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Record staffers bring you information on the comings and goings of New York's Collar City.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Congress St. meeting tonight

For all those interested, there will be an information meeting at City Hall tonight to discuss the lower Congress Street renovation project.

The project has been kicked into high-gear in order for officials and engineers to meet a June 15 deadline so that the city can be in line to receive funding for the project from the recently-approved federal economic stimulus package.

The $6.4 million project will consist of redirecting traffic along the popular road and is expected to pave the way for an estimated $160 million in economic development, according to past announcements from city officials.

The meeting will be held in the City Council chambers beginnging at 6:30 p.m.

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Diocese: Churches will be maintained

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany has assured members of the City Council that the six churches slated to close in the city over the next eighteen months will maintained once their doors are shut.

Members of the Democratic majority on the council had previously sent a letter to the diocese asking for a meeting to discuss the future safety and maintenance of the structures.

Councilman John Brown, D-At Large, recently met with Noel Olsen, director of real property for the diocese, to talk about the matter.

"I was pleased to hear that there will be consistent monitoring of these properties and that the diocese has pledged to not close these buildings and just walk away," said Brown, who noted possible developers had already made inquiries into several of the structures and that St. Francis de Sale, which will be the first church in the city to close, could be for sale in coming weeks.

"Again, this is a difficult time for members of the Catholic faith in Troy and for parishioners throughout the city. We all wish things were ending differently, but the city's responsibility is to quality of life, neighborhood safety, and re-development," he added. "I am looking forward to further dialogue between the city and the diocese so we can work hand-in-hand to re-use buildings and to keep the people of Troy informed about any progress."

Councilmen Gary Galuski, D-District 6, Ken Zalewski, D-District 5, and Peter Ryan, D-District 3, also supported the effort to ensure the buildings would continue to be safe after their closure.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Council, meet Corp. Counsel

During their Finance Committee meeting Thursday, members of the City Council were formally introduced to Charlie Sarris, who is currently serving as the city's temporary corporation counsel after Dave Mitchell's "service with the city of Troy concluded" at the end of City Hall business hours last Friday.

Tutunjian still would not say exactly what led to Mitchell's departure.

Sarris greet the councilmen at the start of the meeting and promised "nothing but cooperation" in working with them. And when later asked if additional legislation could be drawn up for the council's March meeting, he assured them that it wouldn't be a problem.

We've got to say it was quite a different atmosphere compared to past finance meetings where personal issues led to large shouting matches and the occasional threat of a lawsuit between Mitchell, Council President Clem Campana, D-At Large, and Councilman Bill Dunne, D-District 4.

We've heard that Tutunjian has 90 days to either name a permanent corporation counsel or go without one, but even if Sarris only serves on a temporary basis we think it will be interesting to watch how things play out in future meetings/discussions.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rogers is back

Former City Councilman Keith Rogers, who served as a District 6 representative for one term starting in 1999, announced today that he will be once again running for a seat on the council this November.

Rogers is currently a project manager for Crown Castle International, a national company which owns and operates cell phone towers, and resides in the city's East Side neighborhood with his wife, Jacqueline, and three boys, Justin, Daniel, and Jake.

"I love this city and we have a very special community in Troy but I am concerned about where we are headed," said Rogers. "The petty partisan bickering needs to stop as there is too much at stake."

City Democratic Chairman Frank LaPosta said that Keith knew what it is like to hold public office and understands the needs of the citizens of the city.

Additionally, LaPosta noted that he encouraged anyone interested in running on the Democratic picket for a position in the city of Troy - whether on the City Council or as a county legislator – to send a resume to P.O. Box 308, Troy, NY 12182.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ed Verrillo passes

Ed Verrillo, a former city firefighter and well-known Flag Day Parade Committee member, passed away Tuesday at the age of 85.

Verrillo was remembered at a outgoing community member who would always go out of his way to assist and raise money for local organizations including sports teams and the parade itself.

Look for various local reactions to Verrillo's passing in Wednesday's Record.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Mitchell's out

Dave Mitchell, who has served as the city's Corporation Counsel since Mayor Harry Tutunjian took office in 2004, is no longer employed by the city of Troy.

