up: Downtown Albany residents might be losing their
local Washington Avenue YMCA branch.
No Place You Can Go
closure looms for the financially troubled Washington Avenue
YMCA, community members argue that the branch has long been
neglected and has been set up for failure
News that the YMCA on Washington Avenue in downtown Albany
might have to close its doors by April caused a stir among
local residents this weekend. J. David Brown, president and
CEO of the Capital District YMCA, began meeting on Friday
morning with presidents of the local neighborhood associations
to discuss the situation. After five years of analysis and
assessment, he said, the only thing that can save the YMCA
at 274 Washington Ave. is new membership. Frustration has
been voiced by neighborhood representatives, who wonder why
this news is coming so late and what has been done to avoid
the closure during this last five years. While many hope to
be able save the facility, some wonder whether the YMCA shares
No one argued the fact that membership at the facility has
been steadily declining. “The truth is,” said an ex-employee
who asked to remain anonymous, “the building generates little
income via its membership dues in comparison to the cost of
operation, and Albany has a large amount of ACCESS members
who receive their memberships at a way-reduced rate. The suburban
Ys have been floating this one, supplementing the deficit.”
(The ACCESS program provides financial aid to members
who demonstrate need.)
Even at prime workout times, the Washington Avenue facility
often is far from full.
building has really become a money pit,” Brown told Metroland.
Part of the Y’s analysis of the building included considering
the costs of moving the corporate offices to 274 Washington
and possibly renting out extra space to nonprofit organizations,
thus reducing the size of the facility but keeping it open.
The cost, he said, would have been anywhere from $3 million
to $7 million.
Brown pointed to new membership as the only plausible solution
to raise the necessary funds. “We do not want to close,” he
stressed. “The intention of our meeting was to communicate
our issues. Although the situation looks bleak, what we need
is for people to join. That’s the solution.”
When questioned, Brown said that the facility needed 1,800
new members to keep its doors open. He acknowledged that those
numbers might be unreasonable to expect by January, but said
that enough movement in the right direction could postpone
the final decision and allow the facility more time to bolster
Still, to some members of the community, the meetings looked
like little more than damage control for a plan that has already
meeting was to tell us they were going to close it,” said
Bill Pettit, president of the Washington Park Neighborhood
Association. “I asked him point blank, ‘You’re going to close
it?’ And he said, ‘Yes, in April.’”
Pettit said that he and other members were told that the official
announcement would come out the first of the year. He also
said that when asked what would happen if they managed to
produce 1,800 new members by January, Brown told him that
the facility would still be closed.
seems to be obsessed with the demographic the Y has lost as
opposed to focusing on new ways to bring a new demographic
in,” said Kelly Bush, president of the Center Square Neighborhood
Association. “I would definitely say that he didn’t communicate
the need for community involvement to us; we communicated
it to him.”
She added that, in their annual report last year, “no indication
was given that the closure of this Y was imminent.” Many neighborhood
residents express the same feelings, noting that they have
not received literature at their homes or been aware of any
marketing measures that the YMCA could have taken in an effort
to keep the Washington branch open.
a shame,” lamented the same ex-employee, “because the Albany
Y serves as a community stabilizer, building relationships
among residents. There are many members who’ve been there
for 25-plus years, and it makes me kind of sad for them, because
it’s not about the working out, it’s about staying active
and being social.”
would even go so far as to encourage anyone who can afford
it to go to the Washington Avenue Y and buy a membership,
even if they have no intention of using the fitness equipment,”
said Bush. “Consider it a contribution to the place that has
done so much for so many.”
years of battling NXIVM in court, a nationally known “cult
deprogrammer” says the end is nigh
This is the fifth lawsuit for Rick Ross. The New Jersey-based
cult deprogrammer and founder of the Rick Ross Institute maintains
a Web site that catalogues news coverage and allegations of
cult activity, making him a target of what he calls harassment
suits. While these legal battles can take up years of his
life, he said, he’s never lost a suit. And in some cases,
he has been pleasantly surprised by the unintended outcomes.
