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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, June 30

That rec center won't go away!

Still without a definitive legal opinion on the deed for the South Side Rec field, Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim released a memo today, which he had sent to the Mayor and other council members, which stated, once again, that he is concerned that the city will face suit if it goes forward with the construction of an indoor recreation building at the fields. 

Although City Attorney Joe Scala has said that he believe there is no issue, Kim remains unconvinced, and today issued the memo, pressing for a written opinion. 

This is only the latest in Kim's trials with the City Attorney. Apparently a contract revision approved at the last council meeting pending city attorney's approval, has languished for two weeks, while the cost of doing work continue to rise. 

I was not able to get in touch with Mayor Johnson today (He did return my phone call, but I was away from my desk, a subsequent message went un-answered), so I was not able to get is take on either issue, but suffice it to say, there is no love lost between Kim and Johnson. Joe Scala, the city attorney, could be caught in the middle, though he is a Johnson appointee, and does work for the Mayor, there's no question about where his allegiances lie. 

We could see some action on either one of these two issues at City Council tomorrow, stay tuned. 

Friday, June 27

Keeping it brief

I've not got much time, before my 37.5 hour work week winds to an end, so I'm going to keep this very brief, and offer this ironic and saddening image that pretty much describes my life, and the lives of those like me. It's going to rain this weekend, stay dry.

Send me an email if you don't get it.

Thursday, June 26

Giant Penis at SPAC

You'll read in our paper tomorrow that a man dressed as a penis stole the show at today's graduation service for Saratoga Springs High School students graduating from SPAC. The dickhead (no slight intended, this is a concrete observation) turned out to be an alumnus who graduated last year.

The opportunity for innuendo is nearly endless. Here's what I asked another reporter who was present at the ceremony: "Did you chase the giant penis?"

His response? "Well, yeah." Laughter ensues.

Juvenille? Of yeah, but no more so than the poor-taste prankster.

I'm sorry for the graduates and families who had their ceremony disrupted, but come on, you can't write that kind of comedy!

I'll be back tomorrow with a special Friday dispatch, then it's off to NYC for Saturday and Sunday.

Wednesday, June 25

What would you do for a Klondike Bar?

Recently, my girlfriend has been quite taken with the TV ads for Klondike Bars that depict a man nodding off at a kitchen table while his wife rambles on and on about some inanity in the background. She stops to take a breath, and he interjects something relevant about her story. The announcer chimes in: "He listened to his wife, give that man a Klondike Bar!"

That's how I feel sometimes at Planning Board meetings, from which I've just returned. While the board's work is vastly important to our city, and relevant to all of our lives, it can sometimes get a little tedious, especially when the board isn't expected to take any important votes, such as in tonight's meeting. Tonight the board reviewed plans for several sites, on which it will vote at later dates. Obviously important to the planning process, but not ideal for a newspaper. Just how does one write a story about how the board discussed -- but took no action -- on one subdivision after another?

Usually, I sit at planning board meetings and do my damndest to pay attention, take detailed notes, and then duly report to you what the board did. But sometimes they don't actually do anything. Then I have to come back to the office and cook up some way to present a whole lot of talk that can really be described thusly: The board considered plans for several proposed projects.

And yet, I manage to write these stories every other week or so. Do I deserve a Klondike bar?

Tuesday, June 24

Sure, we all love Joe Bruno

Like many of media colleagues, I spent most of my day to day reporting on the announcement that former Senate majority leader Joe Bruno will not seek reelection in the fall. Nearly every person that I spoke to called Bruno a powerful advocate for Saratoga Springs, and extolled the many good deeds that he has done for the city. And there's no denying that Bruno has delivered Saratoga County and Saratoga Springs far more than our fair share of pork.

But what nobody outside of the newsroom said, at least not publicly, is that maybe it's not such a bad thing that some other community, perhaps one needier than ours, will get some of that pork. The Senate majority leader has access to more funding through appropriations and grant money, which will likely no longer flow as steadily as they have to Saratoga Springs.

