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

Monday, March 31

Pre-Council reader's poll

Tomorrow evening the City Council is expected to vote on whether or not to adopt increases to the city's water and sewer rates. At the last meeting this issue was tabled to tomorrow. John Franck and Ken Ivins both cited concerns over process as the reason for tabling the vote. We're expecting Skip Scirocco (and perhaps Bill McTygue) to present new arguments for why the increase is necessary at tomorrow's meeting. In the mean time, it's time for you all to weigh in: is the increase called for? Do you support it? Why or why not?

Also at issue at tomorrow's meeting is $64,000 in funding for police overtime at the Racino. Chief Moore said at Monday's agenda meeting that the figure was calculated based on comparing the workload handled by state police at the racino, and comparing that to what city cops already handle. Setting aside completely the issue that professional police officers have determined the number of hours necessary to handle the increased work load at the racino, and have made officers available to cover those duties, do you think the council is likely to approve the budget item (which would take $ out of the contingency line)? As a casual observer of the council, the past few meetings have felt a little like a 4-on-1 fight, with everyone teaming up on Ron Kim. Do you think the council will set politics aside for one night and listen to the advice of professionals who are paid to keep the city safe, or will police overtime to handle work at the racino become the subject of yet another political fight?

Thoughts? Comments? Be heard!

Sunday, March 30

City Audit

As you probably read in the paper on Friday, the state comptroller's office has taken some issue with spending practices here in the city. Specifically, DiNapoli's people recommended that we not count on leftover cash to balance our budget.

On Friday, while accompanying U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand and four-dozen members of the media through the Saratoga Springs Police Station, Mayor Scott Johnson, just back from his trip to Albany to lobby state legislators to leave VLT money here in the city, said that it would be dangerous to use VLT money for capital projects. Mayor Johnson and Finance Commissioner both ran on platforms of fiscal conservatism and restrained spending, so hopefully these two politicians will both be able work with the rest of the council to get the city on firmer fiscal ground, without sacrificing any of the community's needs.

Here is the full text of DiNapoli's press release about the audit. There is a link to the audit at the bottom:


City of Saratoga Springs officials instituted a new approach to help the city structurally balance its budgets, an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli found. The audit, which covered the period January 2003 to 2006, found the city had been adopting structurally imbalanced budgets, putting the city on unsound financial footing.

“Saratoga Springs is one of upstate New York’s most economically vibrant cities,” DiNapoli said. “But the City Council must do a better job of balancing its books and adhering to sound budget practices. Saratoga Springs officials have recognized this and are acting accordingly.”

The audit found that the council routinely relied on its unreserved fund balance money left over from previous years that had not been earmarked for any particular purpose to cover the city’s operating costs, including its water and sewer systems. Because the council had not adequately accounted for spending, the city had a combined financial decline in the general, water and sewer funds of $3.8 million in December 2003 to $488,426 in December 2006. In addition, the city started 2006 with a $591,000 budget deficit in its general fund.

On a positive note, the city increased the sewer unreserved/unappropriated fund balance from a deficit of $171,000 in 2005 to a positive balance of $227,000 by the end of 2006. DiNapoli noted that city officials provided his office with additional financial information indicating that following the audit period, the city’s negative financial trends were not continuing.

DiNapoli recommended that the council continue to rely on sources of recurring revenues sufficient to finance basic operations in the general, water and sewer funds. City officials generally agreed with DiNapoli’s recommendation and indicated that they would take further corrective action.

To view the audit, visit:

Thursday, March 27

And the VLT money is safe

Another day, another press release from the Finance department. This time, city officials are all but jubilant that the city's portion of VLT money is secure, at least for this year. Well, wouldn't you be jubilant if you'd just secured 10 percent of your annual budget? Of course you would be.

The interesting question that I've been thinking about today is much of a factor the Spitzer scandal of two weeks ago was in our leader's ability to secure the money. Had the Spitzer scandal not come to light, would Eliot have stayed to fight Bruno for the right to re-appropriate that money? Would he have won?

I don't think there can be any question that David Patterson is doing almost everything he can to strike a conciliatory tone while he gets his footing in office, possibly including making concessions to local governments like ours. Was all of this just a happy coincidence for the Spa city? You decide.

