January 17, 2008


Slander suit seeks $6 million in damages

Former county attorney claims county administrator damaged his reputation, caused emotional distress

Staff Reporter

Former county attorney Ric Van Donsel has filed a $6 million slander lawsuit against County Administrator Scott Schrader.
The lawsuit was filed with the County Clerk’s office on Tuesday.
Schrader said he had not been served with the lawsuit but was aware of it. He claimed not to have read the document but said he wouldn’t offer comment even if he had.
Van Donsel, who lives on West Court Street, declined to comment Wednesday afternoon.
Current County Attorney Mark Suben said he was likewise aware of the lawsuit, but also declined to comment.
The lawsuit alleges that Schrader “on several occasions stated to third persons lie that the plaintiff was and is presently engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Ron T. Walsh and Mary E. Leonard. … As a result of the defendant’s shocking and outrageous conduct, the plaintiff has suffered severe emotional distress.”
Walsh and Leonard are local attorneys. Walsh was an assistant county attorney under Van Donsel and continues in that position. Leonard and Van Donsel live at the same West Court Street address.
“I have no comment about that at this particular time,” Walsh said this morning concerning the lawsuit. Leonard could not be reached for comment.
In addition to the emotional distress, Van Donsel claims that Schrader’s comments were intended to “injure and damage the plaintiff’s good name and reputation in Cortland County and the legal profession,” and were also said in an effort to remove Van Donsel as county _attorney.
Van Donsel served as county attorney from 2005 to 2007 and was not reappointed at the beginning of this year.
He is requesting $1 million in _actual damages and $2 million in punitive damages in connection with the allegations of emotional distress plus the same amounts for damages in connection with the alleged professional injury.
Van Donsel’s attorney, John Alden Stevens of Williamson, Clune & Stevens in Ithaca, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
It is unclear whether Schrader is being sued in his capacity as the county administrator or as an individual. He is identified as the county administrator in the text of the suit; however, Van Donsel’s claim states “said conduct was outside the scope of the defendant’s employment.”
Schrader had given a memorandum to the county Budget and Finance Committee on Dec. 13, indicating that he believed Van Donsel’s recommended settlements for two properties on William and Randall streets — properties that had been included in the failed south Main Street public health building project — were too high and that a criminal investigation was warranted.
“I’m not alleging that there is a criminal conspiracy. I’m alleging that there needs to be an investigation into the possibility of a criminal conspiracy,” Schrader said on Dec. 26.
Schrader has since sent a formal request for an investigation to the Cortland County District Attorney’s Office, which would neither confirm nor deny that an ongoing investigation is underway.




Democrat weighing run against Seward

Caroline Town Supervisor has raised more than $125,000 for potential campaign

Staff Reporter

Longtime Caroline Town Supervisor Don Barber has raised more than $125,000 in donations, in-kind services and his own money as he considers a bid to unseat longtime Sen. Jim Seward (R-Milford) in November’s race for the 51st Senate District.
The Democrat has raised $126,400 from more than 750 people, mostly from supporters in Tompkins and Cortland counties.
Of that money, $16,200 is his, $3,000 is from his business and $25,000 is in in-kind services.
Cortland area supporters include Homer resident Victor Siegle, who donated $1,000, County Legislature Chairman John Daniels, who donated $500, former County Attorney Ric Van Donsel, who donated $500 and County Democratic Party Chairman Bill Wood, who donated $100.
Barber, 58, of Landon Road in Caroline, expects to decide whether to run sometime in the next month.
Until then, he will continue traveling across the district as he has done for the last two months, meeting with special interest groups and other potential supporters to gauge interest in a potential campaign.
The state Senate district covers portions of seven upstate counties, including the northeast corner of Tompkins County and all of Cortland County. It extends east to Greene County and north to Herkimer County.
Barber, a farmer and owner of Sunny Brook Builders, would be Seward’s first challenger since 2000, when he faced Green Party candidate Roy Chamberlin. Prior to that, the last time Seward had an opponent was in 1994, when he faced Democrat Beverly Livesay.
Seward (R-Milford) has held his position since 1986.
Barber said he has been considering running against Seward for the last couple of years. He began his seventh term as town supervisor this month and also chairs the Tompkins County Council of Governments.
He said he thinks Seward has not focused enough on the issues that matter most, including healthcare, the environment and sustainable economic development. Seward said he’s accomplished things in those areas, though he declined to elaborate, saying it is still early in the campaign season.




