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

Wednesday, August 27

Reports from Denver

Local political observe David Brauner called me early this morning to register his distaste for yesterday's coverage of the Democratic National Convention. In case you missed it, we had two stories, both on Page 1A, relating to the convention. One announced a public party to watch Obama's presumed acceptance of the nomination, on Thursday evening. The other article discussed local impressions of the convention. Of course, I assured Mr. Brauner that next week we will have equal coverage of the GOP convetnion. As one GOP member headed to St. Louis for the convention said to me today, "This is their week, next week is our week." Well put.

In anyevent, in case Mr. Brauner would like something to call me about tomorrow, here are some impressions from the ground in Denver, courtesy of Hillary delegate/Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim.

"This has been quite an event so far."

"I thought Hillary’s speech was perfect. I thought she struck the right the note for unity in the party."

"Kennedy was very moving. I was never such a huge fan of Ted Kennedy, but I also didn’t know of all the things he did, like medicare and medicade. It was well received by the attendees here."

"Part of the problem they have here is that there is so much press, that there’s not enough room for delegates, alternates and their guests."

"Security is tight, and I’ve been getting to events very early to make sure I get a seat."

"I’m looking forward to tomorrow night, when Obama accepts the nomination."

Tuesday, August 26

Anonymous DPW tips

Waaayyy back in June, I received an anonymous tip that members of the DPW Flower Crew were accumulating massive amounts of overtime. I proceeded to file Freedom of Information Law requests to acquire the time cards for the flower crew for the months of May and June. The city dragged its feet on filling my request, but I finally recieved the documents last week.

It turned out that during the week of June 8, five DPW employees acrued between 5 and 17.5 hours over time. This did seem suspicious, until I realized what was going on that week.

Saturday June 14, the last day in the pay period for that week, was the city's Flag Day Parade, wich closed Broadway for several hours. DPW crews were invovled in set up and clean up after the event, so the overtime was warranted.

In addition, Commissioner of Public Works Skip Scirocco told me that during the same period in 2007 DPW employeed 17 people to do work now handled by six. So, while the overtime during that week was high, chances are there was was an overall savings accumulated by not having the 11 extra employees working.

There was other overtime accumulated in late spring/early summer, but not more than a few hours here and there, certainly in line with the need to water the flowers that appear to be an important point of pride to Saratogians.

So that is the long-awaited answer.

Monday, August 25

All quiet on the city desk

It's August. It's hot out. The Travers just happened, and now the city needs to recover. There's no Planning Board meeting this week.

Whatever the reason, it was absolutely dead here on the City Desk today. Not a peep out of City Hall. I did, at one point, talk to a secretary about when the Council's next agenda meeting will be (since city Government is closed for the holiday on Monday), but that was about it. No matter, I had the chance to do some features writing, and some time working on stories to come up down the line, and that's never a bad thing.

Unfortunately, I also arrived early this morning, with a mind to attend a DEC hearing about an oil spill in DPW garage way back in 2007. Then the hearing was postponed. No word yet on why the hearing was postponed, but of course, I will dully report back when I have news on the front. I hope this city shakes of its lethargy soon, I need something to do!

Sunday, August 24

Nothing doing here...

Nothing doing today. Instead, I'll return you to Thursday's post about an upcoming DEC hearing.

Thursday, August 21

DEC considers fines

I didn't get myself together to put anything in the paper on this, but the reading public ought to know that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will hold a hearing on Monday morning, at which it will consider levying fines against the city for a 2007 hydraulic oil spill.

The spill, which was recently recounted over at isaratoga, was claimed to be only one of many spills that occurred under the watch of former Commissioner Thomas McTygue. A lengthy DEC investigation ensued, and now, a year and a half later, the city is still feeling the fall out. And by "feeling the fall out," I mean, paying to clean up the mess.

At the least, the city will pay the law firm Harris Beach a rate of $250 per hour, up to $10,000, to represent the city in this matter. This expenditure was approved during an executive session at the last City Council meeting. At the worst, this could cost the city much more. The DEC is reportedly considering levying fines against the city, which could be anywhere from $200,000 to $1 million.

Why did the original spill occur in the first place? Your guess is as good as mine, but one thing is certain, the city government's turning a blind eye to the spill (or attempting to) has come back to bite us in the ass.

Look for updates following Monday's hearing. Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, August 20

New green spaces

The former Getty gas station at South Broadway and Rt. 50

A story I published in Wednesday's paper sparked an interesting discussion in the newsroom this afternoon. I wrote that, once demolished, the city might consider purchasing the land currently occupied by an abandoned gas station at the intersection of Rt. 50 and South Broadway. The city would reportedly use the lot as a "pocket park." But I should note that any intention the city has or does not have to purchase the land is, at this point, purely speculative. But it does raise some questions.

Should the city use public funds to buy a parcel of land, less than one acre, for any purpose? Is it worth buying land that, given its commercial surroundings, is unlikely to be used for recreation? Is purchasing the land worthwhile, just to have a little green in an otherwise urban area? On the other hand, if, once the danger to public safety is mitigated, would it be better to allow the private Crowne Oil corporation to continue holding the land?

