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

Friday, October 30

Wirth goes negative

Republican candidate for Commissioner of Public Safety Richard Wirth has employed negative tactics in the waning days of the campaign, sending out a mailer that makes some accusations against his opponent, Democrat Kevin Connolly.

The Connolly campaign is denying the allegations therein, we'll have to wait-and-see if the campaign files a complaint with the fair campaign practices committee.

This is the first negativity that we've seen in this campaign, and I woudln't venture a guess as to the motivation behind the negativity, but I think it's safe to assume that it is not a policy coming down from higher up the GOP food chain. Early in the campaign, Mayor Scott Johnson made a point of saying that he did not want to go negative in his campaign, because that isn't what the voters want to see from their candidates.

Wednesday, October 28

If Mom says she loves you, check it out.

I'm getting sick of this whole blog business. The trouble is that blogs can give any Tom, Dick, or Harry a platform by which to voice their views, and to state "facts," without any real accountability. This blog, and other like it -- those published by established news outlets -- strive to do better, and we at least have face and names attached to what we write, but the comments posted here can still present problems.

I would like to caution readers, however, that the majority of blogs, as well as comments posted under stories, should not be viewed as reliable sources of information. Please don't base your Election Day decision based on anything that you read on an unaffiliated blog. Get your information from the newspapers, or more reliable sources of information.

Take for instance the newest addition to the cesspool of blogs purporting to cover Saratoga Springs, Saratoga In Decline. This blog, contributed to penned by self-described "economic refugee" John Tighe (possibly along with as-yet unidentified accomplices), appears to be little more than a semi-literate repository for anti-Ron Kim, anti-Skip Scirocco propaganda.

It's fine to not like Ron Kim, and I have certainly criticized him from time to time. It's not fine to promote half-truths or outright lies, as fact. Take, for instance, an entry posted yesterday, which states unequivocally that NXIUM, and/or Executive Success Programs has purchased the Adelphi Hotel. This isn't true.

Here's what is true: The Adelphi is for sale. An individual associated with ESP was seen coming out of the building. Therefore, the blogger makes the assumption that the hotel has been sold, and that we're all going to be turned into zombies. This is so far out of left field that I can't even begin to understand how any person thinking in the best interests of their city would purport it as fact, without presenting some kind of presentation of facts.

Here are some other fallacies that are currently making the rounds of the blogosphere:
1) If elected Mayor, Ron Kim would appoint Valerie Keehn as his deputy. Not true. Keehn and Kim have both said that the former mayor has no interest in being deputy mayor.
2) Skip Scirocco is an anti-Semite. Again, not true. There were some Jewish stereotypes posted on the Saratogian's website, under the guise as a missive to DPW candidate Ed Miller. First of all, the comments were more cartoonish than offensive. Yes, Miller is from Brooklyn, and has the accent to prove it. Yes he once sold Kosher hot dogs. What about that is antisemitic? Second of all, even if the comment was intended to be antisemitic, there is no evidence that it was posted by Scirocco. Let me tell you, I don't know how many of the city races are going to go down, but I am very confident (sorry Eddie) that Skip Scirocco is going to win a second term. He knows it too, and therefore, there is little reason for him to resort to such base tactics.

That's my cautionary statement for the night. If you read something on the Internet that strikes you as possibly true, or that you have a question about, please feel free to send me an email (, or post as a comment here, and I will do my best to present you with the truth.

I'll probably get flamed for this, but I was moved to write this post when a good friend of mine, who I consider very well informed, asked me earlier today if Keehn was still going to be Kim's deputy. Since it's been widely reported that Keehn was never considered for that post, I was made to realize just how much mis-information is apparently out there. And that, is something that deeply concerns me.

Tuesday, October 27

Candidate endorsements

Beginning with Thursday's paper, we will be rolling out our endorsements for city offices. As I've noted here before, we interviewed each of the candidates running for office in city races.

The interview process was long, and I felt that in most cases it was fairly thorough. The editorial board, which, in this case, consists of Managing Editor Barbara Lombardo, Assistant Managing Editor Betsy Demars, Publisher Michael O'Sullivan, Web Editor Stephen Shoemaker, and me, met today and picked our four candidates in contested races.

