Timelines 5/16/13

Big Changes Planned for Rockland Polling Places
In response to concerns about the safety of polling locations, Rockland County Election Commissioner Louis “Butch” Babcock announced changes and security improvements which will be made in response to observations made during visits to polls to check for disability access. According to Babcock, some polling places have been moved completely to address concerns about their location in schools, where children may be exposed to threats from strangers who must walk the hallways to reach bathrooms or other amenities. Three alerts will be sent to Rockland voters to notify them of the alterations, which will reduce the number of polls from 80 to 68 and save $4,200 per day by cutting both voting machine delivery and machine tech costs. Westchester polling officials have received similar complaints, prompting Westchester County Election Commissioner Doug Colety to push a state law requiring school closures on Election Day.

State Pension Fund Hits All-Time High
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced on May 13 that New York State’s Common Retirement Fund has hit a record high of $160.4 billion. According to DiNapoli, the fund has proven profitable, with a 10.38 percent rate of return and is expected to climb in the future from its current $160.4 billion figure. The greatest returns came from the asset classes of Domestic Equities, which had a 14.48 percent rate of return, and Global Equities, which had a 13.88 percent rate. The fund provides benefits to over one million state and local government employees and currently ranks as the third-largest public pension fund in the country.

Sheriff’s Office Begins Crackdown on Unlicensed Contractors
County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef announced on May 9 that the county Sheriff’s Department would begin a pilot plan to crack down on unlicensed contractors operating in the county. The plan, which has received support from County Legislator Chris Carey and the Rockland County Builders’ Association, involves investigations of unlicensed contractor complaints. Upon request, police will check to ensure contractors have a current and valid county contractor’s license and act accordingly if they discover they are operating without one. The initiative emerged from close cooperation between law enforcement officials and lawmakers, with significant input from Carey, the Rockland County Office of Consumer Protection, and the Rockland County Sheriff’s Office. Enforcement will begin at some point in early May.

Charity Law Reform proposed by New York Attorney General
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman joined state legislators in a push for the Nonprofit Revitalization Act and the Executive Compensation Reform Act, the first major reforms to state charity laws in over 40 years. Schneiderman explained the reforms’ goals were to eliminate red tape, enhance charity functions and strengthen oversight. Part of the intent is to restore confidence in charities, which have recently been rocked by New York’s recent corruption scandal and other instances of abuse by public officials and other charity administrators. However, the legislation is also aimed at restoring charities, which incurred significant losses from recent financial and economic difficulties and the strain of natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. The charity overhaul has received significant bipartisan support, with Senators Michael Ranzenhofer and Carl Marcellino and Assembly Members Jim Brennan, Helene Weinstein and Steve Englebright all showing their support by proposing and sponsoring the bills in the legislature.

Fried Revealed to have Two More Felons as Former Financial Backers
Recently-unearthed campaign finance documents revealed Rockland County executive candidate and former Spring Valley judge, David Fried, received about one third of his total campaign donations for his failed state assembly bid from men thereafter convicted of corruption-related felonies. The documents showed that $18,800 of Fried’s $61,719.91 in donations came from Moses Stern, the center of the current bribery probe which ensnared Spring Valley mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret, Gregg Brie, who is serving a nine year sentence for stealing $2.13 million from 26 people as he ran a referral service on businesses, and Richard Lipsky, who was convicted of passing a bribe to former state Senator Carl Kruger. $7,800 of the money came from Brie, while $1,000 came from Lipsky. In addition, Brie threw a fundraiser for Fried in 2006. Brie also donated smaller amounts to Senator David Carlucci, Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, late Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, Hillburn and Airmont Village Justice Karen Riley, and County Legislator and fellow county executive candidate Ed Day. In spite of past financial support from the shady characters, Fried vowed to remain in the race, calling the 2006 race “so far removed” and asking if others would know which of their associates would be imprisoned years from now?

