Saturday, May 25, 2013

Disabled Tenant Screwed

PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY - Fri.  5/24/13

Try this big psychological-emotional screw on for size:

You've lost your apartment through no fault of your own; it's been declared uninhabitable.  You have limited income but some of the organizations that you depend upon don't come through with the help you really need.

And to put a fine point on that screw twisting into your mind:

You're wheelchair bound.

It's understandable when Debra Buell says she gets angry at times.  Even an able-bodied person would have trouble handling the stress.

Debra deals with rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus.  She can only walk a short distance with crutches; her wheelchair is her main means of mobility.

For years she has been an advocate for the disabled, aware of the limitations of the local "safety nets."   She doesn't blame all of this on the social workers and officials who have tried to help her.  But the system, as she has stated in the past, needs to be fixed.

Debra's troubles started earlier this week.  A pipe in her closet, the water main to her building, burst, flooding out the place.  

She had told her landlady months ago that there might be a tiny leak, mold was beginning to grow around the closet.  The landlady said she would send someone over to look at it.  Debra hired a person to clear out the closet for the repairman.  The repairman never showed up.  She had to pay to have her belongings returned to the closet. 

Debra contacted the landlady again who, according to Debra, thought that there really wasn't a problem, nothing to worry about.  The landlady said: "I don't understand."

The nothing-to-worry-about from months ago broke on Monday.  Debra contacted the landlady who did send a plumber over.  Using Debra's shop-vac the plumber removed many gallons of water but much more remained.

Debra Buell sorts through her belongings, getting ready for an unexpected move because her apartment has been condemned.

Later that day the building inspector showed up and told the landlady that the problem had to be fixed.  According to Debra, the landlady replied: "I don't understand."

But the message was repeated: the rest of the water had to be removed and a professional cleaner had to fix the mold problem.

"Monday when everyone left," said Debra, "I think they [Building Inspector and Fire Department ] thought they got through to her [the landlady], they thought she would probably get someone in that day or the next day."

The landlady had mentioned to the building inspector that she was getting ready to take a trip.   Debra stayed in the damaged building Monday night, assuming the landlady wouldn't leave until Wednesday or Thursday after looking into the needed repairs.

The next day the city building inspector paid another visit, asking Debra if anything had been done to fix the problem.  No, she said, adding she had left a phone message for the landlady but hadn't heard back.

A lot of other people were waiting to hear back from the landlady: representatives from HUD (Housing and Urban Development), North Country Center for Independence, Clinton County Social Services, and North Country Legal Services.

The silence indicated that motivation had to be created to render a response.   The landlady did stir when she received a message that one avenue to resolve the problem might be for the city to take over her uninhabitable property through eminent domain.

Debra heard the landlady had contacted the HUD office.  The landlady told HUD  she had done everything she was required to do legally.  (Morally?  Don't ask me that one.)  The landlady revealed she had left town early Tuesday for a two week vacation.

I would like to speak to the landlady but until she returns I don't understand – the landlady's side of the story, that is.

On Tuesday two city building inspectors declared the apartment was uninhabitable.   They told Debra she couldn't be in there after 7 PM, no overnight stays.  She can't even cook there.

Since then Debra has been scrambling to find a new home, a wheelchair accessible apartment, while dealing the System's red tape.  Clinton County Social Services did find her a place to stay – in Keeseville, the boondocks (my term), 15 miles outside of Plattsburgh with very limited public bus service.

Earlier in the week Debra said she told Social Services that with a three-day holiday weekend approaching (Memorial Day) they should find her a local hotel room ASAP.  That advice was ignored.  Ergo, she was displaced in Keeseville, not placed in the Plattsburgh.

Since then Debra had to impose on a relative for a place to stay until suitable temporary or permanent housing is found.  As she observed in the subject heading of a recent email: "'s not pretty, especially in a wheelchair."

So how's your holiday weekend going?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Freedom Of Info? Not With City PD

PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY - Sat.  5/18/13

As it turned out no one representing Plattsburgh City attended the meeting.  Some questions were left unanswered.

Three representative from Plattsburgh State University did attend, including Chief Arelene M. Sabo from the PSU police department.  The evening meeting at ROTA was an opportunity to discuss community-college issues.

ROTA Vice President Mall Hall told Chief Sabo that he appreciated the openness with her department's police blotter.  During the school year the student newspaper, Cardinal Points, runs extensive listings of incidents related to PSU students taken from her department's blotter.

In the meantime, Matt noted, the Plattsburgh (City) Police Department restricts access to its own blotter.  When two of his friends were victims of a beating, he wanted more info about the case but was given "the runaround."

He said that not just citizens but even the Press-Republican newspaper has to deal with the restricted access.  The PR calls the city police and asks for any information it feels like sharing.

Matt raised an important point.  Records like police blotters are supposed to be open to the public and media.  Why does it take a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request to get info when other communities don't have as many restrictions?

Taxpayers are entitled to more transparency.  If the PSU police blotter is open to Cardinal Points and others, why not the same policy with the city police blotter?

If this is supposed to be a democracy, why do we have secretive police?

