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The Saratogian Newsroom blog, complete with thoughts and commentary from our newsroom staff and regular posts on happenings around town.

Thursday, February 28

The endless saga of Warren Powell

The re-trial of Warren Powell, the former Halfmoon resident who -- allegedly -- strangled his
wife and stuffed her into a duffel bag, and dumped her in the Hudson River in 1994 took an interesting turn today.

Apparently, (and you can ready Jim Kinney's story about in tomorrow's paper) jurors selected for the trial, were advised today that they were sworn jurors... and then told to go home. They were told they would get a call, but that it might be a few months down the line.

I'm a bit unclear on the details, but the whole thing struck me as a little odd. Powell was first tried in 1997, and sentenced to 25 year to life. An appeals court reversed the decision, citing problems with the jury selection process in the first trial. Powell remained incarcerated on drug charges. It now appears that the retrial has hit a stumbling block (although I'm not exactly sure what it is), and that jurors are going to be kept waiting. We'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, February 27

The best story you won't read in tomorrow's paper

Some people see blogs as a journalistic gray area, where black and white rules of ethics that journalists usually abide by can slide a bit. I got a call today that raised a number of alarm bells as far as print publication goes, but I think it's a perfect blog story:

I was sitting at my desk working on a story about a former city firefighter suing the city over claimed wrongful termination when my phone rang. It was a man with a gruff voice, who asked for me.

He launched into a story about how during Tuesday night's snow storm a city DPW plow driver "badly" plowed in the driveway of another DPW employee. According to the caller, there was an exchange of words, and the police were called in. The caller then went on a lengthy tirade about how the DPW administration is trying to hush this incident up, apparently by smoothing things over with the man with the driveway. The caller alleged all sorts of disgruntlement in the city garage, and, for all I know, it might be the case.

Tuesday's police blotter does list an incident involving a DPW plow at 10:43 p.m. at a George Street address. The Sergeant on duty on Wednesday afternoon told me that a plow driver allegedly plowed in a driveway and had a few choice words for the property owner. He said that police are investigating, so he couldn't release any further details.

So I called Skip Scirocco, commissioner of Public Works. He said that he'd heard about a "tiff" on Tuesday night, but said he was not aware of anything involving the police. If someone is trying to keep something quiet within the DPW, they're apparently doing a really good job, even keeping it from the boss.

Ordinarily, my next step would have been to call the two employees in question, but unfortunately my caller didn't know how to spell either of their names, and after checking and re-checking a list of city employees, I haven't found any employees whose names even remotely match the names I was given. And of course, the caller, who gave his name as "Joe Blow," hung up on me (I was in mid-sentence) before I could ask any further questions.

So there you have it, straight from the gray world of the blogosphere -- allegations of misbehavior and malcontent among DPW employees, likely from the mouth of a disgruntled employee.

Tuesday, February 26

Community Service Jounralism

Today I received this comment on my blog (mis-spellings and incorrect punctuation belong to the anonymous author): "Why cna't the Saratogians reporters write an upbeat story? We have a great City and County, let people know how great our area is, you won't win any awards with these articles, you just waste paper and time!"

First of all, I just want to make it clear that I am not in this game to win awards. Although I've never asked, I believe the same is true for most of my colleagues. Becoming a reporter to win awards would be like a young man or woman enlisting in the marines to win a service award. More likely, this young person joined the military to serve their country, to fight for a just cause, to earn money for their education, to see the world or to start a career. They'd probably be excited to win a service award (who wouldn't be?) but the award is gravy and nothing more.

The same is true for most of the journalists that I know. We're in it to satisfy an endless curiosity, we're in it to give a voice to those who don't have one, we're in it inform and educate our readers, we're in it to serve our communities. If we happen to win an award, great! But that's not what gets us in to work in the morning (nor is the money, for that matter).

