them stay home: ACORN activist Williams waits to meet
with Schenectady County’s undersheriff in charge of
call upon Schenectady to place a moratorium on evictions
Iris Williams and Lorrie Robinson led a freezing troupe of
housing advocates on a protest into the halls of Schenectady’s
county government, waving banners and signs, chanting their
demands for the county to practice restraint in the face of
a growing catastrophe. Williams pressed the clerk at the sheriff’s
office to let her speak with the sheriff.
are listening,” Williams said, “and we want them to hear that
no one can afford to lose their homes. We want the sheriff
to step up and say ‘No.’ ” The clerk seemed sympathetic. “I
know, honey, I know. We served 837 evictions out of this office
Gordon Bollard, the undersheriff in charge of evictions, came
out to meet the handful of activists with the Association
of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, filling
the sheriff’s receiving area. He spoke privately with Williams
and Chris Franklin, an ACORN organizer, and said that he would
be willing to meet with them to discuss their proposals, as
long as the county attorney signed off on the meeting. Franklin
said that he wanted a meeting with Bollard and the county
attorney, and later secured a tentative agreement from both
offices that a meeting would take place this month.
At the meeting, ACORN intends to request that the county stop
all evictions and sheriff’s sales in the county, said Harold
Miller, upstate regional director, “until a one-year moratorium
is in place statewide.” ACORN is lobbying statewide for this
one-year moratorium, hoping to build on the success of last
year’s 90-day moratorium.
want homeowners to have the opportunity to seek counseling
before they are evicted,” Miller said. Housing counselors,
which ACORN provides, will go through a homeowners’ mortgage
documents and help them understand their options. In many
of these foreclosure situations, he said, homeowners have
“irregularities or unscrupulous parts of their loan that should
Miller said that banks are willing to modify terms, if the
borrower understands their rights and the process of approaching
a bank to negotiate.
People might lose their homes anyway, said Miller, “but at
least they get to go through the process of using all of the
available resources, to come to a conclusion with dignity.”
Also, ACORN will ask the county to extend the moratorium evictions
to all John and Jane Doe eviction actions, in which tenants
of a foreclosed building can be served a generic eviction
notice, and without any foreknowledge, can be thrown out on
often tenants don’t have a clue what is going on, they just
keep on paying rent and wondering why services aren’t being
provided,” said Fred Elfenbein, a member of ACORN. “Then,
all of a sudden, there is a knock on the door, and it is the
sheriff telling them they have to leave.”
Sheriffs across the country, including in Nassau County, recently
have refused to carry out such evictions.
In 2008, there were 2 million foreclosures nationwide, an
81-percent increase over the year before. Current projections
predict that the number could reach 4 million in 2009. “If
we don’t take any proaction,” worried Elfenbein, “we will
wind up in Schenectady with hundreds and hundreds of abandoned
follows the announced closure of Troy library branches
As the fate of the two satellite branches of the Troy Public
Library appears nearly sealed, at least for 2009, the fight
over who is to blame has taken a bitter, political tenor.
The Sycaway and Lansingburgh branches will close on Feb. 2.
As the city prepares to lose these civic resources, one member
of the City Council has said that he wants to force the library
management to “go back to the drawing board.”
are lazy,” said Troy Councilman Mark McGrath (R-District 2).
“All they do is stand in front of the city and rattle that
empty tin can, and then if you speak out, you are immediately
labeled as though you are against the library and books. That
you are against kids.”
McGrath said that he will introduce legislation at the council’s
Finance Committee meeting on Thursday to bar the city from
allowing the library to close the two branches. McGrath’s
move is intended to keep the Lansingburgh branch open.
don’t want to close Lansingburgh either,” said Paul Hicok,
Troy Public Library director. “Closing libraries is not what
we are about.”
Hicok said that McGrath’s legislation, if enacted, would force
the main branch to maintain fewer hours, “and that would put
us below the state requirement.” The state requires that the
main branch of a library system operate 55 hours a week, which
is the current level of operating hours for the main branch.
legislation could force the library to go into violation of
state regulation,” Hicok said.
don’t know how else to really put it,” Hicok continued. “Maybe
it is me; maybe I don’t have the ability to explain it.” But
unless the city is willing to give the library system more
money, he said, there are no options left.
Hicok noted that the average per capita local support for
libraries in Rensselaer and Albany counties is $35. In Troy,
the per capita support is $10.61.
However, McGrath does see another option, one that he claims
the library has refused to explore: fundraising.
said McGrath, “I think that Paul Hicok just thinks that fundraising
is beneath him.”
