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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, December 25

Union update

Note: This is the final post in this blog written by former Saratogian city reporter Andrew Bernstein. All entries preceding this post were also authored by Bernstein under the username "City Desk" (which was changed following this post to reflect the primary author of the blog), unless otherwise noted.

On Tuesday, Mayor Scott Johnson and members of the city's police union spent several hours in their first mediation session with the state Public Employees Relation Board.

I spoke to the union leadership during the session (parties are kept in separate rooms during the session), and they were cautiously optimistic, and waiting patiently.

On Thursday, Johnson said it was a productive session, and hoped that that the next session, scheduled for early January would bring a settlement between the city and the union. The contract expired on Dec. 31, 2008, nearly a year ago.

Contracts with several other city unions, including CSEA-DPW and CSEA-City Hall are also expired, and in various stages of negotiation. Smaller unions, including administrative police and fire, are expired, and will likely not be negotiated until the larger contracts are settled.

Wednesday, December 23

CLOSED, Pending new management

No, not a joke. More of a holiday gift to myself.

As announced here at The Saratogian yesterday and around City Hall earlier today, as of Jan. 4, I will be assuming new responsibilities as Sports Editor at The Saratogian. As such, I will be surrendering this blog.

My last day as city reporter is Dec. 29, and you can expect new posts on a semi-regular basis until then (allowing for some holiday slacking). After that date, things will likely be quiet on this blog until we hire a new reporter to cover the city beat (interviews are already underway), and until that person gets settled into their new job.

I am very excited about my new role at the paper, and looking forward to giving it my full focus and attention. Of course, I will miss many of the wonderful people I've met and had the opportunity to work with over the past two years -- but at the same time, I'm looking forward to working with a whole new range of people over on the sports side.

Since I started this blog nearly two years ago it has flourished into one of the best-read features of our fledgling website, and allowed me to interact with a vocal (if small) contingent of commentors. Whether or not they made themselves heard, this blog has become a daily stop for many readers, and I am very proud of that. We saw 13,000 visits in November. I hope that I added something to conversations about politics in Saratoga, I hope that you got as much out of it as I did!

I also remain proud of the state press award I won this year for work on this blog -- an award that shows as much of my readers commitment to reading as it does to my own work. For now, it's on to the next thing. Miss me if you like, but as I've been telling people all week, I have every confidence that the next reporter to sit in my chair will do an even better job with this blog (and city coverage) than I have.

Happy Holidays! AB

Tuesday, December 22

Bits from City Hall

It was a cold weekend here in Saratoga Springs. The seasonal weather seems to have had a subduing effect on citizens in the city, as we are now into the second day without any arrests in the city.

Perhaps the holiday spirit has moved us all to cooperate and get along for a bit.

Tomorrow should see the appointment of a new Fire Chief, which should be exciting. Apparently it's a down-to-the-wire race between two candidates, and Commissioner Kim will likely hold off on his decision until the last moment. There does, however, seem to be a lot less political controversy surrounding this appointment than there was during the process of appointing Chris Cole to the the chief of police.

The most interesting to come out of City Hall today, however, is the installation of a gate at the entrance to the mayor's office. Now, when you walk in the office door, instead of entering directly into the main office, you'll be stopped at a swinging gate, about waist high. I'm not a fan of the new addition, but apparently that Mayor's office was the last in the building not to have such a partition. So it goes.

Finally, Mayor Scott Johnson spent a good chunk of the day in mediation with the PBA. No word yet on how the session went/is going, but hopefully there will be some progress announced on that front soon. It is nearly a year since the contract expired.

Friday, December 18


I was really hoping that this would just blow over, but it clearly isn't going to, so here it is:

On Wednesday evening, after going back and forth on whose responsibility it is to distribute layoff letters in the Department of Public Works, City Attorney Joe Scala threw a packet of letters at Commissioner of Public Works Skip Scirocco, hitting him in the back, although he says he only intended to throw the envelope at Scirocco's feet.

