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

Sunday, November 30

Stay safe out there, please

I was fortunate enough to make the trip back to Saratoga from my family's gathering early this morning, before the roads became choked with holiday travelers. I had a little snow and slush to deal with on the roads -- and it was enough to send a black SUV into an 18-wheeler on the thruway in the neighborhood of exit 15, even at the early-morning hour that I drove through.

So, I hope this post finds everyone back from Thanksgiving well-rested, and safe.

As I write, it's snowing outside the newsroom windows, and I can't help but notice that I've not yet seen any DPW plows out spreading sand or salt (or a mixture thereof).

There is some concern, aired at recent council meetings that this will be a long, cold, and snowy winter, and although the council agreed to slide DPW an additional $120,000 at their last budget meeting last week, there is still a Grand Canyon-sized hole in the DPW budget, which could force the department to stretch things like ice-fighting commodities thinner than they are accustomed to doing.

While this is doubtless an unavoidable symptom of the time we're living in, I thought I would just take this opportunity -- the first appreciable snowfall in the city -- to make a plea: please drive and walk safe out there. I sincerly hope that I don't come back to the office in the morning to find a pile of police press releases about traffic accidents...

Wednesday, November 26


This may look different, but you are at the City Desk blog. It took a few weeks, but my blog finally got the new skin I was promised a few weeks ago, when we launched our latest web platform.

I'm excited that readers will now have the illusion that my blog is hosted on the Saratogian's own website, even if it is, in fact, still hosted by Blogger/Google.

In any event, although the look has changed, nothing else has. My ability to link to older posts has been temporarily interrupted, but don't worry, I'll get that straightened out (along with making the archives easier to navigate) in short order.

City Hall was still reeling from the months-long budget process today, with 2/5 of the city council checking out early for the holiday, so not too much to report.

In my estimation, Thanksgiving is the greatest of all holidays, and I hope everyone reading has a plan to spend tomorrow with loved ones. In reflecting on the past year, I am grateful for many things, not the least of which is that I was able to take the holiday off from work to spend the day with my family. County reporter Ann Marie French, whose family is more local than mine, volunteered to work over the holiday, and for that I am very grateful.

Eat a lot, give a lot, enjoy, and I'll see you on Sunday.

Tuesday, November 25

When the DPW comes to town

This tidbit didn't make it into my story in Wednesday's Saratogian, but I thought readers would be interested to hear that Mayor Scott Johnson very nearly ejected a member of the audience from Tuesday's meeting.

While discussing the 2009 budget, including possible cuts to the labor line in the department of public works, several DPW employees (who packed the meeting) got involved in the meeting in the usual way: applauding and cheering for their boss when he placed blame on other council members and spoke out against cuts.

Some of the audience members got even a little more involved, calling things out, even as the council was attempting to work, and even offering Johnson the keys to the trucks, apparently so that he could better understand why their services were important.

So, Johnson was getting visibly perturbed that the council's work was getting interrupted, so he asked for quiet. He asked for quiet again, and still there were out bursts.

Finally, there was only one member of the audience calling things out, and Johnson asked him again to be quiet. Then said, "I could have you removed."

I don't recall exactly what the audience member said in response, but it was something to the effect of "Let's see what you got."

He them promptly shut up, the meeting went on, and a police officer arrived quietly moments later.

I think everyone is relieved that the council adopted a budget, and was able to do it without undue drama. Undoubtedly, everyone is also glad the budget went through without having to eject anyone from council chambers.

Monday, November 24

Saratogian joins the 21st Century!

Late last week, Web Editor Stephen Shoemaker and I recorded The Saratogian's first-ever pod cast. For anyone who doesn't know, a pod cast is a downloadable audio file that you can stream off the internet, or download onto your MP3 player and take to go. Typically, pod casts have been the realm of radio stations (and, with increasing frequency, TV stations), but the web is a powerful tool, so we figured we'd join the fun.

In about a five-minute discussion we went over the problems the city is facing with state cuts to VLT aid looming. This is one of many exciting capabilities of our new web platform.

