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Schenectady County declares emergency a week after migrants’ arrival

The Schenectady County Legislature convened a special meeting Monday night to discuss the arrival of asylum seekers who were sent from New York City to a motel in Rotterdam a week ago.
The Schenectady County Legislature convened a special meeting Monday night to discuss the arrival of asylum seekers who were sent from New York City to a motel in Rotterdam a week ago.

The Schenectady County Legislature convened a special meeting Monday night to discuss the arrival of asylum seekers who were sent from New York City to a motel in Rotterdam a week ago.

Legislators voted unanimously to give the green light to County Manager Rory Fluman to issue a state of emergency with an order prohibiting additional asylum seekers from being sheltered in the county. Legislature Chair Anthony Jasenski says the goal is to prevent further "surprise" arrivals of migrants sent north from New York City.

First deputy County Attorney Frank Salamone told meeting attendees that migrants began arriving at the Super8 motel on July 18th. The motel had evicted its residents the previous day on the pretense that it would be closing for one year.

"Tuesday morning, individuals that were staying at the hotel, many of whom who have been there for a long period of time in excess of six months, were notified that the hotel was the motel was closing," said Salamone. "Our understanding is the town of Rotterdam was also not notified that they were closing. These individuals were illegally removed from the motel pursuant to the law, if they're there for 30 days or more. It would have to in order to remove them, it would be the process of an eviction. That was not done later on in the day as the county manager discussed the motel reopen to accept the busloads of asylum seekers. That is our view we've reviewed the law. Our view is that that's contrary to the law. We sent a memorandum to the legislature in the chairman sent a letter to the attorney general requesting an investigation on that. I understand that other elected officials have also joined in that call for an investigation to ensure that someone can find out what happened and those people's rights could be vindicated."

Democratic state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara wrote to State Attorney General Letitia James, asking for immediate intervention to investigate the legality of the evictions. He says James' office is determining whether it can proceed with an investigation. The AG did not reply to a request for comment. Jasenski also sent a letter to James. Salamone says he has been in contact with the AG.

"I think at this stage, they're collecting the information that the attorney general's office doesn't typically discuss the investigations that they're conducting what or whether they are aren't typically, until there's something for them to announce. They keep that pretty close to the vest," Salamone said.

Fluman says he's been keeping a close eye on the situation and on the migrants’ well-being.

"They have on site they have a licensed clinical social worker, they have a case manager, they have a site supervisor. They provide the three meals a day, two hot, one cold. They do some limited recreation opportunities. So they have a van that's going back and forth to a park in the city. They are also infusing funds into the local economy. They are doing nothing but emptying the shelves at Walmart and Price Chopper at the moment. They're looking to set up relationships with longer term commissary or food delivery type situations. There's a lot of effort right now and what I can say so far, so good, as far as the ground services, there is a sense that there are people there. There's a lot of humanity in that building. I'm not going to deny that at all," said Fluman.

Asked about migrants' medical needs, Fluman responded that DocGo, the company hired by New York City to transport and house asylum-seekers, told the county medical screenings take place before people board the buses. Local care is being coordinated as needed.

City of Schenectady District 1 Councilor Richard Patierne sided with other officials in praising Fluman's handling of the situation.

"We need solutions. The solutions start here tonight, solutions start here tonight. We cannot lose any more, any more of our limited space. And we need our county manager to declare this state of emergency," Patierne said.

As the meeting came to a close, Jasenski reminded attendees that Schenectady County is unique.

“We are not Albany County. We're not Rensselaer, we're not Montgomery. We're certainly not Saratoga. About a month ago or so when we were at the Rotterdam Town Hall our county manager gave us an update and information on where we thought this immigration thing was going to go. And a decision was made by everyone in this room to not issue an executive order at the time, based on the best information we had at the time, and that decision was not made in a vacuum. It was made after careful consideration, speaking with our colleagues and county government, in the Capital Region and beyond what their results of their orders produced. And that was actually no change. Because the day after Albany County issued theirs, they received asylum seekers. So that decision was made in good faith. And I supported it then, and I support the county manager's recommendation today,” said Jasenski.

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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