Category Archives: Other News

Audit calls school’s violent incident reporting into question

By Colin Hogan

A recent audit conducted by the state comptroller’s office found 79 incidents of alleged violence in the Fulton Junior High School that auditors say were not correctly reported to the state, a finding district officials say they “respectfully disagree with.”

The audit — which was actually conducted on the state education department’s system for reporting violent school incidents — used Fulton Junior High School as one of seven test schools, and examined how compliant those schools were in reporting violent or disruptive incidents under the state’s Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting (VADIR) system. In doing so, auditors determined that during the 2011-12 year, there were 79 incidents the school didn’t find to be reportable with which auditors disagreed.

Fulton reported 289 incidents that year, but should have reported 368, according to auditors. For instance, the school reported 23 assaults with a physical injury that year, while the auditors say they identified 64 incidents that would be considered VADIR reportable.

District officials were quick to point out that the auditors’ tabulations only took into account the initial reporting of an incident by a teacher or staff member, and not the administration’s follow-up investigations, which often resulted in new understandings of what happened.

“The auditors took whatever was written in the referral form from the source staff member and determined everything from that,” said Superintendent Bill Lynch. “We keep track of incident referrals and then the administrator would investigate what happened. Through the investigation they may clarify what actually happened and determine a different consequence than the state would recommend based on the initial referral.”

FJHS Principal Ryan Lanigan said he and the school’s assistant principal follow up on every incident referral to determine the whole truth of what happened.

“Whenever a referral is written (by a teacher or staff member), we have a process that we go through. That referral is brought to the main office where myself or the assistant principal read the referral and follow due process. We meet with the student. We meet with other students who may be able to shed light on what’s occurred. A lot of times, that changes our understanding of what’s happened, and we may find that it wasn’t quite the offense it sounded like at first. We take everything into account before we decide what the consequence is,” said Lanigan.

School officials say only looking at the number of incident referrals without taking into account the follow-up investigation paints a skewed picture of violent incidents being underreported.

“The audit was very black and white,” Lanigan said, “there’s no grey in there. They don’t take into account our intervention process, how we use PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports — a U.S. Department of Education supported approach to disciplinary actions in schools). We go through that process diligently.”

The audit states that most of the schools examined misclassified incidents in their internal records “generally as categories that were considered less serious.” Both Lanigan and Lynch say they disagree with some of the ways the VADIR system requires incidents to be reported. For instance, Lanigan said “if a student were to flick another student with a rubber band and leave a welt, under the VADIR definition that’s considered an ‘assault with injury.'”

The audit also stated that Lanigan told auditors “the school does not record or report summer incidents.” Lanigan said Wednesday that statement misrepresents what he was telling the auditors, which was that there weren’t any incidents over the summer to report. The audit’s results confirm that there weren’t any reportable incidents at the school during that time.

Based on their results, the auditors recommended a review of prior or subsequent years to determine if the school should have ever been designated “persistently dangerous,” a designation the district would, by law, have to notify parents of.

In it’s response to the comptroller’s office, the district stated that the auditors’ assessment of the severity of incidents and appropriate consequences is “fundamentally flawed” for not considering the full context of an incident, or other factors like the school’s system of interventions, or “the presence of emotional and behavioral disabilities which require alternative approaches when responding to behavior infractions.”

In August, Lynch and Lanigan presented the audit’s findings to the board of education. Board President David Cordone said Wednesday he agreed that the incidents referenced in the audit don’t seem to have been placed in the full context. He said that, based on what was presented to them, the board was satisfied with the administration’s response to SED, and that he believes officials in the junior high and other schools are working hard to meet the state’s expectations.

“I think, obviously, there is an interest among everyone be sure that our school district is safe. If there’s anything (administrators) needed to learn here, based on the update we were given in August, I believe that’s occurred.”