So, I object to this anonymous person's comment, especially on this day that State Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco announced that he is proposing legislature to give school officials access to a state register of known or suspected predators. Not to toot my own horn too much, but when I spoke to him this afternoon, Tedisco said, in no uncertain terms, that his legislation came about largely as a result of an article I wrote last week on school officials not being able to access the same register.

Tedisco's aim is to better equip schools to field and evaluate complaints of alleged misconduct. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that making our community better and safer? Doesn't it speak volumes about our city that our state representatives will go to bat for us... as a result of reading the paper?

Now tell me, was that a waste of paper and time?

You can read the full text of Leader Tedisco's press release below:

In response to a Saratoga Springs school bus driver’s recent arrest for sexually abusing two boys – and the school district being unable to learn that, dating back to 2002, the man had appeared on a state-run registry of possible child abusers – Assembly Republican Leader Jim Tedisco (R,C,I-Schenectady-Saratoga) today announced he will introduce legislation to close the loophole.
“When I learned that a school bus driver was arrested for sexually abusing two boys and that school officials were unable to access a state registry that could have alerted them to his having been flagged a potential danger to youths back in 2002, I saw a glaring loophole that cried out for immediate closure,” Tedisco stated.
The Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment – operated by the State Office of Children and Family Services – receives calls alleging child abuse or maltreatment throughout New York. The register relays information to local Child Protective Service for investigation, monitors their prompt response, and identifies if there are prior child abuse or maltreatment reports. The registry receives calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week from two sources: persons who are required by law to report suspected cases of child abuse and maltreatment, such as social service workers and law enforcement officials, and calls from non-mandated reporters, such as the public.
However, in its current configuration, access to the registry is strictly limited and precludes school officials, along with the general public. Tedisco indicated that he will introduce legislation that would effectively amend Section 422 of the State’s Social Services Law to add school nurses to the list of approved individuals who may access the registry.
“As helpful a tool as the State’s Central Registry is, it could be even more effective if a representative on behalf of a school was allowed to access it. It seems counterproductive to deny schools access to this registry, as doing so keeps important information out of the hands of the very people who should know if someone’s been flagged as a potential child abuser. Clearly, there is a compelling interest in school nurses – the health care professionals specifically trained to recognize signs of abuse, physical or otherwise, among students – having access to the registry,” Tedisco said.
“The closure of this current loophole should be a bi-partisan issue, as it would give our schools another tool that could alert them to a suspected child abuser and possibly prevent a tragedy before it happens,” Tedisco concluded.
Later this week, Tedisco expects to introduce his legislation that would add school nurses to the category of individuals who can access the State Central Registry.

Monday, February 25

Still more on employee salaries

It was nice to walk around town today and hear people mention my story in Sunday's paper on City Hall employee's salaries. A lot of people thought it was interesting, City Hall employees, by and large, didn't seem to think it was so great -- with the exception of one very excited deputy commissioner.

I did realize today that I omitted a few important statistics, so I thought I'd share them with you here. According to 2003 census data, the national average annual wage increase in the private sector was 3.8 percent -- slightly higher than the annual cost-of-living adjustment for employees in the CSEA Unions in Saratoga Springs, but lower, once you factor in annual "step" increases, which can vary from 1 to 2 percent.

By contrast to Saratoga Springs, annual wage increases for county employees went down from 2003 to 2005. In the '03-'04 fiscal year, employees got a 3.6 percent increase. In the '04-'05 fiscal year, wages increased 3.4 percent. This may seem like a small difference, but compounded over a thousand employees, and suddenly it's a significant dollar figure.

So employees here in the city, by and large, are doing pretty well. Of course, you could argue that living in Saratoga Springs necessitates paying for a higher cost of living, but then again, many city employees do not live within the city limits.

Sunday, February 24

More on City Hall salaries

I have to believe that readers have more to say about today's article about the salaries that City Hall employees earn than criticizing the redundant verbiage in the editor's note. What do you think about a DPW plow driver earning enough to feed a sub-Saharan nation for a couple years? What do you think about Police and Fire officer's access to overtime? Should the city explore adding more full-time positions and cutting back on OT?

