Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wrecked

There comes a point in the narrative every Bonny and Clyde-type film where the main protagonists can indeed turn back; where they can point to their successes with a sense of dignity and walk proudly into the western horizon amid the golden hues of the setting sun. But more often than not, these characters choose the other direction instead, headlong into almost certain doom. And there’s really no way of turning back once they take that first step east.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson found himself in a similar situation in February, when he could have easily called off the project to build a gigantic recreation center on the east side. At the time, the city was facing resistance on what seemed to be all fronts: Neighbors were filing for court injunctions, the chairman of the county Democrats was complaining to the state Department of Labor and the city was facing a multi-million dollar budgetary shortfall with its loss of VLT revenue from the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway. On top of all of this, the city’s building inspector was apparently raising design issues with the rec center’s plans, due to a type of insulation included in the plans.

Johnson should have taken this as a sign. At that point, he could have easily walked away from the project unscathed. Certainly, admitting defeat would have taken a certain degree of humility on his part. He would have assuredly taken heat from his own party for stepping away from the flames of a fire that was brazenly fanned by his Democratic opponents.

But scrapping the project would have been the right thing to do. The city doesn’t need a rec center with the new YMCA. In fact, it’s debatable whether the city can even afford a new building given its ongoing fiscal woes. And that’s before considering the City Recreation Director Linda Terricola can’t even manage the buildings she oversees today. Case in point: The multi-million dollar ice rink almost wholly powered for free with gas produced by the former landfill is the only municipally-owned one in the entire Capital Region that is annually thawed for a quarter of the year.

Yet Johnson has steadfastly resisted any calls to end the $6.5 million project. He plowed ahead though the mire of residential dissent, and now he’s getting ready to land a shovel in the ground. Certainly in his mind, building the damn thing was the only way to go.

Johnson is mere months away from launching his re-election campaign and very little has changed for the better since he took office. All of the hot-button issues that drove the last campaign are and will continue to be on the table well beyond November. That doesn’t bode well for an incumbent that pretty much rode into office on a shock wave created by the epic implosion of the city Democrats.

Johnson has no discernible issues he can point to as reasons for his re-election, and he’s running out of time. Politically, he’s banking on getting the rec center built by fall, thereby proving his ability to work through immense political meddling. But this is flawed reasoning that stands in direct contrast with the one platform he did have for re-election: His administration didn’t set the city on the same collision course with disaster that the Keehn Adminstration seemed hell-bent on taking.

Now Johnson has filled the ammo cache of any political enemy that chooses to oppose him. Were a challenger to emerge from the GOP, they could easily argue Johnson strayed away from fiscally conservative policies by throwing even more money into a boondoggle project that has spanned the course if decades. His Democratic challenger will certainly exploit the notion that he was recklessly bull-headed in pounding the rec center into the ground. And they may already be using this angle too.

The peculiar case of former building inspector Lauritz Rasmussen is a prime example. Rasmussen, who was hired by Johnson, has very publicly claimed Johnson’s office fired him because he refused to give a rubber stamp on the project. Johnson rejects this notion and claims the “public record” will reflect his reasons for dismissing the man. It’s entirely possible

Rasmussen is playing up his role in the rec center debacle under the urging from someone –or some party –that has an ax to grind with Johnson. Or it’s plausible he’s telling the truth. Either way, the issue makes bad press for a mayor just six months before the election, especially when there’s little record to go on other than the status quo.

The bottom line is that it’s too late for Johnson to reverse course. He’s put too much energy and effort into advancing the rec center project and any deviation at this point would do little to change the course he’s charted. Arguably, that direction will yield him negligible results even if the structure comes to fruition. And it will gain him even less ground if it’s not. In other words, the Titanic is heading toward the iceberg. The only question now is how bad the damage will be once it hits.

35 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

the reason the ice rinks are closed for a portion of the year is that experience proves there is not the demand necessary pay for the upkeep of the ice and salary of the DPW worker (for lack of a better term) that sits there for the day. If the demand was evident, the rinks would open. Imagine the bitching if they were kept open and were not being used.

