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Too Many Issues

Freshman Albany Common Councilman Anton Konev accused of wasting the council’s time with “filler legislation”

‘I just want to agree with Councilman Konev,” began Councilman John Rosenzweig during Monday night’s meeting of the Albany Common Council. “There are important pieces of legislation that need to be looked at as a priority, and might I suggest that one of the reasons that it might take so long is because of some of the filler legislation that we are experiencing, especially now, that is on the agenda.”

Anton Konev sat back in his chair on the floor of the council, red-faced and stung by the direct attack from his colleague, but laughing. It was not the first time he had heard this criticism.

“Take a look at the agenda, and count up the Konevs on there,” a frustrated Rosenzweig instructed Metroland after the meeting, “and I think that you’ll find that over half of the legislation is Anton’s. He’s got almost 30 pieces of legislation in committees, and he can’t understand why it takes so long to get things done? It just fills it up committee time.”

Since taking office in January, the freshman councilman from the 11th Ward has introduced a blazing series of ordinances and resolutions, far outpacing any of his colleagues in terms of volume. By comparison, Rosenzweig had five pieces of legislation on the latest agenda; freshman Councilwoman Leah Golby’s name was attached to two bills.

Some of Konev’s proposals, such as the ban on the use of Styrofoam containers at fast-food restaurants, are recycled, meaning that they are proposals that former members introduced but made no progress with during their terms. Other pieces of legislation, such as his attempt to ban the use of exotic animals for entertainment purposes (in preparation for the Ringling Bros. Circus), came as a result, he said, of constituents reaching out to him.

His bills aim to affect law enforcement, such as the ordinance that would make carrying a “graffiti instrument” a crime and another that would impose a youth curfew. Another would make it a crime to recruit a minor into a gang. Other bills address quality-of-life issues, such as the bill that would compel the city to clear the snow off sidewalks for elderly residents.

A number of his bills would even alter the protocols and operations of the council itself, such as stripping the extra stipend for the majority leader, replacing “council member” with the historical term “alderperson,” and placing term limits on council members.

“I introduce lots of legislation,” he said, “because the city has lots of issues that need to be addressed legislatively.”

Rosenzweig said that he sees most of this legislation as a wasteful attempt by the councilman to grab attention.

“I think that it is important,” he said, “and I’ve been saying this all along, that the big issues, the finances, the tax situation, these are things that ought to be taking up our time. Not ordinances that have to do with public-relation stunts, or pandering to certain groups.”

Konev drew the ire of some of his colleagues earlier this year when he proposed a nonbinding resolution calling for the resignation of Gov. Paterson. Many saw that as ill-timed and ill-suited to their interests. Recently, he has proposed endorsing gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo’s New NY Plan that has some questioning whether he stepped over the line from policy to politicking.

Councilman Dominick Calsolaro, who has defended Konev, saying that he has introduced some worthwhile laws, was troubled by the New NY Plan endorsement. “I think that Anton actually crossed the line with that,” Calsolaro said. He said that it would be inappropriate for the council to appear to be campaigning for a candidate. “Legally, I don’t know if we can even touch it. I’m surprised the corporation counsel allowed it.”

Asked whether or not his resolution crossed the line, Konev said absolutely not. “There are some policies that need to be supported” in Cuomo’s plan, he said, such as the downsizing of government and the attempt to rein in tax increases. “All of those items are policy items, so no, it is not political. Most of those proposals apply to local government very directly. So what I am saying is that we, as a local government, need to urge state legislation.”

As for Rosenzweig, Konev said that he is just annoyed with him because of his push for expediency on certain issues. “Councilman Rosenzweig has been the chair of the ad-hoc committee for public access way before I became a councilman. He became the chair in December 2005. Now, as a councilman, I’m asking how come the council and the city are still delayed with the public access issue, and Councilman Rosenzweig is quite upset that I am questioning the administration on issues such as that. He would like to keep the status quo, so yeah, he is angry at me.”

—Chet Hardin

Spray Anything?

Albany residents question why environmental legislation passed by the Common Council in 1998 is being ignored

Amanda Brazee was there the day TruGreen was caught spraying a banned pesticide onto the lawn of Ridgefield Park, she told the Albany Common Council Monday night. “I am upset about the spraying of pesticides for several reasons,” she said. “We were all exposed to very toxic chemicals, at least one of which was banned by the city over a decade ago.”

Those chemicals include the herbicide Trupower 3 Selective, which belongs to EPA-regulated Toxicity Category 1, a category banned by a Common Council ordinance in 1998.

Brazee, a cancer survivor, said that she is very concerned with the effects of the chemicals not only on her health, but on the health of her children. “TruGreen holds responsibility for spraying banned substances, whether the law says they do or not. They should be responsible for knowing what is legal. For their negligence, they should lose their contract with the city.”

Brazee told Metroland that she found it amazing that the city failed to enforce its own ordinance, pointing to Parks and Recreation Commissioner John D’Antonio’s claim in the Times Union that he was unaware of the law until the recent controversy. D’Antonio became commissioner in 2000. After residents caught TruGreen, a national-chain lawn-care company, spraying in the park, e-mails made the rounds in the Pine Hills listserv, said Councilman Leah Golby. “Laura Haight with NYPIRG is on the Pine Hills listserv, and she responded to the emails to say that no one should be spraying pesticides—that there is a city ordinance in place . . . So she knew about it.”

New York Public Interest Research Group worked with the council throughout 1997 and ’98 to create the legislation, so it’s not surprising that an employee of NYPIRG would be aware of the law. But as far as the city is concerned, Golby asked, “Whose responsibility is it? Is it the corporation counsel’s responsibility? Is it the department that is signing off on the duties? These are all procedural questions.”

And they are questions that the ad-hoc Rules of Procedure committee she is chairing will address as it forms the policy for implementing and enforcing code requirements, including pesticide use.

When asked if she thought that TruGreen should lose its contract with the city, Golby said, “The intention of the ordinance was to phase out the use of pesticides. The fact that we even had a contract with TruGreen was a problem.”

President Pro Tem Richard Conti was on the council back in 1998 when the law was passed. In fact, he introduced the bill on behalf of the bill’s author, former Councilman Tom Nitido. Beyond banning Toxicity Category 1 chemicals, the legislation was intended to phase out pesticide use in the city. It called for a number of conditions to be met, including the creation of a special task force, which would meet with department heads and “organizations with expertise in pesticides and alternatives” and write a report that assessed the “feasibility of eliminating the use of pesticides.”

It isn’t clear if this task force, although formed, ever produced a report.

Also, the legislation called for each city department to submit a plan every year detailing its efforts to reduce the use of pesticide and to move to the use of nontoxic alternatives. It is not clear that this ever occurred, as well. “When it was first enacted, things were moving forward,” said Conti, “but I don’t know at what point we had the breakdown.”

When asked if TruGreen ought to lose its contract, he replied, “TruGreen should have been aware, but there is the question to what extent were they made aware by the city. . . . If they did inquire of the department what its policy is regarding spraying, then it comes into question what they were told.”

Conti said that D’Antonio has complained in the past that he isn’t kept aware of what ordinances have been passed, but as Conti pointed out, the council does include department representatives in the writing of legislation. And once the policy is moved into law, it becomes the executive’s responsibility.

—Chet Hardin

Loose Ends

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