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Tempers flare as jail bond passes

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    Robert Tomlinson, of Catskill, far left, addresses lawmakers during a Greene County Legislature Public Safety Committee meeting about the jail resolution.
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    Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden, left, explains how the bond for the new jail project was reduced to $39 million, as Legislator Aidan O’Connor Jr., D-Durham, listens.
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    Residents packed the Greene County Office Building for the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee meeting where a $39 million bond to pay for the new jail project was passed 5-3.
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    Neva Wartell, of Catskill, center, comments on the new Greene County Jail project before, pictured from left, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden and Legislators Aidan O’Connor Jr., D-Durham, Thomas Hobart, R-Coxsackie, Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, and Kevin Lennon, D-Catskill.
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    Alex Wernquest, of Catskill, left, addresses lawmakers during the Greene County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee meeting as Legislator Pat Linger, R-New Baltimore, listens.
September 6, 2018 03:39 pm Updated: September 6, 2018 05:13 pm

CATSKILL — For the second time this year, the Greene County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee approved a bond resolution Wednesday to help pay for a new county jail in Coxsackie, but not without comment from residents.

The vote was 5-3 in favor of the resolution.

Legislators William Lawrence, R-Cairo; Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie; Harry Lennon, D-Cairo; Pat Linger, R-New Baltimore; and Legislature Chairman Kevin Lewis voted yes.

Legislators Kevin Lennon, D-Catskill; Lori Torgersen, D-Windham; and Aidan O’Connor Jr., D-Durham, voted no.

The Finance Committee on May 14 shelved a resolution to authorize a bond worth $51.4 million for a new county jail, opting instead to explore cost savings. The bond amount was reduced to $39 million due to $4 million in cuts to the jail’s design and the county’s ability to offset project costs by using its fund balance — leftover funds amassed from budgets of previous years — to reduce the amount the county has to borrow. This past year’s fund balance was $11 million.

THE PUBLIC ERUPTS

Before and after the resolution passed, residents shared their concern, sometimes angrily, about the project’s costs. Many who spoke confronted legislators about their perceived lack of interest in public feedback.

The county doesn’t have the money to pay for the project and costs will be closer to $90 million in the future, Scott Myers, of Catskill, said, adding that not much crime is committed to warrant a new jail.

“Nobody does the math. It’s particularly bizarre,” Myers said. “There’s something sick going on in this county.”

Legislator Lee Palmateer, D-Athens, asked Lawrence for lawmakers not to take public comment because otherwise nothing would be accomplished, he said.

“There’s one instance right there of hearing the same thing we’ve heard 10 times already,” Palmateer said of Myers’ comment.

Melanie Flannery, of Catskill, asked Palmateer a simple question.

“Is it really annoying to do your job and listen to the public?” Flannery said.

Flannery was disappointed with lawmakers because they are public servants but did not seem interested in hearing from their constituents, she said later.

“I thought it was shameful how little so many members of the legislature were interested in listening to their public,” she said. “Everything has been for the sheriff and not for the people.”

The bond was reduced to $39 million, but construction costs are projected to be $55 million, Neva Wartell, of Catskill, said.

“Is that information available to the public? Is that information like that even available to your legislators?” Wartell said. “This is called risk, financial risk.”

Viable alternatives, such as funding a $30,000 feasibility study of a shared jail concept with Columbia County, haven’t been explored, Wartell said.

“How can you call yourselves responsible legislators?” she said. “Those of you who are going to be leaving, who are not coming back for another term, this is the legacy that you want to leave?”

Robert Tomlinson, of Catskill, asked lawmakers to give the public 20 minutes to address their concerns in a respectful manner.

“You have enough evidence that there’s serious concern about what’s being done,” Tomlinson said. “You’ve spent hours, let’s spend another 20 minutes.”

Lawmakers agreed to meet at 6 p.m. Sept. 17 prior to the legislature’s Finance Committee meeting for residents to comment. Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, asked the public to come prepared.

“Come with your pencils sharpened, have numbers for Finance on what you see, not a 10-minute speech,” Bulich said.

