QUEENSBURY — The Warren County Board of Supervisors Personnel and Finance committees on Thursday OK’d a controversial plan to cut four jobs in the county Office for the Aging and outsource senior meal service production at one meal site.
The county hopes to save $74,000 by having meals for seniors in Glens Falls and Queensbury cooked at the Washington County Jail kitchen. Senior meals for Washington County residents are cooked at the jail, in a separate operation from the cooking for prisoners.
That would result in four layoffs of part-time staff at the meal site at the Cedars Senior Living Community in Queensbury, and a reduction in hours for three other positions there. Meals would still be served at the Cedars and delivered to seniors who get home delivery, however.
The Personnel Committee heard from opponents of the proposal, and met behind closed doors for about 20 minutes before voting to move the cost-saving plan forward to the full county Board of Supervisors.
Later Thursday morning, the Finance Committee, which had to approve the funding aspects of the plan, narrowly passed it in a 5-4 vote.
That came after seven of nine supervisors on the Personnel Committee voted for it, with only Glens Falls 2nd Ward Supervisor Peter McDevitt and Glens Falls 1st Ward Supervisor Jack Diamond casting against it. The Personnel Committee oversees employment decisions.
Several supervisors said the executive session during the Personnel Committee meeting opened their eyes to performance and employee issues at the meal site about which they weren’t aware until Wednesday. They would not elaborate.
“There were employee issues with the staff at the Cedars meal site,” Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty, the county’s acting administrator, acknowledged.
That played a part in why the meal site there was chosen among the sites for potential cuts, officials said.
Glens Falls 3rd Ward Supervisor Claudia Braymer said she wished that county leaders “rolled it (the proposal) out differently and gave more thought in how it was presented.”
Supervisors also said there had been a lot of emotion and misinformation surrounding the issue, including false claims that the meal site was closing and meals would not be of the same quality or served warm. (County supervisors have arranged a taste test to review the Washington County menu.)
“The Cedars is still going to serve meals for seniors. It’s just going to be prepared someplace else,” Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino said.
A contingent of critics of the plan spoke at the Personnel Committee meeting, but left before the Finance Committee took the issue up. The Finance Committee could have killed the proposal.
Former county Treasurer and Glens Falls Mayor Frank O’Keefe said he believed a number of volunteer drivers would not continue assisting the program in light of the change, adding that he will probably be among those who quit.
“I thought the county of Warren had more heart and was better than this,” O’Keefe said.
Another driver, Diane Collins, said she had concerns about the impact of the changes on a program that functions well.
“It’s incredibly efficient. It flows, it works,” she said.
Several supervisors expressed concerns about volunteer drivers quitting, saying that having to hire drivers would eat away at the meal site change savings.
In all, proposed meal site changes in Warren and Hamilton counties will save the county Office for the Aging, which runs senior meal programs in both counties, about $150,000, the amount that county Budget Officer Frank Thomas had asked the agency to cut. The only layoffs would occur at the Cedars site.
A meeting Monday at the Cedars on the issue drew 100 or so people, most of them upset with the idea that meal production there will end and workers they have come to befriend would lose their jobs.
Opponents of the proposal plan to bring a “busload” of people to the Feb. 16 full Board of Supervisors meeting, one senior said after the Thursday committee meeting.
HUDSON FALLS — What was billed as a “time for calm and some facts” informational meeting Thursday night in Hudson Falls quickly devolved into an enraged shouting match that shut down all conversation about a proposed syringe exchange program in the village.
“I have lived in Hudson Falls for 60 years and I came tonight to get some information,” said Ron Johnson immediately following the meeting held at the old Court House on Main Street. “I think it is unfortunate that we did not get the opportunity to fully hear Alliance’s position because of rude people who shouted everything down. They weren’t allowed to speak and they prevented discussion and that was necessary.”
In a meeting called by Deputy Mayor Bob Cook, nearly 170 people packed into the second floor room, leaving standing room only.
Cook said prior to the start of the meeting that the community was upset that they were not notified of an Alliance for Positive Health syringe exchange program to be opened at 124 Main St., across from Juckett Park and next to the former Commercial National Bank.
But Alliance for Public Health outside counsel, Robert A. Stout Jr., said they were only in the beginning stages of the process and it was in no way finalized.
Cook opened the meeting by explaining to an already angry crowd that several business owners had shared with him that if the program came into the Main Street location, they were moving out.
“One business owner told me, I’m closing my doors ... one woman asked me, ‘Bob, can you guarantee I’ll be safe?” he said. “What can I tell her? We’re dealing with life and death situations.”
