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Alliance withdraws application for syringe exchange location in Hudson Falls

HUDSON FALLS — Following a volatile public outcry against a possible syringe exchange program in Hudson Falls, the Alliance for Positive Health has decided to withdraw its application from the state Department of Health for a proposed Main Street location.

Additionally, the health care provider will move its care management services out of the village, said Bill Faragon, executive director, on Wednesday morning.

“Our clients already experience stigma,” Faragon said. “And we feel they would not be safe in this location. We need to make sure our clients have a safe space to go.”

The Alliance has been serving Warren and Washington counties for 25 years and has operated a care management facility for people with HIV and chronic illnesses on LaCrosse Street in Hudson Falls for 10 years.

According to Faragon, his organization generally works with Medicaid populations and helps them with care needs, such as getting transportation to medical appointments or helping them access related services.

“We stabilize and make them healthy and keep them out of the emergency room,” he said, adding that the Alliance had hoped to bring additional services such as nutritional counseling and LGBTQ services to the proposed Main Street location.

“There was so much backlash, we never got to chance to tell our case,” said Faragon, referring to an out-of-control community meeting about the syringe exchange last Thursday night.

“I think it is a loss for the community,” said Ron Johnson, who has lived in Hudson Falls for 60 years. “The community was misguided even by the Village Board, who painted a not realistic picture of how things would work, and we never got to hear that. Now we still have the same old problems and nobody is here to help.”

Johnson continued: “What happened is indicative of all the people who did not understand what they were doing here.”

Amanda West, executive director of the Council for Prevention, said the Alliance leaving the Hudson Falls community is “unfortunate.”

“The Council supports the Alliance and the SEP (syringe exchange program) concept,” said West. “Hopefully in the future we can help them with an appropriate location where everyone understands its value and the process is transparent. We look forward to working with the Alliance in the future.”

Johnson was one of nearly 170 people who attended a community informational meeting, called by Hudson Falls Deputy Mayor Bob Cook, last Thursday.

During the meeting, Johnson tried to talk to the already angry crowd about how this might be an opportunity for the community.

Nonetheless, when Faragon and others representing the Alliance tried to explain their intentions for the 124 Main St. location, including expanded health care services, several in the crowd shouted them down with chants of “liar” and “lies.”

Village Attorney Bill Nikas said on Wednesday by email that the reason they were shouting “lies” and “liar” was the village “had discovered they (Alliance) had completely ignored the legal requirements necessary to open such a program.”

“The individuals who were yelling “lies” at the meeting knew this background information and were unable to sit quietly and listen to Alliance representations known to be false,” Nikas said.

When asked what rules the Alliance violated, Nikas said the Alliance did not develop a community advisory board, and he added that safety concerns were a “bogus reason.”

“If they had implemented the state-required community advisory board before they applied to DOH for approval, they would have started the application process in an open and transparent manner with no fanfare,” Nikas said. “Instead, they misrepresented to DOH that they had complied with this pre-approval requirement when they had not done so.”

Nonetheless, in a letter to the state Department of Health regarding syringe exchange in Hudson Falls, Faragon did not appear to mislead health officials and did not say his organization had already implemented the community advisory board.

“We wanted to expand to that location for care management and we wanted to bring programs we have at our other locations to Hudson Falls,” said Faragon on Wednesday morning. “We have nutrition programs to help individuals stay healthy and teach them how to shop.”

Regarding syringe exchange, Faragon said that once Alliance officials had its other services moved into the new location, they wanted to talk to the community about the syringe exchange.

“We were in the very beginning stages of this and we were open and willing to listen to other options,” he said. “We really did not expect this.”

When first alerting the community to the Alliance’s plans, Cook, the deputy mayor, originally published a notice about the meeting online: “The Alliance now wants to expand its operations to include a new program to collect dirty needles from drug users (that’s right … heroin users!) in exchange for clean needles. Drug users from Warren and Washington County would be invited to come to Hudson Falls and bring their dirty needles to this site.”

Nonetheless, on Wednesday, after being informed of the Alliance’s decision to pull out of Hudson Falls, Cook’s view of “heroin users” changed from his earlier online posting.

“The pushback from the Hudson Falls community to a syringe exchange had nothing to do with disapproval of the exchange. Local leaders recognize the value of such programs. Our community would have supported a syringe exchange,” Cook said in an email Wednesday afternoon. “The pushback had everything to do with the Alliance for Positive Health’s lack of transparency and the inappropriateness of their desired location, which put our children at risk.”

Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said at last week’s meeting, and again on Wednesday by email, that the Alliance was “using deceptive practices.”

“It’s unfortunate that the Alliance still doesn’t understand why people were upset with the proposed location, as well as the deceptive manner in which it was selected,” Murphy said. “They couldn’t have picked a worse location and did so with no input from the community or elected officials.”

But Alliance outside counsel Robert Stout Jr. disagrees.

“The notion expressed at the meeting by some that the Alliance sought to deceive the public and government is false,” Stout said on Wednesday afternoon. “And they are well aware that an SEP can’t operate without widespread public support.”

Faragon said the Alliance is still committed to providing services to the region, but it is regrouping and searching for a new location to offer the expanded services they had planned for 124 Main St.

The LaCrosse Street care management services will remain in Hudson Falls until another location is secured.


Adam Colver, acolver@poststar.com 

Traffic moves slowly Wednesday morning as snow covers downtown Glens Falls, looking south from the ninth floor of the Travelers building. A winter storm is expected to leave nearly a foot of snow on the ground by Thursday morning. Visit poststar.com/weather for the latest on the conditions and poststar.com/schoolclosings for school closings, delays and service cancellations.


Local
Graduation rates up slightly across state

Area high schools made big gains in the graduation rates released Wednesday by the state.

Statewide, the graduation rate has topped 80 percent for the first time in recent history, inching up 0.5 percentage points from 79.7 percent to 80.2 percent. This statistic reflects the percentage of students who started high school in the fall of 2013 that graduated by June 2017.

The 2017 figure represents the percentage of students who entered high school in 2013 that graduated within four years.

District20172016
Argyle9570
Bolton8887
Cambridge8892
Corinth8679
Fort Ann8284
Fort Edward6371
Glens Falls8779
Granville7973
Greenwich8686
Hadley-Luzerne7672
Hartford8574
Hudson Falls7381
Indian Lake10075
Johnsburg8774
Lake George9687
Minerva6789
Newcomb100100
North Warren8676
Queensbury8989
Salem6591
Saratoga Springs8991
Schroon Lake9488
Schuylerville9095
South Glens Falls8582
Ticonderoga9279
Warrensburg9082
Whitehall6472

Glens Falls saw its graduation rate increase from 79 percent in 2016 to 87 percent in 2017.

Superintendent Paul Jenkins said in an email that students have made steady progress during the last few years, but 2017 had the largest jump in the graduation rate. He credited the work of faculty, staff and students.

“We have made some concerted efforts over the last two years to focus on early identification and intervention with students who may be in danger of falling behind,” he said. “Our students, faculty, staff and administration at each building have been focused on reducing course failures, reducing the number of students failing two or more courses, reducing student absences, increasing the number of students reading at grade level and increasing the number of students involved in school activities.”

Jenkins went on to say that the district is discussing how to strengthen its programs and will devote an upcoming superintendent’s conference day on how to improve district-wide homework and grading practices.

“We will continue to enhance the classroom opportunities for our students to make sure we have student-directed learning activities and we create an environment where our students can focus on project-based learning to develop real-world experiences,” Jenkins said.

In Washington County, Argyle Central School saw its graduation rate jump from 70 percent to 95 percent.

Superintendent Michael Healey said he is very proud of the increase.

“It really reflects the dedicated efforts of our students, families, teachers and our staff,” he said.

Healey pointed out that while the district’s graduation rate for 2016 was 70 percent, the five-year rate is about 95 percent.

“Some students took longer than others, but they did graduate,” he said.

Healey added that the district has taken steps to make sure students are engaged with school. One new initiative is a clay target shooting league.

“That club provides a connection to school for students who might not otherwise be involved,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re meeting the academic and social/emotional needs now and into the future.”

Lake George is another area district that had a graduation rate of 90 percent or higher, with 96 percent. Its 2016 rate was 87 percent. Warrensburg also had a 90 percent rate — up from 82 percent the previous year. Indian Lake and Newcomb, small districts that have low enrollment that can skew the numbers, had 100 percent graduation rates.

Other districts that saw increases include Bolton, Corinth, Granville, Hadley-Luzerne, Hartford, Indian Lake, Johnsburg, North Warren, Schroon Lake, South Glens Falls, Ticonderoga and Warrensburg.