I think each member of the board came into today's meeting with some pre-conceived ideas, and in most cases we were all on the same page. I hope that readers will find our endorsements insightful and useful as you make your own determinations, going into the Nov. 3 election.

Most importantly, don't forget to go vote.

Thursday, October 22

Easy questions at candidate forum

Once again, I am having a tough time digesting tonight's candidate forum. There was a lot of information presented, and it's tough to absorb every word.

The one point that I did take away is that I felt the questions posed by the audience were rather soft. While the candidates for Mayor were asked three questions pertaining to sustainability, there was only one question relating to contract negotiations -- and then that was tangential at best. Similarly, neither of the candidates for Mayor were given adequate opportunity to discuss possible new revenues to the city, other than paid parking. Not to say that those issues aren't important, but there are other issues out there.

The candidates were clearly primed for harder questions than they were dealt. I won't go so far as to say shame on the public, because what is important to members of the public may not be the same as what the press or the candidates think are important issues -- but given the omnipotence of the budget issue, I do think that it and related matters should have been given more attention.

The candidates for Finance did spend more time addressing these matters, but it is the Mayor who negotiates contracts, and to whom the city looks for guidance.

Wednesday, October 21

Shameless plug: Spa 'Cross to roll through state park


150 athletes, 300 spectators expected at Belgian-style, fan-based bicycle race and expo on Sunday

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Beginning at 9:15 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 25, cyclocross racers from across New York State and New England will converge on the Columbia Pavilion in Spa State Park for the first-annual Saratoga Spa ‘Cross.

Cyclocross is a style of bicycle racing that evolved in northern Europe, as a way to keep bicycle racers competing through the fall and into winter, by moving them off of roads and onto muddy paths and open fields. The sport is now a popular way for many bicycle racers to end a season of road or mountain bike racing.

“It's a race that hasn't been held in Saratoga since the '70s, or ever in the park and a very unique type of event,” said event promoter and cyclocross racer John Onderdonk “We're hoping for a great turnout as we have designed the course thinking about the spectators as well as the racers. There are many great vantage points to watch, including hanging out in the pavilion by the fire.”

Athletes will compete throughout the day in categories broken out by age or ability. Races for children 10-14, and beginner’s categories for adults begin at 9:15 a.m., to be followed by races for master’s athletes competing in 35+, 45+, and 55+ categories at 10 a.m. Intermediate men will follow at 11 a.m. Elite women will race at 12:30 p.m., with the elite men to close out the day at 1:30 p.m.

There will be a cyclocross-style race for children under 10 at noon.

Cyclocross racing places demands on both a competitor’s fitness and their ability to navigate variable, and constantly changing terrain. Cyclists using specialized bicycles with road-style handlebars but wider, knobbed tires will complete multiple laps on a mile-long course that will force them to navigate obstacles, jump over barriers, and to dismount and run up hill while carrying their bike. With a course marked by yellow tape, fans will have their choice of vantage point –exciting fast stretches through the woods or on the run-up, where racers will look for a cheer (or jeer) to get them over the top of the climb.

“This race would not have been possible without the generous support of our local sponsors, who are as excited as we are to be bringing this unique event to Saratoga Springs,” said promoter Andrew Bernstein. “We were also glad to bring in food vendors and other local businesses to our race expo, to add another element to the spectator experience at Spa ‘Cross.”

Sponsors include Blue Sky Bicycles, Sigma Sports, the Olde Saratoga Brewery, Eastern Mountain Sports, Embrocation Cycling Journal, and Kubricki Construction.

In addition to racing action, spectators will enjoy a race expo, with vendors from the Saratoga area, including: Blue Sky Bicycles, who will have mechanics on hand to tune bikes for racers; KD Energy, makers of organic, vegan energy bars; Happy Chain, a locally-produced chain lubricant for bicycle chains; and Sigma Sports, maker of bicycle accessories.

