top legal official appears to owe thousands in back taxes
on his so-called residence
Twenty 4th St. in downtown Troy is infamous in some circles.
The three-story apartment building was home to Mayor Harry
Tutunjian’s campaign headquarters last year, and has been
claimed since at least 2007 as the “residence” of Troy’s controversial
corporation counsel, David Mitchell. And now, according to
documents obtained by Metroland, Mitchell appears to
owe thousands of dollars in back taxes on the property, which
he recently sold.
The debt stretches back to July 31, 2007, when a property-tax
bill for $1,618 came due along with a school-tax bill of $1,736.
This year’s Jan. 31 bills also have gone unpaid, according
to tax records. The total sum Mitchell appears to owe is $7,928.
The building was sold last month to 20 Fourth Street, LLC.
In his short tenure as the city’s counsel, Mitchell has earned
a reputation as a divisively partisan player in the Republican
Tutunjian administration. His critics and colleagues from
both sides of the aisle refer to him as an unscrupulous legal
brawler, who is not one to be trusted, and is always several
steps ahead of his opponents.
For years, his actual residency has been a contentious issue.
According to the city charter, “All employees of the City
of Troy, except those expressly exempt by the Public Officers
Law of the State of New York, shall be residents of the City
of Troy at the time of their employment. Any employee of the
City who does not comply with the mandatory residency requirements
of this article shall be subject to immediate termination
by the Mayor.”
Last winter, at the final City Council meeting of the year,
Mitchell became incensed with then-Councilwoman Marjorie DerGurahian
(R-At Large). Mitchell had been asked to approach the council,
and DerGurahian took the opportunity to ask Mitchell to state
his name and address before speaking, as is customary. Mitchell,
outraged, berated DerGurahian, but finally offered the Fourth
Street address as his residency.
have repeatedly requested Mitchell’s disclosure forms,” said
Bill Dunne (D-District 4). All city employees fill out these
forms, which must state the residence of the employee, as
well as outside dealings and so on, and, according to the
City Charter, are supposed to be available to any member of
the council. The administration has never honored Dunne’s
the very first Law Committee of this year,” Dunne said, “Mitchell
brought a disclosure form and said, ‘Is this what you want?’
and I said, ‘Yes.’ He said that he wanted to be sure before
he made his secretary make the photocopies. But I have never
gotten that document. And I shouldn’t have to jump through
Mitchell has contended in the past to Dunne that his residency
requirement is satisfied by his ownership of the building.
The problem: Many people, including members of the council,
at that time did not believe that he actually lived at that
address, but that he owned the building purely to humor the
residency requirement he is saddled with as a city employee.
The second and third floor of the building hardly look lived
in, skeptics said, and at one point, what appeared to be the
upper floor’s fire exit in the rear of the building was boarded
shut from the outside.
And now, according to a deed processed with Rensselaer County,
Mitchell sold the building to a corporation named 20 Fourth
Street, LLC, in April, bringing into question again his residency
claims. Is he still claiming the address as his residence?
Mitchell could not be reached for comment.
Dunne sees the irony in Mitchell’s apparently delinquent tax
bill. Mitchell is, after all, one of the city’s eight political
appointees who received a 3.5-percent raise this year after
the settling of the lawsuit surrounding the pay raises handed
out last December by the Republican- controlled City Council.
The raise increased Mitchell’s annual $82,000-a-year salary
by 3.5 percent. He is also paid $12,000 a year by the Troy
Industrial Development Authority.
David Mitchell want to call this a personal crusade?” said
Dunne. Dunne has doggedly pursued Mitchell’s residency claims
for years. “It probably is to some extent. But he has been
so political in how he has gone after us. He has gone out
of his way to create a hostile environment.” For example,
Mitchell is responsible for drafting the legislation that
goes on the council’s agenda, and since the Democrats took
the majority, he has refused to do so.
There are so many unanswered questions, said Dunne: Does Mitchell
now reside in Troy? Has he resided in Troy since first being
appointed in 2004? Are there appointees of the mayor, other
than Mitchell, who are not meeting the residency requirement?
If so, what is the mayor doing to bring those employees into
compliance? And why has the administration refused to release
copies of Mitchell’s disclosure forms?
