Tuesday, July 28, 2009

There's more work to be done

Imagine the horror. It’s late and you’ve just gotten into a fight with your boyfriend. You’re walking home in a neighborhood you’ve walked hundreds –maybe thousands –of times before. You feel safe. You feel invincible. And then there’s a flash of light.

You stammer for a second, before blinking your eyes. There’s another flash. You lose consciousness.

When you come to, someone is barking orders. Suddenly, you’re inside, and your head is smarting like it was recently clocked with a cinderblock. You try to understand what is going on, and decipher the shouted commands, but no rational thought can make heads or tails of what is transpiring. Your muscles begin to shake in an involuntary fashion.

From here, there are two paths to take. Both lead to gut-wrenching uncertainty; life or death. The commands are getting louder and the threats more brutal. You act as if it’s the last worldy choice you'll make.

This is the shit we used to see on the ABC afterschool special. This is the fodder of every parent’s worst nightmare. This happened in our city. And sadly, it wasn’t the first time.

Fortunately for us, there were some good cops on the streets this week, and they performed with startling precision. In the case of the Locust Street abduction, special thanks must be extended to the New York State Police, a body that remains the premiere law enforcement agency amid a veritable sea of semi-professional and sometimes backwater cops. Also, to the rank-and-file among the Saratoga Springs Police, the cops who realized this case couldn’t go cold for the sake of the city. Kudos, folks; this is one that you can feel proud about. So in a sense, this missive is to congratulate these authorities for job well done. Give yourself a pat on the back, because you scored in a major way.

But these accolades are finite. Thursday’s horrific episode isn’t nearly over. There is at least one person that won’t readily forget what happened on that night. Not today, and certainly not tomorrow; maybe not ever. There’s another who sits in a jail cell thousands of miles away from his native land; a place he should have never left.

This brutal event is a wake-up call to Saratoga Springs, New York and the United States as a whole to change its immigration policies so that sadistic bastards like Victor Hernandez-Perez don’t end up in the country running amok; raping and pillaging to their hearts’ delight. Or even worse yet, so that a bunch of vigilant racists don’t decide to wage a pogram against all non-native Hispanics; even the ones who toil for pennies on the dollar and work until their fingers bleed.

Either way, this country is at a breaking point; a boiling point. For fucks sake, it’s past the breaking point to find a reasonable solution. Here are the facts: There’s a new untouchable class in New York, sucking up the hours that no self-respecting American wants. The influx of Latino labor has proven to be an invaluable thorn that a select few like to jam in the side of hyper-aggressive unions. The presence of so-called ‘illegals’ has promised a windfall to chiseling business owners –those too stingy or too desperate to pay a livable wage.

Then there’s the other side, the one with people who wander downtown wraith-like and below the radar. They are unaccounted, unrecognizable and for all intents and purposes, invisible. This is a trait that behooves both them and the sizeable fraction of the business community that feeds f off their labor. And they’re in no hurry to change this.

Yet for the sake of this union, there needs to be an answer or a response that appeases both sides.To put it bluntly, it’s time for both sides of this issue to pony up and find a solution, because the masses can’t take much more of this shit; or as the good doctor once said, this fear and loathing. There’s too much gunpowder in this room and way too many people chain smoking cigarettes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Do the right thing

Dozens of small white signs dot the Woodlawn Avenue properties running north from Greenfield Avenue. Their message is simple: Save 23 Greenfield Ave.

Residents living near the stately brick structure now owned by the Riggi Family clearly don’t want to see it demolished. Their signs offer an ironic welcome to the restoration crews that are tirelessly working to save an equally historic structure just a few blocks away.

The carriage house behind the palatial Victorian mansion at 719 North Broadway curiously hovers in the air, as a handful of workers slowly pull it from the clutches of certain demise. Weeds grow from its rotted eaves and parts of the ornate molding have crumbled away, making it hard to image how the building was raised instead of razed. Simply put, its ongoing restoration is nothing short of herculean.

But for once, it seems as though the owner of a historic property is taking great pains to do the right thing. The restoration of the former Jeffords Estate stands testament to what can be accomplished if a developer has an eye for preserving history. And it stands in direct contrast to the demolition-by-neglect process fomented by other notorious property owners like Bruce Levinsky, absentee landowner Joseph Boff and of course, the Riggi Family.

The Queen Anne-style home was once owned by Walter Jeffords Jr., an renowned horseman who served as vice president of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. His widow, Kay Jeffords, continued his legacy and was among the Spa City’s most notable socialites.

