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Case Closed, Questions Open
Grand jury decision not to bring charges in Scaringe shooting leaves friends, family and community members at a loss for answers

Last week a grand jury decided not to bring charges against the officers who shot and killed bystander David Scaringe on New Year’s Eve. The jury did not find that the officers acted beyond departmental policy, and did not make any policy recommendations.

Officers William Bonanni and Joseph Gerace were pursuing Daniel Reed for traffic violations. Reed drove onto the sidewalk at Lark and State streets, and officers opened fire trying to disable the car when Reed backed toward Gerace. Scaringe was hit by a ricocheted bullet. [“Death and Disbelief,” Newsfront, Jan. 8] Reed pleaded not-guilty to nine charges this week.

“These two officers have gone through an emotional nightmare and will have that with them for the rest of their lives,” Police Chief James Turley said. “There’s no happy outcome to the grand jury, to the initial incident. There’s nothing good out of this.” But some community members feel that policy change—particularly those related to use of deadly force and hot pursuit—or at least increased public input into those policies could be that positive outcome. It is currently uncertain if the public will be given a role in police policy review, or if the department will make its policies available to the public.

“There’s a lot of people in the community who are still very upset about this, and who really have some very significant questions,” said Dr. Alice Green from the Center for Law and Justice. “We’ve got to get away from the idea that only police officers can make policy, without community input.”

Scaringe’s friend, Loralynne Krobetzky, also thinks “the public has a right to know what those policies are, so that when we step out of our houses we know what we’re getting into.” To her, the city’s apparent desire to put the officers back on the street suggests that “[the shooting] is an OK outcome from a traffic violation.”

According to Turley, the department is reviewing relevant policies with District Attorney Paul Clyne and the city’s corporation counsel. “We don’t believe our policy is flawed,” Turley said. “I wouldn’t even call it an investigation, into our policies and the occurrence. . . . It’s a review.” He also denied that the officers involved risked losing their jobs, as the Times Union reported an authority indicated.

The Coalition for Accountable Police and Government held a forum last night (Wednesday) at the Sweet Pilgrim Baptist Church called “A Community Dialogue About the Controversy Surrounding the Albany Police Department.” The forum has activists like Erin O’Brien feeling hopeful that public pressure will motivate the Common Council “to put pressure on the police department to be more accountable to the general public.”

The Citizens’ Police Review Board was taken off the Scaringe case by Mayor Jerry Jennings last month, and for now, the Scaringe family is left with the option of a civil suit against the city, which could help provide some answers sought by the public. The Scaringe family’s attorney, Donald Boyajian, said they intend to file suit in the next month, though they have until next year.

“More people are starting to get involved in this now because I think people are absolutely shocked by the decision of the grand jury,” said Krobetzky. “People feel now that justice hasn’t been served and we are unsafe.” She plans to attend the Common Council meeting on Monday (May 17) and speak with other supporters, and hopes to hear that they intend to take action now that the grand jury investigation is over.

In related news, Common Council Member Michael Brown intends to introduce legislation that would install video cameras in the dashboards of police cruisers. Cameras, he said, “don’t have a bias and they don’t take sides.” Although such installations can be expensive, Brown thinks cameras would be worth the investment. If we already had them, he thinks, “maybe we would know more about what took place on New Year’s Eve when David Scaringe was shot.”

—Ashley Hahn
ahahn@metroland.net
Miriam Axel-Lute contributed to this story.


From living room to training zone: firefighters engaged in hose drills at Halfmoon Beach. Photo by: Joe Putrock
Life’s a Beach in Halfmoon
As Gail and Gary Krause push ahead with $60 million real-estate development, former residents of Halfmoon Beach question whether the plan is viable or even legal

‘Wait, wait, wait,” the trainer said, interrupting her fellow firefighter’s backswing. “Do you work with tools and no visor?”

“What?” the male firefighter said, dropping the two-pronged pickax to his side.

“Do you work with tools and no visor?” she admonished again, pointing to the clear plastic shield on his helmet, which was raised up, exposing his face. The man nodded, dropped his shield and went to work bashing a hole through the faux-brick siding. This was Firefighter Training 101.