Jeff Buell, spokesman for the mayor, declined to comment for
Little Too Late
Sen. Hillary Clinton’s domination of the West
Virginia primary, even many of her loyal supporters
are speaking about her candidacy for president
in the past tense. “I think it’s likely Obama
is the nominee, but not certain,” said James Carville,
a Clinton strategist. “I would have preferred
another result, but I’m going to be for him. Everybody
is going to be with Obama,” he added, referring
to other Clinton supporters and campaign staff.
“I have an undated check written out for Obama.
I’ll send it when this is over.” The day after
Clinton’s West Virginia victory, Obama picked
up two more superdelegates, solidifying his lead
in a category where Clinton held an edge until
Us Your Guns
Monday, Albany County Legislator Chris Higgins
(District 6) introduced legislation to create
a gun buy-back program in conjunction with the
Albany County District Attorney and sheriff. The
plan would see $100 gift certificates given to
those from Albany County handing in handguns.
Participants would receive one-time amnesty while
turning the gun in, but if the weapon is connected
with a crime, the participant would later be questioned.
Albany County Legislator Wanda Willingham (District
3), who lost her son to gun violence, was surprised
by the legislation. She said she had been interested
in it, but that the idea was “pooh-poohed” by
the legislative leadership and counsel. The Legislature
approved $10,000 for the purchase of gift certificates.
the robot designed by Honda Motor Co., took on
a new hobby this week: conducting the Detroit
Symphony Orchestra during a performance of “The
Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha.
“It is absolutely thrilling to perform with the
Detroit Symphony Orchestra. This is a magnificent
concert hall,” ASIMO said. ASIMO was programmed
to mimic the actions of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s
education director, but cannot actually respond
to members of the orchestra. Honda eventually
wants to market ASIMO as a companion for the elderly
and as a crossing guard for schoolchildren.
to Our Union
local college works with the Iraqi Student Project to provide
an Iraqi refugee with an expenses-paid education
Thanks to the hard work of a number of Union College Students,
their school will be providing an Iraqi refugee a full scholarship
and room and board on the campus. Now the students who convinced
the administration to commit to providing this Iraqi refugee
with an education want the local community to contribute to
paying for the things he will need to start his life in America—items
such as clothes, airfare, and other essentials.
Darcy Datshkovsky Saenz, an international student and Developmental
Studies Major at Union and one of the students who helped
spearhead the effort to bring an Iraqi refugee to Union, explained
how the effort came together: “A group of students here heard
about how refugees had to flee Iraq—some of them talented
students just like ourselves—and are now not able to have
an education, and we thought it was a good idea bring them
to our school.”
The students worked with the Iraqi Student Project, which
assists Iraqi student refugees displaced in Syria in finding
educational opportunities, and convinced the Union administration
to provide a full scholarship and free room and board to one
of the displaced Iraqis.
administration was very helpful,” said Saenz. “They secured
one spot for an Iraqi student to join us during the next school
year and to take care of full tuition and room and board,
on the condition that we would help try to secure what the
student may need, including airfare and money for clothes
and things like that.” U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty (D-Green
Island) also has been asked to help secure the Iraqi refugee
a student visa, and McNulty told Metroland he is happy
to do so.
The Iraqi refugee, whose first name is Taif but whom the students
don’t want to fully identify yet so that he might have as
smooth a transition into college life as possible, already
having faced a long hard trip to get to have this chance at
According to Saenz, Taif’s father was kidnapped in 2006 and
has not been heard from again. He and his mother fled to Damascus,
Syria, where Taif eventually met up with representatives from
the Iraqi Student Project. Taif is interested in studying
biology and received high honors in science studies during
his time as a student in Iraq. Saenz said that Taif eventually
would like to become a doctor.
To raise funds for Taif, Union students will hold a talk featuring
May Saffar, a native of Baghdad who is now a local professor,
and who still has family in Baghdad and relatives living as
refugees in Syria. The talk will be held on May 20 at 6 PM
at the Beuth House on the Union College campus.
Susan Davies, a local activist who has been involved in working
to help bring awareness to the refugee crisis in Iraq, said
that the problem has not received the attention it deserves
from the public or the government.
don’t even know about the crisis,” said Davies. “I was shocked
the other day. I was at some event about sustainability, and
I was speaking to some people who seemed very informed and
interested. I said something about Iraqi refugees, and they
looked at me blankly. They had no clue that there are over
four-and-a-half million Iraqis displaced by the war.”
