Dominick Calsolaro

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Council members call for VIP ticket probe

Published on 2/2/2009 by the Times Union written by TIM O'BRIEN, Staff writer

ALBANY -- Common Council members called for a full investigation into the city's issuance of no-fine tickets both to VIPs and associates of the police union.

Council member Corey Ellis was joined by colleagues Barbara Smith, Dominick Calsolaro and Willard Timmons in a press conference outside City Hall this morning. Ellis said he also had support from Council Majority Leader Carolyn McLaughlin and member Michael OBrien.

''We have committed to working together to make sure we have a full investigation of the no-fine parking tickets,'' Ellis said.

Last week, he had proposed a resolution to subpoena Christian Mesley, president of the Albany Police Officers Union, to testify. The motion was tabled until the council's formal Feb. 19 meeting. The council will meet in caucus at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday to discuss how to proceed.

A majority vote of those present would be required to pass the resolution. Ellis said he had support of six of the 15 council members.

''This investigation requires the Common Council to use all methods at its disposal to get answers,'' Smith said. ''We want to have a deliberate process of people responding to our questions with full disclosure.''

Calsolaro said he had a constituent who makes $25,000 a year and got a $65 ticket. He said it was hard to explain why someone making $100,000 a year was getting away without paying.

Mayor Jerry Jennings said he supports Council President Pro Tempore Richard Conti's request for an audit by the state comptrollers office.

''I'd rather put it in the hands of professionals,'' he said.

The mayor also contended that the number of private citizens issued VIP passes is small, though he says he was unaware of them and has stopped the policy.

''The breakdown of the number of private officials on the list is very small,'' he said. ''Nothing here is a widespread abuse.''

The city is in the midst of creating a placard system to identify cars on city business that can be parked without being fined, he said.

''It was brought to our attention, and we'll correct it,'' he said. ''It goes back years and years and years. We didn't lose all the revenue people are calculating. It wouldn't help my upcoming $10 million deficit.''

Ellis has said he may run for mayor this fall.

''You may have some political agendas entering the picture here,'' Jennings said.

Ellis was skeptical of the mayor's ability to end a practice when he contends he doesn't know who authorized the entry of private licenses numbers into the city's ticketing system.

''We cannot end a policy unless we know how it began,'' he said.