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Father shares story of son's suicide with Warrensburg students

WARRENSBURG — The school district has seen its share of tragedy, and Wednesday’s presentation by a Vermont father whose son died by suicide was part of an overall, year-round plan to prevent more heartache.

Principal Doug Duell and his staff welcomed John Halligan to the high school to share the story of his son’s suicide while an eighth-grader in 2003.

“Some schools see bringing me in as a one-shot deal, but people like Doug wrap around what I am doing and refer to Ryan’s story when they are doing other programs,” Halligan said.

“This is just part of an overall program we are using to give students the information and education to keep themselves safe,” said Duell.

His school, like many others, has lost a student to suicide, and Warrensburg has developed a response.

Superintendent John Goralski said his district’s approach is all-inclusive.

“It’s not just about bullying. It’s not just about suicide. It’s about teaching the students to act the way toward each other that they want to be treated.”

From day one

At Warrensburg, it starts on the first day of school, when Duell directly addresses bullying and adds, “and we are going to do something about it.”

It includes the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which covers kindergarten to 12th grade and is reinforced every year.

It includes the Lifeline Curriculum, which reaches parents, faculty and students; and the Positive Behavior Intervention System, as well as a specific focus on suicide presentation.

It also includes bringing in Halligan, who lobbied successfully for a bullying law in Vermont after his son’s death.

“He’s got an important story to tell, and it’s one that the students listen to,” Duell said.

Telling the story

Halligan, who worked at IBM before becoming a full-time anti-bullying advocate, estimates he will have visited 2,000 schools before this school year is out.

His message seemed to resonate across age boundaries. Duell, a father himself, had to pause in introducing Halligan because he started to get teary. Two faculty members came up to the box of tissues and grabbed some before and during the presentations. Students focused on Halligan, were silent immediately afterward and were quick to ask questions.

“I feel like it’s a message that everyone needs to hear. I think we all have experienced the bullying,” said senior Hailey Sweet.

Duell said the same.

“It’s very personal and he does a really nice job of resonating with the kids,” he said.

Warrensburg’s program, which included a parent meeting this year and ongoing anti-bullying and anti-violence training, is resonating.

“I personally don’t see a lot of bullying here,” said 11th-grader Adam Allen. “I was bullied in seventh grade and I mentioned it to my teachers and my friends, and it stopped.”

Kayla Casey said the school’s faculty keeps track of students’ moods.

“Everyone is kind of looking out for you,” she said, noting friends will do the same thing. “A lot of teachers, if they see you are upset, they will ask you what’s going on.”

As Halligan told his story, photos of his son and others played on a loop on the screen next to him.

“What you have to understand is that the bystander is a bully, too,” he said. “If you chip away at the audience, you chip away at the bully. It’s peer pressure.

“You own this,” Halligan went on. “I beg you. Don’t be a bystander. Be an upstander.”


Local
Lone Republican prepares for collaboration on Queensbury Town Board

QUEENSBURY — When town Councilman George Ferone began his run for office, he had every reason to expect he would be among the majority on a board controlled by Republicans.

But a day after he was sworn in, Democrats swept the board, winning every seat but his. Now he is preparing to govern in a very different set of circumstances.

He has started by inviting each winning Democrat out for coffee, while saying publicly that the new board will be brimming with useful skills.

New Ward 2 Councilwoman Catherine Atherden worked in information technology for her entire career, “which is great for the board,” Ferone said. New Ward 4 Councilwoman Jennifer Switzer specializes in finance, also a needed skill, he said.

“And my background has been in general business and administration,” he said. “That’s three different attributes that will help Supervisor (John) Strough in running the town. The board-to-be is very diverse.”

He didn’t mention longtime Ward 1 Councilman Tony Metivier. It was his candidacy — against the candidacy of the man endorsed by the Republicans — that led to the Republicans’ downfall. Republican leaders wanted desperately to punish Metivier for one vote in 2015, but their effort to get him out of office backfired when they knowingly ran a man who would not serve if elected. They intended to replace him with someone else after he won.

Metivier ended up being endorsed by the Democrats and also won a primary to get the Republican line. He is now caucusing with the Democrats.

Ferone acknowledged his party’s animosity toward Metivier, but said he won’t continue it.

“You can agree to disagree, that’s fine,” he said. “There’s no need to make things personal.”

He plans to collaborate with the rest of the board, setting aside party politics as irrelevant in actually getting work done for the town.

“I’m here to represent the people of the town of Queensbury, Ward 3,” he said. “Try to control costs, try to hold taxes down.”

