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Skelos under a cloud

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 04/21/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

The shadow of federal prosecution fell across the state Assembly as the 2015 legislative session began. Now it's the Senate's turn.

A day after The New York Times reported that Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos is the subject of a federal investigation into business deals involving his son and a powerful real estate developer, the lawmaker on Thursday confirmed the account.

His statement was brief: "I have and will continue to cooperate with any inquiry."

The Times reported Wednesday evening that the office of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, led by Preet Bharara, recently served subpoenas to state senators on Long Island, Skelos' power base. One of the subjects of the probe, which is reportedly being presented to a grand jury, involves Adam Skelos' hiring by an Arizona-based company called AbTech that sought a stormwater treatment contract with Nassau County.

The Times cited AbTech's connections -— through investment and personnel — to Glenwood Management, the powerful real estate company run by billionaire Leonard Litwin, New York's most generous political donor.

Glenwood Management also surfaced as "Developer-1" in the federal charges filed in January against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Although unnamed in the federal complaint against the longtime leader, Glenwood was quickly identified as a client of Goldberg & Iryami, a law firm that had employed Silver.

Half of the indictment against Silver stems from his collection of referral fees from Litwin, whose businesses have had — and continue to have — myriad matters before state government.

Brian Meara, a powerful Albany lobbyist and Silver's longtime friend, was reportedly aware of those payments and has been helping Bharara's office in its case against the former speaker. Silver has maintained his innocence.

Meara has long been a lobbyist for Glenwood, according to disclosure filings. His work included lobbying on real estate issues in the 2014-2015 budget. Two other members of Meara's firm — including Mike Avella, a former counsel to the state Senate Republicans — have been registered to lobby for Glenwood.

Glenwood employed a total of eight professional lobbying firms in 2014, records show, at a cost of $900,000.

The Legislature is scheduled to return to Albany on Tuesday for the first time since passing the state budget two weeks ago. Fewer than 30 days are left in the legislative session and a long list of issues is on the agenda, including two of great interest to real estate companies such as Glenwood: rent regulation and continuing tax abatements for developers.

While elected officials and political operatives were eager to talk about Skelos' troubles on Thursday, none would do so on the record. Many said it would be inappropriate to comment publicly until the investigation had reached some kind of tipping point.

Many said it was far too early to predict if Skelos could maintain his leadership post.

The Senate GOP's deputy leader, Binghamton's Tom Libous, is currently facing a federal charge for allegedly lying to investigators looking into his efforts to secure a job for his son, Matthew Libous, who was found guilty of tax evasion in January. The charges against the father, who has been battling cancer for years, are still pending.

Senate majority leaders have drawn attention from federal prosecutors in recent years: Skelos' predecessor Joseph L. Bruno was ultimately acquitted of corruption charges after two trials; Democrat Malcolm Smith, who led the chamber briefly in 2009, was convicted two months ago on bribery charges related to his effort to secure the Republican nomination as New York City mayor; Pedro Espada Jr., who wangled the title from Smith at the end of the 2009 coup crisis, is serving prison time for raiding his nonprofit health care operation.

Skelos' troubles showed up in oblique ways — such as an official comment from Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins bemoaning the Board of Elections deadlock on the question of whether it should re-examine the so-called "LLC loophole," which allows wealthy donors to multiply their political giving. Good-government groups have said )that Litwin is an aggressive user of limited liability companies to amp up his donations.

"It's seems every day a new Albany scandal rocks New Yorkers' confidence in our state government," Cousins said, without mentioning Skelos.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Manufacturers sue Albany County over 'toxic toys' law

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 04/21/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

A coalition of national trade groups including the Toy Industry Association has filed a federal lawsuit against Albany County, claiming its pending first-in-the-state ban on the sale of "toxic toys" and other children's products violates the U.S. Constitution.

Filed in Albany federal court Thursday afternoon, the suit claims the county law — set to take effect Jan. 12 — violates the supremacy clause of the Constitution.

By exceeding federal standards and banning children's products containing even trace amounts of seven harmful substances, the county has set a bar that manufacturers and retailers will be unable to meet, the plaintiffs argue.

The action was brought by the Safe to Play Coalition, which also includes the Halloween Industry Association, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association and the American Apparel and Footwear Association.

In addition to the county and its Department of Health, County Executive Dan McCoy and Acting Health Commissioner Christine Compton are named as individual defendants.

"Dan McCoy and the county enacted a law to protect children's health. If we have to fight these billion-dollar companies to protect children's health in Albany County that's what we're going to do," County Attorney Thomas Marcelle said.

The crux of the coalition's complaint is that pre-emption provisions of the Federal Hazardous Substances Act and the Child Product Safety Act, which set acceptable levels of various toxic substances in children's products, prevent Albany County — and every other municipality or state — from enacting its own regulations.

The coalition's suit also argues that federally mandated toxic chemical standards for children's goods are sufficiently strict.

The county law is a ban on products containing benzene, lead, mercury, antimony, arsenic, cadmium and cobalt. It also gives the county health commissioner the power to establish regulations deemed necessary to implement the law, including the ability to exempt some products.

The complaint claims that the American Society for Testing and Materials has established acceptable limits of substances greater than zero. Those standards, the industry points out, have been copied by other nations.

The industry's argument is that testing cannot verifiably show a complete absence of toxic substances in a product. Toy Industry Association Senior Vice President of Technical Affairs Al Kaufman said for every chemical test method, there is a lower limit of sensitivity — the number that can repeatedly and reliably be detected in a laboratory — for hazardous substances.

"If you're measuring, let's say, lead in a plastic, and you don't detect any, it doesn't mean you are at zero because ... there is no way to detect to zero," he said.

