to no avail: Dennis Phayre was towed against the lot
owners wishes. Photo: Alicia Solsman
Wheres My Car?
As downtown Albany drivers scramble for legit parking places,
even some who do the right thing get towed
the holidays in Albany. The lights along Lark Street. The
ice skaters twirling in front of the Christmas tree in Empire
State Plaza. The sight of your upended car dangling from the
rear of a tow truck.
the season to get towed in the city. Downtown parking—never
exactly abundant in Albany—gets scarcer this time of year
as shoppers and partygoers vie for a space to stash their
cars. Add to this combination the 3-foot snow banks along
the curbs that make tight spaces even tighter, bring on an
overeager tow-truck driver, and your night out may end up
with the cops getting called.
Such was the recent experience of Dennis Phayre, owner of
Albany’s Shades of Green restaurant on Lark Street. The tale
starts with Phayre waking up one night in late November to
an odd sound in the parking lot of the former Junior League
building at 419-421 Madison Ave., across the street from his
Phayre knew that Osborne Street Garage had held a contract
with the previous owner of the building to tow improperly
parked cars off the premises. However, he had permission to
park there from the new owners of the building—Terra Stratton
and her husband, Christopher Migliaro, who recently had told
Osborne to suspend the towing contract until otherwise notified.
But Phayre’s two cars were indisputably on their way out of
the parking lot, courtesy of an Osborne Street Garage tow
Albany police always stand by when a tow truck is hooking
up an illegally parked car on a city street. Tempers tend
to flare at such times. But the police can’t be ex pected
to settle the question of who had what right to park on which
privately owned lot, said De tective James Miller, the Albany
Police Department’s spokesman. “That’s a completely separate
issue,” he said. “The city doesn’t have any jurisdiction over
that. That becomes a civil matter. Are there situations where
there are private lots where a tow company can be overzealous,
or a [tow-truck] driver can be overzealous? Yes, but there’s
not much we can do about it.”
Still, an Albany officer responded to Phayre’s call, and stood
by as Phayre successfully argued over the phone with Osborne
to release his cars at no charge. But the discussion reached
a stalemate when Phayre asked Osborne to return his cars;
instead, he was told, he would have to retrieve them. Not
even the cop could convince Osborne to do otherwise, so Phayre
accepted the cop’s offer of a ride to the Osborne lot in his
took about 45 minutes to an hour’s worth of an Albany police
officer’s time,” Phayre said.
Osborne president Joe Gimondo’s only justification “was that
he had never been notified by certified mail” of the end of
the contract. But Stratton said she and her husband both called
Gimondo immediately upon taking ownership of the Junior League
building, telling him to suspend all towing operations on
the lot until further notice.
Gimondo could not be reached for comment. In a message delivered
via a staff member, he said this is the busiest period of
the year for his garage and that it was difficult to make
time to be interviewed.
Although Osborne is one of the most visible towing operations
in the city, it is only one of several that hold municipal
or private contracts to tow illegally or improperly parked
cars. Although the state Department of Motor Vehicles issues
licenses to automotive repair garages, it does not give separate
permits to those garages’ towing operations, and therefore
doesn’t keep a file of complaints about towing companies.
Nor, as it turns out, do the Albany police. These matters
tend to be resolved on the spot, usually when the police get
called to a confrontation between a tow-truck driver and an
enraged car owner.
The scene of countless such standoffs in the past was the
Dunkin’ Donuts on the corner of Lark Street and Madison Avenue,
where cars that couldn’t be matched to a customer inside were
picked off like rookies trying to steal second from Ivan Rodriguez.
Dunkin’ Donuts management says its lot has been surprisingly
calm the last couple of years; motorists seem to have finally
gotten the message.
That’s good, because tow truck drivers tend to tow first,
argue later. Stratton recalls the time she left her car unattended
while she ran back into a grocery store because she’d left
her purse inside. By the time she emerged minutes later, Osborne
had her car hooked. Neither Stratton’s pleas nor the accounts
of passersby who vouched for her convinced the driver to let
the car down, although Osborne did reimburse her later.
still towed me, right while I was standing there,” Stratton
recalled. “And I even cried.”
get a chair through there: People with disabilities
are calling for better sidewalk clearing, especially
at intersections like this one. Photo: Teri Currie
the Snow Out
Uncleared sidewalks are a serious problem for many Albany
residents, who think the city should do more to make the white
are some images that didn’t make it into the day-after slide
shows of winter’s dramatic opening act for this year: A 4-year-old
struggling through snow up to his hips as he tries to hold
onto his dad’s hand while walking the one-person-wide path
tramped through the unshoveled sidewalk in front of a vacant
lot. Two motorized wheelchairs chugging up the slippery travel
lane of Lark Street toward Central Avenue. Janet Carr, who
is legally blind, demonstrating what she jokingly calls her
“deep snow caning technique,” as she feels her way on Monday
afternoon through yet another snow bank between crosswalk
Last winter was scary because unshoveled sidewalks and intersections
frequently forced her to walk in the street, said Carr, a
Morton Avenue resident who even when there isn’t snow will
often travel blocks out of her way to avoid intersections
that feel unsafe to her. But, Carr, who snaps “Don’t slow
down on my account” as she taps briskly down the cleared stretches,
is not just worried about her own comfort. As she negotiates
the narrow gaps and bumpy packed-down patches, she comments,
“Can’t get through here with a guide dog,” and “You want to
try this in a wheelchair?” “One woman I spoke to lives three
blocks from CVS; they were taking a cab to the drugstore [last
winter],” she recalled.
