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Letters to the Editor - February 24, 2011
February 24, 2011 12:43 PM | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Buck stops at the top

“I think the buck stops at Tim Matthews,” [Kingston Board of Education President James] Shaughnessy said. “A lot of people had a great degree of respect for him, thought he was a good cop, and thought he could be trusted. He apparently betrayed that trust.”  (Daily Freeman, Feb. 18)

If Mr. Matthews pleads guilty or is convicted in a jury trial, he should do jail time, have to pay a minimum of 10 percent of his present liquid assets and have all future wages garnisheed until he repays the taxpayers with additional compensation for emotional distress, violating his oath and being so damn greedy. All disputed hours must be deducted from his police pay, not his security work. I’ve heard he’s entitled to his pension even if he’s convicted. It’s going to cost a lot of tax dollars to get to the bottom of this mess. Then we have to pay him for the rest of his life. Don’t figure.

The buck doesn’t stop with Mr. Matthews, Mr. Shaughnessy. None of this should have happened in the first place. It’s beyond reason that he was able to pull this off undetected for two to three years. He’d still be at it if it weren’t for the state comptroller’s audit.

One officer had sole access to cash and evidence and the safe used to keep them secure.  How many employers give the only key to a cash safe to an employee, no matter how “trusted”?  In a brief exchange with a young lifelong Kingstonian in the political know, it was suggested that this ensured that if money was missing the chief would know exactly who the culprit was. A very costly security protocol. Nine-thousand dollars in cash, the cost of a locksmith, betrayal of the public’s trust, and the missed opportunity to prevent a crime.

State Comptroller DiNapoli stated the lack of oversight in the police department made it easy for this alleged fraud to occur. With all due respect and sincere gratitude for his efforts in this despicable affair, that seems to be an understatement. Professional negligence and disregard for accepted police procedures and failure to comply with municipal law seem closer to the truth. A policy regarding outside employment will soon be devised and implemented. Same thing happened after allegations of sexual harassment in the DPW were made public.

“New York State General Municipal Law 208-d which specifically authorizes police officers to: ‘engage in extra work for another employer outside his regular hours of duty for not exceeding 20 hours a week … ’” (Nick Woerner, Kingston Times, Feb. 17.)

Matthews worked 50-hour weeks for the school district while working full-time at his position in the police department. A direct violation of the law.

When the school district hired off-duty police as security, it was public knowledge.  These officers needed no permission; they were requested to act as school security.    Who gave Matthews the sole unsupervised responsibility for scheduling? Why didn’t anyone in the school district, the police department, the Common Council, Corporate Counsel, the police commission or the school board question the insanity of a 90-plus hour work week, especially since he carried a loaded gun? The City of Kingston dodged a bullet, literally.

Matthews could not have perpetrated this alleged fraud for this long without an incomprehensible lack of oversight and accountability from so many who are “trusted” public servants. Would the school district been as trusting of a private security firm? Would Gretzinger have dismissed evidence of double dipping within the school district as “sloppy record-keeping” if it was anyone else? I’ve been told Matthews was Gretzinger’s student in high school. Did a long-term social relationship unduly influence the superintendent? The notations of double-dipping are in the records from the 2008-09 school year. When was the last time the city comptroller audited the police department or the school district?

“Matthews was paid $26.50 an hour for his work at the school.” (Kingston Times, Feb. 3) For a 50-hour work week at the school district, that means he grossed $1,325 from the school district alone. Now the mayor wants a frank discussion about using off-duty police as school security. Really? Didn’t they do this before they put police in the schools as security guards?  Word on the street is that the mayor and Matthews vacationed together on several occasions. If this is true, perhaps the mayor’s friendship with the detective sent the wrong signal. Perhaps others hesitated to look too closely or question the free rein given to Matthews both within the police department and the school district for fear of possible repercussions from the top.

“If you want to prevent double dipping there are ways to do it other than taking this drastic approach,” Common Council Majority Leader Bill Reynolds, D-Ward 7, is quoted as saying in the Feb. 18 Daily Freeman. Why wouldn’t an elected official or public servant want to prevent fraud? Why didn’t anyone do anything to prevent this farce?

The mayor has cautioned us not to rush to judgment because the FBI has joined in the multiple investigations and audits sparked by the Matthews scandal. I am relieved that the FBI is on the job. With the FBI and the State Comptroller’s Office on board, the scope of the investigations should be broad enough to exonerate the innocent and charge the guilty in a timely and transparent manner.