As was mentioned in the paper today, that article was intended as one part of a series of articles, and reader input will likely help to shape future installments, after all, it's your money. Please let me know if you have any questions at all. That you'd like to see answered. A police officer I spoke with today (probably miffed at seeing his name in the paper) suggested that I look into how much teacher in the city school district earn. I think I'll suggest that one over to Education Reporter Ann Marie French, but it is certainly a valid question. Especially since teachers enjoy enough vacations days to turn us 9 to 5ers green with envy.

I'm very interested to hear your thoughts, so send me an email or post on the blog if you have any questions not answered in today's story.

Thursday, February 21

Finally, the weekend

This has been a relatively busy week here at the City Desk, and I'm looking forward to shutting it down for the weekend. I don't have anything new from the beat to post here now, so I'm linking to a story from today's paper on Clean nuclear energy. I've long believe that we are only tapping the beginning of the potential of nuclear energy, and I'm looking forward to reading what these experts say on the matter. That's all for now, have a great weekend.

Wednesday, February 20

Score board

I realized after I left last night, my head full of bicycles, that I'd forgotten to update my weekly scoreboard of agenda items at city council meetings, so here it is:

Agenda items 2/19:
Johnson: 1
Franck: 1
Ivins: 4
Scirocco: 4
Kim: 5

Year to date (calculations begin at the first regular council meeting in 2008):
Johnson: 12
Franck: 9
Ivins: 15
Scirocco: 16
Kim: 26

I was thinking about the suggestion I received last week, to time the meetings, as well as post the scoreboard, but the problem is that I'm rarely able to stay through whole meetings. Last night I had to leave after the City Council finished their agendas, but before the Supervisor's got to theirs. In general, I can say with certainty that meetings have been shorter under the new administration, but that could also be a function of this still being a relatively new year, and there isn't yet that much public business.

Not a whole lot doing today, except that with school on vacation, it seems that half of government offices are as well. Now, if I have to work, should they also have to work?

Tuesday, February 19

Bicycles in the city (and County)

One of the great things about working here at The Saratogian is the occasional opportunity to write for our magazine, "The Spirit of Saratoga." Writing for the magazine gives us beat reporters a chance to work outside of our usual "beat box." My first Spirit story is slated for the magazine's April issue, and is about cycling in Saratoga County.

It may surprise you to learn (or maybe not), that in my time away from work here at The Saratogian, I'm a modestly successful amateur bike racer, and a member of Brooklyn Velo Force, a team based in Brooklyn. So it was fitting that I was tapped to write about cycling for the magazine's spring issue.

Of all the people who ride bikes in this city, the vast majority that I know, are like me, racers. But my story is going to focus much more heavily on recreational rides. Saratoga Battlefield National Park is one favorite that's sure to be included in the story, as are the Zim Smith Trail and Saratoga County Heritage Trail. But if you have a favorite ride, no matter your level of experience or dedication, I'd love to hear about it. I'm especially interested in hearing from families that ride together.

Many of us ride bikes, some for transportation, some for exercise and some for recreation. I believe it's a wonderful activity that everyone car share. Please share your riding story with me by calling 583-8729 x219, or email me at

Keep the rubber side down!!

Monday, February 18

Telephonic Phailure

Today was one of those days that should have seen me roll over and go back to sleep when the alarm went off. With many businesses and City Hall closed, I had a frustrating day of trying and failing to get in touch with various members of the City Council, most of whom were not in the office, and several of whom were out of town, trying to enjoy today's bank holiday. Of course, nothing stops the presses; not rain, not sleet, and certainly not George Washington's nor Abraham Lincoln's birthdays, so here I was, bugging city officials on their day off.

Despite the day's general slowness, one interesting news item did come to light. Apparently, the city's police station has suffered three serious failures of its phone system in the past two months.

