Mr Sante Debacco of the Village of Ravena Building Department has been very forthcoming and impressively so, with comments and responses to our articles “Is Nancy Warner Suffering PMM (Post-menopausal Mania) AGAIN?” and “Ravena Still Ignores Oaths of Office and Rights Protected by State and Federal Constitutions!!!” (called the “Hohman article” below). We have posted one of his emails and our comments in our article “Mr Sante Debacco of the Ravena Building Department Responds“, and are pleased to note that Mr Debacco AGREES with the majority of our statements. That should put to final rest any of the stupidity of doubters as to the factual basis of our articles. Here we have a long-time employee of the Village of Ravena Building Department and of the Town of Coeymans Building Department admitting in black and white that we are correct in what we had to say.
Although Mr Debacco erroneously placed his comments in response to the article primarily on Nancy Warner, he is aware of that error and explains that he intended the comments to go on the article about Mr Ron Hohman. You can read Mr Debacco’s comments in their unedited entirety in the Comments (bottom of the article) about Nancy Warner (here’s the link: Comments)
Mr Debacco’s most recent comment is most interested to our readers, because Mr Debacco explains some of the workings, if we can be so liberal to call them “workings,” that is, the operations of the Ravena Building Department, the roles of Mr Joe Burns, Mr Hohman and Mr Debacco, himself, the distinction between a State Code Enforcement Officer and a Village Code Enforcement Officer, and he confirms our statements made in the Hohman article.
We are publishing Mr Debacco’s most recent email/comment in its entirety simply because it is important for our readers, particularly our readers in the towns of Coeymans, New Baltimore, and the Village of Ravena, and any resident/property owner in the state of New York, for that matter, to know what Mr Debacco explains in his comment.
We are also publishing Mr Debacco’s statement in its entirety as well as his previous comments because it is so rare for a public employee to come forward and be so candidly honest about himself, his job, and the people he works with. That takes integrity and courage.
Mr Debacco writes:
“Good Evening Editor of the Smalbany Blog,
“I would like to share some comments, or thoughts if you will, on the issue regarding the recent post about Village of Ravena Zoning Enforcement Official Ron Hohman. By the way – I am maintaining my vow not to read the blog for my own reasons, but I have no objection to you posting my comments on the blog.”
Mr Debacco had posted his previous comments on the “Is Nancy Warner Suffering PMM (Post-menopausal Mania) AGAIN?” page. That was in error but you can read all of his previous comments in the Comments section of that page.
“Mr. Hohman recently cited a property owner in the Village of Ravena a code violation regarding an unregistered vehicle, and discarded rubbish on the property. These citations were documented from the local laws and codes of the Village of Ravena. In our Building Department, Mr. Hohman is charged with the enforcement of Village of Ravena local laws. He [Mr Hohman] is not a New York State certified code enforcement official, and cannot enforce the Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code of New York State – Title 19 NYCRR. Only myself and Mr. Burns are charged with the enforcement of the State codes since we are certified by NYS as code enforcement officials. Mr. Hohman cannot issue building permits, conduct inspection of construction. He [Mr Hohman] can investigate complaints, but only complaints regarding the Village codes.” [Our emphasis]
Either Mr Debacco has knowledge of the case to which we refer in our article, “Ravena Still Ignores Oaths of Office and Rights Protected by State and Federal Constitutions!!!” or he is relying on the facts we reported in that article. The bottom line is that Mr Debacco is confirming that Mr Hohman’s authority is limited to only Village of Ravena local codes and laws.
Mr Debacco continues:
“However Mr. Hohman still must abide by protected constitutional rights of citizens. We are not allowed to enter private property without permission of the property owner. It is assumed that we can walk up to the front door of a building and knock on the door or ring a bell, but we are not allowed to walk around back per se without permission from the property owner. We are not allowed to enter into a dwelling unit without permission of the occupant of the dwelling. We can conduct legal inspections from the public right of way such as a sidewalk or street, and we can also conduct a legal inspection from a neighboring property, but the owner of that property must give us permission. The only time we can enter private property or enter someone’s dwelling unit, is during an emergency situation where the fire department or police department will allow us entry. The code enforcement official has the authority to obtain an administrative warrant to enter a property to conduct an inspection, but he/she must apply for such warrant at a local court where the property is located and must show cause.”
Again, Mr Debacco, a long-time employee of the Village of Ravena Building Department and a NYS certified code enforcement officer, confirms our statements in the Hohman article, that is, that Hohman must respect the protected rights of citizens. In other words, as we reported, no on may enter a resident’s or a citizen’s property without the citizen’s permission, or unless the official has a warrant or there is an emergency situation. Unless the official has the owner/occupant’s permission or a court order, the official cannot set foot on the property. Thank you, Mr Debacco, for confirming our report.