Lanigan said he and other administrators will be doing more to make sure that their follow-up investigations of incidents are as well-documented as the initial referrals, and said he “can see how the auditors might draw their conclusions” if they’re only looking at the referral form. However, he maintains that the school already has a very diligent incident documentation process that he is proud of.

“I pride myself on how well documented we are, and I completely disagree with the perception that this is building isn’t a safe environment,” Lanigan said.

New suspects deny involvement in Allen kidnapping

Staff Report

Two men accused of being involved in Heidi Allen’s 1994 disappearance told conflicting stories on the witness stand Tuesday during the second day of a hearing to determine whether to overturn the 1995 kidnapping conviction of Gary Thibodeau.

Thibodeau’s attorneys called James “Thumper” Steen and Roger Breckenridge to the witness stand in Oswego County Court to question their involvement with Allen’s disappearance on Tuesday.

Both of the men, who are each serving prison sentences, have been accused by several new witnesses of being involved in the kidnapping of Allen from the D& W Convenience Store in New Haven in 1994. Neither have been charged with any crimes in the investigation.

The two men came to the fore of the investigation in 2013, when a recorded phone call between Tonya Priest and Jennifer Wescott — Breckenridge’s former girlfriend — revealed both women claimed to know that Steen, Breckenridge and Michael Bohrer kidnapped Allen.

Steen and Breckenridge, though, denied being involved with the kidnapping on Tuesday. They admitted to knowing each other, but denied being friends.

“I wouldn’t call him a friend but I wouldn’t call him an enemy,” Steen said.

During questioning from defense attorney Randi Bianco, Steen and Breckenridge admitted to smoking marijuana in the 1990s, with Steen also admitting to cocaine use in the late 1990s.

The defense has argued that Allen was a confidential drug informant for police who claimed to have knowledge of drug activity in Mexico High School. The police never followed up with Allen, but they did create an index card and a code name — “Julia Roberts” — for her.

While both denied personally being involved in the kidnapping, Steen did say that at one point in 1994, while hauling crushed vehicles, Breckenridge called him, saying that Allen’s body was in the back of a van he hauled to Canada.

Breckenridge said on the stand that he never had any discussions about Allen to anybody, including that conversation.

When Steen was asked why he never followed up with police when Breckenridge claimed to know that Allen’s body was stored in a crushed van that was hauled to Canada, he said Breckenridge was not a reliable source, calling him “a lot of hot air.”

“Breckenridge is nothing but a talker. A big mouth. He runs his mouth all the time looking for attention,” Steen said. ” He’s an attention getter, and that’s how he got attention, plain and simple.” Steen said he didn’t lend any credence to theories or rumors about Allen’s disappearance because “everybody was talking like they knew what happened to her” in the ’90s, “but nobody knew anything.” He adamantly insisted that his only involvement to Allen’s disappearance was that Breckenridge claimed he unknowingly hauled a van to Canada. He said that, if what Breckenridge said is true, Allen’s body is currently in a landfill in Canada.

“The shredder makes cars into little bitty pieces,” Steen said. “The garbage goes out the back and goes to a landfill.”

Steen said he and Priest had a tense relationship, and he did not associate with her, even when his ex-wife, Vicki, was alive and friends with her.

“Me and Tonya did not get along, I didn’t like the way Tonya treated her children,” he said.

Steen said Priest’s claim that he, Breckenridge and Bohrer hid Allen’s body underneath a cabin on Rice Road in Mexico was untrue, as evidenced by the fact that searches in that area have yet to turn up a body.

Steen, who is serving a life sentence, said he had nothing to lose and did not want to be a “snitch.” Bianco pointed out that Steen is not in protective custody.

“What would happen to you if the other inmates learned that you kept an innocent man behind bars for 20 years?” she asked.

Steen said he had no information that could exonerate Thibodeau.

“I don’t have that information, though, so I’m not worried about that,” Steen said.

When Breckenridge took the stand, he said he never made any statements about Allen’s body in the back of a van.

