Monday, December 31, 2007

A new beginning

Fresh fallen snow has an almost purifying effect on the cityscape it covers. Unsightly tracts of asphalt and concrete appear as pristine roads that could be carving through any Norman Rockwell painting. Filthy street signs clutch onto the flakes, which eclipse brash hues of orange and yellow. Even the barren trees seem to burst forward with life again after a snow storm; their branches radiantly adorned with winter’s finery.

But after a few hours, this glorious mantle reverts into a greasy pall. The staccato sounds of tandem snow blowers shatter the snow-covered tranquility of the city and plows push heaps of oily snow onto the sides of every thoroughfare. The majestic winter wonderland is quickly transformed into the dark and dreary reality many northerners dread during the year’s lingering months.

In a way, the metaphor is fitting on the eve when the city’s disgraced city council passes the torch to the new one. On New Year’s Eve three years ago, the city Republicans left office in disgrace, passing the keys to city hall onto what was then called “an all-Democrat” council. For many of the city’s centrist and progressive voters, it was as if a fresh snow had blanketed Saratoga Springs.

There was the same giddy sense that grade school children awake with when their window sill is piled high with fresh snow. It was almost as if the seedy element of politics had been swept away; city residents could take pride in the emergence of a new moral leadership that had emerged.

Of course, this was all an illusion and one that was quickly swept away. Today, on the eve of a new regime taking office, there seems to be a similar sense among the electorate, albeit not as palpable as before. While the dwindling warriors of the fractured city Democrats continue to point fingers at every chance and chat base they get, Mayor-elect Scott Johnson is quietly setting down a list of goals that would seemingly appease both ends of the political spectrum.

Johnson spoke at length with the Glens Falls Post Star this weekend in an interview that could only be viewed as a breath of fresh air for a city that has suffered more than four years of political misgivings. If you haven’t read it already, take a long gander and take note; these are the elements that will define Johnson’s tenure as the Spa City’s mayor. While too long to summarize, the interview suggests Johnson as an intelligent and thoughtful leader, more prone to accomplishing city needs than his or his party’s agenda.

Among other things, Johnson suggests he’ll be a hands-on mayor for the city, one more prone to getting involved with its inner workings. This could be a sort of trial run for the city to see how a full-time mayor might work out. At the same time, he suggests the commissioner-form of government could use some tweaking, rather than the bull-in-the-china-shop approach taken last year by the charter-revisionists.

The Spa City’s new mayor added his doubts about the hastily drawn-up plans for a new public safety facility. Rather than simply bluster on about the dire need for a new station, he urged taking all options into account. Johnson wryly and appropriately noted that none of the so-called “studies” done recently have explored what exactly to do with the old police station if a new facility is built. He also made specific note of the tenuous nature of the city’s contract with LaBella Associates to design plans for the structure. In other words: “Don’t spend the money before you have it,” he told the Post Star in the interview.

Johnson distanced himself from the notion he was recruited by county GOP heavyweight Jasper Nolan. Instead, he indicated a “mutual connection” between him and the city’s Republican committee urged him to take a spot on the ballot. This is an interesting assertion and one that might distance the new mayor from the old guard Republicans that were pitched from office in 2005.

But, like everything Johnson suggests, only time will tell. Sometimes the fresh fallen snow melts to reveal the glorious rebirth of spring. Other times, it melts to reveal the bitter reality of another cold passage through winter.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Story

Christmas in the Spa City culminates Tuesday after more than a month of hype. What started with the mad dash to Wal-Mart on Black Friday, officially launched with the balmy Victorian Stroll in late November and has continued without respite in the form of oppressively tacky holiday music piping over intercoms in every department store or supermarket in the region will finally come to fruition in less than 24 hours.

And it’s been one hell of a haul, folks, especially for members of the Capital Region’s media, which has had a devil of a time keeping up with the go-go times of the Christmas season. At first blush, it might seem like a tall order covering all this holiday cheer, especially seeing as though the official season now spans more than a month. But they manage to do without fail every year.

In fact, some news agencies have more or less given up reporting news of any substance whatsoever. Take for example the hard news flow pouring from the studios of Capital News 9. Among the hard-hitting Christmas-themed stories this week, the “your news now” network aired a piece posing the real question about the holidays: Why do people string billions of Christmas lights on their homes? The answer to this and more coming up after this month’s news break.

However, News 9 is hardly alone in their nearly month-long break in reporting real news. In fact, there’s been a veritable cavalcade of media sources throwing out some of the quintessential non-stories this holiday season, as they did the previous year and the year before; the same stories, the same sources, the same everything except for the last digit in the year and perhaps where they were featured in broadcast or paper.

