February 28, 2007

Islamic culture topic of Homer talk

Islamic culture Homer

Bob Ellis/staff photographer      
Omer Bajwa, former outreach coordinator for the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University, stands in front of  the Hillel-Muslim Educational Cultural Association mosaic in the World Room in Anabel Taylor Hall at Cornell. Bajwa will be speaking about Islam at Homer High School in March. The school rescheduled Bajwa’s original speaking date in October after some parents expressed concern.

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Parental concerns about having a Cornell graduate speak to students about Islamic culture has underscored the need for the presentation, teachers, community residents and school board members say.
Omer Bajwa, 30, of Ithaca, will be speaking at Homer High School March 13. Two other presentations by him were canceled during the current school year.
Bajwa goes around to area schools speaking about such topics as Islam, similarities and differences between cultures and the history of the Middle East.
Bajwa was born in Pakistan, grew up in Endicott as a Muslim and graduated from Cornell with a master’s degree in communication and another master’s in Eastern studies with a concentration in Islamic studies.
 Bajwa was first scheduled to speak at the high school in late October during three lunch periods as part of the school’s International Guest Speaker program.
That talk was canceled when concerned parents called the school, fearful that Bajwa would be imposing his religion on the students.
Bajwa said Principal Fred Farah called him with the news.
“He said there were potential problems from some people that were very conservative Christians,” he said. “They thought it was not appropriate.”
Farah would not say how many people called the school, but that even one call would have prompted the school to postpone the event.
“The answer is, after one phone call you need to think about what you’re doing,” he said. “They’re probably not the only person.”
Farah took the issue to the Cortland County of Council of Churches to see what it thought of a speaker talking to the school about Islamic culture.
Rev. Don Wilcox, executive director of the Council of Churches, said Farah sat down with him and a number of clergymen for 90 minutes one day in December to seek their opinions.
The clergymen wholeheartedly believed Bajwa should speak at the school, Wilcox said.
“I’m surprised people would see it that way,” he said about concerns Bajwa would impose his religious beliefs. “I’m sorry that’s the case.”
Scott Ochs and James Gallagher, two board members, shared similar thoughts at the district’s board meeting two weeks ago.
“It’s a problem in and of itself” that people are even questioning whether Bajwa should come to the school, Gallagher said.
Bajwa said Homer was the first school to cancel any of his scheduled presentations. Bajwa, who has spoken to dozens of schools in the region, did speak at Homer soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Lisa Lorch, a social studies teacher at Homer High School who first contacted Bajwa about speaking at the school, said the concern could be a product of Homer’s lack of diversity.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of negative images the students have because we don’t have a lot of diversity,” she said. “They have a lot of false ideas.”
After Farah’s meeting with the Council of Churches, the school re-invited Bajwa to speak at the school on Feb. 2 for a school-wide assembly. The assembly was cancelled after news broke that Pvc. Shawn Falter had been killed while serving in Iraq, and that his burial would be two days before the scheduled assembly.
Bajwa said he got a call saying it would be best to reschedule the assembly, as students and families were very emotional about the Homer graduate’s death and who may have killed him.
“They said things could get messy,” he said.
The school has rescheduled the assembly to 8:15 a.m. on March 13.
Farah said Tuesday he was in the process of writing a detailed letter to parents explaining what the assembly would be about.
Farah said there will be a room available for students who choose not to go to the presentation. There will also be some seats available for parents who want to attend the assembly, he said.



Committee discusses land deal

Staff Reporter

Community focus groups, interviews with department heads and a review of the legislature’s land purchasing process will all be a part of the review of the county’s aborted land deal by a special legislative committee.
The bi-partisan committee met for the first time Tuesday and discussed, primarily, a scope for its work.
Committee members agreed that the committee’s primary concern should be gathering as much information as possible about the $894,000 land deal that would have resulted in the purchased of nine parcels of land along south Main, Randall and William streets on which a proposed public health facility would have been built.
After initially voting in favor of the purchase in December, the Legislature annulled that vote at its Jan. 25 meeting, sparking a legal challenge from some of the sellers, who say that the county’s initial decision represented a binding agreement.
Attorney Russell Ruthig, who represents two of the property owners, said Monday that he was headed out of town for a week, and that he wouldn’t be filing suit at least until his return.
Legislator Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward), who the committee appointed its chairwoman, pointed out that, with a lawsuit still a possibility should the county not go through with the purchases, the county was “sitting on the fence,” and needed to take a close look at its options.
“The main question is, do we move forward with the purchases, or do we try to get out of it, and if the best option is to move forward, what’s it going to look like?” Tytler said after the meeting.
A key reason the initial vote to purchase the properties was overturned was public outcry, primarily from residents living near the proposed site who were concerned about the effect the proposal would have on their neighborhood.
The committee agreed that hosting focus groups with community members would give legislators a better sense of those concerns, and, should the county decide it best to purchase the properties, would allow the committee to work on a more acceptable, possibly scaled-down proposal.
The committee also agreed to take a close look at the space needs of the Health Department, the Mental Health Department and Horizon House, each of which was to be included in the original proposed 30,000 square-foot building.
“I think one of the things we didn’t get a chance to let people know was what our problems are with the Health Department, what our needs are for these departments,” said committee member John Daniels (D-Homer).
The committee also discussed questions about the process by which the deal was formulated, and agreed that it would review all pertinent documentation, including contracts, minutes and all other correspondence regarding the deal.
Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward) asked that County Auditor Dennis Whitt compile this material and get it to the committee by its next meeting on Thursday.
“What I’m hearing from my constituents is that it seems like this was sort of dropped on us, a lot of it was talked about in executive session,” said committee member Mike McKee (R-Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor and Willet). “I think we need to get everything out into the open.”


