Blogs > Saratogian Newsroom

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

Tuesday, June 30

FOIL update

Last week, I posted here that we had made a Freedom of Information Request for police and fire contracts, as well as a Police department operation manual, which is referenced twice in the Police union's contract.

At the time, I was somewhat critical of Commissioner of Ron Kim for not releasing the document, using the post to note that he is running for Mayor, and is expected to incorporate a call for increase openness in government as a part of his platform.

I spoke with the Commissioner today, who told me that although I would have to wait for word from the City Attorney on a formal decision on our request, the document was not releasable.

Kim's reasoning for this is that it contains operational procedures for things like drug buys, undercover operations, anti-terrorism procedures adopted from the FBI, and other bits that could legitimately put police officers at risk, should the wrong people get their hands on the document.

So, I will continue to follow the FOIL request, with the hope that it might be approved, but Kim told me today that he would sooner go to court than release such a sensitive document.

I'm all for openness, but I certainly understand the desire to keep secret procedures used to ensnare drug dealers and other criminals.

City Center Demonstration

I apologize for the lack of a post today. I did write something, posting it briefly around 5 p.m., but it was pulled down on instructions from above, in the interest of preserving continuity between our print and online editions.

Don't forget that today is CSEA's rally in front of the City Center at 3:15 p.m. The protest is over the stalled contract negotiations, and is expected to draw a crowd of several hundred, including a large rat.

Friday, June 26


Never have I been so relieved for it to be Friday. I hope everyone has a great weekend, I'll see you on Monday.

Thursday, June 25

Balancing Act

A little while ago, we got into a discussion here in the newsroom about a directive to keep our stories "tight" (that mean "short"). The instruction came as our paper continues to shrink, and space, literally, becomes tight.

The discussion that ensued pertained mostly to whether or not we should be reducing the number of national and international wire stories we carry -- and whether that space could be better used for local stories. On the flip side, some were saying, that readers want the whole package from our paper -- and that includes headlines from beyond our immediate region.

My view is that we should focus our resources, and our tight space, on local-local, meaning stories that our staff produces about the places where our readers live and work. If that means cutting some of the wire content in order to ensure that we maintain the highest-possible standard of news coverage, I say that's OK. After all, anyone who really wants to know about the latest car bombing in Iraq will likely turn to a national or international new source. I don't think it's a secret that The Saratogian does not hav a Baghdad bureau.

Obviously, there are times when we should run content from farther afield, and I'm not suggesting that we ignore major national or international events, but I think we need to focus on what we can control ourselves.

But, that's just my point of view, what do you think?

Wednesday, June 24

Freedom of Information requests

After last week's story about how Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim is declining to share a police manual with Mayor Scott Johnson, we here at The Saratogian decided that we'd like a copy of both the manual and the complete contract with the police department rules and regulations manual (we already have copies of the DPW and City Hall contracts).

Earlier in the week, Managing Editor Barbara Lombardo requested the police manual, and earlier today, I put in a request, under Freedom of Information Laws, for the contract.

It bears noticing, however, that even with the city's Democrats gearing up for a campaign to be based -- at least in part -- on open government, Ron Kim and his staff have declined informal requests for these documents.

In the past, Kim has been very willing to share many different types of documents with the press, this is a rare exception. The reason stated to me for putting us through the FOIL process was that the Mayor's department is handling negotiations, and that Public Safety didn't want to interfere, but this position would seem to be at odds with the Public Safety departmental policy of keeping other documents from the Mayor's department.

So, I will keep you posted on our efforts to secure these documents from City Hall.

Tuesday, June 23

Budget amendments

After Monday's workshop, it seems that the council might be ready to approve amendments to the city's budget. The measure will cut expected revenue, to reflect the city's lost VLT money.

After conversations today with members of the council, it seems that Ivins has managed to line up up at least a 3-2 majority to vote for the budget.

By my straw poll, I figure that Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Ivins Jr. will vote for it because it will get the city through, and he doesn't want to delay. Mayor Scott Johnson will vote for it because the cuts he made in his department were accepted, pretty much as-is. Commissioner of Public Works Skip Scirocco will vote for it because he was able to make cuts without effecting essential services too greatly.