Commissioner Ron Kim (who was in his office, at least for part of the day) told me that during these three outages there are no outward signs that anything is amiss -- to anyone in the police station. To anyone trying to reach the station, say with a bleeding gun shot wound or other life-threatening malady, the only answer upon dialing 584-1800 would be a never-ending ring. None of the phones in the station would make a sound.

Commissioner Kim is certainly concerned about this (to say the least), and took steps in December, when the problem first came up, to put a solution into place. Under then-Mayor Valerie Keehn, a committee studied the problem, identified a solution, and apparently even found an appropriate vendor to provide a remedy that could be transfered to a new building, were one to be built.

Keep in mind this is all from Kim. Apparently once Scott Johnson came into office he decided that the problem needed further study, and Kim said that he has empaneled a second committee to look into the matter, with the possible thought of upgrading phones in the whole building.

Kim said that some things go beyond partisan politics. If anything ever went beyond partisan politics, this is it. As far as I can tell, it's OK to be on the fence about the need for a new police station. No one's life is at stake there. It isn't OK to be on the fence about the need for working phones in the current police station.

I wasn't able to ask Mayor Johnson about this situation today, but I plan to touch bases with him about it tomorrow. Stay tuned.

In the mean time, if you've accidentally cut your finger off with a butcher knife while preparing lamb chops for dinner, and don't get a prompt answer on the police station's 584-1800 number, hang up and dial 911. You'll be connected to emergency operators in Ballston Spa, who will dispatch emergency services.

Sunday, February 17

More victims of sex abuse

The most under-rated item in yesterday's newspaper didn't even make it to the online edition. James E. Wiley, 60, was arrested and charged with one count of a third-degree criminal sex act, a class-E felony. He lives at 151 Jefferson Street, the same address as Douglas Conrad, a bus driver employed by the Saratoga Springs City School District. Both were arrested following an investigation by the Child Aid division of the Saratoga Springs PD.

The connection between the two is deeper than their address. Wiley is related to Julia Wiley, Conrad's aunt, who operated a Mechanicville day care center where Conrad molested a then-six year old boy in 2002.

And we're not talking about a little ass-touching here. John A. Aretkis, a lawyer representing that boy's family, said that Conrad would take the boy into a closed room and allow him to play with toys like a computer and Game Boy only if the boy touched his penis.The abuse was enough to warrant a ruling from Child Protective Services, which ordered Conrad out of the home. A Family Court judge also issued an order of protection to keep Conrad away from that victim.

Despite all of that Conrad, was still able to get a job with the Saratoga Springs School District as a bus driver in 2004.

"I've been up at night worrying about how many kids this guy came into contact with," said Aretakis.

Look for further updates on this story in the newspaper this week.

Thursday, February 14

Breath easy

In what might have been the most anti-climactic front page headline the Saratogian has ever had, we reported yesterday that NYRA and the state of New York have come to terms with each other, reached an agreement to allow NYRA to run racing for another 25 years, and decided not to throw this city into likely financial ruin... just like everyone always said they would.

Don't think I'm not grateful. But what I'm not grateful for is the months of tension, questioning and worry. We here in the city felt NYRA-related concerns more palpably than any lawmaker in Albany. Landlords were having a hard time renting properties for the summer, and business owners were cutting their rations short, in preparation for a lean season. And that was before Gov. Spitzer announced that he wants to reallocate VLT revenue.

So, we can all now breath a collective sigh of relief. There will be a racing meet in 2008, and it will bring throngs of revelers to downtown businesses, to fill the city's coffers, and maintain our rightful place as the jewel of upstate.

All I'm asking is that in 2033, when the new franchise ends, lets not have a repeat of this debacle. No one needs that kind of stress.

Have a great weekend, I'll see you Sunday!

Wednesday, February 13

City GOP in dissaray?

