TIMELINES 1/30/14

CSEA: Delhomme misinterpreted labor law to call off snowplows
Representatives with the Civil Service Employees’ Association (CSEA) have contested Spring Valley Mayor Demeza Delhomme’s recent claim that he was legally required to provide a lengthy break for snowplow drivers during the most recent winter storm. In response to public criticism of the decision to pull plows from the roads, Delhomme argued he was required to provide drivers a three hour break after eight consecutive hours of work on January 21. However, CSEA spokeswoman Jessica Ladlee said the union’s contract requires only a one hour break after 12 consecutive hours. DPW workers remarked after the storm that they were perplexed by the decision to send them home and were ready to continue work. Snow plow drivers are typically placed on break a few at a time so some plows are always on the road. The decision, which was reversed after intervention from county and state officials, created even more anger toward the already controversial mayor. Delhomme has earned a reputation for firing village employees and closing public buildings without providing advance notice or justification.

Gunman kills three people at Maryland shopping mall
A gunman opened fire on shoppers in a Columbia mall on Saturday, killing two employees before turning the gun on himself. According to police, Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, fired a 12 gauge shotgun six to eight in the mall’s Zumiez, a store catering to skaters, surfers, and snowboarders, at around 11:15 a.m. He killed Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25 and wounded another unidentified victim in the foot. Aguilar was also found with a substantial amount of ammunition and two homemade explosive devices in his backpack. Police responded within two minutes and secured the scene before clearing the mall by late afternoon and confirming the presence of only one shooter. Police are still looking for a motive for Aguilar’s violent outburst. Past acquaintances recalled Aguilar as a quiet, sensitive student who was not perceived to be violent, though a journal police discovered before the shooting seemed to indicate Aguilar was dissatisfied with his life.

Suffern to host public hearing on Orange Avenue project
A public hearing on a proposed multi-level apartment complex on Orange Avenue in Suffern is set to continue at Suffern’s village hall on the evening of February 3 at 7:30 p.m. The meeting will address a revised plan for the project, which currently stands as a 92 unit, 5 story building with 129 parking spaces. According to local activist James Giannettino, developers plan to ask the town for a $1.2 million mortgage and sales tax break and additional village tax abatements. Giannettino hopes to rally locals to oppose the project, which he argued would be fiscally harmful because it would deprive the village of needed tax revenue. “This and with the Novartis announcement they will be closing in the next 2 years with a loss of another $900,000 in village taxes and $2.5 million in school taxes and unknown town taxes makes this a vital meeting to attend,” Giannettino said.

Michaels retail chain investigates potential hack
Texas-based arts and crafts retailer Michaels is investigating a data breach they stated might have placed customer credit card information in jeopardy. The chain announced on Saturday that they were investigating fraudulent credit card use which mght have been made possible by a cyberattack. Though such a breach has not been confirmed and the number of affected accounts has not been released, Michaels announced it was working with the Secret Service to investigate the breach. If confirmed, Michaels will be the third major retailer affected by criminal cyberattacks targeting customer information. Neiman Marcus and Target both fell victim when malware was installed on the retailers’ computer systems, funneling customer information to servers. The same East European hackers are believed to be behind both attacks.

Two restaurants, four apartments in Sparkill damaged by fire
Four families were forced from their homes on Sunday night after a fire broke out above the Roost Restaurant in Sparkill and spread to the nearby La Bamba restaurant and grocery. Though the cause of the fire is still under investigation, it is known the buildings were all in close proximity to one another. Hence, the fire spread very quickly. Once the area was cleared, 21 adults and 6 children were left homeless. Three of the families were able to find shelter with relatives, while the other was temporarily relocated by the Red Cross.

