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Mean streets: a nasty pothole on one of Albany’s lower rated thoroughfares.

PHOTO: Joe Putrock
Pave Me

Albany Common Council members hope that a new study will ensure that the city’s worst roads are fixed first

‘Poor: Riding quality is noticeably inferior to new pavements, but may be tolerable for high-speed traffic.” That is how the stretch of road in front of Albany’s City Hall was ranked by a recent study on the city’s roads commissioned by the Albany Common Council. In fact, that description is the most positive way to describe 116.12 miles of the 455.9 miles of roads that were tested in Albany, according to the Capital District Transportation Committee, the organization charged with completing the study.

Slightly more than 25 percent of all Albany roads are ranked as poor on the committee’s scale of 1 to 10. Of that 25 percent, those ranked at 2 were described this way: “Pavements are in extreme deteriorated condition and may require complete reconstruction. Motorists experience discomfort and travel speeds will decrease.” Of all the Albany roads ranked by the study, only 5 percent were described as “excellent.” Thirty-seven percent of Albany roads were ranked as “good,” 31 percent as “fair.”

Council members say they continually hear complaints about the city’s roads and hope that this study will begin the process of addressing the problem. Albany Common Council member Mike O’Brien (Ward 12) told CBS 6, “People should be happy to hear that the survey was done, because I think it would eliminate that feeling that you have to know someone to get your street paved.” Many of the lowest-rated roads in the study are also, unsurprisingly, in the city’s worst-off neighborhoods, including the South End, the West End, Arbor Hill and the student-populated portion of the Pine Hills neighborhood.

Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) said that when trying to follow up with city officials on citizens’ complaints that their streets were not being paved while streets in better-off neighborhoods were, he was always told that decisions about which streets to pave were based on a ranking system. Calsolaro said that the council asked to see the rankings, but none were produced, so O’Brien went ahead and commissioned a study so that the city would have a reference point. Calsolaro said he is hopeful that having such a list of streets and the state they are in will ensure that worse-off streets are attended to first. “I think it gives us something to go on,” said Calsolaro. “There is a street on there that is ranked a 3 that I have been trying to get repaired for years.”

As a result of this study, the council has commissioned a more thorough study that will assess streets, sidewalks and drainage systems.

Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) said that he would like to make the street rankings available for the public on the city’s Web site. “We have to put a system together where the roads are listed on the city Web site from worse to better so people know if we do 10 roads a year, these are the 15 worst. So they will get done. So the administration doesn’t just say, ‘We will do this road.’ Fixing these roads according to how they are listed is the fair way to do it.”

—David King

What a Week

Pirates Need Not Apply

A former Millersville University (Millersville, Pa.) student who was denied her teaching degree because of an objectionable MySpace photo has sued her university. Stacy Snyder was informed the day prior to graduation that she would not receive her education degree or teaching certificate because of the photo, which depicted Snyder in a pirate Halloween costume drinking from a plastic cup. The university said the photo, which was captioned “Drunken Pirate,” promoted underage drinking. Snyder, 27, was given an English degree instead. She has sued the university for $75,000 in damages.

War on Children’s Health

A report from Save the Children Fund indicates that one in eight Iraqi children will die before the age of 5—a 150-percent increase from 1990, and the highest increase anywhere in the world, including AIDS-ravaged sub-Saharan Africa. Iraq once was a country that attracted people from other Middle Eastern countries looking for good medical care. Not anymore. The recent plunge is blamed, in part, on the fact that some of the country’s best doctors have been killed or have fled due to fear of kidnapping. Also, a contributing factor is the fear of violence that prevents some pregnant mothers from leaving their homes for childbirth—only one in four Iraqi children is born in the presence of qualified medical personnel.

Bible ‘Prank’ Turns Sour

A luggage attendant at a Florida airport was fired after a mean-spirited “prank” offended a homosexual couple. Jethro Monestime was working at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport May 1, when he decided to play a Biblical audio message aloud from his cell phone. The verse, from Leviticus 20:13, proclaimed, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, they should be put to death.” Then, for giggles, he played it again. He claimed it was all a prank, but the couple listening nearby said that they took it more as a death threat.

Spitzer’s Nod Going to Clinton

Gov. Eliot Spitzer quieted questions about his support for fellow New York politician Sen. Hillary Clinton Tuesday when he announced he will endorse Clinton as a candidate for president. Spitzer will formally endorse Clinton in a ceremony Monday. The latest polls for the 2008 contest show Clinton on top with a widening lead over fellow Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

Not in My Community

Schenectady is poised to become the latest county to restrict residency for sex offenders

If a proposed sex-offender residency law is approved, hundreds of Schenectady County residents soon could be banned from living in many parts of the county, including virtually all areas in the city of Schenectady. The proposal, which was formally introduced Tuesday (May 8) by county legislator Edward Kosiur (D-Schenectady), would prohibit sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of specified locations where children congregate.

