Friday, August 26, 2011

Greene Grime

Another local enterprise has left downtown Catskill. As of Wednesday (8/24) the door closed permanently on Café 355.  Operator Jeffrey Meyers (C.I.A. ‘96) reached the conclusion, after three years of trying, that “I can’t afford to stay open.”  He has taken a job in Albany.  He is vacating a place whose décor is far above ordinary and whose history, as the Mayflower Café under Manny Cominos and then under Doug and Regina Doebler, is rich.   Other local ventures, including coffee shops, are imperiled.

A woman attracted police attention the other day in the Wal-Mart parking lot, as she successively opened fresh bottles of mineral water and poured their contents down a drain.  She was working from a trolley stacked with cases of that liquid, cases that she had bought with food stamps.  She was dumping the contents, she explained, so as to accumulate a supply of returnable bottles.  With enough refunds, at a nickel per bottle, she would then be able to buy a packet of cigarettes.  “And it’s all legal,” she said;  “I’ve checked."
That story comes second-hand from a probably reliable source.  We have not obtained official confirmation.  We would love to print the woman’s name.  We would love to include her, by name, in the ranks of locally suspected

*WELFARE CHEATS.  Our local newspapers have reported that charges related to welfare fraud have lately been lodged against Stephen and Kathleen Salluce of Athens (fraudulently obtaining food stamp benefits, Medicaid benefits, and home energy benefits, to the extent of about $6650); Leanne Smith, of Palenville (theft from Department of Social Services, hence from taxpayers, of $1365 in Medicaid benefits); Vanessa Weiss of Catskill ($605 in Temporary Assistance benefits, $167 in food stamps); Eva Brodsky of Jefferson Heights ($7,149, from the Columbia County welfare office); and Marina Cancell of Catskill and Ronald Thorne of Athens $3547).
Among other cases that have led to formal charges lately in GreeneLand:
*BREAK-INS.  Christopher O’Reilly, 18, of Cairo, and a 17-year old compaion (not identified because of his minor status) face charges on suspicion of breaking into 30 cars at the Earlton Hill Campsites.  According to the police report, they are suspected of taking GPS units, cell phones, satellite radios, and money from the cars to their own campsite.
*MENACING.  Jeremy B. Lee of Tollhouse Road, Catskill, was arrested on reckless-endangerment charges after by sheriff’s deputies responded to a 911 call relating to a domestic dispute.  Deputies reported that Lee fired shots through his front door, refused to come out, eventually did emerge, and appeared to be drunk.
*POT.  Justin Reynolds of Kornell Drive, Haines Falls, was arrested and jailed on several charges  after police officers, responding to a call about a domestic dispute, found a yard and house loaded with marijuana plants, along with cultivation gear.
*BURGLARY.  Matthew Altenau, 23, of Catskill, was charged along with a Saugerties man (Roger Justus III, 28) with burglary of storage units on Route 9W.  Police reported recovering more than $10,000 worth of stolen items. Several lockers were raided during June.  And  Steven D. Shultis, 29, of Cairo faces burglary charges arising from police suspicion that he broke into an abandoned Cementon building and sought to take items, including a mirror and copper pipes.
*RECKLESS PILOTING.  Matthew Devlin of Catskill, pilot of the tugboat Caribbean Sea, pleaded guilty of the offense of mis-operating a maritime vessel, with fatal consequences, after a fatal collision last July on the Delaware River near Philadelphia.  The barge he had been pushing crashed into an amphibious duck boat that was loaded with tourists.  Thirty-seven passengers were flung into the river, and two of them, students from Hungary, were killed.  According to the Associated Press report (Daily Mail, 8/6/11), Devlin said he was distracted by news of a medical emergency incurred by his 5-year old son.  The news drew him into telephone calls from and to his wife Corinne, and into web surfing in quest of information.  He turned off the tug’s radios to talk on the phone, and thus did not receive distress calls sent from the stalled, threatened tourist boat.
The charge against Devlin is the equivalent on land of involuntary manslaughter.  Under Federal guidelines, this would bring a sentence of 37 to 46 month in prison.  Meanwhile, the families of the dead visitors, who were taking part in a church exchange program, have filed wrongful-death lawsuits.
The Devlins’ son, following a prolonged period of oxygen deprivation during eye surgery, has recovered.
*ANIMAL ABUSE.  Robin A. Kelly of Catskill was charged with failing to provide proper nourishment for horses residing in her Bogart Road stable.  According to the police report, as recounted in the local Press, passing motorists noticed the condition of some of the animals and notified Ron Perez, who is president of the Columbia-Greene Humane Society. That alert, said Mr Perez, prompted a series of visits to the stable in quest of improvement. Unsatisfactory response led to a raid in which five of the horses were removed, placed in foster care, and put up for adoption.  For inquiries: (518) 828-6044.
*MOONLIGHTING.  Edward Pebler, the prison correctional officer who also was working as code enforcement officer for the town of Coxsackie, was arrested 11 months ago on felony charges involving falsified time sheets and unauthorized outside work.   Thanks to a plea deal that was not announced until long after the fact, District Attorney Terry Wilhelm reduced the offenses to a misdemeanor and minor cash penalties.  Peculiar behind-the-scenes aspects of the case were chronicled by Daily Mailman Doron Tyler Antrim.  
*DRUNK DRIVING.  Jason M. St. Denis, 24, of Cairo achieved the rare distinction of being arrested twice within a 90-minute interval.  According to a Daily Freeman account of official reports, a State trooper stopped St. Denis on State Route 32 in Catskill, booked him for drunk driving, released him to a third party, and told him not to drive while still drunk.  But 70 minutes later, again on Route 32, Denis again was nabbed on suspicion of driving while drunk, was released again to the care of a third party and told to stay away from the driver’s seat.  Again.