Dean G. Skelos, who at this moment appears to be the front-running to succeed Bruno, is from Long Island. While most of his constituents are no worse off than most of Bruno's, they pay a lot more taxes than us here in Saratoga Springs. Perhaps this change in leadership will benefit that community, after we've benefited for so many years.

There's no doubt that us here in the city have had a great sugar-daddy in Bruno, and now it's someone else's turn, and that's the way the world works.

Monday, June 23

Phoning it in

Phoning it in is what an actor does when they don't really feel like giving their all to a performance. In the newspaper business, it applies to what I do on my blog, when I don't feel like writing. So here is today's performance:

Yesterday's post, on John Aretakis, was so good that I want you to read it again. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 22

Sayonara Aretakis

Attorney/crusader John Aretakis came into my life back in February, when he announced that he would represent the two brother victimized by former City School bus driver Douglas Conrad and his room mate James E. Wiley. Over the course of the following four or five months, I've accumulated a thick file full of Aretakis's hand-scrawled faxes. Sometimes his tips were helpful, sometimes not, but they were always inflammatory.

Last month, I reported that Aretakis's two clients had recanted on testimony given in an unrelated case in Albany. I reported that after it was reported to me by Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III, who released to me a letter from one of his assistants which documented the recant. Aretakis immediately flew into a furry, and started telling me, every other day or so, that Murphy was a liar, and there was no, and had never been, a recant. According to him, a recant exists only when there is written documentation.

According to Murphy, and as reported at the time, there was never any written documentation, the boys backed off of verbal statements given to the state police, which in the language of District Attorneys (and I have confirmed this), constitutes a recant.

Fast-forward to last week: Aretakis produces what he calls damning evidence that Murphy is a liar: a letter that says there was no written statement, and no written recant. Well, no shit John, there never was anything written, and no one ever said there was.

So, after I told Aretakis that I wouldn't be writing the kind of anti-Murphy screed he was pushing me to write, he flew into a rage in which he called me a patsy incapable of doing my job of supervising government. "I've been a source, and you should tell your editors that your source is going to dry up," he said to me. With that, I hung up the phone. Good, I thought, maybe we'll save a little money on copy paper and fax toner at the office.

Aretakis had been, at times, a good source, but I think he is too willing to blur the border between reality and imagination in his singular mission: ridding the world of anything and anyone he doesn't like. For instance, he insisted for months that he had no conflict and could represent both the boys and their mother (who faces endangerment charges for failing to notify police about the abuse), even though the boys would have to testify against their mother, and hence, Aretakis would have to discredit one of his clients to defend another. For that reason (although he sites other reasons, including threats by the Saratoga Springs police department, which I personally believe are invented), he is no longer representing the woman.

Good luck to you John, thanks for no longer darkening my door step.

Thursday, June 19

You think we've got park problems....?

I just finished reading this article in the NY Times, about a woman who enforces, with dogged determinism, the private nature of Gramercy Park in Manhattan. The park, about tow acres, is in an odd private/public limbo, and controlled by a board of trustees, who, as far as I can tell, hates anything fun.

It seems that the park used to be part of a farm, until 1831, when its owners donated it to New York City on the grounds that it not be used for commercial enterprise. How the park went from city-owned land to a semi-private limbo that now requires a residence facing the park to gain access, I do not know. But one thing is certain: we can debate the comparative merits of "paving a park" to increase the city's net total of basketball courts, but at least we'll wind up with a facility that everyone can use, rather than Gramercy Park, which is open only to a select few, while everyone else stands outside and gazes longingly in.

Enjoy our parks because we can. Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, June 18

Calling for interpretations

There's been much made in City Council meetings of late over the language in the deed of the South Side Recreation Field. The project's detractors say the dead precludes the possibility of a new facility at that site. The Mayor and City Attorney say there's no problem.

To lay rest to my own curiosity, I went down to the county and got a copy of the deed (OK, in actuality, I asked county reported Ann Marie French to pick the copy up for me, but I made it easy by finding the address. Regardless...)