Have a great weekend, I'm out.


FOR RELEASE: IMMEDIATELY, Thursday, March 27, 2008
CONTACT: Scott T. Johnson 518-587-3550 ext. 520 or 860-9984

VLT Funding Top Agenda, City Center Expansion

A delegation of Saratoga Springs City Council members, Deputies and Chiefs descended on Albany today for the 2008 Lobby Day. Mayor Scott T. Johnson, Commissioner Ronald Kim, Deputy Commissioners Kate Jarosh and Eileen Finneran, and the Police and Fire Chiefs attended the meetings.

Two issues were on the table: continuation of VLT funding and continued funding for the City Center expansion.

“Our main goal was to illustrate and reiterate our needs as a community,” Mayor Johnson said. “Though both houses have legislation supporting the VLT funding to host municipalities, the reality is the budget is not final yet. Anything can happen when the funds are so tight. We visited with the leaders to let them know what this small portion of the total machine revenue means to our City.”

The New York State Senate passed a resolution and the New York State Assembly a bill, supporting host municipalities claim of a share of 3 ½% of the "estimated net machine income" generated by a video lottery gaming facility located within their borders. The host municipality receives 75% of this distribution and the host-county receives 25%. Earlier this week Commissioner of Finance Ken Ivins publicly thanked both houses for their support.

“Though I was unable to attend, I know the delegation let the State leaders know just how vital this is to our City.” Commissioner Ivins said. “The state aid from the VLT revenue is 10% of the City’s operating budget. The reality is that hosting a VLT facility puts incredible stress on infrastructure, public safety, and the community as a whole.”

“It was a productive day,” Deputy Commissioner Jarosh said. “Budgets are tight all around, but hosting a facility puts a strain on us. We are just looking to keep the current level of aid secure.”

The current $3.8 million received by the City helps ‘defray local costs associated with a video lottery gaming facility, or minimize or reduce real property taxes,’ as required by the State Finance Law.

The second half of funding for the City Center expansion has been on the table since 2007. Events and conferences at the Center bring much needed revenue to the City. The expansion means bigger events and conferences to bring more revenue into Saratoga Springs and remain competitive in the convention business. According to meetings today, this funding is expected to be in the State’s Capital Construction budget for 2008-09.

“Our City works hard to bring people here for meetings in hopes they will return for pleasure,” Mayor Johnson continued. “With the expansion of our City Center, we will be on the same playing field to be the winning bid to host the bigger conferences as cities known for hosting large events. This project is needed to ensure our retail businesses and downtown remain a vital part of our economy.”


Wednesday, March 26

Ivins: Thanks for your support on VLT

New York State Senate And Assembly Pass Legislation

Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Ivins Jr. today thanked members of the New York State Senate and Assembly for rejecting former Governor Spitzer’s plan to cut off VLT funding. Commissioner Ivins especially thanked City representatives Senator Bruno and Assembly Tedisco.

“Our hard work and lobbying efforts resonated with the Senate and Assembly,” Commissioner Ivins said. “This was not just about Saratoga Springs losing funding. It was also about six other municipalities in our same boat. Loss of our rightful revenue not only burdens our taxpayers with a possible double digit tax increase but will mean loss of services to tourists as well. That is not a sacrifice we should be forced to make.”

The New York State Senate passed a resolution and the New York State Assembly a bill, supporting host municipalities claim of a share of 3 ½% of the "estimated net machine income" generated by a video lottery gaming facility located within their borders. The host municipality receives 75% of this distribution and the host-county receives 25%.

“I would like to especially thank our own representatives, Senator Bruno and Assemblyman Tedisco for their support,” Commissioner Ivins continued. “The state aid from the VLT revenue is 10% of the City’s operating budget. It does not go to one project or another, but into the general fund. We are required to use this aid to ‘defray local costs associated with a video lottery gaming facility, or minimize or reduce real property taxes.’ This aid is vital to our City day to day operations.”

The current $3.8 million the City receives helps defray the cost of hosting a VLT facility within its borders. The money partially pays for the cost of increased wear and tear on the roads and infrastructure, increased police and fire protection, and reduced sales tax income from out of town patrons spending money at the Gaming and Raceway only.