This past Saturday, approximately 60 fire and rescue workers from more than six Saratoga and Rensselaer county squads took part in a day of training and practice exercises on the nearly two dozen recently vacated homes still standing on property owned by Gail and Gary Krause off Beach Road in the town of Halfmoon. Throughout the morning, firefighters practiced hose drills, building-ventilation exercises and search-and-rescue operations inside houses filled with fake smoke.

“This is just a fantastic opportunity for us to get some real, hands-on training exercises right here in our backyard,” said Ed Tremblay, safety officer with the West Crescent Fire Department, which took part in the drills.

All told, the fire crews earned 300 hours of state-mandated OSHA training, making them the only clear beneficiaries of the months-long clash between the Krauses—who want to build a $60 million restaurant-marina-condominium development on their land—and the nearly 40 homeowners who’ve been displaced in the plan’s wake [“Some Call It Progress . . . ,” April 1].

In collaboration with Bast-Hatfield, the Capital Region’s second-largest private construction firm, the Krauses, who own a popular restaurant and clam-steam pavilion on Halfmoon Beach, cooked up the development proposal last year. The Krauses have applied for dredging permits with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and petitioned the New York State Canal Corp. to purchase 10 acres of land contiguous to the property they own. They expect the plan to be completed in five phases over the next two to five years.

That such a development was being planned on the land these families occupied—in some cases for more than 40 years—came as an unwelcome surprise to most of the Krauses’ tenants. Residents began speaking out against the development at town meetings and to the press, filling angry letters with state agencies and petitions stating their opposition with the town clerk. Soon thereafter, tenants claim, the Krauses began issuing eviction notices.

“These were retaliatory evictions,” said Carolyn Snyder Lemmon, an Albany attorney who is representing eight of the Krauses’ tenants who filed a lawsuit in Saratoga County Supreme Court on May 3. The tenants claim that the Krauses committed fraud by failing to disclose their development plans at the same time that the they were signing building permits allowing residents to add on to their houses. The suit seeks unspecified damages and injunctive relief from the evictions, Lemmon said.

“These people have put a lot of money into these homes and they were operating under the assumption that things were not going to change in the near future,” she said. “My objective is to get these people what they deserve in terms of damages and relief from these retaliatory evictions.”

When reached for comment Wednesday morning, Gary Krause deferred to his attorney, Harold Gordon, who said that the lawsuit was “meritless and borderline frivolous.” A preliminary hearing on the case will take place today [May 13] in Saratoga County Supreme Court. Krause’s only comment was that the plan is “alive and well,” an assessment that comes as a surprise to former tenants who point to waste leaking into the Mohawk River from the nearby Tow Path Road Landfill.

Residents are concerned that the iridescent flow leaking from the site, which is listed on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Superfund registry, into the Mohawk could pose a serious environmental risk when the river is dredged for the development. The Krauses have dismissed this claim in other media outlets, saying it is a last-ditch effort by the tenants to foil their development plans. But environmental advocates and town officials share the residents’ concerns.

“I think that the town, or whoever is building this, should protect themselves from future liability by doing some testing [and offering] full disclosure for anyone who is going to purchase these homes,” said Kathy Curtis, executive director of the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition. “Once those homes are built and people are living there, it becomes much more difficult for them to get any kind of justice. These people have a right to know.”

Halfmoon’s DeCerce said he has seen whatever is leaking from the former dump site, but since the DEC has classified the site as posing no significant threat to human life—meaning that no cleanup is required—the town’s hands are tied. Still, the DEC’s assessment doesn’t settle well with DeCerce. “If I thought that the water was contaminated from all the stuff that people are saying, I tell ya, I wouldn’t want to live there,” he said.

Another unanswered question linked to the Krauses’ plan is what will happen to the three families living on land they rent from the Canal Corp. The Krauses have petitioned Canal Corp. to purchase the land, and the tenants have been issued notices that their leases are valid through Dec. 31, 2004, after which point they may be asked to leave.

The tenants have placed phone calls and sent letters to Canal Corp. asking why they were not given the opportunity to purchase the land they lived on, but say they haven’t received any response. Metroland placed multiple phone calls to Canal Corp. spokesman Dan Gilbert, but none was returned prior to publication.

