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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

To say that I am encouraged is an understatement. Mayor Johnson appears at first glance to understand the community that elected him Mayor. His careful responses to the questions asked of him, perhaps indicates a desire to seek an acceptable balance for those community and fiscal issues facing him in his first term.

My only suggestions at this point would be first, that our Mayor returns the peanut gallery nuts and court jesters back to the end of the Council Meeting, limiting them by the clock and the gavel -- especially those who flagrantly abuse their commentary opportunity.

Secondly, taking control of his office and those public servants that reside there for their own pleasures would be a second recommendation. Maybe the new Director of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation can research the importance of the National Register City Hall property and why its irreplaceable cultural importance to this City housing our City Departments is so relevant to the issue and his charge.

Incessantly complaining to the placement of a bench that the Public Safety Commissioner has deemed his department's only interview area for victims in the vestibule across from vending machines as an insurmountable problem, rather than choosing to move the bench back ten feet behind the two doors, next to Investigations for privacy (away from the public vending machines) or up to the second floor has always been a question that should be directed at management. If the ceiling tile was stolen, replace it. If money was provided to fix problems, spend it. The taxpayer shouldn't become the victim here. Lincoln may not have been referring to five-legged hunting dogs but this dog tale 'don’t hunt’; regardless of how many legs (or tails) you put on 'em.

And finally, since the Chamber study noted that more than half of our City’s land is unbuildable because of wet land, Institutional/Educational uses, State Park Land and NYRA properties leaving roughly 13 square miles to patrol by the Public Safety Department, it is safe to say, that plans for future renovation and additional needs be downsized responsibly so that we’re not building a huge facility when a more efficient solution exists. It is now the Council’s charge and whose oversight responsibilities it is to address the program and the project with the consultant.

6:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was disappointed by Mayor Johnson's discussion of water. Below are excerpts from interview in which the mayor is quoted in italics along with my analysis.

"One is the primary study on Loughberry Lake that had forecast certain deterioration and quality issues haven't come to fruition. Updated studies show we're in a different position now than we were 20 years ago."

This continues the myth that because the 1988 DEC study warned that the Loughberry Lake would need to be replaced with in ten years and is still in use that the warning in that study is not credible. He also refers to some more recent study which does not exist. He probably is referring to the annual report from the planning board that deals with safe yields or the comments submitted by the engineers hired by SLIPD.

The unanymous decision by the Supreme Court Appellate Division reconfirmed the basic findings of the 1988 study. Loughberry Lake does have a problem with eutrophication and does need to be replaced. The confirmation by the court should have really put this argument to sleep and it is troubling that the Mayor continues to make this statement. Still, I am hopeful that maybe if he is better informed might reconsider this.

"There's yet to be a full dollar figure attached to the Saratoga Lake option. I'm referring not only to construction costs but the costs of operation as well."

This is again, untrue. The DEIS did as rigorous a job on these issues as any such projections can be. Again, the court affirmed that the analysis done by the city on the money issues was credible.

"I don't see where the funding is coming from for that project."

The money for this project will come from a an increase in the city's water rates. This is plain and simple and again is spelled out very clearly in the DEIS.

"You need to develop the actual costs, look at where that money would come from and be honest with the taxpayers from day one. Tell them what you expect them to do down the road in terms of providing services and what it means to their pocketbook. That hasn't been done and that's a concern of mine."

As in the previous item, this has been spelled out as clearly as reasonably possible. The court dismissed the suit brought by SLIPD in which SLIPD challenged the accruacy of the city's financial analysis. It pointedly backed the city's figures against SLIPD's accuasations. This could not be clearer. That is the whole point of the DEIS. The process is thoroughly transparent. How much it is projected to cost in both construction and on-going maintenance have been spelled out to the public in the DEIS process.

"Some will say well you're deferring the present at the risk of jeopardizing the future of the community should there be a draught in the future. That's almost a scare tactic I believe at this point in time."

Any one looking at the crisis going on in the Southeast (particulary in Atlanta, Georgia area) should be sobered by their failure to take their water problems seriously and act pro-actively. The figures are there about the limits of the reservoir and even SLIPD has not questioned the model that says that in a hundred year draught we could run out of water.

"I don't know that. What I do know is the people I've spoken to during the course of my campaign did not uniformly support the lake as a water option. There are a lot of questions about it, about the costs, what it would do for restrictions in terms of recreation should we designate that as our primary water source. If the community is so overwhelmingly in favor of using the lake as our primary water source than why hasn't that been put up for a referendum to date? There's not even been an attempt in that regard."