The county law means toys that meet the federal standard but can't be verified to have no amount of the banned substances would be pulled from shelves, the suit claims.

The coalition's member companies "will lose sales, market share, and consumer goodwill because it will be effectively impossible for Plaintiffs' members to comply with Local Law 1 and continue selling their products in Albany County," the suit states. And because distribution centers are not capable of segregating products by county, the hardships would stretch beyond the county's borders, the suit claims.

"Plaintiffs' members thus will suffer economic harm that cannot be adequately calculated and that is likely not recoverable from the County through compensatory damages," the complaint states.

Advocates say the county law leaves leeway for the health commissioner to exempt products from the law.

"It's reprehensible that chemical companies and toy makers would rather fight in court than come up with safe products for kids," said Bobbi Chase Wilding of Clean and Healthy New York, a group that pushed for the Albany County bill and is doing so for similar measures in other counties. "They want to raise these scare tactics and false arguments like testing to zero. It's a laughable argument because that's not what the law requires to have happen. The law requires regulations to get promulgated."

The law overwhelmingly passed the County Legislature in December, and McCoy signed it in early January.

Before signing it, his office expressed concern about how the county could enforce the ban, and how much it might cost. Still, McCoy said he was confident that signing it was the right action, and various environmental and progressive advocacy groups agreed to help the county with spot checks and enforcement.

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

GOP co-chair replaced on eve of LLC loophole action

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 04/21/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

The eve of the state Board of Elections' consideration of the possible closure of the so-called LLC loophole brought a flurry of activity — including news that the board's Republican co-chair had been quietly replaced.

The seat of James Walsh, the Republican co-chair of the four-member panel, will be filled by Peter Kosinski, a former executive director of the board who left in 2008 to serve as counsel to the Senate Republican majority. Kosinski was chosen by Republican legislative leaders, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Brian Kolb of the Assembly minority. The appointment was confirmed by an Elections spokesman.

The board is scheduled to meet at noon in Albany.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the documents on Wednesday confirming Kosinski's appointment to complete Walsh's term, which ends in November. Walsh missed the board's most recent meeting due to an illness.

Democratic commissioners Doug Kellner and Andrew Spano have placed consideration of the board's 1996 advisory opinion that defined limited liability companies as individual entities, each capable of giving the maximum in political donations. Because of this policy, untold numbers of related LLC — such as those that make up large real estate concerns — are able to vastly increase their political giving.

Cuomo has called for the closure of the loophole but is the state politician who benefits the most from its existence. Republicans have resisted any change in current practice.

On Wednesday, Democratic politicians including Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, Sen. Daniel Squadron and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent letters to the board encouraging them to reconsider the 1996 decision, and noted that the standing opinion was based on a Federal Elections Commission policy that was overturned three years later.

"Being forced to deal with it greatly increases the chances they'll do the right thing," Squadron said of the board. " ... A rule like this can only survive in the shadows."

Heather Briccetti, the state Business Council president and CEO, submitted a legal argument advocating for the preservation of the current definition.

"Any action taken by the board to further limit LLC contributions, outside of an act of the Legislature, would be ... invalid," Briccetti wrote.

Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said, "Whether by legislation or action taken by the Board of Elections, the governor believes the LLC loophole should be closed."

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Criminal Justice Reformers Look to Impact Albany as Legislators Return to Session

Gotham Gazette - Tue, 04/21/2015 - 1:00am

Justice League NYC marchers in Washington DC (photo: @NYjusticeleague)

A 250-mile march started in Staten Island over a week ago culminates today in Washington, DC with a rally to protest police killings of unarmed civilians and push for criminal justice reform. The march, sponsored by Justice League NYC, has garnered national attention as participants have walked across major highways, through rural towns where porches are adorned with confederate flags, and in cities like Baltimore where tensions between police and citizens are high due to the death of Freddie Gray, whose spinal cord was nearly severed while in police custody, as well as other recent losses of life.

Activists and legislators say the momentum from the march will carry over to the legislative session in Albany, where a number of criminal justice reforms await action. Legislators return to Albany today after over two weeks away from the capital; the session is due to run for about two months until mid-June.

"We had to show we aren't a group that will take anything lying down," Linda Sarsour of Justice League told Gotham Gazette as she and her companions marched toward Washington. "We are five miles outside of Washington right now," she said by phone Monday afternoon. "We had to show people we weren't to be taken lightly. We had to show people we are New Yorkers who can do these big things. And now we are going to bring that message to Albany."

Justice League has led protests and actions across the city in the wake of the July death of Staten Island man Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD. A grand jury failed to seek charges against the policer officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who put Garner in a chokehold, setting off even greater protests. Garner was black; Pantaleo is white.

Legislators will return to Albany with national headlines focusing on the killings of Walter Scott in South Carolina, Eric Harris in Oklahoma, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and a case even closer to home. Protesters recently took to Albany streets to protest the death of Donald "Dontay" Ivy. A mentally ill man, Ivy died after being tasered by Albany police. Albany District Attorney David Soares is currently investigating the incident.

"The videos we've seen tell you these are not isolated incidents, this is a systemic problem. Many of us are not going to be quiet about this and we have the momentum," said state Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat of the Bronx, who is the current Senate sponsor of a bill that would give the New York Attorney General jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute police misconduct.

Supporters of the bill say it will help prevent district attorneys from basing their decisions on whether to charge officers involved in shootings on their relationships with the local police force and how their actions will be perceived by unions and voters. A number of district attorneys oppose the measure because they say it undermines them and disregards their understanding of the impacted community.

In mid-March, Rivera officially requested the Republican-controlled Investigations and Governmental Operations Committee consider the legislation in a move to bring the bill to the Senate floor.