While not uncommon for counties or localities to impose residency restrictions on sex offenders—such laws already are on the books in many parts of the Capital Region—Kosiur’s proposal could prove to be one of the most stringent in the state.

The resolution prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools and day cares (the typical locations named in residency-restriction laws), as well as playgrounds, public parks, public swimming pools and youth centers. Those parameters would render the entire city of Schenectady virtually off-limits.

Unlike the laws in neighboring counties, which typically limit only Level 2 and Level 3 offenders, Kosiur’s proposal calls for the restrictions also to apply to Level 1 offenders, who are so classified because they are considered the least likely to re-offend.

Add to that the fact that the resolution calls for the law to apply retroactively—meaning sex offenders currently registered at a noncompliant address would be required to relocate immediately—and you have a situation that probably would fail a constitutional challenge, said Melanie Trimble, executive director of the Capital Region chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“If it virtually bars people,” she said, “from even living anywhere within the city limits, then our position is that it would be declared unconstitutional.”

Last summer, Rensselaer County passed a similar 2,000-foot residency requirement that applied to Level 3 offenders as well those classified as Level 2 if their crime was against a minor. Even though the law specified only schools and child-care facilities, the 2,000-foot parameter was enough to make nearly the entire city of Troy unsuitable.

“The 2,000-foot parameter has made this law an extremely difficult law to manage,” said a source within the Troy Police Department, “and I hope somebody in Schenectady has figured that out by now.”

For law enforcement, the source said, the requirements can be challenging due to the transient nature of sex offenders, who, once they are identified by a neighborhood, often are subject to harassment.

“They have to move quite a bit,” the source said. “Sometimes they have legitimate fears for their own safety. What that 2,000-foot parameter has done is basically said, ‘Well, you can move, but it can’t be anywhere within the city of Troy.’ That’s a very unrealistic parameter for us to enforce. . . . The concern is that it could, in fact, encourage offenders to stop reporting their new addresses.”

Trimble noted the same problem, adding that residency restrictions also can prove counterproductive.

“When you start to put pressure on where they can live and make it so restrictive that they’re unable to live with their family or have that family support network to overcome their previous circumstances, you’re really driving them underground,” she said. “You’re taking them away from that social network that can actually help rehabilitate them and incorporate them back into society.”

The NYCLU first tried to challenge the constitutionality of sex-offender residency restrictions two years ago with a case involving an ordinance in Binghamton.

“Binghamton decided not to enforce the ordinance, so they just pretty much withdrew the law because they didn’t want to face the legal challenge,” Trimble said.

Since then, several counties and localities have passed residency-restriction legislation. In light of this, the NYCLU is considering moving forward with another court challenge, Trimble said.

At the state level, legislators have proposed several bills relating to sex-offender residency. One has already passed the Senate, and two others have made it to a third reading in the same house. Trimble said they don’t expect, however, the legislation to make much headway in the Assembly.

“It [sex-offender residency laws] became a political football, and all these legislatures are jumping on this topic to look good in the eyes of the public, but they didn’t weigh the reality of the law, that makes it almost unenforceable in so many ways,” said the Troy Police Department source.

There are about 200 sex offenders currently registered in Schenectady County.

—Nicole Klaas

Who Is in Charge of Equality?

Albany councilman wants the mayor to take the lead on ensuring that minorities are better represented on the city’s workforce

This week, Albany Common Council man Corey Ellis (Ward 3) called on Mayor Jerry Jennings to issue an executive order establishing a concrete affirmative-action plan for the city. Ellis’ call came after what he said were weeks of trying to follow up on complaints from citizens about city projects that were not utilizing minorities.

On Monday, Eddie Robinson, a resident of Livingston Avenue in Arbor Hill, stood in front of the Albany Common Council and expressed to those assembled his utter frustration. Robinson had observed weeks earlier that the group working on the Henry Johnson Park project on the corner of Livingston Avenue and Henry Johnson Boulevard in the center of Arbor Hill—a project designed to honor an African-American war hero—was lacking any minority workers that he could see.

Robinson had contacted council members weeks earlier, and they had begun to look into whether the contractors at the Henry Johnson Park site were complying with the city’s Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise employment guidelines. Ellis said he spoke to a foreman at the site and then got in contact with a person he thought was the appropriate representative at the Albany Community Development Agency, Lester Freeman. Ellis said Freeman told him that he was not responsible for overseeing compliance with the city’s Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise Program, which is designed to increase the number of minorities utilized in jobs throughout the city. Ellis was directed to contact the Office of Equal Opportunity at City Hall, which also directed him elsewhere.