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you kidding? Troy, Clifton Park and Schenectady keep their rinks open all year. They seem to have demand. They have one person to sit there and collect money and another to operate the zamboni. Sounds like a money maker to me, since an hour of ice time usually costs in excess of $250.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

6:22
The Clifton Park rink has gone belly up a number of times. The Tryo rink is located in a neighborhood where kids can walk to it so that may have something to do with that success. There are annual meetings with the groups that contract for ice time at the Saratoga rinks. None of them were willing to make the commitmeent needed to keep the rinks open during the summer. With a full rink,you would be right in saying that it would be a money maker, however, with one or two figure skaters or even a dozen recreation skaters, it does not make economic sense to open the rinks.

4:23 AM  
Blogger Faulkner said...

How about we bring harness racing to the rink during the "thaw" months. Then VLTs and Virtual Blackjack. Then high stake skill cranes with Rolexes and eight balls?

No wait... parimutuel dog sled races! We'd be the first in the country. We could hold a big purse race called the Idiot-rod.

5:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story!
Very well written and a fair assessment of the situation within the Johnson administration.
The fact that the Rec Center is still being considered a financial possibility is perplexing. You said it best....there was ample opportunity to halt this project and remain unscathed.
Yet despite all of the larger finacial issues facing the city we march forward with an "iceberg" project that will cost the taxpayers well over $750,000.00 PER YEAR for 30 years (at today's prices)
Those are real numbers!

That makes this project a 22 million dollar gamble.
Yes gamble.
There is still is no "business plan" for this project that details the "costs and projected fees"
Would it not be fair to the taxpayer to see the facts and figures first before just moving ahead with the project?

Financial Conservatives? Where?

The Good Ship Saratoga is certainly in rough waters and appears to be with out a rudder.

Let's hope Captain Scott and his deck mates can avoid the "icebergs" ahead.

Throw the Rec Center overboard!

5:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back HO......

I think the new rec center will be one of the few success stories of the new century.

5:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

5:48 Well said

7:45 AM  
Anonymous Awaiting the Rapture said...

Oh my, Val now has her opening!

We shall be saved! Praise Val.

... and that funny looking little Asian guy that follows her around, too.

7:50 AM  
Anonymous agphoto said...

welcome back, HO!

the rec center situation can be summarized in the morphing of an old adage:

'this is a time whose idea has come'

no further witnesses; the prosecution rests.

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The good mayor is toast.

"They can take my job but they can't take my integrity."

There is no coming back from that Mayor - waaa waaa waaa

7:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Mayor Scott Johnson Memorial Firetrap. Deliberately Designed to Deal Death to your children. Insulation guaranteed to produce toxic smoke when burned.

Let's take all the Republican lawyers Johnson keeps spending taxpayers money on, and put them, together with Johnson, into the death chamber recreation center and light a match. Good riddance!

3:17 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

7:13,

I wouldn't say he's toast quite yet, but he's certainly given any mayoral opponent -in his party or otherwise -enough material to make a serious run. All it will take is money.

On the other hand, the fractious Democratic party doesn't seem to be brimming with candidates and it seems as though Gordon Boyd has taken his fraction to the Independence line. That could be a real thorn for the Dems to overcome even with Johnson chopping away at the hull of his own ship.

7:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HO
Is this government model the right one? Should it be reformed? What changes would make it more effective?

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's obvious who the Dems will line up to take a shot at Mr Johnson: Yepsen.

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First lets take a look of the City's buildings, Senior Center, if it had a building permit, it would not have had the problems that it has had, art Center, Vistor Center ect, They have not been kept up,look at the Casino, the handicap ramp is falling apart. When you let stuff go it leads to bigger problems that cost more in the long run. We need to fix what we have before we build any more. We cannot take care of what we have. DPW has had there budget cut so that they aren't going to beable to do all of the repairs that the City buildings need. With the Casino needing the most. Our kids did not get short changed this year, they got new lights on Geyser Park field.

5:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think those lights came as a result of a donation from Quad Graphics, not from city funds.
I could be wrong, but I'm sure somebody will correct me if I am.