Some Washington County school districts saw decreases in their graduation rates. Salem went from 91 percent to 65 percent; Fort Edward, from 71 percent to 63 percent; Hudson Falls, from 81 percent to 73 percent; and Whitehall, 72 percent to 64 percent.

Hudson Falls Superintendent Linda Goewey said she is disappointed by the decline in the graduation rate. She attributed the fall-off to poor attendance, mental health and addiction issues and larger-than-usual numbers of students who require services out of district.

Goewey noted that when the students who graduated in August 2017 is factored in, the rate increases to 76 percent.

“We are continuing to work with the students who did not graduate, to help them earn their diploma,” she said in an email.

Salem Superintendent of Schools David Glover said he believes the 65 percent rate is an outlier as graduation rates have hovered around 80 percent in the past few years.

“While the percentages appear low, we still have the majority of the students from last year’s cohort in school. The state report might count the student as not graduating, but it’s simply not true. The students simply aren’t finished yet,” he said in an email.

Superintendents from Fort Edward and Whitehall school districts could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the statewide graduation rates show steady improvement.

“We see incremental improvements across the state, holding onto last year’s gains and slowly building upon them. And that’s good news. At the same time, however, troubling gaps in achievement persist, and we must accelerate the pace of improvement,” she said in a news release.

The state is focused in its newly approved federal education plan on making sure there is equity in achievement among students of different races, disability levels or socioeconomic status, according to Elia.

She said there is still more work to do. The graduation rate for black students has increased from 68.2 percent for 2016 to 69.3 percent in 2017. For Hispanic students, the rate went from 68 percent to 68.4 percent. The graduation rate for white students increased by 0.3 percentage points to 89 percent during that time.


Business
AP
Senate celebrates budget deal — but shutdown still possible

WASHINGTON — Senate leaders brokered a long-sought budget agreement Wednesday that would shower the Pentagon and domestic programs with an extra $300 billion over the next two years. But both Democratic liberals and GOP tea party forces swung against the plan, raising questions about its chances just a day before the latest government shutdown deadline.

The measure was a win for Republican allies of the Pentagon and for Democrats seeking more for infrastructure projects and combatting opioid abuse. But it represented a bitter defeat for many liberal Democrats who sought to use the party's leverage on the budget to resolve the plight of immigrant "Dreamers" who face deportation after being brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The deal does not address immigration.

Beyond the $300 billion figure, the agreement adds almost $90 billion in overdue disaster aid for hurricane-slammed Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Senate leaders hope to approve the measure today and send it to the House for a confirming vote before the government begins to shut down at midnight today. But hurdles remain to avert the second shutdown in a month.

While Senate Democrats celebrated the moment of rare bipartisanship — Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it a "genuine breakthrough" — progressives and activists blasted them for leaving immigrants in legislative limbo. Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, herself a key architect of the budget plan, announced her opposition Wednesday morning and mounted a remarkable daylong speech on the House floor, trying to force GOP leaders in the House to promise a later vote on legislation to protect the younger immigrants.

"Let Congress work its will," Pelosi said, before holding the floor for more than eight hours without a break. "What are you afraid of?"

The White House backed the deal — despite President Donald Trump's outburst a day earlier that he'd welcome a government shutdown if Democrats didn't accept his immigration-limiting proposals.

Trump himself tweeted that the agreement "is so important for our great Military," and he urged both Republicans and Democrats to support it.

But the plan faced criticism from deficit hawks in his own party.

Some tea party Republicans shredded the measure as a budget-buster. Combined with the party's December tax cut bill, the burst in military and other spending would put the GOP-controlled government on track for the first $1 trillion-plus deficits since President Barack Obama's first term. That's when Congress passed massive stimulus legislation to try to stabilize a down-spiraling economy.

"It's too much," said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., a fiscal hawk.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., however, backed the agreement and was hoping to cobble together a coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans to push it through.

Despite the 77-year-old Pelosi's public talkathon, she was not pressuring the party's rank-and-file to oppose the measure, Democrats said. The deal contains far more money demanded by Democrats than had seemed possible only weeks ago, including $90 billion in disaster aid for Florida and Texas. Some other veteran Democrats — some of whom said holding the budget deal hostage to action on Dreamer immigrants had already proven to be a failed strategy — appeared more likely to support the agreement than junior progressives elected in recent years.