Rivera's bill isn't a new one. In fact it was carried for years in the Senate by the current Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman. Keith Wright, a Manhattan Democrat, has carried the Assembly version of the bill since 1999. The bill was given a print number on March 27 of this year and could come to a vote shortly.

Both Wright and Rivera support Schneiderman's call for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue an executive order giving the attorney general oversight over cases where unarmed civilians are killed by police. "The employ of an unbiased arbiter is desperately needed in this instance. I urge Governor Cuomo to use his executive authority to bring a sense of hope to communities of color in New York State," Wright said in a statement supporting Schneiderman's request.

However, Cuomo and Schneiderman are known to be bitter rivals and it is unlikely Cuomo will grant such a request. Supporters of the bill also acknowledge it is unlikely it will make it through the Legislature without changes.

"The public's confidence in the justice system is lost," said Rivera. Having the AG come in to safeguard the public's confidence is something I believe is necessary, but we may not all agree on the exact parameters."

Democrats are also pushing legislation proposed by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins that would create an "Office of Special Investigation" inside the AG's office to look into police killings of unarmed civilians. Stewart-Cousins asked the Finance Committee to consider the bill on March 10.

"Local district attorneys work with local law enforcement and I think it makes sense, in most cases and certainly these types of cases, that there is concern that there can be a conflict and even a perception of a conflict of interest," said Stewart-Cousins in December of last year while unveiling the bill in Albany.

Cuomo has also proposed a bill that would create a monitor who could recommend the appointment of someone like a retired judge as a special prosecutor in cases where a grand jury isn't called or it fails to convict.

"We want special prosecutor, point blank," said Sarsour, who also heads the Arab American Association of New York and leads the Muslim Democratic Club of New York City. Sarsour said that Justice League has yet to take a position on the special prosecutor bills. She said that Cuomo's proposal includes too many caveats before a special prosecutor can be appointed and that she has concerns that the attorney general is also a "political position."

"We aren't really about any of these special prosecutor bills right now," said Sarsour. She said her group's initial focus will be on "Raise the Age," an initiative that would stop New York from prosecuting 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. New York and North Carolina are currently the only states that do so. Cuomo made Raise the Age a major part of his budget but the policy was tossed out of budget negotiations, though some funding to implement it remained. Even some Democrats objected to the way Cuomo's plan would be implemented - they feared it would actually increase the jail sentences for some teens.

"It always seems that the bills that impact the black and Latino communities are the first to get thrown out," said Sarsour. "We are going to change that."

The special prosecutor bills are far from the only proposed criminal justice reforms. Cuomo has proposed legislation would make the grand jury process in cases involving police killings of unarmed civilians more transparent, create a commission on police-community relations, recruit more people of color into the police force, and allow him to appoint a special prosecutor in the killings of unarmed civilians by police.

While Cuomo has come under fire for not achieving many of his proposed criminal justice reforms in his budget he does appear to have added a sweetener to the budget to entice legislative action. The budget includes a $60 million appropriation for bulletproof vests and glass but it can only be accessed if the Legislature subsequently passes a number of reforms Cuomo has advocated, including his special prosecutor bill.

Cuomo spokseperson Dani Lever told Gotham Gazette, "The governor proposed a balanced reform package to increase transparency, accountability and ensure justice in perception and in reality."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Categories: State/Local

Council Members Ask De Blasio to Invest in Farmland

Gotham Gazette - Tue, 04/21/2015 - 1:00am

(photo: Steve Poses)

A group of New York City Council members sent an open letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday, asking him to invest funds to conserve regional agricultural land in the Hudson Valley and around the city.

The letter, signed by 14 council members in an effort led by Dan Garodnick, requests the mayor dedicate at least $5 million each year for the next ten years to protect farmland from real estate interests, and cites an annual $1 billion unmet city demand for fresh, local food. "We need to make sure that New York has a sustainable regional food system," Garodnick told Gotham Gazette. "Too much of the Hudson Valley farmland is at risk."

Council Member Garodnick, speaking for the coalition, hopes the funds will be included in this year's executive budget, due out early next month. "We're interested in seeing a commitment to long-term sustainability," he said.

The letter, a copy of which was read by Gotham Gazette, urges de Blasio to implement the recommendations of a Foodshed Conservation Plan created by non-profit conservation group Scenic Hudson. The plan lays out a strategy for protecting farmland through public-private partnerships to provide local farmers with incentives and investment to increase productivity.

Non-profit groups in New York have worked to conserve farmland through the purchase of development rights or conservation easements that permanently restrict land to agricultural use. These allow farmers to sell equity in their farms and use the money to invest in equipment and infrastructure. They also reduce the price of the land for future generations of farmers. In its report, Scenic Hudson says it has delivered more than $30 million to local farmers. The plan proposed in the council members' letter calls for realigning resources toward a broad coordinated strategy of conservation rather than focusing on individual farms.

"The plan is really a first-of-its-kind in the country and it offers the mayor and City Council the opportunity to be progressive food policy and resiliency leaders," Steve Rosenberg, senior vice president at Scenic Hudson, told Gotham Gazette.

"One cannot take for granted that farms in the nearby region will continue to be there," Rosenberg said, stressing the importance of locally sourced food for New York City's restaurant economy and public health.

The letter to de Blasio is signed by Council Members Garodnick, Donovan Richards, Fernando Cabrera, Rafael Espinal, Corey Johnson, Ben Kallos, Andy King, Stephen Levin, Mark Levine, Carlos Menchaca, Rosie Mendez, I. Daneek Miller, Antonio Reynoso, and James Vacca. It states, in part, "Creating a sustainable regional food system that meets [the $1 billion] demand and offers equal access to nutritious food will improve public health, bolster the city's "good food" economy, build resilience in the wake of extreme weather events and reduce the city's "foodprint" as a way to mitigate the impacts of climate change."

