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State Senator Tom O'Mara, left, and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano listen.
meet with Monterey workers, offer help
MONTEREY, Aug. 16 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano joined a crowd of more than 60 people Thursday afternoon at Monterey Jack’s tavern along County Route 16 in a growing effort to combat the planned closing next year of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility.
The two legislators were joined by Schuyler Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan and Elmira Mayor Susan Skidmore at the third of a continuing weekly meeting of Facility workers at the tavern -- sessions designed to generate updates and ideas and provide moral support to one another in the fight to curb the Cuomo Administration order to shutter the correctional unit.
Shock Facility employees of all levels, from a captain to a secretary -- Theresa Schrom, who directed the meeting -- were on hand, along with some community supporters. And O'Mara and Palmesano assured the crowd that they will help organize resistance to the closing.
"We'll help you fight back, we’ll help you push back," said the Assemblyman. Strategies will include petitions, more of the weekly meetings, and what O'Mara said would be "a rally" at an unspecified time and place.
“We’re open to ideas on that,” said the Senator.
Chief among the arguments that will be carried to the state -- the one that O’Mara said has the best chance of reversing the administrative order -- is the impact the closing will have on communities around the Southern Tier that have grown dependent on the Monterey inmates to provide manual labor in mowing lawns, clearing brush and keeping cemeteries and parks free of clutter.
One such park is a state-owned facility, the Newtown Battlefield. One man on hand said a Newtown employee told him the Battlefield will not be able to meet its budget without the help provided by the Shock Facility inmates.
More to the point, Don Perry, Watkins Glen’s Superintendent of Streets, Parks & Cemeteries, said that in a quick “guesstimate” made in conjunction with another village official, a savings of $50,000 to $80,000 annually was placed on the work provided to Watkins by Monterey crews.
“That’s a lot of money,” he said. “If it closes, it’s going to hurt.”
It will, in fact, hurt many communities -- from Elmira over to Steuben County and throughout Schuyler County. The Town of Reading Board, says one member, opted at its last meeting to write a letter to O’Mara supporting the effort to overturn the closure. Watkins Glen’s Village Board has protested the closing in a letter to the state, as did the Schuyler County Legislature. Most area municipalities are expected to follow suit, if they haven’t acted already.
The Schuyler Legislature’s Fagan told the crowd that during Governor Andrew Cuomo’s visit to area wineries and the Harbor Hotel on Wednesday, he managed to get a word with the Governor, and told him the closure of the Monterey Facility should be overturned.
“He said he didn’t know about it,” said Fagan, “so I gave a 30-second summary of the merits of the Facility. He said he’d look into it, but he obviously had to say something.”
Schrom said a letter has been sent to the Governor’s office urging him to come see the Facility for himself, specifically naming a graduation day -- a day of celebration that puts the merits of the Facility into perspective. Those merits, she and others said, include instilling pride in the inmates, whose level of recidivism is consequently low.
“Whether we get an answer or not (from the Governor), we’ll soon know,” Schrom said.
O’Mara said one of the problems facing the group’s effort is the nature of the administrative order -- bypassing Legislative participation by directing that the closing be done after a year has passed.
Beyond that, he said, “we’re in a geographically less populace part of the state. We get overlooked time and time again.” He noted that the Governor’s two visits in the past week -- first to Watkins Glen International and then to the wineries -- was “his first in my district since he took office.”
He and Palmesano said the effort to overturn the closing can be done successfully only through a coordinated effort and with hard facts -- specifically numerical data regarding the Shock Facility. Among those numbers, said Schrom, were 900,697 work hours from 2005 through last month, which at minimum wage would amount to $6,530,053 that area communities and parks haven’t had to pay for such services.
“That’s eight years,” she said. “Stretch it across the 25 years” in which the Facility has operated, “and you have $19,590,159.”
The move to close the Facility “blindsided us,” said O’Mara. “We’re here to do all we can to help save the Facility.”
“We’re with you,” added Palmesano. “We know the impact (the Facility) has had on communities. Its uniqueness has set an example for other shock facilities. It’s a short-sighted decision on the part of the administration. We’ll fight alongside you on this issue. We’ll try to get municipalities and community organizations involved. The outreach this Facility has is widespread. We’ll do everything in our power to help you.”
Elmira’s Mayor Skidmore added that her community “is not going to be able to take care of our properties without the help of a program like this. We need to be loud, noisy and heard.”
Added Schrom: “This (closing) was a long-term plan. It wasn’t just thought up.”
“Monterey was on the list of (correctional facility) closings two years ago,” he said. “We fought back; we were able to because it was part of the legislative process. But with the one-year notice of closing, (Cuomo) can go ahead and do it and disregard anything we do.”
Schrom cautioned that at the end of January, the Facility will no longer be sent any inmates. That, coupled with a fear of unemployment among the Facility’s civilian workers, could lead to an exodus by them to other jobs. “So we have to move fast,” she said.
She said a Facebook page has been established to try to enlist support. O’Mara suggested a petition be affixed to the site, but one of the workers countered that the Senator should place it on his own site, since he has experience in such matters. “Then we can link to you from the Facebook page,” the worker added. O’Mara nodded his agreement.
Ultimately, said O’Mara to the crowd, “we’ll work toward a public rally. We’re just starting to coordinate that. And you’ll be a big part of that. “
O’Mara and Palmesano then departed, but promised to return for another, future session.
Photos in text:
From top: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano talks to the gathering; Watkins Glen Superintendent of Streets, Parks & Cemeteries Don Perry; session leader Theresa Schrom; corrections officer Ron Luedeman makes a point; State Senator Tom O'Mara looks over some data regarding the Shock Facility.
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