Of course the Saratoga Lake option was not "uniformly" endorsed. The people out on Saratoga Lake oppose it because of their fear about having their use restricted. This, in spite of the fact that the Health Department has reviewed the city's plan and sees no reason to restrict recreational use. There are many water sources throughout the state that are used for recreation. Lake George and the Hudson River amongh them. The SLIPD people managed to find one example near Rochester where the use was restricted. It is true that the farming practices in the watershed may have to be dealt with to minimize run off. This in fact would be good for the lake.

First, binding referendums are not legal for municipalities such as Saratoga Springs. I think it is permissable to have a non-binding referendum. The reason that there was no referenndum was that there was agreement at the council to go with the lake so why did we need to spend resources on a referendum especially in light of a telephone survey done by Skidmore a few years ago which showed overwhelming support for the lake.

As regards going with the couny water system:
"I do not have any preconceived idea on water and the solution for water in our community. That is a water plan that's going forward and will be up and running perhaps before we put the first shovel in the ground for Saratoga Lake. Given that, you need to address whether or not that will be best for the community."

Again, the court found specifically that the city's analysis about why the lake was radically less expensive than the county option and that it was a safer source of water was valid. In addition it makes sense for the city to control its own water, especially in light of the fees we must pay the county for sewer service.

Sometimes politicians speak off the cuff on things they are not as fully informed about as they think. Hopefully, Mayor Johnson will review the court decision along with the DEIS. If he does and is acting in good faith there would be reason to hope that the city can complete the project to utilize Saratoga Lake.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As with past Republican-dominated city councils, this city council will give the greenest of green lights to all development (all hail to Tom Roohan and Sonny Bonacio), to the detriment of the city's historic character, and will put off making much needed improvements in infrastructure, such as the police station and the dysfunctional water drainage system around Crescent St. and Vanderbilt Ave. As with the Bush administration, Johnson & Co. will cowardly postpone needed infrastructure improvements until some far off future day when these improvements will cost much, much more for the taxpayers of the city.

The only possible exception will be Scirocco --- lack of proper maintenance on parking garages and other city buildings is part of McTygue's legacy (along with the expense of all Tommy's lawsuits, of course). Pat Design is committed to trying to improve maintenance.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The XPS Commissioner wrote a Viewpoint in the weekend paper that places the responsibility of the mess in his old facility squarely on the city resident taxpayer. He stated that there are 107 Fire Code violations within the Department’s portion of the City Hall Building. The absurdity of this declaration is magnified by the fact that this is the only Department with its own Fire Code Inspectors? Now, just how does that happen over time?

He writes to a need for a proportionate responsive police force for 13 square miles? Let’s see, with present staffing, is that 3 or 6 officers per square mile 24/7? Also, this XCity Planner once provided the City with growth charts over twenty years and stated that this City grows at only 1% per year. He writes to service calls, yet does anyone understand what those calls entail? Support calls to Fire Department responses responding to SEMS calls? Do we need an efficiency expert here?

He also states that the City Council and the public supported his Committee’s work, yet there were no appointees or representation by several members of the elected Council on that committee, and the Public was never able to review or approve a plan, that was downsized three times at last count. The public already knows what they want, but does it know what they need? The Committee was to have provided revenue sources; to date it’s the city taxpayer and the hopeful unsecured revenue from VLT. After two years, no secured grants to ease the pain.

Again, calling this condition deplorable and unmanageable doesn’t make it one. A lawyer once became Commissioner and made it his mission to “Take the Politics out of Public Safety” by “Building for the Future” with a new Command Center. Unfortunately, the politics behind this continued sell job by City staff is unfortunately very political, and his committee having initially (programmed) promoted a 3X larger building plan as something to “fill-up” is downright irresponsible.

Yes, the public knows a tale when it hears one and the unending complaining about a bench location diminishes the argument. Move the bench, make the approved repairs, make more effective use of existing and efficiently plan for additionally needed space, manage the department and stop suing the taxpayers, already.

At a time when we keep reading of green building and carbon prints, the most conservative use of our environment will be to efficiently modify our present facilities (in a city that renovates a derelict mill and its historic structures) and the efficiently manage the services of our public employees.

4:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joke of the day

by Upstate Blue, Tue Jan 01, 2008 at 07:43:35 PM EST

It looks like many suburban Albany-area legislative races are already starting to heat up for the 2008 cycle.

The Times-Union reported today that Saratoga County Supervisor Joanne Yepsen (D) may take on State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R), while former Saratoga Springs Mayor Valerie Keehn (D) may challenge Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco (R).

From Marv Cermak's column, The Times-Union, January 1. 2008:

"Foes for Bruno, Tedisco? Sen. Joe Bruno and Assemblyman Jim Tedisco are state Legislature Republican heavyweights, but there are rumblings two Saratoga Springs comparative lightweights may challenge the giants."

