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Police officer leadership vote up in air after lost votes found

by Ali Hibbs on January 12, 2011

The vote was tied 107-107. That is, until an unopened envelope was found in the trash.

And so, it seemed, the hard-fought campaign to oust the Albany Police Officers Union—a local chapter of statewide law enforcement union Council 82 that has represented Albany officers for 36 years—and join a newly organized union called the Albany Police Benevolent Association had failed . . . by only one vote.

Disappointed, organizers of the insurgent union began reaching out to some of the officers who seemingly had not voted, but who had expressed their support in the weeks and months leading up to the election. “All of the envelopes are uniquely numbered,” said Ronald Dunn, attorney for the PBA. “So we know who wasn’t counted. Everyone knows that.”

What they found has caused the PBA to challenge the results of the election on grounds that not all of the legitimate votes were counted. The challenges fall into three categories. Several officers claim to have sent in their ballots before the Dec. 21 deadline, but those envelopes were not present or counted on the day of the tally. At least one other officer called in to receive his ballot, but did not get it until after the election was over. Another happened to be out of town on military leave during key dates and was unable to request a ballot, something Dunn called a procedural problem.

“This is clearly not a conspiracy,” said Dunn. “And I’m not picking on the postal service, but it should not have taken as long as it did for some of those votes to come in. This is not like a general election. We must use the postal service.” Dunn said that the holidays likely contributed to the tardiness of the mail, but also remarked that those envelopes did not have very far to travel to reach the state Public Employment Relations Board on Wolf Road in Colonie.

While both sides have made an effort to keep the reasons for the schism out of the public arena, Officer Michael Delano, president of the PBA, has been quoted as saying that high costs associated with membership fees were a concern and that dissatisfaction with Council 82’s leadership was also a significant factor. He has also claimed that the incumbent union misled voters during the election process.

Christian Mesley, current president of both Council 82 and the APOU, and James Lyman, executive director of Council 82, have both raised eyebrows within the department and throughout the community over the last year, due to lawsuits and worker’s compensation claims that many perceive as frivolous or disingenuous.

Both men brought a personal injury lawsuit against Albany County District Attorney David Soares in late 2009, claiming that they suffered “mental anguish” due to comments that Soares made about them during his 2008 campaign. Seeking damages for libel and slander, the lawsuit centers on a statement Soares made to a local television station where he claimed that the officers—who had openly opposed the DA for years—were “perpetrating what is essentially a lie.” Claiming humiliation, damaged reputations and, in Mesley’s case, stress-induced vertigo, the two men used Ennio Corsi—legal counsel paid for by the union—for 6 months until retaining their own attorney.

Additionally, both men have filed claims for workers’ compensation. Lyman, who worked for the department from 1988 until his retirement two years ago, has filed at least three, including one for an injury incurred when he tripped over a stereo speaker and another for hearing loss due to loud noises from sirens and gunfire. Mesley also recently filed a workers’ compensation claim, claiming to have lower back problems due to years of patrolling and wearing a gun belt.
Mesley also came under public scrutiny last February when he was quoted by the New York Post in response to a suggestion that, in consideration of statewide economic problems, the union may have to accept a new no-raise contract. “I’m not running a popularity contest here,” he told the Post. “If I’m the bad guy to the average citizen . . . and their taxes have to go up to cover my raise, I’m very sorry about that, but I have to look out for myself and my membership.”

Mesley had no comment for Metroland. He said that he would wait until Jan. 20, when PERB Director, Monte Klein, will meet with both parties to consider the challenges and decide on a course of action.

Dunn said that, if the challenges are upheld, “anything is possible.” A
rerun election could occur, or open ballots, or even just a general recount. When asked if he thought Council 82 would fight their efforts, he said, “I expect that they will act in their own best interest, but I would hope that they want the greatest amount of officers represented. I don’t know if that will be their position.”