Two troubling stories about GreeneLand’s Industrial Development Agency have earned Press coverage.  Most recently, the Daily Freeman’s Ariel Zangla reported (8/25) on the contents of a confidential agreement relating to remuneration for the I.D.A.’s former executive director, Sandy Mathes.  Mr Mathes, who had held that office since 2002 resigned in May, under pressure from the county legislature, in the wake of controversy over bonuses paid to him by authority of the agency’s board of directors.  Disclosed in the Freeman report were terms of a deal whereby, under agreed conditions, Mr Mathes would be paid $2500 per week, and would receive medical insurance benefits, for six months following his effective date of departure (6/28).  The Freeman story was in the nature of a scoop.  Daily Mailman Jeff Alexander played catch-up to the extent of reporting that the existence of that deal was a surprise to Wayne Speenburgh, the chairman of the county legislature, and that Eric Hogland, chairman of the I.D.A.’s board, said the severance deal was carefully worked out, with “plenty of drafts” written and all board members participating. [Note: as posted on Friday, the account of Sandy Mathes's post-resignation salary said $2500 "per month."  That was wrong]
Which brings us to the second troubling I.D.A. story.  Mr Mathes’s departure was followed soon after by the resignations of three heavyweight board members: Hugh Quigley, Robert Snyder (the chairman) and Martin Smith.  That left a bare majority of four directors.  The task of finding replacements fell, by law, to the county’s legislators.
It is an important task, since the legislators have no direct power over the agency’s operations—no authority over its site development projects, its tax exemption deals, its compacts with prospective resident enterprises.  And yet the responsibility for finding suitable replacement prospects was not assigned by common consent to a search committee or to an individual.  Instead, the names of two nominees eventually appeared on the legislature’s agenda.  The nominations were not accompanied by notes about backgrounds or qualifications.  Opportunity for closed-door discussion was not provided.  And when two legislators raised a question about one nominee, a question based on a previous conflict-of-interest situation, they were accused by Chairman Speenburgh of smearing a good man.
Another seat on the Agency’s board is vacant, and still another will soon be vacant.  Perhaps the search for suitable appointees will be conducted this time in a manner that is methodical and inclusive.  

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