Question: Does every DPW employee need his/her own pickup truck? How about a truck taking workers to their place of work in groups? And why do they all need trucks? Most times they are riding around in empty pickups, one person in the truck, on the cell phone.
Sam Downing used to use a station wagon. There are mid-size cars and mid-size trucks that get better gas mileage.
And don't tell me they have to use pickups because they all plow snow. That's a lot of bunk.
Leave the plowing to the big trucks, the guys with the pickups are just in their way.

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know Saratoga Miss Softball did some fundraising for the lights at Geyser Rd. a couple of years ago.

5:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

12:10,

Each DPW employee needs a truck so they can drive from one coffee break spot to the next.

How about the fire department grocery shopping using a fire truck with the full crew of fireman aboard. Why don't they do their shopping before the come on duty and use their own vehicles.

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Republican, I belive you when you say that the current Mayor is unlikely to win if he runs this year.
I quess some general questions might be.
1. Any possible candidates out there to replace him?
2. Should the Republican's run someone else? (rather than loose the seat).
3. Was his undoing the results of his attitude or aptitude.
4. Was the Rec center the only fault he had?
5. Is Tom McTygue's Independence Party going to have a seat at the political table this year?

Is Ken Ivins in trouble as well?
He too now a "pet project"
A dog park!!!!!
I assumed the Commissioner of Finance would use city staff to work on the financial matters first.
Last time I checked we were in difficult economic times.
Why not go out a collect on back taxes as there are some very hefty back taxes owed the city, rather than find a place for MY Fido to run FREE. Maybe time spent on Revenue?

Finances Finances Finances

5:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

8:19
oh oh, picking on heroes ....that won't go over too well at the firehouse. It's the only job where you shop for lunch and dinner groceries and get paid for it.
Do police officers? Do you?

And they are using a $500,000 piece of equipment as a taxi.

7:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Year or last the City paid 260,000 for lights at Geyser Part, it is the larger field that Spa Catholic uses. Look it up on the CityCouncil meeting. They are there.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there legal action coming from the former building inspector regarding his dismissal? What role does Shauna Sutton have?

3:11 AM  
Blogger Faulkner said...

My rash is back.

4:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Horatio
Very good piece.

In Sunday's Saratogian John Herrick makes it sounds as if the City Republican Party is in good shape.

Is it?
Has he been hanging around at Skidmore?
What was he smoking?
Was this interview held at Skidmore on 4/20?


As the smoke clears lets look at the not so distance past.

They flubbed up the Tedisco race

The flubbed up the Dorsey Race

Last citywide election
No clear winner in Mayor or Finance position

Other than Veitch and Scirocco they have had no clear winners in a very long time.

Look at recent loses that had a prominent "local" talent that got beat by newcomers to politics and relative newcomers to the city.

Mike Lenz
Stephen Towne
Eric Shreck
May Anne Macica
Mike O'Connell
Cliff Van Wagnor


The Good Ship Scotty Johnson is clearly has hit the "iceberg" already.
He has a very small amount of support for his office due to his mismanagement of the office and his lack of financial stewardship.
In his campaign literature
he said he would be a fiscal conservative and bring Civility to City Council
If you call financial leadership and civility a.....

The Beach project on Saratoga Lake 1.3 million

The Trail to nowhere on Excelsior
1 Million

The Wreck Center
Milions upon millions without a business plan? Misleading statements and no clear feasability study.

The 6 Labor Contracts that have yet to be settled ( they expired in 08.)

The 250K phone system that is still not completly installed after 12 months of ownership.

Constant bickering with fellow commisioners and staff at city hall.

Arrogant behavior by him and his deputy Sauna.

Lack of responsiveness to residents
(just ask InterLaken residents)

Abundant use of outside lawfirms (the other beach)Beach and Harris.

The whole hiring and firing of the building inspector.

And the hits keep on coming.

What has he accomplished?
Nada...Zip... Ziltch


Ken Ivins who barely won last election when facing a person who barely ran a campaign.
In fact I believe it took a week to get the results before he could claim a modest victory.
Now with the city facing economic woes, Ken seems to be interesting in establishing a new dog park, build the "wreck center", instead of championing a budget that is nearly 3 million dollars in the hole at Mid year. Come on Ken!!
Finances not Fidos!!! Priorities of the city must first.