“This is a tough year for the State budget,” Commissioner Ivins continued. “But we need to keep reminding our representatives of what we have going on here in our community—the people they represent.”

Tuesday, March 25

Still more sex abuse

Not much came out the mother in the Conrad/Wiley case's appearance in city court today, but we have now confirmed that Conrad was involved in a youth group in the Saratoga ward of the Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints "several" years ago. I haven't as of you been able to determine a time line, as it seems that the Mormon establishment is circling their wagons in anticipation of this part of the story. You can read the thumb-nail version here, and the full version later on, when the story makes it to the web.

Monday, March 24

More sex abuse

The mother implicated in the sex abuse case of Douglas Conrad and James Wiley will be back in Saratoga Springs City court tomorrow morning. The woman, who we are not identifying to protect her teen-aged kids, is facing two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in the second degree.

Here's the story: On Feb. 2, one of the two children (both of whom have allegedly been molested by Conrad and/or Wiley) blurts out in the car to his mom that Conrad is abusing him. His sibling immediately calls him a liar. According to family counsel John Aretakis, Mom tells that kids that if what he is saying is true, he should go to the police. He doesn't, and neither does Mom. The abuse doesn't come to light until several days later, when another victim, outside of the family, came forward.

Saratoga County DA James Murphy stated, at the time of this woman's arrest, that the aim in charging her was not to throw her in jail, but to get her into court-mandated therapy and family treatment.

Aretakis, says it's a BS charge, and that prosecuting her is only going to hurt the family more. What do you think?

Sunday, March 23

Lake Water... Austism

In case anyone missed it, the city won it's appeal against the Saratoga Lake Improvement District, for the right to draw water from Saratoga Lake last week. The ruling, from the state's highest court, would allow the city to move forward with lake water plans, if permits pending with the state DEC were approved, and if the council chose to pursue that route. Based on their actions thus far, such a move seems unlikely. Nevertheless, several members of the council have said publicly that they would support obtaining said permit from the DEC, to have in case need for lake water is ever established and universally supported by some future administration. At the very least, Saturday's news must have felt like a real vindication to Tommy McTygue. I would have provided a link to Barbara Lombardo's story, but for some reason, it seems not to have made it to the web. Sorry!

In other news, your elected officials are now recommending TV programs, albeit social-conscious ones:


McDonald to host autism awareness forum in Malta on April 5

Assemblyman Roy McDonald (R,C,I-Saratoga), Chairman of the Assembly Republican Autism Awareness Forums, today encouraged residents to watch AUTISM: THE MUSICAL, a new documentary that is scheduled to air on HBO on Tuesday, March 25, at 8 p.m.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in 150 children may be afflicted with autism. AUTISM: THE MUSICAL counters this troubling statistic with the story of five autistic children, their families and the woman who leads them to defy expectations by writing, rehearsing and performing their own musical.

“As Americans, we are an optimistic people who believe in the possible and what we can do as individuals, even if it requires a little help from family and friends,” said Assemblyman McDonald, a grandfather of two autistic children. “I know from personal experience that those with autism are people too and they need and deserve all the love and support we can give them so they can enjoy as a high a quality of life as possible. That’s why I am pleased to recognize anything that promotes the principle of people overcoming adversity to achieve a goal.”

McDonald will be hosting an Assembly Republican Autism Awareness Forum on Saturday, April 5, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Saratoga Bridges (formerly Saratoga ARC), 16 Saratoga Bridges Boulevard, Malta (the first right off of Exit 13S of I-87 -- the last building on the left). The forum is open to the public.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are developmental disabilities that cause impairments in social interaction and communication, marked by the presence of unusual behaviors and interests. Many people with ASDs have different ways of learning, paying attention and reacting to various situations. The thinking and learning abilities of people with ASDs can vary from the gifted to the severely challenged. An ASD begins before the age of three and lasts throughout a person's life.

And finally... did anyone else do a double take upon hearing the news that a frozen body was found in the Hudson in Troy? For a minute I was convinced I'd be driving to Greenwich to watch a certain "person of interest" do the perp walk. But alas... this body appears to be someone else entirely.

Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 20

Dems for city judge

For an elections that only comes up once every ten years, the race for City Court judge has appropriately been receiving a pretty good amount of press. It's come to light this week that Montaginino came to his current job in Albany by way of a voluntary transfer, which he accepted (initiated?) after three litigants in Westchester County sued him for being biased against women in divorce proceedings. I'm going to blame my being out sick on Tuesday for letting Tatiana Zarnowski beat me to the story, but regardless, what's interesting to note is that the suit had greater effects than Montagnino's transfer.

In the wake of the suit, matrimonial courts in Westchester were shaken-up. According to the Journal News, a news paper that covers the lower Hudson Valley and reported on the flap, Montagnino feuded with Judge Francis Nicoli, after Montagnino made remarks at Pace Law School regarding the distribution of assets in a divorce. The shake up led to the removal of three justices from the Westchester matrimonial court.

Why should you care that some divorces in Westchester, angry that they didn't get the cut they wanted from their husband's fortune, sued Montagnino? Because, when I asked him, on Tuesday March 11, why he moved here from Westchester, his answer was that his family owned a home here, and had always loved it. He said he was transfered to Albany, which made the move easier. He never once said that he was transfered here as a way to quell a conflict in the judicial system in Westchester. This from a candidate who has said repeatedly that he wants to run only on his merits as a jurist. I don't pretend to speak for anyone but myself, but I think Mr. Montagnino should familiarize himself with two words before continuing his campaign on qualifications alone: full disclosure.

These developments should have come from from the candidate himself in the spirit of openness, and not, as they came to me, from one of the three aforementioned litigants.

Wednesday, March 19

City Council

Interesting happenings at City Council on Tuesday, huh? Although I wasn't there, I heard we nearly had the usually-unflappable Skip Scirocco become flustered when Kim, Ivins and Franck voted to table the vote on the water and sewer rate increases until the next meeting. Then later Kim and Mayor Johnson fought for the floor when discussion came up regarding renovations of the police department were raised.

Although the accounts that I've heard point to the Mayor retaining control of the meeting, I can't help but wonder if we're seeing the first cracks in Johnson's control over the council. I also heard that the department of public work's presentation on water and sewer rate increases took 90 minutes. I think I picked the right Tuesday to get sick.

Thanks to my colleague Ann Marie French for covering last night's meeting!

In other news, the search for a special prosecutor in the case of the woman facing endangerment charges for not keeping her two sons away from accused child molesters Douglas Conrad and James Wiley is still on. Kate Hogan passed on the case last week, and it seems that Saratoga County District Attorney Jim Murphy has not yet found a suitable replacement.

According to John Aretakis, who is representing the woman, this lack of a special prosecutor is due to the fact that the charges are "BS," and will not hold up. Others seem to differ, but what do I know?

Tuesday, March 18

Sick Day

No post today, I'm at home, sick with all sorts of grotesque symptoms that would make even Brain De Palma cringe. Read local citizen Kyle York's new blog instead. See you tomorrow (hopefully).

Monday, March 17

Counting our lucky stars

There might be a tremendous amount of construction going on in Saratoga Springs right now, but I think we can all be thankful that we don't have gigantic cranes falling from the sky. I am captivated by the story of the crane that collapsed in Manhattan over the weekend. Apparently they've just pulled a 7th body from the rubble. Let's all be glad that wasn't us.

That's all for today. Have a great afternoon!

Sunday, March 16

Reliving 2007?

As expected, the city Democratic Committee endorsed a candidate to run for City Court Judge at their meeting yesterday. James Montagnino, who lost the close vote, quickly said that he would run in a primary against Jeff Wait.

Going back one year, we had city Democrats endorse Gordon Boyd despite Val Keehn's incumbency. Then we had Keehn beat Boyd in a primary, only to loose the general election to Republican Scott Johnson. At least Keehn had the minor satisfaction of beating Boyd, running as an independent candidate, again in November.