In addition, Saratoga Coffee Traders will be on hand to keep athletes and spectators properly caffeinated, and Joe’s Burrito, of Albany, will serve chicken, beef, and vegetable burritos.

Spa ‘Cross is the first-ever cyclocross race to be held in Saratoga Springs, and is the seventh race of the series, a nine-race series centered around the Capital Region.

To register online, please visit For more information, please visit us online at Also, you can find us on Facebook!

DIRECTIONS: I 87 to exit 13N. After exiting, head north on Route 9. Go through the first set of lights. At the second light, turn left to enter the park. Follow signs for the Columbia Pavilion.

Tuesday, October 20

More from City Council

That was quite a city council meeting. It was one of those meetings where I walk about the door and ask: why would anyone want that job?

There wasn't room in Wednesday's paper to report on much of what happened at the council meeting, but one thing I did want to note, in light of my report in Tuesday's paper, is that the council voted 4 to 1 not to fund additional council to represent former city officials Valerie Keehn and Michael Englert in the case of a discrimination suit brought against the city by a former DPW laborer Henry Smith.

Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim was the only member to vote in favor of paying local attorney Kurt Mausert to represent the officials, saying that he felt it was not appropriate for an attorney hired through the city's insurance company to subpoena Keehn and Englert. The attorney, John Asplund, was present Tuesday and said that he had been asked to subpoena both. Mausert had been invited to attend Tuesday's meeting to explain why additional representation was necessary, but he was not present.

In other news, anything and everything that could have been politicized at Tuesday's meeting was, including legislation to join a nation-wide agreement on climate. Commissioner Kim and Commissioner of Accounts John Franck both recollected Keehn signing the same legislation while in office, and Kim suggested that she should be present for a signing ceremony on Saturday.

Mayor Johnson, in turn, asked Kim to stop politicizing everything.

I, for one, and deeply grateful that tonight's meeting was the last before the city elections.

Speaking of the election, don't forget that there is a candidate's forum at the high school at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Candidates for Mayor, Commissioner of Finance and Commissioner of Accounts will attend.

Monday, October 19

Perspectives on paid parking, via Streetsblog NYC

via Streetsblog New York City by Matthew Roth on 10/15/09

Donald_Shoup.jpgUCLA professor and parking policy superstar Donald Shoup.
If you're interested in the power of parking policy to reduce congestion and make streets more livable, the most exciting place to be right now is San Francisco. For the past year and a half, the city has pursued an innovative slate of policies designed to manage parking supply wisely and deftly, thanks in part to a federal grant from the Urban Partnership program -- the same pot of money that New York City could have accessed if Albany had passed congestion pricing last year.

This Tuesday, the San Francisco MTA released a long-awaited parking meter study, which calls for increasing meter hours in commercial districts where parking occupancy rises above 85 percent and businesses are open late on weekdays and Sundays. Afterward, Streetsblog called UCLA Professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking and arguably the world's foremost parking expert, and asked for his thoughts on the study.

Professor Shoup had read the document and called it "pathbreaking," lauding the MTA for being thorough and data-driven, and for embracing occupancy targets to manage parking supply.

Shoup also reiterated the importance of Community Benefit Districts (CBDs) as a tool for selling parking reform to the public. In CBDs, a portion of the new meter revenue collected in commercial districts is returned to that district for sidewalk repair, street trees, enhanced street cleaning, etc., so that businesses can see firsthand how parking revenue improves their streets.

Professor Shoup also pointed to Redwood City, Ventura, and Old Pasadena for best practice examples of occupancy-based parking policy changes that have revitalized neighborhoods and facilitated business. Here is an edited transcript of our interview. [For a longer version, head over to Streetsblog San Francisco.]

Matthew Roth: What are your impressions of the MTA's new parking meter study?

Donald Shoup: It's pathbreaking. There's never been anything like it anywhere before. I think they've done the right thing to say, 'we're aiming for an occupancy rate.' You want the spaces to be well used, but readily available. Well used means almost full, but readily available means not quite full. You have to be very careful to make sure you get that right. They're willing to adjust it if they get it wrong. I think the right price for parking is sort of like the Supreme Court's definition for pornography: I know it when I see it. There's no way to say the price is right except by looking at the result and San Francisco is committed to change the price wherever they get it wrong.

