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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, October 29

Voting early

I'm completely bereft of local ideas for the blog tonight, so instead I'll direct you to this national story by the New York Times. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 28

City Hall steps

We've received word that two bronze lions will return, after a multi-year hiatus, to city hall's steps tomorrow at 1 p.m. The project to rebuild City Hall's steps began in April, and was slated to be complete by mid-July, before track season started.

Better late than never I suppose.

One interesting point, scuttlebutt around the office is that the treads on the new steps look mighty shallow, and that they might be difficult to walk up. While I'm now architect, the step look deep enough to me. I'm hoping that I'll have a chance to test the new steps out tomorrow and offer a first-hand account of how the city's newest infrastructure performs.

Also, I'm looking forward to reporting tomorrow the project's total cost.

Monday, October 27

Family court judge race -- in cyber space...

For the second day in a row I'll write about a county-wide issue.

The proprietor of a f/k/a, a retired attorney from Schenectady, wrote us to alert us to the fact that Democratic candidate for Family Court Judge Kurt Mausert has been very active in comments on a recent post. David, the blog's author feels that the ongoing campaigning is indicative of Mausert's character. Decide for yourself.

Sunday, October 26

$$ MONEY. It's a gas. $$

First of all, I found a very interesting article in yesterday's Times Union. Apparently, the race for New York's 20th Congressional District has become the most expensive campaign in the nation.

Apparently, the two candidates spent a total of $7.5 million by Sept. 30. And just think, the two candidates (incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand, D-Hudson, and challenger Sandy Treadwell, R,I,C, Lake Placid), have spent a bunch of that money on negative TV spots.

It's a bit much to get into a blog post, but I for one feel that a major overhaul of the electoral system is needed to A: ensure that people who are paid to be legislating are doing so, and not spending inordinate time campaigning (this applies mostly to presidential candidates in both parties), and B: ensure that untold millions are not wasted on campaigns that could be run for less.

I feel especially passionately about this in light of our current economic situation. The same article in the TU says that all-told, this year's elections for national seats will be around $5.3 billion. That's "Billion," with a "B." Think how much good that money could do for people struggling to get by as their homes are foreclosed and industry lays off workers. Just a thought.

In other money news, Mayor Johnson's proposed indoor recreation center continues to smolder in the background as the City Council puts together its budget for 2009. I hear an interesting segment on NPR's money-related radio show Market Place today. A financial expert taking caller's questions was given the following question (this is a paraphrase):

"When voting, I'm going to be asked to vote on several bonding resolutions. Given the economy, should I support my local government spending money?"

The answer was essentially this: Municipalities undertaking capital projects can be a good way to stimulate the local economy in the short-term by putting contractors to work, and can be good for community morale. And, communities boring money can be good for the overall economy, because it ensures movement in the economy and prevents stagnation. IF the project is a good one that will benefit the community, you should consider supporting the resolutions.

While we don't get to vote on individual bond resolutions in this city, and even without knowing who the financial expert giving this answer was, I felt it was a germane point in the ongoing rec-center saga. I was hoping to provide a link to a pod cast of the show, but it has not yet been posted. I will try to post one in the near future.

Thursday, October 23

New revenue?

Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Ivins Jr. is holding a press conference Friday afternoon to announce a new source of revenue for the city. He wouldn't hint at what that new source would be, and he wouldn't say how much money it would bring in, but in these times of hardship, I think it's safe to say that the whole city is eagerly awaiting his news.

Wednesday, October 22

Affordable housing?

I've just finished writing about what may have been the shortest city Planning Board I've ever been to. I was back in the office by 8:45. Usually, the meeting is still on its first or second item at that time. To say that I was happy to be able to attend the entire meeting, rather than leaving halfway through, would be a huge understatement. Ecstatic is more like it.

However, this brief agenda came as a result of the continued delay on the Rail Road Place PUD, which developer Gary Olsen says will included affordable homes in a vacant lot behind the Ballston Avenue Price Chopper plaza. The project is large, and requires an action from the City Council before it can go forward. The council asked the Planning Board for an advisory opinion, and after numerous lengthy public hearings, the board has yet to render a decision.