Then there are the Democrats.

Commissioner of Accounts John Franck will not vote for the budget because he thinks the cuts do not go far enough, and set the city up for a tough budget process for 2010.

Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim is the only member of the council about who's vote I'm not sure. On the one hand, he may vote against because his executive assistant -- who handles many clerical duties in the department -- would be cut by the amendment. On the other hand, he may vote for it because police and fire jobs are safe, and he wants those unions to back his Mayoral ambitions.

The vote is slated for July 7, and we shall see...

Monday, June 22

Freezing over

I was alerted, over the weekend, to an email that had been sent out from the city's Recreation Department to user groups (hockey, Skidmore, the Saratoga Winter Club, figure skating), calling for a meeting, to address possible changes to the city's ice skating schedule, and the ice's availability.

I spent the better part of the morning looking into it, to no avail, then succeeded in getting Linda Terricola on the phone, who told me that there had been a contemplation of some unspecified changes, after looking at cost/benefits of the rinks -- but that the meeting had since been canceled.

So, it seems that for the time being, whatever plans are in place for the rinks in the immediate future are secure.

BUT, in the process of reporting on the story, I learned that there is an outdoor speed skating oval at the rink, which hasn't been used in years. One of the concerns over at the ice rinks (which will reopen in early July), is that users groups get too much ice time, while the public is left to carry their skates around. Maybe flooding that oval will help a little?

Friday, June 19

Mucking it all up

ERICA MILLER/For The Saratogian

I briefly caused some problems today at the scene of the search for a four-year old girl seen by passing motorists walking into the woods near Henning Road on Friday morning.

After hanging out in the designated press area, a parking lot at the Meyer's Education Center on Henning Road, I decided to "make a phone call"/try to get a better view of the action by crossing a rain-soaked field, and then crossing Henning Road a few hundred yards south of where the girl was last sighted.

I failed in my primary mission, but did succeed in talking to the newsroom for a couple of minutes, meanwhile leaving behind a juicy trail of 10.5-sized footprints in the mud.

About 30 minutes later, a Saratoga Springs Police Officer and an forest ranger were spotted examining something on the ground in the field which I'd earlier transversed.

I'll admit that I didn't make the connection immediately, but when one of the TV cameramen on the scene whispered in my ear that they were examining my footprints, I figured I'd best say something. In the mean time, all of the photographers, still, video, web, whathaveyou, were busy shooting the two officers.

A little while later, they'd followed the tracks back toward the parking lot, and one of the my colleagues mentioned they thought it might be my tracks. I was summoned, and duly displayed the sole of my shoe, as pictured above. The officers seemed reasonably satisfied that I was responsible for the tracks, but had apparently also found a separate track.

So, not only did I succeed in creating some good art for my colleagues, but I also might have pointed law enforcement toward an important breakthrough in the case -- or not. Either way, I'll try to keep my feet on the pavement next time.

Thursday, June 18

66 Franklin

I'll have a full report in the paper some time over the weekend, but for the time being, readers might be interested to know that the fate of the "other" endangered historic building -- the one at 66 Franklin Street, was not decided at Wednesday's Design Review Commission meeting.

An application for the building's demolition has been before the commission for a few months, and a decision on the application is likely at the next meeting, on July 1.

Look for complete coverage in the paper this weekend.

Wednesday, June 17

Timing of the budget amendment vote?

It was suggested to me today that perhaps there's more than meets the eye to the Commissioner Ivins' decision at Tuesday's meeting to postpone a vote on budget amendments.

The next opportunity to vote on the budget will be at the City Council's first meeting in July, July 7.

On the prior Sunday, July 5, the city's All American July 4th celebration will conclude. Ivins, of course, is directing the weekend-long celebration.

Could it be that Ivins doesn't want be seen cutting the budget -- including eliminating one full time position -- and then spending money on a celebration?

It's possible. Of course, it's also possible that there is no relation at all -- after all, the July 4th celebration has been paid for with donations. It certainly isn't out of school for Ivins to want to delay a vote on a document that he finished revising just hours before the meeting.

Still, the timing has certainly raised eyebrows among those facing cuts in their departments.