Spring Valley Mayoral Candidate Bernard Charles Skips NAACP Forum for Hasidic Event
Temporary East Ramapo school board member and Spring Valley mayoral candidate Bernard Charles has been receiving flak for skipping a March 9 community forum hosted by the NAACP to campaign at a Hasidic-oriented event at Boulder Stadium. The forum aimed to bring together mayoral candidates for a discussion with 125 black and Latino residents. Charles, whose father was president of the NAACP, was instead spotted chatting and handing out Yiddish fliers on the upcoming school elections to men attending the Boulder Stadium event on the perceived dangers of the internet. Charles is not likely to win points with Spring Valley’s black and Latino communities, which have been at odds with Hasidim over the state of the East Ramapo School District. The district’s school board, which has a Hasidic majority, has cut deep into school finances. It has subsequently faced strong criticism for allegedly supporting private religious schools at the expense of public schools.

Appeal Sought for State Ruling in favor of Patrick Farm Development
Opponents to the proposed 497 unit multi-family Patrick Farm housing development in the Town of Ramapo expressed confidence in an appeal after a state Supreme Court justice ruled in favor of the Town of Ramapo and project developers on Thursday. Justice Thomas Walsh dismissed three lawsuits filed by Milton and Sonya Shapiro, Elizabeth Youngewirth and the Village of Pomona, explaining the plaintiffs’ claims of the town planning board’s improper evaluation of environmental risks and alleged political connections to developers lacked merit. Ramapo Organized for Sustainability and a Safe Aquifer, which has been leading efforts against the development, has vowed to appeal the decision. Director Suzanne Mitchell argued the basis of the ruling was thin, unspecific and consequently weak. The project has faced years of delays from legal challenges and regulatory demands. Aside from the lawsuits, the project’s final subdivision and site-plan approval has been contested by an Article 78 appeal submitted by ROSA. Developers are also waiting on final approvals from the state Department of Environmental Conservation for dam work and from the Department of Transportation for roadwork.

Advisory Board Recommends Demolition and Rebuilding of Sandy Hook School
The Sandy Hook Task Force, which was tasked with deciding the fate of the school building where Adam Lanza killed 26 people, including 20 children, in December 2012, has recommended demolishing and rebuilding the structure. After a unanimous vote, the Task Force decided the best way to heal some of the emotional wounds of the shooting was to completely tear down and rebuild the structure. The matter will need to pass a school board vote and public referendum before it receives final approval. The Task Force had looked at plans to renovate or rebuild Sandy Hook at a different site, but ultimately decided against them. Since the massacre, children who had attended the school were transferred to nearby Chalk Hill Middle School, which had been partially outfitted as an elementary school.

First New York Resident Arrested Under New Gun Control Law
Gregory D. Dean Jr., 31, became one of the first men to be arrested under New York’s SAFE Act when police caught him with a legally-registered gun with an illegal number of rounds in the weapon’s magazine Dean was stopped by State Troopers on Route 22 in Columbia County Sunday night for driving with a broken license plate lamp. The troopers noticed a .40 caliber handgun on the passenger seat under a sweatshirt. Upon inspection, they discovered the magazine was holding nine bullets, two more than the state maximum of seven per magazine. Though the pistol itself was legally registered, police charged Dean with two misdemeanors including unlawful possession of certain ammunition feeding devices, third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation and other vehicle infractions. He was released without bail and is expected to appear in court on May 23.

“House of Horrors” Doctor Gosnell Found Guilty
Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit B. Gosnell, 72, was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder on Monday in a ruling hailed by both sides of the abortion debate. Gosnell was arrested in 2011 and charged with “snipping” the spines of three newborns shortly after their delivery. He has previously been convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2009 for the death of Karnamaya Mongar, to whom Gosnell’s aids administered an unintentionally lethal dose of sedatives. Pro-life activists hailed the conviction as a victory, arguing that it highlighted an arbitrary discrepancy between the rights of infants and the unborn. Pro-choice activists, however, presented the case as an example of how unethical abortion-providers should be addressed by the law and the importance of providing safe, legal access to abortion services. Gosnell will return to court on May 21 for a jury hearing on whether or not he should face the death penalty, which remains legal in Pennsylvania.

Australian Woman Imprisoned for Eight Months in United Arab Emirates for Reporting Rape
An Australian woman working at a hotel in the United Arab Emirates recently recounted to Yahoo 7 News her story of being jailed for eight months after reporting her own gang rape to authorities. Alicia Gali explained she was working and living at a hotel owned by Starwood Hotels at the Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort in the UAE when she was drugged and sexually assaulted by three of her colleagues. However, after reporting the incident, police instructed her to sign an Arabic document she later learned was a confession to drinking alcohol and having sex outside of marriage, both of which are illegal in the UAE. Upon release, Gali filed a lawsuit against the hotel and the Australian Embassy, which she claimed offered no assistance. Starwood Hotels explained that it “worked diligently” on Gali’s behalf and that the men responsible were arrested for the crime, served prison sentences and were deported.

