By Peter Bianco
The Kelberman Center, a local non-profit organization benefiting individuals with autism, may have jeopardized their tax-exempt status if it turns out that they used a postage meter registered to their parent organization, United Cerebral Palsy, to send a letter specifically endorsing local political candidates in the upcoming election.
The letter dated October 22nd starts out “Dear staff and supporters of the Kelberman Center.” The letter ends with their endorsement and recommendations of who to vote for in the upcoming election on November 5. According to the NY Attorney General’s Office’s guidance regarding non-profits like Kelberman, “organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” The letter appears to be signed Dr. Michael Kelberman Board President and Dr. Robert Myers Executive Director.
The metered postage used to send this political endorsement can be traced back to Upstate Cerebral Palsy’s 258 Genesee Street location. Utica Phoenix ran a story on this location in April of 2018. According to that reporting, this location is UCP’s Communications and Donor Engagement department. This team is responsible for maintaining the agency’s channels of communication, relationship with the community and media and presence with potential donors and funders. The department oversees all messaging, community relations and fundraising for the agency as well as the affiliate agencies, like the Kelberman Center, which falls under the Upstate Caring Partners umbrella.
The endorsement letter sent to Kelberman supporters and the postage used to send it may well be contributions and things of benefit to the candidates’ campaigns. Palmieri, Picente, and Galime might well be advised to distance themselves from any possible unethical and illegal endorsement from a federal, state and local grantee.
Recently, The Kelberman Center has been embroiled in a battle over their proposed South Utica housing project called the Link at Sunset. The current proposal is for a 60-unit building, plus offices, at the site of the old Sunset School. The proposed building would be four stories high and take up most of the entire block. It would house 12 individuals on the autism spectrum and have 48 units for low-to-moderate-income occupancy.
Local residents are concerned the project is too large for their neighborhood, and are asking for the amount of units to be cut by at least half, making it 30 units or fewer. Common Council members said they were incorrectly informed by Mayor Palmieri and Councilman Bob DeSanctis that neighbors of the project were notified. Neighbors of the proposed project did not actually hear about it until the funding for the project was announced on the 11:00 news. There was no official notification, signage at the site or opportunity for public input.
Other concerns in the neighborhood include the 100-year-old infrastructure. Those situated behind the new Community Foundation building have been experiencing water-sewer problems since they paved their back yard. The new parking lot there has added to an already overburdened combined sewer-stormwater system. In fact, City Hall did not make Kelberman study the impacts on traffic, water, sewer, and electricity. The Kelberman Project is attempting to situate a high-density apartment building in a low-density neighborhood with low-density infrastructure.
South Utica residents are mounting a legal defense, and are exploring filling an article 78 lawsuit against the City of Utica and possibly the Common Council. Perhaps Kelberman’s insecurity regarding the legitimacy of neighbors’ concerns pushed them to an illegal endorsement of political candidates in their October 22nd letter.