Take me to the beach

Sorry for the lack of a post here last night, just as I was getting ready to type something out, the internet table cloth was pulled out from under me, and my blogging plans tumbled down like so many silver bowls piled high on a clown's circus table.

What I was planning on writing was about the city's waterfront park.

Yesterday, I received a voice mail urging me to investigate why the city hasn't done anything with the property it bought on Crescent Avenue, home of the former Waterfront Restaurant. The caller said he had not seen any mention of the property in the paper.

Well, dear caller, I am happy to report that there is no investigation needed.

In late 2008, the property was the focus of planned development, and was even briefly placed on the city's capital program for 2009. Plans for the beach call for new restrooms, waterfront access, picnic areas, and other amenities, but plans have been placed on hold. BUT, when the first hints of a state budget crisis surfaced -- and it's implications on Saratoga Springs were talked about, the plan was differed to a later year.

But, to answer the caller's question, there are plans to open a public beach on Saratoga Lake, but the date for such an opening have been postponed as a result of the budget crisis.

In the meantime, plans for the city's other recreation project, the indoor recreation center, continue to move forward.

Friday, June 12

Things to watch at Tuesday's meeting...

1) Commissioner Ivins will be presenting amendments to close the city's budget gap.
2) Mayor Scott Johnson will bring continued discussion and a vote on a proposed moratorium on the demolition of historic structures. (Will also be on Commissioner Kim's agenda.)
3) Commissioner Franck will bring proposals to rezone three properties, including the Darley Stud farm on Nelson Avenue.
4) Commissioner Scirocco will bring a change order for a Nelson Avenue Drainage project.

Have a good weekend, see you Tuesday!

Thursday, June 11

Silipigno's self serving rehtoric

I just came across an online diary apparently written by David Silipigno. Given recent news, I thought this would be interesting to readers. Here is an excerpt:

"The founder of David B. Silipigno Foundation, David ventured into business when he was only 19 years of age, and became a successful entrepreneur with sheer hard work and determination. National Financial Corp. (NFC) was his first business venture. David Silipigno was the pioneers of developing a call center approach towards business. His stint as the CEO and Chairman of NFC taught him a great deal about business management and entrepreneurship. He has been able to use this experience in running successful business ventures in future."

Read more here.

Wednesday, June 10

GlobalFoundries: That's great... for now

Earlier this afternoon, I had the distinct pleasure of being the only man not wearing a dark-colored suit at a press conference in Malta. In fact, I was wearing (and still am) a maroon polo shirt and slacks.

The conference, as readers doubtless know by now, was held to announce that the microprocessor builder GlobalFoundries had purchased 223 acres from the Luther Forest Tech Park, and is thus ready to begin construction.

Everyone in the room was very pleased to talk about how many jobs this developmen will create, how wonderful it would be for the development of business in our region, and how lucky we are.

And we are lucky, to be sure, to have this kind of investment in our community.

BUT, I hope that everyone will keep one eye to the future as GlobalFoundries begins to break ground.

What will happen in 10-15 years, when the now-cutting edge technology at Luther Forest is outmoded, and it is cheaper for GlobalFoundries to build a new facility elsewhere than it is for them to retool the Malta factory? Even if that doesn't come to pass, there will be some future technology that will make the microprocessors GloFo is preparing to make look about as high-tech as grandma's typewriter. Anyone who thinks we've reached the end of the road with semiconductors should give me a call so that I can sell you a bridge to England.

Just as demand for the paper produced up in Glens Falls has declined, leading to a decline in the work being done in that mill town, the same thing could happen in Malta. Therefore, planners -- economic and otherwise -- would be wise to not stake too much of the region's future on GlobalFoundries.

Flint, Michigan, knows a thing or two about becoming inextricably intertwined with industry. So does the Rust Belt.

Let's not let that happen here. To avoid such a fate, just as Mike Relyea and his staff at the Luther Forest Tech Park are looking for an additional two tenants for the campus, they would be wise to consider what's next, because history guarantees us that the good work done at GlobalFoundries will not last forever.