The following is the last paragraph of the deed:

"THE PROPERTY conveyed herein is to be used solely for playground and recreational purposes by the City of Saratoga Springs, New York, or the Saratoga Springs Recreation Commission, for the use and benefit of all residents of the Enlarged City School District of the City of Saratoga Springs, New York. In the event such lands shall cease to be used for such purpose, the all right, title and interest shall revert to the Enlarged City School District of the City of Saratoga Springs, New York, and this conveyance shall become null and void."

Nobody is contesting that the proposed building will be used for recreation, and given its location, it seems reasonable to conclude that it will be used primarily by people residing within the school district. However, there is question about whether "parking lot" fits the definition of recreational uses. The deed also raises questions about whether or not the city would thus be allowed to charge more for participation in basketball leagues for city residents, school district (non-city) residents, and non-residents, as it currently does for other recreation leagues.

I'm no lawyer, and City Attorney stated to the City Council last night that there is no issue, but I'd like to know what you think.

Tuesday, June 17

Very briefly

I had to stay at tonight's City Council meeting waayyy past deadline, so this is going to be really brief.

I just think you all should know that the council met in Executive Session for about one hour tonight. They made two decisions by unanimous vote. One was to allow the Mayor to enter into some sort of confidentiality agreement. The other was to authorize some amount of money for a police officer's legal fees.

More details to follow soon.

Monday, June 16

It's summer now, let's share the roads

It is doubtless tragic that a young man riding his bike had to be hit by a motorcycle in Greenfield to bring the issues of sharing the road safely to the attention of the press (I'm probably at fault here), but the fact of the matter is that we now need to move on in hopes of not letting something like this happen again.

But, because this was a tragedy, everyone lined up to get their message out. First Joanne Yepsen was quick to espouse (actually, I called her, but only after someone else mentioned her bike path project), the importance of creating safe bike paths and getting cyclists off the road.

Then, in reaction, today representatives from the New York Bicycle coalition called me to object to the assertion that bicycles should be off the roads. "We are traffic, as defined by New York State law," said one representative. And it's true. Bicycles are entitled to nearly all of the rights and privileges of automobiles while driving, a fact that escapes some drivers. And I say this with the authority of someone who has spent countless hours pedaling around the roads of Saratoga County.

It is not yet clear who is at fault in the case of the Greenfield accident (the police report was about as clear as mud), but one thing is clear is that both the cyclist and the motorcycle operator should have been more aware of their surroundings. To that end, I would recommend everyone, really everyone, go to the police station and pick up a pamphlet called "Sharing the road safely." Not only does this pamphlet do an even-handed job describing traffic laws for cars, bicycles, skaters, motorcyclists and pedestrians, but it does so without going into a victim's litany, which I sometimes feel is a fault of similar publications written by cyclists or other members of that community.

The pamphlet is free, go pick it up. Please, for everyone's sake.

Sunday, June 15

That pesky rec center

Area lawyers are raising concerns that the proposed rec center (at the site of the south-side rec. field) might violate the city Charter. Below is a letter sent to the City Council last week. I've omitted the juicier attachments, so that I can collect reaction quotes and publish them in the paper this week, but know that the two lawyers who wrote this letter seem to have some valid concerns (but as we all know, I'm no lawyer.)

For your reading pleasure:

Citizens Committee for Charter Implementation

June 10, 2008

Hon. Scott Johnson

Mayor, City of Saratoga Springs

City Hall-Broadway

Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

Re: Southside Recreation Area

Dear Mayor Johnson:

We have been following the proposal to build the City’s indoor recreation center on the Southside Recreation Area in the Jefferson Terrace neighborhood. In general, we believe that well-designed, well-maintained and well-programmed recreational facilities are sorely needed in that part of the city, whether indoors or outdoors. We are neither for nor against the present proposal.

Nevertheless, building this proposed indoor facility is an important step for the City. No matter where it is sited, it will be important to adhere carefully to City policy and City, State and federal law and procedural requirements, so that no one can criticize the Council about its process or be tempted to take legal action.