DOT agrees to aid county with flooding

Staff Reporter

The state Department of Transportation offered Tuesday to lend the county a hand in easing its flooding problems, but will need an answer, and likely a substantial financial commitment, by November.
The county’s planning subcommittee on flooding has been discussing combining municipal resources to build a detention pond along Otter Creek between Luker Road and Route 281.
The pond would be aimed at decreasing overflow of Otter Creek and improving flood conditions further down the creek in the city of Cortland.
The DOT would be willing to include this pond in its work to expand Route 281, scheduled to begin next spring, DOT Regional Director Carl Ford told the committee Tuesday.
The county would have to reimburse DOT for the work, but it would save money on hiring a contractor, getting the contractor and workers on site, and the DOT could assist with issues such as needed property acquisitions and engineering, Ford said.
The DOT is planning to build a retention pond — designed primarily to collect runoff from Route 281 — along the roadway, Ford said, on the other side of the creek.
A retention pond is generally a lined pond where water is held and then can be released in a controlled manner.
A detention pond, is unlined and allows the collected water to percolate naturally back into the ground.
The municipal detention pond would be located further back on the property, toward Luker Road.
Ford noted that the DOT needs to have all engineering designs and agreements completed and ready for review by November, meaning the county would have until then to have engineers design the detention pond, go through the state review process, arrange funding for the project and acquire the property.
Committee Chairwoman Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward) said the committee’s first step would be to sit down with representatives of the county, the city and the town of Cortlandville, where the proposed site is located, and determine if each was willing to attempt such a project.
At this point, it is unclear how much the project would cost, or how many acres of land would be needed, but Tytler was hopeful that C&S Engineering, which has already presented the county with studies regarding the flow of Otter Creek, would be able to provide cost estimates both for a detailed engineering study and for the work itself.
Having all of the details in order by November would be difficult, Tytler said, but she was willing to try.
“I think we’re sort of at a make or break point with this,” Tytler said. “Either we can make a commitment to secure funding and give this a shot, or we can forget about it and be faced with the same flooding situation year after year.”
Tytler said that the committee would be looking for all possible funding sources, including SEMO and FEMA.
The subcommittee is also looking to address flooding issues in the city by repairing retention walls in certain neighborhoods through a Community Block Development Grant it has applied for, and it has also asked C&S Engineering to come up with an engineering proposal for widening Otter Creek.


Cortland school project between 2 firms

Staff Reporter

Two Central New York architectural firms pitched their proposals at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday for work on an upcoming capital project in the Cortland School District.
Ed McGraw, president of Ashley McGraw Architects, based in Syracuse, said that if given the chance to do the project, his company had the opportunity not only to fix up the district’s buildings, but also enhance its facilities.
McGraw brought members of his design, consultation and security team to the meeting.
“The facilities can enhance or inhibit the delivery of education,” McGraw said. “There have been studies that show that facilities have an impact with test scores. You have an opportunity right now to maintain and enhance your facilities at little or no cost to the taxpayers.”
Ashley McGraw conducted a building survey for the district in 2005 that recommended almost $10 million in improvements to the district’s buildings.
“We have a good beginning knowledge of your buildings. We feel we can hit the ground running with this sort of a project,” McGraw said.
Steve Pearsall, business director for the district, said the district would not do all the recommended work included in the building survey.
The district has received $2.2 million in Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning aid, which was created by the state last year for health and safety improvements to school buildings.
Pearsall would not pinpoint a cost for the project, but was sure it would exceed EXCEL aid.
“Our intent is not to limit it just to the EXCEL aid,” said Pearsall. “If we have roofs on all our buildings that need to be done, we are going to do all our roofs.”
In addition to roofs and security the district is looking at energy conservation methods, athletic field work and revamping its heating, ventilation and air conditioning units. Pearsall said the district was looking at a public vote on the project in late fall or early next winter.
The other architectural firm, Hunt Engineers, based in Horseheads, also brought its project manager, security experts and members of the design team to talk about the project.
Stephen Somogy, representing Hunt Engineers, said his firm would suggest forming a community district committee to look at long-term issues. The committee should meet regularly and set targets, he suggested.