—Travis Durfee
tdurfee@metroland.net

Zoned Out?
As the expiration date looms for one of New York’s economic revitalization programs, legislators and advocates debate its merits, flaws and failures

New York’s Empire Zone program was dealt a series of blows in recent months, as several prominent state officials added their names to the growing list of parties concerned with the program’s administration. As a July 31 deadline for the review and renewal of the program approaches, advocacy groups and elected officials alike have introduced recommendations for reforming the state’s controversial economic development program.

At first glance, the Empire Zone program, created by the state Legislature in 1986 and administered by the Department of Economic Development, would seem to be a fundamentally sound concept. By offering financial incentives to businesses willing to set up shop in economically depressed areas of New York state, the architects of the program intended to provide an impetus for economic upswing in the areas where it was most needed.

However, while supporters of the program describe a wealth of jobs and revenue generated by Empire Zone businesses, critics contend that the program is far from the boon its supporters portray. In fact, recent reports indicate that the program has become a double-disservice to New Yorkers: operating as both a taxpayer-funded tool for political favor and a chief contributor to urban sprawl.

In March, the office of State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi issued a highly critical report on the program. While Hevesi’s report indicated that the program was not without its success stories, the majority of the report described a history of poor oversight and accountability in the program’s administration. Even after several poor evaluations in the program’s early years and subsequent assurances of reform, the report concluded that “many of the weaknesses cited in [a previous 1996 audit of the program] continue to exist.”

Among the numerous flaws detailed in Hevesi’s report was a loophole in the program that allowed businesses to receive Empire Zone benefits by reincorporating under a new name and declaring all of their employees’ positions as newly created jobs. While that loophole was eventually closed to future exploitation, businesses that reincorporated prior to the reform continue to receive Empire Zone benefits.

In April, during a hearing before representatives of the state Assembly, DED chairman Charles Gargano defended the benefits accorded to reincorporated businesses, claiming that the sustained employment of the businesses, as well as their potential for growth, justified inclusion in the program. When presented with data suggesting that many current Empire Zone businesses failed to provide as many jobs as they had promised during the application process, Gargano responded, “A company’s projections are not the basis for awarding tax credits. Only actual performance is rewarded.”

Gargano described this apparent contradiction as a “gray area” in Empire Zone tax law.

Hevesi’s report also described an additional consequence of the reincorporation loophole. Due to the large number of “new” jobs declared during the loophole’s existence, the actual number of jobs created by the Empire Zones program remains questionable.

In the final evaluation of the program, Hevesi’s report indicated that many companies benefiting from Empire Zone designation neither created jobs nor generated revenue for the regions they were located in. Additionally, lax enforcement of the program’s reporting requirements prevented the DED or Zone businesses from being held accountable for their role in the program.

According to the report’s analysis of the Empire Zone program’s cost-effectiveness, “DED does not perform cost/benefit analyses of the program, zones or businesses to determine if their achievements in creating new jobs and making investments are commensurate with the State and local tax credits and utility discounts provided under the program.”

A recommendation for increased reporting was featured among the reforms presented by a coalition of nonprofit organizations on the day of Gargano’s testimony before the Assembly. The 10-point plan introduced by representatives of such groups as the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Hunger Action Network was aimed at bringing the program closer to its original intent—as a “jump-start” for the neediest areas of the state. Among the other reforms were public hearings on potential Empire Zone businesses, decertification of companies that fail to have a positive effect upon their regions, and a shift away from the current boundary-amendment process. According to the groups, the ability to amend Empire Zone boundaries has resulted in a “We bring the zone to you” approach, which opens up the process to favoritism and corruption.

In March, an investigation conducted by Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky (D-Westchester), chairman of the Assembly’s committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, indicated a direct relationship between Empire Zone designation and political lobbying in Monroe County. According to the report, $279,000 was donated to political committees—in this case, Republican party affiliates—by groups benefiting from amendments to the county’s Empire Zones from mid-2001 through 2003. Among the properties that began receiving credit for various state and local taxes as part of the program were 25 vacant buildings.

“There is strong evidence that political contributions were related to the Empire Zone amendment process,” Brodsky’s report alleged. “The approval of these applications by the Commissioner of Economic Development was at best unwise and inappropriate, and at worst a violation of the law.”