Next, Ellis decided to seek out job descriptions to ascertain for himself exactly which office is responsible.

Meanwhile, Joe Montana, director of the Albany Community Development Agency, said that there is no compliance issue on the Henry Johnson Park project. “It doesn’t have to be the first day on the job or the last day on job. These are goals. They are not etched in stone,” said Montana, who said that by the time the project is completed, it will have exceeded the city’s goal of 17.8 percent minority representation on the city workforce by at least four percent.

But Ellis said there should be compliance from day one. “They absolutely should be there when the job starts. Why would they take three weeks into someone complaining for it to get taken care of?”

However, Ellis said he has deeper concerns about the city’s commitment to compliance with the MWOBEP. Ellis cited a minority contractor, Grady McMullin, who said he was hired by De Brino Caulking to work on a job at City Hall. According to McMullin, he eventually noticed the job was being completed without him, and said he had never received a call to work on the job. When he called to find out why he had been left out, he said, his calls were never returned.

McMullin said he has seen the contract that was submitted to the city with his name on it as the minority contractor, thereby making the job compliant with the city’s equal-opportunity ordinances. Lewis Houghtaling, president of De Brino Caulking, the firm charged with replacing the balustrades in city hall, said his job was extremely specific and straightforward and there was no need to bring in subcontractors. “When a guy feels like work should be handed out to people. . . . We perform that work ourselves. We are masons. We bid that work because we do that work. We try to sub some of that out, but the engineer didn’t want anybody doing anything that didn’t have a historical-restoration background. I don’t know that we owe people things. We are bidding work, trying to get work for ourselves, and he wants work for himself, like we owe them something, and I think that is bullshit.”

Houghtataling said he feels Albany’s equal-opportunity requirements are unfair. “If you have a little GC [general contracting] project with multiple types of work, that’s good for that type of job. But when you have one type of work and you perform it, you try to do it with your labor force. When it’s all our work, what am I supposed to do? What do I owe that guy?”

McMullin said he has been in contact with Lester Freeman about his issue, but has yet to hear what will be done. Montana insisted that his agency has no oversight of the issue, and directed Metroland to call the city’s Office of Administrative Services and Workforce Development. No one there has returned calls on the issue.

“I’m calling for the mayor to issue an executive order, like Gov. Spitzer did,” said Ellis. “I want him to issue an affirmative-action plan, to send a strong message to every department head on equal employment and equal opportunity. I want him to put a stamp on it so that these department heads know the city’s position.”

Common Councilwoman Carolyn McLaughlin (Ward 2) has called a meeting of the Housing and Community Development Committee for this Monday (May 14) at 5:30 PM. Joe Montana and Lester Freeman have been invited to attend. There will be a public-comment period.

—David King

In Molly’s Tradition

AAN presents inaugural award to MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann

The Association of Alternative News weeklies presented its inaugural Molly Ivins Award yesterday (Wednesday, May 9) to Keith Olbermann, anchor of MSNBC’s Countdown With Keith Olbermann.

The award is named in honor of Ivins, who served as co-editor of AAN member Texas Observer early in her muckraking career, and who died of breast cancer in January at age 62.

“We think Molly certainly would have approved of this year’s recipient of our first award,” said AAN President Kenneth Neill, publisher of the Memphis Flyer, at the presentation in New York City. “Keith Olbermann speaks truth to power with wit and style, just as Molly did.”

Now in his fourth year as Countdown anchor, Olbermann raised his profile last year by introducing his “Special Comments” segments, incendiary tirades in the style of one of his idols, Edward R. Murrow. In one such segment, he began this way: “The man who sees absolutes where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning is either a prophet or a quack. Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.” And observing the fifth anniversary of 9/11 at Ground Zero last year, Olbermann said, “The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war on the false premise that it had ‘something to do’ with 9/11 is ‘lying by implication.’ The impolite phrase is ‘impeachable offense.’”

In receiving the award, Olbermann said, “I’m utterly honored, largely because I’d still like to be Molly Ivins when I grow up.”

To recognize Olbermann’s achievement, AAN will donate $2,000 in his name to the Molly Ivins Fund for Investigative Reporting at the Texas Observer.

The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies is a diverse group of 125 alt-weekly news organizations that cover every major metropolitan area in North America. Metroland has been a member since 1987; Stephen Leon, its editor and publisher, currently serves as vice president of the AAN board of directors.

Loose Ends

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