These stories include “the holiday mailing crunch” story out of a U.S. Post Office near you. Ever wonder what happens when several million people mail Christmas cards to 100 of their closest friends and relatives? Well look no further than the reports brimming from this year’s paper; ones that look oddly homogeneous when compared to those of previous years.

Then there’s the travel report, the most futile of Christmas stories. See, people tend to travel when they have a few days off strung together around the holidays; visit the in-laws, snowbird down to the Florida peninsula, fire back home for a few days of free living in mom’s nest.
Yet, there’s always a sense of amazement over this mass migration in the next day’s news; published a day later than it would be useful to anyone traveling. It’s almost as if there’s an all-seeing editor or producer that has been living in a locked newsroom vault for the last half century and might not be privy to the holiday gridlock that strikes modern transportation.

But never was there a more hackneyed account of the Christmas fervor than during the holiday spend-a-thon. From the Black Friday blow-by-blow accounts to the mid-season reports to the last-minute shopper stories, the local media obsesses with the greediest element of a holiday many proffer as a time of giving and caring.

As the clock ticks down to 6 p.m., television cameras and reporters are there to chronicle every last minute of shopping; where they’re spending, what they’re buying and how many packages they’re carrying. These reports tend to give up-to-date milquetoast reports about how holiday shopping might be affecting local business, using terms such as “business appears to be good” or that holiday shopping “might be the slowest” in five years. Of course, there is no barometer for this until all the receipts are counted sometime in late January. Yep, nothing like adding speculation to an article already suffering from an utter dearth of real news.

Meanwhile, the real story just seems to float over the talking heads and mindless publishers nestled in their news hovels around the Capital Region. In a time when the sub-prime mortgage crisis is threatening many with the loss of thousands of dollars –even homelessness in more dire cases –residents are still lighting up suburbia with expensive Christmas lights and going on unprecedented spending sprees with their credit cards.

The warning sirens are indeed sounding for a public that has become obsessed with outspending one another in the run up to Christmas, though few want to hear them while their loading up a financed SUV with a hodge-podge of over-priced consumer electronics purchased with a maxed out Visa. In a study that spanned from October 2006 until October 2007, The Associated Press reported credit card debt and delinquency has sky-rocketed among Americans.

The most telling are figures provided by the Bank of America, which is owed $5 billion from its delinquent card holders. The defaults represent a 200 percent increase over the previous year’s figures, and that’s without figuring in the shopping bonanza now taking place in the run up to C-Day. Merry fucking Christmas, America; grab a mug full of eggnog and worry about it in the New Year.

But why bother asking shoppers how they plan on affording a veritable treasure trove of presents? Why bother asking them about their angst or why they feel the need to purchase their way through a holiday that once represented peace and harmony among mankind, rather than the abject consumerism? Isn’t it better to just ask them if they still believe in Santa Claus?

Perhaps these are bleak questions to ask for a time when cheer is almost a societal mandate. Eventually, however, the public will need to awaken to the notion that Christmas spending continues to spiral out control. And maybe for once, the local media might consider focusing on something of substance, rather than gleefully heading out to the mall for a report on how much debt these jolly revelers will sink themselves into for an ounce of holiday cheer.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Holiday grab bag

Folks at the Saratoga County offices meandered down to the conference room this week for some cookies, coffee and the annual nondenominational politically correct holiday grab-bag celebration. With the plastic garland hung and the falling from the sky, there’s celebration to be had down at the Ballston Spa offices, especially now that the County Supervisors are again boasting their property taxes as the lowest in the land.

So dig into those spritz cookies and Russian tea cakes, grab a cup of the semi-burnt coffee from its roaster and gather round for the handouts. There’ve been a lot of them this week that have undoubtedly make the coming holiday a merry one for several individuals.

Taking the first plunge into the grab bag was Saratoga Eagle Sales and Services, which plucked out a sweet $1.3 million tax break. Even though Saratoga Eagle doesn’t technically work for the county or even in it yet, the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency felt it fit to invite them out for the grab bag event, which they rightly saw as the tipping point to steal…er…lure the beer distributor from Queensbury in neighboring Warren County.

So why wheel three exits down the Northway to a city where land and taxes are at a premium? Well, it starts with a five-year tax exemption on their new $12 million warehouse worth an estimated $180,000 per year. Then it continues with an assessment on the warehouse and 27 acres of land that will be frozen at $7.8 million for five years. And to put a happy little candied cherry on top, IDA officials even threw in a one-time exemption from sales and mortgage tax worth about $385,000.

Of course, it’s a bit scrooge-like of Saratoga County to cut millions worth of tax breaks to “bring jobs” a whopping 20 miles across the border and out of a town that could really use the. Needless to say, county officials aren’t expecting any holiday cheer from their neighbors to the north.

