May 3 , 2007

Cuyler group files complaints with sheriff, AG


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
Carrier Stephanie Greenfield delivers mail Tuesday morning to a mail box with the name Van Dee at 1760 White Bridge Circle Road in Homer.

Staff Reporter

CUYLER — A grassroots citizens’ group filed complaints with the county sheriff and the attorney general this week against Town Board member John Van Dee. The group, Citizens of Cuyler, is seeking Van Dee’s removal based on its contention that he does not live in the town.
With around 30 people present, the group met at the Methodist Church at 6867 E. Keeney Extension Road Wednesday night. Group members say that as they become more organized, they hope to continue to further their agenda with Van Dee, while putting in place a permanent watchdog group that will be active in town politics.
“I feel relieved that finally the things I saw, other people are seeing,” said Linda Hill of West Keeney Road, a new member of the group.
During the meeting, group organizers Vera Leete, Louanne Randall and Edith Allen discussed the recent steps group members have taken toward having Van Dee investigated.
The group believes Van Dee, a Democrat, lives at 1670 White Bridge Circle Drive, Homer — the address for which he has filed his STAR school tax exemption since 2001. He is registered with the county election commission as living at 6368 Van Dee Road, Cuyler.
Wednesday afternoon, Van Dee was at the Homer address, where he told the Cortland Standard he was conducting repairs to a house he admits he owns. He would not comment further about the issue. The name Van Dee is printed on a wooden sign over the mailbox.
Randall, who also is Cuyler’s town clerk, said she filed a complaint about the issue with the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department on Monday. She told the group Wednesday that Sheriff Lee Price and Capt. Glen Mauzy said they would conduct an investigation into where Van Dee lives, and if the department finds Van Dee committed fraud when he ran for office in 2006, he will be criminally charged.
Price and Mauzy could not be immediately reached for comment this morning.
The sheriff’s investigation will mark the second time the department has investigated Van Dee’s residency. An investigation was conducted in September 2005, according to documents signed by Republican Election Commissioner Robert Howe and County Police Officer Billy Williams.
On Sept. 8, 2005, Howe wrote a letter asking the Sheriff’s Department to investigate the matter based on a complaint he received from a Cuyler resident.
In response to the letter, Williams conducted an interview with Van Dee and checked his mailing address with the post office and his driver’s license information with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Williams concluded that Van Dee was a Cuyler resident, according to an affidavit he signed on Sept. 12, 2005.
The affidavit does not say whether Williams checked Van Dee’s STAR exemption during his investigation.
On Friday, when asked why the election commission allowed Van Dee to run for office in the 2006 election, Howe said his office never investigated the issue because no complaint had been filed.
Howe this morning said he does recall the earlier investigation, and he was satisfied with the work done to check the residency of Van Dee.
“The Sheriff’s Department did their job and we did our job,” he said.
In addition to filing a complaint this week with the Sheriff’s Department, Leete also filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit on Wednesday.
Group officials said they plan to pursue both investigations as well as continue to request that Town Supervisor Steven Breed put the issue on a Town Board agenda. Breed, a Democrat, refused to discuss Van Dee’s residency at the last Town Board meeting on April 10. He said he would not put the matter on the agenda in the future.
Town Board member Nancy Corbin, a Republican, said Wednesday that she and fellow Town Board member Richard Keeney, a Republican, would continue to request the issue be discussed at further meetings. The board is scheduled to meet again at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the town barns.
Leete said the group also is meeting with attorneys and discussing the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the town. Citing the recent suspension of Town Justice Jean Marshall, a Democrat, who is Breed’s sister, Leete said the group tentatively is planning an event in June to raise money and bring awareness to what members believe is corruption in the local government.
Marshall was suspended in March after the state Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended that she be removed from office. The panel found in February that Marshall altered court calendars and lied under oath after improperly dismissing four cases in 2003. She is appealing the commission’s recommendation.
The Citizens of Cuyler will meet at 7:30 p.m. May 16 in the Methodist Church.


