Dominick Calsolaro

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Albany mayor's moves spark concern

Council members say Jennings moving hastily to fill seats on gun violence panel

Published on 3/20/2009 by the Times Union written by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST, Staff writer

ALBANY Some city lawmakers are concerned that Mayor Jerry Jennings is trying to exert too much control over a committee charged with implementing the recommendations of the city's Gun Violence Task Force.
The concerns arose after Jennings moved to create the committee and appoint seven people to it just a day after Common Council members met for the first time to discuss the task force's recommendations.

While his actions may have quelled fears that progress was stalling what Councilman James Scalzo called the "molasses of government" they worried some council members who believed they would have crucial input in shaping the panel.

"The success of the gun violence task force was absolutely the result of the fact that it functioned as an independent body," said Councilwoman Barbara Smith. "The council did not dictate its agenda, nor, to my knowledge, did the mayor's office."

Bob Van Amburgh, a senior aide to the mayor, said Jennings is "supportive" of the council having a say over additional committee members for a total of nine and added "we'll have to wait and see what role the council plays."

Common Council President Shawn Morris, however, said the council and mayor's office should agree on a system before picks are made.

"It doesn't sound like either side has a process at this point," said Morris, who is challenging Jennings for mayor. "That today you decide it has to be up and running next week when you've neglected it, just let it lie there, for two months, I would say is making haste in a way that's not productive."

The mayor's picks include four members of the task force itself, including its chairman, the Rev. John U. Miller, and vice chairman, the Rev. Edward Smart.

Jennings is also seeking to appoint city Treasurer Betty Barnette and Family Court Judge Gerard Maney, both also task force members, as well as First Ward Councilman Dominick Calsolaro and a member of the Police Department,

Calsolaro, often at odds with Jennings, was the driving force behind the task force, advocating it for years before the council created it July 2007 to study gun crime in the city and charged it with coming up with strategies for reducing it.

The 13-member panel seven of whose members were appointed by the council, six by the mayor finished its work in December, and its final report was issued the next month.

"Six months gone by is not appropriate," former task force member Les Fischer told the Common Council's public safety committee Wednesday night.

Several others stressed that at least some of those tasked with carrying out the recommendations ought to be people with actual experience on the ground.

Calsolaro said he wants the school district represented, adding that he was told by the deputy mayor that the council would have an opportunity to appoint two more members.

"(The mayor) seemed very sincere in getting this going," Calsolaro said.

Scalzo, who is chairman of the public safety committee, called the movement "encouraging."

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com.