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Albany County BOE Move On Hold; DMV Remains Open

It's business as usual Monday morning at the South Pearl Street DMV office in Albany.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
It's business as usual Monday morning at the South Pearl Street DMV office in Albany.

In September, word came that the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles on South Pearl Street was moving out of downtown Albany, forced to vacate the county-owned building by October 31st to make way for county agencies, including the Board of Elections. But,  nearly a week into November, the DMV is still open for business.

The announcement didn't sit will with officials at the Albany County Board of Elections, some of whom balked at the idea of moving from Russell Road into an "unsafe area of the city."

Detecting racism in that narrative, Albany County Legislature Deputy Chair Wanda Willingham called for Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Rachel Bledi to resign after Bledi characterized the neighborhood as "a dangerous place."

County Executive Dan McCoy joined Willingham in chiding Democratic Elections Commissioner Matt Clyne, who has remained silent on the matter.

Today Bledi says any potential move by the Board of Elections is not for McCoy to decide.  "The Albany County Legislature has jurisdiction over the Board of Elections, according to election law to find a suitable and appropriate location for the Board of Elections to function, and therefore the ultimate decision as to whether or not we move and where we move to lies with the Albany County Legislature."

McCoy recently told WAMC he tried to move the BOE four years ago but "it was shot down by the legislature." He said the South Pearl Street location could be retrofitted to serve county needs for less than $100,000, and he hoped a package would be submitted to the legislature soon.   "I talked to Chairman Andrew Joyce, it seems like he's on board and the leadership's on board."

Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners, a Democrat, says he's come up with a better solution.  "The empty space down in the Department of Motor Vehicles building would be well-suited if we moved offices like mine, and the Executive's and law and purchasing, finance, DGS, the normal places people need to go, that are hard to get to at 112 State Street. So we could fill that space up down there and demonstrate our commitment to the South End as well. We think that it's very important that people realize that we do support that neighborhood and it would actually make the county more accessible."

Conners notes the county passed on an opportunity to buy the building currently rented for $335,000 a year and adds it would be best if the BOE moved to another building next door.   "So it has that central location for disbursement of voting machines and we could purchase the building for about $1.2 million; we'd have the building paid for in four years' rent."

McCoy is still fuming over the behavior of the BOE commissioners.    "When a commissioner at the Board of Elections makes the statement she did I find it very offensive. And when our Democratic commissioner sits there quietly and doesn't back up Democratic values, I find that also very disturbing."

The initial announcement that South Pearl DMV was closing was met with disapproval from Republican Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola, who feared Albany DMV's temporary shutdown would necessitate his closing three Rensselaer DMV satellite offices in East Greenbush, Schodack and Hoosick Falls.  News of a reprieve hasn't been calming.    "I did receive correspondence from the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles to attest to the fact that they will not close that DMV office until they are ready to open their new location out on Central Avenue, and they say that would be early part of January."

Albany County officials confirm the DMV must be out of the South Pearl Street location by the end of December. The agency plans to relocate to 855 Central Avenue. Merola remains concerned he may still have to shutter his DMV satellite offices, as he believes Albany residents will find it easier to go to Troy to conduct motor vehicle business.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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