The last time the project came up, some months ago, there were still a few items the board wanted clarified before taking a vote. I thought we might see some action at tonight's meeting, but the item was pulled. Hopefully we'll have some news about this proposal soon, but I'm not going to hold my breath. In the mean time, I'm just going to enjoy the early evening.

Tuesday, October 21

Moments of panic

In the short time that I’ve been covering the City Council here in Saratoga Springs, it seems that there is never an ordinary council meeting. Out of all of them, tonight’s presentation on police overtime by Chief Ed Moore might take the cake.

The bottom line, as told by Moore, is that if the city does not hire additional officers, we will continue to incur overtime expenses in an effort to maintain minimum levels needed to keep the city safe. This is a point that was well taken by the crowd at the council meeting, and really, it’s an important point, and certainly a pertinent one for the chief of police to make to the council.

The odd bit came when, about halfway through the presentation Moore played a few minutes of a recording from Sept. 5, 2007, when Seth Dawson used a razor blade to slice Officer Adam Baker’s throat. The recording, which elicited a visible response from several members of the City Council and members of the audience, followed Baker’s attempt to apprehend the man who had left Four Winds, then the frantic call from a backup officer saying that Baker’s throat had been cut and calling for an ambulance. The recording continued as numerous other officers were called in to help secure the scene, the perpetrator, and Baker’s life.

In many ways, hearing the recording was similar to watching video of people jumping from the burning World Trade Center on 9/11/2001. Everyone in the audience knew what was coming as soon as the slide showing Four Winds went up on the screen. You knew it was going to be painful, and yet, like a car wreck on the Northway, you couldn’t close your ears, even as your stomach tightened and the voices calling for a medivac helicopter crackled into the council chamber.

Baker lived, and I think the whole city is grateful for that. Moore credited the quick actions of his fellow officers and other emergency services for saving their life.

Moore’s stated point in playing the audio clip was to illustrate how much manpower is required in an instance such as that, and how easily paying out overtime can become a necessity. He captured the audience’s attention during those few minutes of audio, and in doing so, I think he also brought home the point that police put their lives on the line in their daily work, and without them, the city would likely be a more dangerous place. It would have been a good note on which to end the presentation, unfortunately, the slides continued for another 90 minutes, by which time the point had long-since been forgotten.

Monday, October 20

It's good to be back

Today marks the first day that I've spent my entire shift back at the City Desk since I switched over to the night desk a month ago. I have to say, it's good to be back, even if some of the folks over in City Hall pretended to have forgot who I was...

I'm going to hold off on any new revelations here tonight, in anticipation of some fireworks during the one-and-a-quarter hour public hearing scheduled to address various matters before the city council meeting begins at 7 p.m. It should be quite the evening... Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 19

Treadwell reviews 'W'

I can't afford to go to the movies, so I was relieved to receive in my email this morning a Sandy Treadwell's review of Oliver Stone's "W," the biopic on George W. Bush which hit theaters last Friday. It's been a little while since I've blogged about Treadwell's campaign. And since a slew of negative, derogatory comments made me lose my enthusiasm for the short-lived 20th District blog, I've not even though of posting a press release, but I thought Treadwell's review of "W" would be of interest, so it's pasted below. In case you're wondering, Treadwell purports to review the film, but in actuality, he is reviewing -- care to venture a guess? -- his 20th congressional district opponant, Kirsten Gillibrand.

One question to ponder: how can one review a film that one has "absolutely no intention of seeing"?

Treadwell Reviews “W” by Oliver Stone:

Two “Huge” Thumbs Down

Halfmoon, NY: The following is a review from Sandy Treadwell on the movie “W.”

Oliver Stone’s “W” opened in theaters across America on Friday and I have absolutely no intention of seeing it.

But courtesy of my opponent, I have seen so much of my picture with President Bush over the past several weeks that you might think I have a starring role in the movie. Let me assure you I don’t – no more than Kirsten Gillibrand has a starring role in the upcoming film based on the life, times and accounting malpractices of Charlie Rangel.

I like most of America have seen enough of “W.”

The past several years have indeed produced an epic, but it has unfortunately the real story has proven to be a flop. Too many mistakes in Iraq, bungling the response to Katrina, and a crisis on Wall Street have left American’s ready for a new storyline and a new cast.

