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Who Knew What, When

Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian and PBA president disagree on the history of investigation rumor

Last week, Police Benevolent Association president Robert Fitzgerald officially brought to light rumors that an investigation is underway into a “drug problem or operation within the city of Troy.” He stated that this alleged investigation could involve dozens of employees throughout city government, including ones from “high levels.” Fitzgerald dropped this bombshell at the meeting of the Troy council’s Public Safety Committee, in front of a room packed with cops and journalists.

The committee had ostensibly met to discuss the new police chief’s plan to restructure the force: dissolve the Special Operations Section, which handles long-term drug investigations, and move those officers, and the unit’s investigations, under the control of the Community Services Bureau. It is a plan Chief John Tedesco outlined nearly two years ago in a confidential memo to the former chief, Nicholas Kaiser.

“There are multiple reasons that they want to get rid of this SOS unit,” Fitzgerald alleged.

One, he said, is an attempt to re-assign a sergeant that has bid into the unit through seniority, but who the chief would rather see placed elsewhere. Fitzgerald said that the TPD has tried “to get rid of him before.”

“If you don’t like who’s running the SOS unit,” Fitzgerald told the chief at the committee meeting, “then address the problem up in SOS with that particular person that you don’t like.”

Tedesco has dismissed the claim that the restructuring has anything to do with a single officer.

Fitzgerald has also suggested that restructuring could also be a way to bury the alleged investigation of city employees. At the committee meeting, Fitzgerald pressed both the chief and the mayor, Harry Tutunjian, on whether or not they knew about the alleged investigation, how they knew about it, and for how long.

The chief would not confirm nor deny an investigation. The mayor at first denied any knowledge of the supposed investigation, but eventually stated that he had heard rumors about an investigation. Rumors, the mayor said, that were started by Fitzgerald himself.

“I am not aware of any investigation that is being undertaken to investigate any city . . . I have heard rumors that have been perpetuated by you,” Tutunjian said. “I’m the mayor. Why should I know about it? It could be me. It could be my staff. Why should I know about that? Why would I have the ability to exert influence if that’s the case? They should arrest me, or whoever that person is.”

Fitzgerald said that he knows that the mayor and the chief of police have “definitely” known about the investigation for at least three months. Further, Fitzgerald said that he heard about the investigation originally from the mayor’s deputy, Dan Crawley.

According to Crawley, who spoke with Metroland on the night of the meeting, he had been hearing the rumors of an investigation for about six months, at least.

Crawley also stated that he had told Fitzgerald a week earlier “about the rumors about drugs and gambling that has been going on all over town. Me and him were discussing grievances, and that is what came up, but I have no knowledge of an investigation, other than the rumors.”

So, as Fitzgerald pointed out, it was surprising to see the mayor on News Channel 13, telling reporter Subrina Dhammi flatly that Crawley was not the one who told Fitzgerald about the investigation.

The mayor told Dhammi that Fitzgerald was lying.

When asked by Metroland why the mayor appeared to contradict his deputy and long-time friend and political ally, Tutunjian’s spokesman, Jeff Pirro, replied: “Bob [Fitzgerald] has made many allegations regarding possible, ongoing investigations so to comment at all would be inappropriate. However, if or when there’s something to report I will be in touch.”

Last year, the police department’s administration attempted a restructuring similar to what Tedesco has proposed, placing SOS under the umbrella of the detective’s bureau. This was challenged by the union, which argued that it violated the force’s labor contract.

“Seniority came into play,” said Chief Tedesco. Currently, seniority is how officers bid for positions in the SOS.

“A year ago they eliminated SOS, and put it in the detective bureau,” Fitzgerald said. “They wanted to bid everybody out of the detective bureau, so that way there is no seniority. They wanted to put everybody under one umbrella, and then they could pick. They tried it last year, it didn’t work. So, now, this year, to get around seniority, they’re going to abolish the unit.”

“Chief Kaiser tried to do something with this unit,” Tedesco said. “Chief McAvoy tried to do something. I’m trying. I think that speaks volumes about needing to get something done there. The way that we are working now is just not working on behalf of the benefit of the citizens.”

Tedesco doesn’t shy away from admitting that he believes that an officer’s skill-set—and not seniority—ought to be what is considered when making assignments.

“Seniority is a double-edge sword. You have to respect the people who have been here the longest, no question. If you have two people standing side-by-side, the senior employee should get more benefits, better choice of vacation; I don’t argue any of that. When you get into specialized issues such as drugs, technology, you need to be able to pick who’s best for the job, and we can’t do that,” Tedesco said. “Anybody under this new scheme, they are going to have to perform.”

Tedesco also dismissed Fitzgerald’s warnings that the restructuring of the force would weaken long-term drug investigations by thinning the man-power that could be dedicated to such investigations. Fitzgerald has said that the chief’s patrol-oriented plan will just catch small-time drug dealers, and neglect to investigate high-level dealers who conduct their business indoors and out of the sight of patrol officers.

