Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Do You Feel Safe?

The recent sentencing in Columbia County Court of Matthew Sackett, who went on a crime spree and pled guilty to numerous felonies including two acts of arson, is one of many court cases on which District Attorney Czajka has not worked in the best interests of the people of the county. The arson cases put lives in jeopardy and cost the victims $857,860.

The heading of every criminal indictment or Superior Court Information is: “The People of The State of New York against John Doe”. The District Attorney represents the People of the State in county criminal matters. Over the tenure of Mr. Czajka’s term in office, he has not taken a position on several serious criminal cases as to the proper disposition or sentencing of the defendant, before or after a plea has been taken. Why?

In the Sackett prosecution, as reported by The Register Star, the DA’s representative told the court: ”We ask, your honor, that you issue a just sentence in this case, as we know you will.” The defense lawyer at the sentencing is quoted as stating: “It doesn’t excuse or explain things he did. He knows right from wrong”.

The Judge in this matter sentenced the defendant to time served in the County Columbia Jail along with five years’ probation. The terms required that Sackett receive mental health treatment and perform public service. In addition, he was to pay restitution in the amount of more than $857,860. The Judge stated he would personally monitor Sackett’s progress to make sure he follows through on his probation.

There are number of points that should be made.

First, in a case that is pled and does not go to trial, the DA is the only person who should know all the details.  Neither the defense counsel nor the sentencing judge typically knows the nuances involved in the disposition of the matter. The judge reads the probation report, which is usually a limited document, and listens to the defense and prosecution arguments at the sentencing. In the Sackett case, oral arguments did not occur, and the DA left all decisions to the judge’s discretion. He did not offer any insights on what sentence would be in the interests of the people of the county, and he stood silent knowing the victims would never get restitution in the amount dictated.

The DA must provide basic information to the court on whether the defendant poses a risk to the safety of the county or not. Reasonable minds may differ in this matter. Many people in the community may view the defendant as a dangerous fire bug and thief, especially since his lawyer stated he knows right from wrong.  If this is true, why didn't the DA argue for prison? 

So, if Sackett isn’t a threat to the community, in such situations the DA has the ethical obligation to help determine the defendant’s rehabilitation process. Why didn't he broker a plan of service with the defense counsel and community resources that would give the defendant the necessary intensive supervision for both a day and residential setting? An informal plan of service has a high risk for failure.  The judge is to be commended in his concern about the defendant. However, neither a judge nor the Probation or Mental Health Departments have the time, resources, and information to provide a plan for such intensive supervision.

How would you feel if you went to court and your attorney did not address your interests to the judge? Would you feel secure with his services to you?  The people and the presiding judge deserve an informed and educated opinion from Mr. Czajka as to the status of cases. Furthermore, that opinion should be based on evidence from research, not only conducted by his staff, but in collaboration with a team of professionals and community resources. This process would improve public safety and unbiased justice for the community.


Eugene Keeler

Sunday, December 3, 2017

No Bailout for CC's Justice System Leaders

The Register Star reported on the new Columbia County Bail Fund, and Supervisor Elect Mussmann and the citizens forming it should be commended on their proactive role in attempting to solve some of the pressing problems in our local criminal justice system.  Our local tax payers and concerned citizens should be very happy.

The reality and history, however, are even more disturbing than what was described in the article.  Our local system has been broken for years and despite some attempts for reform, it remains the same.  Everything Supervisor Mussmnan states about the system is true.  People do plead guilty to violations and misdemeanors, whether guilty or not, just to get out of jail.

The key public officer in this abuse is District Attorney Czajka.  It is standard operating procedure for this DA to state to defense counsel:  “Tell your client to plead guilty and I will recommend time served to the judge.”  Imagine yourself in such a situation.  Unfortunately, desperation takes control of reason.
About forty years ago Catholic Charities formed a bail fund that failed for lack of funds and public officials’ support.  The Columbia County Probation Department has had a Pretrial Release program funded by a State grant for years and it failed miserably in its purposes.  Bail issues for the poor and unconnected have been an ongoing issue in this County.

And the lack of nominal bail for an individual charged with nonviolent violations and misdemeanors has major financial and social consequences.
       First, the County jail costs about $100 per day per prisoner.  And if the defendant loses his job,  apartment, or both because of this incarceration, then he or she becomes dependent on the local welfare system, costing the taxpayer much more, particularly when there are children involved.  The costs snow ball when the defendant needs food, motel shelter, medical care, transportation and foster care.
       Second, the human and social costs that will be incurred are significant.  The trauma of family separation and resulting mental health issues are well documented.
       Think of the thousands of individuals and families that have been negatively impacted over the last fifty years because of our local failures.  Think of all that money wasted only to give us a false sense of security.

The criminal justice system needs to be dictated by what’s in the best interest of society, and that is saving the taxpayers’ money and human resources and helping to ensure a productive life for those charged with minor crimes.

Why isn’t our system working?  There is a disconnect between the County’s publically stated values and core beliefs and what is really going on.  Where are the criminal justice leaders who are willing to lead the County in another direction using evidence based on research and common sense?

A report from the Pretrial Release Representative provided a scoring system that would help determine if a defendant was a good candidate for ROR (released in own recognizance).  Why aren't our criminal justice leaders employing this scoring system?

This system can change, but it means introducing efficient evidence based procedures along with supportive values.  A number of existing public agencies and nonprofits in the County could help monitor individuals who have been released on their own recognizance, hereby reducing risk to the community.

We can only do this by electing and supporting public officials who have the core values and skills to implement such cost saving procedures.