Next up for the grab bag was Sheriff James Bowen, who reached deep and came up with the funding he needed to put another pair of half-baked deputies out on Saratoga County’s thoroughfares. In an 11th hour budget amendment, the recalcitrant regulator was provided $64,000 to hire one patrolman and another $49,476 for a dispatcher. This was after they already afforded the sheriff an additional deputy.

Were there an asshole…er…Grinch attending the nondenominational politically-correct holiday grab-bag celebration, it was Bowen. When the county supervisors balked at his original request for eight new employees, the sheriff simply threatened to end his office’s DARE program with local schools.

Now, say what you will about the effectiveness of the DARE program. But for those in elected office, it’s a political hot potato. There’s nothing ignorant parents like seeing more than a man in uniform zipping around middle schools in a spiffed-up drug bust-seized Camero, preaching to the children about the dangers of marijuana, the gateway substance. And anyone that would willingly allow Bowen to pull the plug on DARE could expect such a move to haunt them during the next election cycle.

The big winner this year was Waterford Supervisor and Water Authority Chairman John Lawler, who finally got what every Republican in the county had been trying to get for years: a decision-making Democrat in Saratoga Springs to express interest in the $67 million Hudson River pipeline. The city’s apparent interest may give the county what it needs to convince the state Department of Environmental Conservation into transferring the pipeline’s permits to the cash-strapped water authority, which recently borrowed $6 million from the county to keep itself fiscally solvent.

County engineers apparently drew up plans to include hook-in joints along the county water line, allowing the city to tap in at a later date. The decision to include these joints was apparently made during a meeting “facilitated” by City Attorney Michael Englert, who was Mayor Valarie Keehn’s first appointment after she won office in 2005.

Lawler’s revelation was a bit shocking to everyone across the board, including most city officials. Only a week prior, the city was granted the legal clearance it needed to push forward with their project to tap Saratoga Lake. But at least one city official –a certain lame-duck mayor named Keehn –was not surprised by the decision.

For months, Keehn was rumored to be working with lake residents in their fight against the city’s project. Though she publically denied such allegations –most notably during a verbal fracas that broke out between her and Gordon Boyd at the Democratic primaries in September –she’s done nothing to prove otherwise.

In fact, her unwavering support for Skip Scirocco, the Public Works commissioner-elect, and her undying hatred for soon-to-be banished fixture Tom McTygue might be proof enough of her tacit support of the county plan. And if there’s a Democrat in Saratoga County to have on board with the plan, it’s the one with a string-pulling husband working as an attorney for the DEC.

Rounding out the grab bag line was Barbara Lombardo, the Saratogian’s entrenched managing editor. The pickings were pretty slim by the time she stepped up to the bag and hoisted out a pair of embarrassing corrections for Thursday’s paper. As she’s certainly grown custom to doing lately, Lombardo needed to rewrite an article clarifying one that basically got all of the important facts wrong.

In this case, it was the article indicating the city’s interest in the county’s water plan. First, The Saratogian reported that Lawler had documentation of the interest. This was wrong, Lombardo stated. Then, the paper claimed the city’s engineers were under the direction of Keehn’s office. This was also dead wrong, Lombardo continued.

And to throw a bit of lemon juice in an already gaping wound, the managing editor misspelled Lawler’s name throughout the corrective article –though this error is somewhat forgivable when taken in context with the others. Yes Barb, without your reading glasses those O’s do sometimes look like E’s.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Saratoga Nights

Heat waves rise off the asphalt baking in the Saturday afternoon sun. The buzz-saw sound of enough horsepower to fill the backstretch twice over revs in anticipation of the checkered flag clutched in Mary Lou Whitney’s wrinkled hand. Coors is flowing like the swollen Hudson in spring and the swell of carbon monoxide is enough to get even the most beer-gutted redneck high enough to cheer on the Spa City’s acclaimed debutant.

Whitney clears her throat and then taps her microphone to garner attention from the sell-out crowd of nearly 100,000 NASCAR fanatics waiting for the gear-grinding fender-smashing fun to begin. She manages a few futile words before the deafening sound of an air horn blasts behind her.

“Drop the goddamn flag, you old bag,” sputters a red-shouldered man sporting a semi-stained wife-beater, a half set of teeth and a full-blown Budweiser buzz, shortly before sounding his air horn several more times.

Perhaps in fear –perhaps in horror –Whitney unceremoniously drops the flag and then drops herself, the victim of a massive coronary. The ambulances scream through the paved grounds at the formerly historic Saratoga Race Course, which like the Northway, serves as the state’s largest parking lot for three months out of every year when NASCAR comes to the Spa City.

Just imagine what fun it would be; more tourists, more business, more Budweiser. Yes, it would be a rollicking good time in Saratoga Springs, were state officials to simply do what they do best, which is nothing at all. Once the city can dispatch of this meddlesome Sport of Kings, it will be free to bring in the Sport of the King of Beers. That’s when the real good times roll, pun intended.

