he had a score of 71.
Gaughan said that Dineen would lead the search process, assisted by trustee Christine Marshall. The new commissioner, like Salerno, will oversee 10 part-time officers who patrol a mile-square village with about 1,800 residents.
Dineen co-chaired the previous search five years ago, when Salerno was chosen out of 14 candidates.
“I want Tony to realize how much we appreciate him,” Dineen said. “He set himself apart. He was so far ahead of the other candidates. I don’t think we’re going to do better.”
“I would like to thank Commissioner Salerno for all the good work you’ve done on behalf of this board and on behalf of the village,” Gaughan said.
Trustee William Aylward also thanked Salerno for the “extensive” work he has done for the village.
“His police work required a well-organized effort,” Aylward said. “I think we will really miss him. He did a great service for the village.”
In other business, the board:
Agreed to solicit bids to rehabilitate the sanitary sewers, and hold a public hearing Sept. 7 at 7:45 p.m. to consider spending $100,000 from the sewer project reserve fund. to pay for the sanitary sewers;
Authorized Gaughan to sign an RBC Wealth Management resolution to issue a lump-sum payment of $700 to Altamont Fire Department member and former village trustee Owen Murray;
Accepted the resignation of part-time police officer Jason Helwig, who resigned because of scheduling conflicts with the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department, Gaughan said;
Made no public decision after an executive session to discuss beginning litigation to petition the tax assessment of a village-owned property outside the village; and
Agreed to hold its next meeting on Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m.