Take, for example, the suit leveled against him by the Maine-based
Gentle Wind Project. That suit, Ross said, backfired on Gentle
Wind by drawing the attention of Maine’s attorney general.
Until that point, the authorities hadn’t paid much attention
to the odd little group. “But he did start paying attention
to them after they sued me,” says Ross, “and then he shut
them down—literally liquidated them.”
He was sued by Arizona’s Church of the Immortal Consciousness,
and by a woman in Florida who ran a ministry called the Pure
Bride Ministries. He was sued by Landmark Education, who dismissed
their own lawsuit, he said, “to get out from underneath it.
As soon as they realized that they were going to lose they
beat it—and quickly.”
now we have NXIVM,” Ross said, “who has lost at every juncture.
They have just lost and lost and lost and lost.”
Founded by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman, NXIVM is the Capital
Region-based corporation behind Executive Success Programs,
which claims to develop and impart “programs that provide
the philosophical and practical foundation necessary to acquire
and build the skills for success.”
As Ross is reporting on his site, Cult News.com, “a motion
filed by NXIVM to reinstate causes of action previously dismissed
in June of 2007 has been denied. This included an effort to
reinstate claims of ‘product disparagement’ and ‘tortious
interference’ in a long-standing lawsuit filed against the
Ross Institute of New Jersey.”
motion by Raniere’s lawyers,” Ross told Metroland,
“is a kind of Hail Mary pass. Their hope was to get these
causes back in, because they realized if they didn’t that
the lawsuit had no hope whatsoever.” These causes, he continued,
“were the causes that had meat.”
What remains, now, are deliberations over trade secrets violations
and copyright causes. “It’s as though the judge has turned
off the life support” for NXIVM’s suit, Ross said. “Now it’s
just going to wiggle to death.”
He said that he believes in a year from now, the suit will
finally reach its conclusion.
suit never had any substance to it. From its inception, it
has never been anything more than a harassment suit,” Ross
said. He laughed at the length of time that the suit has lasted.
“Seven years. That’s an all-time record with me. Most of my
adversaries, the various cults that have sued me, they don’t
last five years. Raniere managed to keep it going for seven.
You gotta give the guy some credit.”
While Ross maintained that it lacked substance, he added that
the NXIVM suit “is probably the most significant lawsuit that
I have been involved in from the standpoint of writing new
law and establishing new precedent. The NXIVM v. Ross suit
is now cited as an expansion of the First Amendment, as upheld
by the United States Supreme Court, in regards to confidentiality
To protect what Raniere believes are the trade secrets behind
the technology that the organization uses to train its students,
NXIVM requires that students sign confidentiality agreements.
Ross received copies of NXIVM’s training materials from a
former student who had signed such an agreement, which was
ignored when Ross posted the training materials, along with
analysis, on his Web site.
In 2003, NXIVM went to the courts to seek an emergency injunction
against Ross’ site, he said. The Albany court, where the claim
was filed, ruled in Ross’ favor. “So NXIVM appealed to the
2nd Circuit in Manhattan, and that court found that the confidentiality
agreement was trumped by the public’s right to know. NXIVM
appealed that to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that this
is unprecedented, that confidentiality agreements in the past
have been upheld in proceedings, and that this confidentiality
should be upheld.” The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear
the case. “And that gave the 2nd Circuit the leeway that they
literally wrote new law. New law came out of this case.”
Ross has been a consistent source for this paper in its reporting
In a 2008 Metroland article, “The Stars Come Out in
Troy,” Ross was quoted discussing Raniere’s previous business,
Consumers Buyline Inc. Raniere later claimed that Ross was
incorrect in his characterization of that company’s legal
issues and that Metroland had conspired with Ross to
libel him and NXIVM.