Last month, Albany environmental-technology firm Rupprecht and Patashnick Co. Inc. was given the green light by the city’s Common Council—a prerequisite for companies wishing to move between Zones—to move its more than 100 employees, facilities and subsequent revenue to the nearby Rensselaer County Empire Zone. After Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s (D-Manhattan) own Chinatown district was shunned for Zone designation in favor of Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno’s (R-Brunswick) Rensselaer County, Silver (D-Manhattan) became one of the program’s most severe critics, referring to the placement of Zones as “scatter-gun.”

While the future of well-established Empire Zone businesses such as Rupprecht and Patashnick is relatively secure, some companies planning to set up shop locally have had to keep an eye on the clock. The development of an Empire Zone on the site of the Luther Forest Technology Campus, a $10 billion development planned for the Malta-Stillwater area, hinges upon whether the local Economic Development Council is able to garner the approval of the town’s governing body. However, the plan faces stiff competition from grass-roots anti-sprawl groups opposed to rezoning more than 1,300 acres of undeveloped land for the project. Although officials are expected to vote on the project in a matter of months, the question remains: Will the Empire Zone program still be around to pay for it?

—Rick Marshall


Questions That Bother Us So
Why are so many municipal Web sites sorely out of date, and who’s responsible for fixing them?

Back in the dark ages before Googling was a verb, phones and footwork were the way to get information. But today, Web hunting for basic information is practically a knee-jerk reaction for most folks with a computer, and municipal Web sites have become essential tools for reaching the public. But what happens when local government Web sites are inaccurate or dated, and how are they maintained?

Take the city of Albany’s site. Amid much that is useful, www.albanyny.org is peppered with unclear and incorrect information. City officials incorrectly identified on the site include Michael Brown (still listed as Common Council President Pro Tempore), James Turley (current police chief, though still listed as deputy to former Chief Robert Wolfgang), and Christian D’Alessandro (still listed as commander).

Common Council minutes haven’t been posted since March 15 (it should be noted that the minutes site is handled by a separate company than the one that handles the rest of the city’s site.) Furthermore, the Common Council meeting schedule is from last year (though the year is not labeled, which frequently causes confusion) and the only way to find it is to follow the link that reads “For a listing of the Common Council Membership, click here.” Citizens who recently organized a rally at City Hall to show their continued outrage about the shooting of David Scaringe held it on a night they thought the Common Council was meeting. They got the date from the Web site [“Here’s Your Outcry,” Newsfront, April 29].

Joe Rabito, executive assistant to the mayor, is in charge of the city’s Web content and is aware that Albany’s has incorrect information posted. Because the city contracts out its Web work, Rabito said updates won’t be made because major changes are in the works. Albany intends to relaunch a redesigned and updated site at some point soon, which Rabito said will be “more user-friendly and more accessible and [have] more information as well.” He wants to see as many public documents and forms on the site as possible. Sounds wise.

When Harry Tutunjian became Troy’s mayor in January, Web accessibility was a priority of his, and the city’s recently revamped site (www.troyny.org) is certainly an improvement. Now it features a weekly message from the mayor, the sex-offender registry, calendars, maps, and extensive lists of community links and city services. Mayor Tutunjian said he’s also getting the word out about the site by putting the Web address on all of the city vehicles. He noted that the site is a “welcoming package to new and potential residents.” Until recently, however, if you searched “City of Troy” on major engines, it was not immediately listed, so don’t be surprised if you missed it before.

—Ashley Hahn
a
hahn@metroland.net

Sowing the Seeds of Labor Equality
Photo by: Shannon DeCelle

Hundreds of farm laborers and their supporters gathered at the Capitol in Albany earlier this week, the culmination of an 11-day, 200-mile march across the state calling for legislation that would provide farm workers the same labor rights shared by the rest of the New York’s employees. The goal of the march and rally, an annual push that is supported by more than 200 labor and religious groups, is the passage of the Farm Workers Fair Labor Practices Act. The omnibus legislation, sponsored by majority-party members in both the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-led Assembly, would provide farm workers with the basic labor rights enjoyed by most other workers throughout the state, such as the ability to enter into collective bargaining agreements, earn overtime pay for working more than eight hours a day, and receive workers compensation benefits. The annual march has resulted in token changes to the state’s farm-labor law over the past few years, like the right to a day of rest and a mandate that bathrooms and clean drinking water be provided at the work site. As of deadline Wednesday, the bill had not been passed.



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