Davies pointed out that the Bush administration has been unwilling
to commit to taking in a proportional amount of refugees,
despite having caused the problem, and only provides a fraction
of the funding the United Nations actually needs to help the
refugees and the countries they take shelter in, like Syria.
Davies said that, locally, people should speak to their members
of Congress and ask what they are doing to assist the millions
of refugees created by America’s war on Iraq. Furthermore,
Davies suggests people donate to help Saffar bring her displaced
relatives from Syria to America.
refugees who are resettled here have to pay back the cost
of their air ticket to get here,” Davies said. “May’s brother
works for the U.S. government and had death threats—people
called his cell phone and threatened to kill him. His brother-in-law
was kidnapped and killed. They are having a hard time getting
over here. But once they get here, him and his wife and two
children, he will have to repay all those tickets, and we
are trying to raise money to help them.”
Davies asked that interested parties send donations to Women
Against War, PO Box 505, Delmar, NY 12054. Davies said that
she is heartened by the work of the students at Union to help
deal with the refugee crisis.
complains about how kids don’t do anything,” said Davies.
“But I know they care. There is so little support from the
government in this matter, and it might not feel like much
to help one person but it is worth it.”
County passes legislation that requires big box stores to
recycle plastic bags
the Albany County Legislature unanimously passed a bill requiring
retail stores 10,000 square feet or larger to establish their
own plastic-bag recycling programs. Stores such as Wal-Mart,
Home Depot, Price Chopper, and even Macy’s will be required
to place collection bins near the entrances of their stores
to collect and recycle plastic shopping bags.
absolutely outrageous that the city of Albany does not accept
these bags for recycling,” said Chris Higgins (District 6).
“They end up floating around in the air, they clog sewers,
float around in streams, and in lakes.”
which was modeled after similar legislation in Westchester
County, will go into affect six months after it is signed
into law. Stores that do not comply will face fines up to
the local effect on bag recycling, Higgins said, it is time
for local governments to take a look at the bigger picture.
the figure was, this year . . . on average, Americans will
use over 100 billion bags,” said Higgins. “In order to produce
those bags it takes 35 million barrels of oil, and, at this
point, oil costs $120 a barrel. It’s a small step, but this
bill will help reduce our dependency on foreign oil and make
the environment a more sustainable place.”
said the district he represents [Albany’s Center Square area]
is generally progressive and that he and a number of his constituents
already bring their own reusable bags to buy groceries. He
said if people have the option to do the right thing for the
environment, they most likely will. “I truly do believe that
if we give people the option of bringing them back, people
will do it. I know when I come home from the market, I stuff
the bags in a cupboard to keep and I keep smooshing them in
there. It takes 1,000 years for plastic bags to decompose,
and for me to throw them away when there are major problems
with the expansion of Albany’s landfill to begin with, it
just makes no sense.”
said that he might eventually consider imposing a tax on plastic
bags as they have done in other localities. After a plastic-bag
tax was instituted in Ireland, the country saw a 90-percent
decrease in the use of plastic bags.
said he has more environmental proposals in the works. In
fact, Higgins, who is a vocal opponent of the proposed Albany
Convention Center, said that if the state decides to go forward
with the project, he will present a number of alternative
ways to spend the money on local environmental initiatives.
law will catch a lot of stores, while exempting mom-and-pop
stores,” said Higgins. “I think that’s a good thing, and if
Macy’s or Filene’s or Boscov’s are concerned with putting
a bin in front of their stores, I quite frankly don’t view
them as an environmentally friendly business.”
in the 21st
of the six Democrats on Troy’s City Council have thrown their
support behind 21st Congressional District candidate Phil
Steck. Steck, a Democrat with three terms in the Albany County
Legislature, is seen as an instrumental player in last year’s
overthrow of the longtime Republican stronghold in Colonie.
Councilmen Ken Zalewski, John Brown, Gary Galuski, and Pete
Ryan have joined with Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer in endorsing
Steck. Securing the support of these Democrats has been seen
as a boon by Steck’s campaign, as Rensselaer County (a portion
of which is in the 21st District) is being eyed as a major
battlefield in the contest for the 21st, and neither Tracey
Brooks nor Paul Tonko, Steck’s two main rivals in the primary,
have yet to make strong inroads in that county.
loose ends this week-