Scirocco said that after delivering the first of 28 lay off letters, he realized that individuals losing their jobs were asking a lot of questions that he was not equipped to answer. These were questions that should probably have been addressed by the city's Human Resource Manager. The problem being, of course, that the city does not currently have an HR manager. City Attorney Joe Scala has been empowered to fill in as HR manager in some capacities.

So, here's my take: Scirocco is within his rights to ask for help in answering technical, legal questions relating to layoffs. BUT, knowing Scirocco, and having heard both sides' description of the confrontation, it does not sound like the commissioner clearly articulated his request for this kind of help, but instead left the letters without explanation on Scala's desk. According to Civil Service, delivering the letters can also be handled by Human Resources, but Scala's role as a stand-in HR person is not clearly defined, so he may be right in saying that it's not his job.

From Scala's perspective, it appears to be the appointing authority's job to deliver the layoff letters, so without a good explanation of what Scirocco wanted when he left the letters, why would he want to get involved in the messy delivery of such documents? BUT, was it professional of him to throw the envelope at an elected official? Probably not. It certainly doesn't fit in with the Mayor's stated agenda of bringing decorum and civility to City Hall, a point that outgoing Commissioner of Public Safety was eager to point out this afternoon.

The bottom line, from where I'm sitting, is that the city is doing something it has never done before with this amount of layoffs. No one is really happy about it, and who can blame them? Emotions are running high, and since we're all human, confrontations can happen. Let's just hope that this is the worst we see.

Also, Horatio has a good take on all this.

Thursday, December 17

Public Safety Promotions

Quick update on the Public Safety promotions. Interviews have been completed for the Assistant Chief position in the police department, and interviews for positions in the fire department (chief and assistant chief) will be conducted next week, said Commissioner Ron Kim.

Richard Wirth, the incoming Commissioner of Public Safety, will participate in Monday's interviews for fire chief.

Announcements of all upcoming promotions are expected to be made next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 15

Interesting assertions in Planning Board letter

*Correction appended 12/17: Jamin Totino is a registered member of the Democratic Party

A somewhat interesting letter from Sunday’s paper, linked here. Michael Perkins, a member of the Planning Board, wrote to take issue with another letter, written by Barbara Trypaluk, which criticized the planning process related to Beaver Pond Village.

Perkins, who did not vote on Beaver Pond Village, is also vice chairman of the Saratoga Springs Republican Committee, and appears to be writing to fend off accusations that the planning process was unduly politicized along party lines.

Well, I suppose that’s all well and good, but do think it’s interesting to note two points: Perkins says that the board is split between Democrats and Republicans. Not so. There are currently four Republicans on the board (Perkins, Dan Gaba, Philip Klein, and Chairman Clifford Van Wagner). Jamin Totino, Laura Rappaport and Amy Durland and Democrats. Rappaport’s term ends on Dec. 31, and given Mayor Scott Johnson’s record of appointments, I find it doubtful that she will be re-appointed, or that she will be replaced by another member of her party. Although, who knows. In any case, the board isn’t really that balanced.

Secondly, Perkins states that there are no voting blocks, but from what I have observed, after sitting through many, many Planning Board meetings, is that when a vote is not unanimously in favor, Durland and Rappaport often vote together (often against proposals), while the remaining five often vote together as well. This is not always the case, to be sure, but there are clearly some patterns.

Finally, I can’t help but wonder if Perkins was somehow authorized to write this letter on behalf of the whole Planning Board, as it appears he has.

Saturday, December 12

Still looking for unity

After Wednesday's debacle, I successfully attended this morning's meeting of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee. Thank you to Chairman Allen Turkheimer and the committee for allowing me to stay and observe your discussions.

If I were to take away one thing from the meeting it is this: The committee has recognized that the only way it will be successful at winning elections in Saratoga Springs is to set aside the party's divisions and unite under their common banner -- but that the committee has a long way to go before such conciliation becomes more than a notion.

There was clearly a lot of vitriol at the meeting, still simmering from 2007. A suggestion was thrown out for the committee to join together for a party, and that probably isn't a bad idea. They may also want to consider marriage counseling.