I'll warn you now that the sound quality is slightly less than professional, and while I think Steve is ready to stand in for Carl Kasell, I've definately got a newspaper voice. (You've heard of a radio face...).

Unfortunately, this pod cast had a short shelf-life, as it was recorded before Commissioner of Accounts Ken Ivins released the second revision of his budget, but check it out if you get the chance, if for no other reason than to welcome this paper to the new century! Look for more podcasts in the future.

Thursday, November 20

No lack of controversy here...

Just when you thought the city council was banding together to find a solution to the looming budget crisis, we have trouble among the ranks.

With 18 hours remaining before the council hears the first of three proposals to develop the High Rock Parking lot into a public safety facility, parking deck, and to-be-determined commercial usage, Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim is demanding he be given the right to ask questions of the presenters. The commissioner released a memorandum to other council members, the parties submitting proposals and the media Thursday afternoon.

In the memorandum, he argues that it will be impossible to assess which proposal is best without the ability to ask questions.

Although the commissioner makes a very valid point, and one that has been made by other members of the council, a directive issued by the Department of Accounts, which is charged with the bid process, stated earlier today that the council members were not permitted to ask questions at tomorrow's presentation.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out tomorrow. Please see the two memorandum below.

City of Saratoga Springs


474 Broadway City Hall

Saratoga Springs, New York 12866


Telephone 518-587-3550

Fax 518-587-6512

To: Mayor Johnson

Commissioner Kim

Commissioner Ivins

Commissioner Scirocco

Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton

Deputy Commissioner Eileen Finneran

Deputy Commissioner Kate Jarosh

Deputy Commissioner Pat Design

Sonny Bonacio, Bonacio Construction

James King, Forum Industries

Andrew Sciocchetti, Yorkshire Properties

CC: Commissioner Franck

From: Deputy Commissioner Michele Boxley

Date: November 20, 2008

Subject: Development of High Rock Lots

Bid #: 2008-54

As you are all aware, the date and times have been set for the presentations for the High Rock Lots Bid. These presentations will be open to the public and the press to attend. I would like to remind everyone, however, that the times scheduled for the presentations are intended to provide the bidders time to present their ideas. This is not an interactive session; questions will not be entertained by the bidders or the City of Saratoga Springs.

Please feel free to contact me at 587-3550 ext. 543 should you have any questions.

Thank you.

Saratoga Springs

Department of Public Safety

RONALD J. KIM, Commissioner

EILEEN J. FINNERAN, Deputy Commissioner

City Hall Saratoga Springs, New York 12866


To: Deputy Commissioner Michele Boxley

CC: Mayor Scott Johnson

Commissioner Ken Ivins

Commissioner Skip Scirocco

Commissioner John Franck

Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton

Deputy Commissioner Kate Jarosh

Deputy Commissioner Pat Design

Sonny Bonacio, Bonacio Construction

James King, Forum Industries

Andrew Sciocchetti, Yorkshire Properties

Deputy Commissioner Eileen Finneran

From: Commissioner Ronald Kim

Date: November 20, 2008

Subject: Development of High Rock Lots

Bid #: 2008-54

I am in receipt of your memorandum dated November 20, 2008, a copy of which, is attached.

I think it is absolutely critical for the City Council to be able to question the presenters. It is impossible for me to fathom how we could make a determination on what is the best proposal without having this option. Moreover, it is my distinct recollection that when the first High Rock Proposal was presented there were questions asked by the Committee impaneled by Comissioner McTygue and the same occurred when the City Council met to review the proposal by BBL/LaBella Associates on the Woodlawn Avenue RFP sent out by Commissioner McCabe.

Finally, if the Accounts office still maintains, despite past City Council precedent cited above, that questions are prohibited, please provide us with the specific citation to either the City Code, and State bidding regulations or judicial opinion which supports this position prior to the meeting on Friday.

If I do not receive this information, I will assume there is no authority for the Accounts Department’s position and will proceed with my prepared questions for each respondent during Friday’s presentations.


