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Cayuga County Office Building's new safety procedures tested by legislator

AUBURN — A Cayuga County legislator's "incognito" test of new security measures at the county office building has led to discussion about the policies and practices when visitors walk through the entrance. 

Legislator Ryan Foley, who represents Auburn residents in District 15, said he had two constituents complain about their experiences with security since July when the new procedures were put into place. Over the past week or so, Foley and Undersheriff Jim Stowell have been working together to address concerns and strengthen current policies.

The new system at 160 Genesee St., Auburn, involves visitors showing security their photo ID. If visiting a floor other than the first, officers will list the date, time and floor on a sticker pass the person must wear. There are other new precautions in place such as bag searches and requiring people to keep their hoods down, all listed on a sign near the entrance.

Foley's experiment first was brought up at a Nov. 8 Government Operations Committee meeting, which Foley chairs. Following a safety committee presentation and update by Stowell, Foley said he had some concerns. He told the committee that he had worn sunglasses and a backpack and walked through the front doors of the office building one day. He'd forgotten his ID at home, but he had meant to be "incognito."

He told legislators that he was surprised how thoroughly his bag was searched, and that every pocket was opened.

"I think there's room to explore here about the exact policies of that group," he said. "I don't see unified policy at the moment, and I could be wrong by that. It seems selective to me."

Legislator Terry Baxter said he was angry that Foley had tested security, and appeared confused why his colleague would do that. Stowell said considering the number of mass shootings and terror attacks today, it's "not a big lift to ask what's in your bag."

In an email to The Citizen on Nov. 10, Foley wrote he had some concerns about whether the general public had a negative experience walking into the building, if people were treated differently based on their appearance or other things and the amount of discretion used by the security guards. 

"I didn't feel security were hostile during this process, stern would be a good word, but I could see how some people might feel stressed after this type of interaction," he wrote. "My best guess from this whole charade that it's not so much the guards at the entrance as much as a lapse in the policy and procedures, as you noticed."

Stowell, Foley and the building's head of security Tom Giltner, got together Nov. 15 to discuss the policies in place and Foley's experience "to feel like an average person through the door."

Giltner confirmed that security checks bags. If it's a particularly large bag, they may ask to keep it behind the front desk. They may not check bags of people visiting departments on the first floor, because the line could become backlogged and security is on that floor anyways, Giltner added.

Giltner said if anyone has questions about the way security is handling things, he points to the signs. Stowell added that he's had no calls for discrimination complaints.

Giltner said if there are concerns, he hopes legislators or others will tell him. As a result of the interaction, too, Foley plans to participate more on the safety committee. Giltner and Stowell said they both felt it was important to have a legislative representative. 

"It's tough," Giltner said. "When you make change, it's tough to get it going."

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'Family reunion': Community theater festival returns to Cayuga Community College

AUBURN — Community theater companies from across the state converged on Cayuga Community College's Irene A. Bisgrove Community Theatre last weekend for the Theatre Association of New York State's 58th annual festival. 

The three-day festival, in which seven different theater companies performed 10 hour-long plays, culminated in an awards ceremony held Sunday afternoon at the theater. 

The Little Theater of Watertown's production of "Doubt" took home the prize for best long production, while Albany's Confetti Stage group won best short production for "Bleached Blind."  

Auburn's Theodore Brill won two best actor awards for his performance as Brad in CCC's Harlequin Productions show"Museum Lovers," which was performed Friday night. 

The 10 entries in this year's festival were chosen by a panel of TANYS adjudicators, said TANYS President-elect Colleen Law-Tefft. Every year, the adjudicators go around the state and watch productions from community, high school, college and children's theater groups. The judges offer feedback on the shows and then choose what they consider to be the best productions. Cast and crews from the top productions are then invited to perform at the annual festival and compete for awards and a chance to perform at the Eastern States Theatre Association festival in May. 

Law-Tefft said this year's shows were "really good quality." 

The festival has been held in Auburn since 2013. Typically, Law-Tefft said, the association likes to hold the festival in different locations every two years, but it has been difficult finding other locations to accept the challenge. 

Law-Tefft said the festival is a great learning opportunity for everyone involved. 

