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Less Is Less

Columbia Development competitor claims that the state turned down millions in its decision on who would redevelop the Harriman campus

Howard Carr, president of Colonie-based Howard Group, learned last November that his company lost in the last round of bids to redevelop the W. Averell Harriman State Office Campus. And Carr read last week in the Albany Times Union that Columbia Development was the chosen company. According to John Egan, commissioner of the Office of General Services, and Peter Wohl, head of Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp., Columbia’s proposal was more in line with the “current vision of the campus.”

The two companies were competing in the RFP (request for proposal) process.

“We filed a FOIL request when we got knocked out,” Carr said. Last week, in response to the request, he received a copy of the Columbia proposal from the Empire State Development Corporation, which is overseeing the project.

Carr is claiming, after reviewing the Columbia proposal, that his firm offered more money than his competitor to purchase the land from the state. The Howard Group offered $200,000 an acre throughout the entire site. Columbia offered $200,000 an acre as well, except for 10 acres where that company planned to construct residential buildings. For those 10 acres, Columbia offered $100,000 a piece. So Columbia’s offer is $1 million less, he said, than Howard Group’s.

Carr also said that his proposal offered a profit-sharing deal with the state. In the first phase, the state’s share was estimated at $640,000 in revenue a year; phase two would have brought in an additional $650,000 per year; and in phase three, an additional $2.8 million, for a total yearly revenue estimated at more than $4 million.

“Based on the documents that were turned over to us,” Carr said, “we don’t see an equity kicker”—that is, a profit-sharing plan—in Columbia’s proposal.

Carr said that the nine-person board that voted on the proposals was unanimous in its decision, which he finds difficult to believe. However, in his FOIL request, the state didn’t provide the specific information on how the two proposals were graded in the decision. (Grading was done on a point system.)

And Carr questioned why he hasn’t been given the grading results: “The law says whenever it is anything that is statistical, the state can’t withhold it.”

—Chet Hardin

To see both proposals, visit the blog.

Care by Numbers

Albany County comptroller offers statistics to support his call for a new nursing home


This week, Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners launched a press push for a new nursing-home facility based on information he claimed he received from the New York State Department of Health after a lengthy FOIL request process.

This data illustrated, Conners said, that in 2008, 107 Albany County residents were sent out of state to receive long-term nursing home care. These residents were sent to multiple locations in Massachusetts, as well as to one location in New Jersey. Further, he said, 761 residents were shipped out of the county.

Conners’ press release garnered attention from local TV stations and the Times Union, as well as from Talk1300’s Dan Lynch, who hosted a debate between Conners and Albany County Executive Mike Breslin. Conners and Breslin have very different interpretations of the data.

Breslin argued that the reality of people being sent out of state is a complex one, determined by a number of issues: medical needs, dangerous behavioral issues, even choice. Further, the state determines where a nursing home patient is placed. Currently, more than 20 percent of the people residing in Albany County Nursing Home are from out of the county.

Breslin and others familiar with the issue of long-term care point out that this is not a new phenomenon; it is a product of the complexity of long-term Medicaid-based care. Despite his recent concern, Conners clearly acknowledged this fact in an interview with Metroland by stating that he has been complaining about the practice at least since the early 1990s, when he served on the county legislature.

Where these two men differ the most, however, is in their prescriptions for how to address the incidents of people getting placed out of county.

Breslin said that he believes that what is needed is dramatic reenvisioning of long-term care in the county. He has prepared a plan aimed at increasing the use of community-based services, which, he argued, would relax the need for nursing home beds and increase the number of people the county could serve.

Conners has called for an investigation at the county and state levels of the practice of placing New York state residents out of state, a practice he refers to as “trans-shipping.” But most important to Conners, the county needs to construct a new nursing home to replace the 35-year-old ACNH building.

Again, Conners pointed to the 2008 numbers. In 2008, the county was in the process of merging its two nursing homes. Admissions had been closed in 2007, and the average number of residents was 255.

Currently, adhering to Berger Commission recommendations, Albany County has state permission to build a 250-bed facility.

At Conners’ press conference, legislator Shawn Morse (D-Cohoes) said that the county needs to build the facility so that they never again have to hold a press conference decrying the practice of sending county residents out of state. Also present at the press conference was the county legislature’s chairman, Dan McCoy, also a supporter of the construction of a new nursing home. Yet when asked how replacing a 250-facility with another 250-bed facility would alleviate the current level of out-of-county placements, the newly appointed chairman answered only, “That’s a good question.”

—Chet Hardin

Prisoners of the Census

State Sen. Neil Breslin supports the downstate effort to change the state’s system of counting the incarcerated

In anticipation of this year’s census, advocates in New York state are adamant in their efforts to mend what they call the state’s flawed system of counting prisoners where they are jailed, instead of where they resided prior to—and, presumably, where they will return after—incarceration.

Last week, the coalition was joined by Sen. Eric T. Schneiderman (D-Manhattan) and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) to announce the introduction of a bill to end the state’s current practice of prison-based gerrymandering. A press conference was held Monday to include the support of Sens. Antoine Thompson (D-Buffalo) and Neil Breslin (D-Albany).