Friday, December 11

Cooperation didn't last long

I was among one of many who were pleased last Friday, when the incoming and outgoing commissioners of Public Safety stood together in the City Council room and announced that Christopher Cole would be the city's new chief of police.

With the spirit of cooperation the two politicians displayed, I was hopeful that any further appointments made before the end of the year would play out in a similarly forward-thinking manner. I was, instead, disappointed today to learn that Commissioner-elect Rick Wirth was not involved at all in interviews of the three candidates for Assistant Chief.

No word on when the announcement of that position will be made, if at all.

Wednesday, December 9

Bernstein thrown out of county dems' meeting

First, a moment of levity on an otherwise dreary evening (both in the meteorological sense of the word and in a journalistic sense). This is post number 500 on the Saratoga City Desk! It's been quite a ride, since post number one, way back in January, 2008. Hard to believe that it was nearly two years ago...

Thanks for indulging me.

And now, the reason you came: Not an hour ago, Larry Bulman, chairman of the Saratoga County Democratic Committee, unceremoniously asked me to leave a meeting of the county committee. I attended the meeting to see if there was anything to the speculation that Bulman might resign his chairmanship as a result of testimony he gave in the Joe Bruno's trial -- speculation that he categorically denied yesterday.

Even though it didn't seem that a resignation was likely, my editors and I thought I might as well attend the meeting, if only to get a flavor of what the County Dems are thinking after a tumultuous election cycle in 2009, and ahead of important national and state elections in 2010.

Of course, it's the right of any body or group to decide if their meetings are open or closed, and certainly Bulman was within his rights as chairman to ask me to leave. BUT, I still find myself miffed in the manner in which this all transpired.

After discussing the meeting with several members of the city committee (from both factions), all of whom lead me to believe the meeting was open, I arrived early, and spent time talking to former City Chair Lou Schneider and former candidate for Commissioner of Finance Peter Martin. I also said hello or exchanged a few words with Election Commissioner William Frucci, Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim, Supervisor Joanne Yepsen, Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Eileen Finneran, City Chairman Allen Turkheimer, and Mary Marsicano, a member of U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy's staff. I thought I had at least made eye contact with Bulman, but maybe not.

It's pretty well established that each of those individuals know who I am, and I think it's pretty clear that I am not a member of the county committee, so I feel confident in saying that the reason for my presence was clear. Plus, the notepad really should have given it away. I will admit, however, to failing to wear my press pass.

The meeting began, and I was sitting toward the back but with a clear view of Bulman at the head table. He began the meeting by discussing, in general terms, the 2009 elections (incidentally, he thinks Dems in Saratoga Springs may have picked the wrong issue). Then he took a few moments to speak out against reports in The Saratogian (the blog post linked to above), and the Times Union that discussed a possible resignation. He also stated that he intends to run for re-election to his post in September.

Bulman threw out a few digs at press for printing rumors, including at least one aimed directly at me -- but that's fine and nothing extraordinary. To the criticism I say this: if I hear that there is discussion, even if only by a few people, that Bulman has problems from within his committee, and then I note those conversations, I'm not printing a rumor, I'm reporting a conversation of which I am aware, and which readers might find interesting. To me, that's an important distinction, but maybe others don't see it that way.

Anyway, just as the committee was getting set to discuss the state-wide and national campaigns in which we will all be embroiled next year (Assembly, Senate, Congress), Bulman interrupted Bob Reilly to ask if there was any press in the room. Of course, I identified myself as such, although I was somewhat surprised since I was fairly confident that Bulman had seen me. I was, it would seem, the only press in the room. He then announced that the meeting was closed to press, and asked me to leave, which I did.

So much for the claims of "open processes" made so often by Democrats. I plan to attend Saturday's meeting of the City Committee, we'll see if I get thrown out of that one too.

Friday, December 4

In politics, outside of Saratoga Springs

Let's step outside of the city for a moment.