Tuesday, June 9

The rain stayed away

Despite the odds stacked heavily against them, city Democrats pushed forward with a plan to announce Peter Martin's candidacy for Finance this afternoon on the steps of City Hall.

The skies were gray, and Peter Tulin carried a shopping bag full of umbrellas, but it did not rain.

What's more, erstwhile Democratic colleagues Ron Kim and John Franck -- who as recently as April couldn't agree that it was correct to drive on the right side of the road -- lined up to voice their unified support for Martin.

Dem chairman Allen Turkheimer said the Democrats had realized the only way they could be successful was to present a unified front. Peter Tulin, chairman of the endorsing committee, said he'd made a number of $5 dollar bets that endorsements would be unified and unanimous. It seems that, not only did he win them all, but he had no trouble finding people to vote against him.

So far, the dems appear to be remarkably unified, although November is still a long way away.

On the other hand, the city Republicans seem to be equally organized, if characteristically less dramatic.

Monday, June 8

Seen through new eyes

On Sunday, two friends of mine who had left the city over a year ago returned to visit. Although a lot has happened in the past year, it didn't strike me until their visit that much of downtown's street scape has also changed.

On our perambulations around town, they were shocked to find a half-finished building on the corner of Phila and Henry, where there had been a parking lot; the Hampton Inn was open for business, while the condos behind are rapidly being enclosed; City Hall has new steps that no longer crumple underfoot; It's Confidential and a host of other restaurants have changed hands; a building is being constructed at the South Side Rec., Spring Water Bistro has closed; Empire State College opened its new library on the corner of Union Ave. and Circular St., and Skidmore College continues to plug away on its new music building.

So, a lot has changed here in town, even in just the past 12 months. When you see it all everyday, it can be hard to see, but with the persepective of outsiders, it could be a whole new city.

Friday, June 5

Complete Streets gain traction in Albany

NYBC Announces State Legislature to Consider “Complete Streets”

The New York Bicycling Coalition (NYBC) proudly announces a giant step forward for bicyclists and pedestrians in New York State. As of June 1st, both houses of the Legislature introduced Complete Streets bills for consideration, facilitating efforts to make New York’s roadways safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, bicyclists, older individuals, children, and people with disabilities. NYBC was a principal proponent of this legislation.

Assembly Bill A8587, introduced by co-sponsors David F. Gantt (A-133rd Dist), and Jeffrey Dinowitz (A-81st Dist), and Senate Bill S5711, introduced by co-sponsors Martin Malavé Dilan (S-17th Dist) and Ruben Diaz (S-32nd Dist) would, if adopted, enable safe access to public roads for all users by requiring that transportation improvement plans consider the safety, access and mobility needs of all travelers, regardless of age or ability.

NYBC’s Executive Director Jennifer Clunie points out, “A 'Complete Streets' policy means sidewalks, crosswalks, curb cuts, bus shelters, bike lanes and many other features shall be routinely weighed on all street projects, and incorporated where warranted. This improves comfort and safety for all roadway users, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shop keeper. In addition, in highly populated areas, 'Complete Streets' can provide a sense of place and improve adjacent property values.”

NYBC has been a longtime proponent of a “Complete Streets” policy for New York State. In 2008, the American Association of Retired People (AARP), Green Options Buffalo, and a number of other statewide and federal organizations joined with NYBC to advance the Complete Streets initiative. Safety issues are a principal concern for New York residents, and traffic danger is consistently cited as a major reason why individuals will not walk or bicycle to school, work, or other destinations. Complete Streets polices are expected to bring improved safety, enhanced opportunities for physical activity, reduced carbon emissions, enhanced economic vitality and overall better quality of life. In New York State, 40% of all residents don’t possess a driver’s license and over 25% of all households don’t own a motor vehicle, further underscoring the need for this legislation.

“I'm pleased to introduce this legislation. It’s a great leap forward toward implementing what must become a multi-modal approach to transportation,” said Senator Martin Malavé Dilan, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. “How we get around is changing. In recognition of this we need to take the necessary steps to assure that the future design and construction of our roads meet the mobility needs of all, whether riding, walking or driving.”

