By Michael P. Kearns
The fight to review the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) methods, procedures and protocols continues since seven sex offenders were removed from two group homes in West Seneca. The same questions concerning the placement process have created concerns for residents and neighbors in Buffalo and North Collins.
My efforts to get answers and information on how OPWDD places sex offenders in group homes started with phone calls, followed by letters creating a formal trail with OPWDD regarding the concerns of my constituents in the group home area in West Seneca. The pattern of verbal request, delay by OPWDD, written request followed by equivocal answers through phone conversations continued for months with OPWDD. This culminated in filing a Freedom of Information Request for the records of protocols and procedures.
Delays occurred after the statutory requirements to answer the FOIL requests were not met and basic pamphlets were supplied as answers to several of my requests. A denial regarding the behavior of the sex offenders concerning safety breaches was countered with assertions of medical privacy of the offenders.
I was able to receive the internal records of the incident reports of the sex offenders at the group homes in West Seneca, which showed that the risk of repeated violations was not being managed well. After reviewing these records, the reason and rationale for moving these sex offenders from a secure facility in the Rochester area did not comport with logic or reason.
In January, I sent a letter to the Office of the Inspector General requesting an audit and review of the placement policies. Numerous emails were sent as well to establish an electronic trail. Sometime in May, I was informed by the West Seneca police that the remaining sex offenders had been moved out of the Leydecker homes.
In the hopes of understanding what appears to be arbitrary and capricious decision-making by a government agency, I have supplied all documentation, letters, court papers and discovery to several local officials and the town attorney for North Collins. Perhaps a coalition of representatives will finally get answers on how sex offenders are getting placed in these facilities.
I will continue to fight for my bill, A.4254, which passed the Senate. The bill reasonably prohibits sex offenders from residing in community residences with non-offending persons with disabilities.
The search for answers from a nonresponsive bureaucracy continues and I hope we all raise our voices to make sure OPWDD is open and transparent with its future decisions.
Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, represents the 142nd District in the Assembly.