C’ville approves zoning ordinance

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — After five years, the Town Board approved a new zoning ordinance at its meeting Wednesday.
The ordinance will take effect after it is filed with the New York State Secretary of State, a process that usually takes approximately 30 days, said Town Attorney John Folmer.
The revised ordinance had been scheduled to be voted on during the board’s Dec. 20 meeting, but was tabled after residents voiced concerns that the code contradicted recommendations of area scientists and the town Planning Board.
Town Supervisor Dick Tupper said Wednesday that the board considered and looked into the concerns residents raised, but made no changes to the zoning code.
Tupper added that the town’s engineering firm, Clough Harbour & Associates, said there was no scientific evidence to show that a 10 percent increase or decrease in green space for a site affects water quality or flooding.
“We have our bases covered with the aquifer protection permit and ground water management program,” Tupper said.
Board member Ted Testa said even with these things in place, the Town Board is willing to make adjustments to the ordinance if something unforeseen should come up in the future.
In the zoning ordinance, the Town Board reduced the amount of green space required in a development from the town Planning Board’s earlier recommendations that called for more green space than the Town Board approved in 2004.
The rezoning process began in 2001, and the new zoning reorganizes residential, business and industrial districts in the town.
Tupper said that prior to the revision process, the town’s zoning ordinances were written in 1978, when the town was mostly a residential area. In 2002, a corridor study was conducted on Routes 13 and 281, which Tupper said are the fastest developing areas in the town.
The revised version of the zoning code has created Wellhead Protection Zones and states that lots or parcels located in Zone 1a should provide at least 50 percent green space and lots in Zone 1b should provide at least 30 percent green space.




County may buy device to spook crows

Staff Reporter

The county General Services and Budget and Finance committees decided to purchase a portable noisemaking device to chase crows out of sensitive areas in the city, where thousands of the birds tend to congregate for food and warmth during the colder months.
The $2,116 expenditure would still have to be approved by the full Legislature.
County Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Brian Parker said he began researching the possibility of a portable unit when the YWCA on Clayton Avenue asked for some help in dealing with crows that had rendered the playground in the back of the facility unusable due to the excrement left by the birds.
He contacted Phoenix Limited, a Nova Scotia-based company that built the noisemaking system that keeps crows out of Courthouse Park.
That device produces more than 13 different sounds, and runs from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.
The portable device, which would be small enough to fit on the back of a pickup truck, would cover a roughly 2-acre area.
“It’s programmed bird-specific,” Parker told the committee.
He said the Courthouse Park system has brought  a definite improvement over last winter, when many of the sidewalks were covered in the slick, foul crow droppings.
“You don’t need an umbrella to go to the parking lot,” Parker joked.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said several legislators expressed concern about the city’s inability to deal with the crows.
Although the city in past years had contracted with a local pest control firm to use noisemakers to chase the birds out of their nightly roosts, the city’s financial problems meant that no such contract was signed this year.
“It was an expense that wasn’t making anything happen,” Mayor Tom Gallagher said. “We were just chasing them from one part of the city to another.”
Committee member Gene Waldbauer (R-Cortlandville) wondered if the city would be willing to run the noise device.
Schrader said he needed to talk with Gallagher about the city’s need to control the crow population; he said Gallagher told him that the city was already waiving the $35 fee for pest control operators to work within city limits for private citizens.





Intertek seeking approval to expand Polkville facility

Staff Reporter

Intertek Testing Services is looking to build two storage areas at its Route 11 facility in Polkville.
The company, which tests products for safety and performance, wants to add a 15,450 square foot storage area at the southwest corner of the building and a 1,600 square foot area at the northeast corner of the building.
The current building is 135,000 square feet on about 30 acres of land. The proposed expansion would increase the site’s amount of building lot coverage from 10 percent to 11 percent.
Intertek executives couldn’t be reached Wednesday afternoon or this morning to discuss the expansion.
Cortlandville Planning Board Chair Kathy Wickwire said Intertek is adding on the storage facilities because it has run out of room for its testing equipment. The additional space wouldn’t be used for any testing, she said.
An application for site plan approval went before the Cortlandville Planning Board on Tuesday evening, and the Planning Board forwarded the application to the county Planning Department for its review.
The county Planning Board will make a recommendation to the town Planning Board, and the town Planning Board will vote on whether to grant the approval.
Because the proposed expansion exceeds 10,000 square feet it must meet the town’s storm water pollution prevention plan requirements.
In addition to site plan approval, Intertek is also applying for an aquifer protection permit because part of the land is located in a flood plain.
There’s a possibility it will also need permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.