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Bookkeeping “Glitch”

Albany County’s Law Committee tables a controversial grant application by the district attorney’s office

A grant application made by the Albany County District Attorney’s office for state Division of Criminal Justice Services money has raised red flags at the county Legislature. The application has been tabled by the Law Committee, and has elicited calls for review. The application was either the strained effort to budget during a fiscally demanding year or, as critics will say, the latest example of inept management at the DA’s office.

The application for the prosecutorial services grant was submitted to the Law Committee at the beginning of 2008. In the application, the DA’s office stated that it would request $100,000 from DCJS for an assistant district attorney and a legal assistant, with the remainder of the money covering fringe benefits.

On March 24, Richard Arthur, the director of administration at the DA’s office, came before the Law Committee to seek permission to move the application for the grant forward. In his testimony before the committee, according to a March 26 letter to DCJS written by Minority Leader Christine Benedict, Arthur said that the DA’s office would in fact be seeking the grant funds for items otherwise not mentioned in the application. The DA’s office would use the funds to cover budgetary gaps, including a $1,500 clothing allowance, $5,000 for personal time, and $38,700 for “fees for services.”

Fees for services include hotel stays, air travel, dining, and so on.

“This situation has caused a great deal of concern,” wrote Benedict, “among members of the Albany County Legislature.”

Sources close to the Law Committee said that when Arthur presented the intended uses for the money, which differed so drastically from the submitted application, “jaws dropped.” The committee tabled the grant application over concerns that approving the grant with the existing discrepancies would have been at best unethical, sources said, and potentially illegal.

Benedict has requested that DCJS review all grants received by the DA’s office, and Bryan Clenahan (D-District 30), chair of the Law Committee, has reached out through an April 9 letter to John Rodat, commissioner of the Department of Management and Budget, asking that the department assist the DA’s office in its grant application, “to determine [the grants’] appropriateness.”

“It was a little unclear,” Clenahan said, “where the money was going to go.”

“The reality is that this was a very difficult budget year,” Arthur explained, “and a lot of things were done at the last minute.”

He knew that he was going to have to match up numbers, he said, in a way that would be problematic, that “it had been a very complicated budget process.”

The district attorney’s office requests funds, and the county executive proposes a budget, which then the Legislature adopts. In June, Arthur made the formal request for the DA’s office to the executive. In December, the Legislature adopted the budget.

And December, Arthur said, is “a very busy time of year.” It wasn’t clear to him, looking at the budget, how the funds matched up on the expenditure and revenue sides.

“When I saw the budget back in December, I said basically, ‘Oh shit. What am I going to do about this?’ ” The DCJS grant apparently was an attempt to cover the budgetary gaps he was facing.

He called DCJS, and was guided through the grant process.

“What I find ironic here,” Arthur complained, “is that DCJS has the money, they are the people giving the money to us. And they are a lot easier to work with, in some respects, than the county Legislature.”

John Caher, director of public information with DCJS, confirmed Arthur’s comments, calling the trouble with the grant application a “bookkeeping glitch.”

Legislator Phil Steck (D-District 15), a member of the Law Committee, understands that the district attorney’s office was just trying to cover a budgetary gap. But he added that in his three terms on the Legislature, he had never before seen a department apply for a grant, representing one set of uses, then signal its intent to use the monies for different purposes.

Steck stressed that the Law Committee doesn’t deny the DA’s need for the money, or the propriety of the grant, but “it just certainly isn’t how other departments would manage a budget.”

The Law Committee has tabled the grant request from the DA’s office. Arthur and DCJS have said that they are both certain there will be no problem with the application when the Law Committee meets again Monday.

“I presume everything will go through smoothly,” Arthur said.

—Chet Hardin

What a Week

211 (Funding) Is a Joke

Last year, New York state budgeted $6.3 million for the 211 call line. This year, the state Legislature slashed that to a mere $500,000. According to the Times Union, the phone line “gives callers access to a vast information and referral network on such things as housing, employment, transportation and where to get help with financial, medical and legal problems.” Administrators at the program are hoping to attract some discretionary funds from individual lawmakers, but nowhere near what they lost.

Lawyers Overpaid?!

Four attorneys from the law firm of Girvin & Ferlazzo had been receiving state pension benefits improperly, said state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The comptroller claimed that the attorneys, who were on the BOCES payroll, should have been retained as independent contractors instead of as employees, which allowed the lawyers access to the state pension system. The attorneys had been working for BOCES, an educational co-op, handling collective bargaining negotiations, reported the Business Review, adding that DiNapoli claimed the attorneys pulled down a total of $234,000 during the 2006-07 fiscal year. They have since been removed from the pension system. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo recently has undertaken a statewide investigation into similar potential pension-system abuses.

Bishop of the Poor

The former Catholic priest and now president-elect of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, has unseated the conservative Colorado Party after its uninterrupted 62-year rule—a rule noted for the draconian anticommunism of longtime dictator Gen. Alfredo Stroessner. Lugo, a vocal adherent to Liberation Theology, has said that he intends to forgo moving into the presidential quarters, instead staying in his modest suburban home. He has promised to utilize income from the country’s vast resources to alleviate poverty, and has been careful to not offend either the powerful president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, or the folks in Washington. In a moment of rare rhetorical attack, he offered that “the United States . . . has sustained the great dictatorships, but afterward lifted the banner of democracy.” Although Lugo represents a clear leftist shift for the country’s political class, and echoes the far-broader leftist shift in Latin America, many in the United States see Lugo as a potential moderate and a cautious ally.