He has been replaced on an interim basis with Deputy Corporation Counsel Charles Sarris.

It is immediately unclear what prompted the conclusion of his duties with the city and officials are not commenting on the change, citing the fact that it is a personnel matter as their reason.

Below is the brief e-mail that was sent out only 10 minutes ago from city spokesman Jeff Buell:

Effective with the close of business on Friday, February 13, 2009, Corporation Counsel David Mitchell’s service with the City of Troy has concluded.

No comments will be issued, as it is a personnel matter.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Charles Sarris will serve as the acting Corporation Counsel on an interim basis.

According to past reports from the city's Law Department, the city had continued to lessen the amount it had to pay for civil court claims since the beginning of 2005 and had not lost a Supreme Court trial case or Federal trial/appeal case since 2004 with Mitchell in the position.

Further details were not immediately available.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Good ideas

As reported in the Sunday issue of The Record, a public hearing was held at City Hall Tuesday evening for the purpose of discussion a possible change to the city's zoning legislation.

TAP, the organization behind the inital proposal, is currently looking to legally define what can be considered a "rooming house" to help regulate the recent trend of property owners subdividing and merging multiple appartments for the purpose of renting out rooms to unrelated individuals - a popular occurance in city neighborhoods which surround local colleges.

Joe Fama, TAP's executive director, said that the meeting went very well and that the public came ready to present their own ideas on the matter as well as listen to the proposal which had been prepared by TAP officials.

"Obviously I'm pleased because most people there were at least supportive of the idea of an effort, but it was far from everyone saying the best thing ever," said Fama. "There were people with a lot of good ideas that we have to consider in terms of fleshing out our idea to a full proposal that actually represents zoning law."

According to Fama, the next step in the process was asking the City Council to extend the current moratorium on the subdivision of city properties, which is set to expire at the end of March, so that there will be time to finish the legislation.

Once the proposal is finalized, it will then be submitted to the Planning Board, which does not necessarily have to approve the legislation, for review and comment before being passed on to the City Council.

"I want to be very clear - If you have things you want to see done that we're not doing, knock yourself out," said Fama. "Once we make our proposal there are two public hearings - one before the Planning Board and one before the council. Say what you want to say."

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

We're going to give it a try

As some of you might have already deduced from reading this week's Talespin, we are going to attempt to film the next City Council meeting in its entirety.

The purpose of filming the meeting will be so that members of the public who don't feel like trekking down to City Hall when it's 2 degrees out, or are physically unable to do so, will be able to see what actually goes on when their legislative branch convenes and votes on legislation impacting the city and its residents.

From what we've long been told, it is the City Council's responsibility to tape the meetings so that they can later be broadcast on Time Warner cable for public viewing. However, the last four meetings have not been recorded. Council members have said that their camera is "broken" and that they have been looking through their budget to find the money to purchase a new one. Some City Hall employees have said that the camera works fine and that the council just doesn't know how to use it.

However, the fact remains that the meetings have not been taped.

Now we say we're going to try to film the whole meeting because while we do have a fully-functional camera at The Record, purchased by our parent company for the purpose of producing Web videos, a City Council meeting is not the easiest thing to film.

Anyone who has ever been in the City Council chambers at City Hall knows that the acoustics of the room are far from adequate. That being said, there are some meetings where all the microphones work great and you can actually hear what everyone, including public speakers, are saying - along with other meetings where all you hear can hear is gibberish.

We've also heard that the direct audio hookup for the PA system, which broadcast TV cameras would normally hook up to for sound, doesn't work.

So we will give it a shot to try and ensure the public has a chance to see their legislative branch hard at work, but be forewarned that, given the conditions of equipment in the chamber, there might be some complications.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Video woes / Council meeting

Earlier today we came across a press release that we must have missed earlier in the week about, yet again, the City Council not videotaping their council meetings.

The release was from Tom Casey, Troy Republican Committee chairman, and is posted below.

Council's Continuing Failure to Tape Meetings Hurts Troy Residents

"The Democratic majority of the Troy City Council is failing to keep Troy residents informed due to their refusal or inability to videotape council meetings, said Troy Republican chairman Tom Casey.

