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The Commissioner’s Gone, Long Live the Commissioner

On Friday (May 21), it was announced that Albany Public Safety Commissioner John C. Nielsen is leaving effective June 9 to take a position helping Haiti get its police force on its feet. Mayor Jerry Jennings has said that he will not fill the position, which was created three years ago to bring the police, fire, and buildings and codes departments together.

Although a few weeks ago Chief James Turley praised the role of commissioner as tie-breaker in the strengthened coordination between the departments, APD spokesman James Miller said now that the departments are used to working together under one roof, the position is no longer necessary. “When Jack came in, there were some issues, problems that needed to be addressed, and he addressed them effectively. He did a great job bringing together the police department, fire department, buildings and codes under one roof. That job’s accomplished,” he said. Going forward, “Turley and [Fire Chief] Dunn are more than capable of carrying out those duties and capabilities that Jack had.”

The announcement came little more than a week after citizens’ group the Coalition for Accountable Police and Government formally called on the mayor to dismiss Nielsen, saying he had contributed to a climate of distrust and unaccountability in the department. The APD, predictably, says this, and the controversy leading up to it, has nothing to do with Nielsen’s departure. “I can tell you this, as much as those individuals who are outspoken and critics of the police department want to believe that Jack left because of their pressure, that wasn’t the case,” said Miller. “You’re talking about an individual who accomplished what he wanted to accomplish and moved on to something that would advance his career.”

“My impression is people want to have a commissioner,” said Betsy Mercogliano, one of the organizers of the coalition. “But they want. . . representation in the choosing process. . . The department needs guidance from an extremely experienced person at this point.” She noted that without a commissioner or a deputy chief that the three new assistant chiefs, who were promoted through the ranks unusually quickly, have a very large responsibility in comparison with their experience.

The group plans to continue its work calling for the reinstatement of former Cmdr. Chris D’Alessandro and an outside investigation, through a petition drive and speaking at Common Council meetings.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Forest Zoned for Factories

David Meager and Bob Radliff both sound a little worn out right about now, after the town board of Malta voted unanimously last Tuesday (May 18) to approve the zoning for a technology campus designed for chip-fabrication plants in the Luther Forest. But their moods are quite different.

Meager, Malta’s supervisor, is relieved to have one of the biggest decisions of his career behind him. Steadfast in insisting that he was keeping an open mind until the last minute through the two years of discussion and debate on the project, Meager prefaced his vote with an enthusiastic prepared statement about why he was voting yes. “This decision does not mean that there are no negative aspects to this plan but I believe that the positives far outweigh the negatives,” he said, citing jobs, tax revenue, open space set-asides, and provisions in the legislation to deal with traffic problems and ensure that any company located on the campus would contribute to community projects.

Radliff, on the other hand, a resident of Stillwater and a member of the Citizens for Responsible Growth, which has been opposing the plan, is just trying to keep his spirits up after what was for his group a disappointing vote. “Our coalition is kinda down at the moment,” he said. “There were 39 people who spoke at the public hearing. . . . It was 2 to 1 opposed . . . and we still didn’t get a single vote of common sense. People are really bummed, but we’re trying to regroup, focus on Stillwater.” Stillwater, whose planning board recommended a no vote, is expected to vote on the project in a few weeks.

Radliff said he thought the claim by the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation that the plan would proceed even if Stillwater votes no is questionable and manipulative, since the Stillwater portion of the site is the most likely place for the tech campus’ water pipe to enter. “We don’t consider it over yet,” said Radliff.

Even with approval from both towns, SEDC still would need to raise a lot of funds to prepare the site and find an interested company, before the tech park would come into being. CRG wouldn’t disappear either, though Radliff is skeptical about overtures for their official involvement. “There’s been some token gestures that people from our side should sit on committees and keep the right focus and express differing viewpoints,” he said. “But what kind of power they would have . . .”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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