This past spring, it appeared that NXIVM had attempted to
sue Metroland for $65 million. However, the company
that owns Metroland, Lou Communications Inc., was never
served in that suit. Instead, NXIVM attempted to serve the
now-defunct former owner of the paper, Metroland Magazine
The statue of limitations on NXIVM’s potential claim against
Metroland has expired.
As for Ross, he estimated that his legal expenses to defend
himself in NXIVM Corp. v. Ross would have topped $2 million
had he not received extensive pro-bono representation. As
it stands, he said, he has spent less than $1,000.
Ross’ countersuit against NXIVM is ongoing.
Albany County Legislature passed a budget, then balanced it
On Dec. 7, at the final legislative budget hearing, Albany
County Legislator Richard Mendick pointed out a mistake in
the tentative annual budget that he and his fellow legislators
were going to be voting on that night. An $800,000 mistake.
Duly noted, the legislature moved forward with its vote and
adopted the county’s $571 million spending plan.
The next day, the legislative clerk filed the tentative budget
with the Albany County executive in accordance with Resolution
The problem, Mendick pointed out the Friday after the budget
was passed, was that the 11-page document containing the budget
changes that the legislature reviewed and voted on was different
than the document the legislature delivered to the executive.
In fact, 11 line items in the document delivered to the executive
had been altered from the document that the legislature voted
on. Mendick cried foul: “Having reviewed the budget passed
by the Albany County Legislature and the one given to me by
the Democrat Majority, I have determined that the changes
made are deliberate.”
In a press release issued by the minority office, Mendick
charged “that approximately $2 million in reserve funds, not
approved by the Legislature, have been added in attempts to
correct budget deficiencies and to balance the budget. Mendick
says this is a planned maneuver to deceive both the County
Legislature and the taxpayers.”
Majority Leader Frank Commisso, the chair of the Audit and
Finance Committee, didn’t respond to a request for interview
by Metroland. Instead, he issued a press statement
chastising Mendick, stating that the Republican legislator
didn’t understand the process and was just seeking headlines.
According to Shawn Morse (D-Cohoes), this is the way the process
goes: The legislature votes on changes to the budget, and
then the legislative staff makes the mechanical changes to
ensure that the budget is balanced prior to its delivery to
the executive. In this instance, even Albany Comptroller Mike
Conners, an independently elected member of the Executive
Branch of county government, assisted.
changes reflect the revenue side of how we are funding all
the changes that we voted on,” Morse said.
Conners told Metroland that his office helped balance
the budget after it was voted on and before it went to the
executive, that he helps the legislature throughout the budget
process, and that he has assisted in this capacity for years.
The problem, as Mendick and others point out, is that the
county charter does not allow for or prescribe changes to
the budget after adoption, made by either the legislative
staff or the comptroller. If there are issues with the budget
after the legislature approves it, said John Rodat, commissioner
of Management and Budget, then the executive’s office would
file a request for legislative action to amend the budget.
in a million years would this office presume to make changes
of this size. We wouldn’t,” Rodat said.
Phil Steck (D-Loudonville) said that he doesn’t believe there
wasn’t any attempt on the part of the legislature to deceive.
“Everyone understood that the money was going to be taken
out of reserves to cover this,” he said. “They just didn’t
apparently put in legislation to say that. It just wasn’t
in the legislation. In the legislature you have to vote on
it, or it doesn’t happen.”
He added that he doesn’t see it as appropriate that Conners’
office would be involved in changing the mechanics of the
budget after it has been voted on. “That’s a legislative act.
It’s not a technical act of the comptroller. I don’t think
it causes any difficulty for us to vote that the money is
allocated properly. I don’t see this as the comptroller’s
legislature is the direct representative of the people. And
I don’t think that it is appropriate of us to forfeit our
authority to the comptroller,” Steck said. “I don’t think
Mike has the authority, legally, unless somebody can show
me something in the county charter that says that he does.”
loose ends this week-