Law enforcement officials from the county and state met with the public at a forum on Thursday night, held at Rockland Community College to open discussion between police and minority groups in the county. Nearly a hundred residents filled the audience to express their concern and frustration that the black community has to fear police presence, rather than rely on them. The panel included speakers from the NAACP, the Rockland Commission on Human Rights, the Rockland District Attorney’s Office, and the Rockland Police Chiefs Association. It was set up in the wake of much national tension between police and minority communities such as the case of Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in New York City; and countless other incidents of use of violence or deadly force. District Attorney Thomas Zugibe spoke to the attendees about the need of communication and relationships between residents and police officers to help community feel safe. Also on the panel were NAACP Mid-Hudson and Westchester Regional Director Wilbur Aldridge and the Assistant Director of the FBI Field Office in New York City Diego Rodriguez, who both agreed with the need of communication and trust on both sides and that African American residents should not have to feel fearful of law enforcement.
Assembly members Ellen Jaffee and Kenneth Zebrowski released statements coming out against the newly proposed East Ramapo oversight bill that takes away the state appointed monitor’s ability to veto decisions made by the district’s school board. They also announced that they wrote a new bill to send to the the senate in hopes of negotiating, which would give the Comptroller a say in fiscal matters only and give veto power back to the monitor. On Sunday Senator David Carlucci introduced a new version of the bill, giving oversight to the state Comptroller’s office in order to compromise with Republican leaders of the senate who did not agree with the original bill. Both Assembly people stated that they do not believe the new legislation would do enough for the district, and involving the Comptroller’s office is unnecessary. They thanked Carlucci for negotiation on behalf of the students, but stated they will not be backing the proposal, which lessens the monitor’s power and changes the time limit of oversight from five years to two. The Assembly passed the original proposal last week 80-60, and with the session ending today supporters of the oversight bill are working to negotiate with the senate members, many of whom have expressed concerns about taking power from officials elected to the school board by the public.
The state Senate introduced a bill late Sunday, that calls for the State Comptrollers office to oversee the East Ramapo School District, rather than an independent monitor appointed by the Education Department. Local Democrats have opposed this idea in the past, brought forth by the school board. In the revised bill, the Board of Education for East Ramapo would be required to submit the proposed budget for the following year to the Comptrollers Office at least 30 days before the budget vote. The Comptroller would review the budget to make sure funds are being spent efficiently for the needs of the school district, including those students attending private schools as well as other needs within the district. There are only a few days left in the legislative session, and it is unclear as to whether or not representatives will reach a decision by sessions end.
According to state officials the New York State Assembly approved the controversial East Ramapo oversight bill on Thursday. In February following a report submitted by a temporary appointed fiscal monitor, Senator David Carlucci, Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee wrote and presented the legislation that would allow a permanent state monitor to veto decisions made by the school board, especially in regards to fiscal matters and friction between residents and officials about public and private school funding. Many Republicans in the state Legislature, as well as the East Ramapo school board have expressed opposition to the bill and fear that it could lead to further restrictions on decision making for officials throughout New York, stating that it takes away power from elected board members. With the bill now approved by the Assembly it will have the chance to move on to Senate, if officials approve a vote. Those in support of the bill are attempting to work with opposition to move forward with the vote, many stating that it looks hopeful, and the oversight is needed to ensure that each student gets a fair education.
