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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, Decemer 30, 2010


2010 in review: Altamont
Pucci hired as new safety commissioner after Salerno failed to take required exam,
Bakery, salon, and martial arts school move in, village parks given memorial names

By Jo E. Prout

ALTAMONT — The village board hired a new public safety commissioner, Todd Pucci, in December. He has worked as a part-time Altamont police officer since 1997, works full-time for the Cohoes Police, and in both departments uses his expertise with traffic and criminal software systems.

Pucci was hired after the board spent months trying to keep Anthony Salerno as commissioner although he had not taken the required Civil Service exam during his five years in the post.

The village board this year gave local parks memorial names, and several new businesses opened in the village.

Altamont tightened its belt at budget time, and is proceeding with a long-term plan to upgrade its sewer system.

Public safety commissioners

 “Officer Pucci comes uniquely and well-qualified…to bring continuity and stability to this department,” said Altamont Mayor James Gaughan at the village board meeting this month.

Pucci’s appointment ended eight months of turmoil, which began after Salerno refused to say whether or not he took a May Civil Service test required for all those in charge of municipal police departments. He had been hired provisionally with the requirement he pass the exam.

Altamont worked with Albany County’s Department of Civil Service to appeal to the state’s Civil Service Commission to avoid the exam; the request was denied in July 2009 as the commission found a “lack of compelling evidence” and cited the “clear practicability” of the exam. None of this was discussed publicly.

The mayor said this month that the village would still pursue an exemption from the exam, although Pucci, who continues a second full-time job with the Cohoes police department, told The Enterprise he doesn’t think he will have a problem passing the exam. He said he will take the test in March. His appointment as commissioner is provisional until he passes the Civil Service exam, Pucci said.

“I’m pretty confident I will do well,” he said.

When Pucci applied to the Cohoes department, he scored a 100 on the entrance exam.

Pucci graduated from the academy first in his class, he said, while holding a full-time position with the post office, and working full-time as a manager of a Colonie store.

Salerno never commented on why he avoided the exam for five years. Although, when the exam results were released to the public this summer and his name was not on the list, he said he hadn’t taken the test because he was planning all along to retire. The village board said that the three top scorers on the exam did not show interest in the post.

The mayor along with two trustees — Kerry Dineen and Christine Marshall, who constituted the “recruitment committee” — met in August with the Albany County Department of Civil Service in a session that violated the state’s Open Meetings Law, to work out a plan to restructure the department. The village board unanimously approved the plan on Aug. 24, the last day that Salerno was allowed to act as commissioner. He was named “team leader” of a department with 11 part-timers with the mayor as provisional supervisor; Salerno’s pay rate was doubled.

At September’s board meeting, Gaughan said the board would continue to reinstate “home rule” as it navigated through the Civil Service system and restructured its police department. He said that the Civil Service system was “meritorious” when it was designed but that its requirements do not always fit a small village like Altamont.

Civil Service Law was established so that government jobs would be awarded on merit rather than favoritism.

“They don’t work,” Gaughan said in September. “We’ve got to fight, again, to get some control back. We are the end of the tail of the wagging dog downtown. We want to gain back local control of what we do.”

The mayor had maintained that there wasn’t interest in the Altamont post because the salary of $40,000 was small.

Concerns about village liability with the mayor heading the department, and public scrutiny, led the village to begin a new search for a commissioner. At its October meeting, the board revealed a new timeline for placing a qualified person in the commissioner post by December.

A search committee was formed, made up of two residents, Dick and Ellen Howie, and village trustees Marshall and Dineen. The village advertised in The Enterprise and the Times Union and posted notices on its website and a police website, Dineen said in October. Earlier recruitments hadn’t included newspaper ads.

Several weeks of advertising yielded 20 calls or letters of interest, Gaughan said, and nine applications. The search committee interviewed the top five, he said.

“I interviewed three,” Gaughan said. “This has been an active and very intense process over a long period of time.”

Following the timeline set out in October, Pucci was hired Dec. 7. Former commissioner Salerno continued on until Dec. 14, when his resignation became effective. Pucci was hired at the $40,000 salary level.

“I hope to do you all proud. I promise to give you my all,” Pucci told the village board and its audience this month.