AFTERMATH

The county could be spending money on more important items than a jail, Steve Schmitz, of Catskill, said.

“Invest in education, not jails, invest in hospitals, not jails,” Schmitz said.

Phoebe Potter, of West Kill, was a member of the Alternatives to Incarceration panel and thinks many residents aren’t aware of the issues surrounding the jail project, she said after the meeting.

“It’s financially irresponsible,” Potter said of the project costs.

Kate Reinke, of Windham, will attend the Sept. 17 meeting, but was appalled by the behavior of some legislators, she said.

“I was upset how disinterested they were in hearing public comment,” she said.

LEGISLATORS’ REACTIONS

Linger is pleased with the passage of the resolution because it should have been voted on 18 months ago, he said Thursday.

“We’re losing a significant amount of money in delay,” he said.

Residents can contact Linger by phone and email to ask questions or attend the bimonthly New Baltimore Town Board meetings to address their concerns.

“I’m answering questions all year long and everybody has that same opportunity,” he said.

Legislator Linda Overbaugh, R-Catskill, isn’t a member of the Public Safety Committee, but she is confident the bond resolution will pass the Finance Committee, she said.

“As much as people say we haven’t done our due diligence, we’ve been doing this for five and a half years and we’ve talked to everybody we know,” she said Thursday.

Overbaugh will listen to residents’ concerns at the upcoming public hearing, but will not entertain a rehashing of the same points, she said.

“If it gets to be out of hand again, I’m just going to get up and leave,” Overbaugh said.

O’Connor voted against the bond resolution because the county cannot afford it, he said Thursday.

“We have had other options that our legislature could have explored to determine their viability, yet they were voted down,” O’Connor said. “As stewards of tax payer dollars, we must be more responsible.”

Residents’ taxes will rise and important services will be cut in order to pay for the jail, O’Connor said.

“We need to be very targeted and unified in a long-term sustainable year-round growth plan for Greene County,” he said.

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email dzuckerman@thedailymail.net or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.

Comments
Tonight Greg Seeley confronted me in the Administration office, said he’d place me in handcuffs. He said this 5 times. I returned to the meeting and passed out my 10 page set of papers about the FOILs and jail bond disaster. I thanked the new undersheriff, said I want him to replace Greg Seeley and will assist for that result. I am afraid. I’m afraid because I’ve already experienced the abuses of Greg Seeley and Michael Spitz.

This is the level of confrontation it seems to take. It’s animal like at this level. It’s exactly the same treatment I’ve experienced in the 10 arrests and 6 1/4 years cummulatively of jail and prison. I took my cases to trial here and won each of them. I formed the motions and deposed the witnesses and I managed the appeals. I removed judges and lawyers acting pro se in each instance. I was put in solitary confinment here in Greene County for 1 month, 1 month and 3 months. In prison I was sent to solitary confinement in Attica for 5 months, for sending motion practice to opposing counsel. While there I joined Peoples v. Fisher. Fisher was the chair of DOCCS. Fisher was fired. The case became Peoples v. Annucci. Annucci was the new acting chair of DOCCS. I filed an Amicus Brief in the case, which involved misuse of solitary confinement. Cuomo settled the case for 90 million, the corrections union did not participate but had to follow the order. The misuse of solitary confinement was overhauled.

This past week saw denials by Ed Kaplan of normal FOIL requests. This is a “discovery” period to gather correct information, such as the actual cost of the monster in Coxsackie. When he denied 5 FOILs I sued in what’s called an Article 78 Mandamus. He filed opposition to the poor person petition, gathered 4 affidavits from staff in the 411 building saying I’m not indigent. I am indigent. I’m indigent because of the 10 arrests. Kaplan declined to give me a copy of the opposition papers. I found them on the clerk’s computer, paid $9 to print them out. 25¢ a page. I spent the afternoon writing my response. Then I went to the “safety” meeting.

I will go to court tomorrow with my response to Kaplan’s papers. Interestingly, his staff were instructed not to give their last name. My affidavit saying they refussed to give me a copy, of the papers they wrote, says exactly that.