The Scenic Hudson plan favored by the council members draws a parallel with the City's investment in the land around upstate reservoirs for clean drinking water supply, argung that federal officials, state agencies, counties, philanthropic private organizations, and the city administration must collaborate to implement a similar plan for securing the regional agricultural economy and land base. "No one of them alone can do it," Rosenberg said.

The city investing in the conservation of farmland relates to concerns around resiliency and diversification, said Rosenberg, citing shortages in the immediate aftermath of Sandy. It is also important in the context of investment in the city's regional food distribution infrastructure and procurement policies that favor securing local food. "If the city's going to invest millions on procurement, this is a modestly-priced insurance policy to ensure that the supply continues," he said.

City laws 50 and 52 encourage local procurement of fresh food grown in New York State and this initiative would support that, Garodnick said.

The Foodshed Conservation Plan estimates that through a collaborative investment of $240 million, one-third of the highest priority farms could be conserved. That would mean less than $25 million annually over the next decade, with $5 million from the City, which is "arguably the single largest stakeholder," Rosenberg said.

Collaboration is key to this funding, Garodnick said. He added, "The city's investment here sends a strong message about our commitment and where we're headed, and it could leverage other sources."

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid

Categories: State/Local

Access to Condoms: Partial Win in 2015 Budget

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 04/20/2015 - 1:00am

A rally to promote access to condoms

At the conclusion of a highly-contested budget season few advocates are claiming victories. Fair wage activists, ethics watchdogs and DREAMers, among others, are gearing up for a fight to have their issues addressed during the post-budget legislative session. But, on at least one issue, there is reason for progressives to be hopeful: expanding access to condoms.

As part of this year's budget deal, Albany lawmakers and Governor Cuomo passed a limited ban on the use of condoms as evidence. This is important because all too often when transgender New Yorkers, sex workers, trafficking victims, and others are profiled by police, officers use the fact that some have condoms in their possession as evidence of crimes. This undermines our state's commitment to providing access to contraception and preventing the spread of sexually-transmitted infections.

The limited ban on condoms as evidence originally proposed in the governor's budget and eventually adopted in the final budget deal is important recognition from policy-makers of what many of us have known for years: we need comprehensive legislation to ensure that condoms are not criminalized for sex workers, trafficking victims, youth in the sex trade, and anyone profiled as such by law enforcement.

While there is seldom disagreement on the importance of condom access, many are simply unaware of the current practice where law enforcement confiscates condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses. A recent PROS Network report found nearly 50% of respondents involved in the sex trade were victims of police confiscating, damaging, or destroying their condoms, and nearly 46% did not carry condoms at some point out of fear of the police.Condoms are taken out of the hands of those for whom they serve as a vital personal and public health tool and left to rot in evidence lockers, since they are rarely actually introduced at trial.

Still, the evidence ban is limited, and there remains much work to be done to ensure access to condoms for all.

With Governor Cuomo's monumental commitment to end AIDS in New York State by 2020, we expected decisive action to address HIV prevalence in communities impacted by the epidemic. What we saw instead was rhetoric without substance. The provision put forth by the governor is a partial ban that covers only two of almost twenty prostitution- and trafficking-related offenses. There is thus only a slim chance that this will have a significant impact on how the practice is executed on the ground. Law enforcement will continue to confiscate condoms, claiming them as evidence of one or more of the many offenses that are left out of the ban. Fear and confusion about whether and how condoms can be used against those carrying them will continue.

Possibly the most concerning aspect of this limited ban is that victims of sex trafficking remain excluded.

The exclusion of trafficking-related offenses creates a perverse incentive for traffickers to withhold condoms from the people they exploit to avoid prosecution, compromising the safety and dignity of the people they victimize. As recently stated by Florrie Burke, recipient of the inaugural Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Sex Trafficking in Persons, "Policymakers shouldn't leave trafficking victims out of the solution. Their lives depend on it."

The good news is that there is widespread support for prioritizing the crisis of sex trafficking and the end of AIDS in New York State, both across party lines and at all levels of governance. Momentum is on our side and the solution is clear: the governor and the Legislature should get back to work on this issue and pass a bill (A.4463A/S.1018) to end the criminalization of condoms in New York State. The lives of some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers depend on it.

***
by Anna Saini and Bianey Garcia

Saini is the Statewide Community Organizer with Voices of Community Activists and Leaders – New York (VOCAL-NY).

García is an LGBTQ Justice Project Organizer at Make the Road New York. Both are members of the Access to Condoms Coalition, which is composed of over 100 organizations, including organizations that together serve the majority of New York's trafficking victims.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Categories: State/Local

State settles $2.25 million abuse case from O.D. Heck

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 04/20/2015 - 12:07am

Albany

Two weeks after it closed Niskayuna's O.D. Heck center for the developmentally disabled, New York state has agreed to pay $2.25 million to settle a lawsuit stemming from the 2011 death of a severely disabled 22-year-old resident.

According to court documents, the resident identified in court papers as "K.C." lived a hellish existence while at O.D. Heck, which was operated by the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities.

He was beaten with a stick when he strayed from the floor mat he was supposed to stay on while workers watched TV.

He had rags and socks stuffed in his mouth if he spat, and his fingers were stepped on if he tried to crawl away from his mat.

Workers referred to him as "The Thing," "The Sparrow" or "The Walking Plague" — except for when his mother or other family members would make the three-hour trip to visit.