That couldn’t be further from the truth, countered Hicok.
The board does hold fundraisers, and is entertaining ideas
for further efforts. One idea was suggested by Troy restaurateur
Michael LoPorto, at a public meeting this past week, and Hicok
said that he would be “happy to discuss that possibility.”
However, he said, he is leery about making the commitment
to keep branches open based solely on the promise of fundraisers.
“I have to run on the possibility of income, and how solid
that is. Fundraisers are great, and we do them all the time,
but the income varies and is usually unpredictable. It is
difficult to open the branches ’cause the money needs to be
Further, he said, the issue of fundraising, while legitimate,
obscures the real goal: to secure by ballot a special library
district this fall that would allow the library to go directly
to the citizens of Troy for its funds, and, in turn, would
make the library answerable to the same.
Though McGrath has been the most vocal in his criticisms,
he is only echoing a popular theme in the ranks of Troy’s
Republican party: the Troy library system is too insular,
snobbish, and unwilling to do the hard work.
Councilman Bill Dunne (D-District 4) laughed at the idea of
McGrath and the Republicans lecturing anyone about fundraising.
Republicans’ idea of fundraising has always been to go to
Uncle Joe [Bruno] and say, ‘Can you help us out?’ ”Dunne said.
Dunne said that he has no problem with supporting the library,
and voted for the slight tax increase this past fall that
would have avoided this current crisis. A tax increase, he
added, that the Republicans campaigned strongly against.
Dunne called the criticisms made by McGrath, who is widely
suspected to have his eye on the mayor’s seat in 2012, a political
Hicok said he will be asking the council to put a resolution
supporting the special district on the February agenda.
councilmen clash on investigation into ghost-ticket scandal
Albany Common Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) said that he
has no plans to back down from his call for an investigation
into the Albany Police Department’s ghost-ticket scandal,
regardless of a letter that has been signed by an overwhelming
majority of his fellow council people. The letter, authored
by Albany Common Council Pro Tem Richard Conti (Ward 6), is
a request for the state comptroller to audit the records of
the parking enforcement procedures of the Albany police. Conti
said that a state audit would give the city a clearer vision
of what actually led to the widespread, years-long abuse that
saw more than 14,000 of these ghost tickets issued in one
am pretty disappointed in our president pro tem,” said Ellis.
“He was one of the people initially to say that we need to
investigate this.” He said that he feels the timing of Conti’s
letter was intended to co-opt efforts to initiate a council
Conti argued that a state audit could “provide the framework”
for any future investigation by the council, by establishing
to what extent data is retrievable in respect to the ghost
tickets, by exploring the training that officers received,
as well as the policy regulating the tickets, and by giving
shape to “the historical elements that led to the policy that
is at issue.”
state audit is warranted,” Ellis agreed. “I won’t say it isn’t
warranted. But it isn’t warranted now.”
Ellis said that he wants to lead with a council investigation.
For one thing, the state audit, he said, won’t investigate
if there was criminal fraud.
Conti pointed out that there is no proposal on the table for
using the subpoena power of the council as of yet. He said
he would consider a proposal once he saw it.
will be the outline for issuing the subpoenas?” asked Conti.
“We need to know what we expect that they will achieve. What
will be the course of action?”
other issue,” Conti continued, “is that our subpoena power
is limited. We have the right of access to books and records
that are in any department or city agency, and to city personnel,
but we don’t know yet where some of this stuff is. If this
was handled by the police union, we don’t have the right to
any of that information. We haven’t discussed this yet. We
have never gotten into an in-depth discussion.”
Ellis said that he worries that other council members might
look at Conti’s call for an audit as a way to not vote to
use the council’s subpoena powers, because “the state is going
to handle it. And it gives the mayor an out.”
Ellis pointed to Friday’s Times Union article, which
first reported on Conti’s letter. In the article, Albany Police
Chief James Tuffey said that they would agree with the audit.
“That concerns me,” said Ellis. “The police chief has never
agreed to any kind of investigation, and now all of a sudden
he is going to go along with that? It’s probably because he
knows that it is just an audit that will tell us what we already
know. It might show a couple of indiscretions, but it doesn’t
cut down to the heart: Who gave the order to defraud the city
government? How long has it been going on and who started
it? And what was the process of implementing it? And we can
find that out as a council by doing one thing: voting for
Ellis said that he will be moving forward with his call for
a council investigation tonight (Thursday) at the council
meeting. “I think it should still come to a vote, and the
citizens of Albany need to know where their council members
loose ends this week-