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Stop, Collaborate and Listen

After a shooting shocks the neigbhorhood, Delaware Avenue merchants bring their concerns to the Albany police

On the morning of July 2, the Delaware Avenue Merchants Association assembled in the back room of Emack & Bolio’s for their monthly meeting. The discussion began with an array of issues—another new business moving into an empty storefront, a report on the success of a recent neighborhood craft fair, the addition of seven Delaware Avenue businesses to the 1st Friday lineup, concerns about litter and illegal parking. But, for the business owners in this burgeoning Albany community, their aspirations and anxieties about the neighborhood had taken an urgent turn. Two days earlier, a 16-year-old boy had been shot in the knee on the corner of Second and Delaware avenues.

It was a rare act of public violence in an area that, recently, has been defined by the openings of upscale eateries and new art spaces, anchored by the Spectrum 8 Theatres, which, as the third largest venue in the city, brings more than 5,000 visitors weekly to the neighborhood.

“That crime happened, the shot was fired, on Delaware Avenue near my business,” said association president and owner of Davey Jones Locker, Chuck George. “When people read that there was a shooting on Delaware Avenue, they’re not going to come here. . . . When people pull up to the corner of Second and Delaware, they’re not even going to want to get out of their car.”

The merchants called on the Albany Police Department to hear and address their concerns, and the department responded in full force. The association meeting was attended by Police Chief James Tuffey, Commander Tony Ryan of the Detective Division, two representatives from the Patrol Division’s South Station and new neighborhood beat cop, Officer Kevin Singh.

“I’m glad that people are up in arms about it,” said Ryan. “Whenever there’s a shooting anywhere in the city, there should be outrage. If you have 15, 16-year-old kids walking around who aren’t afraid to pull out a gun, there should be anger. People should be upset, and they should want answers.” The detective assured business owners that the incident was not being taken lightly.

After Geroge expressed the merchants’ collective fears that the victim’s return to the community would instigate a feud or a gang war, Tuffey assured the association that the victim was not from the neighborhood. “He gave an address in West Hill,” said Tuffey, to which many of the meeting’s attendants muttered expressions of relief.

Further concerns voiced by the merchants spoke to their desire for ground-up policing of quality-of-life issues. Business owners and residents complained of frequently witnessed drug deals and marijuana use, of neighbors moving out of the area for fear it is becoming “too dangerous.” Steve Alvarez, owner of Delaware Avenue-based Empire Property Management Company, which manages properties on three sides of the corner where the crime occured, fumed about severe problems with littering and noise. Multiple merchants complained about regular issues with illegal parking.

“I’m going to be very blunt with you,” said Tuffey, “that shouldn’t be the main priority of the police department,” emphasizing the department’s heavy call load. “We need to prioritize. Littering is a quality-of-life issue, and I want to make sure we address that issue, but we need to prioritize.”

“It’s all part of the larger problem,” advocated George. “It’s a problem with trash cans on the side of the road; it’s a problem with fences not being properly repaired. Miscreants hang out where they feel safe, and they feel safe on Delaware Avenue.”

Tuffey informed the association about a number of new initiatives the APD hopes will address the merchants’ concerns. New legislation will allow officers to issue noise tickets without the use of sound meters. The upcoming Clean Up Albany program will provide anti-litter education and directives. As part of the Block By Block initiative, a citywide effort to address code compliance, public safety, abandoned buildings and community-development issues, a new non-emergency hotline has been initiated.

“Call 434-0123, and they will direct you to the right department,” said Tuffey, “434-0123.”

The chief also encouraged concerned business owners and residents to call him directly. “I get calls every day,” he said, “but anyone will tell you, if you call my office, my secretary doesn’t call them back. I call them back.”

“The cooperation between the police and the community, I think, is better here than in most cities, to be honest with you,” said Tuffey. “That to me is still something that’s a work in progress. The question is,” he added, “how do we get that culture, that it’s not us versus them, that it’s us and us, working together, solving problems? I think we’re moving forward in that direction.”

Tuffey sited Officer Singh’s efforts in reaching out to the neighborhood, a gradual return to community policing, new Police Academy communications training and the retooled Citizens’ Academy as examples of community-networking successes.

In addition to the Merchants Association, the Delaware Avenue community has an active neighborhood association and neighborhood-watch program.

“We have all the components, right here on the avenue, to build a real community successes story,” said Spectrum co-owner Keith Pickard. “I hope that this demonstrates a genuine effort from the police department, and I hope the effort will continue.”

—Kathryn Geurin

What a Week


Laid Off?

Guild claims that the Times Union’s management is not negotiating layoffs in good faith

The phones at the Times Union have two different types of rings: short bursts for calls from outside the building; one long ring from inside. According to TU columnist Dan Higgins, on Tuesday “everyone was waiting for that single, long ring.” Rex Smith, the paper’s editor, was likely the one on the other end. After spending months with an ax hanging over their heads, the employees at the region’s largest daily had finally reached the day when the paper’s parent company, Hearst Corp., would begin a dreaded round of layoffs.

Sort of.

“We heard months ago that the layoffs were a definite thing. The number kept changing, the date kept changing, and when things are unsettled like that, people get really nervous and unhinged,” said Higgins.

This week, Higgins was one of the 15 full-time employees who received the phone call from Smith. These employees were told, Higgins said, that they were being placed on a 45-day paid leave, but that at the end of that period they were “likely” going to be laid off.

These employees were made to clean out their desks, added long-time TU reporter and president of the Albany Newspaper Guild, Tim O’Brien. Their swipe cards for entry to the building were taken, as well as one employee’s work cell phone.

“This is how you put people on leave?” O’Brien asked. “It’s a sham.”

According to the guild, Hearst is supposed to give people a 45-day notice before they are laid off. “Well, from our perspective, the company hasn’t given them 45-notice that they are laid-off,” O’Brien said. “We don’t know what this 45-day period is supposed to be.”

Another long-time reporter, Alan Wechsler, was put on leave Tuesday. “It’s a painful situation,” Wechsler responded through e-mail. “I find the random way in which the Times Union has laid off people out of seniority quite unfair.

If the guild had its way, Wechsler would likely have been safe from layoff, as his seniority would have protected him. But the company chose to ignore seniority in its decisions, and Hearst declared weeks ago that it had reached an impasse over its negotiations regarding seniority, as well as outsourcing, with the guild.

The guild has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board to challenge the impasse. Now, O’Brien said, the guild will file charges over Hearst’s latest move.

Hearst provided criteria to the union that it used to lay these 15 employees off, O’Brien said, without fully negotiating with the union. The criteria upon which the employees were judged was never communicated to the employees prior to the layoffs. The company told the union that they still intend to negotiate the terms of the layoffs and that the employees on leave “could return after the criteria changes.”

The TU, however, itself reported Wednesday that these employees were, in fact, laid off. The company, O’Brien said, actually told the union negotiators that the reporting in the article was inaccurate. Furthermore, Smith repeatedly referred to these employees as “laid off” during an informal staff meeting, according to O’Brien and others.

“It is clear to us that the company executed a plan without having negotiated the criteria,” O’Brien said.

“If this isn’t making a lot of sense,” he said, “it is because it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

—Chet Hardin

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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