At those times, he would be seated on the couch in his unit and employees would talk to him like a regular person.

On Feb. 28, 2011, an unconscious K.C. was rushed to the hospital. He was in a malnourished state and suffering from a bacterial pneumonia. He died a month later.

"This was systematic, daily abuse of the most vulnerable, helpless person imaginable," said the family's attorney, Ilann M. Maazel of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady. "It is shocking that the state of New York would still employ any of these defendants to work with disabled people."

Maazel said that "none of these people were disciplined as a result of the abuse of K.C." Her firm is also suing OPWDD on behalf of another disabled person who was allegedly raped in 2012 by a fellow resident of the agency's McChesney Avenue residence in Brunswick.

O.D. Heck was closed at the end of March as part of a broader multi-year downsizing of institutions for the developmentally disabled. Due to court decisions and changes in the approach to treatment, New York and other states are moving disabled individuals from state-run institutions to smaller group homes where they receive assistance and supervision.

The complaint more than 20 defendants, including five O.D. Heck employees who were named in the initial documents and depositions: Laurie Tomassi, Sharon Butler, Lekisha Terrell, Eric Sadlon and Harshanie Boadnaraine.

The defendants admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, and it appears none have been accused of a crime. Attempts to reach the defendants for comment on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

In a prepared statement, OPWDD said the agency "takes the safety and security of the individuals it supports very seriously and considers any abuse of an individual in its care completely unacceptable."

The agency also noted that the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, opened in 2013, provides "additional tools to ensure that all claims of abuse and neglect are thoroughly and quickly processed, investigated, and prosecuted if substantiated."

OPWDD, however, would not say whether or not the defendants still worked for OPWDD, noting that the case is "pending final litigation."

The agreement hasn't yet been signed by the judge. Typically, such agreements are approved.

The case had been scheduled to go to trial this month.

Sworn depositions in the case indicate that the OPWDD employees named in the suit remained on the job for at least several years after K.C.'s death.

According to court records, Taylor as of January 2014 worked at the state's Hubbell Lane facility in Lake George; Butler as of January 2014 was still at O.D. Heck (but in a different building from where K.C. had resided), and Terrell as of November 2013 was at the state's McChesney Avenue facility in Brunswick.

Tomassi as of November 2013 was at O.D. Heck, in a different building; and Sadlon as of October 2013 was also at O.D. Heck.

The state's Justice Center maintains a list of people banned from working in disabilities centers, but spokeswoman Diane Ward said the names of people on the "Staff Exclusion List" are confidential.

O.D. Heck was the same state-run facility where Jonathan Carey, a 13-year-old with autism, was residing when he was crushed to death in 2007 during an outing. That fatality eventually led to laws mandating better reporting of neglect and abuse in centers for the disabled.

A transcript of a video deposition with whistle-blower Mary Maioriello, who had just started working at O.D. Heck around the 2011 time period, indicated that workers were expected to remain silent if they saw abuse or neglect.

"I was terrified to come forward and say anything," Maioriello said in the deposition. "I was told by Sharon Butler on one of my first days that I would do fine at O.D. Heck as an employee if I kept my eyes open and mouth shut."

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Report: Old 'pork' spending may live a long time

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 04/20/2015 - 12:07am

Albany

Despite new pork-barrel spending being banished from the state budget since 2010, previously approved earmarks will be footed by taxpayers for years to come, according to a report set to be released Thursday by the good-government group Citizens Unions.

Following a series of scandals involving what are known in the Legislature as member items, lawmakers can only "reappropriate" old grants approved in previous budgets out of a pot of money called the Community Projects Fund.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's financial plan this year stated that $87 million remained in the fund to be doled out to community groups. But Citizens Union says the 2015-16 budget actually authorizes total spending for these projects of $350 million, which could be parceled out over a number of years.

"Typically, reappropriations overestimate the amount that will be spent in a given year, and based on trends from previous years, far less than $87 million will be spent this year," Citizens Union writes in the report. "This will perpetuate the presence of 'ghost' member items in the budget for years to come."

Budget Division spokesman Morris Peters said in a statement that there has been "no new funding appropriated for member items during this administration, only the spend-down of grants authorized under prior administrations."

More money would have to be added in future years to the Community Projects Fund to pay for the full $350 million authorized in the budget, and Cuomo has long opposed such spending.

Of the $350 million in the Community Projects Fund, $330 million of the reappropriations approved in this year's budget are not itemized, the Citizens Union report states. The report also notes that Cuomo only vetoed $2.4 million in grants from the fund this year, including many with minimal amounts of funds remaining.

But many other funding pots have minimal amounts remaining but were untouched by vetoes, the report states.

Cuomo did veto of $24,000 in grants to ACORN, a controversial community organizing group that has been defunct for nearly five years.

Visit the Capitol Confidential blog for more.

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo releases 2014 tax returns

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 04/20/2015 - 12:07am

Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's memoir has not burned up the best-seller list, but it earned him $376,667 in income last year.

Cuomo's tax returns, which his office made available to reporters on Wednesday, show that he made a total of $553,371, the largest chunk being book income, plus money he made on a blind trust, minus expenses.

His gubernatorial salary is $168,685.

Sales of "All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life" have been dismal since its October release. Cuomo's 2014 income from the project brings the total paid by publisher Harper Collins to $565,000. He listed $188,333 in book income on his 2013 return.

Cuomo's 2014 filing with the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics reported that he was due $550,000 to $650,000 in deferred compensation. An administration source said not all payments related to the book had been made.

The governor has never released the full details of his book contract.

The rest of the governor's tax forms were straightforward. He paid $155,193 in federal tax and $37,843 in state tax. He owed the federal government an additional $6,916, while he put his $3,212 state refund toward his 2015 taxes.