Ronald J. Kim

Commissioner of Public Safety

Wednesday, November 19

Movie theater coming downtown?

For movie fans looking for a downtown alternative to the Saratoga Film Forum, the answer may soon arrive in the form of a multiplex proposed for Lake Avenue, as a part of two of the three proposals submitted to the city today to develop the High Rock parking lot.

A movie theater downtown has been bandied about before. Most notably during a Team Saratoga survey conducted by former Commissioner of Finance Matthew McCabe. The survey found that while what people wanted most to make the city more urban-feeling was a high-end grocery store. What they wanted second as an in-town movie theater. (The survey came to light again when discussion of the possible closure of the Rail Road Place Price Chopper was at it's peak.)

I, however, have been wondering whether of not a medium-sized movie theater would be able to make a stand in Saratoga Springs, when the Wilton Mall is only a short drive away, and the super-duper-stadium seating at Cross Gates Mall.

While I only attend the movies once in a long while, I would be much more likely to attend a movie that I could walk to. That being said, I'm pretty sure that I'm not a representative sample in this case.

On the other hand, Saratoga is an ideal place for the quintessential dinner-and-a-movie date, and why shouldn't we cash in on the extra sales tax revenue generated by movie ticket sales. And, if it's been proposed by two developers, the idea must have some ecnomic legs. We'll have to see what shakes out.

Tuesday, November 18

Where's the public?

At their meeting tonight, the council discussed a potential $1.8 million shortfall in the city budget due to the halving of state VLT aid.

I showed up to the meeting early, expecting to have to fight to get a seat, but to my surprise, the meeting was not heavily attended. I found this somewhat surprising, since it seems that everyone and their uncle will show up to talk about a proposed basketball court, but when we're facing a possible 13% increase in property tax, residents are content to stay at home.

I would urge everyone concerned about the possible likely loss of 50-percent of the city's VLT revenue to reach out to the council, and offer your thoughts. They are asking for comments via email, using the "Contact Us" form on the city's website.

Practice democracy, say something.... or don't complain when taxes rise.

Monday, November 17

VLT Lobby day

It would be an understatement to say that members of the City Council returned from their lobby in Albany Monday feeling concerned.

Last week's brazen "We'll get it back!" Has been replaced with the grudging realization that the city will need to start planning for a $1.8 million shortfall in projected revenue for 2009. That's a sizable gap in city funding.

I would suspect that tomorrow's City Council meeting will be interesting. Despite some cause for concern, the City Council will make a second trip to Albany tomorrow to hold a press conference to discuss the city's plight. Also attending will be representatives from other communities hosting VLTs, who also stand to loose 50% of their VLT aid. We'll see if anything comes of it.

And, on top of it all, the city will be opening proposals to develop the High Rock parking lot into a police station and parking later this week. It will be an interesting week in city government, to be sure.


*When:* Tuesday, November 18, 2008

*Where:* State Capitol East Steps, Albany, New York

*What:* Leaders of VLT Host Municipalities will join together in denouncing Governor Paterson’s proposed 50% reduction in VLT revenue distribution for the 2009-2010 budget. At this time, host municipalities and counties have confirmed attendance for four of the seven race tracks. A complete list of leaders in attendance will be available at the press conference.

Sunday, November 16

Area students spend a day in court

District Attorney James A. Murphy, III announced today that at State Farm Headquarters in Malta, nearly 150 students completed training for Saratoga County’s Youth Court Program. The students, who came from Saratoga Springs, Shenendehowa, Waterford, Corinth, Ballston Spa, South Glens Falls, Galway, and Burnt Hills/Ballston Lake school districts, will become judges, jurors, prosecutors and defense attorneys, in actual cases where juveniles and teenagers are charged with criminal conduct in Saratoga County.

The Youth Court Program, sponsored by the Prevention Council, Inc. in Saratoga Springs is a voluntary alternative to the criminal justice system for young people who have committed a crime or an offense. The goal of youth court is to intervene in early anti-social, delinquent and criminal behavior; as well as to reduce the incidence and prevent the escalation of such behavior.