Westchester police chief arrested for child pornography
Mount Pleasant Police Chief Brian Fanelli was arrested on charges related to child pornography last Thursday in the second major scandal during his tenure as the town’s chief of police. According to Mount Pleasant Town Supervisor Joan Mayberry, federal agents arrested Fanelli for trafficking in child pornography. Sources with Mayberry’s town government and local law enforcement are still attempting to receive information and the U.S. Attorney’s Office managing the case has not commented on specific charges. Fanelli has been suspended with pay while Mayberry considers the appointment of an interim police chief. Mayberry also stated the town intends to fully cooperate with the investigation. Prior to his arrest, Fanelli was best known for his role in an alleged cover-up of the shooting death of Pace University student Danroy Henry Jr. in January 2013. Fanelli was accused of collaborating with former Police Chief Louis Algano to hide critical information related to the shooting.

Conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza indicted for election law violations
Dinesh D’Souza, best known for publishing a series of books critical of liberalism in the United States, was indicted by a federal grand jury last week for violations of campaign contribution law. D’Souza stands charged with reimbursing several individuals for donations they had made to a U.S. Senator Wendy Long’s unsuccessful campaign against Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2012. The individuals then moved the money to Long’s camp as straw donors. The contributions totaled $20,000, many times higher than the $2,500 per candidate limit for primary campaigns and $2,500 limit for general campaigns. According to Long, she was lied to by D’Souza and did not know the true source of the money. D’Souza, a former policy advisor for Ronald Reagan, is known for being at the helm of various conservative groups, authoring books and most recently releasing “2016: Obama’s America,” a film highly critical of the president’s policies.

Governor proposes ban on EBT withdrawals at strip clubs, liquor stores and casinos
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2015 budget proposal will seek to stamp out improper EBT withdrawals which could be used to fund cardholders’ vices rather than their necessities. The proposal will prevent ATMs at adult entertainment outlets, casinos and liquor stores from allowing EBT card withdrawals. EBT fraud has been a persistent problem in New York, exacerbated by the ability for cardholders to withdraw money wherever it is convenient, including locations which would be restricted by the proposal. The costs of EBT misuse could go beyond lost taxpayer money. If the state does not crack down on EBT misuse by February 22, it risks losing $120 million in federal funds provided through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.

Suffern to host public hearing on Orange Avenue project
A public hearing on a proposed multi-level apartment complex on Orange Avenue in Suffern is set to continue at Suffern’s village hall on the evening of February 3 at 7:30 p.m. The meeting will address a revised plan for the project, which currently stands as a 92 unit, 5 story building with 129 parking spaces. According to local activist James Giannettino, developers plan to ask the town for a $1.2 million mortgage and sales tax break and additional village tax abatements. Giannettino hopes to rally locals to oppose the project, which he argued would be fiscally harmful because it would deprive the village of needed tax revenue. “This and with the Novartis announcement they will be closing in the next 2 years with a loss of another $900,000 in village taxes and $2.5 million in school taxes and unknown town taxes makes this a vital meeting to attend,” Giannettino said.

Michael’s retail chain investigates potential hack
Texas-based arts and crafts retailer Michael’s is investigating a data breach they stated might have placed customer credit card information in jeopardy. The chain announced on Saturday that they were investigating fraudulent credit card use which mght have been made possible by a cyberattack. Though such a breach has not been confirmed and the number of affected accounts has not been released, Michael’s announced it was working with the Secret Service to investigate the breach. If confirmed, Michael’s will be the third major retailer affected by criminal cyberattacks targeting customer information. Neiman Marcus and Target both fell victim when malware was installed on the retailers’ computer systems, funneling customer information to servers. The same East European hackers are believed to be behind both attacks.

Two restaurants, four apartments in Sparkill damaged by fire
Four families were forced from their homes on Sunday night after a fire broke out above the Roost Restaurant in Sparkill and spread to the nearby La Bamba restaurant and grocery. Though the cause of the fire is still under investigation, it is known the buildings were all in close proximity to one another. Hence, the fire spread very quickly. Once the area was cleared, 21 adults and 6 children were left homeless. Three of the families were able to find shelter with relatives, while the other was temporarily relocated by the Red Cross.

