Up and Wait
clash on investigating Albany “ghost tickets”
Freshman Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) arrived 35 minutes
late to the caucus and said little, although the Democrats
were discussing an issue that he owns. After, he strode into
the council chambers, through the public entrance, for the
first February meeting of the Albany Common Council, after
conspiring briefly with Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward
1) in the hallway. It was to be Ellis’ night. He was going
to challenge his colleagues, as he had told Metroland in
the past, to wager their political calculations against action
by voting on whether to initiate a full council investigation
into Albany’s “ghost tickets” scandal.
Ellis proposed a motion to issue a subpoena for Albany Police
Officers’ Union president Christian Mesley, to come before
the council at its March 2 meeting and answer questions as
to his knowledge of the police department’s alleged policy
of handing out the no-fine tickets. Calsolaro seconded the
After hearing discussion from Councilman Michael O’Brien (Ward
12), President Pro Tem Richard Conti (Ward 6) stood and proposed
his own motion—to table Ellis’ bill. The chamber fell into
can do that?” Ellis asked. “You can table another council
Yes, the research counsel responded bluntly, scanning procedure
Ellis stood with his head down, frustrated, “So once again,
I,” he began, but was cut short by Council President Shawn
Morris—Conti had the floor.
But Ellis continued, “I didn’t know that you could squash
not squashing,” Conti rebuffed. “We are operating under Robert’s
understand, I just didn’t know you could squash . . .”
. . this kind of motion,” Ellis finished.
Finally, the research counsel confirmed that Conti’s motion
was in fact legal, and that it could table Ellis’ motion until
a future date, which was set for the next council meeting,
Feb. 19. Councilwoman Catherine Fahey (Ward 7) seconded Conti’s
motion and the floor was again open to discussion.
Conti said that his motion didn’t reflect what he saw as the
validity of Ellis’ motion, rather it was specifically meant
to give the council the opportunity to discuss the procedure
and process behind using the subpoena.
is the first time [this motion] has actually been put before
us,” Conti said. “I think it appropriate that we have a discussion
that is sane, rational, and orderly so that we know where
we are going and therefore we can then consider this motion
or some other motion.”
months! Two months!” Ellis countered. “I have stated in the
newspaper, on television, about how I felt the council should
deal with this issue. We have the ability to do it. We have
the power to do it. And not one time did I get a phone call
from the president pro tem.”
has been going on now since November,” Calsolaro complained.
“There comes a point when you have to take a stand and say,
‘Enough is enough.’ ”
have not had discussion on this issue,” Conti argued. “Mr.
Ellis said that he has talked to the newspapers and the television.
. . . Yes he has. I have been waiting for him to talk with
his colleagues on the council, and bring a proposal before
us. I have sat in caucus after caucus expecting Mr. Ellis
to bring the discussion before us so that we can have it.
I have been waiting for you to bring this up at caucus, I
have been waiting for you to bring it up.”
There are some insiders who say that Ellis’ actions are career
motivated, pointing to the fact that he is exploring the possibility
of running against Mayor Jerry Jennings this year. Securing
this subpoena would be seen as a big, early win for Ellis
in a race that many insiders agree will become too crowded
if council president Morris, who is also considering a run,
decides to announce.
correct question is why didn’t the council want to go on the
record about whether they support putting Mesley under oath?”
Ellis later told Metroland. “It’s not about procedure,
or policy, or political grandstanding.”
In the end, the council supported Conti’s motion, with Ellis,
Calsolaro, and Councilwoman Barbara Smith (Ward 4) voting
against it, though Ellis appeared undeterred.
don’t need to discuss whether or not you want to vote to subpoena
someone. You are elected officials,” Ellis told his colleagues.
“You represent your ward. And you need to discuss whether
or not you vote to put someone under oath?”
does not happen without action,” Ellis said. “I am happy I
did it this way, because guess what happened: We scheduled
a meeting for Feb. 12th, and now we are going to start to
deal with it. Don’t know what’s gonna come out of it, but
now we are going to start to deal with it.”
documentation of the Feb. 2 meeting is online at Albany Community
Television’s Facebook page. The council has scheduled a special
caucus for Feb. 12 at 5:30 PM in the City Court Room, 2nd
floor of City Hall, to discuss further investigation. It is
open to the public.
buy-local pledge and a new business directory are the focus
of a Local First monthly meeting
Capital District Local First (CDLF) is taking the next step
in its campaign encouraging people to take the 10 Percent
Shift Pledge. Through this program, residents of Albany, Rensselaer,
Saratoga, and Schenectady counties will pledge to shift 10
percent of the goods and services they buy from chain to local
Draft copies of pledge sign-up sheets were distributed at
a monthly CDFL meeting held Monday at Flavour Café in Troy.
could be a really big boost to our local economy, especially
at a time when we really need it,” said David Hess, treasurer
of the board of CDLF and a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic
The pledge program is modeled after similar programs instated
by Local First chapters nationwide. It was started after a
survey conducted by Civic Economics and the Local First in
Grand Rapids, Mich., found that a 10-percent shift to local
goods and products could create $140 million in new economic
activity and 1,600 new jobs in that area.