Before the asphalt trucks start pulling up to Union Avenue, it should be noted that NASCAR or any other form of motorized racing will never come to the Spa City. Not at least during this millennium. But that didn’t stop the Post-Star –or rather a half-baked speculator they interviewed –from suggesting such a thing could be possible if New York thoroughbred racing is shut down after the New Year.

Trot through any collection of local headlines these days and you’ll get the distinct impression the sky is falling around the Saratoga Race Course and the Spa City itself. All month, local politicians have been quite vocal about the “what if’s” that could befall the city if the racing meet is cancelled.

Of course, this is about as likely as NASCAR coming to a location in the “green belt” off Northway Exit 14 or any bevy of other fantastic ideas that could be proffered as alternatives to horseracing. While we’re at it, maybe they could reopen Canfield Casino for ESPN’s Texas Hold’em tournaments. Or perhaps legalize prostitution on Caroline Street; then maybe the former Madame Jumel’s could hold down a business for more than a year.

They’re all good ideas for someone who could say “NASCAR might fit in Saratoga” with a straight face. Strangely enough, the fellow mentioning such a scenario is none other than budgetary gadfly John Kraus, who was supposed to be the fiscal voice of reason on the capital committee that proposed a $17 million public safety castle.

“There are drawbacks, but don't let them be a show-stopper,” said Kraus in the Post-Star article, which reads more like something posted on the Onion. “Find a way for it to work and get’er done.”

What is even more frightening is that the Post-Star ran with Kraus’ half-baked idea. At the risk of running bad or incomplete journalism, the reporter even took a moment to call up a NASCAR official, who confirmed the organization is searching for a metropolitan location near New York City –only “one NASCAR hour away.”

Yes, the debacle with the state’s thoroughbred racing franchise is serious. But there’s nothing to suggest for even a moment the state will shut racing down altogether. What is transpiring is the same bogus tug-of-war between Hollywood Joe Bruno and Eliot “the Steamroller” Spitzer. They’ll continue growling at each other until zero hour, when an agreement will be hammered out.

Until then, get ready for more political maneuvering and more windbagging. Yes folks, there is a lot of warm air blustering in from Albany and swirling around the already hot air offered up by the city’s local politicians. On a side note, perhaps that’s why scientists are now saying the polar icecap could melt entirely within five years.

But ask any Albany insider and they’ll tell you the track will not close; not this year, not next year, not any year. There’s too much money to be made from keeping the greenbacks flowing into and out of the Saratoga Race Course. And when the city itself is the crown jewel of upstate’s cities, there isn’t a politician foolish enough to risk tarnishing it’s luster.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Just in case you missed it

Sheriff Jim Bowen is fixing to give away more money. For the second time in three years and the third in seven it appears as though the state’s crustiest regulator and his gang of keystone kops are ready to make another area resident rich.

This year’s sweepstakes appears to be a lock for Diane Scarlotta, the latest victim of a personal injury accident directly attributed to the actions of on-duty deputies. Though the Granville resident didn’t fare nearly as bad as the last victim –deceased Skidmore student Phil Eckstein –she certainly has one hell of a case against Bowen’s boys, should she choose to file a claim.

Scarlotta was arrested for petit larceny on Nov. 30 and was apparently getting a lift from Deputy D.A. Harder when he slammed into the back of a vehicle on Carr Road in Wilton. The force with which he struck the car was enough to smash it into a third vehicle, according to an un-bylined article published in the Saratogian last week.

From the glib description of Scarlotta’s injuries, it appears as though she wasn’t properly restrained in Harder’s vehicle. She suffered a bruised forehead, cut nose, and a tooth knocked out of her mouth. While these aren’t life threatening issues, they’re surely not the type of injuries one expects to suffer on the way to booking.

On a side note, the crash-happy ambulance chasers of television news never bothered to report the accident; neither did the daily newspapers. True, no one died and the accident itself only injured the Harder’s sticky-fingered prisoner. But one would have thought such an incident would be worth a brief in the cop’s logs.

Harder was ticketed for following too close, a traffic violation, which by itself doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But after factoring in Scarlotta’s injuries and the probability he never properly restrained her in his cruiser, the accident sounds like a lawsuit, which is a big deal.

This is especially given the accident that claimed Eckstein’s life as he crossed Route 50 in October 2005. And then consider the deputy involved in a boat crash on Saratoga Lake in 2000, which seriously injured a teenage rower. Suddenly, a pattern starts to take shape: on-duty sheriffs getting into careless accidents that injure people and open the county up to serious liability.

