Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Allegany County Citizens for Responsible Government

I attended the October 26 meeting of Allegany County Citizens for Responsible Government. The meeting of people from around the county was inspiring because it was real citizen action with people coming together without regard for political party to work on one issue.

The meeting started with the approval of the minutes from the last meeting, plowed through some correspondence and then jumped full force into a review of name-calling and what the board members and legislative guests felt were ies and political manipulation.

The tinder in this ongoing conflict is the proposed “Citizen’s Plan” that would renovate existing spaces in the old jail and the old Belmont School to provide for the Allegany County Court’s need for space at considerably lower cost in dollars and environmental impact than the construction of a new Court House wing. I favor this plan because I’m one to reuse and recycle.

Barb Hetzel, the only Democrat on the group’s board, read a letter from Chairman Crandall denying permission for citizens to tour the third floor area of the old jail. He cited safety concerns and security concerns because the area is used for storage. They wanted to see the floor to personally as they had toured the available space at the old Belmont School.

Hetzel also read parts of a letter from the office of the Unified Court System, Sixth Judicial District. The letter discussed the use of an existing building to satisfy the needs of the courts in the city of Oneida. The UCS indicated that “there is no requirement that court offices be all on one floor” and stated that the City of Oneida would be reimbursed “for construction renovation costs to an existing building at 100% for interior construction, electrical work, and plumbing work for the space the court occupies.”

The letter elaborated that Cooperstown recently completed a similar project where an old grocery store was reworked to serve the needs of the court system. Where courts were given space by renovating existing buildings the cost of the project was “approximately one third the cost of new construction.”

The letter sounded as if there was great support at the state level for renovating an existing space and that the state should cover the cost of the program rather than stacking the tax burden on Allegany County.

Then the steam really poured on the issue when Hetzel read a lengthy letter presented, by Dave Pullen, to the county legislature at their meeting. The letter, dismissive of the lawsuit and several specific individuals involved with it, was read in full at the meeting after Pullen was “granted privilege of the floor” while time to respond to it was denied to Kruger.
Pullen said that the lawsuit pages were riddled with errors and strikeouts but Scott guessed that what, at a glance, looked like strikeouts were actually underlines meant to indicate case names. Scott also said that the deadline to file was nearly expired by the time he was able to prepare the paperwork and that once filed he would be able to make amendments and corrections.

Pullen said that the order of show cause was not signed by a judge. This is true, said Ross, but it is because all of the local judges recused themselves and it was necessary to wait for a judge to be assigned to the case. Now that a judge is assigned, the paper will be signed.

Kruger was displeased that the letter trumpeted the value of letting the vote of the people stand and cited cases where the legislators worked to dismiss the voice of the people. He said that legislators had tried to have Young and Giglio create a special state law to allow the construction of a court house next to the jail without a local vote on a the matter.

Kruger also stated that Hornell built their court facilities in an old bank and the total cost was $2 million. He said that listening to Pullen read his letter without being able to respond or question was like being a mule in a hailstorm with no choice but to take the pelting.

Kruger said it was important for voters to look at who really has concern for the tax payers. While Social Security recipients will get no COLA this year because there is no inflation, they will have to pay higher taxes because all the department heads were voted raises. He also said that while he has never been a member of ACCFRG that he has attended all meetings to answer questions and to listen to the people. That, he said, was his job and he intended to do it as well as he could. “Where he the other members (legislators) been? They chose to hide in caucus,” said Kruger.

For the matter of the lawsuit being brought to support the candidacy of Ross Scott, several members made it clear that this was not a decision made by one or two people but many voters - over 100 citizens attending the September meeting. Those citizens donated their money to pay the fees. Scott said that he was working on the project, gratis, as a public citizen and he’d have done it whether or not he was running for office. The timing of the stages of the project, and therefore the actions against it, has always been the choice of the county board of legislators and not of Scott or of ACCFRG.

Also, in the matter of timing, Scott stated that the lawsuit challenges the unconstitutionality of the plan’s approval. The deadlines for dealing with an unconstitutional process are different and this lawsuit was filed within the timeline for that process.

Responding to Pullen’s letter asserted that the purchase of 2 houses in Belmont had nothing to do with the court house project Cindy Gowiski read a letter written by Mr. Margeson to one of the home owners. The letter specifically says that their home is needed to provide area for parking because of the project.

Galen Stout reported on his pursuit of the naming of the Allegany County Courthouse as a historic structure. The State Historic Preservation Office determined that the Allegany County Courthouse is eligible and sent letters regarding that Mr. Crandall, the Preservation League and others. None of the recipients have responded.

I’d like to thank these people for digging into the dry numbers and issues and speaking up in the face of “hailstones.”

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