The Good Mile

Northeast Health called its “Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault and Gender Violence” a success. On Saturday, 145 men gathered at Samaritan Hospital, many wearing women’s high-heel shoes, and took part in a mile-long walk that raised roughly $14,000. The proceeds will benefit Samaritan’s Sexual Assault and Crime Victims Assistance Program of Rensselaer County, which offers “comprehensive, specialized services to victims of sexual violence, victims of stalking, older adults, homicide survivors, as well as other victims of crime, their family members and friends, or significant others.”

Campus Cola War

UAlbany students host an eyewitness to the alleged crackdown on unionizing efforts at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia

Time is almost up for University at Albany’s 10-year exclusive contract with Coca-Cola. On May 2, University Auxiliary Services, the nonprofit corporation that handles food services for SUNY campuses, will be voting on a new beverage contract for the university. And Jackie Hays is hoping that the board doesn’t vote for Coke.

“We are not really sure how it will go. We have been putting on a lot of pressure,” said the second year grad student. She is a member of Students for Workers Rights, and last year, they were able to collect 1,211 student signatures on a petition calling for the college to reject another exclusive contract with Coke. United University Professions, the faculty union on campus, also has passed a resolution calling for the university to sever its relationship with the beverage giant.

According to Hayes, Coke has a notorious reputation for disregarding the human rights of workers in its foreign bottling plants. In Colombia, paramilitary death squads have been accused of committing torture, kidnappings, and murder to dissuade the workers there to unionize. Killer Coke, a nationwide effort to draw attention to these alleged crimes, claims that often the intimidation and abuse of the workers occurs with the support or direction of the cola company’s management.

Students for Workers Rights have teamed up with Campus Greens and UUP to host an on-campus lecture by Camilo Romero, a member of Colombian food industry trade union the National Union of Food Industry Workers. According to Students for Workers Rights, the union has “documentation of many members or leaders being murdered, kidnapped, and tortured by paramilitary groups.”

The groups have invited members of the UAS board to the lecture, with the hope that the board might be swayed by a first-person account of the atrocities committed in Colombia in the name of Coke.

—Chet Hardin Camilo Romero will be speaking tonight (Thursday, April 24) from 7:30 to 9 PM in room 144 of the Earth Science and Math-ematics building on the UAlbany campus.

Taxing: Activists remind late filers how much of their money is going to the war in Iraq.

Photo: Shannon DeCelle

Water Imploding

In the wake of the state audit of North Greenbush’s project mismanagement, everyone is trying to direct the blame

One thing is certain: Water Dis- trict 14 is a comedy of errors. And it has been, according to the findings of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, since the beginning.

The Water District 14 capital project in North Greenbush, to extend water service to roughly 1,000 homes, was undertaken back in 2003 with an estimated price tag of $5.5 million. In 2005, the town was authorized by the state to increase that expenditure to $7.1 million for a $6.4 million contract price. Upon nearing completion the following year, according to the comptroller’s audit, members of the community, as well as officials, began to worry that the project was running drastically over budget.

The audit states that the overruns currently total $268,000 and “will likely approach $800,000 as the project nears completion.” The audit lays the blame on a lack of oversight and poor communication between the town board, town comptroller, and building department.

The audit goes on to list a grab bag of mismanagements: $3.7 million in claims not certified by the town comptroller; two checks totaling more than $410,000 issued without the supervisor’s signature—signed, instead, by the comptroller; $23,000 in improperly supported claims, or in claims lacking approval of the head of the building department; and so on.

Democratic committee members Dan Ashley and C.B. Smith have seized the audit as proof of the political malfeasance they have long claimed runs rampant in North Greenbush Town Hall. What the audit failed to mention, said Smith, is the political connection between Supervisor Mark Evers and the contractor hired to perform the project, Casale Excavating. Michael Casale is the chairman of the Conservative Party in North Greenbush, and Evers is a member of that party.

In a press release, Smith and Ashley pointed specifically to four applications for payment, unsigned and unauthorized by the Building Department, and instead signed by Evers.

“Evers, in spite of that lack of authorization, signed the vendor claims to cut the checks,” said Smith. On the applications for payment, there are dozens of line items. One such line item is for 38 three-quarter-inch corporation stops for $38,000.

“Do you know what a corporation stop is? I don’t,” Smith said. “And I bet you don’t. Mark Evers doesn’t. And you can pick out line after line on these detailed, itemized applications for payment, and you wouldn’t know what most of this stuff is. That’s why you have somebody with the background in the department, who is on-site, authoring it.”

“When you see this, you ask, ‘Why would he do this?’ ” Smith said of Evers. The answer, he continued, is because Casale Excavating was the company collecting the checks. “Would Evers do it for another vendor? No! But he would do it for the Conservative chairman’s company.”

Smith also produced applications for payments, with attached vender claims, which appear to show that Evers was aware that North Greenbush was spending beyond the contract price as early as July 2006, despite Evers’ claims to the contrary.

In November 2006, Evers told the Troy Record that he wasn’t made aware of the overruns “until this week.” However, according to the applications for payment, it appears that Evers had signed venders’ claims throughout 2006, all the while pushing the total expense above the $6.4 million contract price.

“For every claim, for every vendor, the supervisor must sign the claim,” Smith said. “And he did.”

Supervisor Mark Evers was not available for an interview.

—Chet Hardin

Photo: Shannon DeCelle

The Good Mile

Northeast Health called its “Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault and Gender Violence” a success. On Saturday, 145 men gathered at Samaritan Hospital, many wearing women’s high-heel shoes, and took part in a mile-long walk that raised roughly $14,000. The proceeds will benefit Samaritan’s Sexual Assault and Crime Victims Assistance Program of Rensselaer County, which offers “comprehensive, specialized services to victims of sexual violence, victims of stalking, older adults, homicide survivors, as well as other victims of crime, their family members and friends, or significant others.”

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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