So here we are again, with a politically connected former city attorney, Wait, endorsed by a slim margin by the Democratic committee. He will face Montagnino, a relatively recent transplant, but a jurist with some experience, in a primary election in September. All of this is to determine who will contest the general election against Matt Dorsey, a politically connected Republican.

Jim Doern, the current part-time City Court Judge, who wanted to run for the post, but lost his party's endorsement vote, bowed out of the race just over a week ago, saying that "Campaigning without the support of the Saratoga Springs Republican committee is not something I want to do, which is why I worked so hard to try to earn the endorsement." Keep in mind that Doern was termed a "formidable candidate," by one of the Democratic candidates, the other of whom said he would not have wanted to run against him.

The Democrats seem to have no problem running against each other, a move that I conjecture will wind up costly for the candidates, both in terms of money and energy. Whichever of them comes out on top after the September vote -- assuming they haven't lost too much favor during the primary process -- will then have the significant challenge of running a race against a GOP candidate who will likely have little to do this summer, aside from sit back and watch the fireworks while the Dems duke it out. So much for uniting the party to take back the long-held Republican post.

Thursday, March 13

City Water Rates

The water and sewer rates are rising, but are still lower than most surround municipalities. Interestingly, the rates are rising because water usage has dropped off. This must either be due to cooler weather over the past several summers, or that Saratogians are so concerned that we're about to run out of water that we're too afraid to quench our thirst.

That doesn't really seem too likely.

In any event, look for my explanation of why water rates are going up in the paper over the weekend, and, if you're concerned about the rates, be sure to attend the public hearing, 6:50 p.m. on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, I was too swamped with other things to cover today's best city story, so I turned it over to Paul Post, who was slightly less swamped. You can read all about this in tomorrow's paper, but in the cases of Douglas Conrad and James E. Wiley, the roommates--cum--sex offender accused of molesting young boys here and in Mechanicville, the attorney John Aretakis is representing both the boys, and the mother of one of them, who has been arrested for endangering the welfare of her child for not keeping the kids away from a known danger.

Because the mom is a witness against Conrad and Wiley, but is also being prosecuted by the Saratoga County DA, the office had to turn one of the charges over to another office. First it was former Albany County DA Paul Clyne, then it was Warren County DA Kate Hogan. Both rejected the case, citing scheduling and professional conflicts. I suppose we'll just have to wait to see how long it takes Saratoga County DA Murphy to find a special prosecutor who is able to handle the case. But it begs the question... do these attorneys just not want to deal with Aretakis, who has a reputation of being, at the least, difficult to deal with? Look for the details in tomorrow's paper. As usual, I would provide you a web link, but the story is not yet posted (nor is it finished).

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, March 12

Here come the gorey details...

Forgive me, once again we're going to pretend that this is the state desk. In the wake of this weeks news about Gov. Spitzer's involvement with a high-priced prostitution ring, a lot of interesting questions have been raised: How did this moral crusader justify his actions... for the past ten years?! How did his wife not know?! Or, if she did know, how was she OK with it? How could she still stand next to him? How could such an accomplished man fall to the most base of impulses? What does the guy do with his life now? What happens to his budget proposal? Can Paterson carry the torch on? Will he want to? Did Joe Bruno do a happy dance, while publicly expressing his sorrow? What did Spitzer want that was too dangerous for these classy hookers? So on and so forth.

Well, we got the answer to one of those questions tonight: What do you get for $4,600 an hour? According The New York Times, you get Ashley Alexandra Dupre, a 22 year old aspiring singer originally from New Jersey, now of Manhattan. In a move that seems much more 'Post' than 'Times,' the Times also provided a link to Dupre's MySpace page. If they can do it, I might as well. I won't, however, go Drudge Report-style and post her picture. You'll have to go elsewhere for that.

On the one hand, I can't help but feel sorry for this young woman, whose dirty laundry is now being aired in the most public way possible. But on the other hand... think of the book she can write once the Federal charges have been settled. So, it's time for everyone to weigh in... was she worth it?

I think we should also keep in mind that this appears to have been the woman in question in the incident at the Mayflower in February, but Spitzer's allegedly been at this for 10 years, so Dupre was merely the latest in a long string of liaisons for the soon-to-be-former Governor. I suspect that with time we'll see pictures of many more of these women. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 11

The Dems look to pick their guy

After our extensive coverage of the city Republican's quest to endorse a candidate to run for the city full-time Judge, you might have thought that we'd forgotten that there are two political parties in this city.