Four Rockland residents have been arrested following the county’s pressure on sports betting under the 10-month investigation called “Operation Rock Bottom.” The release by The Office of the District Attorney outlined the gambling operation which was carried out on a website where individuals would place bets online under a username and get paid out weekly based on wages placed on various sports events. The pool of money was collected and paid up to organized crime groups. Ronald Ayes, of South Nyack, Nicholas Farese, of Nanuet, Anthony Moschella of Valley Cottage, and John Reyes of Monsey were charged with promoting gambling in the first degree, possession of gambling records in the first degree, and a host of class “E” felonies. They were arraigned by Judge Scott Ugell at Clarkstown Justice Court and released, assigned a future court date. District Attorney Thomas Zugibe noted the participation of the Clarkstown, and Ramapo Police Departments as well as the South Nyack-Grandview Police Departments and New York State Special Investigative Unit, and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
At a press conference outside the Capitol in Albany Wednesday afternoon, Rockland Officials met to announce that the bill to install a state monitor for the East Ramapo school district will pass in the Assembly today. The next hurdle to pass the proposal is approval from the Republican-held Senate as the legislative session ends June 17. Opposition to the bill claim that the duties of the state monitor take away from the powers of the democratically elected school administrators and is not the way to address the troubled district. Of the 33,000 school-aged children, only 9,000 attend public school whereas more than 24,000 belong to private schools, mostly yeshivas. The mostly Orthodox Jewish community has a hold of the school board leading to the much contested portioning of the East Ramapo budget. Assembly members Ellen Jaffee with Kenneth Zebrowski and Senator David Carlucci were in attendance in Albany as co-sponsors of the bill pushing for Senate approval before sessions end.
Sheriff Louis Falco has responded to the circulating controversial campaign video released by the Rockland Republican Party questioning his efficacy in addressing the illegal housing issue in Rockland County. In his weekly address with WRCR, Sheriff Falco made clear that housing issues do not fall under the purview of the sheriff’s department. “Listen, everybody in law enforcement knows that this is not a Sheriff’s Office issue, it’s not a Police Department issue. This is a local town and village building inspector, fire inspector, zoning issue. If a police officer or sheriff’s office sees something, he or she perceives it to be a housing violation, they refer that incident to the local town and village building department through the task force that was created by the fire service. The violations are local town and village ordinances enforceable by the building and fire inspector in each town and village. Everyone in law enforcement knows that.” In the video titled, “Where Does Louis Falco Stand on Illegal Housing?” the narration states that, “Sheriff Lou Falco has refused to enforce illegal housing laws,” and is seen as a divisive attack by Republican Richard Vasquez’s camp and has been criticized by local officials such as Supervisor Howard Phillips of the Town of Haverstraw.
County Executive Ed Day has started the process to collect money that was disbursed to county officials as members of the Rockland County Sewer District 1 which they may not be entitled to under county law. Day had asked the Legislature to pass a resolution to collect payments earlier this year however not acted upon, forced him to order county attorney Thomas Humbach and Commissioner of Finance Stephen DeGroat to begin collecting themselves. Some members of the Legislature see the move as a political attack against the Democrat-controlled legislative body however Day’s director of public policy Stephen Powers denied any political motivation pointing out the presence of Republicans among the targeted officials. “We’re not going after them because they’re Democrats, we’re going after them because they received money.” Non-elected officials are lawfully entitled to salaries. Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack issued a check for $24,982 and is the only sewer commissioner to initiate back pay, however may not be accepted by Day because it came with preconditions.
The Town of Ramapo Police released information regarding a house fire at 6 Dorchester Drive in Airmont this morning. Officials received a call around 4 a.m. and arrived to find the family outside of the home, uninjured. The Tallman Volunteer Fire Department, Mahwah, Spring Valley, and Suffern Departments responded and doused the fire leaving the home uninhabitable. Orange and Rockland utilities also arrived to cut electrical and gas lines to the house. The Rockland Paramedics and Ramapo Valley Ambulence Corps. were present and on hand in case of injury. Preliminary investigation of the fire does not appear suspicious which may have started in the garage, aggravated by the absence of smoke detectors in the home.
A man accused of attempting to file fraudulent papers in 2013 settled with the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office after pleading guilty on Wednesday. Shimon Sontag, the former president of the Rose Ocko Foundation, which provides assisted living housing in Ramapo, plead guilty to charges of third-degree forgery for filing false paperwork with the town, claiming that improvements had been made and construction could begin on the 34 acre of property in order to continue receiving tax exemptions. According to prosecutors in the case the property was tax exempt for years, though no building had been taking place. In Sontag’s deal with the DA’s office he was ordered to repay the town of Ramapo $55,129 for 2013, and he received no jail time.