George W. Bush Library Dedicated in Dallas
Current president Barack Obama joined former commander-in-chief George W. Bush and several former presidents at the dedication ceremony for the presidential library which bears Bush’s name on April 25, marking an unusually nonpartisan display for high-profile Democrats and Republicans. Attendees included former presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush Senior and Bill Clinton as well as major figures from Bush Administration including Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell and Karl Rove. Obama expressed respect and appreciation for the difficulties of former presidents, given his own experiences in the White House, a stark difference from prior comments referring to “failed policies” enacted by Bush. Speakers made few references to the more controversial aspects of Bush’s tenure, though Bush did jokingly refer to “plenty of opportunities” during his term to exercise the right to disagree with the president.
U.S. Senator Gillibrand Promotes Farming Bill in Pomona
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited Concklin Farm in Pomona to announce her support for the Local Farms and Food Act, a federal bill which will aid small farmers such as the Concklin Family and promote local food production. The bill will provide $150 million to food production and distribution networks used by small farms, incentivize locally-grown foods for elderly, student and low income populations and allow farmers easier access to credit and insurance. Gillibrand co-sponsored the bill when it was introduced in 2011 and has continued her support as a new draft of the bill is expected to reach the Senate floor in June. The farm was a particularly relevant location to present the plan. The Concklin family has tilled the plot of land since 1712, making it a Rockland’s oldest farm. The county purchased the plot in 2002 and allowed continued operations as part of an effort to preserve existing farmland.
Fire at Stony Point Marina Destroys Houseboat
A fire at the Minisceongo Yacht Club in Stony Point on April 23 ripped through a houseboat owned by Raymond Testasecca, 71, destroying the vessel but causing no injuries or further damage to the marina. The fire began when Testasecca, a boater for 25 years and resident of Fort Lee, NJ, attempted to shut off the boat’s engine, which caused an explosion and prompting him to flee to the dock. Stony Point police, Stony Point Fire Department, and the Rockland Sheriff’s Marine and Arson units arrived on the scene but could not save the boat, which burnt from the inside out and had to be removed from the water after the flames subsided. Police have ruled the fire to be accidental, with Testasecca suggesting the possibility of a gas leak.
New Religious School in Ramapo Prompts Calls for Further Review
Residents of the Village of Hillcrest are objecting to a new religious school on Eckerson Lane, stating they were not given adequate notice of its construction and arguing the school would add congestion and noise to the neighborhood. The school, which will teach Orthodox Jewish boys age 7 to 13, will be temporarily located in a renovated three story house on Eckeron, with future additions which will accommodate about 250 students. Residents complained that they were not notified of the plans until reconstruction of the house began and that the school would introduce noise and parking issues from school buses as well as alter drainage patterns. So far, the school has received two stop-work orders for construction without a permit, the most recent being in December 2012. However, Ramapo Chief Building Inspector Anthony Mallia has since granted the congregation running the school an application for the temporary use for the house.
Parents Object to State Plan to Compile Student Information
New York State parents are launching a movement against Race to the Top, a state plan voluntarily accepted by individual school districts which critics claim could lead to data mining of students’ personal information. As part of the plan, information which includes attendance, test scores, special education status and disciplinary records would be placed in a statewide data portal. Parents have also expressed concern over the availability of the records to InBloom, a private education company which is aiding the state in setting up the portal, and raised the issue of security of student records given InBloom’s admission that though they pursue the highest standards, security is not 100% guaranteed. In response, state officials stressed the new system would be more secure than current systems in individual districts and no information would be made available to private companies for marketing purposes. However, the state still faces an uphill battle, with State Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti (D-Tarrytown) co-sponsoring state legislation requiring parental consent before data can be shared.
School Board Election in East Ramapo
Six people are running for three open positions at East Ramapo Central School District—and it is the first time in decades where the candidates are not from the Orthodox Jewish community. The candidates running for the May 21 election, however, have been focused on how they would communicate with the Orthodox Jewish board, which will still reign regardless of how the election ends up. Three alternative candidates have resigned since the beginning of the year. The Orthodox Jews are one side, while public school children’s parents are on the other, claiming that the board majority has been illegally giving public funds to the yeshivas. In recent years, when the Orthodox Jewish candidates began on board, funds have dwindled dramatically. Next year’s school budget calls for cutting staff such as art or music teachers.