Cuomo reported $27,000 in charitable contributions, which was broken into two chunks of $13,500 apiece to Help USA, the non-profit organization he established before joining the Clinton administration, and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul's forms were filed jointly with her husband, U.S. Attorney for the Western District William Hochul. The forms showed $237,498 in total compensation for her time at M&T Bank in 2014. Prior to leaving the bank to join Cuomo's campaign, she was vice president of government relations.

The couple's total adjusted gross income was $416,150. They paid $99,245 in federal tax and $26,707 in state tax.

The Hochuls gave $12,553 to charity, the largest donation of which was $5,000 to the Canisius College Advancement Series.

Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 20

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 04/19/2015 - 1:00am

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

As the week begins, Governor Andrew Cuomo is heading to Cuba on a trade mission, leaving Monday and returning Tuesday evening - "the first Governor-led state trade mission to Cuba since President Obama began the process to normalize diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba," the governor is quick to point out. "In addition to the Governor and members of his administration, the delegation includes Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, and business leaders representing a number of important sectors and industries in New York's economy."

Meanwhile, get ready for an intense post-budget legislative session in Albany, set to begin Tuesday and extend through mid-June. There's a lot of policy on the table as the budget wound up not including quite a bit (minimum wage, mayoral control of schools, raise the age, etc.) that had been part of the initial conversations on the spending plan. Lawmakers are due in Albany on Tuesday through Thursday this week.

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke about income inequality and progressive policy to address it in Nebraska and Iowa last week (he'll be back on the road spreading his gospel this coming weekend, in Wisconsin (see below for details)). De Blasio returned to New York City on Friday and spent part of Saturday on Staten Island, helping kick off little league season and participating in a pre-K "day of action." Also on Saturday, "de Blasio attended the Office of Immigrant Affairs Stakeholders' Roundtable at City Hall this afternoon as part of the Administration's ongoing efforts to deepen coordination and collaboration with advocates across the City," according to his office. The mayor starts his week with one public event, a bill signing ceremony at 4 p.m. at City Hall, during which he'll sign into law "Intro. 421-A, in relation to increased reporting by the Human Rights Commission; Intro. 689-A, in relation to establishing a housing discrimination testing program; Intro. 690-A, in relation to establishing an employment discrimination testing program; Intro. 656, in relation to the establishment of the South Shore business improvement district; and Intro. 497-B, in relation to the interest rate and discount percentage recommendations provided by the New York City Banking Commission."

Comptroller Scott Stringer released a new audit on Sunday: "Animal Care & Control (AC&C) of New York City does not ensure the safety of drugs and vaccines it administers, fails to track them efficiently, operates an overcrowded shelter in Manhattan, and potentially unsafe facilities, according to an audit released today by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer...AC&C, a non-profit corporation, has a 5-year, $51.9 million contract with the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to provide shelter, examine, test, treat, spay, neuter and assure the humane care and disposition of animals in shelters located in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island, along with drop-off centers in Queens and the Bronx." Stringer begins his week with one public event: delivering the "keynote address at the Municipal Forum of New York Luncheon" at The Union League Club, 1 p.m.

Public Advocate Letitia James also has one public event on her Monday schedule: she "co-hosts Healthy Teen Relationships Forum with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Helen Rosenthal" at MacCaulay Honors College.

It's another busy week at the City Council, see below for the day-by-day schedule. Meanwhile, behind the scenes budget negotiations continue between the Council and the mayor after the Council released its preliminary budget response last week and the mayor prepares his executive budget, due out in early May. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito spent the end of the week in Phoenix, where she was sharing information about the city's new municipal identifcation program. Mark-Viverito then returned to the city to vote in her district's participatory budgeting process, which was wrapping up there and in 23 other districts around the city (on Saturday, Mayor de Blasio voted in his home Brooklyn district, represented by Council Member Brad Lander). Mark-Viverito starts her week making an announcement at Baruch College at 11 a.m. on Monday along with reps from Microsoft, CUNY, and Partnership for New York City. She'll also be in Queens with Council Members Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer touring a "Green Workforce Training Lab."

Wednesday is Earth Day. Expect action and announcements and op-eds and more related to environmental issues all week. The City is due to releases its PlaNYC update on Wednesday. We take an in-depth look at the City's relience planning here, and focus in on Staten Island's situation here. Governor Cuomo has declared it "Earth Week" in New York; and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has done the same in his borough.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, see below for our day-by-day overview.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
"2015 Pulitzer Prizewinners and Nominated Finalists will be announced Monday, April 20, 2015, at Columbia University in New York City. The announcement will take place at 3:00 pm eastern daylight time."

On Monday at 10 a.m. "to mark the first anniversary of the Ventanilla de Asesoría Financiera, the Mexican Consulate of New York, the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, and Citi will announce the expansion of the Ventanilla to other Mexican Consulates across the US. The celebration will be the first of several events taking place at the Mexican Consulate as part of Financial Education Week 2015."

At 11 a.m. at 250 Broadway, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, AARP representatives, and others will make an announcement about the CARE Act, legislation aimed at helping New York's caregivers.

Monday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Technology to discuss new bills relating to the translation feature on city websites and requiring that local government websites are accessible to persons with disabilities; a meeting of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations to consider a bill on the community engagement process in the percent for art law;  a join meeting of the Committee on Women’s Issues and the Committee on Civil Service and Labor to consider a bill to "prohibit employers from preventing their employees from discussing salary information" and a bill to create an Office of Labor Standards, as well as resolutions to "grant NYC the authority to enfore State worker protection laws"; support the Wage Theft Prevention Act; support the Paid Family Leave Act; and in support of a bill to prohibit pay differential based on gender.

