A chilling effect
Your story about warrant checks needed for entry into Ulster County’s Department of Social Services building ends by quoting Sheriff VanBlarcum (who I usually strongly support): “You shouldn’t be driving up to DSS for services when your license has been revoked,” said the sheriff. “This is either going to stop you from getting free benefits, or you’re going to clear up your stuff.”
This begs the question: Why aren’t the police now stationed at the entrance to the county office building housing the Department of Motor Vehicles, among other services, conducting warrant checks on those entering that building? If the goal is stopping people driving with revoked licenses, among other wrongdoers, why crack down on D.S.S. users only? Are they singled out as a hot bed of criminal activity? Why am I reminded of stop and frisk in New York City and issues with racial profiling?
Those needing the economic safety net Democrats long championed often face stigmatization when using it. It deters some from seeking and receiving services they qualify for and badly need. Seeing an elected Democrat characterize our economic safety net as “free benefits” comes too close for comfort to demonizing those accepting economic assistance as “Welfare Queens” and “moochers.” New York voters, through our Government, see fit to provide social services to citizens in need, just like we offer police protection to those dialing 911 but no one calls the latter “free benefits.”
Those who defend these warrant checks willfully or naively ignore the social and legal concept of a “chilling effect.” Would they see and condemn the chilling effect on free speech if citizens had to pass a warrant check to access a County Legislature hearing? Would they claim that wouldn’t stop anyone from testifying before their representatives? A “chilling effect” not only deters those with legal issues from pursuing their rights, it deters those who have done nothing wrong also by injecting fear into a civic activity. It’s why courts take the threat of a “chilling effect” seriously.
Would you hesitate to accompany a friend into the D.S.S. building knowing it will trigger a warrant check? Could a data entry error confuse you with someone else with an outstanding warrant? Even if errors are rarely made fears persist. Include confusion surrounding the legal system and D.S.S. warrant checks embody the chilling effect. Missed work due to illness and are two weeks late on child support, will they arrest you upon entry? What about unpaid parking tickets, or that small claims action you were threatened with? Did you miss the notice? Did it trigger an arrest warrant? Step into D.S.S to resolve your nagging concerns.
Shame, shame shame! Shame on DSS Commissioner Michael Iapoce. I would say shame on Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum except that he clearly is shameless, given his statement “this is either going to stop you from getting free benefits (sic), or you’re going to clear up your stuff.” Why the shame? Because of a new policy, opposed by the previous Commissioner Roberto Rodriguez, to perform warrant checks on individuals entering the DSS offices on Ulster Ave. in Kingston, similar to those performed only on visitors to the County Jail.
This targeting of a vulnerable population is clearly discriminatory. As both caseworkers and DSS clients have said, such checks are not being done at other county offices like the DMV. Or, for that matter, at Mercedes-Benz dealers. No, this invasion of privacy is directed at citizens in need of public assistance like food stamps, heating assistance or aid for dependent children. Homeless people, coming for help in acquiring IDs, says Victoria Read of Family of Woodstock, won’t be able to “get in the door” although there is no legal requirement to have identification to access some services offered at DSS.
So, as I said, shame on DSS Commissioner Iapoce, and, okay, let’s include Sheriff VanBlarcum, for putting this policy into action. And admiration for former DSS Commissioner Rodriguez for opposing it. I hope that further scrutiny and legal review will reveal the moral and legal wrongs of this shameful policy.
Where was George Amedore?
The Saugerties League of Women Voters provided a candidates forum on Oct. 14. This service provided those voters who attended the opportunity to meet the candidates and learn their positions on issues of importance to them.
While there was an excellent presentation by the candidates for Ulster County Family Court Judge, there was no forum for candidates running for the New York State Senate in District 46. Why was that?
It turns out that candidate George Amedore couldn’t fit it into his schedule even though Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk’s campaign offered to adjust their schedule in any way possible to accommodate him. In short, he dodged the debate.
Through candidate forums we get a true sense of the candidate not available through glossy campaign literature. It is disgraceful that Mr. Amedore didn’t give the voters of Saugeties that opportunity.
Riccardi best qualifed for family court
This spring the New York State Legislature created a new family court judgeship here in Ulster County. They did so in response to the ever-increasing backlog of cases awaiting their day in this important court. These cases are about families in crisis. These families are our neighbors. Therefore, it is imperative that the person elected to this judgeship have the experience, credentials and demeanor to be able to hold court immediately and to be able to hear every case that is on the docket immediately upon taking the bench so these families can get the relief they so desperately need. I believe very strongly that we have that person in Gilda Riccardi.
Gilda has spent every day for the last nine years in family court as court attorney for family court judge Anthony McGinty. She knows firsthand the operation of the court as well as having a hands on familiarity with family law statutes as well as case law. She knows the county and its people.
Before she attended law school she was a registered nurse with experience as a direct care provider as well as a supervisor of a large nursing staff. This background gives Gilda a unique understanding of not only medical terminology but also the cause and effects of bodily injury. Unfortunately testimony of that nature is sometimes heard in family court.
Gilda has also worked as an assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office where she prosecuted child abuse cases.
This race is not about party affiliation but rather who is the best qualified candidate for this job. Gilda is that person. Please join me in voting for her. We couldn’t ask for anyone better working for us.