"I've done community theater all my life and I also direct high school theater," she said. "I enjoy the process of learning more about theater because it is a constant learning process. You always learn something new from every show you do."

The festival also provides an opportunity for association members to spend time with people who have the same passion for theater.  

"It's a great opportunity for everybody to bring their talents together and meet other people from different companies," said Anne Frame, the festival's vice chairperson. "It's almost like a huge family reunion." 

"You find likenesses but you also find new ways to do things and learn from each other," Law-Tefft added. "It's a great festival and organization to be a part of." 

Sheriff: Port Byron hunter dies after falling from tree stand in Scipio

A Port Byron man died Saturday afternoon during a hunting trip after he fell from a tree stand. 

Detective Lt. Brian Schenck of the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office said Monday that Gale Lytle, 54, was attempting to climb up into a tree stand when he fell approximately 18 feet. The incident occurred off of Center Road in the town of Scipio.

Schenck said Lytle was discovered later by members of his hunting party. He appears to have died from injuries related to the fall, Schenck said, but the official cause of death will be determined by an autopsy from the Onondaga County Medical Examiner's Office.  

Woman says she was harassed by New York state employee

NEW YORK — An upstate New York woman struggling to find a place to live and a job after ending an abusive relationship said a state employee helped her, only to use it as an excuse to sexually harass and assault her, and the governor's office knew and did nothing to stop it, according to a lawsuit.

The governor's office denies the allegations.

Lisa Marie Cater, 51, says in court papers filed Saturday in federal court that she wrote to the Empire State Development Corp. in the fall of 2015 seeking help, and then-Regional President William "Sam" Hoyt wrote her back directly saying he could help her find a job. He secured a position for her at the department of motor vehicles in Buffalo, she says.

She says he began to sexually harass and assault her; he turned up at her home uninvited where he kissed and groped her, according to her complaint. He constantly sent her sexually harassing text messages and emails, including a nude photo of himself asking: "Do I look tan?"

An attorney for Hoyt has denied Cater's allegations.

"Sam has previously acknowledged and expressed regret for a short term, consensual relationship with Ms. Cater," said attorney Terrance Connors. "These new allegations are totally inconsistent with her original story and contradicted by her own email and text message correspondence. If she persists with this lawsuit, we will seek dismissal at the earliest stage."

Cater says in court papers that Hoyt reminded her that he could take her job away in a second if she complained or refused his advances. When she tried to tell him she couldn't handle the abuse anymore, he attacked her, grabbing and squeezing her crotch area, the court papers say.

"You know this is what I want!" he said, according to the complaint.

She says last fall, Hoyt offered her $50,000 in exchange for her silence, and she signed the agreement without a lawyer because she couldn't afford one.

Cater says she tried to complain to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office about the abuse, but officials ignored or were "deliberately indifferent" toward her, charges the governor's office said were untrue. And at one point, Hoyt said he called Cuomo's office, and officials said they wanted the allegations to "go away," the suit alleges.

Alphonso David, Cuomo's counsel, said when Cater first reported the complaint in October 2016 it was immediately referred to the state Employee Relations Office for an investigation.

"At the same time Mr. Hoyt was instructed to have no further interaction with the complainant and to cooperate fully with the investigation," he said.

The case was quickly referred to the Inspector General's office but Cater didn't comply with attempts to interview her, officials said.

"On Nov. 30, 2016 the Chief Investigator of the IG's Buffalo office spoke with Ms. Cater," John Milgrim, spokesman for the New York Inspector General, said in a statement. "He asked her several times to come in for an interview and she refused. She was also asked over the phone for information regarding her complaint and she failed to provide. The matter remains open."?

The case was referred to a third agency, the State Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

"The facts alleged in this complaint regarding Mr. Hoyt were not provided to state investigators and in many cases contradict the public allegations made in the last several weeks. The state launched three separate investigations into this matter, and any assertion to the contrary is patently and demonstrably false," David said.

Hoyt resigned Oct. 30 amid the investigations, which remain open. It came out the next day in news reports that he'd been accused of sexual harassment and paid off his accuser.

The lawsuit says her civil rights were violated and seeks monetary damages and attorney's fees.

Hoyt was appointed to the job in 2011 by Cuomo, and previously served in the state Assembly.