Tompkins Cove Resident Receives Honors for Work in Uganda
Tompkins Cove resident Shane Warner, 22, was profiled before his commencement ceremony at Binghamton University for his volunteer work in the African nation of Uganda. Warner, the captain of the school’s Lacrosse team, travelled to Kampala, Uganda with about a dozen other high school and college students and adults in the summer of 2012 as part of a program held by Fields of Growth. While overseas, he held lacrosse clinics for local youths, visited an orphanage and juvenile center and helped to build a new school. After the 17 day trip, Warner continued his work by enlisting the aid of his teammates to raise $600 for the new school. In addition to being profiled by Binghamton, he has also been named a finalist for the Yeardley Reynolds Love (“YRL”) Unsung Hero Award, which is awarded annually to male and female lacrosse players who serve as “an inspiration to her/his team both on the field and off’.”

Topsoil Ignites Brush Fire in Sloatsburg
A power surge in the first week of May exposed the potential hazards of a topsoil site in Sloatsburg, where low-hanging power lines run the risk of damage. The incident began when E. DeMarino & Sons Trucking & Topsoil dump truck snagged a power line, damaging some insulation and causing a flash of energy to spread through the system to Sloatsburg, where it ignited a brushfire on Seven Lakes Drive. The line was an Orange & Rockland transmission line and was not directly linked to any customer lines. Orange & Rockland spokesman Mike Donavan explained that this was the latest incident illustrating a need to move the topsoil site. According to Donovan, the low-hanging power lines require a certain amount of clearance from traffic, but the site’s elevated landscape alters the clearance needed for trucks and creates an elevated risk of accidents.

Westchester Housing Lawsuit Might Require Federal Resolution
Communications Director for the Westchester County Executive Ned McCormack explained that a May 10 letter from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development might require resolution in federal court over demands from the settlement of a 2009 fair housing lawsuit. The letter was the most recent rejection by the HUD of a zoning plan analysis for 31 high-income, mostly white communities in Westchester and a request for a revised plan to be submitted by June 10. McCormack explained the HUD’s demands were too stringent and would hurt low-income and homeless residents, while the HUD claims the plan is meant to create more equity in a county which they argued has not done enough to fight housing discrimination. If Westchester does not cooperate, HUD has threatened to cut $7.4 million in federal funding, most of which would not be going to the 31 homes in the agreement. In response, a lawsuit was brought by Westchester, which pointed to six housing studies reaffirming County Executive Robert Astorino’s position that discrimination is not a problem. The dispute will likely be examined by Judge Cote on June 14 if a resolution is not reached.

Reduced Driving Rates Could Mean Changes for Country’s Infrastructure
A new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund revealed that as Baby Boomers age out of the use of cars, the driving rates in the U.S. are likely to drop, meaning greater investment will be necessary for public transportation. Straphangers Campaign senior attorney Gene Russianoff explained that as Boomers stop using cars and Millennials continue to favor public transportation, the country will need to expand and improve public transit to accommodate both groups. Senior Analyst at the U.S.PIRG Education Fund Phineas Baxandall added that as Millenials continue to age, the number of them using public transportation will probably climb even higher. The report seems to suggest that the driving boom of the late 20th century has largely ended with higher gas prices, an emphasis on urban rather than suburban development and a stable high point to rising rates of women entering the workforce.

Blacks Voted at Higher Rate than Whites in 2012 Election
Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (The National Coalition) and convener of Black Women’s Roundtable issued the following statement in response to a U.S. Census Bureau report released yesterday finding that about two in three eligible blacks (66.2 percent) voted in the 2012 presidential election, higher than the 64.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites who did so. This marks the first time that blacks have voted at a higher rate than whites since the Census Bureau started publishing statistics on voting.

Fire in Garnerville
Beware of candles. It appears, according to Fire Inspector Fred Viohl, that a candle ignited curtains and started a fire on Main St. in Garnerville on Monday. The residents, a family of two adults and six children, will be forced to find other shelter until the first floor of the home undergoes repairs and the second floor is aired out from water damage incurred.