March 02, 2007

Cinquanti outlines role in land deal

Staff Reporter

Real estate agent Steve Cinquanti on Thursday laid out a timeline of his company’s involvement in the county’s aborted purchase of property on south Main Street, stressing that from his vantage point the deal was handled appropriately.
“Whether the communication may have broke down, I wouldn’t know — our involvement, very simply, was to bind nine properties at a price that (the county) could count on,” Cinquanti said Thursday after a meeting with a special legislative committee looking into the county’s failed $894,000 land deal. Cinquanti and Susan Briggs, an associate broker with Cinquanti Real Estate who handled much of the deal for the county, walked the committee through a process that began in February 2006 — when Briggs first suggested the Moose Lodge property to county officials — and was completed in early December, when options were signed on the last of the properties involved in the deal.
Property owners are threatening to sue the county, saying the purchase options represent a binding agreement. A lawsuit has yet to be filed.
The Legislature voted to annul the deal in January after voting in favor of it a month earlier.
The committee has agreed to look both at what the county’s options are moving forward and at how the deal to purchase the land was arranged.
Both Cinquanti and Briggs told the committee the methods used to secure options on the properties — Briggs worked as a buyer’s agent representing an anonymous buyer to solicit the best possible prices — were sound.
“I feel that the anonymous approach was wise,” Briggs said, noting that the asking prices for the properties could have gone up significantly, had property owners been aware the county was interested.
Briggs added that the property owners she dealt with seemed to be trusting of her despite her anonymous client, and, because of the vagaries involved in the deal, most seemed to realize that their house would likely be torn down for a larger project.
“This was really the only way it could have worked,” Cinquanti said of the initial secrecy involved in the acquisitions.
Committee member Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward), who was one of the first legislators aware of the project, said that, despite the secrecy, there was nothing incorrect about how the deal was arranged.
“This didn’t happen behind closed doors, it was all above board,” Tagliente said.
Still some legislators voiced an oft-raised concern that, during the three months that options were being secured, many legislators were left out of the loop.
“I think Mr. Cinquanti did a very professional job — my problem is still with our communication,” said Minority Leader Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville), who was one of a handful of legislators not on the committee who attended Thursday’s meeting.
“A project this size, we should all be informed,” Ross said, noting that he didn’t hear about the project until December. “I would have liked to have brought this back to my caucus sometime before then.”
Legislator Newell Willcox (R-Homer) agreed, saying that the Buildings and Grounds Committee (now the General Services Committee), aside from Tagliente, who is vice-chair of the committee, had not been informed of the project.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said he would also be presenting a timeline of all discussion during committee meetings about property acquisitions and specifically about the south Main Street project at the committee’s next meeting, scheduled for Monday.
“We have a committee system in place in this county and that’s what I used,” Schrader said. “(The timeline) should dispel the forgetfulness of some legislators, in regards to them not being informed or aware of this project.”
Also at Monday’s meeting — no further meeting dates have yet been scheduled — the committee will hear from county Maintenance Supervisor Brian Parker regarding the space needs of the county’s Health and Mental Health departments.
At Thursday’s meeting, Cinquanti and Briggs were asked about a handful of other issues, including the fact there had been no written contract between the real estate agents and the county. Cinquanti said it is not uncommon for real estate agents to not have a written agreement, and, when asked about the size of this particular deal, Cinquanti said he had no reason not to trust the county.
Cinquanti also reiterated that, after working as a buyer’s agent for a number of months, Cinquanti Real Estate’s receipt of a $33,000 payment — or 6 percent of the price of the nine properties — was appropriate because the real estate agents had acted as a buyer’s agent, and had done the work requested.



Misconduct reporting aids educators

Stricter state guidelines have led to more accountability, local superintendents say

