April 05, 2007

Author spends week with Cortland students

Parker Elementary

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer    
Author and artist Natalie Kinsey-Warnock writes children’s books about her life and the life of her ancestors in Vermont. Kinsey-Warnock visited Parker Elementary School Wednesday to tell her own story and to encourage students to find stories about their family.

Staff Reporter

Approximately 50 students sat crossed legged on the floor of Parker Elementary School’s gymnasium, eyes fixed on the storyteller at the front of the room.
The students oohed and ahhed as author Natalie Kinsey-Warnock delved into her life and family history.
Kinsey-Warnock sat at the edge of the stage surrounded by her books. She discussed the stories behind some of the books, such as, “The Canada Geese Quilt.” She also talked about a story that she has in the works involving the worst ship disaster in United States history.
Her stories are based on actual events, which were experienced by members of her family, some taking place generations before she was born and others during her lifetime.
“It was fun seeing her,” said Amanda Schaff, 9.
“She talked about so many things that she was interested in that might get some of those kids thinking oh, that could be cool,” said Carol Foster a retired librarian at Smith Elementary School and Cortland High School.
In the past five years Kinsey-Warnock is one of many authors who have come to the city’s elementary schools as a visiting author. Luann Rottmann, library media specialist for the Cortland Junior-Senior High School, said Kinsey-Warnock would spend the week in the district.
On Tuesday, she spent the day at Randall Elementary, on Wednesday at Parker Elementary, today at Smith Elementary and on Friday she will be at Barry Elementary. Rottmann said every child in the district from kindergarten through sixth grade would have a chance to see Kinsey-Warnock’s presentation.
Rottmann said the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Grant Program, administered regionally by the Cultural Resources Council of Syracuse and Onondaga County, partially funded the author’s visit. She said the grant was $1,625.
Rottmann said Kinsey-Warnock’s fee was $1,500 a day, which translates to $6,750 for the length of her visit. She said a BOCES grant would fund half her visit and the parent teacher groups in the district would fund the rest.
Kinsey-Warnock lives in Vermont and has written 40 books, 21 of which are published and another 10 are in the process of being published. Kinsey-Warnock is planning on writing an additional 50 books.
Of her 21 published books, Ryan O’Neil’s favorite is “Nora’s Ark,” which is the story of the 1927 Vermont Flood, which according to the National Weather Service Forecast Office of Burlington, Vt., killed 84 people, including the Lt. Gov. S. Hollister Jackson.
“It was wonderful to see the kids respond to her stories both the ones she has written and the ones she has told,” said Kim Hay, teacher-librarian. She said that she had read some of the books to the students and she was pleased the students were able to respond and have a connection with Kinsey-Warnock.
“To hear the stories and for them to meet the author is a great experience for the children,” Hay said.
Matt Griffin, 9, said his favorite part of Kinsey-Warnock’s presentation was the story she told about her great, great, great, great, great-grandfather who survived the worst ship disaster in United States history.
“I think it was a pretty good story,” said Matt, a fourth-grader.
Kinsey-Warnock said her relative Artemas Ward was a Union soldier who was being transported home from the prison camp Cahawba at the conclusion of the Civil War. Ward and more than 2,300 other soldiers from Cahawba and Andersonville prisons were loaded onto the Sultana, a steamboat that was equipped to handle 300. She said the boat sat low in the water because the riverbanks of the Mississippi were flooded.
At 2 a.m., on April 27, 1865, two weeks after President Abraham Lincoln was killed, the Sultana exploded because water seeped into a faulty boiler.
She said Ward was rescued after spending seven hours in the water. Kinsey-Warnock said that 1,900 people died.
She said her first book, “Canada Geese Quilt,” was published in 1989 and was inspired by her grandmother.
“I wanted to write a book about her,” Kinsey-Warnock said. “She’d had a stroke and I realized that I wasn’t going to always have her. I didn’t want her to be forgotten.”
The book centers on 10-year-old Ariel, who has to accept the changes a new baby would bring to her family and home that she shares with her mother, father and grandmother. When her grandmother suffers a stroke, Ariel helps her grandmother recover and helps sew the quilt that she’s designed for the new baby.
She said that her grandmother is the reason why she started chronicling her family history.
Kinsey-Warnock encouraged the students to find their own hidden family stories.
“Every family — their family — has amazing stories,” she said. “I want them to know those people in their family.”
After she wrote about her grandmother, Kinsey-Warnock said her sister uncovered the story of Sarah Whitcher, who was lost in the woods of New Hampshire in 1783 and was taken care of by a black bear.
“What really struck me is when my sister found the bear story, both us we just said how come we don’t know this, how come this wasn’t handed down" Kinsey-Warnock said. “If that story wasn’t handed down, then think how many others weren’t handed down. That really triggered us ... trying to uncover more of those hidden stories.”
Foster said Kinsey-Warnock’s idea to chronicle the lives of generations before them was a good idea.
“I think too many don’t think of it until those other generations are gone,” Foster said.
After Kinsey-Warnock’s encouragement, Matt said he was eager to find out what was in his family’s past.
“When I go home I am going to ask my family,” Matt said. “I definitely want to know.”