And, if the city does by the land, should there be one bench or two in the park?

Mayor Scot Johnson is holding his intentions regarding the property close to his chest, although he has acknowledged that there are contemplations in City Hall about purchasing the lot. Me, I think a little green in the city is always a nice thing, but I do worry that a green park at that intersection might become clogged with Dunkin Donut coffee cups and napkins, so as to no longer be so green.


Tuesday, August 19

What, no fair?

At the bequest of my fellow blogger, BikeSnobNYC, I've posted the above PSA, in hopes that will inspire some of my readers to leave the cell phone where it belongs while driving: in your pocket.
Just for the record, this PSA has no particular relevance to any recent events in the city -- at least, none that I know of -- but I figured that a reminder about the danger of yakking on the phone while driving never hurts.

Anyway, I thought I'd take this opportunity to point out that only 51% of respondents to a recent Saratogian web poll, said they would be attending the Washington County Fair. What's the deal people?! Everyone knows that Washington County Fair is the best county fair east of the Hudson. And best of all, when you're done eating sausage-and-pepper sandwiches, pulled pork, and whatever else they serve at county fairs, you can venture down the road to the Ice Cream Man (formerly Mann) for some of the best ice cream in upstate New York.

Is it county pride? Do we only attend our own fair?
Is complacency?
Or are we just to busy gambling on the horses?

I'd appreciate any insights you've got.

Monday, August 18

Good Government, Democrats in Action

You know that feeling? When you get back from a vacation and immediately feel like you need another one to recover from the first? I'm so there. I know, I know... boo hoo...

Anyhow, I found myself wondering, while sitting in the agenda meeting for Tuesday's City Council meeting this morning, why Commissioner Franck and Commissioner Kim (and their respective posses) seem so intent on fighting with each other.

Today, in Franck's absence, it was Deputy Commissioner Michele Boxley who was giving Kim the fifth degree for apparently stepping outside of established policy on Requests for Proposals. Kim was uncharacteristically calm in his response, which was essentially just to say that he hadn't asked for any new proposals, or any changes to existing RFPs, merely an inquiry about whether or not several applicants were still interested in working on a comprehensive public safety facility/parking garage, after the proposals were killed back in 2007.

I'm not intimately acquainted with the city policy in this area, but I have to imagine that Boxley wouldn't have brought it up without a good reason. However, in this new era of cooperation that was breezing its way in to City Hall in the days leading up to my vacation, I thought we'd put all of that behind us. You'd think, that if there was a problem with city policy, it would be in the interests of the two Democrats on the City Council to handle it quietly, outside of the public eye, rather than continuing an open feud in public.

But, as we know, the city Democrats are more interested in fighting amongst themselves than in uniting to accomplish anything.

Sunday, August 17

Kicking and screaming, I'm back!

It's not that I don't love me job. I do. It's just that I love vacation so much more. Can you blame me? I mean, who doesn't love a week away from work?

Unfortunately for me, I missed what turned out to be a very exciting news week. First we had County Supervisor loosing an appeal to get on the ballot in the race for state senate, and subsequently leaving the race. Then we had James Wiley plead guilty to sodomizing a 16-year old boy. Wiley, the uncle of previously convicted Douglas Conrad, will be going off to state prison for a little while, and will have a hard time finding a place to live upon his return, all of which is what happens to child molesters.

Of course, I would have loved to have covered these stories, but so it goes. Many thanks to my co-workers Paul Post and Neil Kirby for picking up the slack while both myself and county reporter Ann Marie French were on vacation.

Now back to full strength, we're ready to bring you news of the world. Look for more exciting stories upon the start of the regular work week, and enjoy the nice weather!

Sunday, August 10

This just in: I'm out!

After months of tireless work since starting this job way back in November, I've decided it's time for a break. To that end, I'll be on vacation starting once I leave the office at the end of the day today. I'll be back next Sunday.

While you all are here, trying to avoid the masses of tourists on Broadway and trying to stay cool in the heat or dry in the rain, I'll be... doing the same thing. But, I'll get to wear more comfortable clothes than I usually get to!

In my absence, please focus your attention on The Saratogian's print and online editions. Mix in some snark, the occasional unedited press release, and you've got a ready-made Bernstein blog.

Have a great week, I'll see you on August 17 (and not a moment before!).

Thursday, August 7

Russo Endorsements

Still no word on Yepsen's Senate bid, but is this a clue? ...

Russo picks up two more endorsements in his bid for the NYS 43rd Senatorial Seat

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim and City of Rensselaer Common Council President Charles Hall are the latest to endorse

Troy, NY – Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim has announced his endorsement and support for Mike Russo in his bid for the NYS State Senate. In making his endorsement, Commissioner Kim stated “I have known Mike Russo for some time. He has a unique ability to listen and find solutions to the problems facing middle class New Yorkers. At a time when a different type of Senator is needed in the New York Legislature, I am confident that Mike Russo will be that type of Senator.” Kim added: “Mike has been very supportive of my efforts to upgrade the City of Saratoga Springs’ long neglected Police Station, and I look forward to that continued support when he is elected to the State Senate.”

