Monday, October 21, 2013

article in the Albany Times Union and a BREAK IN by the supervisor at the Board of Elections

Frank Serpico is back on the anti-corruption trail, this time in upstate New York, Columbia County, after a developed chopped down his trees and did not get a ticket from the zoning officer because the developer was paying rent to the mayor (supervisor).

Serpico doesn't like that kind of thing.

Here is an article in the Albany paper... Stuyvesant deserves its reputation for being nuts. 

Stuyvesant has spent years fighting what it claimed was excessive noise from a dog kennel. Last month, a state Supreme Court justice rebuked the contentious town effort, suggesting it lacked evidence and seemed politically motivated.  
Stuyvesant also became the butt of jokes in the mid-2000s for enacting a controversial Animal Trespass Law to control the apparent dangers of freely wandering chickens. The law was repealed after significant acrimony. 
So what's in Stuyvesant's water? Why do town officials get entangled in so many strange and bitter fights?
Here is an article about the town not doing anything about the developer trashing a wetlands and building in a flood plain. Here is the brief submitted before the second round of destruction at the site.

Now, here is the news that the town supervisor, Ron Knott, broke the locks on the Board of Elections facility. Here is what Virginia Martin said:

Yes, Ron Knott had the lock to the voting machine and election materials storage space (the “gym” at 401 State Street) drilled out one Saturday morning in May because, as I understand, he wanted to get in to see the HVAC units he had installed. It’s a bit of a long story (sorry).

So, Ron Knott is the deputy chair of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors committee of Public Works. He also owns a company that installs heating and cooling systems. He does not have a permit to operate this business, as required by zoning law. When challenged on his lack of a permit, he hired William J. Better to be his private attorney to defend his own interests but paid for the lawyer with taxpayer money.

So he HIRED HIMSELF to install the heating and cooling systems at the BOE. Did you get that? He is a supervisor of a town and owns a business. On the committee that hands out contracts to install heating and cooling at the Board of Elections, he found the perfect contractor: himself, then proceeded to write himself a check with taxpayer money.

NOTE/EDIT: There is some question about exactly what Ron Knott did and did not do as a contractor, what he was paid for or not. Virginia Martin, the election commissioner, is not sure herself what he was and was not paid to do. Further, some have written to say that Knott did the work as a "volunteer" and did not charge for his time.

This could be cleared up by Columbia County quickly responding to FOIL requests for invoices pertaining to locks and Knott. 

Back to the voting machines. Virginia says:

When the county decided that we had to move our voting machines from the basement at 325 Columbia Street (a space that was designed for us and our machines) because the county clerk had taken it over for records storage and needed the room, we decided 401 State had the best space. It's the basement there—the old gym—and it had been used for storage. It was filthy and full of junk, and the locker rooms that flanked it were used by facilities for hosing down dirty venetian blinds. We said that, if we're going to move our delicate electronic equipment there, which also has to be under tight bipartisan lock and key, we need the mess cleaned up, the room cleaned and painted, an end to hosing things down in the locker rooms, and HVAC that keeps the temperature and humidity at appropriate levels. 
It took an enormous amount of arguing and wrangling to get the county (the Public Works Committee, of which Ron is deputy chair) and the head of Facilities (Bob Pinto) to accede to our demands. We had to get them to build a wall so that the HVAC would work and so that the room could be appropriately secured. We had to get them to allow us to put a lock on the door with a key that only we would have. When the wall and door were finally built, initially we did not succeed in exclusively holding the (new) key, because Pinto said he had to have one in case of emergency. He said he would keep it "secure," but we learned that was not the case—that any of his guys could walk up to his secretary and get it—it was not the least bit secure. Pinto argued that he had to have instant access, for example in case of flood or fire—and the basement does get wet—and we told him that we who must hold access to the only key are easily accessible; there are four of us who can be called. Our arguments fell on deaf ears. 
The machines had been moved to 401 State in November, coming back from the poll sites after the election. It took us till March for Pinto to agree to allow the locksmith come and install a lock with a non-reproducible key that only we would hold. We put the key in a double-locked closet in the BOE so that the key could only be accessed and the gym entered if a Dem and a Rep were there to open the double-locked closet. 
On May 13th, a Monday, and a half hour before I arrived, Ron Knott and Bob Pinto came to the BOE first thing in the morning, and Ron said "We've added a deadbolt to the gym door; here are the keys to it." Our voting-machine staff (one D, one R) took the key and went to the gym. They took our key, too, assuming they’d need it to get in, and they found that our key no longer worked, and saw that the lock had been drilled out—ruined—and a different lock installed. Ron told staff that he had spoken to Jason Nastke (R commissioner) on Saturday and told him all about it. When we asked Jason, he said Ron had told him that he had added a lock, but he had no idea he had also had the existing lock drilled out; he was as astonished as we were. 
So, staff asked Knott why he had needed to get in, and why he didn’t call us and ask for our assistance, and he said he had needed to look at the HVAC units. Seeing staff’s looks of disbelief and consternation, he said, "have Virginia call me." And he left. 
After which time Pinto exploded, spewing expletives, as if we were making a mountain out of a molehill and what was so important that we should get so upset about? 
And, just as these questions were being asked and answered, a representative from the State Board of Elections (the elections operations unit), who was scheduled to begin an audit of us that morning, arrived and witnessed all the hullabaloo and the consternation and staff's incredulous reactions. And this is when I, too, arrived. 
We discussed it at some length with her, and she was highly, highly critical of non-BOE staff coming in, partisanly, and entering the premises where machines and election materials were kept. She said the incident would definitely be part of her audit report, because law and regulations require strict bipartisan custody of machines and materials. Jason was there for the audit, also. 
After that, I went to the next monthly Public Works Committee meeting to see how Pinto and/or Knott would report on the incident that had occurred on May 11th, because I wanted to set the record straight if need be. It was never reported, nor did Pinto's written agenda ever include mention of it, which I think was very odd and a real oversight.
 So there is another key system in place. However, and let me make this clear:

There is nothing stopping entitled public officials like Ron Knott from busting into the BOE storage area and changing a lock and stealing the upcoming election.

If you can break a lock with impunity, there is no way to know if the upcoming election will or will not be fair.

To review:

-- Ron Knott has no permit for his business
-- He hired himself to work for the government
-- He broke a lock to be alone with the elections machines
-- He hired an attorney to protect his no-permit business with public money
-- "Rents" an apartment to the developer Palladino who knocked over Serpico's trees who then did not get cited by the zoning guy Ennis... and Palladino in no way needs that apartment.
-- The town attorney bills 26 hours a day
-- The town accountant lost $250,000 in another town but the town refuses to get an audit
-- The town spent $250,000 to lose in court against your humble blogger, me, apparently because no one complained about dog barking
-- The town passed a law to put people in jail for their chickens tresspassing
-- The town called a private resort a state park so it wouldn't have to pay taxes
-- Bribes and kickbacks
-- Embezzlement
-- No show jobs
-- Fraudulent airport expansion

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