Well, the dust is beginning to settle after Tuesday night's endorsement of Matt Dorsey by the city GOP Committee to run for the City Court judgeship. As you'll read in my article in Thursday's paper, the endorsement process left a bitter taste in some party members' mouths. Some reports I got today even said that as many as 12 party members got up and walked out of the meeting in protest of what they saw as a flawed process, following the announcement that Dorsey had won the vote. Obviously those who left in protest were Doern supporters, but it still reminded me of a similar move by members of another major political party.

Last year, when city Dems met to endorse their candidate to run in the Mayoral and City Council races, Val Keehn's supporters got up and left their meeting before even casting a vote, in protest of the thought that the party would support another candidate over the incumbent. The upshot? Despite not having the party endorsement, Keehn defeated Gordon Boyd in a primary contest, only to loose to Scott Johnson in the general election. On election night, watching the returns come in with Tommy McTygue, Boyd said that he was just happy to see Keehn loose her election. Cutting off your nose to spite your face? Seems like it to me. Shouldn't politicians be more concerned with policy and getting like-minded peers into office than which of their cronies gets elected -- or which of their adversaries don't?

I suppose I've just outed myself as a bit of an idealist.

In any event, Jim Doern could very well decide to run in a primary against Dorsey, and with the party committee leadership theoretically exerting less control over the general voting population than it does over its own members, Doern would be able to make a strong case for being a better candidate than Dorsey. After all, he has been a judge for 9 years.

So I say: lets put accusations of arm-twisting aside and let the voters decide which of these two men is better qualified.

Tuesday, February 12

More Fires

I'm sorry, but I don't have time to write anything today. I spent several hours covering this, and am now rushing to get out of here before I'm snowed in. Thanks go everyone who commented on yesterday's post, and yes, I do think it's wrong to campaign in front of a cemetery, even if you don't like the way the cemetery is zoned.

You can see footage of the aftermath of last night's fire here.

Drive safe out there.

Monday, February 11

What not to do...

Can you spot what's wrong with this photo?
RICK GARGIULO/The Saratogian

With Super Tuesday now mercifully behind us, we can turn our attention to other matters, like the apparent lack of social graces exhibited by certain members of our community.

First of all, there is the above photo, which Chief Photographer Rick Gariulo snapped late last week at the intersection of Weibel Avenue and Louden Road. Now, Ron Paul didn't have my vote anyway, but if I had been planning on voting for him, this flagrant display of disrespect shown by one or a few of his committee members would have turned me away. Political signs are all good and fine, but we really should leave the dead out of politics. Even in the case of national elections.

Here's another instance of poor behavior. In a story I wrote yesterday about the Rail Road Place Price Chopper, I quoted Jennifer Leidig who chaired a city committee in 2006. A survey conducted by that body found that citizens want a grocery store downtown. Leidig spoke out about the importance of a grocery store in the city. What does she get for contributing her work to the city and her opinion to the paper? Not our thanks, apparently. I heard today that she was getting flamed on her business's website. Not cool. There are plenty of appropriate places to air criticism of the words people say to the newspaper... like in the newspaper. Or on blogs. But whoever commented on her business's site might as well have spit in her face, even after all of the work she did for the city. Even if you didn't like her committee, or the conclusions it came to, you have to at least respect the fact that she gave freely of her time, and respect her right to carry out her work, without being heckled by disgruntled would-be buyers of condominiums.

And finally, I also spoke to Sonny Bonacio today. We don't yet know for sure if he has bought the Rail Road Place Price Chopper, and we don't know what his plans might be for the site. And yet, someone, or perhaps a few people, called his mother to voice their concerns. Again, not cool. Whatever is planned for the Price Chopper, and whatever your opinion of Bonacio, it is not appropriate to drag his mother into it. Shame on you.

Sunday, February 10

Heating up in the race for City Court judge

If you're anything like me, the only news you want to hear right now is whether the City GOP committee has selected Matt Dorsey or James Doern for its endorsement to run for City Court Judge this year. The election is not until November, but we've already seen an unprecedented number of letter in to the paper, and a slew of endorsements for the two most prominent GOP candidates.