Monday at noon, the New York State Republican Party will host a lunch with special guest Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Monday evening at Civic Hall, Lawrence Lessig, Van Jones, Zephyr Teachout and MoveOn.org will host a talk on political corruption and why Elizabeth Warren should run for president.

The NYC Bar Association will host a panel discussion on the Child-Parent Security Act. Panelists will include State Senator Brad Hoylman, lead sponsor of the Child-Parent Security Act in the New York Senate; Carol Buell, partner at Weiss, Buell & Bell; Nina Rumbold, partner at Rumbold & Seidelman; and Nathan Schaefer, executive director at Empire State Pride Agenda.

Also Monday evening, the City's Immigrant Heritage Week will include “A discussion on the current status of executive action rollout and the programmatic and advocacy work being done at the local, state, and federal level.” Panelists will include Nisha Agarwal, commissioner at Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; Jorge Moncalvo, director at NYS Office for New Americans; and Jojo Annobil, Attorney-in-charge of the Immigration Law Unit at Legal Aid Society.

Riders Alliance is hosting an event, "How to Move a Pro-Transit Agenda in Albany," featuring Assembly Members Erik Dilan, Robert Rodriguez, and Nily Rozic.

And also on Monday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is attending Central Park Conservancy's ceremonial "First Mow" at 11 a.m. and co-hosting the aforementioned "forum on teen dating violence and promoting healthy relationships with Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Member Helen Rosenthal" at 6 p.m.

Tuesday
Tuesday morning, The Center for New York City Affairs will host Juvenile Justice: Successes and Failures of Close to Home: “Two years ago, New York City launched Close to Home, a groundbreaking juvenile justice reform. Its goal: Providing group home-like detention for juvenile offenders instead of sending them to scandal-plagued Upstate facilities. Is Close to Home living up to its promise? Join us for this installment of the de Blasio series: A conversation with the experts on juvenile justice reform.”

Tuesday’s City Council schedule includes a meeting of the Committee on Health to consider posting of information and warnings regarding anabolic steroids and human growth hormone in locker rooms, and technical changes to certain pet shop requirements; a meeting of the Committee on Economic Development for an oversight hearing regarding the economic impact of the Federal Export-Import Bank in New York City; a meeting of the Committee on Contracts, jointly with the Committee on Housing and Buildings, for an oversight hearing regarding the “Mayor’s Housing Plan: Contractor Employment Practices and Accountability.”

Tuesday afternoon, the state Legislature returns to Albany for the start of the post-budget legislative session.

On Tuesday afternoon, "In honor of the 50th anniversary of the New York City Landmarks Law, members of the press are invited to take a complimentary tour with Borough President Melinda Katz to several prominent Queens landmarks throughout the borough on Tuesday, April 21st. The press tour van will depart the Queens Museum at 2:45 p.m. for the following landmarks (not necessarily in order): Louis Armstrong House in Corona; Kingsland Homestead in Flushing; Quaker Meeting House in Flushing; King Manor in Jamaica; and Addisleigh Park Historic District in St. Albans."

Tuesday evening, “The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York State, will be Food Bank For New York City’s special guest speaker at the 13th Annual Can Do Awards Dinner, presented by Bank of America, at Cipriani Wall Street.  Food Bank For New York City — the city’s major hunger-relief organization working to end food poverty throughout the five boroughs — will honor its partners in the fight against hunger — Tom Colicchio and Lori Silverbush, Stavros Niarchos Foundation and Sandra Lee-Simply Living Publishing.”

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Right to Counsel in Eviction Proceedings will hold its Manhattan Town Hall: “Did you know approximately 300,000 New Yorkers have to go to Housing Court to fight eviction every year? Did you know that while 90% of landlords have attorneys representing them about 90% of tenants do not? Join us to learn about legislation that will give New Yorkers the right to legal representation in NYC’s Housing Courts!”

Also Tuesday evening, Immigrant Heritage Week will include Tenement Talks, “a conversation about impact and legacy of the 1965 Immigration Act.”

Council Member Andy King will host another NYCHA residents “Constituent Services Night” at the Eastchester Gardens Community Center.

And on Tuesday evening at 6 p.m., Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is hosting a "Tenant Protection 101" session at Trinity Lutheran Church.

Wednesday
Wednesday is Earth Day. The de Blasio administration will release its update to PlaNYC, the city's long-term environmental, resilience-planning outline. We preview that release here.

Wednesday at 10 a.m. at City Hall, "City Council Member Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) calls for passage of Res. 375, which calls on New York State to include climate change in the K-12 curriculum." He'll be joined by EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Attorney Eric Goldstein, Global Kids Executive Director Evie Hantzopoulos, Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) Program Manager Maayan Cohen, and others.

And at 2 p.m. in Manhattan: CUNY Divest Earth Day press conference, including City Council Member Steve Levin, Chris Fici of GreenFaith, the Union Theological Seminary, Professor of Finance Charles Allison, The New School, and many others.

Earlier, at 10 a.m., the state Senate Standing Committee on Banks will meet to examine “Predatory Lending Practices within the sub-prime auto loan and auto title loan industry.”

Wednesday, "NYC Votes will hold its second annual #VoteBetterNY Advocacy Day for Election Reform in Albany...NYC Votes will lead a group of nearly 100 concerned citizens urging state legislators to modernize New York's voting system. This year's #VoteBetterNY agenda includes three key reform proposals: Online voter registration; Better ballot design; Early Voting."

At 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Center for an Urban Future and NYATEP will present Making New York’s Workforce Development System More Accountable: how wage reporting data can help the state measure the success of its workforce development system. Featured panelists include Assembly Member Nily Rozic and representatives of several key stakeholders in government, education, and civic life.