Eugene Keeler

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Dawn Porreca Endorses Kathy Leck Eldridge, Janice Brodowski, and Carol Peckham

Dawn Porreca submitted the following Letter to the Editor to both the Columbia Paper and to the Register-Star on Monday, October 30.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Who's Paying for Ed Nabozny's Campaign?

This one is for people who like to follow the money.

The New York State Board of Elections has strict rules for reporting contributions made to candidates for public office, for obvious reasons. You can see those reports here.

Individual candidates may file their own reports or authorize a committee to manage their campaign expenses and file for them. Ed Nabozny has authorized The Friends of Ed Nabozny.

The Friends of Ed Nabozny reported various contributions to his 2015 campaign. Ed also received contributions from the Columbia County Democratic Committee and the Greenport Democratic Committee. But that was 2015. Since Ed elected to caucus with Republicans and lost the endorsement of local and county Democrats, he won't see any contributions from Democratic committees this year. But you would expect that Friends of Ed Nabozny is still behind him and, presumably, one or more Republican committees.

But The Friends of Ed Nabozny hasn't filed ANY of the four reports required since July in 2017.

Neither has the Greenport Town Republican Committee!

Perhaps the Columbia County Republican Committee has information for us. At least they have filed two reports (there was no county Republican primary).

However, although they do show contributions to John Faso and to Michael Blasl in their 11-Day Pre General report, there are NO contributions to Ed Nabozny. So who's been paying for all those signs, and the shiny color mailings we keep getting?

If you'd like to know who's behind Kathy Leck Eldridge, Janice Brodowski, and Carol Peckham, they have all authorized the Greenport Democratic Committee to represent them and all required reports have been filed.

 So who's behind Ed Nabozny? Are they hiding until after the election?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

What Happened to Greenport's New Solar Farm?

Almost two years ago, on December 30, 2015, Greenport signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Solar City  for the installation of a solar farm on four acres of town property located on Middle Road. The farm was expected to produce 100% of the electricity the town government currently obtained from National Grid, at a substantially lower price—saving Greenport "tens of thousands of dollars in electricity costs each year." Solar City agreed to an "outside commercial date of operation" of December 18, 2016, with a penalty for each day past that date.

In February 2017, Solar City notified the Town Board that they were unable to meet that date due to "difficulty negotiating" with National Grid "over the need for costly substation upgrades." On March 1, in a "First Amendment to the PPA," the Board passed Resolution 35-2017 to extend the due date to December 31, 2017.

 A few questions:
  •  Did Solar City pay Greenport any penalty from December 18, 2016 to March 1, 2017?
  •  Does the First Amendment to the PPA, which is not available on the town's website, contain the same penalty for each day past the new outside date? 
  •  When asked at the most recent town meeting when the solar farm is expected to be operational, Supervisor Ed Nabozny replied that "as a layman's guess" it would be three or four months, which is past the current due date. Why does Supervisor Nabozny have to make "a layman's guess"? 
  • Why does he know so little about a project expected to save Greenport a lot of money? 
  •  If the solar farm is late again, will Supervisor Nabozny still be reluctant to collect a penalty from Solar City?
We pay Greenport's lawyers to write deadlines and penalties into contracts because when we lose time with a vendor we lose money. Is there more concern about Solar City's finances than about Greenport's?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Independence Party Voters Agree: Change Is Coming to Greenport!

Final, certified results of the Independence Party primary were posted today on the Columbia County Board of Elections website. Kathy Leck Eldridge beat Ed Nabozny 41-13, compared to his 32-16 showing in the 2015 primary for Greenport town supervisor. Clearly, Independence Party voters in Greenport have changed their minds about Ed Nabozny.

And remarkably, Clayton Clark, a longterm incumbent whose name appeared on the ballot, lost his position on the Independence Party line to two write-in candidates, Janice Brodowski and Carol Peckham. Certified results for Greenport town council were Brodowski 36, Peckham 29, and Clark 20.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Assemblymember Barrett Endorses Democratic Slate in Greenport Town Board Races

Assemblymember Didi Barrett, who represents the106th Assembly District, has endorsed three candidates for Greenport Town Board: Kathy Leck Eldridge for Supervisor and Janice Brodowski and Carol Peckham for Town Council.  "I'm delighted that these women are running for local office," Barrett said.  "The way to make positive change happen is to have caring citizen candidates like Kathy, Janice, and Carol, who are committed to fighting for their neighbors and their town, step up to run -- and win! I am happy to support them."

From left to right: Didi Barrett, Kathy Leck Eldridge (Greenport Town Supervisor candidate), and Carol Peckham and Janice Brodowski (Town Council candidates)

Kathleen Leck Eldridge is a registered nurse and an administrator at a senior facility. Born and raised in Greenport, she said, " I know firsthand the struggles that our residents go through to find good jobs and affordable places to live.  I'm running because I want Greenport to be the town where anyone can say this is the place they call home."

After learning about Barrett's endorsement of the Greenport candidates, Eldridge said, "I want to work for this town the way Didi Barrett has for her district, with intelligence, energy, and a concern for what's important in our backyard.  We couldn't ask for a better leader to endorse our campaign."

Janice Brodowski, also a registered nurse, worked as a childbirth educator and in the obstetric unit, where she has overseen the birth of hundreds of Greenport and Hudson babies and watched them grow up as neighborhood kids and young adults.  She was also Greenport's tax collector for fourteen years. Given her extensive experience and long dedication serving the town and its families, Janice believes she will bring deep local knowledge, honesty, and compassion to the town board.

Carol Peckham grew up in upstate New York and now lives in southern Greenport.  Over the course of her career in publishing she launched and ran two profitable businesses.  Since being here, she has become a member of Greenport's Comprehensive Plan Committee.  She says that her business skills and knowledge of the town's diverse population will help her to make efficient and effective decisions as a member of the town board.