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Albany Turns Out In Support Of SNUG

November 18, 2013

by Joe Bianchino

On a night that the City of Albany’s Common Council honored their high school’s boys soccer team, citizens turned out by the dozens to speak on an issue that threatens to claim the life of too many of their classmates.

On the docket was the Council’s vote of a city budget that failed to include money to keep alive the struggling SNUG program, which attempts to combat gun violence through mediation and other trust-based efforts.

SNUG, a program run by the Trinity Alliance of Albany independent from city and state government, has struggled financially for much of its existence.  According to the Times Union, it was forced to shut down for five months in 2011 and 2012 because of lack of funding.

Another shut down was threatened in March before the state stepped in to ensure its survival, but the continuation of such a relief effort was not taken up by retiring Mayor Jerry Jennings when he presented his final budget on October 1st.

Monday night, as the Common Council weighed their approval of such a budget, resident after resident stepped to the microphone to voice their support of the program, and implore the Council, who has the power the power to call for increases to the budget, to keep the program alive.

A commenter and her grandson in support of SNUG at Monday’s Common Council Meeting – Credit, Joe Bianchino

A commenter and her grandson in support of SNUG at Monday’s Common Council Meeting – Credit, Joe Bianchino

Many spoke to its importance.  “It’s too vital, it’s too important to just sweep it under the rug” said another to the applause of the ever-swelling gallery paying only some mind to the gavel of the Council President doing his best to maintain order.

“How much blood is enough before someone does something that makes sense to stop the violence…how many bodies do we need to bury?  You give me a count, just like you’re counting my minutes,” said Corrie Terry, 51, needling the Council’s decision to reduce the speaking time from five minutes to three to allow everyone a chance to speak.

Others’ appeals centered on the difference they’d seen the program make. “We had a great system in place.  SNUG is a great system.  It can work.  Let’s not just rebuild it, let’s not just get rid of it, let’s make it work.  Let’s properly fund that program, because I’ve seen some differences in made in our community…God knows we need that program.”

Others, though, while still voicing their support for the program’s ideals, took issue with its execution, citing a lack of effort, a lack of interest, and a lack of effective decision-making on the part of those charged with running it.

Suggesting that wrong decisions had been made for personal and not community-based reasons, Terry said, “I question whether or not the entity that is the oversight for this, actually gives a damn about the community.”

Those working and volunteering with SNUG answered the criticisms, admitting that mistakes had been made, but blamied those errors on underfunding and under-staffing and joined the chorus of residents calling for financial help from the City.

That help would not come on this night.  The council voted 10-3 to approve the proposed budget with only those minor changes already suggested by the body – including an increase stipend for the Assessment Review Board and Changes to Social Security Line Items.

Council members voiced their own support of SNUG, but ultimately decided that any significant move on their part would limit the mobility of Mayor Elect Kathy Sheehan as she prepares to step into office facing what she characterized as a $16 million budget deficit.

Mayor-Elect Kathy Sheehan vows to save SNUG at Monday’s Common Council Meeting – Credit, Joe Bianchino

Mayor-Elect Kathy Sheehan vows to save SNUG at Monday’s Common Council Meeting – Credit, Joe Bianchino

“We’re facing a significant challenge,” said Sheehan during Monday’s public comments section. “[I] absolutely affirm that there is a need for SNUG, and I am committed to finding funding…I am confident we will be able to continue to fund and to operate this very important program, but we have to do it in a responsible way.”

James Sano who represent’s Albany’s 9th ward voted to pass the budget and said he supported  Sheehan’s plan. “Her promise is a promise,” he said.  “I don’t want to handcuff anyone by saying ‘this is the way it is.’  She asked for that latitude, we granted it.”

Leah Golby, who represents much of the Pine Hills as the representative for the 10th ward spoke publicly about her support of SNUG and regret that it was not being funded.  “It’s here, it’s working, it’s effective,” she said.  Ultimately, though, she agreed with her colleague, eventually voting in favor of the budget.  “I’m confident we’ll find a way to find more money for it.”

John Rosenzweig furthered Golby’s comments. “I don’t think the funding for SNUG is going to be up for several months, I have confidence that [Sheehan will] be able to get the funding in an appropriate amount of time to keep it funded and operational.”

A frustrated gallery hoped the council members are correct, while their decision to approve the budget without SNUG funding starts the countdown to the program’s potential demise  – the consequences of which many Albany residents fear.  One individual who addressed the council said: “Today it could be my son, and today it could be my neighborhood, but remember, tomorrow it could be in yours.”-30-


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