I think they did it with a very careful goal in mind and that is: set the lowest possible price they could charge and still have spaces available on every block. So that's different prices at different times of the day and at different locations, but I think if they aim for this policy, if they've chosen the lowest price they can charge and still have available spaces, it means if they go any lower, all the spaces will be filled and people will say there's no place to park. And if they go higher than that, there will be a lot of vacant spaces. Some of the supply will be mismanaged.

MR: How important are Community Benefit Districts for selling parking reform to the public?

DS: Well, I think it is the key to getting political support. As you probably know, Redwood City has this policy and Ventura in Southern California, they just started it. From the merchants' point of view, they think that the revenue return is the most important part of the entire policy. They realize that it's going to cut down on cruising and maybe greenhouse gas emissions, but the important thing to them is seeing improvements right in front of their businesses. Without that it seems to be hard to support the idea.

It's also true in Washington, D.C. They installed it around a new ballpark and they returned 75 percent of the revenue to the metered districts. And this can be for transportation improvements. I think that something visible and sharing with the community is very important. If they don't do that it's hard to show and prove and have pictures of the benefits.

I think it's important for getting people to understand the workings of the program. I don't think the community benefit district will change anything about the right price for parking. I do, however, think they will make the policies seem much more reasonable to everybody. If they use the money to make sidewalk improvements, one of the most important transportation pieces of infrastructure in San Francisco. I think the sidewalks are almost as important as the bus system. If they said we'll use some of the money to improve the sidewalks and the streetscapes on the metered streets, everybody would see that the city is giving back something and not just taking. I think if you give back something that's very visible and very valuable, the metered communities will see the benefits right in front of their eyes. Everybody wants better bus service and more frequent bus service, but that's hard to see, especially if you're a struggling merchant. I think that it's easy to see very clean sidewalks, very well-policed sidewalks in front of your restaurant, rapid responses to any cracks in your sidewalks, maybe much more frequent cleaning.

MR: Some businesses complain that extending meter hours or raising rates will drive customers away, that they'll go to suburban malls where parking is plentiful and free. How do you contend with that assertion?

DS: You have to emphasize that the pricing is to keep the spaces almost entirely, but not quite, full. So you can't say the people are being chased away if almost all the spaces are full almost all of the time. You just wonder, where are they being chased? For the businesses, the important thing is that people are being chased away because the spaces will be occupied, but they will be occupied by people who will be willing to pay for parking if they can easily find a space.

If I were a waiter working in a restaurant, who do you think would leave a bigger tip, someone who will come only if they can find a free parking space after they have driven around long enough to find it, or someone that who is willing to pay for parking if they can easily find a space? I think the person that is willing to pay for parking is more willing to leave a bigger tip or pay more at a store or bring more business to the area than somebody who wants to be a freeloader and just won't come to your neighborhood unless they can get free parking. When you think about it, the kind of customers you're going to get is probably a little bit more free-spending if they can easily find a space and they're willing to pay for parking.

In terms of the economics of it, Old Pasadena simply took off economically the year they installed meters. The sales-tax revenue is about six times higher than it was when they put in the meters in 1992. That is because, at least in Old Pasadena, the meter money has greatly improved the public infrastructure of that neighborhood. In San Francisco, they're talking about using most of the money for public transit, so there won't be the physical improvements. You're probably attracting a more free-spending group of customers and maybe more carpools, because they'll be splitting the cost of the curb parking. Maybe two dollars an hour won't seem like such a punitive payment if there are four people in the car and they're staying in an area for four hours. The solo driver will object to paying for parking. But if I were a business person, I'd rather see the cars arriving with four people in them rather than one.

MR: What should San Francisco, or any city trying to reform parking policy, do about time limits?