He was not pleased when his predecessor, Ward 3 Councilman Doug Irish, refused to resign after moving out of state to take a job in North Carolina. He even asked Strough if they could create a rule or law to prevent such a thing from happening again. The answer was no.

“There was nothing we could do,” he said.

Moving forward, he faces his first controversy later this month, when the Town Board begins interviewing law firms that responded to a request for proposals. Strough asked for proposals after John Aspland, a principal at the town’s current law firm, opined in writing in favor of the plan to run an unwilling candidate against Metivier.

Strough had previously objected to the fact that Aspland and other members of his law firm are also members of the Warren County Republican Committee. He said town attorneys should not get involved in partisan politics, since they must represent everyone.

Ferone did not object to the request for proposals, but said he supports keeping the law firm.

“It seems the current law firm has been successful,” he said.

He doesn’t have a problem with attorneys taking leadership roles in political parties.

“It seems to be a cultural thing. Some do it, some don’t,” he said. “I would hope, as attorneys, they could walk a fine line. I’m confident they could do that.”

On a more mundane issue that directly affects his constituents, he’s worked with Strough to find a compromise on the loud whistle at Queensbury Central Fire Department. In the upcoming budget for the department, the town might pay for a digital siren that would not be as noisy, he said.

He also took a tour of the rusted-out building that houses the highway department’s equipment. Strough and other officials want to spend $3.6 million or more to replace the building. Ferone is on board with that, noting that the town parks vehicles worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in the old building. It can’t be effectively heated and there are many leaks.

“It doesn’t make sense to keep them sitting in the elements,” he said.

In the election, he ran unopposed and received 1,407 votes. But 576 voters chose no one, refusing to vote for him. He has those numbers memorized.

“I want to serve the town to prove to those folks who voted for me that they picked the best person for the job,” he said. “And for those 500 who did not vote for me, to convince them to vote for me the next time around.”


Local
190 Grille & Cinema closes in downtown Glens Falls

GLENS FALLS — The movie projector has gone dark downtown with the closing of 190 Grille & Cinema, as the proprietor wants to focus on her food truck business and her family.

Business co-owner Heather O’Neill said it has been difficult to juggle the needs of the downtown business, the food truck and burgeoning catering business and two teenage boys.

“It was kind of like a perfect storm. The lease was up, so that was part of the decision,” she said.

The business closed on Saturday, putting about 10 people out of work.

O’Neill said she recently got back from Killington Mountain in Vermont where the food truck was serving at the World Cup Giant Slalom. She is heading to Lake Placid in two weeks for the World Cup Luge.

The catering business is also on an upswing. She recently finished catering for the “Spy Intervention” movie that filmed in Glens Falls and has other events scheduled in December.

“I don’t need to work seven days a week. I’m a single parent, so I’m the one who’s responsible for both my kids,” she said.

O’Neill said it has been a poor year at the box office.

“Maybe it was just an off year,” she said.

However, she said Hollywood’s output did not play a role in deciding to close.

“We just happened to go off in a different direction,” she said.

Customers who have unused gift certificates may send them for reimbursement to 190 Grille & Cinema, P.O. Box 3282, Glens Falls, NY 12801.

O’Neill said there is no timeline on when people have to turn in their gift certificates. She will refund the money.

“If you happen to come across it in six months, send it in,” she said. “We have a printout of how much gift certificates are worth.”

She said the landlord has been great and that amazing things are happening in downtown Glens Falls.

“I like that Rude Betty just opened up,” she said, referring to a new store on Exchange Street. “It’s nice to see some new retail coming in. That’s definitely something that’s needed down here.”

O’Neill said she planned to stay involved in the theater and film festivals, but not as a business.

This could be the end of the line for the dinner-and-a-movie concept in downtown Glens Falls.

The O’Neills had taken over for Aimie’s Dinner & Movie, which closed in August 2015 after 14 years of operation. The historic B.B. Fowler Co. building was in the process of being sold at that time to Fowler Building Associates, an entity created by JMZ Architects & Planners, which has its office on the upper floors of the building.

Tenée Casaccio of Fowler Building Associates was upbeat about the prospects of finding a new business.

“We’ve got some wonderful potential tenants, none of which I am at liberty to tell you about,” he said.

Casaccio said the O’Neills had given notice that they were not going to renew, so they had already had conversations with interested parties. She added that she received an inquiry on Tuesday — before news of the closure was formally announced and before any advertising has been done.

“I take that as an optimistic sign that we will not have difficulty filling the space,” she said.

Casaccio said the space does not necessarily have to remain a restaurant and movie theater. The kitchen and bar is in the rear of the building.