The meeting Monday featured a panel of three Troy business
owners leading a discussion on the topic “Building Communities
and Building Businesses.” Rocco DeFazio of DeFazio’s Pizza,
Elizabeth Young of Living Room Antiques, and Karen Schlesinger
of Digital Artist’s Space participated in the panel with CDLF
vice-chair Karisa Centanni acting as moderator.
DeFazio, Young, and Schlesinger all spoke on how working to
create better neighborhoods can lead to more successful businesses,
highlighting programs such as the Troy Neighborhoods Action
Council, Troy Night Out, and the attempt at a formation of
a Troy Business Improvement District.
DeFazio formed T-NAC to expand on the work he had done to
improve his own Little Italy neighborhood. “We want to empower
other neighborhoods to do what we do,” DeFazio said.
I’ve really found is that there’s strength in numbers,” echoed
Young in reference to her work with Schlesinger on Troy Night
Out and the Troy Downtown Collaborative.
CDLF also played host to a presentation by startup All for
Local. All for Local, the product of Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute seniors Joe Balestriere, Alessandro Gerbini, and
John Debs, is developing an open-source Web site directory
for small businesses to create profiles of business and inventory
information. They are also developing inventory software that
will eventually funnel into the Web site for real-time inventory
information, similar to Amazon.com. Gerbini describes the
site as “social networking for businesses.”
bringing together all small businesses to one database, we
can hopefully increase the amount of people that can shop
locally simply by knowing what small businesses offer,” Gerbini
said. The first step is to gather information about local
businesses, and they anticipate having the Capital Region
local business directory up by April.
Local business owners (or just those who want to find out
more about the businesses in their community) are welcome
at every CDLF monthly meeting. Smaller hubs of the CDLF have
been set up in each of the four counties represented by the
organization. While the CDLF deals with overarching issues
concerning local businesses, the hubs will be more action-
oriented, organizing events at the city level.
The Schenectady hub has the ball rolling on a May Buy-Local
Bash, and the Troy hub has weekly meetings at Brown’s Brewing
Company. The Albany and Saratoga hubs are still getting off
the ground. Centanni, the interim leader of the Albany hub,
encourages anyone interested to contact her directly through
the CDLF Web site or to attend a general CDLF meeting.
can find out more about the CDLF at capitaldistrictlocalfirst.com.
Businesses interested in participating in All for Local can
wants a new plan for Washington Park, but will he want the
environmental review that goes with it?
What constitutes an “environmental impact” on a public city
park? Members of the Washington Park Conservancy in Albany
have been asking that question for three years; now, they
may finally get an answer.
Members of the conservancy met recently with Albany Mayor
Jerry Jennings, his staff, and the heads of several city agencies
that deal with the park. The two main topics were what to
do with the two “staging areas” in the park where the city
has been storing grounds equipment and supplies, and the conservancy’s
longstanding desire to have a State Environmental Quality
Review, or SEQR, performed on the park.
was a very, very productive meeting,” said Jennings spokesman
Bob VanAmburgh, who added that the mayor plans to hold regular
meetings with the conservancy.
A solution, or at least a compromise, on the staging areas
may be at hand. One of the areas has already been disbanded;
now, the city just has to restore a heavily gouged area of
bare earth left behind. The second staging area, which is
on a rise overlooking the lake, is going to be moved to a
less visible site in the park. Conservancy president Fran
Ingraham Heins, who has lauded the mayor’s cooperation on
this issue, said she will be walking the park in the spring
with Nicholas D’Antonio, commissioner of the city’s Department
of General Services, to find a new place for that second staging
trying to find a good solution,” Heins said.
The conservancy’s request for an environmental review of the
park is a more complex issue, but an answer on that may be
After a meeting with the conservancy in late November, Jennings
announced that the city is forming a committee to commission
a new comprehensive plan for Washington Park. The plan will
be the first such study of the park in 20 years. And, under
the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s regulations
on SEQRs, a review is automatically triggered whenever a municipality
undertakes a “park development plan.”