He then had a young couple with a one-year-old daughter, Hannah, stand. “This is Hannah and she lives in the same building,” Cook said, asking the crowd if Hannah deserves to live with needles near her home.
As Cook outlined what he said were facts about the drug “pandemic,” he talked about how dangerous drug addicts are and how the restaurant and store bathrooms near the exchange clinic would be at risk from addicts shooting up and perhaps overdosing.
He asked those attending two questions:
“Did the Alliance for Public Health engage in open and transparent dialogue within the Department of Health regulations?”
“No,” the crowd shouted.
“Is the site appropriate?”
When Cook opened the discussion, the shouting began after one man talked about how research shows that needle exchange programs do not bring in more crime or increase the number of addicts in a community.
“Then put it in your home,” someone shouted. And others chimed in.
Joe, who said he was a recovering alcoholic, said he has been sober for 22 years.
“They don’t need needles, they need rehab,” he said.
Another man asked if anyone from Alliance was present and wanted to hear from them.
When Stout and Bill Faragon, executive director, came to the podium, they tried to explain that because they also have a health facility in Hudson Falls, they needed health department approval to move their location before they could talk to the community about the location.
And when Faragon tried to explain what they do, the crowd jeered, shouted and screamed, “Liar! Liar!”
Another person in the crowd said to show some restraint and let Faragon explain, but a majority screamed that they would not be respectful when they had to listen to “lies.”
Lee Shaw, who does not live in Hudson Falls, but over the border, stood up and said, he was extremely opposed.
“It does nothing for heroin addiction,” he said. “After they use the needle once, it’s dirty. It’s not going to work, I know first hand.”
He continued after cheers.
“It’s like giving a lead-free bullet to someone about to commit suicide. All you’re doing is giving free needles to people who want to shoot up and dealers follow people who shoot up,” Shaw said.
The Main Street location was approved by the state in August, but that approval was only for meeting health regulations for a clinic. The next phase is a presentation to the planning board in February and community discussions, presentations and informational sessions.
Faragon tried to explain that the Alliance for Positive Health’s Project Exchange provides new sterile syringes and other injection supplies, safe disposal of used syringes, and opioid overdose prevention.
Additionally, Project Exchange offers education and information on safer injection techniques and safer sex practices; referrals to HIV, sexually transmitted infections and hepatitis testing; health care and substance abuse programs; free Narcan training and kits for opioid overdose prevention; and replacement Narcan kits.
Today, there are more than 70 state-approved syringe exchange sites with several in the region, including clinic Alliance locations in Plattsburgh and Ticonderoga. The Ticonderoga clinic hours are on the first Tuesday of each month from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and on the third Thursday of each month between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m.
Needle exchanges in Troy and Schenectady are available through mobile clinic vans.
At the end of the meeting, Cook said over a still-shouting crowd, that he was filing a formal complaint to the attorney general’s office about the way Alliance handled the permitting process.
Stout said the Alliance for Public Health does not have any permits at this time.
FORT EDWARD — The Hudson River would be cleaner if there were more dredging, said former Regional EPA Administrator Judith Enck.
Speaking at a Post-Star Editorial Board meeting, she said EPA had to compromise to get General Electric to commit to any cleaning of the river. GE eventually removed almost 70 percent of the PCBs from the areas it dredged, but the water is still heavily contaminated.
“GE made a terrible mistake fighting this for years. But once they started doing it, they did a good job,” Enck said. “We got a lot of PCBs out of the hot spots.”
Still, she said it was clear that more dredging would vastly improve the river’s health.
“I would love more dredging to happen,” she said. “But there needs to be a legal mechanism for it to happen.”
She praised the Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees for documenting injuries caused by PCBs, but said they have spent too long studying the problem. The trustees released a report Wednesday, declaring that PCBs had injured natural resources, but did not say what they want GE to do about it. That’s their next step, they said.
Enck groaned at that.
“Next step! You know how often I have heard ‘next step?’” she said. “There’s a good chance I’ll be dead before they bring their action (against GE).”
She doesn’t intend to criticize them; she just wants them to take action now.
“I appreciate their scientific rigor, but they have to pick up the pace,” she said. “They’re way too slow. They’ve got to get to the table.”
Typically, once trustees bring an action, the polluter agrees to fix the problem after a negotiated settlement.
Enck isn’t holding out hope for that to happen soon. She is more encouraged by the idea of the state taking GE to court over the cost of dredging the Champlain Canal. EPA could not dredge the canal because it was considered “navigational dredging.” But the state hasn’t dredged the canal because of the high cost of removing sediment polluted with PCBs.
