June 8, 2007

State pledges more support for Senior Games

Senior Torch

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer    
Linda Van Valkenburg, of the Bronx, and Al Schrotch, of Rochester, light the torch at SUNY Cortland’s PER Center for the Empire State Senior Games Thursday.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The newly appointed director of the state Office for the Aging, Michael Burgess, promised Thursday night at the opening ceremonies for the 25th annual Empire State Senior Games that his office would be more involved in the games than it has been in the past decade or so.
“I also want to be here because you are showing that older people are active and healthy,” Burgess told the hundreds of senior athletes in attendance.
Although the first of the events was held Tuesday, the opening ceremony for the Senior Games, which are administered by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, took place Thursday on the defrosted ice rink at the SUNY Cortland PER Center.
The Senior Games attract nearly 2,000 athletes from all over the state for the event, which will end on Tuesday. The athletic facilities of SUNY Cortland are the venue for many of the more than 30 events, but some are held at facilities in the surrounding community.
State and local officials praised the event during the ceremony.
“It’s very important that we keep people healthy and exercising,” Burgess said.
During the administration of former Republican Gov. George Pataki, state Office for the Aging spokesman Reza Mizbani said his office had not been nearly as involved as it had before Pataki was elected.
Now, Burgess said the Senior Games are exactly what the Office for the Aging should be supporting in concert with the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
“We’re going to have someone responsible in the office, appointed, to coordinate this on an ongoing basis,” Burgess said after the large blue torch with yellow flashing had been lit by a torch held by athletes Al Schrotch, of Rochester, and Linda Van Valkenburg, of the Bronx.
In a news release accompanying the opening ceremony, Burgess said he would appoint a Senior Games coordinator from his staff to work directly with Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, as well as the 59 local Area Agencies on Aging that his office oversees.
Burgess hopes to increase marketing efforts, and specifically release more publications like brochures, to attract new seniors. More than half of those in attendance at the opening ceremony appeared to be newcomers, as demonstrated when the attendees raised their hands in response to Burgess’ question about who had participated in years past.
“This is part of our effort to make people realize that the image of older people isn’t one of dependency and illness, but they’re also very physically active and energetic, and they’re role models for healthy living,” Burgess said afterward, noting the wide range of ages in the arena.
Although master of ceremonies Garry Van Gorder, executive director of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce, was decked out in the official blue jogging suit worn by the athletes, he said he likely would be no match for them and would not even try.
“There really isn’t an age past which you can’t compete, there isn’t an age past which you can’t have fun,” Van Gorder stressed.
After all, he said, “getting old isn’t for sissies.”
During her speech, Cortland Deputy Mayor Sue Feiszli (D-6th Ward) encouraged athletes to enjoy the area, and also recognized the nearly 200 volunteers who make the event possible.
Ray Franco, SUNY Cortland vice president of institutional advancement, welcomed the seniors back and reminded the athletes that the community is happy to have the games back in town for the sixth consecutive year.
“When (the students) leave for the summer, the campus is too quiet. We’re so glad you’re here with your energy and your enthusiasm,” Franco said.
Burgess, as well as the other speakers, lauded the high quality of the athletic facilities on campus and in the surrounding community.




Court hears Cuyler town justice appeal

Staff Reporter

ALBANY — The state Appellate Court heard arguments Thursday in the case of the Cuyler town justice who has been recommended for removal from office after the state Commission on Judicial Conduct concluded she lied under oath.
Town Justice Jean Marshall is appealing the commission’s recommendation that she be removed.
A court representative said a decision in the case could be handed down as soon as the end of June.
Marshall’s attorney, Larry Knickbocker, argued in front of the seven-justice court that his client never intended to deceive the commission during its investigation into her conduct and that she should not be removed from office.
The commission filed its recommendation against Marshall in February, accusing her of first improperly dismissing four code violation cases in 2004 based on ex-parte, or out-of-court, discussions. The commission also accused Marshall of altering her court calendar to hide adjournments related to the dismissals, as well as lying under oath about the incidents.
In his arguments, Knickerbocker admitted Marshall improperly dismissed cases but said there is no evidence to prove she lied about the adjournments related to the dismissals, or that she altered the calendar to deceive the commission.
“She listened to those ex-parte communications incorrectly,” he said, arguing that the improper dismissals alone do not warrant Marshall’s removal.
Appellate Court Justice Robert Smith said during the proceeding that if Marshall is found guilty of the cover-up that he believes she should be removed.
“We can’t have a judge that lies under oath and fakes documents,” he said.
Commission attorney Robert Tembeckjian told the court that Marshall was asked during the investigation to provide all court documents but she never provided the calendar until she was asked for it specifically. He said she used white-out to “obliterate” entries she made on the calendar which noted that she adjourned the cases in court in December 2004 to Jan. 26, 2005.
He said she made the annotations because she testified in front of the commission that she never adjourned the cases in court.
“She testified falsely,” he said.
Tembeckjian said Marshall lied under oath seven times when asked about the adjournments.
Justice Susan Philips Reed questioned Knickerbocker about why Marshall only used white-out on the occasion related to the cases in question, but the rest of the time made changes with a pen.
Smith also questioned Marshall’s story regarding the white-out.
“Did she run out of pens?” he asked Knickerbocker. “Who uses white-out if you don’t want to conceal the mistake?”
Knickerbocker said Marshall never adjourned the cases in court. He said she only tentatively adjourned the cases on her own at home where she made the notes on the calendar but then used the white-out to change the document because she dismissed the cases.
He said Marshall altered the calendar with white-out because she was home when she made the changes where the white-out was available. He said she usually made the changes at the town court with pen.