NY Congressman threatens reporter after State of the Union speech
New York Congressman Michael Grimm, who represents Staten Island in the U.S. House of Representatives, was caught on camera threatening a reporter with physical harm after being asked about alleged violations of campaign financing laws. Grimm was interviewed by New York 1 reporter Michael Scotto regarding President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday evening. When Scotto was preparing to ask about money Grimm allegedly received from a supporter through straw donors, Grimm became defensive and ended the interview. However, after Scotto ended his report, Grimm accosted Scotto, threatening to throw him off the Capitol Building’s balcony and “break [Scotto] in half like a boy.” Though Grimm initially defended his actions by arguing Scotto was acting unprofessionally and took a “cheap shot,” Grimm said on Wednesday that he had called Scotto to apologize. Scotto tweeted that Grimm did call and that he had accepted the apology.

“Blue state advantage” has dropped significantly since 2008, according to new polls
Immediately following the Bush Administration, Democrat held a strong advantage in the states. However, that edge may have been lost over the course of Obama’s tenure. According to new state-level Gallup surveys, Democrats once held a 30-state party affiliation advantage over Republicans. However, that advantage stood at only three states in 2013. The surveys show the majority of states fell away between 2009 and 2010, when the number dropped from 28 to 12. In 2011, the advantage was down to only one state and saw a brief rally up to seven in 2012 before dropping again. Though Republicans seem to be in a good position to make gains, they are not on a clear path to dominance. Republican Party identification stands at a 25-year low, while voter identification as independents is at a 25-year high. More Americans identify as Democrats than Republicans, as well. Both California and New York, the most and fourth-most populous states are heavilopy.

“Zombie Bees” make an appearance in the Northeast
A type of insect larva which produces so-called “zombie bees” has been found in Vermont. It is the first sighting of the pest in the Northeast. Burlington beekeeper Anthony Cantrell discovered larva of the Apocephalus borealis fly species in one of his hives. The fly lays eggs in a bee, which hatch and cause neurological damage to the bee, causing erratic movements and nighttime activity reminiscent of a horror movie monster. The parasite is common in California, South Dakota and the Pacific Northwest and is more known for attaching to bumblebees rather than honeybees. Though Cantrell stated the discovery was disconcerting, it is a relatively minor threat compared to other parasites and pathogens impacting beehives.

Director of National Intelligence wants NSA documents back
National Intelligence Director James Clapper repeated calls for stronger cyber-security and prosecution of whistleblowers on Wednesday and had a bold request for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden: Give back the leaked documents. Clapper repeated his previous claims that the leaks damaged national security and exposed critical programs to the prying eyes of terrorist networks while alienating allies. At the same time, he demanded that Snowden, who recently stated he had accomplished his goal of drawing attention to U.S. surveillance programs, return the documents he stole from the NSA. Clapper reasoned that because Snowden had done what he had set out to do, there was no need for retaining the massive number of documents he had taken from his former employers. “Snowden claims that he has won and his mission is accomplished,” Clapper said. Clapper also used the event as a way to draw attention to existing and emerging threats in Middle Eastern conflict zones as well as cyber-security threats from nations like China and Russia.

Rockland has third lowest unemployment rate in the state
Unemployment in the 52 upstate counties dropped two percentage points over the past year, falling from 8.4 to 6.4 percent, according to new figures from the State Labor Department. The drop is good news for the upstate region, which has struggled with unemployment following the loss of manufacturing jobs in major population centers and rural poverty. With a 4.9 percent unemployment rate, Rockland County ranked third lowest in the state, with Tompkins at the top and Nassau and Putnam Counties tied for second. The 10 downstate counties showed a drop in unemployment from 8.2 percent to 6.7 percent. Overall, New York had a 7.1 percent unemployment rate in December, which is down from 7.4 percent in November.