Frat Incident Brings About Open Meeting To Address Issues

ROTA Studio and Gallery recently held an open meeting to discuss issues facing both the community and the campus.

On Saturday evening, April 27, the Take Back the Night march, an event to raise awareness of violence against women, passed by an off-campus fraternity house.  Someone called the marchers "sluts."

This incident raised a number of issues that were addressed at an open meeting held at ROTA Saturday evening.  Coordinated by ROTA Vice President Matt Hall the forum was open to citizens and officials.

Representing Plattsburgh State University were Arlene M. Sabo, Chief of the university police department; Bryan Hartman, Vice President of Student Affairs; and Lynda J. Ames, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Affirmative Action Officer.

A circle of chairs gave the participants a comfortable setting to discuss various topics. 

ROTA member and former PSU student Sarah Martin questioned the university's message to students regarding gender discrimination and violence.

When she attended orientation for new students a PSU official spoke about diversity but not much about gender discrimination.  Sarah stressed that the responsibility for avoiding incidents is always placed on female students.

 "When you look at the things that talk about rape prevention, messages to girls like 'Don't go to these areas,'... 'Don't leave your drink out,' -- very true," she observed.  "But culturally we need to start shifting to 'Hey, guys, don't rape girls."

Matt agreed with her.  While growing up, he said, he never heard any messages about the proper attitude he should have as a male towards woman.

He realized that PSU was doing what it could with the resources it had but thought the college should work more with the community.  ROTA could be one place to help to get out the message about gender issues, taking on more responsibility with other community organizations and businesses.

Professor Lynda Ames said that one problem faced by PSU is that some students don't want to change.  While getting information out was important, sometimes it was preaching to the choir.  She added the college would be conducting workshops on how to report an incident.

Sarah praised PSU Gender and Women’s Studies Department Chair Simona Sharoni, one of the Take Back the Night marchers, for using Facebook to raise awareness of the frat name-calling incident.  "It's fantastic she spoke up, saying 'No, this is not OK.'"

Student Affairs VP Bryan Hartman said that the college must respect free speech rights even when that speech is hurtful.  At the same time the fraternity mentioned in the incident, AXP, was under judicial review.

Three representatives from Plattsburgh State University attended the open forum held recently at ROTA on community-college problems.  [Left to right]: Chief Arlene M. Sabo, PSU Police Department; Lynda J. Ames, Professor  of Sociology and Affirmative Action Officer; Bryan Hartman, Vice President for Students Affairs.

One topic was how PSU was handling certain incidents and how what appeared to be a lack of any response was leaving in some people's minds the impression the college didn't care.  Sarah mentioned the brutal off campus beating of Chris Rigsbee and his girlfriend by a group of students, most who were members of a campus sports team, back in November 2010.  The victim, she said, had teeth knocked out.

Chief Sabo explained that since the situation occurred off campus, handled by the city PD, PSU was limited in what could be done.

After the meeting wrapped up I spoke with Chief Sabo about the beating incident.

"Here's the process we have with any student that is arrested in the city of Plattsburgh," she said.  "The city police review those records with us and they send us copies of the arrest reports of students.  So if it is a misdemeanor or felony, our police department [PSU] uses the city's evidence on the charge, not the outcome, sends it to our campus judicial [department]."

Action can only be taken if the charge is a felony or a misdemeanor, she explained.

As I've documented at this blog, the only person arrested in the Rigsbee gang assault was let off only with a violation after an "extensive" investigation by the Plattsburgh City Police Department.  The perp was charged with just harassment for kicking, stomping and knocking out teeth of an innocent passerby.

"Harassment" victim Chris Rigsbee.

The ROTA forum raised more awareness for PSU officials about public relations problems it has with certain incidents involving its students.

Plans were made at the end of the meeting for another open meeting in September.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Platypus Might Be Growing Wings

The last meeting of  the Coordinated Transportation Human Services Committee was more action-packed than usual.

"But gentlemen, enough of words.  Actions speak louder than.  Action now." -- Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

"A platypus is an eagle designed by a committee." -- Unknown

PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY - Wed. May 15, 2013

Eight years and very little accomplished.

An exasperated Debra Buell observes the meetings are nothing more than "whine fests."

And where were the county legislators?  No shows again.

Time frame: 10 AM to past noon.  Scheduled for two hours the meeting runs over an half-hour.  Setting: Second floor conference room, Clinton County Government Center.  Participants: community agency reps and interested citizens (plus one blogger), gathered around a long table.  Seating: oversized stuffed chairs, red fabric contrasting with molded black plastic, plenty of cushioning.

Situation: Another meeting of the Coordinated Transportation Human Services Committee, an ad hoc group looking into ways to improve transportation in the rural sprawl of Clinton County.

James Boseley, Planning Technician for Clinton County Public Transportation (CCPT), tries to coordinate the meeting.  James is a pleasant spoken young man, professional but also accommodating.  He wants to discuss a key points of study dealing with county transportation issues but yields the floor when some people push for action.

And after a while I can understand that push.  Despite the ample cushioning and tilt/swivel feature of my chair my ass still gets sore.