The meeting tonight will be the fourth meeting the City Council Democrats have failed to videotape. The council is responsible for videotaping meetings, a practice started in 2004 when Time Warner stopped videotaping meetings. Under the current arrangement, videotapes of the meetings are supposed to be provided by the council to Time Warner for subsequent broadcast.

Many Troy residents depend on the broadcasts of the meetings to stay informed, noted Casey. Republican Councilman Mark Wojcik raised the issue late in 2008, asking the council to once again begin taping the meetings.

'The Democratic council is failing to keep Troy residents informed by failing to tape council meetings for broadcast. It is shameful that they have decided not to tape the meetings, especially after pledging they would keep the public informed about the work of the council,' said Casey.

'Troy residents have a basic right to be kept informed about the decisions made at council meetings. Council meetings were always taped when Republicans held the majority and it is stunning council Democrats have failed in this seemingly simple task,' added Casey.

The failure to videotape the meetings is just the latest campaign promise broken by council Democrats. Casey said he believes Democrats have decided not to tape meetings in an attempt to hide their numerous failings since taking the council majority in 2008.

'I believe Democrats are deliberately not taping the meetings so they can keep Troy residents in the dark about the constant chaos and controversy that has marked the Democrat's time in the council majority. The Democrats clearly do not want residents to see what really goes on at the meetings,' added Casey."


The meeting itself was quite eventful, as well as long, but near the end of it Councilman Mark McGrath, R-District 2, caught some of the council Democrats by surprise when he said that he planned to ask Mayor Harry Tutunjian to "admonish" Department of Public Works Commission Bob Mirch.

McGrath wanted action taken against Mirch for his continued actions in situations such as the 2007 Jack Cox indcident where Mirch baracaded Cox's property with roadblocks and a mount of dirt to prevent him from moving unlicensed vehicles in or out.
McGrath's comment came as the council was preparing to vote on a $20,000 settlement of a lawsuit Cox brought against the city in response to Mirch's actions.

Councilman Ken Zalewski noted that he was honestly shocked to hear McGrath's comment but agreed that Mirch should not continue to do business in such a manner, especially with similar incidents like the closing of the Sanctuary For Independent Media last year for code violations the day a controversial exhibit was set to open to the public.

We've not recieved direct confirmation yet that the mayor intends to follow through on any kind of "admonishment" but knowing Mirch, we're sure he'll be voicing his opinion on the matter soon.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

You've Got Mail

E-mails from local community activists and citizens critical of the workings of city government are a common thing to appear in the inboxes of newsroom staffers at The Record.

However, a recent group of e-mails particularly peeked our interest because a city official and city councilmen chose to respond and forward those responses to members of the council, the mayor's office, a neighborhood group, and a Record reporter.

Today's conversation, which we believe started over concern that the City Council has not been videotaping their regular monthly meetings due to a broken camera, is posted below:

Richard Herrick, a local community activist:

"this issue should not be about a lock or the City Clerk or the Council --lets stay focused and brainstorm ways to get the meetings broadcast as a public service. [By the way I saw nothing in the charter assigning the videotaping to either the City Clerk or the Council.]
point: I think the responsibility to resolve this problem truly lies with our Chief Executive and not with the Council or the Clerk. Mayor Tutunjian's Office can take the bull by the horns, buy a camera and arrange for the taping and broadcast.
I know that the City has a $50,000 a year Deputy Public Information Officer who is at every Council meeting and would like to suggest that the taping and broadcasting the meetings truly falls to him as our Public Information Officer.
Case closed, I hope."

Jeff Buell, Troy city spokesman:

The City Council has always taped these meetings, regardless if it was a Republican majority or a Democrat majority. Your Fatal Attraction obsession with the Mayor is starting to scare me. Could you explain to me why it would be the Executive Branch’s responsibility to tape the actions of the Legislative Branch? And while you are quoting the charter, there is nothing in the charter that dictates my attendance at these meetings.