I've heard, from sources who wish to remain anonymous, that the politicking within the GOP has been fierce, and that Chairman John Herrick had even considered delaying Tuesday's meeting in order to gain more support for the candidate he's backing. Of course, he has stayed strictly neutral in his statements for the record.

The city GOP committee will meet Tuesday evening to pick their nominee, and we'll hopefully know the outcome shortly thereafter.

I don't envy the committee. It seems to me that they have to pick between two very qualified candidates. James Doern is the sitting part-time judge, and a local attorney. Matt Dorsey is also a local attorney who served as City Attorney during the Lenz administration.

Were both men currently serving as judges, it would seem to me that the best way to evaluate them would be to ask criminals over whose trials they presided if they felt they'd been fairly judged. Unfortunately, such an evaluation would likely be biased toward which ever candidate went for lesser sentences. Besides, Matt Dorsey has never served as a judge, so we're not currently able to evaluate his manner on the bench.

As far as I can tell, it's any body's guess as to who will come out of the Tuesday's meeting with the nomination. But I can tell you this, either way, the citizens of Saratoga Springs will come out on top, as they will have at least one well-qualified candidate to vote for come November.

Thursday, February 7

When the snow falls... shovel it.

Yesterday morning I had a meeting with the Mayor, so I stepped up my usual work garb by putting on a tie and my sports coat. It was raining on Wednesday, so I put on a raincoat, and headed out the door. About two blocks later, I came to the one sidewalk that has still had not been cleared of the ice that first fell in December. Of course, I walk this length of sidewalk almost every day, so I knew it was coming. But I hadn't anticipated that the flowing rain water would make the ice that much more slippery.

No sooner had I taken two steps across the ice than I was down, flat on my back. My ass and back hurt, I cut my hand. Worst of all, my pants, my underwear, my shirt and my sports coat were all soaked with rainwater. Uhg. I headed home and changed into dry clothes, and Mayor Johnson didn't get the pleasure of seeing me in my sports coat (I only own one, after all). You can bet I'll be penning a letter to this inconsiderate homeowner, to let them know how un-neighborly it has been of them to not clear their sidewalk all winter, and how lucky they are that my injuries were minor. (My back and ass are now fine. My hand will heal in a day or two.)

But with this morning's snow, I figured it was high time to remind everyone out there, and not just my neighbor, to clear your sidewalks. Not only is the neighborly thing to do, City Code Enforcement Officer Dan Cogan would tell us that it's also the law.

Although I'm mostly lucky that no one was around to see my embarrassing blunder, I still shouldn't have had to endure a not-so-graceful flop to the ground. Stay safe out there, have a great weekend, I'll see you on Sunday.

Wednesday, February 6

I warned you that this would happen...

There are many demands on the time of a modern journalist. In addition to reading other newspapers, filing daily stories and writing this blog, we're now also expected to produce web videos. Although we at the Saratogian have the luxury of Stephen Shoemaker, our Web Editor/Camera man, editor, producer and director extraordinaire. Since starting in November (December?) Stephen has taken on maintaining our web site, and has also taken on producing nearly all of the videos currently posted on our web site.

For yesterday's primary, Stephen and I decided the occasion was ripe for a little video content, so Stephen and I and one of our interns teamed up to create the video. Although I would say that my own contributions were trifling, I'm still proud of my first video. You can check it out here and clicking on the video archive. Tune in tomorrow for part II!

Tuesday, February 5

More news from Council meeting

With today's primary contests, space in the paper for my City Council story was very limited, so I had to leave a few things out. I'll follow up tomorrow for Thursday's print edition, but I wanted to put some things out here first.

1) Finance Commissioner Kenneth Ivins announced that he has formed a citizens committee to plan a three-day July Fourth celebration, which he said he wants to rival other city celebrations such as First Night and Winterfest. He was short on details, but said that there would be a press conference in the coming months.