I think the buck stops at the top. A lot of voters had a reasonable expectation of competency and professionalism from our city leaders, thought Mayor Sottile was at the helm, thought Police Chief Keller was leading the department and thought Schools Superintendent Gretzinger was acting in the best interest of the city’s students and taxpayers. Apparently those voters were wrong. Unfortunately, it is not against the law to be incompetent. We get to pay each of them for the rest of their lives too. Don’t figure.

Amy Murphy

Kingston


Take down this canopy

Analysts who have studied the Pike Plan and its cause and effects refer to it as a “ ’70’s arcade.” The issue of the Pike Plan’s existence is very subjective. To bring it into perspective, it’s basically a drop ceiling with fluorescent lighting on the outside of buildings that represent one of the oldest merchant centers in America. The span of the area that this overhang is attached to becomes one big block of buildings hidden by a structure that converts a historic 19th-century shopping district into a ’70’s strip mall.

My building is the corner of Wall and North Front streets. When a visitor walks out of my door onto the side walk he or she should be able to look down Wall Street and see the steeple of the Old Dutch Church. Instead the view is a tunnel with a “T 111 ceiling and institutional lighting.” I had a customer, a tourist, having breakfast in my cafe. She said to me, “This is such a lovely little town. It’s just very distressing that you have to walk down the middle of the street to appreciate the buildings.”

Then, with the moneys in question, RUPCO hired a nationally acclaimed marketing expert, Norman Mintz, co-author of Cities Back from the Edge.” His purpose was to give us some insight into revitalization of our city. His opening statement was, “The first thing needed to revitalize the retail business in this town is to take down the canopies.” He was told by RUPCO and the City of Kingston that was not an option, so he went on from there.

The comment by Mr. Mintz sparked the insight and conviction that I still carry today, and at that time I realized this objective had to be explored in great detail. What I learned reinforced Mr. Mintz’s theory. Nineteenth-century merchants realized the importance of visibility for a thriving retail business. These buildings in Uptown Kingston were designed or redesigned, in some case, at a great expense by these merchants to have glass walls or as much glass as possible on the first floors. My building, for instance, was formally where the Tappen House stood. The owner, Mr. Bernstein, in 1892, tore down the stone structure and built a modern Victorian building with an expansive first-floor storefront, all windows — Bernstein’s Emporium of Fashion. The studies continue to explain that in the ’70’s, these store fronts or should I say the visibility so artfully created in the 19th century was masked by the “arcade” in question. I would like to add that the same was done to many downtown areas across the U.S. This was done to compete with the strip malls that had gained popularity — the “Kingston Plazas of the world.”

And business started to decline. The studies continue to say that the only business the remained successful were business that existed before the canopies were built or successful businesses that came with their own clients or an already established name. New businesses very rarely survived unless they are being underwritten by another source.

My personal experience almost encompasses all of the above mentioned. I moved a successful existing business here with the purchase of my building. We then developed new businesses. The old established business still thrives but has gained no momentum and to this day it still underwrites the new businesses which are still struggling to stay on their feet. Not for lack of quality as we are told by all our regular clients but by lack of visibility — many clients find us by accident not by sight.

The canopies need to be removed and the damage to the historic structures repaired. The majority of our Uptown Pike Plan hostages who own over 90 percent of the square footage under the canopies are fighting for the right to be freed from this oppressive parasite that blocks visibility and undermines the historic integrity of our Uptown area.  The city says the grant monies can’t be used to remove the canopies. We say work with us, for the betterment of the city and the financial rebirth of our retail area and we’ll find a way, once and for all, to take down the canopies and let our historic area shine once again.

Dominick Vanacore Jr.

Kingston


Community-based the way to go

As New York wrestles with severe budget problems, I urge the state to transition more Medicaid-eligible people from nursing facilities who have expressed a desire to return to the community. If the state transitioned only 10 percent of the Medicaid-eligible individuals back to community-based living, New York would save $6.3 million in the first year and $127.15 million in the non-federal share over five years.

New York should shift away from the traditional model of care that is over-reliant on medical professionals and support community-based alternatives to institutional placements.

This is both a budgetary issue and a requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision. Supporting alternatives to costly and inappropriate institutional placements is the right thing to do at this time.

Fran Wishnick

Public policy/advocacy director

Resource Center for Accessible Living

Kingston


Prayers go out

Since the shooting in Poughkeepsie, sadness fills my heart. Any attempt to offer words of encouragement would be meaningless. The words of Jesus, who was watching on that fateful day, remain: “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends … You are my friends if you do my commands.”