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, a proponent of Complete Streets in both the City of Buffalo and across New York, remarks: “The widespread lack of physical activity in our nation has played a major part in the perpetuation of the obesity epidemic. A key factor contributing to the lack of physical activity is the absence of infrastructure to support or encourage pedestrian and bicycle travel as modes of transportation. The result of our collective inactivity has burdened New York State with over six billion annually in medical costs. THAT IS WHY THIS BILL IS SO IMPORTANT.”

Justin Booth, Director of Green Options Buffalo states: “Cities in New York State, across the country and throughout the world are recognizing the demand to shift to a balanced transportation system. This shift is changing the emphasis away from moving automobiles to moving people. The same philosophy goes for people as it does for automobiles, if you design streets that invite people to walk, bicycle or take public transit they take you up on the invitation.”

New York Bicycling Coalition members want a more bicycle and pedestrian friendly State. Since 1992, NYBC has served as the only statewide, not-for-profit organization of its kind advocating throughout the state and working to assure highway, street, and transit facilities are amenable to cyclists and pedestrians and to promote safety through the education of motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists.

For more details, visit and .

Thursday, June 4

The Gut to be commemorated

Historical Marker Installation, “The Gut,” or, “The Valley,”

On Thursday, June 11, at 11:30 am, at the corner of Putnam and Phila Streets, a cast-iron historical marker will be installed commemorating a long-gone, ethnic Saratoga neighborhood. The public is welcome to attend. This low-lying neighborhood, known to many as “The Gut” or “The Valley,” once boasted a thriving Jewish enclave of storekeepers, restaurant and boardinghouse owners, and other artisans and merchants. These businesses catered to not only to Jewish Saratogians but a seasonal influx of summer tourists who sustained as many as sixty Jewish hotels, boardinghouses and roominghouses in Saratoga Springs.

The installation is the result of a grassroots citizens’ effort to mark this chapter of Saratoga’s history with “something more tangible and enduring than the occasional exhibition,” says Amy Godine, co-chair of the Saratoga Springs Jewish History Project Committee. “While none of the old hotels or businesses remain, there are enough of the old buildings on the ground to suggest the look and feel of the old neighborhood.” The storefront occupied by Bailey’s Restaurant once housed two Jewish groceries, Lavine’s and Tannenbaums. 43 Phila featured the popular diner, Mother Goldsmith’s. “There were many hang-outs,” Godine adds. “Joe Kovkin’s deli. The Four Sons. Honig’s restaurant. The Star Deli. Jake Aison’s Grill. Mazor’s kosher restaurant on Henry and Phila.”

At noon, following the installation, Godine will talk about the old “Gut” neighborhood in the H. Dutcher Community Room at the Saratoga Springs Public Library. “Straight from the Gut” is the concluding lecture in the City’s Spring Brown Bag Lunch series on aspects of Saratoga history. After this talk, Godine and others will lead a walking tour of the Gut at 1:00. The Jewish History Project group has also produced a self-guided walking tour brochure of the Gut, which will be available at the Saratoga Springs Visitors Center and elsewhere around town.

Wednesday, June 3

A third party

*Corrected, Scirocco did not receive the Independence Party endorsement.

Although my coverage of local politics is sometimes heavily focused on the two main parties, there are other parties out there.

The Independence Party is one. Earlier this week, the Saratoga County Committee announced a slate of candidates in races across the county.

In the City, the Independence slate closely mimics that of the Republican Party, endorsing Mayor Scott Johnson, Commissioner Ivins and Scirocco , and Supervisor Veitch for re-election. They also endorsed Richard Wirth to run for Commissioner of Public Safety. The party also nodded at two Democrats: John Franck for Accounts and Joanne Yepsen for Supervisor.

County Chairman Lee Kolesnikoff made the following statement in a press release:

"The candidates we have endorsed this year had one thing in common: a willingness to control the cost of government and help out the taxpayer," said Kolesnikoff. "In addition, we looked for commitments to improved disaster emergency planning, and increased cooperation between towns and the county to improve efficiency," he added.

"As elections become more competitive in Saratoga County, more candidates are seeking our party's endorsement," Kolesnikoff observed. The Saratoga Independence Party has interviewed more than 85 individuals in a process that began several weeks ago."