She is confident the state would win a case forcing GE to pay for that dredging.
It would get a “huge amount of PCBs” out of the river, she said.
While she was regional administrator, she tried to push the state to take action. She wanted to keep the dredging operation in Fort Edward functional on the grounds of efficiency for dredging the canal, but could not if the state wasn’t at least starting the process of getting GE to dredge the canal.
“I called the Canal Corporation many, many times,” she said. “I said, before all the equipment comes down, you should move.”
At one point, the Canal Corp. did file paperwork with the Corps of Engineers to get a permit for Champlain Canal dredging. Later, the state backed off.
“It has been a huge frustration that the state has not moved forward with that,” Enck said. “Dredging the Champlain Canal, that’s real removal.”
Enck also defended the EPA’s effort, saying the agency had to compromise with GE to get the cleanup done at all.
“Look, the Superfund is running on fumes. The actual work that was done in six years would’ve taken us 50 years,” she said. “So we had to reach an agreement with GE.”
WASHINGTON — Over the strong objections of his own Justice Department, President Donald Trump will clear the way for the publication of a classified memo on the Russia investigation that Republicans say shows improper use of surveillance by the FBI, White House officials said Thursday.
The memo, prepared by Republicans on the House intelligence committee, is said to allege FBI misconduct in the initial stages of its investigation of potential ties between Russia and Trump's 2016 campaign. Trump's Justice Department and Democrats furiously lobbied Trump to stop the release, saying it could harm national security and mislead the public.
A White House official said Congress would probably be informed of the decision today, adding Trump was "OK" with its release. A second White House official said Trump was likely to declassify the congressional memo but the precise method for making it public was still being figured out. The officials were not authorized to be quoted about private deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The FBI's stance means that Trump, by allowing the memo's release, would be openly defying his own FBI director. It also suggests a clear willingness by FBI Director Christopher Wray to challenge a president who just months ago fired his predecessor, James Comey.
Comey weighed in on Twitter Thursday night, writing, "All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would."
He advised his former colleagues at the FBI to "take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up."
The House intelligence panel voted along party lines Monday to put the memo out, giving Trump five days to reject the release under committee rules. But Trump also has the power to declassify the document himself and either release it or hand it to Congress to release. One of the White House officials said the memo would be in "Congress' hands" after Trump declassified it and there were unlikely to be any redactions to the document.
Trump has said he wants the memo released even after the FBI declared Wednesday that it has "grave concerns" about its accuracy. The document was written as part of an effort to reveal what Republicans say are surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department early in Russia investigation, before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to take it over.
Senior FBI officials have also made direct appeals to the White House, warning that it could set a dangerous precedent.
Democrats call the memo an attempt by Republicans to distract attention from the investigation into Russian meddling in the election that sent Trump to the White House. Democrats on the intelligence panel made a last-ditch effort Wednesday evening to stop the release, saying it had been "secretly altered" by the Republicans who wrote it.
California Rep. Adam Schiff said in a letter to the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Republican Devin Nunes of California, that committee Democrats had discovered changes that were made after the vote Monday.
"The White House has therefore been reviewing a document since Monday night that the committee never approved for public release," Schiff said in the letter.
Schiff asked Nunes for another vote on the memo, but Republicans didn't appear to waver. Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said the committee vote was "procedurally sound."
This all comes as special counsel Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign improperly coordinated with Russia and whether Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry by, among other actions, firing Comey. Republicans have intensified their pressure on the Justice Department as Mueller's probe has moved closer to Trump's inner circle.
Trump has been telling confidants in recent days that he believes the document will validate his concerns that the FBI and Justice Department conspired against him, according to one outside adviser familiar with those conversations but not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.
The president also has told allies that he believes the memo bolsters his claim that accusations of collusion between his campaign and Russian officials are false and part of a conspiracy to discredit his election.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer are pressing Speaker Paul Ryan to stop the release.
Ryan charged that the Democrats were just out for political gain, saying the purpose of the memo is to reveal whether there have been abuses of surveillance laws.
"This memo is not an indictment of the FBI or the Department of Justice, it does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general," he said, referring to Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in May.
But Schiff said the opposite Thursday, asserting that Trump is looking for a reason to fire Mueller and Rosenstein. He said he's more worried about Rosenstein because he decides the scope of Mueller's investigation.
"The White House knows it would face a firestorm if it fired Bob Mueller," Schiff said. "What's more effective is to fire Bob Mueller's boss."