DS: The other thing I think that San Francisco is doing and that Redwood City did and that Ventura has done is eliminate any time limits on the meters. They removed the time limits and they rely on pricing to create turnover and vacancies and this has been the most popular part of the policy in Redwood City. People now don't have to worry -- a driver and three friends want to go for dinner some place and they park -- they don't have to worry that they have to get back to their meter in an hour or two hours. Whatever they're doing, they don't feel like they're pushed around so much by the city. It still creates a lot of turnover because the price is higher, but the user is more in control of their life than when somebody who manages meters says you can only stay here for an hour or two hours.

The advantage of using prices to manage parking is that you don't need to have these arbitrary time limits. I think when people say they're going to run meters in the evening, it seems ridiculous because people want to park once and walk around for the evening. Turnover is not important for that, but pricing is important to make sure that some of the spaces remain available. So I would say that whenever you talk about running the meters in the evening, you have to say there's no time limit on them. You can put enough money in to stay for the entire evening, park once and go to dinner, a movie, a bar, and then walk around for as long as you want. You have to break this automatic assumption that a meter means that you have to leave in an hour or two hours.

MR: In the MTA study, during metered hours, Columbus Avenue had 71-81 percent occupancy. Does that mean the meter prices are too high?

DS: Yes, I think it's quite common for meter prices to be too high, especially in the morning. Definitely on some days and at some hours the prices will definitely come down.

MR: Is 85 percent occupancy target a firm benchmark? Are there situations where you want more or less occupancy?

DS: Well, it's short-hand. It just means you shouldn't have too much of an hour that is totally full. You shouldn't have much of an hour that is less than 70 percent, but somewhere around 85 percent. Sometimes it's going to be higher and sometimes its going to be absolutely full. What you'll see is variation around 85 percent, but I think what you mainly want is to make sure it isn't full more than 10 or 15 minutes out of any hour.

*Thanks to Steve G. for today's post.

Friday, October 16

Ivins won

Now having spent the better part of 24 hours reflecting on last night's candidate forum, I am prepared to declare Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Ivins Jr. the winner.

True, the incumbent Republican was not present (he and opponent Peter Martin will face off at next week's forum), but all four candidates who were present acknowledged that paid parking, in some form, is an idea whose time has come.

Of course, both Kevin Connolly and Skip Scirocco said they would prefer to see paid parking in conjunction with new facilities to be built in the High Rock lot, but it seems that the commissioners idea to bring in some new revenue will become a reality, regardless of how next month's election shakes out.

I am reluctant to critique last night's debate, as I plan on continuing to speak to these candidates throughout the election, and don't want to alienate anyone, but I do have some observations, some of which have already been made in other venues:

1) Kevin Connolly apparently did not get the memo requesting he arrive at 6:45, instead arriving at 7:20. He committed a further gaffe when his cell phone rang during the forum.

2) Ed Miller makes vague references to Commissioner Scirocco hiring his own family, but failed to note that both cases were for part time positions that were either seasonal or likely slated for cut backs. I feel this was a rather hollow attack.

3) Voters will have a hard time distinguishing between Public Safety candidates, at least as far as issues are concerned. Aside from the recreation center, both have very similar positions on most issues, leading me to believe that this particular office could be decided by the whims of voters casting ballots in other races -- especially the race for Mayor. Like Scott Johnson? Vote for Richard Wirth. Like Ron Kim? Vote for Kevin Connolly too.

4) After Friday's round of endorsements, there can't be any question about which party has a better line on the unions. This could serve to bite the Democrats in the ass, since there is a growing sentiment among the public that increasing, contractually-obligated health care costs and pay raises are not helping the city's financial position. Of course, each of the candidates also said that they saw the need to reduce the cost of union contracts.

5) More to come.

Thursday, October 15

Who won?

Well, the first of two forums for candidates running for city office happened tonight. On my way out the door a DPW employee (I think it may have been City Artists Phil Steffen, but I'm not entirely sure), asked me who I thought won.

At that moment in time I was so focused on my 10 p.m. deadline (it was 9:11), that I couldn't even formulate a reasonable answer.

Now that I'm thinking about it, though, I think the voter is the real winner.