The party has a modest enrollment in Saratoga County, and these endorsements could make an impact in close races.

Tuesday, June 2

Strengthening unity

Once again, we see evidence of changing alliances at tonight's City Council meeting.

Tonight, Kim and Franck voted on a ban on demolishing historic homes, just days after both received their parties unanimous endorsement to run for office.

The Democrats have been talking a lot of about unity, could it actually be happening?

Across the figurative table, we also say Republicans Johnson, Ivins, and Scirocco align on the opposite point.

Monday, June 1

Racing tragedy

The first annual Marshall and Sterling Racing City Grand Prix went off Sunday, and in lieu of a full account here on the blog, I've decided to share some emails. The first one was sent by me to our race volunteers and supporters, the second letter is from Dieter Drake to our racers:

Greetings everyone!
Thanks to everyone for your tireless help today. Through the rain and the wind, and, eventually, the sun, we did have a tremendously successful race. It could not have happened without you, so I wanted to send a quick note to express my gratitude that so many of you came out for nothing more than a heart-felt "Thank you," cold pizza and perhaps a bagel.

From the dozens of you who stood on intersections helping old ladies get to church, to Tony and his boys bucking hay, Connie and Graber for their top-notch work on course design, and Mike & Company putting up with us trampling through the flower beds, we had, without a doubt, a crack team for this year's race. Thanks again for all that you did!

Unfortunately, I am not sending this email under the best of circumstances.
As most of you already know, we had a terrible tragedy during the women's race, and a beloved local cyclist (and fellow volunteer), Natalia Hogan, has died.

I don't know the exact cause of Natalia's death, and I think it would be most appropriate to let her family decide what information to release, but several witnesses said that she was riding alone, and appeared to crash her bike without an apparent cause. Police are conducting an investigation, and hopefully we will know the outcome at some point.

As a result of this incident, we decided to cancel the last race of the day, the men's Pro/1/2/3, and will donate the purse ($1,000) to an appropriate cause to-be-determined, most likely one that will benefit her son.

I've asked Natalia's friends to let me know if there will be any kind of memorial service, or other ways to express our sympathy to her family, and I will pass anything I hear on to you all.

Although I only just met Natalia this morning (seems like a long time ago), it was immediately clear that she was a wonderful person -- her death is truly a loss to the community.
Thank you again for coming out and volunteering, be well and ride safe! AB

P.S. I'm very concerned that I might have missed someone on this email. If you know anyone who should have recieved this, but did not, please pass it along. Thanks.

Hello Racers,
On behalf of the race organizers, thanks for racing the 2009 Marshall and Sterling Grand Prix in Saratoga Springs. It was our first year for this event and we were glad to see so many regions represented as it was also the 2009 NYS Criterium Championship. Thank you to our title sponsor - Marshall & Sterling Insurance - for enabling the race this year. Also, thanks to our major sponsors the Local Pub & Teahouse, Bonacio Construction, the Saratogian, the Residence Inn by Marriot, Sigma Sports, the Breadbasket Bakery, and Blue Sky Bicycles. Finally, thanks to the City of Saratoga Springs and the West Side Community for their very generous support for the event and our beneficiary - .
You may now know that we had a very tragic conclusion to the day during the Women's race. Natalia Hogan - who had volunteered earlier in the day - collapsed during the last lap of her race. Despite the efforts of emergency personnel she later died at Saratoga Hospital. I first met Natalia on Sunday morning and she was a very enthusiastic volunteer and happy to have a race in her hometown. This is very sad for the City of Saratoga Springs, the Saratoga Springs City School District where she was a teacher, and for the West Side Community where the race was held and where she was also a resident. This is, of course, tragic for her family and friends and our thoughts and prayers go to them during this very difficult time. The race will be making a donation to her family.
Out of respect for Natalia and her family, we cancelled the Men's Pro/1/2/3 Race at the end of the day. Those riders who paid an entry fee for this race will be refunded their money unless they indicate to me otherwise via e-mail - in which case we will be adding this to the donation.

In addition, there is news coverage here. The police have blamed the death on an "undisclosed" medical condition.