"Democratic insiders say don't be surprised if the voting machines in November '08 show Joanne Yepsen taking on Bruno and Valerie Keehn matched against Tedisco. While it's still early in the game, there has been talk in this direction."

"Yepsen last November was re-elected to a second term as Saratoga Springs' supervisor. Besides Keehn's Saratoga mayoral defeat after just one term, voters in a referendum rejected her attempt to change the form of city government."

"The two women would be long shots at best. Senate Majority Leader Bruno and Tedisco, Assembly minority leader, have been easy winners in Legislature elections for more than two decades."

"Bruno is legendary in Rensselaer/Saratoga counties, while Tedisco has won big in his Saratoga Springs/Schenectady district."

"Some logic in the pairings is based on Democrat Kirstin Gillibrand's Congressional upset of Republican John Sweeney. Gillibrand waged a strong campaign, but most pundits believe Sweeney beat himself."

While both races do initially appear to be long shots, I personally think that the more winnable of the two seats would be the 110th Assembly District now held by James Tedisco. Tedisco is far less of a legend than Joe Bruno, and he makes little presence outside of the more-populated Schenectady County portion of his district, thus opening the door for a strong Saratoga County Democratic challenger to emerge. Tedisco's district is also quickly moving into the blue column, with big Democratic gains in recent years in several formerly rock-ribbed Republican towns, including Niskayuna, Saratoga Springs, Glenville, and Ballston Spa. Additionally, the Democrats have made substantial gains in voter registration, with a 16,603 voter enrollment gap in 2002 shrinking to a 11,494 voter gap last November.

Bruno's district, meanwhile appears to be more stable in its voting patterns, taking in some of the more conservative suburban swaths of southern Saratoga County, including Clifton Park, Halfmoon, Malta, and Milton, each of which have been void of any real Democratic presence for decades.

Joanne Yepsen would likely be a far more formidable opponent than Valerie Keehn (for either seat), now with two terms of experience serving on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, whereas Keehn was defeated after serving only one term as the Mayor of Saratoga Springs and continues to be seen as a controversial figure in some local political circles. Additionally, Yepsen has also proved herself to be a competent, independent voice in Saratoga County, willing to stand up to an old, entrenched political machine dominated by developers, business owners, and special interests. Last year, Yepsen was only one of a handful of county Supervisors to vote against an unpopular, corrupt Republican-backed scheme to bilk taxpayers to help supply water for land-holding developers in northern Saratoga County. Yepsen's strong voice for independence has earned her significant bipartisan support amongst voters in a city which still maintains a slight GOP registration advantage.

Even despite all the controversy generated, DFA activist Valerie Keehn still continues to remain a strong voice for change in the once-conservative Saratoga Springs and the Saratoga County region. During Keehn's term as mayor, she attempted to bring landsweeping changes to the city government, including charter reform, which were quickly resisted and hindered by the well-funded old guard establishment. For once, Keehn wanted to make the Saratoga Springs government work for the people, instead of the special interests which had long dominated the local political agenda. Overall, Keehn represents the type of voice and reform-minded agenda that has long been needed in both branches of the state legislature.

While many scoff at the idea of proposing strong challenges against entrenched members of the state legislature, including some Democrats, we must finally hold our representatives accountable in New York State. The old boy establishment has had far too much power for too long. In 2006, over 95% of incumbents were re-reelected to the State Senate and Assembly. Where's there any room for accountability if much of our "representation" frequently goes unchallenged? Entrenched, career politicians like Bruno and Tedisco, very much represent the status quo in Albany. If Yepsen and Keehn can run as populists on a strong platform of change, building on a growing resentment of insider politics, perhaps they may just have a chance. However, the only way to achieve success may very well be through extensive grassroots efforts (door to door campaigning, YouTube online advertisements, roadside blogging, etc.)

In 2006, Ralph Nader discussed how progressives achieved success in heavily Republican Morgan County, West Virginia through grassroots outreach efforts:

" Morgan County, West Virginia, with a 60% Republican registration advantage, the incumbent for county commissioner was defeated overwhelmingly, by 20 points, by a challenger. She beat him by 20 points. And that was done by person-to-person campaigning, which I think is going to be the way progressives in this country are going to win elections. This is a stunning victory over a Republican machine that ought to be studied, in Morgan County, West Virginia."

( lph_nader_on_conservative_democrats_corp orate)

The big question is now whether after taking on the Saratoga Republican machine, reformers Yepsen and Keehn can now face political powerhouses like Bruno and Tedisco and their moneyed allies without coming out severely battered and bruised.

Never the less, if the rumors are true, Upstate Blue wishes the women well. Hopefully Yepsen and Keehn will put up accounts soon over at ActBlue so that the grassroots quest for change can begin.

4:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trout21: “ I was disappointed by Mayor Johnson's discussion of water.”