In the case of the seriously injured rower, a 13-year-old girl that suffered a potentially life-altering pelvis injury, the county was required to pay out $1.25 million. The jury initially deliberating in the case initially awarded her $3 million, an amount that was later lowered by the state appellate court. Though a grand jury headed by County District Attorney James Murphy found no criminal wrong doing in Eckstein’s death, the student’s family filed suit last year in state Supreme Court. Naturally, the sheriff’s department is among the litigants listed.

So perhaps instead of stumping for more deputies for the county’s roads and waterways, Bowen should seek more training for the ones he already has. After all, the public might start to see the writing on the wall if his cops continue to double as law suit magnets.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Web locomotion

You have to learn how to walk before you can run. Getting this order of learning mixed up can often lead to a very painful lesson in gravity, as perhaps the geniuses at the Journal Register Company are surely learning –or at least experiencing –this morning.

The company launched its new Web site for the Saratogian early Friday, officially making their already diluted content even more difficult to navigate. In a prelude to this morning’s launch, the paper included a short missive to their online readers to alert them of the abrupt changes. Of course, this missive ended up buried beneath a difficult-to-navigate mash of this week’s news, several community notes and the rest of the cyber-disaster now occupying the online addition.

“Please bear with us as we implement all the changes we’re putting in place,” states the missive. “It will take some time before all the bugs are worked out.”

Take some time? Well, how goddamn long? The Saratogian is still trying to work out “the bugs” from their first Web launch at the turn of the millennium and then the others when they “updated” the site in 2006. In fact, the online edition has actually regressed from its first incarnation in 1999, which included photos, letters to the editor and much of the content included in the actual paper. Only recently have the spritely Saratogian Webmasters recalled how they once included still images on their site. Now they want to include video and blogs? Let’s just say the optimists are skeptical.

Update: Within one day of launching their new Website, The Saratogian has already stopped updates. None of the articles appearing in print Saturday have made their way to the Web. Good work, guys. Way to give confidence to your dwindling advertising pool.

True, there are some nooks and crannies readers can spelunk through while traversing the new cavernous online edition. But these nooks and crannies –namely video from shot by Troy Record reporters –quickly become tiresome. But at least there’s something to surf through while waiting for news content to boot up. See, the “new” site is remarkably slow.

In fact, the term “dial-up” comes to mind while pulling up one of the paper’s normally lacking stories. Click on any link and you’re in for a 5- to 10-second wait before any text appears. Even better is the fact that most of the links take you to peculiar areas of the site or simply go nowhere. It’s kind of like getting on the end of a ridiculously long line at DMV when the office is about to close; you’re probably going to wait around for a long time to get nothing.

Update: The Saratogian is doing daily Web updates. The first update was to take the aforementioned missive and move it to a more prominent area of the Website...into...the updates. But some credit is due: the dial-up speed has gotten a bit faster.

Previously, the excuse proffered by the Lake Avenue editors was that the JRC overlords managed the Saratogian’s site, meaning everything needed to be shipped to corporate HQ in order to be posted online. And given the crawling pace of the new site, there’s a good chance this sort of flawed business model is continuing, even though all the Saratogian’s regional competitors have switched to extremely lithe formats that can post news within minutes of it happening.

Update: This site just keeps getting better. The message was left by the JRC tool boxes instead of news Wednesday morning, five days after the so-called launch. “Dear user, Thank you for using our Web site. We are currently experiencing technical problems with the site you are trying to view. We expect to have these issues resolved shortly. Please check back in a few minutes to access the site. We apologize for any inconvenience this causes.” And the follies continue.

Even the lumbering Schenectady Daily Gazette has vaulted itself into the hurtling traffic stream of the information superhighway. Smartly, the Gazette editors didn’t vomit out their new Website into cyberspace and instead launched a limited trial site, where they could tweak problems out of the public eye, so to speak. To date, the Gazette still hasn’t launched their official site.

No such luck with JRC. They seem to think the underpaid, outmanned and overworked Saratogian news crews will somehow manage to get spot news online despite the paper already having problems nailing down last week’s stories. Well, here’s a hint for the business pros at JRC and their Spa City protégés: it’s probably better idea to master the locomotion of walking before taking the first lunges of running. Let’s leave the marathons up to the pros for the time being.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Where in the world is Chief Moore?

It would have been nice for Saratoga Springs Police Chief Ed Moore to reflect upon his recent windfall at the behest of taxpayers. Unfortunately, the sheer memory of the Dreyer conflict has forced the fragile chief into taking the entire month of December off for vacation.

Yes, the Spa City’s top cop has taken the money and ran, so to speak, leaving his force in the capable hands of his underlings, many of whom earn an annual salary tantamount to his own Lord knows where Moore skulked off to for his break from the grind, but it must have been somewhere nice. After all, $65,000 worth of taxpayer money can buy one hell of a vacation.