Add to the mix new blood in the form of two dynamic guys, James Ward and Nick Dubay, who are charged up with all sorts of new ideas.  Examples of youth not being wasted on the young.

James W. and Nick want to get involved.  James W. in appearance and manner is the relatively quieter of the two, an average Joe.  Then again it's easy to be "quieter" than Nick with his tattoos and bushy Centurion-helmet-plume haircut.

They run Plattsburgh Area Regional Transport or the PARTy bus on weekends, providing free rides at night to and from downtown for Plattsburgh State students and others enjoying the night life.  They offer all sorts of suggestions such as installing bus stop signs to raise awareness of the county transportation service.

But the newbies are unaware of the history that precedes their visit.

Debra Buell has been documenting for years through photographs and videos the barriers that wheelchair-bound people face in Plattsburgh City.  It's been a fight to get the county and businesses to be compliant with the directives of the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA, another acronym to remember).  Citizens like her need accessible transportation for medical appointments; they're dependent upon the paratransit service provided by the county bus system.

If you're a recipient of her emails it's easy to understand her frustration.  Sometimes it's a matter of not moving forward but just keeping in place the small progress that has been made.  A couple of times during the meeting she expresses some of that frustration.

A particular sore point: Where are the county legislators?  The committee is set up to improve the efficiency of public transportation, eliminating duplication of service, thus saving taxpayer dollars.  Some legislators promise to show up but remain absent, apparently indifferent even to saving money.

The newbies: James Ward (left) and Nick Dubay.

One of the newbies asks why the legislators need to be there?  Can't the committee just do its thing without them?

Committee coordinator James Boseley replies: "It's good to have them here so that they're informed along the process.  When they have to pass legislation that actually makes funding available, that allows the county to take action, they don't have to be filled in at the last minute about the long process."

Also, adds Debra, if the legislators are part of the process they don't have to be convinced of a proposal's value.

Debra appreciates that the newbies have the right attitude, thinking in terms of possibilities, but adds: "What we have been having here for about eight years is: 'Yes, but,' 'No, but,' 'I can't,' 'My committee,' 'My community,' 'my organization.'"

A newbie responds: "But you never had us before."

Also in attendance is Mary-Alice Shemo, an interested citizen.  I've seen her at other public meetings.  Don't mistake her for the stereotype of the kindly  grandmother, always willing to go along to get along.  She's a good person but when she feels she's right, she gets a bit feisty, ready to take action.

Mary-Alice suggests a delegation should be formed to go to the county legislature since none of the legislators are willing to attend the coordinated transportation meetings.

Someone says that legislators would show up at future meetings.

In response another person guffaws.

Michael Labello from NYS Department of Transportation, Public Transportation Bureau, comments: "You can't put on a roof without a foundation.  You're going to have to figure out how you're going to build this committee."

From his suggestions smaller committees are formed to look into various aspects, such as infrastructure and marketing, and they will report back every three months at a master meeting.

Finally.  Some action.

But as Michael observes: "Change is difficult.  Nobody likes change."

All I will add:

Change now.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Another Busy ROTAting Weekend

Uke-A-Dooks, the Plattsburgh State ukulele club, wrapped up a night of candlelit performances at ROTA.

PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY - May 10 & 11, 2013

And the talent keeps cycling through at 50 Margaret Street.

Friday evening ROTA Studios and Gallery presented an evening of acoustic performances illuminated only by an array of candles.  (This writographer made good use of his tripod.)   The benefit raised $223 to keep the non-profit art co-op rotational.  Seven different acts covered a variety of music stylings.


Saturday evening ROTA kicked off a student art exhibit by creators attending Peru High School.  Roses were given to the artists in appreciation of their imaginative works.

Best In Show.

Later that evening actor/playwright Tim Wagoner performed his solo theater-in-the-round play, "Support."  Tim portrayed a multitude of characters dealing with various addictions such as food, alcohol, electronic devices and emotional co-dependence.

The staging for his performance was a circle of chairs that one might find at a support group meeting.  Audience seating was arranged around this set.

Tim Wagoner in character during his play, "Support."

After the performance Tim conversed with audience members about issues raised by his play.  Someone asked him which character he was.  He explained that while his characters were based on different people he knew, he was part of each one.

Tim Wagoner (right) discusses his play after the performance with the audience. 

One question drew a laugh from everyone.  Someone asked Tim if he was going to write a sequel to his play called "Solutions."  Tim enjoyed the comment but in a serious vein he replied that the after-performance discussion was one solution.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Journalistic Excellence: PR Headline Not Unexpected

"Let's cut corners, save money.  Fire the proofreader.  Our computer spell checker will catch all the problems."

Sure, if you USE it.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Deadhead Alert

Sometimes I miss stuff, walking right by it.  Someone living near this spot pointed it out to me.  Thanks to him I was able to document and share this coincidence.  (Click on image to enlarge view.)

Alfresco Music


Taking advantage of the warm spring evening local musician-songwriter Julian Jaster entertains the audience outside ROTA Gallery.  He was one of the featured performers in a folk punk show sponsored by ROTA.