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Following the Protocol

Albany County government battles over its contracting procedures, at the risk of damaging services

Albany County Department for Children, Youth and Families has been consistently frustrated in its efforts to negotiate new contracts with preventative service providers since 2005, a fact which may be resulting in a diminished quality of service for at-risk families in Albany County due to underfunded and under-performing programs. At the heart of this delay is a battle over control between the county legislature and the CDCYF.

Current contracts have been extended since 2005 in a series of resolutions by the Albany County Legislature. The contracts retain all the same agencies as well as their funding amounts indefinitely, despite recommendations by CDCYF to make key adjustments intended to address changing dynamics in the county and the budget. These contracts are supposed to be renegotiated every two years to allow for changing needs and fluctuating costs.

Preventative services are described as “rehabilitative and supportive services for any Albany County family with children at risk of foster care placement, with the goal of avoiding placement and to shorten placements for those in foster care.” Some of the services offered include truancy programs, abuse prevention and psychological care.

Under the current contracts, according to CDCYF, outdated programs are still receiving funding while more appropriate services await deferred approval. A new bidding process introduced in 2008 outlined different standards for rating potential service providers, breaking down larger contracts with whole agencies into contracts for specific services and requiring more precise service outcomes. Under this process, the county could contract with an organization for one service, but choose a more suitable organization to provide another.

Prior to this, said Colette Poulin, commissioner of CDCYF, “we had not been able to measure the success of our programs that we contracted with, so we wanted to be able to say there’s a need, and it’s working or it’s not working.” If only one part of the system is not working, she said, she would rather retain the relationships that are. “All of our providers have done excellent work for us. The issue, I would say, is that we don’t have enough money for everyone,” she said, also pointing out that some agencies are more “linked to the legislature than others.”

Project Strive has failed to provide necessary certification and consistently rates lowest under the new bidding process, according to Poulin.

Project Strive is run by David Bosworth, a Guilderland Democrat who, until 2008, was co-chairman of the Albany Democratic Committee with Frank Commisso. If the deferred contracts go though, Project Strive will lose a significant amount of state and county dollars.

Chairman of the Albany County Legislature, Dan McCoy, said that concerns regarding the new process and its possible impact on current providers led to the decision to table the new contracts, on multiple occasions, for over a year.

In a phone interview, he told Metroland that the new process has been perceived by some as an attempt to override the authority of the legislature, whose job it is to approve contracts totaling over $100,000. Under Poulin’s direction, these larger contracts have been broken down for specifics services, therefore coming under the $100,000 mark.

“The issue that I have,” he said, “is that I feel [Ms. Poulin was] trying to supercede the legislative body, because [she was] trying to pass this when we did a resolution saying that any time it deals with these type of services, it has to come in front of us so that we know what the long-term plan of the department is.”

Meanwhile, current providers who have consistently rated higher across the board, such as Parsons and St. Catherine’s, are receiving the same funding that they were in 2005 and finding it hard to keep their doors open, according to Poulin.

Poulin has pointed out that contracts totaling less than $100,000 must still be approved by a Contract Advisement Board, on which McCoy sits, and that the new process is the result of collaborative efforts with service providers and recipients. She also claims to have gone to great length to explain and clarify the process for concerned legislators.

This is not the first time that CDCYF has had run-ins with the legislature. Last year, they attempted to remove Poulin’s job from the budget entirely before being informed that such an action would be illegal. McCoy and Shawn Morse, legislator for the 18th District in Cohoes, are also heading up an investigation into other concerns that have been raised against Poulin and her department by the union CSEA. These allegations range from pulling department cases too early, to using her negotiating position to garner support from providers, to mistreatment of employees, and even one rumor that Poulin is related to County Executive Mike Breslin, who appointed her.

Mary Duryea in Breslin’s office said that the allegation of nepotism is flatly untrue.

Since the creation of CDCYF, the number of foster children in Albany has decreased by more than 50 percent (10 percent since Poulin was appointed in 2007), the number of adoptions has nearly doubled and Child Protective Services caseloads have dropped from an average of 40 to an average of 21. There has also been more than a 65 percent decline in the rate of delinquent reports—those that remain open past the mandated 60 days with no resolution for the child or family—since 2007. According to CDCYF, this is indicative of providing more timely evaluations and linkages with appropriate services, services such as the preventative ones currently languishing on the legislative agenda.

Additionally, a petition signed by 75 people, reportedly more than a month old, has not yet been seen by Poulin or anyone in her department, even though McCoy and Morse say they are currently in the process of setting up hearings to address these questions. Repeated attempts by Metroland to get a copy of this petition from McCoy and others were unsuccessful, despite promises to produce the document. Further attempts to ascertain wording of the petition, specific claims or the names of anyone who signed it have been similarly sidestepped.