In his statement of support, Rensselaer Common Council President Charles Hall said: “I know Mike has a wealth of experience as a leader and advocate; his experience and vision of the future for Rensselaer and Saratoga Counties will serve us well.”

In accepting the endorsements, Mike stated: “Both Ron and Charles are highly respected public officials and tireless advocates on behalf of the people, I genuinely appreciate their support and look forward to their guidance throughout the campaign.”

The two latest endorsements bring Russo’s list of major endorsements to 23 since he entered the race on July 14th.

Wednesday, August 6

A glimmer of hope?

No, still no sight of the documents still not afforded to me by City Hall, although I haven't had a time to call the City Attorney's office in a few days.

More interesting than that, it seems that there might be a kernel of cooperation growing like an olive tree among the members of the city council.

At Tuesday night's meeting, even after being told by Commissioner of Accounts John Franck that the current proposal was dead, Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim acknowledged that the "comprehensive" approach to the building, which would incorporate courts, and perhaps parking, was worth considering. He even acknowledged that he was ready to look at creative financing solutions that might bring in private development dollars.

In fact, Kim furnished to me earlier today a letter dated July 30 in which he makes overtures to Mayor Johnson on the very topic. Both said at Tuesday's meeting that they will meet on the matter.

Still, Kim maintains that the ongoing design process should not be interrupted. "The designers have said that a critical time is in October, so we can look a different design now, but we need to move quickly," Kim said to me earlier today.

Perhaps, with a little cooperation, Kim will be able to get the council, which has been unwilling to approve spending money on the project in recent month, to get something to happen, and quickly.

Mayor Scott Johnson appears to have also made strides. The man who ran on a platform of returning civility to the council seemed to be on the verge of loosing control at recent meetings. But he kept last night's meeting moving ahead smoothly, and seemingly with all tempers controlled.

Tuesday, August 5

Yepsen to decide on appeal

A lengthy executive session at tonight's City Council meeting allowed plenty of time for a conference between former Mayor Val Keehn, Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Eileen Finneran, and County Supervisor Joanne Yepsen.

The subject? Well, we can't be certain, but it seems likely that the threesome was discussing the fate of Yepsen's bid for State Senate. On Monday, objections against nearly a third of signatures collected by Yepsen's campaign during the petition process were upheld by the state election's commission. She had three days to decide if she would take her case to an appeals court to appeal the decision.

As the council returned from the executive session, Yepsen whispered to me that she will meet with her election lawyers on Wednesday, and they will determine whether or not they think there is a case to be made. If there is, she said she would file the case tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 4

City Hall out of compliance: Open Government?

This is the story that I've been holding out on for a couple weeks, but I've finally lost my patience. Back in June, I requested two sets of documents pertaining to hours worked by city employees in various departments during various time periods. Both sets of documents were requested under the Freedom of Information Law, which requires municipalities to make some documents available.
In Saratoga Springs, FOIL requests are submitted to the City Attorney's office. The City Attorney then makes a determination on whether or not the material is releasable. If so, his office finds the missing information and submits it to the person requesting it, me in this case.

I now have to letters on my desk, one dated June 18 and signed by the City Attorney, which states:

"This is to acknowledge your Freedom of Information Law request on even date herewith. This office has forwarded your recent request for records to the approrpriate departments.
You may reasonably expect a response within the next two weeks."

Hmm... Seems to me it's been a bit longer than two weeks. Let's go to the next letter.

This one is dated June 12, also signed by the City Attorney:

"Any documents that would be responsive to this request should be forthcoming within the next three (3) weeks."


Of course, I have been in contact with the City Attorney's office on this matter, I believe that they are working to collect the documents I requested. I also spoke with the head of the department in question, shortly after submitting the original request, who indicated that there would not be a problem with releasing the information. However, it should not be taking this long.

The ongoing fight over these documents leads me to believe that either there is something interesting contained in what I've requested, and the department in question is working to suppress the information, or City Hall believes that if they delay long enough, I'll simply forget about my requests. Fat chance of that happening.

According to the New York Public Officer's law, under which FOIL requests fall, The Saratogian has recourse to bring suit against the city, but of course, I'd rather not bother with that. I'd be satisfied just to have my documents.

One thing is certain, City Hall is not working as hard as it should be to minimize the tax payer's legal liability if they are letting FOIL requests spoil to the point of possible suit, and no tax payer should be satisfied with that, to say nothing of the ramifications on this administration's stance on open government. Or should I saw closed government?

Friday, August 1

Abandoned couch for sale

Anyone with $20 in their pocket can have a brand-new used couch. Just hand me the cash and go pick it up. I've been storing it out front of 108 Grand Ave. for the past couple weeks. It might be missing a few cushions. It might be a little soggy after this week's rain. Other than that, it's good to go. It will fit with perfect elegance into the benign ambiance of a doctor's office just as easily as into the beer-fueled mayhem of a college party house. And the price can't be beat.

OK. You got me. The couch is free. Just go pick it up, it's been an eyesore on Grand Ave. for the past couple weeks, and I'm just plain sick of it.

Have a nice weekend, see you on Monday.