To this end, we have prepared comments and suggestions, as attached, that we hope will be helpful to the Council in its deliberations.



Thursday, June 12

Kiddie Porn at the High School?

This from today's police blotter:
At 2:30 p.m. today, officers responded to the high school on an allegation of possible possession of child pornography. The blotter said that one person had been interviewed, but no one had been arrested.

Just a warning to parents out there: make sure you know what you're kids are up to online.

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

Wednesday, June 11

Labor Investigation Update

A few months ago I wrote about a U.S. Department of Labor Investigation into the City of Saratoga Springs (I'm not providing a link, of course, because the article appears to have been purged from our website). The long and the short of it is that the DOL sent the city a letter requesting a slew of payroll data, which the city government had to run around and collect.

At the time, Leo (I didn't write down his last name when I first talked to him, and, of course, I can't find the story, so we're going with "Leo"), who is a DOL spokesperson, told me that he could neither confirm nor deny any investigation by the wages and hours division of the department.

Today, a DOL official who spoke to me only on background told me that the investigation is not a big deal and involves only a small number of employees and a couple hundred dollars. The investigation should be concluded in a few weeks, at which time I'll hopefully have more to report to you. In the mean time, it makes you wonder why the federal labor department was so interested in such a seemingly small infraction.

Tuesday, June 10

Tornadoes, Thunderstorms, and Heat Waves, Oh My!

It's really hot out. The heat makes me more lethargic than your average boa constrictor after it's just swallowed a goat whole. I hope I don't have to run from any tornadoes this afternoon, as I don't know how much get-up-and-go I have in me at the moment. Hopefully the hardworking men and women of National Grid's line crews are less lazy than me, as they have their work cut out for them with more than 1,000 customers in the county without service this afternoon.

Things could certainly be worse. Early today, I read an article about a village in China that engineers and soldiers flooded, in order to avoid a dam collapse upstream. Between that Earth quake, and the still unknown loss of life caused by that natural disaster, and the tsunami in southwest Asia, I suppose we really are lucky to *only* be sweating a bit more than normal.

All the same, I can't wait for temperatures to return to more tolerable levels.

Monday, June 9

Now, this should be fun....

FOR IMMEDIATE  RELEASE!!!               June 6, 2008



This Softball Challenge has been talked about since the first of this

The first game will take place at 6pm. between the Town Of Wilton DPW
vs. Saratoga Springs DPW…..





ANNUALLY.. which has been named the THE COMMUNITY CHALLENGE CUP!..
The loser, either the Mayor or Supervisor must attend a City Council or
Town Board Meeting…….



Keith Manz—Engineer
Scott Harrington—Building Department
Mark Mykins—Building Department
Sue Baldwin—Planning Department
Jeff Reale—Comptroller
Mike Mooney—Water Department
Mark Mosher—Water Department
Scott Duffy—Water Department
Kate Maynard—Planning Department

Gary Hasbrouck—Planning
Terry Anthony—Building Inspector
Carrie Fisher—Clerk
John King—Recreation Maintenance Supervisor
Tom Porto—Recreation Maintenance
Art Johnson—Town Supervisor
Ray O’Connor—Assistant Town Supervisor
Mike Dobis—Planning Board Chairman
Ray Steady—Recreation Maintenance
Roy McDonald, Assemblyman
Steve Porto—Recreation Director


Scott Johnson-Mayor
Ken Ivins, Commissioner of Finance
John Franck, Commissioner of Accounts
Joe Scala, City Attorney
Matt Veitch, Town Supervisor
Jim Tedesco, Assemblyman
Derrick Legall, Chair, Recreation Commission
Gerard Hawthorn, Recreation Commission
Dave Spingarn, Recreation Commission
Phonsey Lambert—Baseball Coordinator
Paul Mound—Baseball Coordinator
Rob DiFusco—Recreation Program Supervisor
Paul Male, City Engineer
Brad Birge—Executive Director Planning and Community Development
Jackie Hakes, City Planner
Jeffrey Mound—Camp Saradac Counselor/Baseball Assistant
Russ Faden, Police Officer
Rich Arpey, Police Officer
Pat Arpey, Police Officer
Justin Ahigan, Police Officer
Kathy Lanfear, Recreation Office Manager
Linda Terricola, Recreation Director

Friday, June 6

Healthy Transportation, or lack there of

I had occasion to visit the Maple Avenue Middle School this morning. Since the school is less than a mile from my apartment off of North Broadway, and since I generally ride my bike everywhere, I rode my bike to the school.