So let’s take a gander at the score card here: Moore, a $98,000 per year salaried employee of the city, sues his boss for a bogus reason, which some felt would not stand up in court. The city, fearing mounting legal fees and undoubtedly feeling pressure from their insurance carrier, decides to settle for what likely amounts to what they would have spent on settling the case. In other words, make the chief and his former deputy rich instead of some puss-bag lawyer. Now it comes out the chief finds it already to step away from his job for more than a month. Alas, it’s good to be chief.

In vanishing into a vacation destination somewhere on the planet, Moore must have decided he didn’t need to stick around and bang the drum for the public safety castle he so bitterly fought for during September’s Democratic primary. In fact, it’s kind of strange how the chief just sort of disappeared off his public safety castle stump once the election ended, despite the fact that there is more movement on the issue now than ever before.

Then again, he has chumps like Public Safety rube Ron Kim and Valerie “Lame Duck” Keehn to stump for his police castle. It’s also likely Moore knew in advance the company that would be slated to design his future castle. Ron Kim sure had a good idea last week, when he told the Saratogian he had whittled the decission down from seven firms to a pair, one of which was featured prominantly in the castle’s bogus feasiblity study and posted on his re-election Web site.

And besides, city officials must show their due diligence with the project now or face further legal retribution from state Division of Human Rights, which inspected the department in the weeks leading up to Moore’s sabbatical. And don’t be surprised if the women who filed this complaint later follow suit with Moore –pun not intended –in taking legal action against the city.

Yes, for all those strapping lads and lasses in Saratoga County, it’s a good time to be a cop in the city. Moore has successfully denuded the public safety commissioner, who in turn hired a full-time deputy who he described as a Democratic “advocate” who will “focus on broader issues of legislation” such as “as preserving open space and continuing to pursue affordable housing projects.” In other words, a political operative who will focus more on public issues instead of public safety issues.

Who cares if the department is raking in enough overtime to make a sergeant’s salary seem like the chief’s? What does it matter that there is no one to oversee or at least pose an objective opinion to police spending? And when has spending ever been a problem within the ranks of the highest budgeted department in the city? Perhaps these are questions that the chief can chortle over while he sips his yuletide wassail in parts unknown.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Cash cops

Christmas came a bit early at the Ed Moore residence this year. Not only did the Spa City’s top cop receive a $65,000 stipend to bandage his bruised ego, he also got his first quasi-assurances the multi-million dollar public safety he’s craved is on its way.

Santa Council first gifted Moore and former number-two James Cornick their settlements in their lawsuits stemming from the departmental buggering of Erin Dreyer, the city’s one-time deputy public safety whore. As most can recall, the crime-fighting dynamic duo claimed Dreyer and boss Tom Curley destroyed their reputations in their attempts to drive them into retirement before both were banished from office in 2005.

Even Dreyer’s dismissal wasn’t enough to stop Cornick’s march-of-tears into retirement. The 54-year-old former assistant chief despairingly left the department this year with nothing to show for his three decades of service apart from a mammoth pension and a paltry yearly salary that remained nearly $5,000 away from reaching six figures. Rumor has it he’s only one $95,000-per-year paycheck away from collecting public assistance. At least until he and Moore were arbitrarily given $65,000 worth of public assistance.

Cornick’s share of the settlement more than doubles the amount he’s already set to earn in retirement through the city next year. Not too shabby for a guy who’s education never extended beyond criminal justice classes at Schenectady Community College. Moore, on the other hand, will have drag his kiester into the station each week to keep collecting the $98,000-per-year he already bilks from city taxpayers. At least with the settlement, he’ll be able to drag it in style; perhaps in a new Jaguar.

Keep in mind, Saratoga Springs has already dished out more than $34,700 in legal fees to defend Dreyer, who was deemed uninsurable by the city’s insurance carrier, largely because she could have and should have been removed from the position the minute she starting nailing cops in the department. Regardless of the cost, Public Safety Genius Ron Kim said the settlement was necessary to “sweep up after the circus” he encountered when first elected to office.

“It closes the books on a very bad chapter in the city and moves us forward,” he said before voting in favor of the big payout.

Yes Ron, settlements in the six-figure range can clean up an awful lot. But when the mess created by Dreyer was purged more than two years ago, it almost makes sense to drag these two cops through the court system in order to give them the long and very public beating they’re deserved. In fact, the cash doled out to these guys would have been better spent exposing them as the bullying tax-dollar spendthrifts they really are.

Acquiescing to these mercenaries didn’t tighten the council’s purse strings when it came time to pick a design firm for the second item on Moore’s wish list. When discussion on the proposed public safety facility arose, Kim jumped in to assure everyone that choosing a firm proposing to build a $14 million building didn’t necessarily mean they would design a $14 million public safety building. Just because they’ve been asked to build a facility within the the capital comittee’s estimated $17 million budget doesn’t mean they’ll actually use all that money right? After all, why would a firm design what was outlined in the RFP they were sent?

