Council to vote on measure that would further reduce the bite
of the Albany Civilan Police Review Board
Last October, Judith Mazza, in her sixth and final year as
a member of the Albany Civilian Police Review Board, voted
against a measure that she felt would be harmful to the board
and its relationship with the community. The measure defined
the standing of those who could bring complaints before the
board as people who either felt they had been wronged by the
Albany Police Department or who had witnessed an incident
in which the APD had allegedly wronged someone else. It further
stated that the police chief would be allowed to validate
or invalidate witness complaints before they were investigated
by the board.
didn’t agree with the development of it or the final product,
because I don’t think anybody has the right to determine that
a complaint is frivolous before it is investigated,” said
Mazaa. The measure passed 5 to 1. Now, for the measure to
be enacted, the Council will have to pass a bill introduced
Monday (March 19) by Common Councilman James Scalzo (Ward
Jason Allen, chairman of CPRB and one of the law’s authors
(along with members of the APD), said that the change was
necessary because the board lacked a definition of standing
and was “weaker” for it. Furthermore, Allen pointed to two
complaints, one made by Alice Green and one by the Coalition
of Concerned Citizens, as cases in which the complainants
were neither witness to nor involved in the incidents they
wanted investigated. Allen said that cases like those kept
the board tied up unnecessarily.
should be citizens directly affected by the action or who
witnessed the action,” he said. “For other cases, we have
other methods and tools we can use to work with them and the
police department.” Allen said the board has a community-outreach
function that meets with concerned groups outside of the board’s
However, Mazza said she felt that the board, rather than working
on ways to exclude complaints like the ones made by Green
and the Coalition of Concerned Citizens, should be looking
for ways to officially include them. “I’ve heard people say,
‘Well, without restriction, 95,000 people in the city of Albany
could then make complaints!’ And, in fact, that hasn’t happened.
The whole issue of standing came up because of two complaints
that came in,” she said. “And there was no other forum in
which to deal with them.”
Mazza said that she respects Albany Police Chief James Tuffey
and feels he is doing a good job. She said that she thinks
Tuffey wants to be as open and honest as possible. However,
she said that the changes that need to be made to the CPRB
are not ones that would limit the community’s involvement.
board should not be seen as being unresponsive or as shutting
off anyone from coming before the board,” she said. “The board
has limited abilities to do anything as it is. All the board
does is ask, ‘Did the Office of Professional Standards thoroughly
investigate this complaint?’ All we are saying is, ‘Was there
a fair, thorough investigation?’ The board can’t investigate,
can’t question anyone.” According to Mazza, the board does
not know how many police have been involved in all the cases
they have reviewed in its six years of operation.
Mazza said she had asked repeatedly while a member of the
board for that kind of data, but was always told, “Before
we get data, we need to know what we are going to do with
would say, ‘You have a person who is a real problem if they
have 100 complaints against them,’ ” said Mazza.
Common Council President Shawn Morris said she is concerned
about the proposed changes, and her concern stems from a worry
that people may feel turned away from a service they should
feel able to readily participate in. “I think we have a very
good police chief that is committed to a department that does
operate in an above-board and respectful manner,” Morris said.
“That being said, the purpose of the Civilian Police Review
Board is that some of those decisions on review come from
the board, come from the citizens, and restricting their access
and putting it in the hands of a single person is troubling.”
Chief Tuffey said that he did not approach the board about
the change but was happy to help them define standing. “We
sat down,” he said. “They wanted to clarify what a complaint
was. We helped them do that. And we are supportive of the
Allen noted that under the law, Tuffey is required to submit
a written explanation of any claim that is denied. “The process,”
Allen said, “will be completely transparent.
Local Law A-2007, which includes language to enact the meadure
passed by the board, currently is pending before the Common
Council’s Public Safety Committee. Council President Pro Tempore
Richard Conti (Ward 6) said he expects to have a public discussion
before the law comes to a vote.
Barbara Smith (Ward 4) said she thinks the legislation regarding
the CPRB is already adequate. “We don’t want to have a chilling
affect on people’s perception of accessibility to the board.
We want people to think this is a valuable resource for dealing
with some of the situations that arise between citizens and
police as opposed to putting more barriers in the way to that
kind of resolution.”
In the end, Morris said she thinks there is a majority of
council members who are concerned with the public’s access
to information and their involvement in government, and they
will take that concern into consideration before their vote.
There is also a matter of what Morris thinks is common sense.
don’t quite understand the impetus for the legislation,” said
Morris. “People are concerned about fixing a hypothetical
problem. I haven’t heard of a rush of complainants who don’t
have standing. If there hasn’t been a big rush, then I think
we have to ask, ‘Why are we doing this?’ ”
first-grader in Louisiana caused a ruckus at his
elementary school when he brought a rock of crack
cocaine for show-and-tell. Police said they were
disturbed by how well the boy understood the drug
and that he didn’t realize there was anything
wrong with bringing crack to school. Lachristie
Thomas, the boy’s 20-year-old mother, was arrested
and charged with the misdemeanor offense of improper
Something in the Water
there’s not—at least that’s the claim that’s causing
controversy about the mineral baths at Saratoga
Spa State Park. The buzz followed an article in
the New York Post that reported that the
baths are not 100 percent pure mineral water and
instead contain a mixture of mineral and tap water.