Jennings apparently didn’t realize at first that when he announced
his intention of having a new comprehensive plan done, he
might also be setting in motion an environmental review—the
same environmental review that the city has declined to undertake
for several years, despite numerous requests by the conservancy.
But by the time he was asked this week about the unintentional
consequences of his announcement, he had already instructed
the Albany Corporation Counsel to check on that very point.
that answers the question my lawyers are researching,” Jennings
said when told that the regulations do mandate environmental
reviews for a “park development plan.” He added that the corporation
counsel may still advise him after examining the regulations
that the mandatory environmental review doesn’t apply to fairly
small projects such as the park.
He also affirmed his commitment to naming a committee that
would be in charge of the comprehensive plan. He already has
a few names as possible appointees.
If the city does end up triggering a mandatory environmental
review because of the new comprehensive plan for the park,
it wouldn’t be the first time a municipality has taken such
a step, said Betty Ann Hughes, chief of the DEC’s State Environmental
Quality Review and Training Unit.
absolutely frequent to see a SEQR initiated by local entities
in the planning realm, and for individual projects,” Hughes
While avoiding direct comment on whether an environmental
review would be required in this case, Hughes said she is
well aware of the Washington Park Conservancy’s interest in
having an environmental impact assessment done for the park.
She has fielded several questions from conservancy members
on the matter in the past three years, she said.
The conservancy is becoming more insistent about the environmental
review, after those three years of behind-the-scenes efforts
to get the city to agree to it. That’s because, Heins said,
the conservancy is concerned about what it considers increased
heavy use of the park.
got to be more mindful of how we use the park, because it
is a small space,” she said. “We’re not threatening the city,
but we want to make sure they’re following the process. And
there have been changes—roads have been closed; gardens have
The DEC’s description of the environmental quality review
states that “if an agency makes an improper decision or allows
a project that is subject to SEQR to start, and fails to undertake
proper review, citizens or groups who can demonstrate that
they may be harmed by this failure may take legal action against
the agency.” The description goes on to state that “New York
State’s court system has consistently ruled in favor of strong
compliance with the provisions of SEQR.”
The conservancy is nowhere near that last-resort stage, Heins
said. Right now, the group is banking on the city’s strong
recent track record of cooperation and conciliation regarding
together: Centanni listens as Young discusses business
toy-industry outcry, a stay has been placed on lead regulations
On Friday, Jan. 30, the Consumer Product Safety Commission
issued a one-year stay of enforcement on many of the certification
and testing requirements mandated in the Consumer Product
Safety Improvement Act (HR-4040). As reported by Metroland
last week [“Toybox Outlaws,” Jan 29], the complex CPSIA,
a federal bill that passed nearly unopposed in both the House
and the Senate and was signed into law by then-President George
Bush on Aug. 14, 2008, significantly tightened the safety
regulations on all products intended for children ages 12
and younger. As the Feb. 10 date of enactment neared, an increasing
swell of opposition from manufacturers, retailers and consumers
demonstrated the unintended consequences of the sweeping legislation:
The financial burden of testing and certification, they argued,
threatened to drive small domestic businesses to close up
shop or risk bankruptcy. The industry of handcrafted, one-of-a-kind
children’s products would become a thing of the past.
Under significant industry pressure, Acting Chairman Nancy
Nord and Commissioner Thomas Moore of the CPSC, the regulatory
agency charged with enforcing the CPSIA, voted to issue the
stay. According to a Jan. 30 statement by Nord, the stay is
“a limited ‘time-out’ so that the Commission and Congress
can address the issues with the law that have become so painfully
The stay applies only to the third-party certification and
product testing requirements for total lead content and six
banned phthalates. While manufacturers and retailers will
not have to test and certify products for sale, any products
sold will still be required to comply with the new limits.
Essentially, companies that are confident that their materials
are safe are free to continue sales while the CPSC and Congress
work out the problems with the legislation. Companies that
use materials that do not comply with the new standards remain
liable for selling noncompliant goods, as do resellers like
thrift and consignment stores.
Nord’s statement included a letter to significant legislators
addressing the need to amend the legislation, and calling
for discussion of the CPSIA to be a priority of the 111th
Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have demanded
that Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) hold
a hearing to reevaluate the legislation. As of press time,
no such hearing was scheduled.
loose ends this week-