West Seneca’s state representative and a community action group are upping their efforts to break through the wall of silence the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities has erected regarding its placement of seven convicted sex offenders in two group homes on Leydecker Road.
Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, is putting in writing his so-far-unanswered questions to Albany about how a group home for nonviolent people with disabilities changed overnight into supervised housing for developmentally disabled sex offenders.
The action group is sponsoring a rally at noon Saturday, starting in a park adjacent to the two houses, to protest the men’s placement and send its own message to Albany.
Kearns, who expects to attend the rally, said he has received no helpful answers to phone calls made last week to the state disabilities office, beyond an email response from the agency’s director of intergovernmental and legislative affairs, Gregory Roberts, stating that he would get the lawmaker more information about the situation. Kearns said he has heard nothing yet.
But Kearns has been hearing by phone and email from constituents upset about the placement of the seven men, ages 31 to 53, who are originally from Erie and Niagara counties. They were moved on Dec. 26 to 520 and 526 Leydecker Road in West Seneca from the state’s Monroe Developmental Center near Rochester when that center was closed. The town was not notified beyond the legally required contact to local police to have the sex offenders register their change of address.
Kearns now is putting his questions in writing to Laurie Kelley, commissioner of the disabilities office. In a copy of the letter provided to The Buffalo News, Kearns starts with the basics: Whose decision was it to put seven sex offenders on one street, and how did the agency determine the risk they would present to the community? He also asks what safety measures are in place to secure the homes.
The disabilities office has refused to respond to media inquiries about the action other than by email. Last week, Denise Decarlo, its deputy communications director, provided only a broad description of the process:
“Individuals with a history of high-risk behavior ... are reviewed by a team of highly trained clinicians before being recommended for community placement. The individual is assessed prior to leaving a campus setting, and plans are developed to address identified needs, including the need for supervision.”
However, Stephen Madarasz, director of communications for CSEA, the union representing group home employees, disputed this and called the process “at best inconsistent and at worst, reckless and irresponsible.”
“Staff have not been adequately prepared or trained for working with the sexual predators,” he said via email. “Even if these moves were necessary, OPWDD could have taken greater care to ensure better preparation at facilities, taken steps for more security within the homes and been more consistent with the placements ... It’s also clear that the state could have better informed the communities that these individuals are coming into their midst.”
Kearns also addresses the lack of notification in his letter to the commissioner: “Numerous residents are reacting with extreme concern at the secret nature of the placements and the lack of transparency.”
One of those residents is Tony Fischione, an organizer of Saturday’s rally at Sunshine Park on East-West Road. In describing the neighbors’ frustration, Fischione said, “We’re not being told anything. Everything is hearsay, and it’s getting to a fever pitch.
“We want answers. We want to know what’s going on,” Fischione said.
He made it clear that the rally is not to protest group homes or community placement of nonviolent people with disabilities.
“We don’t want to appear all ‘pitchforks and torches.’ We want to gather as a community, as one voice, and let the men in those homes know they are not welcome here, and then take our case to Albany,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kearns and State Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan have said they intend to push for new state requirements to notify communities when the state is placing sex offenders in them.
Kearns concludes his letter by saying, “I am formally requesting that the seven offenders be removed from these homes and placed in a more secure facility, until a more thorough investigation and analysis can be done to relieve the concerns of these neighbors, residents and workers at this facility.”