And while much has been made of Josh Bolin’s performance as “W,” the real-life supporting cast was imported straight from the sets of “Heaven’s Gate,” “Hudson Hawk,” and “Cutthroat Island.” The result is a federal government that is over budget, overwrought and overly partisan.

For the past two years, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have headed up that cast and yet they just don’t get the billing they deserve. Their policies and their lack of leadership have contributed to an economy that has gone wildly off the rails over the last two years, their two years - not the last 8.

To paraphrase an underrated actor and one of our greatest Presidents, “Are you better off than you were two years ago?” The answer is a clear and resounding no.

Like my opponent Kirsten Gillibrand, “W”’s supporting cast will try and hide behind the star, blame their failure on his failure and take no responsibility for their own poor performance.

Good movies, good campaigns and good government require strong leadership and an excellent supporting cast. They are successful when people check their egos and work together to achieve greatness but that requires a spirit of cooperation that has been sorely missing in Washington for quite some time now.

So I hope “W” goes quickly to DVD and we get back to making movies and a future American can believe in again. And eight years from now I can review another movie; one that Oliver Stone won’t have an interest in making. But I’m looking forward to “Mac and Me 2” and hope I have the honor of playing a supporting role.”

Thursday, October 16

Overtime debate

You will read in Friday's Saratogian that business leaders are concerned that a reduction in the overtime budget will have a detrimental effect on long-running and popular events such as Hats Off!, First Night and the Victorian Streetwalk. Each of these events, as well as several others, rely on some level of police and DPW support, which, in the past, has been paid for by the city. To make up for the gap in funding, events requiring support, may now be forced to come up with the money themselves.

Some in the city, including Horatio over at iSaratoga, have been quick to point out that the city could hire additional full-time employees for the same price as paying out more overtime. While this is a fair criticism, I just want to point out that according to Chief of Police Ed Moore, it takes about one year -- from the time a potential officer applies for the job, to the extensive background check they must undergo, months at the training academy, and on-the-job training -- to get a new police officer on the street.

So, even if the council were to approve new personnel lines in the Police Department, a move that seems unlikely at best, given that 24 positions have been eliminated in the proposed budget, the city would still likely need to call on officers to work over time in 2009 while new officers are being trained.

Just wanted to throw that reality check out there before the Ed Moore/Ron Kim bashing begins in earnest.

Wednesday, October 15

So tired...

This night desk business is really taking the wind out of my sails. Fortunately, after tonight, I've only got two more nights on the desk, and I can then return to my normal schedule. And not a moment too soon.

Anyhow, I don't have much to say tonight. In fact, I'm completely bereft of anything to write here right now. So instead, I'll give a tease for something you'll see either here or in the paper in the next few days.

Without tipping my hand too much, I thought you all would like to know that God is speaking to a man in Saratoga Springs. Check back for details.

Tuesday, October 14

Skeletons in the closet

*Edited 10/15: The amendment to the capital budget, which requires a 4/5 supramajority, was not passed at Tuesday's meeting. The press releases was likely issued in frustration. Please excuse the error.

First of all, I want to apologize for neglecting to let you all know that I was going to be out of town yesterday, and thus not updating my blog. Sorry. I'm back now, and will posting for the remainder of the week through Friday.

Imagine my surprise that in this time of debate over the recreation center and the proposed 2009 budget, Mayor Johnson would dredge up yet another bone of contention to wedge between the divided council.

This issue goes back to last winter, when the city's police department non-emergency phone line failed on a couple of occasions. At the time, Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim was quick to point out that money was already set aside to fix the problem, and accused Mayor Johnson of foot-dragging on the issue, stating that he already had a contractor in place to do the work, but was caught up in bureaucratic red tape.

I will admit that I was unaware of the significance of today's vote to amend the capital budget allocation for telephone upgrades in City Hall, but as you will read below, the amendment was passed in a 3-2 vote, with Kim and Commissioner of Public Works Skip Scirocco voting against the "comprehensive approach" that will reportedly address all of city hall's phones, and not just the police department.

To tax payers, the cost-savings Johnson says are associated with this move will likely be welcomed. It is also worth noting that this type of political-hit-via press-release is a new move for Johnson, who has previously stated that he prefers not to communicate with his fellow council members via the press. It remains to be seen whether or not this will be a new style for the mayor, or if it is a passing phase.