The only scheduled City Council meeting for Wednesday will be a hearing of the Committee on Parks and Recreation to discuss a bill regarding the length of the season for city beaches and pools: “this bill would keep public beaches and pools under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department (DPR) open on each weekday until the day before the beginning of each school year and open throughout each weekend until September 30 of each year.”

Wednesday evening, Tina Brown Live Media in association with The New York Times will present The Sixth Annual Women in the World Summit: “The struggles and triumphs of women and girls around the globe come to life in this dynamic three-day summit. World leaders, industry icons, movie stars, and CEOs convene with artists, rebels, peacemakers and activists to tell their stories and share their plans of action. Join the women who have shattered glass ceilings everywhere! More participants to be announced.” Participants will include Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton - Clinton will speak Thursday evening.

City Council Member and congressional candidate (Democrat in NY-11) Vincent Gentile will be participating in a candidates debate on senior issues, at Ft. Hamilton Senior Center in Bay Ridge.

Also Wednesday evening, "Stories of Genocide, Lessons of Tolerance" at the Museum of Tolerance, hosted by City Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Elizabeth Crowley, Mark Levine, and others.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Digital NYC Five Borough Tour will hit Harlem. Panelists will include Clayton Banks, Co-­Founder at Silicon Harlem; Ofo Ezeugwu, CEO & President at WhoseYourLandlord.com; and Sam Sia, Co-Founder at Harlem Biospace.

Wednesday evening, Coro New York Leadership Center will celebrate at its annual gala, this year marking "30 Years of Visionary Leaders," and honoring several including City Council Member Ritchie Torres.

Also Wednesday evening, Vanguard Independent Democratic Association Presents: Young Professionals Networking Mixer "Balancing the Scales of The Criminal Justice System," with guest speaker Public Advocate Letitia James.

Wednesday night, NY Environment Report will celebrate its launch at Maxwell’s Bar & Restaurant in Manhattan. Council Members Donovan Richards and Mark Treyger will join the celebration and deliver remarks: "...they will speak briefly about the release that day of the City's progress report on PlaNYC, and other environmental issues of importance to our city.” Read our latest joint article with NY Environment Report, on the City's preparations for the next big storm(s): Assessing Resilience Planning: Is the City Preparing Smartly for the Rising Risks of Climate Change?

Thursday
Thursday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises;  a meeting of the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services jointly with the Committee on Transportation and the Committee on Aging for an oversight hearing regarding “transportation services for seniors and people with disabilities in New York City” and to consider a resolution “recognizing this and every April as Autism Awareness Month in the City of New York”; a meeting of the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses; a meeting of the Committee on Contracts; and a meeting of the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions.

Thursday starting at 10 a.m., it's TechDay New York hosting TechDay 2015, “the world’s largest startup event.”

Women in the World will continue its 6th annual summit, which starts Wednesday in New York City, where Hillary Rodham Clinton is set to speak Thursday evening.

There will be another candidates forum in the NY-11 congressional race on Thursday evening: "The Federal Budget and 'Front Burner' Domestic Issues" at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brooklyn: "With only a few weeks to go until election day on May 5th, it's vital that we raise awareness about the election, the candidates and their positions on the issues." Sponsoring organizations include Communications Workers of America, Locals 1102, 1109; Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign; New York State Nurses Association; MoveOn; among others.

Starting Thursday,, the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School will host a three-day conference named Global Cities: Joining Forces Against Corruption. Among other experts, advocates, and academics, speakers will include the mayors of Mexico City and Athens; New York City Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters; and Executive Director of Citizens Union Dick Dadey. “CAPI's Global Cities conference will bring together high-level integrity officials from cities worldwide to discuss the challenges of fighting municipal corruption and share successful strategies and best practices. City delegations include: Athens, Barcelona, Chicago, Lima, Lviv, Mexico City, Nairobi, New Orleans, New York City, Perth, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Venice.”

Friday and the weekend
On Friday morning, Governor Cuomo will again speak to a gathering of The Association for a Better New York: "Cuomo will discuss the recently-passed New York State Budget and outline his priorities for the coming year."

Friday, US Attorney Preet Bharara is scheduled to give a keynote address at the Regional Plan Association’s Annual Assembly: “At RPA's 2015 Assembly, we will be holding a series of debates with leading policy makers and innovative thinkers on some difficult policy choices facing our region. Join us on April 24 and weigh in as experts discuss issues that RPA is exploring in our work on the Fourth Regional Plan, a multiyear initiative to plot the course for the region's shared prosperity, sustainability and good governance.”

Also Friday, Fordham Law School will host Sharing Economy, Sharing City: Urban Law and the New Economy, with a keynote by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman: “Trends in the sharing economy have spurred complex legal and regulatory issues that have moved to the center of urban policy debates, from Berlin to Seoul to New York City. As web-based, peer-to-peer companies challenge traditional regulatory paradigms, state and local governments are trying to respond creatively to rapidly changing digital and economic landscapes. This conference will explore the relationship between the sharing (or “peer-to-peer”) economy and economic and community development, consumption, ownership, mobility, and a shifting urban workforce. It will investigate diverse approaches to legal and regulatory issues facing city governments, entrepreneurs, workers, consumers, and residents in today’s dynamic technological and built environments.”

On Saturday morning, the Murphy Institute will host a Political Action Training.

Saturday evening, Mayor Bill de Blasio will deliver a keynote address at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Annual Founders' Day Gala 2015, at the Milwaukee Athletic Club.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Rati Mukhuradze, Marco Poggio, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Categories: State/Local
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