The youth must admit to guilt to a crime or an offense and then appear for a sentencing hearing before a jury of peers. The jury is presented with evidence, deliberates and passes sentence. Sentences can include community service, restitution, reparation, restorative justice and letters of apology. Typical cases that may be heard in Youth Court include shoplifting, criminal mischief, trespassing and vandalism. Cases are generally referred by judges, probation or Murphy's Office. Violent offenses or offenses involving any type of weapon are not accepted into the program.

Benefits include a decision by a jury of peers aimed at assisting the young person in desisting from criminal conduct and an opportunity to participate positively in the criminal justice system, rather than as an object of that system.

District Attorney Murphy said “I am impressed that so many students from 8 school districts in the county worked Friday night and Saturday to successfully complete Youth Court training. Diverting cases to Youth Court saves thousands of taxpayer dollars while, at the same time, imposes meaningful sentences that help victims and offenders and are community driven. The recidivism rate for youth court participants is extremely low and is one of the best diversion programs available. We are fortunate to have Lisa Chamberlain as the Youth Court Director take on this important training component.

Students act as judges, clerks, jurors, prosecutors and defense attorneys. Murphy said “today, we explained how the criminal justice system works. We examined a fact pattern that dealt with a young teen girl that shoplifted and discussed what appropriate sentences would be, including restitution, a letter of apology to the shop owner and some significant community service. The idea of not harnessing the young girl with a criminal record, while at the same time holding her responsible for her conduct is a perfect outcome.

For further information about youth court please visit these link:

Thursday, November 13

Tours on two wheels

Obviously, I have an interest in cycling, and an interest in promoting cycling in Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County. Riding a bike is a great way to visit parts of the county sometimes overlooked while speeding through in a vehicle. Of course, this area is not always the most-bike friendly, particularly to those who, unlike me, are understandably disinclined to subject themselves to the danger of riding on the open road. So, the question becomes, how do you find a way to develope a cycling infrastructure here in the county that will benefit everyone, and not just those aboard two-wheeled rides.

Doug Haller, a state employee who has recently been volunteering his time with the Saratoga Healthy Transportation Network, has come up with an approach that is both logical and novel, and he is looking for your help in implimenting it.

His idea takes into consideration that the most powerful interst group here in Saratoga County are the business groups (The Chamber, DBA, etc...). He is proposing to develope this area as a destination for cyclotrouism in concert with pitching a concept to area buisnesses that help get high-spending cyclists into their doors. He says it's a win-win.

This is something that any buisness owner can appreciate -- even if they don't appreciate a sudden influx of middle aged men wearing spandex.*

Anyone interested in learning more should consider attending a meeting next Saturday:

Bike Tourism Committee forming in Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Healthy Transportation Committee is forming a bicycle tourism committee to promote cycling opportunities in the Saratoga Area.
SHTN is dedicated to producing more pedestrian/cyclist-friendly conditions for residents and visitors of Saratoga Springs and surrounding towns and communities. We encourage non-motorized travel as a means toward improved personal health and as a benefit for local commerce and the environment.SHTN plans on working to develop Internet and print guides promoting the great cycling opportunities in and around Saratoga. These guides will also highlight other cycling resources such as mountain bike trails, public areas open to biking, and "bike-friendly" accommodations and restaurants.

Groups that have indicated in interest in working with SHTN to promote a bicycle friendly community and bike tourism include: The City of Saratoga Springs, The Chamber of Commerce and the Saratoga Convention Bureau, New York State Parks, New York Bicycling Coalition, National Park Service at the Saratoga Battlefield, The Saratoga Race Course, Serotta Bicycles, Blue Sky and Elevate bicycle shops as well as a number of other Saratoga businesses.

SHTN is looking for community members who would be interested in serving on this working committee. We are looking for volunteers to help with the Internet and print design projects. The next meeting of the Saratoga Healthy Transportation Network tourism subcommittee meeting will be held on Saturday, November 22 at 9 am in the Saratoga Public Library Sussman Room on Henry Street.