Breckenridge also denied ever meeting Bohrer before 1999, saying the one time he met him, Bohrer was a “bug out” person, and he didn’t intend on ever spending time with him again.

Breckenridge said he made a “stupid mistake” by stealing Thibodeau’s van and stripping it.

“You did that because you saw he was in jail and you knew he wouldn’t miss a van?” said District Attorney Greg Oakes, to which Breckenridge agreed.

According to Breckenridge, if he had information about Allen’s disappearance he would share it, because he has several children who are currently around 18 years old, Allen’s age at the time of her disappearance.

In a filing made Tuesday, Oakes said he noticed a bit of information Monday evening that led him to interview the source of information, a woman named Cherie Sovallia, and her daughter, Cynthia Taylor.

According to a statement gathered Monday from Taylor, two weeks before Allen’s abduction she heard from Breckenridge’s now ex-wife, Tracy, about how Breckenridge and “three other people” were going to do a drug deal at the convenience store during the shift Allen worked.

Taylor told investigators that she told Ms. Breckenridge that she did not want to hear any more and left.

Taylor told investigators Monday that two weeks after Allen’s abduction she heard Ms. Breckenridge discussing the case.

“They did something to a girl because somebody told them that she was going to tell on them for doing a drug deal in the parking lot of the store,” Taylor said Ms. Breckenridge said.

James Abbott, Taylor’s uncle, who said he was present for the same conversation, said Ms. Breckenridge claimed “they burned her up and spread her ashes on the highway.” Abbott said she never identified the other three men involved, just “Roger and a Thibodeau.” Taylor, Sovallia and Abbott were subpoenaed to court to be available to testify during the hearing.

Bianco and Federal Public Defender Lisa Peebles, who also serves as an attorney for Thibodeau, tried a different tactic with the witnesses they called to the stand in the morning. The pair tried to demonstrate that former assistant district attorney Donald Dodd was not compliant with handing over materials that could have been potentially exculpatory to the defense at the time of Thibodeau’s trial.

Former Oswego County Judge John Brandt said “about an hour to an hour and 20 minutes” was spent during the original trial arguing over what qualified as exculpatory evidence.

Brandt said he understood that attorneys would create an itemized list of evidence they wanted turned over if one side was not cooperating.

“We never really had any discussions in this case that weren’t about the substance of this case,” Brandt said.

The next witness, Robert Calver, said he worked as a private investigator for the trials of Thibodeau and his brother, Richard, who stood trial for the same crime after Gary’s conviction. Richard was acquitted of the kidnapping charge.

Calver said he was not aware of Allen’s status as a confidential informant until he began to develop an alibi for Richard during his trial.

Before calling Steen to the stand, Peebles called Tyler Hayes, who said he had a confrontation with Bohrer in a bar in 2000.

According to Hayes, Bohrer was drinking and was making members of Hayes’ party uncomfortable by saying he had information about Allen’s disappearance.

“He told me he had information regarding the case, and I said, ‘ Yeah, I know about the case. They arrested two people for it,'” Hayes said. “I couldn’t remember their names, and he said it was the Thibodeaus, but they’re not the ones who did it.”

Hayes said Bohrer told him he knew who did it, and he knew the whereabouts of Allen’s location.

Hayes said he called the sheriff’s office when he returned home.

Oakes asked if alcohol might have impaired Hayes’ memory.

“When someone makes admissions to a murder, it’s not like ‘I forgot where I put my car keys,'” Hayes said.

Oakes brought up a sworn affidavit where Hayes made no mention of Bohrer saying that neither Thibodeau committed a crime.

Hayes said he only shared the basic outline of the details he was told.

Breckenridge is expected to be the first witness called to the stand today at 9 a.m. for cross-examination.