And oh by the way, the Legislative Branch, at last count, has SIX employees- Six Richard! Not one or two, or even three or four, or five, but SIX, one of which makes more than the Deputy Director of Public Information (that’s me). I supply you with this information to let you know that the Mayor has a staff of two people. Not six or five, or four, or three. But two! Myself and his secretary, Prudence. This is where I say that I know that I am remarkably overpaid, and happen to be one of those bad, bad people that took a 3.5 percent raise that was offset by givebacks I also took in health care (this will save the time of some of my bigger fans from e-mailing me and calling me pathetic, which usually happens when I respond to something- let’s keep it classy!).

If you need further information, please note that the Mayor’s Office sent a member of the Bureau of Information Services to the City Council Office several weeks ago to look at the video camera and see if we could fix it for them, so that they could resume the taping of their meetings. The employee was told that he could not have the camera, even look at it, as it was not the property of the administration. Your tax dollars hard at work Rich!

In closing, with all the above said, I would love the opportunity to film the City Council meetings. I took several film classes in college, and would make certain to add a little artistic flare to the process. If the Council replaces the camera, which amazingly worked for how many years before they took office, we can start back up again.

Thanks, I’ve wasted 11 minutes of tax payer dollars writing this e-mail. I think it will be okay though, as I’ll likely be here until 9 p.m. tonight, and I’ll cut my lunch a little short.

Have a great day,


Councilman John Brown, D-At Large:

I noticed that our Finance Committee meeting on January 22nd was filmed by a city employee. Would it be possible for that camera to be made available to one of the Legislative Branch's many employees until this equipment issue is resolved? Unless of course you are sincere in your desire to do the filming yourself, in which case please try to get my goodside.


The camera in question is privately owned, and while the person filming may have been a City employee, he was filming on his own time, not the City’s. I’m hoping that you were made aware of this, as he was extensively questioned about his attendance at this meeting by one of your many employees. I will track him down and see if he has any interest in allowing the City to borrow his camera.

In the meantime, as long as we are advancing the use of citizen-owned cameras, perhaps we could invite Mr. Herrick down to film the meeting. I know the Record is planning on having its camera there tonight for the State of the City Address. We could capture this thing from three different angles and piece it together documentary style. Hey, at the end we could even offer some commentary. It could add some levity to a forum sorely in need of a laugh.



P.S. Another six minutes I will charge to my lunch."

Councilman Mark Wojick, R-District 1
"To all,

I usually don’t respond to all these back-and-forth emails, but I think it is in bad taste and serves no meaningful purpose for neighborhood groups to be copied on all this mundane communications between various members of the Troy city government.


"An e-mail tread was started to discuss the issue of the videotaping and broadcasting of City Council meetings and brainstorm ideas as to how to get it done.
I offered an opinion that the responsibility to resolve this problem truly lies with our Mayor and not with the Council or the Clerk. I thought that since the Council meetings involve both the Executive and Legislative branches of government interacting in public that the Mayor as a service to the public take on the responsibility. It was a way to resolve a very minor issue.
I received what I feel to be a troubling and totally inappropriate response from the Mayor's Office that I think its important to share."

Councilman Bill Dunne, D-District 4:

Yes, blame the council majority. Seems to be the administration's answer to everything. The camera was old and it stopped working, period. Regrettably, the council's budget does not have a line to repair/replace equipment. Perhaps, had administration appointees not taken raisesd like the council's employees, we'd have sufficient funds to buy a new camera.



Thankfully, now I’m on my lunch.

Did a member of BIS go to the Council’s office and ask to see the camera, in hopes of repairing it. Yes.

Was that person told, by one of your employees, that it was not our camera? Yes, he was, and in a not so pleasant manner.

Our answer in this current situation was not to blame the Council majority, but to offer the Council help fixing the camera that just stopped working. That’s pretty clear.

The Council budget does not have the money to purchase a camera, but it has money to “fix” a lock that is working perfectly fine? Remarkably, that lock that was working, is now “fixed” for the price of two cameras. No blame, just the truth.