According to Breslin, New York state has built 43 new prisons since 1976—all of which are upstate. Sixty-six percent of prisoners in these facilities come from New York City, while 34 percent are originally from upstate urban areas, such as Albany, Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo. Currently, most of these prisoners are represented as residents of the counties in which they are incarcerated at the time the census is taken.

The current way in which the census operates gives many small upstate towns a false sense of their own population and power, thus inflating the remaining residents’ votes and diluting those belonging to more urban areas, where large prisons are not typically found, critics of the system complain. This misrepresentation infringes on the democratic concept of “one man, one vote.”

Breslin said that he is supporting this legislation to amend the way the census is taken, because “to do it any other way would be unfair and unequal.”

The coalition in favor of the legislation is led by Citizen Action of New York and includes the Prison Policy Initiative, two organizations that have been actively advocating for the state to put a halt to its practice of prison-based gerrymandering.

“This bill would require states and counties to draw fair districts,” said Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative. Since districts are drawn based on Census data, “the way it is now, they ended up drawing districts where some people have considerably more say than others.”

According to Wagner, Schneiderman has been trying to pass a similar bill for about 10 years, with no success. The reason for this, he believes, is a misconception among legislators.

“There is a perception in some upstate communities that this bill would affect federal funding,” said Wagner. “It wouldn’t—that’s just simply wrong. All this bill would do is change how data is used in New York state. People think the bill is going to change what the Census Bureau does, which it’s not. It’s too late for that.”

“This has nothing to do with the way the census operates,” said Charlie Albanetti, spokesman for Citizen Action. “There are virtually no financial implications for any community in the state whatsoever. This legislation is about restoring fairness and democracy.”

Counties are able to use their own discretion in choosing how to determine their population, according to Albanetti. “But using prison populations completely distorts the representations within their own legislatures.”

Upon being released from correctional facilities, “those prisoners are not going to stay in those farm communities,” said Breslin, “they’re going to go back to where they live.”

Thirteen New York counties already have excluded the prisoner population as part of their census count. After the 2000 census determined that incarcerated individuals represent more than five percent of Essex County’s population, the Board of Supervisors enacted a local reapportionment law with the justification: “Prisoners incarcerated in state and federal correctional institutions live in a separate environment, do not participate in the life of Essex County and do not affect the social and economic character of the towns.”

According to Wagner, there are seven counties in New York that would not meet their minimum population requirement if it were not for the prisons located within them. The passing of this bill would require the redrawing of county lines, in order to have an equal representation throughout the state.

Legislators and advocates hope to get this bill passed before the 2010 census is taken.

“We’re right up to the wire and people are really starting to pay attention,” said Wagner. “We’re really excited about all this activity, but this is just about the last moment we have.”

—Elizabeth Knapp

Future Stock

Hundreds of Albany residents assembled last weekend to discuss Albany’s first comprehensive plan

Albany2030, a process to create the city’s first comprehensive plan, was kicked off in the form of three interactive community discussions held last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Led by the City of Albany Department of Development and Planning, and sponsored by consultant group Wallace Roberts and Todd, Albany2030 hopes to gain insight into the community’s collective vision of the city.

With the assistance of PlaceMatters, a public-engagement firm based in Colorado, the city of Albany reached out to its residents in a number of ways, including the use of new media such as Facebook and Twitter, to supplement traditional methods of posting and passing out thousands of flyers throughout the city.

“We’re trying to generate some excitement,” said Ken Snyder, president and CEO of PlaceMatters, “and have people see that it’s not just talking heads—and that there’s a lot of ways to get involved in the process.”

“The conversation at this stage of the process is more of the big-picture ideas, like ‘What do you love?,’ ‘What frustrates you?’ and ‘What are your first ideas about a vision for the future?’ ” he said. “And then the next meeting will be more down to the details of some of the elements of planning, which will help translate into specific strategies.”

Participants were split up into small discussion groups mediated by PlaceMatters representatives and assisted by volunteer student note-takers from the University at Albany. Groups were encouraged to reflect on Albany’s current strengths and challenges, ultimately reaching a vision they have for the city’s future. Each group then appointed a spokesperson to share their responses with the rest of the crowd.

Although similar forums held in other cities often “provoke battles, or can seem tired,” said Snyder, Albany residents “had great energy.”

Using keypad polling provided by PlaceMatters, attendees voted on their main concerns—offering instant feedback of the group’s consensus. Safety, public schools and suburbanization were listed among the city’s weaknesses, while higher education, a strong sense of community, and the convenience of its geographic location were considered its strengths.

“I’m really happy about the turnout,” said Michael Yevoli, commissioner of the Department of Development and Planning. “I think it was a great representation of the city.”

These forums marked the start of a 12-month process of acquiring public input. Albany residents are encouraged to host house parties as a way to informally discuss the comprehensive plan, or to participate online at

The next series of forums will be held on April 22, 23, and 24.

—Elizabeth Knapp

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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