City Democrats will meet Saturday to pick their guy, either long-time city resident and former city Attorney Jeffery Wait or an State Court Attorney, James A. Montagnino. Look for my story about these two candidates in tomorrow's paper.

One interesting side note to the story is that both of the Dems said they would not have wanted to run against the current part-time City Court Judge, James Doern, who was passed over by city GOP committee members, in favor of Matt Dorsey, a politically connected candidate with vast law experience, but no judicial experience.

Both of the Dems said they thought Doern's position on the bench, which precluded him from participating in any political parties for the past ten years, might have been his downfall.

Interestingly enough, we could see almost the same situation with the two Democrats. As an attorney for the state unified court system, Montagnino has not been active in politics, while Wait has been highly involved. Only time will tell which of the two will emerge on top, but in the mean time we can hope that there won't be any accusations of foul play for this party. The last thing city Democrats need is more infighting.

Monday, March 10

Spitzer bombshell

Clearly, today's news trumps anything happening on the city desk. And since I'm not in New York City, I did my best to travel there via the internet. Below are some links to interesting sidebars to the story. See tomorrow's paper for the reactions of local politicians.

New York Times City Room blog

The complaint
More on the investigation
Candidates stay mum
Breaking the story
And finally... if you were a John, what would you call yourself?

Sunday, March 9

Reclassification --- political football?

I got an email this morning from Lew Benton, which says that Mayor Johnson is going before the city's Civil Service Commission on Monday to amend Benton's job description. I don't have a copy of the job description in front of me, but I can tell you that open spaces, preservation and recreation all fall under Benton's purview.

I wasn't able to get in touch with Johnson to confirm this, nor was I able to investigate Benton's claim that such an amendment would violate the City Charter by effectively amending it without proper review (Benton's position is established under the city charter.)

According to Benton, the exact text Johnson is looking to remove is contained in Benton's job description, which charges that his position will "integrate and coordinate the Heritage Area Program and City Historian." Removing this line, again, according to Benton, would have the effect of turning over that responsibility to the Deputy Mayor, Shauna Sutton.

Lest anybody forget that Benton and Sutton are both political appointees, he said in his email that Sutton has not demonstrated an ability to manage such tasks as he currently handles, and says that certain city programs might be in jeopardy, were such a change to occur.

Stay tuned as we investigate the veracity of Benton's claims, and Johnson's motivation for such a move. I does not seem to me that integrating and coordination the heritage area program and City Historian is an essential function that needs to be handled by the Mayor's office, but, I'm often surprised by the reasons for things that I don't think of.
For you information, Benton's job, Administrator of Parks, Open Space, and Historical Preservation, earned him $26,951 in 2007, putting his salary slightly below the middle of earned income for city employees, but comfortably above the salary for a Commissioner or Mayor ($14,500 per year).

Thursday, March 6

VLT Resolution

At their meeting on Tuesday, the City Council approved a resolution on VLT revenue. The resolution was brought by Commissioner Kenneth Ivins. You can read it here:


WHEREAS, In 2002, The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors resolved to allow the introduction of Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) to be installed at the Saratoga Harness Track, renamed Saratoga Gaming and Raceway; and

WHEREAS, the City of Saratoga Springs has received distribution of VLT host community revenues from the New York State budget for each of the subsequent years that the VLTs have been in existence, or a sum now equal to approximately 10% of the entire current City operating budget; and

WHEREAS, the Governor of the State of New York has proposed in the 2008 Executive Budget that the current level of VLT distribution given to the City of Saratoga Springs be reduced by one half in 2009 and further reduced to zero commencing 2010; and

WHEREAS, the City of Saratoga Springs continues to bear the burden of costs associated with hosting a gaming facility within its borders, and the loss of the distribution or any portion thereof will be detrimental to all City taxpayers;


1. The City strongly urges the Governor of the State of New York to reconsider his proposal of reducing and eventually eliminating said distribution.