Several public officials have expressed outrage,
including former Saratoga Springs Mayor Raymond
Watkins and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno
(R-Brunswick), who called for an investigation
into the matter. Spa officials have fired back
that they never tried to hide this fact.
York Gov. Eliot Spitzer may have to wait until
next year to reform the state’s habitually late
(with the exception of the past two years, technically)
budget process. Spitzer said Tuesday that he’d
rather have a late budget than one that contains
too much spending. Holding up negotiations between
Spitzer, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno,
and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver are the issues
of health care, education and taxes. The Bruno-led
Senate produced a budget that restored all of
the governor’s proposed Medicaid cuts, put more
money into Long Island schools, and contains a
provision that a property-tax-relief plan should
not exclude wealthy homeowners.
out of 10 North Koreans lack the proper amount
of food, the South Korean aid agency Good Friends
reported. While the organization would not disclose
how they obtained the information, many previous
reports issued by the agency have later proved
true. Since the mid-1990s, North Korea has been
dependent upon foreign aid, but food shortages
worsened last summer after the South Korean government
suspended its food aid program in protest of North
Korea’s July missile test.
loophole in congressional gift rules allows lawmakers to score
freebies—like NCAA tickets—from public universities
Unlike the blowout loss the University at Albany men’s basketball
team suffered against the University of Virginia during round
one of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament
last week, when it comes to handing out lobbying dollars,
there’s no competition. The SUNY system takes No. 1 over Virginia—and
every other school and university system in the tournament—with
more than $9 million in federal lobbying expenditures during
the past eight years.
What’s worrying some fiscal-policy activists more than the
thousands of dollars colleges and universities spend lobbying
Congress, however, is a loophole in congressional-gift rules
that exempts public colleges and may therefore facilitate
With March Madness underway, the national organization Americans
for Prosperity is using the tourney to highlight what its
officials say is an improper discrepancy in how public and
private lobbyists are treated. As part of the organization’s
“The Real March Madness” campaign, Americans for Prosperity
distributed letters to the head of every public institution,
including the University at Albany’s officer-in-charge Susan
Herbst, which urged them to publicly declare that the school
would not provide lawmakers with free NCAA tickets.
Ed Frank, vice president of public affairs at Americans for
Prosperity, said he heard no response from UAlbany officials.
Michael Parker, assistant director of media relations at UAlbany,
said the university distributed a total of 610 tickets. He
said no tickets were given to politicians. He added that the
Americans for Prosperity’s rankings of top lobbying schools
is somewhat “specious” in that while the SUNY system does
place first, the rank says nothing of UAlbany’s individual
level of lobbying expenditures.
Through media reports, Frank said he has heard that a few
schools honored Americans for Prosperity’s request and declared
they would not provide lawmakers with free tickets. “That’s
great,” he said, “but obviously the loophole is still there.
The point remains that [public colleges] can continue to give
any gift—basketball tickets, football tickets, theoretically
a car or a boat. There’s literally no limit to what a public
entity like a university or city government can buy for a
member of Congress.”
Until recently, rules in both houses of Congress allowed lawmakers
to accept gifts valued at less than $50. Included among several
exceptions to this rule was anything paid for by the federal
government, a state, or local government. Public universities,
as an entity of the state, fall into this category.
As part of Democrats’ opening 100 Hours campaign in January,
the House revised its rules to create a complete ban on gifts.
The exceptions, however, remained intact.
In the Senate, a similar gift ban was proposed in the form
of a bill, which is now in committee.
want to see that loophole closed up,” Frank said, “and have
public lobbyists treated the same way as private lobbyists.
We don’t see a big distinction there.” As it relates to the
NCAA tournament, Frank illustrated this contradiction by comparing
a public school such as UAlbany, which theoretically could
shower lawmakers with tickets, to a private tournament team
that is restricted.
The Web site for “The Real March Madness” contains additional
information and examples about colleges’ lobbying efforts
and federal earmarks for universities across the country.
Among the earmarks described as “questionable” is $500,000
the University of Akron received to study how to eliminate
wasteful federal spending.
The Web site does not list any earmarks for SUNY schools,
but Frank said Americans for Prosperity has records that show
UAlbany received $1.3 million “for the cyro-powered electronics
development for an all-electric ship” in 2005.
every single project that gets funded is completely without
merit,” Frank said. “Some of them may have merit, but the
point we want to make is that we need to have more of a conversation
about this. We need to have a debate about whether local projects
should be funded by federal taxpayers or whether they should
be funded by local taxpayers, who are actually going to benefit
U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty (D-Green Island) said he was unaware
of the House’s gift-ban exception that exempts state universities.
He indicated he probably would be in favor of legislation
to close that loophole.
think that if a member wants to go to a sporting event, he
should pay for it,” McNulty said. “Everybody else is paying.
I think the member should pay too.”
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has introduced legislation that
would erase the exemption for public lobbyists from the House
Assuming the Senate’s gift-ban bill passes, Frank said he
hopes Flake would be able to offer an amendment to close the
loophole when the legislation comes to the House.
Four Years Too Long
of people converged outside the Capitol in Albany Sunday afternoon
to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq and
protest the continued U.S. presence. Many carried banners
and posters, while others wore the name of one of the more
than 3,000 service members who have been killed since the
war began. Several speakers addressed the crowd before the
group marched to the Leo O’Brien Federal Building.
loose ends this week-