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Competitive spirit sidelined by the rules

   Jordan Maliken and his supporters lost one at the wire Tuesday.

      State Education Commissioner Richard Mills decided he had to let a decision stand:
Maliken, 20, who is diagnosed with mental retardation, cannot race with the track team during
the final two weeks of his last year at Amherst High School.

   Although state law allows students with disabilities to go to school until age 21, rules
say athletes cannot compete for a fifth year, or after age 19.

   Still, his parents and school staff thought there was a chance that an exception could be
made for Maliken, now finishing his fifth year of high school.

   So people went to hearings, made phone calls and tried to navigate confusing layers of

   Twice, in March and April, the local division of the New York State Public High School
Athletic Association, affirmed that the rules did not allow for exceptions for students with

   On Tuesday Mills let the association decision stand.

   "There is no authority, in this case, for the commissioner to waive the requirements," said
Jonathan Burman, a Mills  spokesman.

   What do you think?

-- Michelle Kearns

Safety lessons

   It seems like every year, someone is coming up with a new way to tell young people how to be better, safer drivers.

   The latest example was far from planned. The parents of a woman who died in a crash on Easter morning agreed to have the car placed on the lawn at Eden High School.

   Maybe it will have an impact. But as I wrote in my column today, the message always manages to escape some kids at this time of the year, when we hear and read stories about fatal crashes.

   Students take driver education. They learn from preschool about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. They are constantly told to be careful.

   Is there anything else we can we do to prevent more tragedies? Is the answer to simply raise the driving age?

   --- Bruce Andriatch

Read Bruce's column.

Cats will land on their feet at the Galleria

   They have been country cats, but soon you can call them mall rats, when the Erie County SPCA closes its Southtowns shelter and opens an adoption center in Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga.

   A pilot program last fall at the mall was wildly successful, with 499 cats adopted in about four months. That's compared to 559 cats adopted in a year's time from the shelter on Pontiac Road in Evans.

   Since the Southtowns shelter was losing money, and the SPCA stands to adopt out more animals while not losing money at the mall, the move made sense to the agency.

   But some Southtowns residents grumble about the move, which will leave them with the option of going to the SPCA in the Town of Tonawanda to surrender or drop off dogs, unless the Ten Lives Club cat rescue and adoption group starts accepting dogs.

   --- Barbara O'Brien

Crime doesn't pay, but maybe it can pay back

   I wasn't really sure how community service worked until I talked to Clarence Justice Michael Powers about his idea to make it more Clarence-specific.

   It turns out he didn't know a whole lot about it either, until he became a judge.

   His idea, which was the subject of my column today, struck me as a decent idea. As he put it, the community that has to deal with the effects of the crime should derive some benefit when the criminal has to pay for the crime.

   What do you think?

   --- Bruce Andriatch

Read the full story.


Homeowners lose — by a landslide

  Jody and Chris Morphy are two Amherst residents who, like most homeowners, didn't spare much thought to their homeowners insurance until disaster struck. When their property suffered a landslide that made their home uninhabitable, they naturally assumed that their homeowners insurance would protect them.

   It didn't.

   The state does not require insurance companies to provide "earth movement" coverage in standard homeowners insurance policies, and none even offer a rider that can be purchased separately to cover this kind of loss.

   Residents can buy earthquake insurance, but any earth disturbance must be caused by an actual earthquake, which is not the case here.

   This type of coverage is rarely needed in this region and could increase premiums if it is a required add-on. Should homeowners' policies be allowed to exempt this type of damage?

   -- Sandra Tan


Voters cool to Hamburg rink plan

   There were just over 2,100 people voting in the referendum Tuesday that rejected the expansion of the Hamburg ice rink Tuesday.

   A positive vote would have resulted in the town leasing the facility to a private company to renovate the existing rink, add another ice pad and field house, as well as manage the facility.

   Some residents said this isn't the right time economically to undertake the project.

   Town Supervisor Steven J. Walters said maybe residents weren't happy with the scope of the project, or thought it was too ambitious.

   Jeff Walker of Leaping Sports Facility Management, the company that made the proposal, said he was surprised at the outcome. He said the soccer, lacrosse and hockey parents didn't come out to vote.

   So if hockey parents didn't vote, who did in the town of 56,000, and why did 59 percent of them turn it down?

   --- Barbara O'Brien


Highway robbery ... and other crimes

   Maybe it's just a coincidence that for the second year in a row, a town highway superintendent in Erie County is in trouble with the law.

   Both times, the allegation was that the official was using his office for his own benefit or for the benefit of some purpose other than for the good of the whole town.

   In my column today, former Amherst Highway Superintendent Patrick Lucey offers a theory as to why this has happened. Lucey also argues that the current system of electing people to this job makes them more accountable to voters.

   The other side of that argument is that the Town Board has less control over the office than if it were an appointed position.

    Does two highway superintendents in trouble constitute a trend? And would changing the job from elected to appointed make a difference?

   --- Bruce Andriatch 

Would you care to hear a comment?

   If you live long enough, you hear so many strange things that you wonder if anything will ever surprise you again.

   Then you hear that a high school principal was caught - "red-handed"  is the term police used - stealing money from the school safe and after being confronted with photographic evidence, she resigns.

   The story of LuAnn Ostanski at Kenmore East is well-known by now. In my column today, I try to make the case that district officials owe the community an explanation. Maybe legal concerns prevent them from providing every detail, or saying everything they know, but I believe the paid leaders of the school system need to say something. Even "We were just as shocked as you were and we're going to get to the bottom of this" would be nice to hear.

   Instead, the school superintendent will not even come to the phone. In response to one of the more bizarre crimes that has happened in a long time, residents got a prepared statement — which said nothing — and then silence for going on one week.

   You pay the salaries of the people who run the public schools. Do you want to hear from them when something goes very wrong in one of those schools? Or do you accept that they should say nothing about situations like this one?

  — Bruce Andriatch


One and done for Travers Murphy

   You can tell Mary Travers Murphy likes what she is doing as supervisor of Orchard Park. Constituent work is very similar to her former job as a consumer reporter for WKBW-TV.

   She wasn't unfamiliar with politics when she ran for supervisor in 2005. Her late  father-in-law was Democratic Assemblyman Matthew J. Murphy Jr., who represented the Lockport area for 18 years.

   And she doesn't seem like one to back away from a fight. But it's the political part of the job that made her decide not to run for re-election.

   "The thought of having to raise the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to respond to such dirty politicking, not to mention the time and energy that would distract me from my duties as supervisor, holds no appeal," she said.

   With voters crying out for change, is it more than the faces of those running for public office that need to change?

   --- Barbara O'Brien


Round and round

   The roundabouts and traffic calming plan in Hamburg are working; there have been far fewer accidents since six traffic signals were replaced with four roundabouts.

   A traffic study of Buffalo and Main streets (Route 62) in the Village of Hamburg showed the number of accidents dropped by 63 percent since October, compared to the number before construction started.

   I heard a lot of people a few years ago wondering why the roundabouts were chosen. Today, some of the biggest skeptics have been won over by how quick and easy they are to navigate.

   What do you think of them? Have you seen anyone stop in the middle of one of them? How long do you have to wait to get through the intersection? Have you seen any accidents?

   --- Barbara O'Brien

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