Staff Reporters

Area school superintendents are not shocked by a recent state report that found the number of cases involving a teacher or administrator’s moral character has increased over the last five years.
“I’m not surprised at all that the numbers are up dramatically,” said Homer Superintendent of Schools Doug Larison.
Larison said about five years ago, reporting standards changed to require superintendents to identify cases involving sexual contact between a teacher and student as well as other cases, such as a felony driving while intoxicated charge.
Larison would not say whether he has had to file a report on an employee in the district.
The number of cases related to education officials’ requisite moral character have almost doubled from 2001 to 2005, according to a report released by the State Education Department. In the 2001-02 school year there were 70 cases statewide, and in 2005-06 there were 134.
Cortland Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring shares Larison’s sentiment. As superintendents become more familiar with the requirements, they are reporting more incidents, he said.
The state requirement is very broad and does leave room for interpretation, Spring said, but not in the case of sexual misconduct.
“I don’t care how you interpret moral behavior — some things you have to file,” Spring said, noting sexual conduct is one area that is not gray.
Spring said he has had to deal with cases of a sexual nature and another dealing with moral honesty in a previous district.
In addition to sexual assault and inappropriate relationships, other categories of moral character include: child porn, drugs, DWI, exposure/lewdness and manslaughter.
According to the report, which was prepared by the Professional Standards and Practices Board Professional Practices Subcommittee, the majority of the grievances are those involving sexual assaults and inappropriate relationships with children.
In the past five years there have been 485 total cases, 90 of which were inappropriate relationships and 78 of which where sexual assaults.
President of the Cortland United Teachers Union Lori Megivern said the changes in criteria for filing a moral character report include a new requirement for fingerprinting all New York state teachers and administrators, which is used for a background check for potential and current employees. 
“It is an excellent thing for our kids,” said Larison. “It is a protection for our kids.”
Megivern said the city district has been “blessed” not to have moral character issues in recent years.
Still there have been recent local cases of teacher misconduct.
Dryden physical education teacher Joseph Truax resigned in January after being charged with public lewdness for fondling himself while driving around the SUNY Cortland campus in December.
Truax pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge in February and is scheduled for sentencing in April.
School psychologist Marcia Rutledge, 50, pleaded guilty Feb. 12 to second-degree harassment after being accused of dragging a third-grade special education student out of a classroom by his neck.
Rutledge was sentenced to one-year conditional discharge provided that she completed 125 hours of community service in Cortland County, pay a $250 fine, stay away from children under the age of 18 for one year and undergo an evaluation for anger management by April 16.
“As someone who hires people, you do the best you can,” Larison said.
Both Larison and Spring said in the past, there was less accountability, with superintendents accepting “silent resignations” from teachers breaking moral codes.
“That wasn’t a good thing,” Larison said, explaining that teachers could just teach at another school.
Now a complaint should be filed if a certified educator is convicted of a crime or committed _an act that raises questions pertaining to moral character, according to the state Office of Higher Education.
A report should be filed Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability when there is a belief or suspicion that a teacher or administrator’s conduct poses a threat to the welfare of a child or a school community.
Spring said he files a report with the state if he  is “reasonably confident” an allegation is true.
“It is not a standard of beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
Larison added that new criteria mandate superintendents file a report with the state when there is an issue of moral conduct.
“We report a lot more things today than in the past. That’s a good thing,” Larison said. “That’s a good thing for kids.”
Brenda Myers, superintendent of schools in Groton, said the recent state report raised two concerns for her. “Schools’ No. 1 job is to assure the safety of children,” she said, adding “99.9 percent of teachers are highly ethical,” but those who are not, end up reflecting badly on the hard work of other teachers.
“I think we could always do more,” Myers said.
The state Education Department report can be viewed online at


In child porn case:

Groton man gets 50 years in prison

Staff Reporter

BINGHAMTON — A Groton man was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison Thursday morning after pleading guilty in November to numerous child pornography charges.
The federal sentence will run concurrently with a 25-year state sentence from Tompkins County Court resulting from the investigation of the same incident.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas J. McAvoy sentenced Douglas Jennings, 42, formerly of Groton, in federal court in Binghamton to the prison time and a lifetime of post-release supervision.
Jennings pleaded guilty on Nov. 1 to 30 counts of receiving child pornography via the Internet, one count of production of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography, all felonies.
Under the federal system there is no minimum amount of time Jennings will serve but he may get some time off for good behavior, an official from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said this morning.
The eight months Jennings has spent in federal custody since his arrest will count toward the sentence.
On Dec. 4 in Tompkins County Court, Jennings pleaded guilty to one count of course of sexual conduct against a child, a violent felony. He was sentenced Jan. 16 on that charge.
Both sentences are the result of a June arrest after an 11-year-old girl reported to police that Jennings had been abusing her.
The FBI and the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department discovered that Jennings had been having sex with the girl and videotaping her in sexual poses for the previous four years.
Police also found numerous images on Jennings’ computers of child pornography, some of them girls other than the one he is accused of abusing.