Stockton expected to plead guilty to DWI

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A former city police officer is expected to plead guilty in Cortland County Court today to vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated charges.
Jeffery “Chip” Stockton plans to plead guilty to second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree vehicular assault, felonies, DWI, a misdemeanor, and failure to exercise due care, a violation, according to his attorney, Mark Suben.
“It’s our intention to enter a plea,” Suben said Tuesday.
Suben said the agreement does not provide any sentencing recommendations. He and Cortland County District Attorney David Hartnett will be free to argue for any legal sentence, he said.
Hartnett did not return a phone call seeking comment about the possible plea.
The charge of vehicular manslaughter is a Class D felony, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years. There is no minimum for the charge.
Sentencing will be scheduled after a plea is entered.
Stockton was indicted Feb. 8 on charges of second-degree manslaughter, a felony, and DWI with a blood-alcohol content greater than 0.08 percent, a misdemeanor, along with the charges to which he is expected to plead guilty.
The manslaughter charge that would be dropped under the deal is a Class C felony. It carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Stockton was arrested Nov. 17 after he struck two pedestrians in the crosswalk at the intersection of Church Street and Central Avenue. One of the two women Stockton hit, Lynn Briggs, 55, of 65 Central Ave., spent two weeks in critical condition at University Medical Center in Syracuse before she died of her injuries.
Stockton also hit Melody Benn, 55, of 65 Central Ave., Cortland. Benn suffered broken bones and bruising and was released from the same hospital three days after the crash.
City police said Stockton was drunk and had been text messaging on his cell phone at the time of the crash.
They said Stockton failed three of five field sobriety tests, including reciting the alphabet.
Police Chief James Nichols has refused to release Stockton’s blood-alcohol content and turned down a Freedom of Information request filed by the Cortland Standard in December.
Stockton is scheduled to appear in County Court at 2:30 p.m. today. He is out of jail without bail.


Group sues over Wal-Mart project

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The environmental group Citizens for Aquifer Protection and Employment is suing the town, the Town Board and Wal-Mart in connection with a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on Route 13.
The Article 78 lawsuit was filed Tuesday with the Cortland County Clerk, the second such petition made by CAPE against the town. CAPE filed an Article 78 suit in 2005 over the town’s revisions to its zoning code, and won the case in February 2006.
Article 78 proceedings are used to challenge decisions by agencies and officers of state and local _governments.
“The lawsuit centers on potential environmental impacts related to flooding, groundwater contamination and traffic,” according to a news release from the group. “It also claims that the Town’s approval of the Wal-Mart project as a Planned Unit Development (PUD) does not comply with Town Code.”
During the State Environmental Quality Review process, CAPE often challenged the findings of engineers and scientists working with the town and Wal-Mart by presenting its own experts, who often predicted more dire impacts from development of the 33.7-acre parcel.
Town Board members have said they expected to be sued over the project.
The new lawsuit seeks to:
l revoke the Planned Unit Development approval that the proposed 205,000-square-foot development that was awarded in March;
l annul the Findings Statement issued by the Town Board at the end of the State Environmental Quality Review process to stop the town from “taking any action affecting the proposed Wal-Mart PUD Application” without properly complying with SEQRA and state and local laws; and
l strike part of the town code that deals with PUD projects, Article XI, as illegal and unconstitutional because it usurps the power of the town Planning Board.
Nobody from the town has been served with the lawsuit, Town Supervisor Dick Tupper said at a regularly scheduled Town Board meeting Wednesday night. After the meeting, the board went into an executive session to discuss pending litigation on the advice of Town Attorney John Folmer.
“I understand that the initial paperwork has been filed with the County Clerk’s office, as is required,” Folmer said before the meeting.
“Until we see the document, it is impossible to comment,” Tupper said before the board went into executive session at the end of the meeting.
Wal-Mart’s attorney, Kelly Pronti, of the Rochester-based Harter, Secrest & Emery, said Wednesday afternoon that she had not been served with the lawsuit.
“I know of it, I just haven’t seen a copy of it,” Pronti said. “Obviously, we feel that it’s (the local approvals of the project) been completed to legal standards.”
Jamie Dangler, treasurer of CAPE, said she believes the lawsuit has a good chance of stopping the development.
“We really think the Town Board has sold us down the river here — they haven’t done a responsible job, and Kelly Pronti is leading them by the hand the entire way,” Dangler said this morning. “We just don’t think that the town has acted as fully as it needed to, and really adequately represented the interests of the community.”
The group has funded its actions out of the pockets of its members, and Dangler said that more money needs to be raised to complete the lawsuit. So far, $12,000 has been spent in preparation, and she said that she’s been told it can range from between $15,000 and $25,000 total.