Better, Cheaper Project Rejected by Kim, Scirocco

The City telephone system is out-of-date, has limited utility, cannot be expanded and has proven to be a safety concern with respect to the Police Department phone lines. In order to alleviate these problems, Mayor Scott Johnson proposed today to consolidate some money from the 2009 Capital budget into this year’s Capital budget. The purpose? To improve communications with the public and now eliminate problems in the Police Station, Fire Stations, DPW garage and City Hall, while realizing significant savings over currently budgeted amounts.

Last month, the City Council unanimously adopted the recommendation of the Capital Budget Committee to spend $150,000 in 2009 on telecommunications upgrades, in addition to $170,000 that was allocated to that item and already passed by the last City Council, for 2008. The Capital Committee deemed this project the number one priority over all other capital projects.

Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton was able to realize significant cost savings by incorporating a comprehensive approach to the problem. As a result, the City would be expending $258,000, rather than the fully budgeted amount of $320,000. Additionally, savings of thousands of dollars were projected to continue for years into the future. The project would also allow redundancy in the system, along with a mobile emergency operations center, to provide coverage during power outages and other disasters, while also being portable for future transfer into a new Police Station.

Mayor Johnson and Commissioners Franck and Ivins voted in favor of reallocating the funds to this year’s budget, undertaking the project now and realizing significant savings. Commissioner Kim, who has been publicly complaining about problems with telephones in the Police Station for more than one year, voted against the project. Commissioner Scirocco also voted against the telephone system. Neither Commissioners offered an alternative solution or cost estimate, except that both noted vaguely that the Police Station system should be replaced, without addressing the remainder of the City’s needs.

The Mayor and Deputy Mayor expressed frustration at the gridlock that has frozen City Hall for too many years. Johnson stated, “It is unfortunate when public officials ignore problems that they themselves have complained about, in order to make political points. That is not service to this community, that is not leadership. Some on the Council, unfortunately, are continuing bad practices and preventing the City from moving forward”.

Sunday, October 12

Special council meeting

The City Council is set to convene for a special meeting at noon on Tuesday. A full hour is scheduled for the council to hear public comment on the proposed indoor recreation center. The council is set to vote on approving environmental reviews for the project at its next meeting, on Oct. 21. No vote is planned for Tuesday. Mayor Johnson scheduled this meeting after a public outpouring of reactions to the project — both for and against — at the last City Council meeting.

So, go out and be heard, Tuesday, at noon.

Thursday, October 9

Light in the distance...

Well, I've only got four more days of my night desk purgatory. After next Thursday, one week from today, I'll turn this task back over to my more-qualified colleagues, who will have, by then, returned from their vacations. And not a moment too soon.

The elections is just around the corner, and I think the first story I'll write upon my return to the city beat is on the true effect of the candidates' various TV ads. I'm thinking principally of the Treadwell/Gillibrand ads, in which the pair incessantly attack each other. If the average voter is anything like me, Gillibrand and Treadwell are more likely to end up with a pile of shattered TVs on their lawns than votes cast in their favor.

But I digress from the day's real story, and that, of course, is the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. The day of attonment concludes the week-long process during which the Torah is rolled back to the beginning, and, if you've behaved yourself, you start a new page in the big guy's book.

I'm not a practicing Jew, and therefore, I don't really believe that anyone upstairs is taking down names in a big book. But, I do believe in the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Let's all meditate on that this weekend, as we come screaming into the last few weeks of this elections season.

See you Sunday.

Wednesday, October 8

Improper use of city assetts

In an interesting wrinkle to the ongoing, impassioned debate over whether or not to build an indoor recreation center -- and where to build it, it has come to light that a city employee used a city email list in an attempt to drum up support for the pro-construction side of the debate. This was previously reported in The Saratogian.

It was not previously reported that the use of a city-controlled email list (set up to contact youth soccer coaches) constitutes a potential violation of the city's ethics code.

At least one citizen who received the email -- which encouraged coaches to bring children to Tuesday's meeting in a show of solidarity -- wrote to the mayor to voice his concerns. Mayor Johnson responded with a memorandum directed to the employee responsible for the original email (this was not Ric Dahlstrom, as previously reported, although he did use a personal email account to forward the original message).

