October 04, 2007


Disabled employees find ways to succeed

Annual county awards luncheon recognizes efforts of 5 workers and 6 companies


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
Maria Mucaria, right, who is partially blind, teaches a classical piece of music for flute to Tina Shattuck of Cortland. Mucaria is helping Shattuck prepare for a classical music festival at the Blue Frog Coffehouse on Nov. 18. Mucaria was honored Wednesday as a disabled employee of the year.

Staff Reporter

Maria Mucaria must have applied for more than 100 teaching jobs after completing her music teaching bachelor’s degree from the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, but no one would hire her.
“They were concerned I wouldn’t get to work because I couldn’t drive,” said Mucaria, a 34-year-old Cortland resident who is legally blind.
More than 10 years later, Mucaria was recognized as one of five Cortland County disabled employees of the year. The employees were honored Wednesday at the fifth annual Cortland County awards ceremony for National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
The event, a luncheon at the Elk’s Lodge in Cortland that drew about 75 people, also recognized six companies that employ people with disabilities and a high school student on her way to getting a job.
It was put on by Access to Independence, Cortland Works Career Center, J.M. Murray Center’s Employment Connections and the state’s Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities department.
Mucaria, who is self-employed as a private flute teacher and a licensed massage therapist, was not the only disabled employee award recipient who once faced challenges getting a job because of her disability.
Ellie Schrader, 47, said she was diagnosed with emphysema in October 2002 and had to leave her job at Marietta Corp. because of the chemical odors. She couldn’t find a receptionist job after her departure.
She said at an interview she would be upfront about her emphysema, just to be honest, but people would take her openness the wrong way.
“I never try to use my disability to get special treatment, but that’s what some thought I was doing,” said Schrader, who now works at Cortland Regional Medical Center as a receptionist.
J.M. Murray Center’s Employment Connection branch helped her find the job, she said.
Schrader was recognized by her job coach, Sarah Goonan, for having a smiling face that touches hundreds of people a day, while Mucaria was recognized by her fiancé, Aaron Baier, for being hardworking, dedicated, open-minded, friendly and her own employer. Goonan had nominated Schrader, while Baier had nominated Mucaria.
Erik Hobart, a residential coordinator with the Franziska Racker Center, Courtney Walker, a buffet team member with Ponderosa and Jeni Oechsle, a baker’s assistant at Price Chopper, also received employee of the year awards.
According to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000 52 percent of the county’s 2,712 disabled people between the ages of 16 and 64 were employed, while 74 percent of the 13,000 disabled people in the same age category were employed.
Employers were recognized Wednesday for their efforts in trying to boost the percentage of disabled workers through hiring, training and providing references for people with disabilities.
Those employers were Northwoods Rehabilitation and Extended Care Facility, Custodial Services, Hampton Inn, Odyssey Networks, Gilda’s and Sellco Industries.
For the first time this year local agencies presented an award to a high school student with a disability who is on his or her way to getting a job.
Cortland High School student Micki Mudge received the award Wednesday. She wants to work in the child care field and has experience working at various local child care centers, including BOCES.
A greater emphasis has been placed on preparing high school students with disabilities for careers, said Laura Pforter, a youth specialist with the J.M. Murray Center who presented Mudge with her award, and Kari Hilsinger another youth specialist with the J.M. Murray Center.
At the beginning of the school year both women were placed in Cortland High School as part of a three-year $680,334 grant Cortland High School received through the state Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities office.
There, they will work with the school’s approximately 150 students with disabilities to help them apply for jobs, explore their career options and recognize their strengths.
“It’s great just seeing kids come in saying you can help out with applications,” Hilsinger said.



Public Defender’s suit questions judge’s conduct

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A seemingly simple Family Court case that has already been drawn into the larger controversy over the county’s conflict attorney position, now may also spill over into a discrepancy over judicial conduct.
Public Defender Keith Dayton has filed four pointed and critical objections to the conduct of County Judge William Ames, against whom Dayton has filed suit relating to Ames’ opposition to the newly created conflict attorney position.
Arguments in the suit, originally scheduled for Monday, were adjourned by Supreme Court Judge Kevin Dowd, with no new date yet set.
Dayton, on Sept. 17, filed four formal objections to Ames’ conduct surrounding the lawsuit, including Ames’ use of his courtroom as a forum “to attempt to advance his position relative to the pending” lawsuit.
Ames, in a counterclaim filed Sept. 26 by his attorney Edmund Hoffman Jr., outlined his opposition to the conflict attorney position, and argued that Dayton is pursuing a personal agenda with the case.
Dayton filed suit against Ames Aug. 21 after Ames removed Conflict Attorney Tom Miller from representing the father in a custody case due to Ames’ objections to the county’s Conflict Attorney Office, which was created in late 2006.
That action by Ames, which sent representation of the father back to the Public Defender’s office, effectively obliged Dayton’s office to cover both the father and the mother in the case, an unacceptable conflict of interest, Dayton said.
The conflict attorney position was created by the county Legislature in 2006, but was not filled until August.
Ames has said that he does not believe the position to be legal, that the Legislature superceded state law by creating the position, and that the position is too closely tied to the Public Defender’s office.
At an Aug. 30 hearing involving the parents involved in the custody case, Ames outlined his position for news media outlets he had invited to the proceeding.
Dayton, in his objections, takes issue with Ames’ use of that forum.
He notes that Ames had invited the news media to the proceeding and that, after once denying a request from Dayton to adjourn the conference before he spoke to the news media, Ames offered to adjourn the case after his remarks.
“Judge Ames knew or should have known that his public remarks may have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding … particularly in the eyes of the public,” Dayton’s objection reads.
Dayton also charges that Ames was “attempting to garner public (i.e. taxpayer) support,” by suggesting that his intent was to save taxpayer money, and that Ames “usurped” the role of the Supreme Court judge by “using his own forum to adjudge the matters of fact … as an unsworn witness and under the veil of his own judicial authority.”
Furthermore, Dayton notes that Ames had initially accepted Miller as the father’s attorney, and that a standing decision, issued Aug. 23, from Ames and fellow County Judge Julie Campbell declaring the position null and void came after Ames had dismissed Miller on Aug. 21.
“I object to Judge Ames attempting to insert … his own Standing Decision, which is dated after the date of my Petition, in an attempt to justify his actions,” Dayton’s objection reads.
Finally, because no legal challenge of the law creating the conflict attorney position was ever in front of Ames, the judge did not have the authority to rule on its legality, according to Dayton.