Cuomo Releases Anti-Corruption Bill
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has issued a bill on April 29 that would ban those who are convicted of bribing a police officer or other public official fro state business for life as well as bar their company or law firm. If the law is passed, significant companies—such as ones reliant on long-term financial state dealings—would suffer.
Carlucci Visits Pennsylvania, Vows Harder Fight Against Hydrofracking in New York
State Senator David Carlucci toured drilling sites and visited families in Montrose, Pennsylvania while promising to push harder for a thorough review of the effects of hydrofracking in New York. Carlucci explained how homeowners had lost their access to clean drinking water and faced noise and air pollution as hydrofracking continued in the county, which has only 32,000 residents. Hydrofracking involves the use of chemical mixtures which are pumped into cracks in the earth, releasing natural gas but also potentially leaking chemicals into groundwater when the wells aren’t properly secured, as residents claim occurred in Montrose. Prior to the visit, Carlucci had been highly skeptical of hydrofracking in New York State. With the Independent Democratic Caucus, he introduced a bill in the state senate to stall hydrofracking activity for two years while more studies are conducted. The bill is currently being reviewed by the senate’s rules committee.
Written Records Pose Challenge for Spring Valley Corruption Probe
The ongoing investigation into alleged bribery of Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and former deputy mayor Joseph Desmaret has been somewhat hindered by the village’s lack of accesibledigital records. According to town officials, federal subpoenas have been difficult to comply with because the requests could only be found by manually searching paper records, a time-consuming process. District Attorney Thomas Zugibe explained what could have been a simple matter with searchable digital records had been severely complicated and presented a problem for prosecutors. According to Zugibe, a lack of searchable databases also allows corruption to easily go unnoticed because any investigation would be forced to sort through mountains of records, making any paper trail difficult to follow. The records would not only save significant amounts of time and money, but might be a safety asset as well. A Newsday investigation discovered that there were significant blind spots in Spring Valley records, including a failure to conduct fire inspections since 2000.
Gun Manufacturers Begin Moving to States with More Relaxed Restrictions
Following new state laws restricting gun ownership and limiting business prospects, gun manufacturers in two states have already decided to transfer their operations to other states with more relaxed regulations. PTR Industries, Stag Arms and Mossberg & Sons announced plans to leave Connecticut in response to a bill which will expand the scope of the state’s assault weapons ban, limit high-capacity magazines, create a database for dangerous weapons offenders and establish eligibility rules for buying ammunition. Meanwhile, Magpul Industries in Colorado has announced its intent to leave the state after the passage of a law banning magazines holding more than 15 rounds and requiring background checks for online gun sales. The moves will have a tangible effect on Connecticut and Colorado’s economies as well, with a loss of 3,000 jobs and an estimated $1.75 billion in taxable revenue in Connecticut and 200 jobs and an estimated $85,000 in taxable revenue in Colorado.
Tax Reductions Expected for Sandy-Affected Stony Point Homeowners
As Stony Point mails out its findings from its 2013 Tentative Property Assessment to homeowners, those affected by Sandy will learn if they are eligible for tax relief in accordance with their property values. According to the assessments, 45 homes will receive reductions ranging from 10 to 100 percent, lowering their value and opening the way for tax reductions. Town Supervisor Geoffrey Finn explained the total value of the assessment reductions tallies to less than $1 million, reducing the town’s total assessed value by 0.3 percent but impacting taxpayers only minimally. “It’s the least the town can do, and it shouldn’t be such a burden to the rest of the Stony Point taxpayers because that money would be spread out throughout the whole town,” Finn said. The completion of the assessment came shortly before Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced final federal approval for $1.7 billion in funds for a recovery action plan geared toward helping homeowners and businesses recover. The plan includes $3 million for Rockland residents.
Family of Boston Bombers Received Significant Sum from Welfare Payments
The state of Massachusetts has recently handed over more than 500 documents to the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee regarding more than $100,000 in cash, food stamps and Section 8 housing which was given to the Tsarnaev family, whose two sons participated in the Boston Marathon bombings. Though records were not publically released and were directly inaccessible to the press, one of the people who handed the documents over to the committee referred to the amount of assistance as “stunning.” The committee is expected to call in officials from the Department of Transitional Assistance to give testimony. Meanwhile, the DTA began its own investigation focusing on the full history of the family’s benefits and whether the family notified the Department about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s extended trip to Russia, where he was suspected to have met with Islamist radicals.