Hannibal planning board takes no action on proposed mine

By Colin Hogan

Hannibal town planning officials last week had to postpone any action on the proposed gravel mine that has Granby residents concerned as they await input from state regulators.
C.J. Ferlito Aggregate is currently seeking a 20-year permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to establish a gravel mine on Harris Hill Road in Hannibal. In recent public meetings, a contingent of residents in the neighboring town of Granby have voiced concerns over how a mine there would affect their roads.
The Hannibal Town Planning Board has held a public hearing on proposed mine but, because a permit has yet to be issued by the DEC, took no action on the matter during its meeting Thursday.
“We had a lot of people here speaking. There was a lot of information going back and forth but, basically, the planning board at this point can’t do anything until we all hear back from the DEC,” said Hannibal Town Supervisor Ron Greenleaf.
Greenleaf said the matter was “basically tabled” until the DEC makes its decision. Attempts to reach the DEC’s permit administrator for this region were unsuccessful by press time Monday.
Should the DEC decide to issue its permit, Hannibal officials will still be able to incorporate restrictions into their own permit, Greenleaf said.
“After the DEC decides whether it’s going to issue a permit or not, it’s up to the planning board whether to issue a permit with restrictions, or possible deny it altogether, but I really can’t tell you at this time what the plan is,” Greeleaf said.
While Granby has no jurisdiction over the matter, several residents there voiced their concerns to the Granby Town Board last month, asking town officials to advocate against the mine with their counterparts in Hannibal.
Town Supervisor Ed Williamson has said that Granby “wants noting to do with this permit,” and has requested a study be conducted by the state Department of Transportation on how the mine would affect the intersection of county Route 8 and Harris Hill Road, which he called “a death trap.” Williamson requested that, should Hannibal officials give the go-ahead for the mine, they include in their stipulatons to the DEC that trucks coming to and from the site should not be allowed to travel on Granby roads.
Greenleaf said DEC officials met with Hannibal officials on Dec. 30 to look over the site, but has not signaled one way or the other on whether it intends to allow the proposal to move foward.
“(DEC officials) met with our planning board chair and vice chair. They looked at the stream and looked over the site. They came to some type of agreement with landowners over what should be done, but they didn’t say one way or the other,” Greenleaf said.
The Hannibal Town Planning Board still has the ability to grant its permission on the proposal, even without the DEC issuing its permit yet. However, Greenleaf said he “strongly recommend(s) they don’t do anything without DEC input.”

DPW gets kudos following Monday’s snowstorm

By Colin Hogan
In the wake of Monday’s all-day snowstorm, which left the city of Fulton buried under more than two feet of snow, city officials and residents were eager to sing praises of their public works employees during Tuesday’s Common Council meeting.
According to the National Weather Service, Fulton received more than 24 inches of snow over the course of Monday and Tuesday — the highest total in the state from that storm system.
The non-stop dumping made for a long day for the public works crews, who after spending the whole day clearing the roads, still had to go do garbage pick-ups around the city.
Dave Perry, one of the department’s supervisors, said many on the 23-man crew ended up working 36 straight hours.
“We just had to keep at it. That’s what we always do — keep going until it stops snowing,” Perry said.
Perry said his workers first focus on clearing the main roads, and then do their best to get side streets cleared as soon as possible. They also have to stay on top of public parking areas, particularly those along main roads such as Bullhead Point and boat launch area off state Route 481, which can serve as emergency pull-off areas for drivers.
In Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, members of the public and council alike had nothing but good things to say about the department’s work.
“I just want to commend the DPW for yesterday’s fiasco with the snow. I think they handled it pretty well and I’m glad to have them on our side,” said Second Ward resident Doug Chapman during the meeting’s public comment segment.
Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. quickly agreed, noting that there were only a couple complaints called in to the city, which he didn’t think carried much merit.
“We had two complaints, one from the third ward and one from the fourth ward who said they hadn’t been down South Fourth Street in two days. I went out and looked at it, and it must be there’s another South Fourth Street somewhere,” Woodward said.
Members of the Common Council also took a moment to acknowledge the public works employees’ efforts at the end of the meeting.
“I just want to echo Doug Chapman’s words about the DPW. What a job they did. I’d put ours up against any city or town anywhere around,” said First Ward Councilor Tom Kenyon.
“I, too, would like to commend the DPW on the great job they did. It’s certainly a lot easier to get around the city today than it was yesterday,” said Fourth Ward Councilor Jim Myers.
Newly-elected Common Council President Larry Macner commended the department on behalf of both himself and Fifth Ward Councilor Norman “Jay” Foster, who was not in attendance Tuesday, but asked Macner to deliver his praises.
“Jay also echoed his sentiments and congratulations to the DPW for the fine job they did clearing the streets. We received almost two feet of snow. It was tough getting around. They did a wonderful job so, again, thanks to the DPW,” said Macner.
Perry attributes the good work to his crew, many of whom he said are longtime veterans of this kind of work.
“We’ve been doing it long enough that we know what we’ve got to do. We just get out there and do the best we can. It’s tough sometimes, but we get through it. I’ve got a good bunch of guys here,” Perry said.