Turnout was not as high as I remember it being the last time I attended such a forum for a local election, in 2005, but there was a good crowd -- including many city employees -- at the Saratoga Springs High School, and the questions brought forth by the public made one thing clear: people are scared about the prospect of skyrocketing taxes, but also don't want to turn a cold shoulder to the men and women who have faithfully served the city.

The candidates have a tough line to walk. The Democrat's firm line against layoffs will likely curry them favor with the city's unions, but most of the city's residents are not union members, and the Republican candidates' stance on holding the line on taxes will aid them at the polls.

But the chance to see the candidates in action, so to speak, was a good chance for everyone at the forum, and I hope that more will turnout for the the Mayoral and Finance candidates, to meet at a forum next week.

Wednesday, October 14

Everyone has problems

Going into the November election, I was thinking today that both the Democrats and Republicans have at least one problem, due not to their own doing, but to circumstances outside of their control:

Due to construction at the City Center, and the convention center's disinclination to host polling places, five city voting districts (3, 4, 8, 9, and 25) will move from the City Center, where they have been since the building opened, to the Lincoln Baths, in Spa State Park.

All five of those districts are Democratic-leaning, and many of those voters are handicapped or elderly. Although the new polling place is no less accessible (both in terms of handicapped ramps and in terms of parking) than the City Center, we may see some voters reluctant to change their habits, after voting in the same place for so many years. Of course, the two spots aren't much more than a mile apart, but it's the notion of having to drive across town that will turn off some voters, and the feeling is that the elderly in those districts are among the mostly likely to decide casting a vote isn't worth the drive.

I would guess that this will be exacerbated by lower turnout in a local election (as compared to a national one) , in addition to lower-still turnout expected this year across the nation, due to a voting public sick of elections after the two-year presidential election. In this area, that effect will be compounded by the special election we had for Congress earlier this year.

For some reason that I do not pretend understand, Beaver Pond Village, an 85-lot subdivision in Geyser Crest, has become associated with the city's Republican Party. The project was granted preliminary approval by the Planning Board in June, over vocal objections from Geyser Crest residents. The project now needs final approval to move forward, and the residents continue to voice their displeasure.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, none of the currently-elected GOP city officials or candidates have anything to do with this project. The closest connection is that Michael Perkins, a member of the Planning Board, is also serving as chairman of Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Ivins Jr.'s campaign — but Perkins recused himself from any votes on Beaver Pond earlier this year.

To make this link even odder, residents seem to be overlooking the fact that Assemblyman James Tedisco issued a letter to the city urging them not to allow the project to go forward back when he was running in the aforementioned special election.

Setting aside completely that there is no discernible, meaningful link between the Republicans and Beaver Pond, there is still a perception, especially in Geyser Crest, that the party is somehow responsible for it. You can be sure the Democrats will do what they can to capitalize on that.

Monday, October 12

Next on the chopping block

It's a holiday out there, although it is not a holiday in here. It might as well be. It seems that whenever the government takes a break, it leads a slow news day. Although the chance to catch up on some email and clean my computer's desk top. I gave a half-hearten thought to also cleaning my physical desktop, but that one never manifested itself in action. So it goes.

I did spend sometime reviewing Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Ivins Jr.'s proposed 2010 comprehensive budget, and noticed one job not currently on the chopping block is the Director of Public Works, currently held by Billy McTygue. The only reason this is noteworthy is that the job was one of a few slated for elimination during the mid-year budget amendment cycle, and was saved by some last-minute wrangling. The post pays an annual salary of about $100,000.

While some people (including Independence candidate Ed Miller) feel that this position is underutilized, others feel that it is not necessary in a department with a full time deputy commissioner. Of course, there is also no escaping the assertion by some -- whether or not it's accurate -- that the job was created as patronage for McTygue by his brother Tommy, the former Commissioner of Public Works.

I don't know exactly where Commissioner Scirocco stands on the necessity of the director position, although he did choose not to eliminate McTygue in the mid-year amendment process. As the budget moves forward, this is one position that I will be keeping a very close eye on.