“These are professionals, and they can work within a budget,” said Kim.

Or at least a budget totaling more than $14 million before all the normal added costs are factored in. Selecting the design firm also locks the city into building a new facility, as suggested by the Rochester-based Labella Associates. In other words, it appears as though options such as rehabbing the existing building or adding on a new addition –concepts that might fit within the $8 million allocated by the city –has gone out the window with the Dreyer’s defense.

While the lame duck mayor and outgoing finance commissioner downplayed the significance of a vote, it certainly advances the project to build a new structure into the planning stages. Sure, the incoming council could reject the project outlined by Labella. Then they could attempt to pin the $860,000 design cost poor decisions made by their predecessors.

But in reality, it’s a lot easier to work with something that is already on the table. And in this case, it’s a castle between 39,000 square feet and 45,000 square feet. Merry Christmas, chief; maybe Labella will make this year a trifecta for you and design in a drive-thru donut shop for the boys in blue.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Joe Blow

Sometimes, it seems like a high colonic might shrink Joe Bruno’s body mass to the size of your average circus midget. And lately, the Republican state Senate majority leader has shown he could use a certain degree of colon blow, given his recent dickering and bickering over New York’s soon-to-be extinct thoroughbred racing franchise agreement.

Since Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s announcement to revamp the New York Racing Association’s deal with the state, Bruno has done everything in his power to obfuscate, denigrate or otherwise thwart his decision. Aside from having a lot of political capital invested in the racing franchise agreement, Bruno also had a clear idea in mind for how to govern the Sport of Kings, namely that he’d have a good deal of say in who would run it. Now that it’s becoming clear he won’t, he’s decided to play a game of political chicken.

With less than a month before NYRA’s agreement expires and his district in the throngs of an uproar, Bruno did what all politicians are best had doing: He passed the buck. Instead of reaffirming his electorate of his confidence to hammer out an agreement with the other two men in the room or actually hammering out the aforementioned deal, Bruno pointed his finger directly at state Assembly Minority Leader Sheldon Silver and blamed him for the lack of movement.

“I asked him to show some leadership,” barbed Bruno during a hastily convened news conference. “He says I called him a wimp. And I did.”

Apparently, Bruno expected Silver – a Democrat who is more-or-less his sworn enemy – to cross the partisan isle and do battle with his party’s top ranking official so that the senate majority leader could have his way. Even senility is no excuse for this utter dearth of reasoning. In reality, Silver hasn’t said or done anything to suggest he opposes the governor’s plan. To do as much would likely be political suicide for even a guy with as much clout as Silver carries.

Then in a moment of abject lunacy, Bruno claimed Monday the inaction was collusion between Silver and the governor to make him “look bad” in his district. In other words, he seems to think the racing agreement is a method for the Democrats to smear his good name and reputation at home; he seems to think it’s all about politics.

Goddamn right, it’s all about politics. But not the politics Bruno is claiming publically. The senate majority fixture wants his crew running racing. And he’s not likely to yield any ground until he gets them in spots of power; hence his demand that NYRA’s board resign in its entirety.

Oddly enough, the long shot in this whole race may be pushing ahead to the front of the pack, even though the race supposedly ended two months ago. While other news agencies were sucking in Bruno’s hot air, the Daily Gazette reported Tuesday that the nonprofit Racing Oversight Board would vote to extend NYRA’s agreement. If such efforts failed, Capital Play would agree to run the tracks for the state on an interim basis.

“We have agreed to provide our services and money to run the tracks under the auspices of the Oversight Board in the event that NYRA remains intransigent,” said Karl O’Farrell, Capital Play’s chief executive officer, in an e-mail to the Gazette.

NYRA not accepting a temporary post is a reality that could come crashing down on the state come the New Year, seeing as though Bruno swears he won’t allow any such extension. Not to mention, NYRA officials have claimed they would again file their land claim against the state if the Legislature doesn’t approve Spitzer’s deal. It’s the bargaining chip the agency has used for decades to bring obstinate legislators to the bargaining table. But in previous cases, the bargaining was conducted long before the franchise agreement actually expired.

On a somewhat related side note: What the hell is John Goldberg doing “representing the mayor” at a news conference on the future of racing? The claim was that Valerie Keehn was ill and could not attend; an excuse that is perfectly reasonable for the part-time mayor. But why send Goldberg, a member of the Keehn booster club whose past public duties include appointed spots on the Board of Assessment Review, the City Center Authority’s board and the ill-fated public safety capital construction committee? True he’s a somewhat involved citizen. However, what qualifies him to speak for the mayor of a city?