—Ali Hibbs

Going Off Protocol

Albany County Legislature approves a $25,000 no-bid contract

Albany County Legislator Shawn Morse co-sponsored a resolution Monday to hire an Albany-based consultant to perform a study of Albany County’s nursing home. Morse, who represents the 18th District in Cohoes, said that the firm, HF John Group, will do a comprehensive study of the nursing home’s operations, “The A to Z, and everything in between: finances, capital components, staffing. He is going to track a five-year trend of our nursing home and every aspect of it. What direction do we take in building a new nursing home?”

Morse is long a supporter of the construction of a new nursing home. He claims that this will remedy the decades-old practice of placing county residents outside the state. He also suggests that it is due to poor management that the nursing home cost the county’s taxpayers more than $18 million in 2008. And this study will be the next firm step toward building a new home.

According to Albany Legislator Chris Higgins, who joined eight other legislators to vote against Morse’s resolution, this step was a poorly considered one.

“My first problem with the vote was that this was Rule 11 Resolution, which means that it never went through any substantive committee process to be vetted,” said Higgins. “And then, there was no background information provided for this consultant that was hired.”

This is true. According to Morse, he didn’t have time to prepare and provide a thorough background for the John Group prior to the vote.

“But this is my biggest beef with it: We have a county procurement policy in Albany to follow, and was that used here? No,” Higgins said. According to the Albany County Department of General Services Purchasing Division’s policy, hiring for professional services at costs exceeding $20,000 ought to go through a request for proposal process, or RFP. “We didn’t send out an RFP to see what other consulting firms in the state could come in and give us a lower bid.”

“It’s a $25,000 no-bid contract that is going out to a company that has not been vetted,” Higgins said. “It’s embarrassing that we aren’t even going to follow our own procurement policy.”

Morse countered that his resolution doesn’t go against the procurement policy. He said that he had asked Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners, himself the loudest proponent of a new nursing home, and was assured that the RFP process needn’t be followed because the county faces “an emergency situation.”

“Sometimes the process itself, not being perfect,” he said, “could delay our looking at the nursing home for six or seven months.”

Morse also pointed out that Monday night’s vote was only to authorize spending the $25,000. A contract still will be put together and put before the legislature again for final approval.

—Chet Hardin

Check Metroland’s blog for background information about HF John Group.

Strange Fellows

Troy Democrats split on sale of parking garage

Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian is staying out of this one, at least publicly, but he can now boast of having a funny, incidental ally. At the January meeting City Council, the nine-member body voted against a proposal to sell the Uncle Sam Parking Garage to Troy developer, David Bryce. Since that vote, a heated battle inside the Troy Democratic caucus has flared.

As it stands, councilmen Bill Dunne and John Brown are aligned with the Republicans, including the mayor, in their support to sell the garage, while their fellow Democrats, Council President Clem Campana and members Mike LoPorto, Kevin McGrath and Gary Galuski stand in opposition.

Dunne is quick to point out that he is not siding with the mayor: “I am siding with the right decision.”

The sale has been negotiated at a $2.15 million asking price, and the councilmen who are opposed, said Campana, argue that the sale price is too low, pointing out that the garage brings in around $250,000 in revenue a year.

Ken Zalewski, who leans toward keeping the garage but is deliberating, said, “I think that $2.15 just undervalues that garage.”

Dunne said that he supports selling the garage because the city could use $2 million of the revenue for the match needed to collect on a $4 million state grant that Joe Bruno left the city as a parting gift. This $6 million would be used for the renovation of the river front property underneath the old City Hall.

“In this instance, the only buyer is David Bryce,” Dunne said. “If we don’t sell the garage, where is the $2 million coming from?” Some have suggested that the city can bond for the money, but Dunne argued that that would just lead to a tax increase, which is something the Democrats shouldn’t support.

Dunne also said that, if Bryce buys the garage, he has said that he would add a deck so that he could rent out the spaces to the tenants he wants to bring in to the Quackenbush building.

“It would be a catalyst for about $10 million in development downtown,” Dunne claimed. “There are a lot of positives in this thing, and the only person that this garage is really valuable to is David Bryce.”

Plus, the opposition argues that the city ought to stop selling its assets. Some Democrats are leery after the debacle surrounding Tutunjian’s City Hall dealings. Dunne said that he understands why his fellow Democrats are gun-shy on selling another city-owed property

“The problem is that you have a group of people who unfortunately are now cowed into not wanting to make wrong decisions,” Dunne said, “as opposed to making right decisions. In the end, this is the right thing to do to get the waterfront redevelopment going.”

—Chet Hardin

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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