C’ville budget plan ups tax levy 11%

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The town’s tentative $5.9 million budget for 2008 projects an 11.3 percent tax levy increase, but the Town Board hopes to trim that back to 3 percent or less.
The town’s general fund budget is an increase of 2.6 percent over this year’s $5.7 million budget, but some revenues are down and some costs are up, Town Supervisor Dick Tupper said after the regular Town Board meeting Wednesday night.
The proposed amount to be raised by taxes is $1.8 million, a $185,437 increase over this year.
The Town Board plans to meet at 3 p.m. Oct. 15 to review the tentative budget — the meeting is open to the public but does not allow for public comment.
The tentative budget is based on the unaltered budget requests from the town department heads and the proposed contracts, Tupper said. The contracts — which include agreements with the Cortland Free Library and McGraw’s Lamont Library, local recreation programs and various service providers — have yet to be accepted by the town and are “still up in the air,” he said.
“We’ve been in pretty good shape economically for the past two budgets and we haven’t messed with them (contracts) much. But this year, they keep creeping up on you so we have to take a look at them,” Tupper said this morning.
The exact figures for water and sewer tax rates were not available, but Tupper expected that they would be similar to last year’s, which amounted to about $87 or $88 per unit for sewer and about $91 or $92 per unit for water.
“The sewer revenue doesn’t equal the expenses at this point, but we have enough reserves that we don’t need to raise the rate,” Tupper said.
Town employees will be seeing pay raises between 3 and 4 percent. The town is also spending about 15 percent more for employee health insurance through Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
Employee benefits account for about 5 percent of the total budget.
Some revenue sources are down but increases elsewhere have resulted in a 5.9 percent increase in total estimated revenue for 2008, for an estimated revenue of nearly $3 million. Tupper said the revenue portion of the budget should warrant further review.
“I would suspect that we could find some more revenue in there,” Tupper said, pointing out that increased development in the town should generate additional fees.
Also, sales tax revenue is always estimated conservatively in case of an unforeseen downward economic turn.
The Town Court’s budget request is actually down this year, Tupper said, and the Highway Department’s budget request is only slightly more than the current year.
“There are two or three items in there that I know can go immediately,” Tupper said in reference to budget cuts that can be made. “But it looks like a pretty good budget.”
Town Board member Ted Testa said he thinks the proposed tax increase can be brought down to zero, or near to it.
Tupper said the first public hearing on the budget would likely be held prior to the Town Board’s regular meeting on Nov. 7 and the final budget would have to be approved by Nov. 20.



City cop released from jail, working

Jeffrey Stockton serves four-month sentence for vehicular manslaughter, DWI.

Staff Reporter

A former city police officer convicted of vehicular manslaughter and vehicular assault at the end of May after a drunken driving accident that took the life of a woman in November is out of jail and working locally at an ambulance company.
Jeffrey “Chip” Stockton was released from Cortland County Jail on Sept. 21, having begun serving his sentence on June 4.
He is now an employee of the TLC Emergency Medical Services.
County Court Judge Julie Campbell had sentenced Stockton to six months incarceration and five years probation on May 24.
Stockton pleaded guilty to second-degree vehicular manslaughter and second-degree vehicular assault, felonies; driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor; and failure to exercise due care, a violation, on April 5.
Stockton had admitted to striking two pedestrians: Lyn Briggs and Melody Benn, both 55 and both of 65 Central Ave. in Cortland.
The accident occurred Nov. 17 at the intersection of Central Avenue and Church Street.
Briggs died two weeks later, and Benn suffered life-threatening injuries. Stockton, a seven-year veteran of the Cortland Police Department, resigned four days after the accident.
As part of the sentence, Stockton also is ordered to pay a total of $14,030 in restitution as well as another $1,500 in court fees, and to prepare a drunk driving presentation to give at every high school in the county.
On Tuesday, TLC spokesperson Trish Hansen said Stockton had been hired recently and is working an “office job.”
Stockton answered the phone at TLC when the company was contacted for this article, but did not return a phone call for comment.
“We had an opening in the office, he applied, we interviewed him and offered him the job,” Hansen said. “He’s more than qualified for this position.”
The company employs about 50 people. Hansen said the position does not involve any driving and that Stockton is “doing an exceptional job.”
His lawyer, Mark Suben, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment this morning.
Benn could not be reached for this article.