I do think that Matt Veitch and Skip Scirocco are untouchable by competition and will easily win in November.
But Johnson and Ivins are damaged goods and stand no chance of victory.
If Admiral John Herrick thinks the Republican Armada is sailing in open seas, he may want to look closer below deck. The water is rushing in quickly!

Ahoy!!!

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's going on at the construction project at the old YMCA on Broadway?

The word is that some subs aren't getting paid?

10:36 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

7:47,

The funny thing is both parties seem very listless at this point. The Republicans are a bit worse off because they literally lost their entire upstate base(Tedisco, Bruno, Sweeney) that really pumped money into local elections. In fact, were it not for the implosion of the Dems in 2007, I kind of doubt they would have had even a fraction of the success they did.

But the Dems don't seem to be much better off. The DFCers haven't buried the hatchet and are trying tactfully to oust any party member they deem part of the McTygue establishment. And their in the very uncomfortable position of needing to stump for Skip Scirocco, a tact that won't resonate well with any yellow dog dem.

So this is your rallying cry, third parties! Get some fresh-faced candidates for the jam in November! What a hoot it would be to see both large parties kicked off the council in favor of some candidates that worry more about the city and less about winning re-election.

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And not only is there a problem at the old YMCA building site, check out the High Rock Ave. project....

The prices will be coming down, and maybe then the sub-contractors can get paid...........

3:40 PM  
Blogger Faulkner said...

Is this turning into isaratoga Monthly? Come on Horatio... I'll be dead before the next post.

3:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They lowered the price for seats at Yankee Stadium.
They can lower the prices for condos too.

HO.........we are waiting with bated breath for your next post.

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is doing all the phone polling?

Had calls on should we do the rec Center or Police station calls
Another on Johnson's approval rating.
Both Dems and repubs have been called
Who is asking the questions?

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Val's spurned suitor said...

It's that new third-party that we keep heating rumors about.

No, not Boyd's Independence Party group.

Supposedly, there is another bunch that have been talking about trying a run at both of them these dysfunctional major parties .

If so, I hope they put a priority on BRAINS. It would be a welcome relief.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just read that Ken Ivins commenting about a potential 20% tax increase for next year. I am sure the people on a fixed income are not feeling too good about that.
Still moving forward on the Rec Center though.
I would urge our Mayor, John Franck and Ken Ivins to to reuse "unforeseen circumstances" again.
When the need to extend the bond past the April 1 deadline the term "unforeseen issues" was grounds to keep moving forward with the bond issue.
Why not use the same terminology and defuse the bond and eliminate the 800K annual expense.
That is half way to Ken Ivins shortfall with one swipe of the pen.


I feel very bad that the school budget will bear the brunt of the finacial fiasco called The Wreck Center".
The May 19th Saratoga Springs School budget will get clobbered through no fault of the school department.
The economic climate in the country and in the city will drive many out to vote down a perfectly good budgt in hopes of potential savings somewhere. Instead they will go looking to chop as many heads as they can. None from their department though.
A job assessment must be done to better plan for the future and ensure the city staff is properly sized to meet the needs of the city, not just fix a budget issue.

Hacking until they bleed is not good mangement or good government.

Wreck the Rec!

7:44 PM  
Anonymous 1 + 1 = 2 said...

7:44 PM said,
"I feel very bad that the school budget will bear the brunt of the finacial fiasco called The Wreck Center".
The May 19th Saratoga Springs School budget will get clobbered through no fault of the school department."


You sir are either insane or more likely employed by the school system.
To somehow say one bloated union government system is less bloated than another bloated union government system is laughable.
For shame.

6:44 AM  
Anonymous Ron Kim's next bankruptcy client said...

Save us Val!

We're powerless without your thoughtful leadership and divine guidance.

Please, for the sake of the children--return!

It's all about the children!

6:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am still in amazement to see the Rec Center Project still moving forward.
What is it that I am missing?
The City's budget is in crisis, but we are business as usual in Recreation?
The Rec Budget is roughly 10% of the City's total operating budget and rose by 16% in the last budget.
Wake up Residents before it is too late.

1:12 PM  

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