Tedesco said that the DEA has promised 17 people from a task force anytime the force needs it. Not only, Tedesco said, will any number of the officers in the unit be utilized in long-term investigations “at the discretion of the captain in charge of the bureau,” but they will also be able to use the DEA, the ATF, “depending on the nature of the investigation. And the reason that I am doing this is because we have not utilized these agencies to the extent that we should have.”

As far as long-term drug investigations go, Tedesco said, the police force will continue to dedicate resources when needed, “certainly if we have to sit on a wire, or there are buys that need to be done, they are going to have the resources to do that.”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


Ugh to Drugs

The DEC wants to help you dispose of your pharmaceuticals safely

For decades, people in the United States have disposed of unused or outdated medications by pouring them down the sink or into the toilet. The pharmaceutical industry conservatively estimates that Americans dispose of many tons of prescription and over-the-counter medications this way each year.

While the flush-and-pour method does keep children, pets and the neighborhood trash pickers from finding drugs in your household garbage, it also allows trace amounts of medications to end up in rivers and lakes. And those trace amounts add up, especially when you factor in the drugs that humans send into the wastewater system by an even more direct delivery system—excreting them in their urine after they’ve taken them in dose form.

When the U.S. Geological Survey tested rivers and streams in a national survey in 1999 and 2000, the agency found low levels of antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives and steroids in 80 percent of the rivers and streams tested, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Such substances have been found to produce unsettling side effects in aquatic animals, including the production of eggs by male fish. And some of these medications are ending up in the drinking water of New Yorkers, the DEC says.

Two years ago, the DEC launched its “Don’t Flush Your Drugs” campaign to spread the word about collection programs as an alternative to dumping medications into the state’s waste water and—by extension—into rivers, streams and drinking water. So far, the DEC has held 10 such collections around the state, most recently a week ago on the concourse of the Empire State Plaza and at the Harriman State Office Building Campus in Albany.

A visit to the concourse collection offered some insight into why the DEC is trying to increase public awareness not only about the collection program, but about the way collections are handled. People, it turns out, are extraordinarily private about what medications they take. And that may be why, even on a day when DEC staffers at the concourse collected about 200 pounds of medications, they thought they should have gathered more.

Dennis Lucia, an engineer and section chief in the DEC’s Pollution Prevention Unit at the concourse collection, estimates that less than 1 percent of the hundreds of people who walked by the collection booth in the five hours it was open stopped to dispose of medications.

“It’s one of the biggest things people are concerned about, is their own privacy,” Lucia said.

No inventory is taken of the drugs people turn in at the collections, and when the DEC says “No questions asked,” it means it, Lucia said. Collection boxes are sealed as soon as they are filled, and the medications are incinerated in a waste-to-energy plant. But people are still hesitant about turning in their drugs, an attitude that the DEC recognizes and hopes to change.

Several people who stopped to dispose of medications declined to comment, but one woman who was willing to talk—although not willing to give her name—said she had mistakenly thought she could turn in unused medications at her local pharmacy simply by walking in and handing them over the counter. She had been on the lookout for a collection, and spotted a DEC poster advertising the program.

“I had a lot of prescriptions that had expired,” the woman explained. “What do you do with them? I’m glad (the DEC) had it, so it doesn’t get into the water.”

The Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America, a major trade group representing brand-name prescription drugs, agrees with the concept of keeping medications out of waterways, but considers collections problematic, said Marjorie Powell, a lawyer for the group.

The concerns about privacy are difficult to overcome, Powell said, and some medications pose such a high risk of birth defects that pregnant women should not even touch the pills. (Thalidomide, banned decades ago in the United States as a treatment for morning sickness but now in use again to treat certain diseases—including certain forms of cancer—is one such example.) A collection adds an extra layer of people handling pill bottles and possibly pills, and so increases the risk of accidental exposure, she said.

The Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers recommends dumping medications into a container, adding coffee grounds or used cat litter, sealing the container and sending it out with the trash to a landfill. The DEC considers this method acceptable, but not as good as a collection that sends the pills to an incinerator, Lucia said, because of the risk of medications leaching out of a landfill.

He hopes that more frequent and visible collections and a continued public education campaign will address the concerns about privacy. He’d like the public to view medication collections as “just another form of recycling,” he said.

—Darryl McGrath

Dennis Lucia will answer questions from municipalities or retail pharmacies interested in hosting a collection. He can be reached at (518) 402-9484. The schedule of the remaining 2010 collections, as well as additional information about the program, can be found at dec.ny.gov/chemical.


Shining a Light

As the Albany Common Council prepares to revisit a controversial landfill vote, the city’s new treasurer is getting together the numbers

The most recent push to expand the landfill stalled last month when the Common Council surprisingly voted against bonding for the next phase of the expansion. That ordinance failed due to a surprise voting bloc made up of veteran progressives and a majority of the council’s freshmen members. The council is expected to revisit that vote in May, once supporters of the bonding are certain that they have convinced at least one hold-out to flip-flop.