Johnson's memorandum is pointed in its interpretation of this action: "I want to emphasize in the strongest possible terms that the City's Code of Ethics places limitations on the use of City property... While City employees enjoy the same rights as everyone else to express their personal opinions about public projects, the use of City property and City time to express and communicate those opinions must be regarded as improper and must not be repeated," he writes.

While no formal ethics complaint had been filed with the city's Board of Ethics as of Tuesday, Michael Arnush, a member of that body, said that any city resident can bring concerns to the board at any time.

Johnson did say on Wednesday that he thought the email had originally been sent only to members of the Recreation Commission, and that it had been distributed from there, perhaps inadvertently.

As for the original email's urging to "Please contact your constituents and have them attend this meeting. It will be even more helpful to bring a bunch of kids to pack the City Council Chamber as well," Johnson had this to say: "I don't think having children there is particularly relevant. It's more for effect than anything else. I expect that many of these adults have children, and stating that they have children has as much effect as bringing them along."

At past meetings, both sides of this debate have brought children along. In both cases, the children look like they would rather be just about anywhere else, and who can blame them. Improper or not, it's clear that the Recreation Department's email was effective. Most of the children present at Tuesday's meeting appeared to be on the pro-construction side of the debate, or at least, the appeared to belong to adults who were on that side of the debate.

Tuesday, October 7

Another week on the late shift

I've got a great blog post coming up. It was slated for tonight, but now it's nearly 11 p.m., and I've just finished by council stories, followed by putting together pages for tomorrow's paper, and I am left completely without energy to write any more. I'm sorry. You'll have to wait another day for this scintillating tidbit from the halls of City Hall. I hope you'll wait with baited breath...

Monday, October 6

Budget season

So, it's looking like tomorrow's City Council meeting is going to be one to remember. As I write this, Commissioner Ivins is sweating over his proposed 2009 budget, which will include numerous cuts.

Cuts are always a tough pill to swallow, especially in a town like Saratoga Springs, where we residents expect a lot of government services.

One drama that's sure to play out tomorrow and over the seven-ish weeks between now and when the council is required to pass a budget, on Nov. 30, is the commissioners and the Mayor arguing over whose department provides a more vital service. The Department of Public Works and the Department of Public Safety are the two largest departments, in terms of both number of employees and budget. Therefore, the two departments have the most to cut.

However, I think it's safe to assume that both Commissioner Scirocco and Commissioner Kim will argue that their department's employees are essential to the city's well-being (economic, safety, etc...). And, as far as I can tell, they both have a point. But, of course, we can't have it all, and one thing that voters ALWAYS want is the lowest tax raise possible.

Here's another wrinkle: in Saratoga, where we elect our government to two year terms, an election is always right around the corner, and nothing says "re-election" better than a low tax rate.

So, as I see it, we kick off budget season with a tug of war: On one side, Ken Ivins' desire to keep taxes low (to aide his possible re-election campaign AND to help out tax payers, many of whom need the help right now). On the other side, the desire on the part of the city to maintain -- and even expand -- city services.

We can't have it both ways, we'll have to wait and see who winds up in the mud pit first.

Friday, October 3

Happy Friday!

I'm all blogged out. I'll see you on Monday.

Thursday, October 2

Nelson Ave. Drainage

It seems that I can't open my mouth around here without pissing someone off. Lets try this:

It has not yet been reported that work, I believe done by Kubricki excavating, has begun to mitigate flooding along Nelson Ave., by the Saratoga Race Course. In the past, this stretch of road has flooded anytime residents in that section of the city watered their flower gardens.

Work began pretty much as soon as the track meet ended. I'm not sure how long it's slated to take, but it's slated to pause for the winter, and then resume again in the spring. The road has been wholly closed during the day, which usually makes work go faster.

Just thought you'd like to know.

Wednesday, October 1

Karam's motivation

As you'll read in Thursday's Saratogian, Joy Karam, Department of Public Works employee in the process of being sacked for stealing about $22,000, is one of about 100 property owners who have had a lien placed on their property, after failing to pay 2007 property and/or school taxes. While we still don't know what she was buying that was costing so much, it's clear that Karam was either in some kind of deep economic trouble, or she was into something very, very expensive.

Either way, we begin to get an insight into her motivation...