County panel looks at DMV

Staff Reporter

A special legislative space-needs committee met for the first time Thursday morning, focusing primarily on relocating the county’s motor vehicle office, which the committee agreed would be the easiest of its needs to address.
The committee reviewed, in executive session, 11 potential sites for the DMV from county Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Brian Parker, who said the sites were “a conglomeration of all the ideas I’ve heard” over the past few years.
Committee Chairman Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward) said after the meeting that the 11 properties are a mix of sites suggested by legislators in the past, sites identified by Parker and sites suggested by real estate agents.
The sites are not all necessarily on the active market, Tytler said, and there are sites both in the city and outside the city.
The committee also decided to send out a request for proposals to local real estate agents soliciting more potential sites.
“I think this was a chance for us to look at everything that’s been considered before, but the next step is to sit back and discuss what the needs actually are,” Tytler said.
County Clerk Betsy Larkin will be invited to the committee’s next meeting, scheduled for June 19, to discuss issues such as the ideal location for the DMV based on who uses the office, space needs and other departmental issues. Larkin oversees the operation of the local DMV office.
County Administrator Scott Schrader will also be asked at that meeting about the pros and cons of leasing a property versus purchasing one, Tytler said.
The special committee was formed to look at three critical county space needs: new space for the department of Mental Health, new or increased space for the county jail and new space for the DMV office.
“DMV just seems like the easiest project to get going right now,” said Legislator John Daniels (D-Cortlandville). “I think we should get it out of the Courthouse, clear a little space and then go from there.”
The committee discussed the possibility — brought up a few months ago in a County, City, Towns, Villages and Schools Committee meeting — of setting up temporary satellite DMV offices in outlying locations such as Marathon, but CCTVS Co-chair Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer) said a request for $33,000 to fund satellite offices had been pulled from the state budget.
“I think if we can get the DMV in a good central location where we can have it open once or twice a month on weekends or evenings, it’s going to be a real benefit to the people, we might not even need a satellite office,” Cornell said.


McGraw superintendent contract extended

Staff Reporter

McGRAW — The Board of Education extended Superintendent of Schools Maria Fragnoli-Ryan’s contract for 13 1/2 months Thursday night until her anticipated retirement in August 2010.
The vote came after a discussion in executive session.
Board member Ginny Mott asked that the resolution be tabled and discussed in executive session. Board members Dave Bordwell and Tony Opera agreed. Three others were against tabling it — Lois Horner, Bill Hakes and Kolby Avery. Board President Michelle Stauber broke the tie and tabled the item for discussion.
Back in open session, Mott was the only board member voting against the contract extension, which gives Fragnoli-Ryan a contract through Aug. 16, 2010. Her contract had been through June 30, 2009, before the extension was granted.
Fragnoli-Ryan said this morning that she plans to retire in August 2010, hence the extension into August of that year. She said she had discussed this with the board before, but Mott had not remembered the conversation.
Mott said the board had until June 30 to act on the contract. This morning she said the board had not discussed the extension into August.
Mott cast the only vote against the contract, which passed 6-1. She would not comment on why she voted no.
June 30 is also the date the teachers’ contract expires.
Beth MacRae, president of the McGraw Faculty Association, said negotiations are going slowly. An executive session after the board meeting included negotiations, which MacRae, and teachers union negotiators Jim Weiss and Robert Schlicht also attended.
MacRae said union leadership would remain the same for the 2007-08 year. “We want to keep it stable,” she said. “We’re going to have another good year.”