Saturday, October 10

PBA statement on proposed layoffs

This from PBA President Ed Lewis:

October 9th, 2009


PBA President Edward M. Lewis,Jr. issued the following for immediate release

The PBA has read with great interest the public statements of Finance Commissioner Kenneth Ivins suggesting that City Unions should agree to long term agreements with no raise, no longevity payments and increased employee contributions for health insurance plans. Our response is simple. If the City has a proposal for an agreement they should make it at the bargaining table. The PBA does not bargain Contracts in the News Media. The PBA contract expired at the end of 2008. We have been trying to get the City to bargain with us since July of 2008. The place to do that is at the bargaining table, not the six o’clock news.

As for the City’s suggestion on higher employee costs for health insurance, that too is a subject that needs to be discussed at the bargaining table. But the Commissioners do not need our permission to change the contribution rates they make for their own health insurance that the City currently provides at no cost to the Commissioners.

As for threats that the City will begin layoffs if the Unions will not make concessions, we say simply that The PBA is proud of the job it’s members do in protecting the citizens of Saratoga Springs. We believe the Citizens expect and deserve a professional, fully functional police department that has enough personnel to provide quality police protection. No one can seriously argue that the City will be just as safe with fewer Police Officers.

Friday, October 9

The budget is THE story

In reading all the comments posted on various stories (particularly this one and this one) over the past few days, I noticed quite a few people criticizing me for covering "three-day old news."

I think -- and it's OK if you disagree -- that the 2010 budget is the biggest local story that I have covered in my two years here at the City Desk. I won't apologize for writing about it a lot this week, and I won't apologize about the same thing going forward -- and you can be sure that I will be writing a lot about this budget going forward.

Why do I feel it's such an important story?
1) The city, like many municipalities all over the country, is facing a huge revenue gap. Closing it will be painful -- the result of a historic economic downturn, which is not over.
2) This budget coincides with the still-expired union contracts, leading to a situation in which the city has to try and work with unions to save money, while the unions have little reason to come to the table, knowing full well that the city is looking for substantial give-backs.
3) This budget coincides with a city election, giving political operatives an easy target over which to attack their rivals. Don't like Ken Ivins? It's his fault that there are seven firefighters and seven cops facing unemployment. Don't like Ron Kim? Then it's his fault.

I agree, to a certain extent, with commenters who call the proposed comprehensive budget a political document. By which I mean, if Commissioner Ivins miraculously finds a way to save the bulk of threatened jobs in an eleventh-hour maneuver, we can call that a political move made to give the appearance of saving the day. Say the same for Commissioner Kim. Again, I have to wonder why anyone would want these jobs.

Whether or not there is actually an as-yet undiscovered backdoor that would allow 27 full time city employees to keep their jobs is not something I know now. What I do know is that all five members of the council are pointing to escalating health care costs, mandated by union contracts, as a significant problem, while union reps are saying that there are other ways to save money. So far, though, I haven't heard many concrete suggestions.


Thursday, October 8

A 2010 budget without support?

I apologize for the lack of a post on Wednesday. I stayed home with a cold, so as not to infect the rest of the office, and although I could have posted from home, I opted not to -- for the sake of making my day or rest as restful as possible.

Anyhow, my ill-timed illness put me a day later than I'd hoped in writing some follow up to Wednesday's story on Finance Commissioner Kenneth Ivins' proposed budget. I got to that work today, and had the chance to talk to almost the entire City Council, as well as most of the candidates in November's elections.

While everyone agrees that the current budget is pretty crappy, there is some disagreement about who is to blame. Ivins wants to blame the Democratic leadership in Albany, which took away the city's VLT money. Ron Kim wants to blame Ivins and Mayor Scott Johnson for failing to cut a deal with Sonny Bonacio for the sale of the High Rock parking lots, for the construction of a parking structure, mixed use building, and police station there -- and for building a recreation center.

Peter Martin, a Democrat running for the finance post, wants to blame, not surprisingly, his opponent.