Correction via Field Horne, who did extensive research on this structure: “the Jeffords House is Italianate, not Queen Anne. It was built in 1875 by Dr Benjamin Walker King, a physician from Fort Edward.”

Walter Jeffords died in 1990 and was followed by his wife 13 years later. Before her death, her estate and all the various treasures she and her husband amassed at the North Broadway mansion were liquidated at auction. The empty house, already showing signs of neglect, was likewise sold for $700,000 in 2004.

What followed was a period of deterioration that brought the home and its ornate carriage house perilously close to the wrecking ball. But in 2007, the property was transferred to a limited liability corporation, which started restoring the main house later in the year. The principle of the corporation is Lance Bell, a shareholder in the state thoroughbred company, the New York Breeders' Sales Co.

The evident decay caught of the carriage house caught the eye of a local photographer and blogger, who lamented about its neglect.

“Not all buildings here are taken care of,” wrote the blogger in a 2007 entry. “This very unique Carriage House is being allowed to go to rack and ruin. And if you are actually standing here and looking at it, you can see that it is getting close to falling down.”

Not so much anymore. The property appears to be well on its way to being returned to its former grandeur. Workers have poured a new foundation for the carriage house and the main mansion appears to be nearing completion. When it is, the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation should seriously consider giving Bell and his contractors an award.

They should also use him as a prime example of a conscientious resident who understands the value of these old homes and why they should be preserved no matter the cost. Records show the limited liability corporation took out a $630,000 loan before work began; an amount that is likely to be spent in its entirety to bring the property and all its structures into the 21st century.

Still, this is pittance to pay to preserve this city’s rich heritage, some of which disappears each year with neglectful property owners who don’t see the value in historic structures. Take for instance Boff’s property on Franklin Square. No amount of public shame or chiding seems to convince him of the value in keeping the Winans-Crippen house from the wrecking ball.

Even as city leaders were frantically trying to craft a moratorium to prevent the destruction of s different historic structure, the callous Floridian was thinking of ways to demolish his piece of heritage. Laughably, this out-of-state wretch claims he can’t afford to restore the house. Of course, he can afford to destroy it and build a new palatial structure in its place; an excuse that doesn’t hold water for even the most dim-witted of city officials. In fact, Boff should have told the city the truth, which is that he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Saratoga’s rich history, historic structures or legacy that would bridge us to the past.

And he’s not the only one either. The Riggi family is preparing for another banner year on the social circuit by crafting a lawsuit against the city for enacting the moratorium. While their pending legal action may have merit in court, the shameful manifest destiny of their property boundary certainly doesn’t.

Both property owners should take a good look at the North Broadway project and then hang their collective heads in shame. It’s an example of a resident doing the right thing for a change, as opposed to the easy or inexpensive thing. Perhaps if city leaders made an example out of this work, they’d convince others to grow a conscience when it comes to owning and caring for historic buildings. And maybe –just maybe –one of them could buy Bell a cold one for a job well done.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What would ya’ say...you do here?

Let’s set the scene: It’s budget time, and the Saratoga Springs’ City Council finally realizes they must layoff a number of employees to prevent a triple-digit budget increase. In their infinite wisdom, the commissioners decide to pay a pair of efficiency experts $50,000 to figure out a way to make the city workforce more lithe and lean.

And somehow, they end up with the Bobs.

The Bobs go to work immediately, scheduling an interview with all the city’s employees. Unlike the commissioners, they realize the teaming number of redundancies filling City Hall and nearly all of its offices. When we join the action, the Bobs are sitting down with Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Eileen Finneran, who has just finished a foot-long grinder and is polishing off the last swallow of a 40 oz. double mocha Coolatta.

Bob Slydell: So what you do is you take direction from the commissioner and implement policies through you department?

Eileen: That, that's right.

Bob Porter: Well, then I gotta ask, then why can't the commissioner just take his orders directly to the department heads, huh?

Eileen: Well, uh, uh, uh, because, uh, the commissioner is not good at dealing with the department heads.

Bob Slydell: You physically take the orders from the commissioner?

Eileen: Well, no, my, my secretary does that, or, or the fax.

Bob Slydell: Ah.

Bob Porter: Then you must physically bring them to the departments.

Eileen: Well...no. Yeah, I mean, sometimes.

Bob Slydell: Well, what would ya’ say… you do here?

Eileen: Well, look, I already told you. I deal with the goddamn commissioner so the departments don't have to!! I have people skills!! I am good at dealing with people!!! Can't you understand that?!? What the hell is wrong with you people?!?