For more information, contact or call Doug at 581-0171.

* Full disclosure: I am a part-time employee at Blue Sky Bicycles, and therefore am perhaps more eager to support this plan than I would be otherwise, although I would think it's a great idea regardless.

Wednesday, November 12

Police suits from down south

I'm blogged out. Visit my colleagues at the New York Times for something different.

Tuesday, November 11

Veteran's honors

On today, Veteran's Day, many speeches are made honoring the men and women who bravely served this country in times of conflict. Nearly every municipality in the area planned some kind of veteran's day observances, but the one I was most interested in reading about was the re-dedication of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. For anyone who doesn't know, the Intrepid is an aircraft carrier that's been floating in the Hudson River since the 80s, serving as a museum to depict life aboard an aircraft carrier, and to exhibit some really neat artifacts of military aviation and spaceflight.

As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, the Intrepid was a choice destination, much more entertaining than any one of the city's many art museums. Although I haven't been to the Intrepid in many years, it is stationed along the West Side Drive in Manhattan, which is the route I take when I make my occasional trips down to the city, and it's absence was notable every time I drove that stretch of road for the past two years. I was happy to see it return in early October.

But, the Intrepid also holds a special personal significance fore me. In a family that is proud of its strong tradition of not serving in the military, I am proud that both of my grandfathers served in shipyards during World War II. Grandpa Bernstein was a welder in the naval shipyard in Philadelphia, and while there he worked on parts of the Intrepid. (The Intrepid was constructed at a shipyard in Newport, VA, but some of its components were built elsewhere, including the Philadelphia yard).

Grandpa's war stories were somewhat less typical than other war stories, but of no lesser importance. While bullets did not typically fly at the yards, the pressure to work fast sometimes led to dangerous situations that could imperil life and limb. And without the work of him and thousands of other welders like him, the war effort would have been without necessary support.

In addition, my maternal grandfather, Grandpa Blechman, worked as a pipe fitter in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He died when i was young, and I didn't get the chance to hear as many of his stories, but his work in the yard was also historical significant, as he was fond of telling me about how he fit pipes on the USS Missouri, one of the most storied battleships of World War II.

So, while today we honor the veterans of conflicts, I would humbly suggest that we also remember the men and women who stood behind our soldiers in every conflict. War is hell, and not just for those on the battlefield.

Monday, November 10

VLT's insecure future

The flighty nature of VLT funding, which amounts to about 10% of the city's operating budget, was brought up for discussion at tonight's budget workshop.

This has recently been a topic over at (Dis)utopia of Saratoga Springs, so I thought this was a good opportunity to link to that discussion. You can read the post on the topic here.

In general, I have to agree with Commissioner Franck a little more strongly than I agree with Mayor Johnson and Commissioner Ivins. It seems to me that it would be wise to plan to not have the money, especially since the state's budget is in such dire straights. If we do get the money, or some part of it, then great, buty why dig a hole, only to have to bail ourselves out later?

Of course, that's easy for me to say, since I'm not the one who will have to be responsible for cutting 10 percent from the budget. You can read more about the issue in my story in Tuesday's paper.

Sunday, November 9

Change is a-comin'

On Tuesday evening The Saratogian will unveil yet another new website. Although changing web platforms too often can get a little tiring, I think this new one will prove to be the best we've had, at least since I've been here.

For a preview of what it will look like, check out The New Haven Register. It's a much cleaner look, and is hopefully more easy to navigate. It will also let us do cool things like embed video and maintain RSS feeds. Some behind-the-scenes stuff like cleaner URLs will also be a part of the new site.

With the new web platform, changes will also be coming to The City Desk. Although this blog will still be hosted by Blogger, and will still be accessed at the same URL (, this blog will get a new look to match the paper's new website. There might be ads placed on the blog, and there will be links to other content, aside from those that I embed.