Macner elected Common Council President

Newly-elected Fulton Common Council President Larry Macner (left) gets congratulated by Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. (right) during Tuesday’s meeting. Colin Hogan photo
Newly-elected Fulton Common Council President Larry Macner (left) gets congratulated by Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. (right) during Tuesday’s meeting.
Colin Hogan photo

By Colin Hogan
On Tuesday, members of the Fulton Common Council elected Sixth Ward Councilor Larry Macner as their leader for the next year.
Macner, who has been on the council since 2012, was nominated for the position by outgoing council president Daniel Knopp and unanimously approved by the other attending councilors. Councilors Norman “Jay” Foster and Ryan Raponi were not in attendance.
Knopp said Macner’s time in the military has given him the necessary leadership qualities for the job.
“I believe his military experience will help to lead the council in a positive direction and I would ask all other councilors to approve that,” Knopp said.
Macner told the Valley News after the meeting that “it’s an honor to be president,” and said his number one priority is looking out for the quality of life of Fulton residents, particularly those in his own ward.
“My ongoing thing is quality of life in the Sixth Ward. There’s a lot that needs to be done, but we’re seeing some good stuff happening in the Sixth Ward. There are people doing upgrades to their houses — siding, landscaping, those sorts of things. The biggest thing is keeping the properties up to code,” Macner said. “We do have a few landlord issues that we try to keep on top of. If the community calls me and supplies me with tips on where to look for these things, I try to get on it as soon as I can.”
Macner hopes the council and mayor can collaborate with county, state and federal officials to help bring more industry and businesses to Fulton, with the goal of rebalancing the city’s tax base.
“My big hope is that we can work on getting more industries and businesses to this area to help the tax base, which has shifted from industry to the residents, which is unfortunate,” Macner said. “When I moved here in 1981, pretty much everyone was working. You had Miller’s, Nestle’s, Birds Eye, Sealright, Owens-Illinois — the list went on and on. What I learned very early on was that this was the city that survived the Great Depression, but now, years later, you can see how that’s changed. I’m hoping for a rebound.”
He also said he’d like to see more people get involved with the neighborhood watch program, which residents can learn more about on the city’s website,  cityoffulton.sharepoint.com/.
“I’m going to try to maintain a positive approach, and a proactive approach that will move us forward and slowly and surely get this city back to where it used to be. I think it can be done, but it’s going to take time,” Macner said.
City officials finalized a handful of other appointments Tuesday, as well. Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. announced that Joann Cavalier has been appointed as the city’s Plumbing/HVAC Board Secretary, Jodi Corsoniti has been appointed Deputy Registrar and Linda M. DeForest has been appointed to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Daniel O’Brien was officially named City Clerk/Chamberlain, after serving as Acting City Clerk/Chamberlain for the last couple months in preparation for Jim Laboda’s retirement. The council also designated the Valley News as Fulton’s official newspaper for public notices.