While some are less-willing to come out and say it directly, everyone also wants to blame the city's unions, who are reluctant to offer any givebacks.

The unions might have had stronger footing for demanding a same-or-better contract, had the bottom not fallen out of the VLT money, and had sales tax followed general economic trends at the same time. As it happens, the city seems to be running out of pockets from which to snatch a few extra dollars, and the money has to come from somewhere. So layoffs appear to be the answer.

Of everyone I spoke to today, Commissioner John Franck seems to be the most satisfied -- although he said he still wouldn't vote for the budget. While he regrets the layoffs, there doesn't seem to be much of an alternative, and if the paid parking solution were tied into capital projects, this budget might fail with two votes instead of one.

Of course, a failing budget that can't be agreed upon by Nov. 30 is actually a passing budget. I think these next two months are going to be rather interesting.

Tuesday, October 6

Kyle York allegations

I would say that in the two years I've been covering the City Council, tonight's meeting was among the most important. The city is facing a multi-million dollar gap in revenue, and has some difficult decisions to make.

What are we supposed to go without? The flowers that make our city an attractive summertime destination or the police officers who keep the rowdy visitors in line? The DPW crews who keep the streets clean in summer and passable in winter or firefighters? Should we close down the visitor center?

In short, I am not envious of Commissioner Ivins' job.

All that being said, I hope that we (the government, public, and press) can get through this year's budget process in an amicable fashion, without the rancor we saw last year. That meeting (documented in the linked article), was referenced to me twice today, once in a candidate interview with Eddie Miller, Independence candidate for Public Works, and once by citizen Kyle York, who spoke at tonight's city council meeting.

York said that a confidential source had confided him that a member of the City Council had been threatened by a union worker, presumably over the budget. York declined to discuss any of the details with me, but said that he would speak with DA James Murphy tomorrow. Police Chief Ed Moore also said he had no idea what York was talking about.

So, although I have no idea what York is talking about, if union members are threatening members of the council, that would certainly be troubling. It's no wonder the parties have a hard time finding candidates.

Saturday, October 3

Bleachers' last game?

Last week, I wrote a story about the bleachers at the East Side Rec, on the field formerly used by the Blue Streaks.

The story had a big question mark in it, in the form of a missing comment from schools Superintendent Janice White. Apparently, White was at a conference and not available. Upon her return, we learned that the district will discuss, at the next school board meeting, spending $12,000 to dismantle the old bleachers. Refurbishing them would have cost $60,000 to $70,000.

The plan will hinge on a school board vote. We have not yet been able to confirm the bleacher's history, but most anecdotal evidence we've heard points to origins as "blacks-only" bleachers at the race course or harness track. Although they are historic -- in the sense that they've been around for a while -- it seems that the school board is making an economically responsible decision. Of course, we don't yet know hat plans there might be to replace the bleachers -- or why it took more than a year to make a decision on them, following their condemnation.

Thursday, October 1

Odd national trends from today's paper

Tom Torgesen would not approve of some rhetoric currently bouncing around the Pentagon, although article is by a member of the Air Force, not his beloved Navy. Still, it would appear that Torgesen's most basic premise, that the armed services don't want to serve along side gay men and woman, may be changing.

No word on what the Senatorial candidate may think about the award-winning essay that notes there is no evidence that unit cohesion is effected by having openly gay members.

But, I found the Times' article somewhat disturbing for a wholly different reason. Another article notes that members of the public who believe that abortion should be legal in most cases has shrunk, while those who believe it should be illegal have grown in number.

I'm probably opening a box that I shouldn't, but I'll just go ahead and say that I believe very firmly in the right of women to choose how, when, and where the reproduce, including access to abortion. That's just me.

The point is though, if the military, surely one of the nation's most conservative institutions, is becoming open to sexual orientations other than straight, how is it possible that a huge segment of the general population -- a block that just elected the nation's first black president -- is getting more conservative, at least where abortion is concerned?

I wonder what Torgesen thinks about abortion. He does say he's a Democrat, and I suppose gay men don't have to worry too much about abortion.

Anyone with any thoughts, please chime in.