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Whistle blowing: Colleen Regan has things to say about her former bosses.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Furthering the Charges

Former staffer expands on her allegations of widespread abuse within the Rennselaer County Legislature

 

Last month, Colleen Regan, a former staffer with the Republican majority in the Rensselaer County Legislature, filed a complaint with the state Division of Human Rights accusing her superiors of sexual misconduct and the abuse of government resources. This triggered a chain of events that led to Albany County District Attorney David Soares agreeing to act as a special prosecutor and investigate the charges.

Last week, in a second affidavit delivered to the Albany DA’s office, Regan expanded upon her allegations, claiming that members of the legislative majority routinely abused county resources for their political campaigns.

“Basically Republican headquarters was not down in the Atrium [in downtown Troy],” she said, “it was in the Rensselaer County Legislature.”

In the affidavit dated April 11, Regan details her accusation that Majority Leader Robert Mirch (R-Troy) and Republican liaison Richard Crist were in large part running their personal consulting business, Victory Lanes, LLC, out of their legislative offices.

“I and my coworkers witnessed various candidates, which were running for an elected office,” Regan deposed, “frequently visit the legislature on a regular basis during their election campaign season to consult with Mr. Crist. . . . These candidates were clients of Victory Lanes, LLC, and were seeking out Mr. Crist’s expertise regarding their election campaign strategy, while Mr. Crist was on the job at the county.”

She goes on to list the 11 candidates who consulted with Crist at the Legislature, and for whose campaigns many of the staffers were used. Troy City Councilman Mark Wojcik, Nassau Supervisor Carol Sanford, and Troy City Council President Henry Bauer are a few of the elected officials that she fingers.

Earlier in the document, Regan claims that Crist and Mirch were charging “upwards of $5,000 a race, depending on the individual and work involved.”

Crist flatly denied the allegations.

“I look forward to speaking with the special prosecutor, to clear up these charges,” Crist said. “These accusations are completely false.” (Mirch did not return calls for comment.)

The campaign work went beyond what was done for Victory Lanes, Regan said. Staffers were used on every incumbent legislative Republican’s campaign, not only on weekends and evenings, as would be expected, but during office hours as well.

“Most of our work there [at the Legislature] was of a political nature,” Regan said. “I always said we were overstaffed. If you wanted to go by just mere work that needed to be done, other than political, you wouldn’t need all that staff.”

At the time, there were four full-time legislative assistants on the payroll, she said. Regan was getting paid $21 an hour.

“Some of the political campaign work staff carries out,” Regan’s affidavit continues, “includes but is not limited to: prepare fundraising mailers, solicitation letters asking for support from committee members of various organizations, letters to residents introducing the candidate and their platform, reminder cards to vote on primary day, do me a favor cards . . .” and so on.

“People understand when you come on board, you are going to have to do some work for some people’s campaigns,” she said. “But there is a difference. When somebody is running their business out of a place of business, when they are getting paid to do a job, but they are working their own personal business, using county employees for their own personal gain—how do you feel about that as a taxpayer?”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


What a Week

Wolfowitz in the Doghouse

Former deputy defense secretary and Iraq War architect Paul Wolfowitz’s new job as president of the World Bank may be in jeopardy. Wolfowitz is facing criticism for his admitted role in securing a job and pay raise for his girlfriend, Shaha Ali Riza, at the State Department. Riza is paid $193,000 a year—more even than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Speaking of Massacres

As the country mourns the murder of 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech this week, the violence in Iraq continues unabated (and largely unreported). At least 172 people, mostly women and children, were killed Wednesday (April 18) in Baghdad when a series of bombings ripped through a crowded market. It was the bloodiest day in Iraq since President Bush’s troop escalation. The veneer of security in the war-torn country had given way completely on April 12 when a suicide bomber injured more than 20 people inside the Iraqi Parliament building inside the heavily guarded Green Zone.

New Meaning for “Adult Non-Fiction”

An unidentified man in Neenah, Wis., won’t face any criminal charges after he masturbated among books at the town’s library earlier this month. That’s thanks to a library-records confidentiality law that prevents the library from turning over a surveillance video of the man to the police absent a court order. During the alleged incident, another patron spotted the man and reported it to library staff, who called the police. By the time the police arrived, the man had finished his business and left before he could be identified.

Not Enough Love for the Popemobile

People have sold some pretty weird stuff on eBay—serial killer Roy Norris’ fingernails (for $9.99) and advertising space on body parts, just to name a few. Yet when a piece of Catholic history is up for grabs it proves difficult to seal the deal. On Saturday, an auction for a 1999 metallic gray Volkswagon Golf that’s believed to have belonged to the Pope Benedict XVI ended—for the second time in two years—without a winner. The highest bid was for more than $204,000, but that amount failed to meet the seller’s reserve price.



Trickle-Down Effect

Rotterdam project could muddy the water—literally—in the Watervliet Reservoir

A proposed food-distribution facility in the town of Rotterdam has the potential to impact more than 40,000 Capital Region residents—and most of them don’t even know it. That’s the claim made by a handful of those who oppose constructing a McLane Foodservice distribution facility at the proposed Rotterdam location.