The map of Saratoga Springs shows that North Broadway, when it ends just beyond the entrance to Skidmore, turns into a dirt road, which then continues straight through to the school. So that seemed easy enough, certainly easier than riding around to Route 9, so I off I went.

Unfortunately, the dirt road was more like a path, which was a slightly challenging ride on my street-worthy commuter bike, but regardless, I made it without any drama and rolled up to the school.

Maybe it was naive of me, but I assumed schools and bike racks of me where synonymous. Lo and behold, there was nary a bike rack to be found at the school. I would up riding around to the back of the school, where I locked my ride up to a standpipe, and proceeded on to my work.

But I'll ask you this: in this suburban town, are we really so afraid for our children that we won't allow them the age-old right of riding a bike to school? Sure seems like it to me.

Thursday, June 5

Dischordant Music?

The details in this blog post are sketchy at best. This morning, a man called the newspaper and identified himself as being charged with coordinating the concerts in Congress Park. (I'm withholding his name.) He spoke to one of our editors, and was asking a lot about the city's $4 million surplus, which we reported last month.

Finally, the editor asked why he wanted to know, and he told us that the city was either with holding, not providing, didn't have, or in some other way wouldn't supply (I told you details were sketchy) $7,800 needed to pay for the summer concert series.

I was out of the office when the call came in, so the editor took a message, and left me a note. Efforts to contact this person via phone and email to ascertain further details about the funds went unanswered. So I called the visitor center, which oversees the concerts. The woman at the desk differed comment to Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton.

When I got Sutton on the phone, her remark was "I"m not going to have this conversation with you." OK...

Thing is, if she'd said "There's no problem, we just changed the program," or some such similar thing, I probably would have believed her, especially since I couldn't get in touch with the original caller, but now it seems like something else is afoot.

However, there are some concerts scheduled for Congress Park this summer, so it seems that the series is planned. Of course, that doesn't mean it will happen as planned. I suppose we'll see what develops.

Wednesday, June 4

Green food for thought

At last night's epic City Council meeting there was a lot of talk about "green" buildings and green space. As far as I can tell, we're talking about two separate concepts here. "Green" buildings aren't green in color (or they don't have to be), instead they're supposed to be more sustainable. On the other hand, green space -- I think -- refers to grass, or wooded areas.

Given that distinction, I just want to point out that green space is not necessarily "green." For instance, the green space referred to as the south side rec. field is green in color, but is not really sustainable, as the lawn requires mowing, possibly some fertilizer, water for irrigation, and fence maintenance -- albeit less maintenance than a building will require.

Regardless, I think it's important that we all keep our "green" separate from our green.

Tuesday, June 3

More on public safety

Although there were probably more people at tonight's council meeting to hear the proposal for the indoor recreation facility, I spend the bulk of my work day (now going on 11 hours, though that pales in comparison to the day the council will put in by the time they go home tonight), working on stories about the public safety building.

I spoke to Commissioners Skip Scirocco, Kenneth Ivins, and John Franck this afternoon to feel out their positions on both proposed facilities, and because of tight space in tomorrow's paper, none of the material I collected from those interviews will make it to print, so I'll offer you their comments here. (I also reserve the right to recycle these quotes for print publication at a later date.) I couldn't get in touch with Mayor Johnson to get a feel for his position, and I think Commissioner Kim's position should be more than clear to anyone who reads this blog.

John P. Franck, commissioner of Accounts

Public Safety building:

“I’d like to be open minded, and see what they present tonight, but my inclination is that we still need to renovate the existing building, and it’s going to be costly.