Fire burns at Sunoco facility

A slew of emergency crews responded to a fire at the Sunoco  Pictured above, a fireman hoses down the damaged part of the plant on Thursday evening. The non-emergency 911 center reported Volney, Phoenix, Cody, Granby, Palermo, Central Square and Fulton fire departments, and state police and Menter Ambulance responded to a construction fire at 5:05 p.m. As of 7 p.m., fire crews were still on scene. State police and the Volney fire department had no information on any potential injuries by press time. Sunoco purchased the plant in 2009, using existing tanks from Miller Brewing for operations. Staff photo
A slew of emergency crews responded to a fire at the Sunoco Ethanol Plant in Fulton Thursday evening. Pictured above, a fireman hoses down the damaged part of the plant. The non-emergency 911 center reported Volney, Phoenix, Cody, Granby, Palermo, Central Square and Fulton fire departments, and state police and Menter Ambulance responded to a construction fire at 5:05 p.m. As of 7 p.m., fire crews were still on scene. State police and the Volney fire department had no information on any potential injuries by press time. Sunoco purchased the plant in 2009, using existing tanks from Miller Brewing for operations.
Staff photo

Company seeks to expand mine in Granby

By Ryan Franklin
Granby’s town board announced last week that Syracuse Sand & Gravel is seeking permission to expand one of its gravel mines from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
A letter to the town from the DEC said that the company had requested a renewal and modification for its permit on the Johnny Cake Road and state Route 3 mine. The modification would allow for an increase in size from 55 to 73.8 acres.
The proposal would also increase the size of the two ponds to be left over when mining is completed to 41.6 and 16.6 acres, according to Peter Constantakes of the DEC.
The ponds would be left over after environmental reclamation of the sites, where Syracuse Sand & Gravel would be responsible for replanting trees and returning the land to its previous state when mining activities were finished.
The letter also notified the town board that the DEC requested to be the lead agency for monitoring the site’s environmental impacts under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. Granby Town Supervisor Ed Williamson said this was what the board had requested and was best for the town.
“If we took lead agency we’d probably take two years getting the answers they already have there and probably $100,000 in costs for us to do it,” Williamson said.
The permit modification is still pending approval by the DEC, and the letter was a notification that the request had been made. Williamson said that he hoped the permit would include the same stipulations on the other town mines and that the DEC would enforce them.
“I’m still going to put into the letter that I send to them the things we’d like to see done,” Williamson said. “I don’t want them to start before 8 a.m. in the morning, I want them to finish by 5 p.m. at night, I don’t want them to work weekends, holidays, because of the inconvenience to the people.”
Williamson also noted that Syracuse Sand & Gravel had requested an ingress/egress permit on state Route 3, which would prohibit gravel trucks from traveling on town roads and keep the town from having to repair them.
The next step for the permit’s approval is a pending environmental review. If deemed acceptable and completed, a public comment period will begin and the application will be published in the local newspaper, according to the DEC.
Efforts to reach Syracuse Sand & Gravel were unsuccessful by press time.

Fulton issues travel advisory

By the Fulton Police Department

The City of Fulton has issued a travel advisory effective at 2 p.m. today (January 5, 2014). Snow and gusting winds along with a forecast of significant snowfall this evening have created very hazardous driving conditions. Motorists are advised against any unnecessary travel. Vehicles will be towed if they become stuck or if they present a hazard.

Public Works crews are aggressively working to clear streets. Due to the travel advisory, cars should not be parked on the roadway. This will assist Public Works crews in clearing the snowfall which began to accumulate earlier this afternoon.

Pedestrians should stay off the roadways if sidewalks become impassable as road surfaces are treacherous.

The following areas may be used by residents for parking – those areas include Indian Point Landing (North First Street, off of Route 481 at the north city line), Bullhead Point (Route 3 West between the War Memorial and YMCA), and across from the former DPW Garage (Seward Street and North Fifth Street).