The problem, explained local environmental activist Aaron Mair, is that runoff from the site flows into a tributary to the Normanskill located along the southwest boundary of the property. The Normanskill, in turn, feeds into the Watervliet Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to residents in both Watervliet and Guilderland.

What does this mean in terms of effect on the drinking-water supply? The answer is twofold, Mair said. First, contaminants created as part of the facility’s daily operations could be washed by rainwater into the water source. Combine that with the fact that the current proposal allows for the distribution center to operate on a septic system, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

“You’re talking about this stuff leaching into the water supply of nearly 50 to 60 thousand people,” Mair said. “In my opinion, this thing [the facility] should be rejected. I think residents in the towns that will be impacted should litigate this thing to high heaven.”

Residents in the adjacent communities may not even be aware of the proposal, however, let alone the potential threat to drinking water, because the issue remains currently within the jurisdiction of the Rotterdam planning commission.

“I haven’t heard a word about this one,” said Jan Weston, Guilderland town planner, and therefore couldn’t comment on whether the project was a matter of concern.

Marcus Mastracco and his family reside in one of the neighborhoods adjacent to the project site. He joined his neighbors in their displeasure with how the facility could impact traffic patterns, noise levels and other quality-of-life issues, but he added that the potential environmental impacts of the project also concern him, and the inclusion of a septic system on a property connected to a drinking-water source struck him as odd.

The septic system, however, is “not intended as a long term solution,” according to the draft environmental impact statement for the project, which was submitted last month.

Instead, the town is planning to connect the facility to Rotterdam’s wastewater treatment facility, said Peter Comenzo, Rotterdam town planner. He said the sewer connection project should be finished by next year, although the project has not yet made it through a complete approval process.

Mastracco said he remains skeptical, however, especially because the draft EIS contains no firm deadline for when the facility will switch to sewer.

“My argument would be that until you have the sewer in there I don’t think you should really be building something this large,” Mastracco said. “What if the sewers never materialize? They’ve been talking about them coming for seriously about 20 years and it’s never happened.”

Mair agreed that the infrastructure should come first. He insisted he is not opposed to development or the McLane facility itself, but rather found the proposed location improper. “This distribution facility, it’s a very important facility, and it’s about jobs in the Capital Region,” he said. “My opinion is that there are alternatives.”

Comenzo wasn’t able to answer specific questions about the limits of a septic system for the proposed facility or the plan to bring a sewer line to that location. He called asking such questions somewhat premature because these questions will be studied by engineers as the process moves forward. He recognized they may be questions residents will put forward during a scheduled public hearing on the draft EIS that’s scheduled for May 1.

—Nicole Klaas

nklaas@metroland.net


For Sale or Bust

Demolition of a building listed for sale by the city of Troy sparks criticism

“It’s a very strange situation,” said Troy resident Richard Herrick. “There’s no question something went wrong in City Hall.” Herrick was referring to the demolition of a building at 319 8th St., a property that the city recently had relisted for sale.

Mayor Harry Tutunjian wrote in his weekly message on the city’s Web site Thursday, April 12, that the city was trying to sell the building, and said that the city would even take an offer of $1—which the property had been listed for in 2006—if a prospective buyer could present “the right plan.” Two days later, a private contractor demolished the building. The move has left many wondering why the city would pay to demolish a building it was trying to sell.

“It’s beyond belief that something like this would happen,” Herrick said, “especially when the mayor touted the ability for us citizens to go out there and buy these buildings. It sounds like one hand didn’t know what the other was doing.”

Herrick said that the city should instead use the demolition money to stabilize buildings and make them usable.

“We tried to save the building as best we could,” countered Jeff Buell, Troy’s deputy director of public information. “But the notion that we should pour tens of thousands of dollars into it is absurd. We must represent the interests of the entire city, not just a few.”

The property initially was scheduled to be demolished after last year’s $1 listing failed to make a sale. Only two offers were received last year, the city claims. One did not include sufficient capital to rehabilitate the building and the other was not received in time.

“The fact that not one person inquired about this property in the year that followed,” Buell said, “speaks volumes.”

In an April 16 message on the city’s Web site, Tutunjian explained that the city had planned to hold an open house for the property, but upon inspection, found it was too unstable. Thus, the building was finally demolished.

Troy resident and activist Jim de Sève said that residents weren’t notified in advance of the demolition. He said the lack of notification showed “incredible disrespect and disregard for the city and the taxpayers.”

“Where is the engineering report on this building?” de Sève asked. “Where are the photographs, the drawings, the report justifying [the architect’s] decision?” He admits that he is not an engineer, but said that he has renovated three buildings in Troy.

“I can look and judge if a building is sound or not,” he said. “That building was safe.”

He also added that, as the city tried to sell the building in the days before its demolition, a “for sale” sign was never placed on the property. “Why didn’t they do that if they were intending to actually sell the property and not demolish it?”

Buell said that, while an engineering report does not exist, the building was examined by two engineers as well as code enforcement.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “the feelings of residents without engineering degrees are superceded by actual science.”

“The attitude of my administration towards abandoned and vacant buildings is simple,” said Tutunjian, in an e-mail response. “Burned out, fire ravaged, or vacant properties in imminent danger of collapsing will be demolished.”

—David Canfield



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