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Ghost ticket drama:Albany Councilman Corey Ellis wants answers.

Photo: Chet Hardin

Inaction as Usual

Albany Common Councilman angers the police chief by pressing for information on ghost parking tickets, and struggles to stoke outrage in a mostly uninterested council

Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) has his plans for the new year ready to go: By the first council meeting of 2009, he wants the council to hear answers from Christian Mesley, the president of the Albany Police Officers Union, about the sticker system that allowed select cars to receive blank parking tickets from city meter watchers. Albany Police Chief James Tuffey recently pointed to the union as the source of the stickers during a council caucus. Ellis told Metroland on Tuesday that if Mesley does not willingly appear before the council to testify, he will likely be the target of the first council subpoena. Whether Ellis would have the full support of the council to pass such a measure is unclear.

On Dec. 10, Chief Tuffey turned red with anger during a visit to the Albany Common Council when Ellis pressed the chief for more information about the tickets. Ellis had publicly called for the council to use subpoena power earlier this month, in an effort to get to the bottom of the ghost-ticket issue, after Tuffey had told the council it would be difficult to track how many blank tickets had been distributed. Tuffey told the council that 14,110 warning tickets had been issued in 2007. Through November of this year, 10,778 more warning tickets were issued. Tuffey said that most of the warning tickets were issued around government buildings in downtown Albany.

Ellis said he didn’t think the council would have gotten even that bit of information had he not called for the council to use its subpoena power. Ellis said he was happy that the chief finally dug up the information, but said he still thinks the main issue is how the process was started and why it was allowed to exist for years.

“It’s lawlessness!” said Ellis. “Someone outside the city government had a policy that defrauded the city, and our response is, ‘Don’t do it any longer’? The person that did this, we will go after them. There has to be retribution for defrauding the city government.”

At the Dec. 15 caucus, Councilwoman Barbara Smith (Ward 4) raised the issue of the ghost tickets, bringing an end to the conversation council members were having about how the ice storm had affected their wards. Members were quick to insist that the issue was not that dire and that they would eventually be given more information by Tuffey.

Councilman Richard Conti (Ward 6) told Ellis that the matter was probably less a criminal one and more a financial one, with the city having lost revenue. Conti’s assumption that there was no criminality in the matter strikes Ellis as incomplete.

“President Pro Tempore Conti said, ‘I don’t think it’s criminal.’ How do you know that?” asked Ellis. “Did you do an investigation? You can’t think it wasn’t; you have to do an investigation first, and let the investigation reveal it was not.”

Ellis said he feels that waiting for the chief to gather information is the wrong way to go about looking into the matter, being that the council is Albany’s legislative body and is supposed to provide checks to the executive.

“We get bits and pieces of information. It is an outrage. In this administration, the city residents’ voices are not to be heard,” said Ellis. “The chief and this administration throw out something and hope it sticks. If it doesn’t work, they do a little something more. Everything is piecemeal. Nothing is complete.”

Realistically, if the council wants to know who defrauded the city, Ellis said, they have to work together to get answers. It can’t be left up to the administration, which insists it was unaware of the ghost ticket practice for the 15 years it seems to have been in place.

Ellis said he finds it troublesome that Jennings and Tuffey are not more concerned and outraged that the city was defrauded and have simply chosen to declare an end to the practice. He wonders how, if they were unaware of the process to begin with, they can be certain they have brought an end to it.

Ellis said that Tuffey made comments to him during the Dec. 10 meeting that police officers “do jobs people don’t normally do,” and seemingly accused Ellis of attacking police officers.

Ellis countered: “It’s not about officers and whether they should have the privilege—it’s about someone producing a sticker that the city government did not sanction. Setting policy that was not set by the city. We need to get to the bottom of this. And to do that, we need to start at the top.”

—David King

What a Week

Cutting Them Loose

This week, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, sent out an e-mail to the staff at the engineering university warning them to prepare for staff reductions. The impact of economic downturn has further worsened the school’s financial situation, she wrote in her e-mail. According to the Times Union, RPI, which refused to confirm the number of jobs it was axing, told the Department of Labor that the layoffs would number 98. However, The Record is reporting that the number of layoffs could total 170, nearly 8.5 percent of the college’s workforce. The layoffs come as little surprise, as the college instituted a hiring freeze and announced drastic cuts to departmental budgets in the fall, according to sources. It was also recently reported that Dr. Jackson is the fourth highest paid college president in the country, receiving $1.3 million a year.

Wishful Thinking

Albany Common Council President Shawn Morris used her end-of-the-year speech to push for a reformed budget process for the city of Albany. Morris said she would like to see an open budget process that keeps the public involved and would start at the beginning of every year. Morris, along with a number of other council members, would like to know exactly where money is going in the mayor’s budget, and to have legitimate input into the budget process, as opposed to the current system, in which the mayor presents the council with a budget in the fall and incorporates little of the members’ input. Morris is expected to challenge Jerry Jennings in a mayoral race this year, although she has not officially announced her candidacy.

Our Own Blagojevich

Former Supreme Court Judge Thomas Spargo was indicted last week on allegations that he tried to extort $10,000 from an Ulster County attorney who was litigating a case in front of him. The money allegedly would have gone to defray legal costs Spargo had garnered during his battle to prevent the state judicial panel from removing him from the bench. Spargo allegedly told the attorney he would use his influence to damage the attorney professionally if he did not produce the $10,000.

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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