It is understood that those who live along the lake’s shoreline mythically believe that recreational use of Saratoga Lake will be threatened by utilizing a portion of its runout for the City’s water needs. Can anyone explain why the City Council would vote to use the Lake as a source and threaten its own vital community and tourist activity if it wasn't benign? Fortunate to have this potential water source (an envy of those other cities and townships), Saratoga Springs has an option to having to pay higher rates for County water drawn from a river polluted with migrating PCB’s.

It is no secret, that the County Water System’s intention has little to do with providing adequate water for AMD or any other uncommitted project. On the contrary, it has every intention on flooding the County with water paid for by its few subscribers. That development impact alone will be felt, not only by the dramatic increase in water rates should the City become a subscriber, but the impacts on our City’s infrastructure, services and traffic can be assured.

It is wise Trout21 to express your studied concern on this long discussed issue. A unanimous Council once voted for utilizing Saratoga Lake as a water source and the money required for permits. While some in that fold no longer hold office, I trust the membership of this new assembly and especially our new Mayor will be intelligent to also recognize that this City Council has a responsibility to its residents first.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott Johnson as quoted in the Post Star:
"I read some of them with interest just to be kept up to date. The basic I problem I have whether it's a blog or any other type of posting or comment is it's anonymous. Once you have anonymity you lose accountability and credibility. I'm a firm believer that if you believe in something and have a position you should have the decency to attach your name to it."

I found it funny and smart on his part. He doesn't like what the writing format is but you can bet your sweet ass he's reading "some of them".

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Further reason to be pessimistic about the Johnson administration was his appointment of Phil Klein to the Planning Board. It there were ever a loyal soldier in the real estate/Republican world it is Phil. He was on the planning board for years during the most rampant period of sprawl and he never raised any serious question about excessive development let alone voted against any projects.

If memory serves me he was also on the notorious planning board that tried to allow one of its members who owned Congress Gas and Oil to build an oil storage facility on the banks of the city's reservoir. The city council had to threaten to sue the planning board to reverse its position which was passed olmost unanymously (Healy who owned Congress Gas and Oil abstained).

So much for our new mayor's concern about open space and independence, not that there is any land left (with the exception of the Exit 14 area) to put another housing division in.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How committed is the Mayor on the affordable housing issue? Anyone know?

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would imagine that considering the fact that he once resided at the Jefferson Terrace Complex with his DEMOCRATIC mother that he might have a special affinity in his heart for affordable housing.

This is only an educated guess on my part.

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i see the discussion of water is out and about. how come the DEC, DOH, the attorney generals office, governor, chuck shumer, kirsten gillibrand the list is a mile long of people who want to see that water system built. they're all democrats. how can all these good democrats stand by while the county wants to poison people? how can the town of queensbury be drinking the same water, while selling it to the town of moreau. and here's the best part. now glensfalls is looking to purchase water from queensbury.i guess i'm just confused as to why people already drink the water but yet, certain individuals wrap the PCB drum and we're all suppossed to go, "kyle york must know more then the entire state DOH, or encon or any of the individuals mentioned above." must be nice showing up at your job at the DPW whenever you want!

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 4:37 - The PS department read the blog comment and so they opened the double doors and placed a useless desk in front of Investigations so that one could not place the poorly located victim's bench there.

This new desk in a hallway would give their own fire code inspectors, another violation to log in. No wonder they have 114, no make that 115 violations to complain about.

They must be planning on putting the interview bench upstairs in the conference room. Yeh, that must be what they're planning to do. Right!

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kyle York is an imbecile and is friends with Gordon Boyd. Nuff Said

6:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Mayor is for affordable housing. This is great news. We really need it!

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 6:19 "The Mayor is for affordable housing."

He may also be a proponent of pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps - why not ask him. The problem with providing "affordable" housing is everything that creates a costly system run by government. Ultimately, only the system prevails.

This City has affordable housing. Look for it. We even have $1 bus rides. If the city were to provide entry homes and entry rentals, it should be modeled like incubator commercial leases – limited short-term occupancies. Low wage service industries should question paying their employees more. Housing for these necessary wage earners should be dormitories – either provided by the employer or the community. The idea of affordable condos is a joke. Affordability is a catch phrase like change.

And when one pines for the days of $200 two bedroom apartments don’t forget that Broadway had apartments above Mr. Jack’s (across from Lillian’s) for $75. People lived in Schylerville back then too, because it was quieter and less expensive. The overall scene by comparison was often a bit shabby, optimistically dismal, yet enjoyably bohemian -- a world apart, like the $.93/gal gas.

Don’t give fish, teach people to catch their own and give them the opportunity. I think our Mayor would agree.

5:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

market corrections and laws of supply and demand

2:00 PM  

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