Finneran, who is basically the modern-day version of Erin Dreyer, really doesn’t do anything in City Hall; or at least no official capacity that her staff couldn’t or doesn’t handle in her absence. Her position by its very nature is the ultimate in redundancy, seeing as though both of the departments she presides over have very well-paid chiefs, who should theoretically be more than capable of running their respective departments.

So what exactly does Finneran do with her 40 hours at city hall? Well, that’s the $66,000 question. Last week, the Saratogian reported a list of duties that fell to Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim’s “executive assistant,” who was the only person laid off by the council after all the bluster about cutting nearly two dozen Public Safety jobs.

The executive assistant answered phones for Kim’s office, screened and directed calls, scheduled interdepartmental meetings and compiled the agenda items prior to council meetings. These tasks now fall to other public safety workers, such as the senior account clerk or the code administrative assistant and accounts payable clerk, according to the report; “everything else” will fall to Finneran.

Now for some background: Finneran is perhaps the least-qualified employee to grace the public safety office. She replaced Frank Dudla, a retired state corrections officer who served nearly three years in the department. Finneran’s only connection to public safety was that she served two years on the Zoning Board of Appeals, which is casually related to code enforcement.

Her first brush with public safety came when Kim tried to hire her as a second deputy after first taking office in 2006. Kim realized he couldn’t dispatch Dudla, who was a popular choice for deputy, so he decided the city could use a second. He argued the move was to improve code enforcement efforts and carry out his legislative agenda. Naturally, the city council told him to screw off, and Finneran eventually landed a gig as deputy mayor; a position she was equally unqualified for.

Finneran highlighted her abject incompetence in 2007, when she led a futile push to get Mayor Valerie Keehn re-elected. Just a week before the election, she lambasted Independence Party candidate Gordon Boyd, who rightly predicted the state VLT funding would one day expire. In castigating Boyd in an op-ed piece published in the Saratogian, she noted that “the city’s financial condition is anything but dire.

The Amazing Kreskin she ain’t.

There was a gleaming hope that the 2007 election would sweep Finneran out of city hall once and for all. But instead, she found a way to burrow into the public safety department as Kim’s deputy. In making the appointment, Kim said Finneran would “focus on broader issues of legislation” and other Democratic-oriented subjects.

Translation: She’s a political operative who spends her time ensuring her clique of Democrats maintains its stranglehold on the party. Case in point: The 2008 coup she helped orchestrate with the so-called Democrats for Change. During a weekday last July, Finneran spent her morning milling about at the county Board of Elections in Ballston Spa; an area that may or may not have public safety issues, but none that involved the city of Saratoga Springs. Still, Finneran saw it fit to spend a good portion of her tax-funded shift at the board jotting down the order of candidates for the city’s Democratic Committee.

Finneran, a charter-change proponent, has also taken a shine to attending meetings about changing the city’s form of government, albeit during off-work hours. This isn’t to say she wouldn’t show up at such a meeting if one was scheduled during her shift. There was plenty of speculation the mayor’s office was leading the charge for the failed charter revision push in 2006; Finneran, of course, was the deputy of that office and was never shy about her drive to change the city’s form of government.

So the city dismissed an executive assistant so that they didn’t need to dismiss a political hack that spends her time exacting a partisan agenda instead of ensuring her department’s bloated budgets aren’t growing at an out-of-control pace. Is it any wonder why police overtime reached record levels last year and is on pace to do the same this year?

Voters should take all this to heart as the political season revs up this fall. There’s a very good chance Finneran will return as the city’s deputy mayor if Kim is successful in his campaign against incumbent Republican Scott Johnson. And if he’s not, she’ll have at least one other option in city hall.

Kevin Connolly, a programmer and auditor for the state Department of Taxation and Finance, is likely a front runner in the public safety commisioner’s race, seeing as though he’s running against Republican Richard Wirth, who Kim beat like a gong during the 2007 election. For those who are unfamiliar with Connolly, he was one the Keehn Administration’s appointees to the charter revision committee; he was also a foot soldier in her failed re-election bid. And he’s a card-carrying member of the so-called Democrats for Change. Care to give a guess who he’ll appoint as his deputy if Kim is unsucessful in his bid for Mayor?

Ideally, the city council will look at the public safety deputy’s seat the next time they’re considering employee cuts, which are virtually inevitable next fall. This year, city officials offered a stop-gap solution to raising taxes by raiding the fund balance. They won’t have this luxury by the fall, when they’ll need to find away to replace or cut $3.5 million from the 2010 budget. So it’s about time to start listening to the Bobs. Let’s start by cutting the one position that does nothing. The city council did it in 2005, and they could do it again today. Finneran’s salary won’t solve the budget woes, but it’s a goddamn good start.

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