And I like the dig about the raises, so I grabbed a copy my trusty budget. First I must apology to Richard in my e-mail earlier, the City Council does not have six employees, it actually has seven. And of those seven, the three highest paid- the Deputy City Clerk, the City Clerk, and the City Auditor- all received the same 3.5 percent raise that I did last year. Also, when they began in 2008, each of them began at the level of the previous employee. I’m sure that was just an honest mistake on your part. So is that why you do not have sufficient funds to buy the camera?


"By the way, I'm still waiting for the copies of the annual disclosure forms, for which I've asked a dozen times. I guess Dave Mitchell stilI doesn't want anyone to know where he really lives. Has he paid his taxes on 20 Fourth Street yet? Last I knew it exceeded $10,000. Personally, I have no knowledge of anyone asking to fix the camera. And the lock was replaced to keep folks out of the clerks office when the staff is not on duty. Sad that such a step was required, because not everyone shares the same sense of right and wrong and of what's there's and what isn't. Furthermore, the fact that the old combination was the worst kept secret in Troy posed a life safety issue for city employees in that office. I hope you share my concern regarding the safety of employees in the work place.

As to the raises, correct. The mayor's veto did put them back, but we did in fact eliminate a job saving $10,000. "


You do know I enjoy a good discussion.

In regards to Dave Mitchell, I do not know the answers to these questions, but you are a City Councilman, and entitled to information, so I will forward it on.

As for the life safety issues, I can say that I do not hold the same concerns for employees in the workplace, please let me explain why. Part of it stems from my overwhelming belief that people are good, but the remainder is because of the following:

1) The worst kept secret in the City of Troy is that the chocolate milk at Famous Lunch is the best in the world, and that is the one up it has on Gus’s in Watervliet.

2) I say this because I have worked here since January 1, 2004, and I pledge to you that I had no idea what that code was. Never bothered to learn it I guess. Each time I needed to talk with an employee in there I knocked.

3) The only people that would know that code are former Clerk’s office employees, and some City Council members. Having known most of them, on both sides of the aisle, I just don’t see any of them causing harm to any of the current employees. But, better safe than sorry I guess. I just wanted to point out that you do indeed have a budget for “repairs.”

That’s all I have for now, I have to get back to work, lunch is over.


"Not sure why you need to forward a request on. You are the Public Information guy, right? So quite simply...DO YOUR JOB."



If I do not know the answers to the questions you are asking, I must forward the request on, as I do not know. In effect, by forwarding your request, I am doing my job as you suggested.

Have a great day,


That's all for now folks. Tonight will be a busy night at City Hall with the State of the City at 7 p.m., followed by the council's regular meeting.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Back in court


On Monday, the city of Rensselaer filed a lawsuit against the city of Troy seeking a temporary restraining order related to their water bill from the city.

While we haven't yet seen the court documents, sources say that Rensselaer has not paid their water bill since settling their outstanding debt last fall.

Other sources have also claimed that the lawsuit centers somewhat around discrepancies between rates that were charged to Rensselaer and the Town of East Greenbush, since the two municipalities share a water line.

Last August, Troy agreed to settle Rensselaer's outstanding water debt for a period between 1998 and 2006 for a total payment of $1.7 million by October, which was paid on time.

Check back soon as further information on the matter becomes available.

After reading over the court documents, it seems that Rensselaer filed for the TRO to prevent Troy from shutting off the municipality's water as officials have threatened to do in the past.

Rensselear Mayor Dan Dwyer also filed an Article 78 motion in state Supreme Court seeking a judgment that the city had paid it's most recent water bill to Troy in full based on a rate of $1.569 per thousand gallons, which Troy gave to them and the Town of East Greenbush in March of 2008.

Separate letters to municipalities were later sent from Troy in May stating that their water rates would now be $3.432 per thousand gallons because a previously renegotiated contract was never signed off on or approved by Dwyer.

Rensselaer's attorney, Paul Goldman, says that Troy cannot charge the municipalities different rates because they are "similarly situated water users" and because they share both a water district and water line.

Troy city spokesman Jeff Buell said that there were different rates because Troy has a contract with East Greenbush but not with Rensselaer.

The matter is scheduled to be further discussed in Supreme Court on Friday.

Look for an article in The Record and on the Web site Thursday for further details.

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