C’ville company closes its doors

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — A Virgil man who moved his manufacturing company to Cortlandville in the spring with the help of a $10,000 local grant appears to have closed down his business.
Michael Boylan, owner of DB Gatti Design & Mold at 1013 Route 13, filed a discontinuance of business order with the Cortland County Clerk’s office on Jan. 24.
Calls to the business in the former Cortland Glass building have gone unanswered for the last month and the building shows no sign of activity.
David Yaman, who represents the owner of the building, Gerald Pollock, said Boylan has terminated his lease with Pollock and that the space is back on the market. Pollock did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The company will auction off about 165 pieces of equipment starting at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to a Massachusetts auctioneering firm. The equipment ranges from computers to grinding machines to drillers.
Boylan has not returned repeated phone calls to his house and cell phone over the last month.
The company, which made injection molds for industries, including those in the medical and aeronautic fields, has incurred two recent judgments that total $72,500.
A state Supreme Court judge filed a default judgment against Boylan on Monday, ordering him to pay HSBC Bank $54,500 in loan money and other costs.
Boylan took out the loan in 2004 when his business was located in Rochester.
Kimberly Steele, a lawyer with Maney, McConville & Liccardi, PC who is representing HSBC, said it is the policy of her law firm not to comment on cases.
The Department of Labor served the company with an $18,000 judgment Nov. 17, claiming it owed the money in fines from noncompliance with unemployment insurance requirements.
Boylan has not filed for bankruptcy, according to the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of New York.
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency, said she set up a meeting with Boylan a few weeks ago, but that he did not show up.
She said she hopes that Boylan hasn’t stopped his business for good. “Hopefully, this works itself out,” she said. “With a new startup you really need two years sometimes.”
The BDC/IDA approved granting Boylan $10,000 on March 13, 2006, to assist him in moving his business from Rochester to Cortland. The money carries the stipulation that 15 jobs be created within two years.
Boylan will have to pay it back if the jobs aren’t created.
That grant helped Boylan move more than 15 machines from Rochester to Cortland. DB Gatti was the first business to receive such a grant, while Cortland Plastics on south Main Street in Cortland has since received a relocation grant.



Nurse pleads guilty to stealing drugs from CRMC

Staff Reporter

A registered nurse formerly employed at Cortland Regional Medical Center pleaded guilty Tuesday to drug possession and falsifying business records after being arrested for stealing drugs from the hospital.
This is the second time in three years he has been convicted of stealing narcotics while working as a nurse.
John M. Filapello, 33, of 546 Village Boulevard South, Baldwinsville, pleaded guilty in County Court to first-degree falsifying business records, a felony, and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor.
Filapello admitted he stole narcotics from the hospital during the month of November.
He was hired in November 2004 and was fired on Dec. 28, a hospital official said.
“Over the period of one month or so I started signing out narcotics from the workplace,” he said.
Filapello, who said he had “a chemical dependency,” told the court that no patient was ever deprived of his or her medication as a result of his theft, and that he was never under the influence of the drugs while at work.
Filapello was arrested in January after an investigation from the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement discovered he had stolen less than an eighth of an ounce of Demerol from the hospital and then falsified hospital records to cover up the crime, city police said.
This isn’t the first time Filapello has stolen drugs from a hospital where he was employed.
Filapello also was arrested on Sept. 18, 2003, and charged with 15 counts of first-degree falsifying business records and three counts of petit larceny, a misdemeanor, after stealing the same drug from the Oswego Hospital, according to two 2003 articles from the Syracuse Post Standard.
On Oct. 6, 2003, Filapello pleaded guilty to two counts of the felony of which he was originally charged and one count of attempted petit larceny, a misdemeanor. In exchange for his guilty plea, Filapello was referred to Oswego County Drug Court, a second article said.
In spite of the prior drug related convictions Filapello’s nursing license has never been revoked, according to the state Education Department Office of Professional Discipline’s web site.
Jonathan Burman of the department’s communication department said in an e-mail that the state’s Professional Assistance Program “assists professionals who have substance abuse problems, but who have not harmed patients or clients… (they) may voluntarily surrender their licenses while receiving treatment rather than face charges of professional misconduct.”
Participants of this program are confidential and no transcripts are kept of PAP proceedings, according to a Web site Burman referenced in his e-mail.
After a nurse has temporarily surrendered his or her license and finished a treatment program a three-person panel reviews a petition for license restoration, the Web site said.
When asked after the plea if he surrendered his license and participated in this program the last time he was arrested, Filapello declined to comment, simply saying, “It’s public record.”
Cortland Regional Medical Center Marketing Director Tom Quinn said this morning that if Filapello had undergone treatment in PAP prior to being hired, the hospital would have no way of finding out.
“Our policy is to check the New York State Department of Education Web site,” he said, adding that when Filapello was hired, the site showed that he had a valid license.
Quinn said the hospital does not randomly drug test its employees but may request a test if an employee is acting suspiciously. He said the hospital does not conduct criminal background checks and that when Filapello was hired, his last employer gave the hospital a solid recommendation.
“This is extremely rare here,” Quinn said when asked if this has been a problem in the past. “This is the first instance I am aware of.”
Filapello is scheduled for sentencing on April 24.