2. The City recommends that legislation be passed by both houses of the Legislature of the State of New York guaranteeing that the distribution to host municipalities continue at the current or a higher level as long as VLTs are located within the borders of and the financial burden remains on host municipalities.


1. That a copy of this Resolution, suitably engrossed, be transmitted to the Governor of the State of New York, the Temporary President of the New York State Senate, the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, the Minority Leader of the New York State Assembly and to each member of the New York State Legislature.

March 4, 2008

Wednesday, March 5

Remember that audit?

You might remember that some time ago the Office of the State Comptroller released an audit that found 16 city purchases, totaling $64,427, did not comply with established procedure. After five weeks of wrangling with the Comptroller's office, I've finally managed to find out exactly what those 16 errant purchases were. OSC spokesman William Reynolds provided this information, but caution that "the instances of non-compliance with the procurement policy centered on city personnel not getting required quotes or approved purchase orders. They did not determine that any of the purchases were inappropriate for the city's needs / operations"

All of the purchases were made in the Department of Public Works, which is the city's largest purchaser. All of that aside, I can't imagine why the city spent $3,520 on movie tickets. I'll let you know when I get an answer on that one.

There are no dates attached to these purchases, but the audit examined a period from Jan. 2005 to March 31, 2007.

Vendor/Payee Product/Service Amount
1 Griffen Greenhouse and Nursery Landscaping Supplies 1,837.98
2 Staples Computer Monitors 2,172.30
3 Municiple Services Sewer Drain Service 2,870.65
4 Hayes Paving Imprinted Paving 3,095.00
5 CLARK, WM H. Replacement Parts 3,110.54
6 NYNE Equipment Warranty Purchase 3,387.00
7 JJP Slipform Curbing 3,412.50
8 Regal Entertainment group Movie Tickets 3,520.00
9 Nortrax LE LLC Service 3,886.00
10 Myers Fun Services Carnival Equipment 4,160.00
11 Carpet Land Carpet and Installation 4,417.00
12 Parkway Music Rink Sound System 4,556.93
13 Mills Engineering Co Inc Trash Barrels 4,679.81
14 Barnes Distribution Group Hydralic Hose maker 4,947.24
15 NYNE Equipment Ram for Tub Grill 5,500.00
16 Siewert Equipment Co Pumps 8,874.00


Tuesday, March 4


Agenda items at Tuesday's meeting:
Johnson: 6
Franck: 2*
Ivins: 2
Scirocco: 4
Kim: 1

*Accounts Commissioner John Franck had three items on his agenda prior to tonight's meeting, but removed the first item, a discussion and vote on a zoning text amendment proposed by Stewart's Shop, apparently because the council needs more information before it can vote.

Year to date:
Johnson: 18
Franck: 11
Ivins: 17
Scirocco: 20
Kim: 27

From the national desk, it appears that John McCain will run for president later this year, as Huckabee conceded earlier this evening. Word on the street is that we could see a Bush endorsement in the near future. This are much less clear on the other side of the aisle. It appears that Obama has won Vermont, while Clinton took the state with the longest name in the union, but the least land-mass. Each of these carries a whopping 4 electoral votes.

As of this moment, the big prizes are slightly more up in the air. Obama currently has the edge in Texas (34 electoral votes), while Clinton has the edge in Ohio (20 electoral votes), but the night is still young. I'm hoping that things will be more clear in the morning.

Monday, March 3

Kinney's gone

Chances are, you've already read it here and here, but long-time Saratogian reporter Jim Kinney caught the last train out of town on Friday, leaving behind one big pair of shoes to fill and one messy desk. Our editors are in the process of hiring someone to take over his beat (notice, I didn't say 'replace,' because surely Kinney is irreplaceable), but until then the remainder of the newsroom staff is filling in on the county beat. You'll have to forgive me if my blog posts are a bit skimpy over the next couple of weeks, but Kinney had a lot of responsibilities that I'll now have to take over on some days. So, that should be fun. I didn't realize how much I'd miss Jim until he left. Fortunately, there have been some people in here for interviews today, hopefully a good sign.