This is my question: As the only Commissioner who voted against the Council's recent move to file a motion in their case against the Saratoga Lake Association, and who did so citing concerns over spending any money at all on water, how does he plan to pay for this three day celebration? If it will be financed, even in part, by the city's coffers, isn't that, in effect, saying that fireworks are more important than ensuring our continued access to drinkable water? And where will we get the water to put out the flames from an errant fireworks?

Don't get me wrong, I love fireworks as much as the next guy, but I'm very interested to see where funding will come from.

2) Saratoga Springs Police Sargent Crandall is planning on retiring some time this spring. Crandall is in charge of the police's traffic safety division, one of the department's most important operations. This didn't actually come out during the meeting, but afterwards when I had the chance to ask Ron some questions in the hallway. The council voted to allow Crandall to donate 60 unused sick days to another officer who requires an extended sick leave. I should point out that I don't know who the recipient is, or what their ailment is, but they must be pretty sick. The council vote unanimously in favor of this.

3) Kim sought (and received) the council's approval to allocate $9,000 to purchase materials and to hire a plumber to rehab the police department, in order to provide an adequate women's locker room and restroom. Plans call for a room currently used for Roll Call to be cut in half, and a supervisor's locker room to be converted into a women's bathroom. Work will be completed by DPW, so the funds, which are coming from the Building and Upgrades line of the 2008 budget, will only be used to obtain materials, and to hire a plumber. Kim commented that the problem stems from the days when the police force was all men. As such, the building was designed only to accommodate one gender. This rehab was mandated by a ruling from the New York Human Rights Board in December.

4) I did get to this point in my print story, but it bears elaboration here. Kim offered the first answer I've heard as of yet on his intentions regarding the fate of the space currently used as the police station, should the new facility become a reality. He said, using carefully non-committal language, that one likely use of the space would be to house the Public Safety Department's administrative offices.

Doing so would allow the city courts to take over space on City Hall's second floor currently used by the DPS. The expansion of the courts is something that's been kicked around by City Court Judge Mills, and something that part time City Court Judge James Doern, a candidate for the full time judgeship, would make a priority if elected.

Kim said that $2 million is in the 2009 capital program for the rehabilition of the former station. He pointed out that the figure was arbitrarily set by former Finance Commissioner Matthew McCabe, but it was a number to work with.

That's it for the council meeting. Here's something else I'm going to do in the future: keep a score board of sorts, to track the number of agenda items each of the four commissioners and the mayor come to the table with at Council meetings. We'll begin tonight, and you can decide for yourself if this is a measure of each Councilmen's ability to get stuff done, or their ability to push paper.

Agenda items 2/5:
Johnson: 1
Franck: 3
Ivins: 4
Scirocco: 6
Kim: 13

Year to date (calculations begin at the first regular council meeting in 2008):
Johnson: 11
Franck: 8
Ivins: 11
Scirocco: 12
Kim: 21

Ok, that's all for now. I hope everyone had a chance to vote today. This national race is shaping up to be one of the closest I can remember (granted, I can only remember four previous races).

Monday, February 4

Ask, Ask, Ask, Ask Again

Today something happened that has hardly happened since Mayor Scott Johnson took office on Jan. 1. I called his office to ask a question, and he called me back himself in matter of moments! I didn't make one follow-up call, I didn't go camp outside his office, as I've done on a few occasions. I was so startled when my phone rang and it was Mayor Johnson that I dropped a half-eaten apple into my lap and spilled a bottle of water across my desk, ruining my rolodex and two phone books.

Ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I was certainly surprised, especially given that the only reason I'd called the Mayor's office was to get a little background on an agenda item for tomorrow night's City Council Meeting... and I'd actually called for Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton. I had come to expect the Mayor to take his time in getting back to me on pressing matters, so I just assumed it would take a little while for him to get back to me on this relatively insignificant point.