I have a problem with the $8 million. I think that’s too much, I voted against the budget for that reason. I’ve never been in favor of the new building. You still have to renovate the old part, and I’d like to know what the cost is.”

Rec. Center:

“My biggest concern about the rec. center is mass and scale, but I haven’t heard anything about that. It would seem to me that basketball courts are the main thing that is needed. I’d like to see the plans first. It comes down to the cost.”

Skip Scirocco, commissioner of Public Works

Public Safety building and rec. center:

"At this particular time, it’ll take some time to think about what’s been presented and some concerns. I’m not familiar with either set of plans.

Still a clear need for a public safety facility. It comes down to what we need to pay, versus what we’re getting, and what the tax payers are willing to come up with from their pockets.

I know there’s the 8 million that we’re being taxed on, so there is something to work with. I haven’t heard any number. I’m waiting patiently to see what proposed.

I know they bonded for the rec. center, but I need to take a look to see what we’re getting for the money. I know there are concerns about the location, so maybe we need to do a little more outreach. Maybe there needs to be more information. Maybe what happens tonight will clear up some of the concerns."

Kenneth Ivins Jr., commissioner of Finance:

Public safety building and rec. Center:

"I’m looking forward to see what both are coming through with. I’m told the changes made to the rec center made have been in response to public concerns, and I'm eager to see where that stands.

As far as Public Safety, I’m hoping to hear a complete set of numbers on building, furniture, energy, maintenance.

If we’re looking at $8.5 or $9 million, that’s one thing, but if it’s 15 or 20, that’s a lot. A little over is no big deal, but a big increase could raise property taxes.

My entire focus has been the cost involved, and how we’re going to pay for. Hopefully we'll find some outside money, other than property tax. I’ll be interested to some of our state representatives, to see what else is involved. Someone mentioned making it 'green,' and if there is money to make that happen, it would be a win-win."

Monday, June 2

Seeking truth tellers:

Below you'll find one of my stories from Tuesday's paper. It doesn't smell like the whole truth to me, but given the sensitivity of certain issues, I haven't been able to confirm any of the myriad rumors flying around. If you know more about this and want to speak to me, please call 583-8729, x219, or email me at

Dispute disrupts work in DPW
The Saratogian
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The sudden retirement last week of the long-tenured Public Works office manager leaves no one else in the department allowed under Civil Service rules to take over processing payroll for its employees.
As a result, Public Works Commission Skip Scirocco will ask his colleagues on the City Council tonight to approve a measure to allow another employee to temporarily work out of title to handle the payroll function until the position is filled. The payroll is typically handled by a senior accounts clerk, which draws a higher pay than other positions.
Asked why she was retiring the clerk, Joanne Carlow, said: "I’ve been there 30 years, and I’m old enough to retire."
She said her retirement was not connected to a fight that occurred in the department’s office in late May.
Scirocco said the physical fight, between two female employees of the Public Works Department, will be resolved through mediation.
Still, even if there have been some bumps along the way, Scirocco said his first five months in office have been smooth.
"For the most part, everybody is stepping up to the plate and doing their job. I’m excited with the progress we’ve made," he said.

Sunday, June 1

Presentation to highlight City Council

Anyone who wants a seat -- or a spot to stand -- in the Council chamber on Tuesday should plan to arrive early. Two highly-anticipated presentations planned for the beginning of the meeting should steal the show at the first meeting in June.

The first will introduce the public to the recreation facility proposed for the South Side Rec. We will finally find out if this facility will be as large as neighbors fear, and what we're gaining by loosing some green space in the heart of the city. This issue has been a hot topic as of late, and will surely draw a large crowd.

The second is a similar presentation on the proposed Public Safety building. It's been a few months since this building was last in the headlines, so it should be interested to see how the public and Council receive the plans. Will it be a castle as some say? Do the architects think they can deliver it for the alloted $8 million?

The answers to these questions and many more on Tuesday, at 7 p.m. in the City Council room.