The memory of last winter prompted Carr and three other blind
Albany residents to take preemptive action: They showed up
at the Albany Common Council meeting on Nov. 17 to speak about
their concerns during the public comment period. “Maybe a
few cane-wielding citizens will make a difference,” Carr hoped.
“Why should accessibility end at the front door of my residence
or my place of work?”
Joe Laramie, a state worker who lives in the Delaware Avenue
neighborhood, and his wife went with Carr to that meeting.
“What I wanted to present to them was we weren’t just a small
band of activist blind people,” said Laramie, “but that the
issue was affecting maybe three-quarters of the population,”
once you take into account the whole disabled community, the
elderly, and schoolchildren. “It’s a real safety issue,” he
added, noting that he knew of complaints from last year that
took weeks to be handled.
Though Michael Whelan, assistant commissioner of the department
of general services, didn’t hear the group’s testimony, this
issue was already high on his list of priorities. “We’re well
aware of that,” he said, adding that it’s merely a matter
of getting to it all. The department handles complaints of
unshoveled sidewalks first, posting a warning on the door
giving the property owner 24 hours to take care of it and
then sending someone to clear the sidewalk and billing the
owner. Unpaid bills get added to next year’s tax liens. Once
they make their way through the numerous complaints, said
Whelan, then they turn their attention to chronic “problem
The city, Laramie and Carr all agree that those problem properties
are usually owned by absentee landlords, though Carr is quick
to point out that her own landlords “move heaven and earth”
to get the sidewalks clear in front of all their properties.
The transition from curb to street at intersections, however,
is DGS’ responsibility from the get-go, said Whelan. An intersection
should have a wide path from sidewalk to street in both crossing
directions. “If any of those need cleaning, they don’t really
have to be complaint-generated, we go out and do them,” explained
Whelan. As of Tuesday morning, they had a ways to go, with
several corners in the Lark Street business area still sporting
Whelan thinks the incidences of landlords neglecting to shovel
might be down a little bit this year, because they have been
stepping up their enforcement and billing. “We’re getting
their attention,” he said. Laramie and Carr have noticed small
improvements too, including better publicity for the phone
number (434-CITY) to report problem intersections or sidewalks.
Albany School Superintendent Michael A. Johnson and Mayor
Jerry Jennings also issued a statement on Friday exhorting
residents and business owners to clear their sidewalks promptly.
“This could be a wonderful example of how Albany residents
come together to share in the responsibility of the safety
of Albany’s children,” said Johnson.
But Carr was hoping for something a little more dramatic,
with more resources devoted to enforcement and equipment.
“We’ve spent thousands making the city pretty,” she asked.
“Why not a couple thousand [more] to make the city safe in
willing to give [property owners] 48 hours,” said Laramie.
“Give people a chance.” On the other hand, he said, “People
need to work a little harder at caring for the people around
New York nurses say selective staffing-ratio changes just
no secret that the United States is in a nursing crisis. Turnover
is rising, and Capital Region hospitals are not alone in having
recently turned to overseas recruiting to fill their vacancies.
So when the New York State Nurses Association heard that a
state group was recommending a mandated ratio of nurses to
patients for live-donor liver transplants, the news was welcome,
but seemed somewhat incomplete.
On Dec. 4, the State Hospital Review and Planning Council
approved regulations requiring one nurse for every two patients
immediately after a liver transplant, which is especially
critical for donors, and one nurse for every four patients
as they move into less-dire stages of postsurgical care. Now
the recommendations go to state Health Commissioner Antonia
C. Novello, who initially pushed for them, for approval.
These recommendations come after the 2002 death of Times
Union reporter Michael Hurewitz, who died after donating
60 percent of his liver to his brother. A state board found
his death was due to insufficient care after the procedure.
The nurses association was glad to see that the state was
making strides to secure better care for liver donors. “We
were pleased that the state acted on its authority,” Martha
Gershun, NYSNA’s communications director, said, adding that
the state has gone out of its way to point out that it’s well
within its power to impose staffing ratios.
But NYSNA also believes the state should take that authority
and extend better care to all patients. As Gershun said, “Our
question is this: Why not the same standard for the recipients?
What about kidney donors, what about heart transplant patients,
what about bone-marrow transplants, what about cancer patients?
If this is something that is good for a patient in serious
condition, then all patients should have the assurance and
the safety of safe RN-to-patient staffing ratios.” Gershun
explained that state regulations generally say “hospitals
have to have sufficient staff, which is open to total interpretation.”
The state Health Department did not return phone calls for
In 2001, the state education department and NYSNA put together
a task force to evaluate the future of nursing in New York,
and surveyed thousands of nurses about their jobs. “They found
that understaffing, and essentially the terrible stress nurses
are under every day because there are not enough nurses around
and there is no proper planning, is sending them out of the
profession in droves,” said Gershun. “Twenty-two percent of
nurses plan to leave the profession in five years, and among
the top reasons they cite for this is stress.”
a large extent, the reasons the nurses are not there is because
the working conditions are impossible,” Gershun explained,
adding that when those working conditions improve, nurses
are more inclined to stay. She said that an Australian province
“implemented across-the-board nurse-to-patient ratios a year
or two ago, and in one year 3,000 nurses came back into the
profession. So it’s very clear from their own testimony [on]
why they’re leaving that if these conditions were alleviated
they would come back.” Furthermore, in anticipation of a new
staffing-ratio law in California and subsequent (and now suspended)
regulations, the HMO Kaiser Permanente implemented staffing
ratios in its facilities and has found that “recruitment and
retention are up.”
Gershun said that NYSNA is supporting pending legislation
in the state Legislature that would require the implementation
of staffing ratios for all major hospital procedures, “not
one organ at a time, but for every patient.”