Those changes won't happen immediately, but look for them in the coming weeks. Although I would still prefer a platform for the blog hosted on the paper's website, I'll take what I can get. I hope everyone had a good weekend.

Thursday, November 6

Further unto yesterday's post...

*8:37 p.m. A friend just forwarded me this video of last night's event. Enjoy.

Here, in its entirety, I present a letter a received today from Kyle York, which further details the parade of Skidmore students that occurred Tuesday night, after the election. As I said, I wasn't there, Kyle was, and this is his interpretation of the event.


What we can learn from college students is a lot.

Part of the post-election debate will center on students who voted in record numbers. Like Skidmore. Many will criticize “kids” who haven’t lived in the “Real World” and paid “Real Taxes." Fair enough. But let me offer a glimpse of America’s future, an I-was-there moment from election night–

I was in a taxi returning home at about 11:45 when the cabbie’s radio cackled “You’re not gonna’ believe this…” A silence, another cackle– “There’s about 200 Skidmore kids marching down Broadway headed for Caroline Street…”

The taxi’s at Congress Park so I ask to be dropped off at Caroline. After a few minutes, a crowd appears from out of the darkness, filling the deserted southbound lane of Broadway near the Post Office. They are not throwing anything, no horses are toppled, no trash is set ablaze.

They are walking and hugging and chanting. “Yes We Can!…” Cheering. “O-ba-Ma!” Smiles and shouts. I walk down to Gaffney’s as the crowd pours down the hill, spilling curb-to-curb to cheer and hug. One guy climbs the tree at my side (he was sober going up and he was sober coming back down. But yes, limbs were snapped off.) He holds up an Obama sign and the crowd roars.

It is 12:09 am when one voice starts singing– “Oh say can you see…”

In seconds, the singing spreads. People step out from clubs to join in. By the chorus, it is an absolute roar and in pitch. NOBODY is silent, NOBODY is changing the lyrics. They are as one, singing their hearts out. At the end, they simply explode into a sustained cheer.

I have never been more proud to be an American, one blessed to live here in this remarkable community.

-Kyle York

Wednesday, November 5

Post election decompression

Well, I think that was some of the most hectic 24 hours of my life thus far.

From visiting a slew of city polling places with Commissioner of Accounts John Franck yesterday evening, feverishly waiting for the returns to start coming in, weaving my way through the cheering masses of Democrats at the Gideon Putnam, to desperately banging away on my keyboard in a desperate attempt to make deadline, to watching hour after hour of news coverage with broadcasts from Washington D.C., Chicago, and Pheonix. It was quite a night.

Word on the street is that an excited group of Skidmore students who spontaneously paraded down Broadway to Caroline Street, where one witness had them suddenly break out into a rendition of "Star Spangled Banner," before trundling back to campus. Another witness had students in the trees on Caroline, stripping.

I don't know which to believe, but speaking as a Skidmore alum, I have to admit that the later seems more plausible. Today's police blotter did make note of the Skidmore parade, but did not say anything about songs or nudity.

So, now we know. President-elect Obama, and expanded Democratic control in the house and Senate. Locally, most of the races went as I suspected, with the sole exception being the City Court Judge race.

Although it seems unlikely that absentee ballots will change the results of that race, it is too close to be ruled out entirely.

And now the election cycle begins anew. Palin 2012 anyone?

Tuesday, November 4

Election night overload

As usual, what a rush. Check back tomorrow for complete coverage.

Monday, November 3

The election is neigh

Well, I kind of fell apart with the blogging last week. I'm sorry. The run up to the election has been nuts, and I, for one, am glad that in a little more than 24 hours it will all be over.

Of course, in a little more than 36 hours, our five city council members and other elected officials will have to begin their 2009 campaigns, but that's a story for another day.

At this point, all I can say is: don't forget to vote. I'll be at the City Center around 8 if anyone would like to say hello. I just hope lines aren't too long...

Check our website for results tomorrow evening, web editor Stephen Shoemaker will be posting results as they come in, and of course, check for complete coverage in Wednesday's paper.