Officer John Falcone and all the other officers present followed this highest calling as they gave themselves to protect the innocent. Jesus was there and received him. He has gone before us on the path that we shall have to take at some point. Through his death God reminds those who are daily in harms way to remain prepared. God shall call you, and us, only at the hour that God has chosen. Until that hour, that lies in God’s hands alone, we shall all be protected even in greatest danger, and from our gratitude for such protection ever new readiness arises for the final call.

My heart goes out to the beloved Falcone family. I pray that they would feel encouraged by these words of Jesus, “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so I would have told you. I will go and prepare a place for you so that where I am you may be also.”

My brothers and sisters of Law Enforcement remain on my prayers.

Johann Christoph Arnold

Pastor

Woodcrest Community

Rifton


Take a stand

Dear Superintendent Gretzinger:

I understand the purpose of your public forum the last week in February is, lacking a completed budget document, to ask the community “what do you want to see in the budget and what do you don’t.”

Regarding health insurance cost I want the district to cap taxpayer contribution to 2010 level. The Teachers’ Trust is sitting on $19M of taxpayer money in reserve. Let them start to use that taxpayer money to offset rising health insurance cost through time. The 2010 cap by the way will be permanent and teachers can join the rest of us or opt out of the system.

Regarding pension cost increases, take a stand — say 2010 is the limit of taxpayer contribution, how pension fund managers invest taxpayer contributions are between them and the recipients. I lost plenty of my retirement investment in this economic downturn, I can’t ask taxpayers to make me whole. By the way, the taxing entities’ explanation for the past couple of years as to why us taxpayers have to contribute more is “the market has gone down.” Now the “market has gone up” and if the pension fund made bad investment choices or bad timing, recipients can suck it up.

Close a school and save $680K? Get real, salaries and benefits alone far exceed that amount unless you intend to reassign personnel to already fully staffed schools. 

The alternative to the above, salary freezes and benefit freezes to avoid additional layoffs. Tough medicine? Welcome to my world.

Ronald E. Dietl 

Kingston


Thanks, HealthAlliance

In keeping with the concept that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, I applaud the Health Alliance of the Hudson Valley [HAHV] for sponsoring the enjoyable, beautifully orchestrated “Heart Healthy Event,” held at the Benedictine Hospital/Administrative Services Auditorium, Kingston, Thursday morning, Feb. 10.

Three polished, highly enlightening seminars — “Lower Cholesterol & Shrink The Plaque,” “How Sleep can Protect the Heart,” and “Stroke Prevention & Treatment” — presented respectively by area experts in their fields, Ellis Lader, M.D., of Mid Valley Cardiology; Subooha Zafar, M.D., Director of the Dr. Joseph and Esther B. Hartman Sleep Center; and William Gooch, M.D., of Kingston Neurological Associates, P.C., constituted la piece de resistance of the event. But a wide variety of exhibits on topics ranging from nutrition and stroke to cardiology and smoking cessation — coupled with delightful refreshments, take-home freebies, and warm, friendly HAHV staff members manning each educational display likewise played key roles in conveying the themes of excellence, prevention, and caring that pervaded the auditorium all morning.

As icing on the cake, Lab Corp of America was on hand to draw blood samples for free lipid profiles, while HAHV personnel provided free glucose and blood pressure screening, as well as body mass index [BMI] calculations.

Though, indeed, the Heart Healthy Event will be a tough act to follow, I look forward to attending other high-caliber programs offered by the HAHV in the future. Once again, thank you and congratulations!

Susan Kross

Dairyland


No bandstand

In a recent article, our outgoing mayor stated that he wanted to borrow $1.5 million for new police cars a bandstand down on the waterfront and some other needs around the city. If he and the Common Council members are going to vote to borrow it. I would suggest that they borrow the money to fix the roads and manhole covers in the city. I realize that we have had a rough winter but this winter hasn’t caused the roads to be in the shape that they are from just this winter. Broadway from the traffic circle down to the high school is a disaster. The underpass is a total mess. Again if they are going to borrow money put it to good use instead of more police cars and bandstands. Also a note to DPW Superintendent Schupp: Every time that he needs something done and if he doesn’t get his way he states that he is short-handed because of layoffs. All I can say to that is use what personnel that you have and stop complaining. If the work doesn’t get done today, tomorrow is another day. I know you can’t perform miracles but do the best job you can with what you have.

Rich Amato

Kingston
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