Sunday, March 2

City Hall mis-communication

Sometimes I feel like Steven Martin's wife in "Cheaper by the Dozen," as
soon as I turn my back to relax for five minutes the whole house goes to

As you've likely already read by now, Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim
held a press conference on Friday (my day off) to address continuing issues with communication equipment in the police department. It seems that ongoing issues with
the non-emergency lines have been compounded by a separate problem with
the department's back-up generator, which led to a communication
blackout during last week's snowstorm.

Mayor Scott Johnson was quick to respond, but his statements did not
make it into Saturday's paper. You can read his press release at the
bottom of this post.

As you will read, it seems that Mayor Johnson was not made aware of the
new problem before sending out his press release. While he continues to
say that the Safety Committee is studying the existing problem with the
phones, the press release does not mention the recent incident, in which
emergency dispatchers were not able to communicate with firefighters as
the Saratoga Hotel filled with smoke. Fortunately, the smoke was benign,
and no harm was done, except to the hotel guests who were made to stand
in the parking lot in their pajamas in the middle of a snowstorm.

Careful study is important, but it seems to me that the Mayor (and his
spokesperson) should ensure that they've studied all of the issues on
the table before releasing statements to the press. While, as Johnson
points out, the sky is not falling, it would be nice to hear our Mayor
say something about being glad that dispatchers were able to make due
when their system temporarily failed on Wednesday morning. I wonder if a
representative from the Mayor's office attending Kim's press conference.

By the same token (and at the risk of cutting off my nose to spite my
face) I have to wonder if Kim would get things done more effectively
under this administration by going to the Mayor (and safety committee)
first, and the press second.

Press release:


"There have been recent reports in the press claiming three separate
instances of alleged malfunctioning of the non-emergency phone lines
servicing the Police Station in City Hall, beginning in July 2007. This
matter was brought to the Safety Committee's attention at it's regularly
scheduled monthly meeting on February 12, 2008 from the Public Safety
Department. There have been several meetings since that date of the
Safety Committee and I am pleased to report prompt identification of the
problem and a proposed solution to better serve the public safety. It
has been determined that there may be an issue involving the cabling
within the City Hall telecommunications system, and not the existing
police phone system. There also were instances of the alleged
malfunctions that ultimately were attributed to human error, not system

"It is important to not promote public hysteria on an issue involving
phone service to the Police Station, particularly with the prior media
accounts regarding the conditions existing at the Station. First and
foremost, it is paramount to stress that the emergency phone line, the
911 system, has been and remains fully effective. It was only the
non-emergency phone line, 584-1800, that was claimed to be at issue.
Certainly, the sky is not falling."

On February 12, 2008 at the Safety Committee's regularly scheduled
monthly meeting, members from the Public Safety Department informed the
City Safety Committee that there had been three alleged instances of
telecommunication malfunction in the Police Department in 2007 including
July 19, 2007, September 25, 2007, and November 8, 2007. The alleged
malfunctions involved the non-emergent telephone lines of 584-1800 and
not the 911 emergency lines. The Police Department at this meeting
requested the matter be labeled a "health and safety issue." The
Committee initiated an immediate investigation into the circumstances
surrounding each incident.

In the short time that Safety Committee has been given the task of
investigating the matter, a tremendous amount of work has been done in
gathering needs assessments from each department including the Police
Department to qualify and quantify any infrastructure issues that may
have contributed to perceived system malfunctions. Two subsequent
meetings have occurred since then to detail the issues and the
infrastructure currently in place. Vendors have been called in to
discuss the perceived issues and been asked to provide detailed repair
and maintenance reports of the issues as identified.

The Committee has been assured that there are ample parts available
should any component need replacement.

The Mayor's Department has agreed to work with Safety Committee in
establishing accountability in the management of telecommunication
services provision. Complaints, repairs and maintenance will begin to be
tracked as of this date with regular monthly reporting of any issues to
the Safety Committee.

"The Safety Committee will continue to work through the City's and the
Police Department telecommunication issues until there is a
comprehensive long-term solution to the viability of the services
provided to the community", said Johnson. "Our team prides itself on the
multidisciplinary team approach it takes toward solving the City's risk
and safety issues for both its employees and the City as a community."