Parks

The village board was split, in a tight budget year, on whether it should spend money on a new park sign. In 2001, the board had voted to name Bozenkill Park after Benjamin M. Crupe. A plaque in the park recognized him, but his name was not added to the entrance sign until Crupe’s granddaughter, Jessica Lynch, asked the board in February to fulfill the promise of a previous administration to fully rename the park. 

Lynch returned to the board in April, unhappy with the board’s $425 fix that painted Crupe’s name on the bottom of the existing sign.

“It’s been 10 years,” Lynch said, “and just throwing his name on the bottom, that’s not putting his name on the sign. He was a great man. People have said to me, ‘When I couldn’t afford food, your grandfather would give it to me.’ It’s a sign. I’m not asking the world.”

The board, which had adopted a $1.04 million budget that cut $100,000 from the previous year’s and instituted a wage freeze for all employees, agreed in a split vote, 3 to 2, to put up an entirely new sign using the existing poles. The estimated cost for a new sign was $2,000.

A month later, the board agreed to name the Maple Avenue park after former trustee Phyllis Schilling and her family.

Trustee William Aylward said that the Parks and Green Space Committee voted to rename the park after Schilling, who served as a trustee and the village gardener.

“She became the ‘beautification trustee,’” Aylward said.

New businesses

New businesses bloomed last spring, starting with a Tuscan-inspired coffee shop called 100 Main Bean and Bakery owned by Nancy Turner.

“Altamont is a very outgoing and sophisticated community,” Turner said. “People are really looking for a place to go and sit and visit with friends. It’s also a big walking community. They can walk down to the café, which will be open until 7 p.m. We’ll have coffee, dessert, or people can stop and get bread for dinner. That’s my vision: to have people coming down and sitting and visiting in a nice, safe, clean environment.”

Turner’s husband, Bill, owns the adjoining wine shop in the Knowersville plaza and the couple owns the Altamont Old Stone House Inn.

Li Bella Salon returned to Altamont, also in the Knowersville plaza, on Route 146 on the edge of the village.

In April, John Donato opened the Altamont Parts Store in the former Altamont bowling alley on Altamont Boulevard. The store is run by manager Corky Johnson.

“We did it ourselves,” Donato said. “We took all the alleys out and put in offices. We use the old bowling alley counter for the main counter.”

Donato and Johnson sell “auto, farm, garden, small engine, landscape stuff. That’s why it’s a parts store, not auto parts,” Donato said.

A second new restaurant, a wine bar and pizza bistro, received board approval this summer. The bistro is to open in the space used for years by Hungerford Market, a bagel shop, at the corner of Main Street and Maple Avenue. Hungerford Market, which opens onto Main Street, will move within the same building to the Maple Avenue side.

A Knox couple, Robert and Catherine Traina, are opening Altamont Martial Arts at Altamont Corners in the village. The husband-and-wife team will teach three styles of Korean martial arts: tae kwon do, hapkido, and haidong gumdo.

Sewer

The board continued to work on its aging sewer system in 2010, applying for federal money, and consolidating construction phases from three to two, to take advantage of low interest rates. The village’s leaky pipes and inefficient wastewater plant violate state environmental laws by releasing polluted storm water. The village is under a consent order to fix its sewage problems.

A 15-year project was estimated by Barton & Loguidice engineer Richard Straut at $3.7 million. He later suggested consolidating the project into two phases to use a 50-percent subsidy loan from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund with a two-percent rate. The cost per resident would then be $3,730, or $10 per month per resident.

Straut confirmed that each violation of the consent order after 2013 could cost the village $35,000.

Caregivers

Community Caregivers, which began in Altamont but is now regional in scope with offices in Guilderland, underwent its own transitions this year, naming a new acting executive director and an executive assistant.

Christine Damon, a certified “aging in place” specialist and the program director for Community Caregivers, took over as acting executive director for Diane Cameron, who held the position for five years.

“I know all about trying to work your way through the maze that’s the system,” Damon said. Damon has been a caregiver three times. She is working on a master’s degree in gerontology from Iowa State University. She directs people to local agencies to find the care they need.

“There is a lot of support out there,” Damon said. “Diane just did a wonderful job of pulling things together for the past five years, and enhancing the program. My goal is to follow in her footsteps and further enhance the program.”

Jennifer Hill was named executive assistant in December. Hill will work closely with Damon and provide public relations support. Hill has a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from Regents College, State of New York (now Excelsior College).


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