“The front area could easily be converted to some other use that may or not be connected to the restaurant and bar. We’re open to all options,” she said.

The structure has high tin ceilings, wood floors and exposed brick walls, according to Casaccio.

“Architecturally, it’s the kind of space that people gravitate to,” she said. “I’m very optimistic about filling the space quickly.”

She said it would be realistic to have a new tenant in place by the start of the new year.

EDC Warren County President Edward Bartholomew has offered to assist the building owners in efforts to find a tenant. He said it is a great location with about 6,500 square feet of space available.

“I think that we’re growing and potentially some options may exist for some retail space or other uses for the building that would be complementary to downtown,” he said.

The 190 Grille & Cinema opened in February 2016. The O’Neill family had previously operated the Olde Post Grille on the Million Dollar Half Mile in Queensbury for 13 years.

The O’Neills renovated the dining area, which had previously been a lobby. The theaters also received new painting, lighting and upholstery. They also upgraded the bar area.

The business was co-owned by Kerry Metivier and his wife, Sandy until the building was sold. Kerry Metivier’s father-in-law, Bud Wolf, was the previous owner.


Local
Lake Luzerne resident wins 'retaliation' lawsuit against state

Monsour

To Jeff Monsour, the federal court jury verdict in his favor late last month wasn’t as significant for him as it was for those who may want to come forward to report misconduct by state agencies or employees.

The Lake Luzerne resident beat the state in a trial that focused on whether the state violated his constitutional rights and illegally retaliated against him for reporting abuse and misconduct within the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, the agency for which he works.

The jury awarded him $1, but the money was far from the point for Monsour. Instead, he and his counsel believe the jury’s decision was a first of its kind in New York and will allow whistleblowers like him to have the confidence to come forward with less fear of retribution.

“The bottom line is, because of this, now other people can come forward,” he said. “We had to win, we really had to win. This could affect millions of disabled people across the United States.”

Monsour is an 18-year employee of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities and began speaking out about his concerns at the homes where he worked starting in 2006. His efforts picked up after a 2009 fire that killed four residents of an agency group home in Hamilton County, a fire that came after Monsour expressed concerns about agency fire alarm evacuation procedures and falsified fire drill records.

He later brought forward numerous complaints of “abuse and waste,” claims such as the agency having sought reimbursement for client services that weren’t rendered, poor water quality at a group home in Saratoga County, possible radon gas exposure at another home and concerns that employees weren’t being properly trained in use of physical force and other policies.

He also expressed concerns about an agency decision to allow developmentally disabled sex offenders from a group home to attend a 2012 Halloween party at Six Flags Great Escape, which seemed to violate policies that at least some of the offenders have no contact with children.

Monsour testified at a June 2011 state legislative hearing on issues raised in a series of New York Times articles about his concerns and those of others about the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

After he spoke out, he said he was falsely accused of abuse, suspended without pay for no reason, denied promotions and “disparaged and marginalized.”

Monsour said he has continued to face retaliation since his lawsuit was filed. He said he has been made to follow different procedures than his co-workers, been denied use of a bathroom at an agency home, which other employees use, and been re-assigned.

Monsour said he has faced three false workplace complaints just since July 2015 and was transferred from one workplace to another after complaining about a client having inappropriate contact with a dog.

Nonetheless, he continues to speak up about care and supervision issues within the agency and he says that won’t change.

“If people knew the things the state is doing, they would be sick,” he said.

Michael Carey, a watchdog for the disabled through the Jonathan Carey Foundation, named after his late son who died at the hands of caregivers at a group home, called Monsour an “absolute hero and champion for the disabled.” Monsour stood up to the state and advocated for residents of the homes where he has worked, Carey said.

“He has brought out major systemic failures,” Carey said. “The state needs to understand they can’t keep walking over people and retaliating against them.”

Carey said the lawsuit victory will help spur legislation and policies to better protect whistleblowers.

The case almost never made it to court.

Monsour searched around the region for months for a lawyer who would take his case, not finding one until he made contact with Robert Sadowski of New York City, a former federal prosecutor who Monsour praised for his “brilliant” work and dogged determination.

Sadowski took the case on a contingency basis, so Monsour has not paid him. Instead, he has filed a motion to have the state pay the legal fees, which Monsour said are in the “high six figures.”

A hearing on that issue is set for Jan. 18 in U.S. District Court.

The state can appeal the verdict, but has not said whether it will.

Denise Decarlo, a spokeswoman for the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, said the agency had no comment on the case as of Tuesday.

“We are reviewing the court’s decision to determine if any further action is needed and cannot comment on ongoing litigation,” she said.