In the meantime, the council is pressing for ways to make the landfill more efficient, and more profitable. One way many members of the council have begun to promote is for the city to place the landfill in an enterprise fund.

It is an idea for which the city’s new treasurer, Kathy Sheehan, is an advocate. Her office, she said, is currently in the process of doing a full-cost accounting for the landfill—a necessary first step in establishing an enterprise fund.

James Wright, the executive director of the Development Authority of the North Country, said that operating a landfill under an enterprise fund, “is the only way to operate.”

At DANC, Wright oversees the operations of a landfill that services multiple counties.

“An enterprise fund is wholly contained,” Wright said, “so you know what your costs are and you know what your prices have to be. You want sufficient transparency, and you want to be competitive. And you want the rate-payers to understand value for their dollar.”

For years, critics of the Jennings administration in Albany have complained that the Rapp Road landfill, which is slated to be expanded yet again, has been operated without such transparency. They argue that this has made it easier to use the landfill as a cash cow to mask shortfalls in the city’s general fund.

Sheehan and her staff, she said, are working closely with the Department of General Services and its CFO. “We’re still in the information gathering stages, and we need to sit down once we have all the information and vet it.”

She said that she believes that her office will have full profit-loss statements and cash-flow statements prepared for the council soon.

An example of the complexity of the process can be found in trying to calculate landfill revenue. When the city sells landfill space to other governments, that revenue is noted under inter-governmental services. But when the city sells landfill space to Waste Management, she said, that revenue falls under departmental revenue. “So they are not even under the same budget category.”

It’s a complicated task, made harder by the fact that it’s the first time it’s been done for the city’s landfill. “But once we have it,” she said, “once we have agreed that we’ve got everything that is a cost or is a revenue item, and that we’re allocating it properly it will become much easier. Then we can have a debate. And I think that it will help DGS manage what it does at the landfill over the next seven years, if it is seven years, or two years, if it’s two years.”

Councilman Dominick Calsolaro, and others, have been arguing for years that the city needed to undertake a full analysis of the costs associated with the landfill, to gauge how profitable it actually is. The mayor is fond of stating that it brings in a revenue of well-more than $11 million. Sheehan has told the council that from that revenue, it is estimated that $4 to 5 million is profit.

However, as Calsolaro will argue, if the city were to associate all of the borrowing that is needed to pay for the landfill’s expansion—which includes bonding for the Pine Bush restoration—with the landfill’s costs, it wouldn’t be profitable.

Conti said that the city ought to move toward an enterprise fund “because there is going to come a time when you are going to have debt without the surplus revenue coming in.”

If the council passes the bonding ordinance, when the landfill is capped in roughly seven years, the debt will be an estimated $40 million. And there will be no more $11 million in revenue to buffer it. Ideally, everyone seems to agree, the city would use the landfill’s profits to pay down the debt load.

The other side of the issue, however, Conti pointed out, is this: Even though the city faces a massive debt burden somewhere down the line due to the landfill, the city’s operating budget is still very much dependent on the landfill’s revenues. Think of it as spending for necessitates with a credit card. The city budgets for that revenue.

“The thing with an enterprise fund, it limits what you use the money for,” pointed out Calsolaro. “The money that you are taking in is the money that you are going to be used to run the landfill, plus we’d have to put money aside for post-closure costs. And anything after that would go to the general fund. It would work like a business.”

With that money segregated out of the general fund, how does the city begin to wean itself off this revenue while it is facing an estimated operating deficit next year of $20 million? As Councilman John Rosenzweig asked, what services do people suggest the city cut?

“So that compounds it, when we are in a state of uncertainty,” Conti said. “Plus, I think that from the executive’s perspective, once money goes into an enterprise fund, that’s where it stays, and if you want to use some for general fund operating expenses, it gets more to difficult.”

Many of the council members question whether or not the tipping fee at the landfill needs to be raised, especially for the big haulers.

Councilman Mike O’Brien even suggested that perhaps Albany ought to reach out to Colonie, which also operates a landfill and is the city’s biggest local competitor, and say, “ ‘Hey guys, we’re working against each other here.’ It would be to their advantage—and ours—to just say, both of us raise our rates maybe $10 a ton.”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


Taking His Shot

On Sunday, Luke Martland officially announced his bid to unseat state Sen. Neil Breslin in a Democratic primary, saying, “I will fight to end these secret second jobs. Breslin is paid $100,000 a year in taxpayer funded salary, yet the Senate only meets six months a year. Even worse, like many of his cronies, Mr. Breslin, has a second job at a large law firm. Yet he keeps secret who his clients are, secret how much they pay him, and secret what he supposedly does for their mystery money. I will be different.” Martland has worked as an assistant attorney general and for the Department of Criminal Justice Services. Find out more about him at lukemartlandsenate.com.

 

 

 


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