Housing Visions closes on final properties

Syracuse developer plans $8.2 million project to create 30 low-income apartments in city’s South End by fall 2008.

Staff Reporter

Housing Visions, the Syracuse-based nonprofit company that is developing low-income housing in the city’s south Main Street area, closed Tuesday on the remaining properties to be included in the Cortland Crown Homes project.
The $8.2 million project can now proceed in its entirety, Housing Visions President Ken Craig said Wednesday afternoon. The first step is asbestos and lead abatement in the properties, he said.
“We had acquired a couple of the buildings earlier, and we have already gotten bids in on those and we’re hoping to sign the contracts and start work soon, within a couple of weeks or so,” Craig said. Inspections will have to be made of the newly acquired buildings, he added.
Demolition and construction should begin this spring and summer, and continue into 2008. Craig said he expects the project to be completed by fall of that year.
About four buildings are going to be demolished as part of the Cortland Crown Homes project, while another six are going to be rehabilitated, resulting in about 30 units that would be available to low-income tenants who fall below 60 percent of the state’s median income level.
Roughly 70 percent of the money for the project comes from private investor equity raised from low-income tax credits, with another 25 percent from the New York State Housing Trust Fund Corp. and the state’s HOME program, which is intended to expand the supply of decent, safe and affordable housing within the state, according to the program’s Web site.
Approximately 5 percent is from the city of Cortland’s Community Development Block Grant funds.
The acquisition of three of the 10 buildings — formerly owned by the Boeres family and including 162-164 south Main St. and 1 Frederick Ave. — had taken place in November.
The properties at 148 Main St., 152 Main St., 2 Argyle Place and 5 Union St. were held up by financial concerns of an equity provider. The closings on those purchases occurred Tuesday.


Robbery suspect rejects plea deal

Staff Reporter

A former Rochester-area schoolteacher accused of robbing a city bank with a loaded handgun rejected a plea bargain from the Cortland County District Attorney’s Office in County Court Wednesday.
Under the deal proposed by District Attorney David Hartnett, Michael Bohn, 41, of 232 Cobb Terrace, Rochester, would plead guilty to the reduced charges of one count of first-degree robbery, one count of second degree criminal possession of a weapon, violent felonies; one count of third-degree grand larceny, a felony, and one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.
The proposal offers Bohn a sentence of 12 years for the robbery charge, seven years for the weapons charge, two to six years for the larceny charge and one year for the endangering charge, all of which would run concurrently, according to a letter written by Hartnett and filed with the court.
The robbery charge carries a maximum of 25 years in prison and a minimum of five years.
Bohn’s attorney, Randolph Kruman, rejected the offer during the court appearance Wednesday but did not elaborate about why his client would not take the deal. Hartnett said that Kruman also rejected the offer in writing prior to the court date.
“If Mr. Kruman wants to confront me with a further plea offer, I will be glad to respond,” Hartnett said Wednesday, while explaining to the court that his office will now move toward a trial.
Kruman declined to comment about why he rejected the deal. His written response to Hartnett’s proposal was not filed with the Cortland County Court Clerk’s Office.
On March 2, Bohn was indicted on three counts of first-degree robbery, one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, one count of third-degree grand larceny, felonies, and one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.
He was arrested on Feb. 1 as he left the Tompkins Trust Co. on Clinton Avenue with a loaded _.44-caliber Magnum and a shopping bag containing nearly $16,000 in cash.
During a bail review hearing on March 6, Hartnett told the court that when police searched Bohn’s vehicle officers found buckets of water and maps of Canada. Hartnett said Bohn planned to use the water to clean the stolen money of any dye used to trace it, and that he had a girlfriend in Canada.