And again, Mr Debacco continues and confirms what we reported in the Hohlman article:
“I’m not sure what procedures Mr. Hohman followed the day of the visit to the Ravena property owner. I wasn’t around that day, and I didn’t hear anything about it at the office.
“In regards to the subjects of the violations, I cannot comment because I was not involved. I do agree with the old saying that “one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure”. The language in the codes is not really that cut and dry. Lots of room for interpretation. I don’t think that criminal charges for trespassing are warranted. In defense of Mr. Hohman, I believe there was no criminal intent on his part. I believe he was trying to his job, in the best way he thought he was able to.” [Our emphasis]
The law has no reliable way to adequately define a word like “rubbish”, as we have already stated in the Hohman article, and so that disposes of Hohman’s charge that there was anything objectionable in the resident’s yard. Hohman still has to explain how he made the observation on which he bases his charge, however. Even if he claims he did not enter the property and viewed the property from a neighboring property, he still has to prove he obtained the “neighbor’s” permission to enter their property. We don’t think That Mr Hohman is tall enough to make adequate observations over a 6 foot fence, though.
We also don’t agree that criminal intent absolves Mr Hohman from answering charges of trespass. Trespass does not require the intent to commit a crime and ignorance or over-zealousness does not absolve guilt. Think of it this way: You are driving down the road 10 miles over the posted speed limit and you are stopped by a law enforcement officer and ticketed for speeding. Your explanation is that you were not aware that you were speeding. That’s not going to save your sorry butt. You see, it is your responsibility to be in control of your vehicle and that includes knowing and obeying local laws and ordinances and state Vehicle and Traffic Laws, including speeding. It is your responsibility as an operator of a motor vehicle on pubic roadways and the excuse of not paying attention or ignorance is no defense. You will still have to face the consequences for your irresponsibility.
Same applies to Mr Hohman. He is responsible not only for knowing the Village of Ravena codes as they apply to buildings and properties in the Village, he must also be aware of the rights of residents and property owners and his limitations as a public official and employee. Whether or not he knew or did not know what he could or could not do is not a defense. He violated the law and cannot claim that his official duties protect him — they don’t — or that he was unaware of his limitations as to the rights of the public — ignorance is not a defense. So we disagree on this with Mr Debacco.
We feel that Mr Hohman has the duty, obligation and responsibility to know not only the codes but also what he can and cannot do under the law. He obviously broke the law and must now accept the consequences. The law does not apply differently to him because he is a public employee. There are not separate laws for Mr Hohman and others that apply to us common citizens. In fact, it is generally accepted that public servants must be held to a higher standard than private citizens because public servants are more visible and represent the common good. That applies equally to our judges and to our dog catchers and everyone in between. You break the law and you must be made an example. Period.
We continue to advise the property owner to file a criminal charge of trespass and violation of his protected rights under the New York State and United States constitutions. The local police chief, Coeymans Police Chief Daniel Contento must take the complaint, investigate to the extent that his own competence allows, and turn the matter over to the court for arraignment and hearing. An example must be made and other public employees put on notice.
Furthermore, given the facts and given Mr Debacco’s statements in his comments, we also feel that Mr Joseph Burns, Mr Debacco’s and Mr Hohman’s supervisor and the director of the Village of Ravena Building Department must be held accountable for Mr Hohman’s misconduct. It is Mr Burns’ responsiblility to ensure the lawful operations of his department and it is Mr Debacco’s duty and obligation to report any observed or suspected misconduct to Mr Burns so that Burns can investigate and take any necessary action. If Debacco fails to report such misconduct or his suspicion or knowledge to Burns, Debacco becomes an accessory to the misconduct and should be disciplined. Burns must keep records of all such incidents as well as any action taken by him in the case. If Burns does not keep adequate records, he becomes subject to discipline. Good recordkeeping is a requirement in public office, and the Office of the New York State Comptroller audits consistently look at the recordkeeping habits of local governments. So beware!
“I would like to invite the editorial team to visit us some day at the Building Department offices, either in Ravena or Coeymans. Spend some time with us, spend a day or two with us. Tour our offices, perhaps do a ride-along when we go out in the field. See what we do. See what we can’t do. You will learn that we do not have an easy job. It can be stressful, controversial, and complicated. We probably are the least liked – for lack of a better term – out of any public employee. Many times I have been yelled at, scolded, given the finger, and even threatened with physical harm by the public for – what I thought – was just doing my job. And I’m only the part-timer: way down on the (Village and Town) food chain. Twice in my career I have been threatened where I had to file a “workplace violence incident report”. Maybe you are right. Maybe I really do work too much!”