Here’s an even better question: What happened to the deputy mayor, the individual paid more than $60,000 to run the office’s day-to-day operations, including news conferences? Isn’t she the one who should be speaking on Keehn’s behalf? Perhaps she was too busy moving into her new digs in Ron Kim’s office.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Scary Movie 2

The scene is at the end of a low-budget slasher flick. The antagonist has been viciously slain and the heroin is reveling as the vile creature’s last remains burn to a cinder in the background. She hugs her fallen beau, a strapping fellow who was knocked out by a not-so-lethal blow to the skull just before the movie’s final battle. Play the happy music and roll out the sunshine.

The fellow coughs to life, is helped to his feet by the heroin and they stagger happily off into the sunset. But before the credits can roll, a boney fist punches through the soft ground; a skeletal figure thrusts its way from the grave and the staccato screech of violins abruptly sounds as the the screen gradually fades to black. Yes friends, the beast is still alive and there’s going to be a sequel. This time, it’s going to be filmed with all the as same horror, but with an even lower budget.

Such a horror flick is playing out in City Hall these days following a recently confirmed rumor from the Public Safety Office. The word around the horn Friday is that Commissioner Ron Kim, a staunch Valerie Keehn loyalist, appointed Eileen Finneran, the mayor’s soon-to-be former deputy, as his number two. Finneran replaces Frank Dudla, the man appointed by shamed former commissioner Tom Curley after the full-time deputy position was restored in 2005.

Kim’s appointment marks the second time Finneran has been arbitrarily thrust into the Public Safety Office, the third time she’s been baltently handed a blatant patronage job, and the first time Dudla has been told to screw off in no uncertain terms. Under the urgings of Keehn, Kim attempted to appoint Finneran as his “second deputy” –despite the fact that the city council had only recently approved a single deputy for his office –just two months after he won election.

The move was rightly seen by the rest of the City Council as a thinly veiled attempt at giving Finneran a free pass into a high-paying but meaningless job. Not surprisingly, Keehn wasn’t among those on the council speaking against a commissioner having two deputies. In fact, she was in the process of needling her own deputy –Nancy Ohlin –out of office so that Finneran would have somewhere to land inside City Hall. On a side note, the Post-Star in its glib article reporting Finneran’s appointment, claims she has “served as deputy mayor since Valerie Keehn took over as city mayor in 2006.” This couldn’t be any more wrong.

Instead of letting a brew-haha develop, Keehn , shoved Ohlin out of a job for so-called “medical reasons” –also know as routine ankle surgery –and appointed Finneran as her deputy, a position that pays an annual salary of more than $60,000. Not a bad haul for a school teacher who never lead anything but the pledge of allegiance before class each morning.

However, such a cushy position was necessary to reward Finneran for her party connections –namely her husband being a lawyer in the state Comptroller’s office–which offered the helping push Keehn needed to come into power. And for the better part of two years now, Finneran has orchestrated much of what critics have broadly castigated as the failed policies of the Keehn Administration. In essence, Finneran is the Keehn administration’s Karl Rove, a sort of political operative guiding the administration from behind the scenes.

But with Keehn banished and the Republican guard moving in, Finneran has nowhere to land in January, save for a school district far removed from the puppet strings of Saratoga politics. It’s a prospect that surely didn’t settle well with the rest of Keehn’s dying movement: The puppeteer herself hitting the bricks with Keehn and the rest of the crazies in her cabinet.

As obnoxiously ridiculous as it may sound to appoint Finneran deputy for anyone other than the school district’s crossing guard, the move does make some sense when taken in the context of Ron Kim. Starting in the New Year, he’ll be flanked by a trio of Republicans –the party he openly shunned to jump on Keehn’s coat tails –and staring directly into the eyes of John Franck, the only other Democratic commissioner who openly fought with Keehn. In other words, Ron Kim could use a friend and a confidant or three, even if they happen to be the last heinous vestiges of the Keehn Administration as it desperately tries to stay on life support until the next election cycle.

Moreover, there are those public officials who would certainly welcome a caustic figure like Finneran in the deputy’s seat, rather than someone with an iota of insight or reason when it comes to public safety issues. Another know-nothing in the office with absolutely no political clout in either party will give the reins of authority over to public safety’s most outspoken department head: Police Chief Ed “the castle-builder” Moore. While Finneran continues to sabatoge the city council, Moore can entrench himself even deeper into the castle he’s quite literally building around his department

Yes folks, these are scary times we’re living in. Kim is clearly at the height of his insanity to ax Dudla, a fellow who roundly supported his agenda, including the pursuit for a public safety facility to dwarf the Glens Falls Civic Center. In fact, the decission shows once and for all that he’s about as level-headed as Freddy Kreuger on a midnight blood-binge. But as strange as the appointment may sound, stranger things have happened in the fetid gullet of Spa City politics. Just consider the last know-nothing public safety deputy handed the position solely for political reasons. And just look how well that worked out for the city.

View My Stats