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Thursday, February 20, 2020

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2013: PY Chronicle on Middlesex IRA (Group Home)

PY Chronicle Express on the Middlesex IRA

The Penn Yan Chronicle Express  carried (8/1/12) a front page story by Gwen Chamberlain about the Middlesex IRA (Group Home at 6166 South Vine Valley Rd.)  You can find it at  Then on 8/6/12 the Canandaigua Messenger ran the same article, except for the background paragraph and the closing 9 paragraphs.   Thus, the more complete article is the one in the Chronicle Express. The story is 4 pages long in the on-line version; don’t miss the “rest of the story.”

There is additional information which Chamberlain has found through FOIL’ing (Freedom of Information Law) but she also makes a significant point about lack of information.  As we digested her story, we found a few points which need further clarification, and the following 7 points will attempt to do so.  While we offer both the link and our interpretation of discrepancies, nevertheless we should realize the public service being done by Chamberlain and both newspapers in continuing to keep this story before the public, not because of any effort on the part of SOS to do so, but rather due to continued reporting and follow-up, for which we are grateful.  We hope what we offer below will also be valuable.  The most KEY POINTS are shown in red:

Here are the highpoints that we learned from Gwen Chamberlain’s article “Questions remain about Middlesex home’s future,” which we either did not know previously, or which may contradict what we had learned earlier.  Her FOIL work and ours do generally dovetail into a broader picture, adding to our information.  Any contradictions only show the complexity of the issue and hint at the story behind the story. (Chamberlain’s words are in black bold italic).  Aso,  if anyone plans to FOIL, please note that although I requested information on the “IRA at 6166 South Vine Valley Road, Middlesex, NY 14507.” the actual cover letter I received on the FOIL materials said: “6166 Pine Valley Road, Middlesex.”  It might be useful to include both addresses to catch anything mis-filed.  Comments on the newspaper articles follow:

  1. “At least three state agenies have been involved” – we knew about the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) and its local operation called Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Service Office (FLDDSO).  We also knew about the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY).  Chamberlain’s article, however, brings some focus to a third state agency, the NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control.
  2. “Courtney Burke has declared that no one who is listed on the state’s sex offender registry will move into a now vacant group home in Middlesex.”  This is a matter of NYS “word-smithing.” 1) our understanding of the threat of sex offenders being housed in Middlesex  is NOT  based on “speculation” as Chamberlain mentions, but rather on the remarks of Michael Feeney and his staff that 4-6 sex level 2 or 3 offenders were expected to come to the Middlesex IRA.  ii) Although our petitions were sent to Commissioner Burke, her return correspondence to SOS did not make this point.  For reference, read Commissioner Burke’s letter to SOS here, at   iii) one must be careful about putting too much dependence on the meaning of such a promise that no one on the state’s sex offender registry will move into the group home as level 1 sex offenders are not even on the registry.   Further, it is NOT even necessary to meet the technical definition of being on the sex offender REGISTRY in order to be a sex offender.  Some offenders have entered the legal process which would otherwise require such  registration if they were convicted, but because they agree to treatment for life or for a prolonged period they are not on the Registry (because there was no official “conviction”) but are nevertheless sex offenders, just not registered sex offenders.  This is not to say that such people will or will not be coming to Middlesex (it is one of the questions we keep asking), but only to point out the limitation of the REGISTRY, and of what limited comfort it is to promise new occupants will NOT be on the Registry!   However, we also note in Chamberlain’s article the mention of a mixed population,  which is undefined, but if it includes sex offenders mixed with more vulnerable disabled it can still pose dangers to the community as well as to other residents of the IRA.  As Chamberlain points out, “questions….remain.”  This is indeed one of the areas of significant questions and concerns.
  3. “Documents…appear to point to an effort to covert the Middlesex house to a use that meets different Life Safety Code regulations.”  We will be trying to obtain the same information under Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) to understand what kind of changes are permitted and what it bodes for our environment.
  4. Lynn Lersch is quoted in the article as having visited four of the nine prior occupants and that those had some apparent satisfaction with where they are now.  Chamberlain reports:  “They looked happy.”  However, Lynn was prevented from visiting the other five, so no meaningful conclusion can be drawn about whether or not they are satisfied or deeply dissatisfied, or somewhere in between.  Lynn Lersch has said she was told first hand from protected sources that two of the remaining four residents had great difficulty transitioning from their home at Middlesex.  Chamberlain does not imply either conclusion, but it is worth pointing out that 4 satisfied people do not equate to 9.  Moreover, even if the people who were so abruptly removed eventually do okay in the facilities to which they are moved, it does not negate the high-handed manner in which they were removed, raising even  questions of abuse.  They did not have a choice, and were apparently kept in facilities of questionable safety for a prolonged period of time.
  5. “O’Mara and Palmesano met with Burke in February, but both still felt the community’s concerns were not being addressed.”  We are pleased that our Senator and Assemblyman continue to support our community.  Chamberlain points out that “Members of the Middlesex community asked Middlesex town authorities to get involved with decisions about the house’s future use.”  Some in the community do not feel this has happened, at least not visibly and/or adequately, after the first and only statement of opposition read aloud at the second community meeting.
  6. Regarding safety records, SOS took a different approach from Chamberlain, and there seem to be  two different answers, raising even more questions.   Chamberlain states:  “A review of the most recent documents from OPWDD inspections of the house and program reveal no negative issues with the structure’s safety capacity until late 2011.”  She also says that “between 2001 and 2009 no issues were noted.”   Chamberlain also mentions that OPWDD’s “surveyors … documented deficiencies in Oct. 26, 2011.”  What happened to the time period between 2009 and Oct. 26, 2011?  Our data from FOIL’ing show a report dated April 27, 2010 (yes, 2010!!!) prepared for the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York by IBC Engineering P.C. called Project # 09221: “Finger Lakes New York OMRDD (now called OPWDD) Sprinkler System Inspection Report Hostel #1200, 6166 S. Vine Valley Road Middlesex, NY (DASNY #295240), which clearly presents a deficiency report.  Rather than repeat the findings, we scan and reproduce the report below.  This report attests that New York State knew of the deficiencies about 22 months before the occupants of the Middlesex IRA were removed.  Chamberlain sates: “It wasn’t until Dec. 1, 2011 when issues began to appear in OPWDD documents.”  As we’ve pointed out in the previous post, New York State went out for bid on the renovations on September 21, 2011, had a pre-bid meeting on September 27, 2011, a bid date of October 20, 2011, and apparently awarded the contract on December 7, 2011.  The construction permit was issued Dec. 13, 2011.  So, is it at all credible that bidding was in the public domain yet OPWDD has nothing in its files, or can possibly imply it knew nothing about what was going on?   Where are those records?
  7. The Chronicle Express article does not get into the 6166 costs; however, those in attendance at the meeting with Michael Feeney do remember his saying that there was only $10,000 available for the needed work at 6166 South Vine Valley Rd.  In the scanned/reproduced pages below from the IBC report, the reader will note that engineering company estimated $30,000 – $33,000.  However, the award for four “hostels” which included 6166, all believed to be about the same size and comparable to each other, was $946, 281, or an average of $236,570 per hostel.  Why?

Gwen Chamberlain asks additional, hard-hitting questions, which deserved an answer.  But the OPWDD and FLDDSO continued the close-lipped policy, especially about schedules and the profile of prospective occupants.  In the meantime, we have a dramatic example in the differences between FOIL’ing two different agencies and the results that we get.  There is more yet to FOIL, but at this point we let the documents speak for themselves.  The foregoing was the basis of a presentation to the community on Tuesday, August 7th.

To view the IBC Engineering Report most relevant pages, click on “Full Story” and then click each picture to enlarge.  Full Story

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