This is a good test of our system. It is a sign the system needs fixing. I’ll do that. I don’t do this alone, which is a reason so many are so involved. Neva’s radio program yesterday with Insha from Vera Institute, Lori, Mary and Greg, was salient. It is exactly truth, not my truth or someone elses truth, just truth.

So tomorrow, instead of yoga with Lex Gray, I’ll file the response papers. This will grant the poor person relief and open the Article 78 Mandamus for litigation. The denied FOIL material is already subpoened. I want, and entitled to, the payment records to Ricci-Greene, the list and amounts of payments on the jail so far, and a trial on the issues involving the vioollation of County Law 217. The Sheriff’s office has to remain in Catskill unless it’s on a public referrendum and is passed.

I’ve asked for damages of $20,000, $10,000 for each of two instances. If Fisher is not able to manage this case she will need to recuse. I’ve already placed a motion for her to recuse if she cannot adjudicate without bias. I’d prefer the Article 78 go to Ulster County, to Julian Schreibman. He ran the Grand Juries there against the abuses of their jail project.

We obviously don’t need a new jail, we need new staff.

Am I all right? Actually, no. This stuff is horrible. It’s necessary and there’s traction. I had the senate hearings with Judge Kavanaugh on in the background while I worked. He works in soup kitchens and aids the homeless. He is knowledgable of the law and seems humble. I know enough about court to imagine I would succeed if I was arguing a case before him.

I’m grateful for your concern, and as grateful for your deep, real, sustained participation. I’m more determined than ever.

Love,

Scott Myers
(518) 291-8169
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Linda Overbaugh has been called by me and contacted by email. She has never acknowledged or responded. She is arrogant, negligent, anti-democratic, and unable to answer truthfully. I live in Catskill Village and she is supposed to be responsive as one of my elected representatives.

Jon Phillips
Catskill

As for the process that was followed at this committee meeting, it was contemptuous of the voters and revealed the low regard for tax payers or their rights and priorities held by jail advocates like Mr. Martinez who behaves as if he stands to personally profit from some of this jail building activity. This is a situation that calls for some closer scrutiny before the multi-million dollar overrun and bankruptcy with cost over runs occurs, not after it's too late.

There has been no proper due diligence pursued by the Green County Legislature - they have not taken competitive bids, they have ignored academic experts and have not consulted professional bond underwriters to look at the structure of their county debt and advise as to whether they will be able to afford what they propose. They have neglected to incorporate or utilize the current county needs but have instead allowed the Sheriff to supply numbers that are double the rate of what is called for.

We are headed for a debacle if the GCL proceeds to authorize this insanity.
It should also be mentioned, on top of all the additional negative messages being sent out by the Greene County Legislature, that the October 19th meeting is apparently set for the highest holy day in the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement.

Here, GCL, freely provided below is the link to all the Jewish High Holy Days for your use and convenience. Unfortunately, the GCL is already been made aware of this scheduling conflict and refuses to address it.
https://www.hebcal.com/holidays/2018-2019

If the GCL makes the fatal mistake of authorizing this crippling debt and bankrupting Greene County instead of nourishing it, they will have much to atone for.
$39 million at 3.5% for 30 years is a monthly payment is
$175,127 or $2,101,524 per year and
$63,045,720 cumulatively for 30 years

BUT, add operation costs (likely $430,000 a year)
add maintenance (a new roof at $8 million is needed in year 15
add salaries, detainee costs, defense costs, transportation costs, and oh yes, program costs...

See the point?

Worst of all, the 8 million theoretically taken from "reserves" is actually a missing $42 million or more accurately (according to Peter Markou, Treasurer) $110 million of an unfunded mandate for county employee retirement and health care!!! The $8 million isn't there and has to be paid back, likely with interest. These jokers are kidding themselves, but they'll each be long gone.

Worstest of all, yes, worstest, Ricci-Greene, SMRT, Pike, Delaware and any construction crew are NOT from Greene County, and... the interest paid back to USAD is... not a Greene County bank!

We're being carpet bagged.