After a month of calling him on a variety of issues, Mayor Johnson finally returned one of my calls. Perhaps he thought I did a good job covering the State of the City Address, or perhaps I caught him at a slow moment in City Hall, or perhaps he's looking to increase his presence in the local press, as he increases his presence in local neighborhoods, as per his planned "Saratoga Speaks," program announced in yesterday's speech. Whatever the reason, I was glad to hear back from the Mayor today, especially on a topic that will likely wind up effecting Saratogians much more intimately than the water litigation or a new police station -- the indoor recreation facility.

Johnson told me that at tomorrow night's meeting he will ask the council to authorize him to sign a contract worth as much as $5,500 to have site plans drawn for the facility's likely new location at the South Side Rec fields. The contract is with architects already retained for the project, and covers only relatively straight-forward work. If everything goes according to plan, we could see the city break ground on this new facility by September.

So thank you Mayor Johnson for returning my call, and for filling me in on the rec center. I hope that you will continue to hold true to the message of open government on which you were elected, and allow me and other area journalists to better spread word of your work for the city.

Sunday, February 3

Oh, what a state we're in

My favorite TV show of all time, NBC's 'The West Wing,' once featured a breathtaking episode in which Martin Sheen, playing President Jedediah Bartlet, strode into the capital to give the state of the union address. TV being what it is, director Aaron Sorkin was able to create a moment that made my chest thump as I felt Bartlet's excitement, as he walked into a room full of people standing up to offer their applause. Whew.

Today's State of the City address by Mayor Johnson wasn't quite that dramatic, but it was a very good look at Johnson's priorities for the coming year. Of course, you can read my account of the speech (or at least as much of it as space will allow) in Monday's paper, but I thought blog readers who weren't able to attend this afternoon's meeting would appreciate a bullet list of the points addressed, so here it is, in terms that your fourth grader can understand:

- Last year's property tax increase was a near-record, and was "unacceptable to most of us." Money needs to be spent wisely.

- City government needs to be run more efficiently, as such the Mayor's office is reviewing many City Hall departments and offices.

- Income tax revenue has decreased because of the city's withdrawal from the county formula. We need to get back into that formula.

- Spitzer wants to take away our VLT revenue, and that's bad. Johnson will do what he can to make sure that it doesn't happen.

- There are a lot of capital projects being kicked around right now. Johnson created a new committee to oversee the construction of these projects.

- Debt is bad, and so Johnson wants to have a vote on any project that requires bonding money.

- There are problems with the police station, but until we can reach a consensus on how to deal with it in a cost-effective manner, we need to figure out how to make do with minor improvements.

- Planning for the indoor recreation facility is well underway, in its new home on the South side rec field. Johnson says that he hopes to break ground by Sept.

- Water, and the need for it (or not) is a polarizing issue in the city. There might be other options such as the wells in Geyser Crest, and we need to explore those options. We also need an approach to water that doesn't involve arguments based on fear and half-truths.

- The City Center needs to expand so that it can continue to boost our economy, and there is funding tied up in the state gov't. Write your reps!

- To help develop the DBA, we are going to explore paid parking downtown for visitors to the city.

- We should develop open spaces, including the waterfront, which should be a vital part of the city for all residents.

- Land use boards are sometimes frustrated by city zoning. Johnson's administration will examine the zoning text with the aim of creating a more comprehensive zoning text for the city.

- The racecourse, and the races there, especially Traver's Stakes, need to be protected. (This is separate from the NYRA issue.)

- We need affordable housing. Johnson will work toward a regional solution.

- CDTA is a good thing, and it's expanded routes in the city have been successful. Johnson will continue to work with CDTA and other transit operators to continue to bring more workers to Saratoga Springs.

- Mayor Johnson will create a series of town hall meetings, one each quarter, in numerous city neighborhoods. Citizens will get a chance to speak with the mayor about the subjects that are of the greatest importance to them.

- Finally, Johnson will form a Mayor's Committee, in which he will invite former mayors and council members to weigh in issues facing the city. "Can you imagine the political discussions?" asks Johnson. Indeed.

I hope everyone's team win tonight!