Wal-Mart plan center of feud in C’ville

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The ongoing and sometimes contentious review of a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter escalated to accusations of conflicts of interest and bias at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.
After they had stormed out of the meeting, Robert Rhodes — a Citizens for Aquifer Protection and Employment executive board member — and town Planning Board member Nick Renzi characterized statements of Town Board member Ron Rocco as “personal attacks” that made the board and Rocco appear “unprofessional.”
Rocco contended, after the meeting, that he simply had “told the truth.”
The Wal-Mart project was not on the agenda when the board met at the McGraw Community Center, as it does annually, and the fracas was confined to the Privilege of the Floor section of the meeting.
Rhodes, of Cortland, was objecting to statements made by Rocco at an April 18 Town Board meeting in which Rocco had said he believed CAPE had stated it would not sue the town.
“I have never said that, nor, as far as I know, has any member of CAPE said it,” Rhodes said.
CAPE filed an Article 78 lawsuit against the town at the beginning of April, claiming problems with the State Environmental Quality Review process and the Planned Unit Development zoning designation the town granted in March to a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter.



Final decision on Homer Town Hall project expected

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The Town Board is hopeful it will finalize Town Hall expansion plans and decide whether it will tear down a house it owns to the north of the Town Hall at a special meeting May 14.
The board reviewed plans Wednesday night for the expansion of the Town Hall’s courtroom and a wheelchair-accessible elevator at the northeast portion of the Town Hall.
The board had no problem with the courtroom design, but it questioned a design showing the door to an enclosure around a wheelchair-accessible elevator.
The door would face east at the building’s northeast corner.
Councilman Dan Weddle said if the house to the north is razed and a parking lot is put in, it seems more logical for the door to face the north.
Otherwise, “It is encouraging people to go to the back of the building,” he said.
But if the house stays, it might make more sense for the door to face east, Syracuse-based architect Randy Crawford said. That is because people would be parking at the current lot on the building’s east side.
The board needs to decide if it wants to raze the house and build a parking lot before it decides on the door’s location, Crawford said.
Town Supervisor Fred Forbes said the board hopes to make the decision at the May 14 special meeting, which will start at 7 p.m.
The board held a public hearing on the house’s future in November, at which about half of the speakers supported keeping the house up and the half supported knocking it down and putting in a parking lot.
Those supporting keeping the house argued that knocking it down would sacrifice storage space and potential property taxes for the town, and ruin the village’s appearance.
Those supporting the parking lot argued that the Town Hall’s current parking lot, to the east of the Town Hall, is not big enough. Knocking down the house, which is about 25 feet north of the Town Hall, could provide room for between 20 and 30 parking spots, Crawford has said.


County triples minimum lot size requirements

Staff Reporter

In an effort to fall in line with new state standards, the Cortland County Health Department has implemented new minimum lot size requirements that could have a significant impact on people who want to develop property in many parts of the county.
The Health Department has instituted a minimum lot size for properties with neither public water nor public sewer of 2.4 acres, up from the previous standard of approximately three-quarters of an acre.
The new minimum lot size, which took effect Feb. 1, is a result of new state regulations that increase the minimum separation between individual water or sewer management systems, said Audrey Lewis, director of environmental health.
“The primary concern is the contamination of drinking water sources,” Lewis said. “You don’t want your drinking water to be contaminated by your septic system or the septic system on neighboring properties, and that’s where the state came up with the new minimum separations.”
The requirements from the state Department of Health vary based on a number of geologic factors — the presence of gravelly soil, farmland, and hillsides cause an even greater required separation in Cortland County, Lewis noted — but essentially the required distance between individual water and septic systems has doubled and, in some cases, tripled.
Because of the geologic makeup of much of Cortland County, the Health Department has long had issues with the placement of individual water and septic systems, Lewis said.
The new county standard is an effort to ensure that properties can be compliant with the state standards, she said.
“We’ve had a lot of difficulties trying to site these facilities — we were already having difficulties in areas with poor soils, along hillsides, areas with a lot of surrounding farmland,” Lewis said.