It is very generous of Mr Debacco to invite us to visit the Village of Ravena Building Department and to accompany him on his rounds but truth be told we do not think that Mr Debacco has the authority to make such an invitation. That’s not to say that we are not appreciative of Mr Debacco’s generosity in extending an invitation to do so; we simply feel that you can’t invite someone into someone else’s home — that would be violating their protected rights — and Mr Debacco is only a part-time employee of the Ravena Village Department and as such, no matter how long he’s been there, does not give him the authority to invite outsiders to spend a day with the Department or to participate in a “ride-along” in the field. That would require Mr Burns’ and perhaps even higher authority’s permission. We would urge Mr Debacco to be more prudent and cautious in making such invitations.
As Mr Debacco admits in his comment his job is not the most popular one in the Village and he does admit that it can be “stressful, controversial and complicated.” But then so are many other jobs but that does not mean that you don’t have to obey the rules and the law. As we say: If it’s too hot in the kitchen, get out.”
Mr Debacco closes his comment with:
“Anyway – thank you again for your time this evening.
Sent from my iPhone”
Our recommendation to the Village of Ravena and to the Town of Coeymans is that you train your employees properly and avoid lawsuits (same would apply, Mr Jeff Ruso (R) and Mr Nick Dellisanti (R), to employees of the Town of New Baltimore). You can’t undo what has been done but you can make good faith efforts to avoid abuses in the future. (By the way, Ravena, Why? do you pay village shyster Michael Biscone, Ravena Village attorney, if the Village of Ravena continues to break the laws of the state and the nation? Paying him to park his fat arse and supply expensive lies is a bit of a waste of taxpayer dollars. Wouldn’t you agree?)
And we’d like to thank Mr Debacco sincerely for his straightforward and informative comments. We wish that other citizens and residents and ALL of our public employees — and wer’re thinking specifically of Mr Jeff Ruso, New Baltimore Town Supervisor, and his employees and elected officials; they don’t even respond to resident’s letters — would have the guts to do what Mr Debacco has done. But perhaps we are wishing too much!
We’ve been asked to investigate two other matter in the Village of Ravena and the Town of Coeymans. Just to give our readers a Heads up! on what’s coming:
- Driving through Faith Plaza, a heavily visited strip mall with Ravena Shop’n Save and CVS Pharmacy and other heavily trafficked businesses, we have been asked to investigate why the Village of Ravena and The Town of Coeymans have not taken steps to ensure the public’s safety by citing the owner of the Plaza for the incredibly dangerous condition of the parking lot. The potholes are so many and so deep that you could lose an 18-wheeler in one of them or a small child! After a rain the potholes are filled with water any if you should drive through one, you could lose a wheel. This is a condition that has been allowed to persist literally for years and nothing has been done about it. Where are you Village of Ravena and Town of Coeymans???
- Heavy trucks, damaged streets and water infrastructure, hazardous curves, no traffic enforcement, and parking in Ravena is another question we’ve been asked to investigate, and one which we are currently investigating. Why are the heavy trucks going through the Village of Ravena in the first place? The Village has the power to restrict traffic and the New York State DOT would likely support the Village. So why is there all that dangerous heavy traffic? Why are certain business owners complaining about parking restrictions? Why hasn’t the Town of Coeymans and the Village of Ravena heeded the advice of a veteran professional law enforcement officer about the dangerous conditions? We will answer these questions, name names, Name to Shame, and expose the lies and half-truths about the parking situation in Ravena. One big question is who owns the parking lot across from the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Patrick in Ravena where the sign reads “Church Parking Only”? Lots of questions and we’re getting the answers.
- What’s the problem in the Town of New Baltimore where elected officials, including the New Baltimore Town Supervisor Jeff Ruso and his deputy Nick Dellisanti, Sole Assessor Gordon Bennett, New Baltimore Board of Assessment Review Chairperson Donna Degnen, New Baltimore Animal Control Officer Joseph “Joe” Tanner, the New Baltimore Code Enforcement/Building Inspector currently Allan Jourdin, the Acting [Deputy] Superintendent of Highways Scott vanWormer and others have ignored and refused to answer residents’ correspondence and questions. How dare they ignore residents’ letters asking for answers to important questions!!! They have a duty and an obligation to respond, even if the truth threatens their Mickey Mouse political ambitions.