The budget agreement would give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies relief from a budget freeze that lawmakers say threatens military readiness and training as well as domestic priorities such as combating opioid abuse and repairing the troubled health care system for veterans.

The core of the agreement would shatter tight "caps" on defense and domestic programs funded by Congress each year. They are a hangover from a failed 2011 budget agreement and have led to military readiness problems and caused hardship at domestic agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the IRS.

The agreement would give the Pentagon an $80 billion increase for the current budget year for core defense programs, a 14 percent increase over current limits and $26 billion more than Trump's budget request. Nondefense programs would receive about $60 billion over current levels. Those figures would be slightly increased for the 2019 budget year beginning Oct. 1.

"For the first time in years, our armed forces will have more of the resources they need to keep America safe," said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "It will help us serve the veterans who have bravely served us. And it will ensure funding for important efforts such as disaster relief, infrastructure and building on our work to fight opioid abuse and drug addiction."

The $90 billion in disaster aid would bring the total appropriated in the wake of last year's hurricane season to almost $140 billion.

The agreement would increase the government's borrowing cap to prevent a first-ever default on U.S. obligations that looms in just a few weeks. The debt limit would be suspended through March of 2019.

The House on Tuesday passed legislation to keep the government running through March 23, marrying the stopgap spending measure with a $659 billion Pentagon spending plan, but the Senate plan would rewrite that measure.


Local
Warren County's response to FOI challenged

Conover

Warren County is facing a legal challenge to its response to a Queensbury resident’s Freedom of Information requests, a challenge that comes as a Glens Falls lawyer is also embroiled in a dispute with the county over its response to information requests.

Travis Whitehead is appealing the denial of a lawsuit last year that sought an engineering report on a geothermal energy project at Warren County Municipal Center. County officials withheld the report despite an opinion from the state Committee on Open Government that it should be released.

“Only an ‘executive committee’ (of county supervisors) had access to that report the entire time the settlement with Siemens was being debated,” Whitehead wrote.

It was eventually released six weeks later, after negotiations that led to a settlement with project contractor Siemens Building Technologies were substantially complete. Supreme Court Justice Robert Muller later dismissed the lawsuit, pointing to the eventual release of the report.

Whitehead said there has been a pattern of county leaders wrongly denying information requests, even when the Committee on Open Government issues opinions advocating a release.

“The issue is whether or not an agency can delay disclosure indefinitely and then cover all sins by releasing the material after the issues have been decided,” Whitehead wrote.

Whitehead is seeking a ruling from the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court on the merits of the lawsuit, as well as reimbursement for a few hundred dollars in court costs.

He is being represented by attorney Cameron MacDonald of the Government Justice Center. The center is an Albany-based “independent, not-for-profit legal center that provides pro bono representation and legal services to protect the rights of New Yorkers in the face of improper action by state or local governments,” according to its website.

Whitehead’s court challenge comes as Glens Falls lawyer John Aspland has claimed that county leaders have improperly kept documents from him related to the county’s search last fall for a new county attorney. Aspland’s firm had proposed privatizing the county attorney position.

His initial requests for emails and text messages related to the search were denied, despite a favorable opinion from Committee on Open Government Director Robert Freeman.

“It seems that the chairman (of the county board) may be unfamiliar with the scope of the Freedom of Information Law,” Freeman wrote in an email to Aspland, which was provided to The Post-Star.

Aspland said he filed appeals that have been mostly ignored for more than a month, despite emails to board Chairman Ronald Conover and other county officials to follow up on the status of the appeals. He said he got a response to just one, seeking the resume of county Attorney Mary Kissane.

Aspland called the handling of the requests “disheartening.”

“I have asked several times that the chairman and the county attorney and the (county) special counsel provide what the law allows me to have, yet nothing,” he wrote.

Conover said the requests were referred to the county attorney’s office.

“I’m confident the county attorney is well aware of the FOIL requirements,” Conover said.

County Attorney Mary Kissane said the county has responded to Aspland's requests and appeals as required.

Glens Falls 3rd Ward Supervisor Claudia Braymer, who is an attorney, said she has also had concerns about how the county responds to FOIL requests, after hearing of Aspland’s travails. She said she plans to ask that the county Board of Supervisors Legislative & Rules Committee look at the county’s FOIL policies.