Discussion is swirling among county Democrats over a meeting of the county committee, scheduled for next Wednesday.

At question is whether county chair Larry Bulman will use the meeting to announce his resignation from the committee. Bulman, who also serves as an officer on the New York State Democratic Committee, was outed as having been involved in some questionable practices as an official Local 773, a steamfitter's union of which he is business manager.

According to this story in the Times Union, Bulman invested some pension funds with Wright Investor's Services, at Bruno's urging.

If Bulman were to resign, Saratoga County Vice Chair, Todd Koerner, Clifton Park chairman, would become acting chair person.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 3

Where politics and profession intersect

As you have read in today's paper, the current commissioner of Public Safety, and the commissioner-elect are engaged in a sparring match over the right to appoint new chiefs in the police and fire departments. The current chiefs both announced that they would retire on Tuesday, making way for a series of promotions that will allow the department to avoid one of seven lay offs each department will experience under the 2010 comprehensive budget.

While the appointments are, without a doubt, to be made by a politician one way or the other, I hope that both Ron Kim and Richard Wirth will keep in mind that the chiefs will be selected from a very short list of seasoned professionals. And, those professionals will likely be around much longer than any of the politicians in question.

There is word that Wirth will seek to remove anyone appointed by Kim. It's one thing to make a staffing change is there is truly a problem, but to cause upheaval just because one political machine or the other wants the credit for appointing the chiefs feels shortsighted and foolish to me.

I hope that Kim and Wirth will be able to reach some kind of an agreement, by which Kim can make an appointment that Wirth can live with, so that the city's emergency services can continue to operate without upheaval in the upper ranks.

Tuesday, December 1

Canned responses

First, Mary Beth Delarm responds to the news that her suit against the city over Beaver Pond Village was dismissed (this is presented exactly as it was emailed to me):

"Sadly, in this round, the justice system benefited the developers. As long as an unbalanced Planning Board, whose majority members are either realtors, adjoining property owners of proposed Projects, or friends of developers and buddies of those in political power (or are they one in the same?), this City will continue to have uncontrolled environmentally destructive growth and questionable tactics to achieve those means.

The $130,000 annual deficit which will result from Beaver Pond's poor sewage system will cause our already critical City Budget to dig into taxpayers pockets that are already empty.
With an extreme cut in Public Safety our current population is already at lifesaving risks. With Beaver Pond's 350 more residents and 86 plus new homes (not including those they plan abutting the Saratoga State Park), you can bet with certainty that our emergency forces cannot possibly respond in time to every single call throughout the City.
Developers and politicians don't care so much about property burning and saving lives in a timely manner--not as much as they do having control of the government. Wait till the lawsuits start pouring in when someone loses their homes or lives.
.Once the Planning Board voted for the Preliminary Subdivision approval last Spring, many neighbors 'had it' with the local government and put their house on the market. I don't blame them. We already have flooded streets. Imagine all those new Beaver Pond roads, homes, and driveways impervious surfaces replacing our watershed. Those trees are needed to filter our increasing air and water toxins. It'll be comparable to living in New York City's pollution. Again, the Planning Board majority doesn't call that a significant threat to the environment.
As hard as neighbors have worked for this environmental protection, some of us (are willing to work further with those that govern this City; but not if they continue to disregard SEQRA and the law. They just keep deliberating with unethical personal benefits pouring in, all while oblivious to the significant irreversible adverse environmental impacts and needs of the community (they are sworn to protect).
Years ago those in power said many times Beaver Pond Subdivision was a 'done deal". Watch to see how fast the two members who voted against the Project get booted off the Board . Keep tuned to see how quickly the Planning Board moves for the final subdivision vote to bulldoze the first few hundred trees along Geyser Road. Say so long to Saratoga Springs rural Greenbelt, recharged aquifer for clean wellwater, protected species and that historic home-town charm. Say hello to flooded basements, wetland properties, bumper to bumper traffic on Geyser Road/Route 50, higher taxes, including our school which will need more to benefit numerous new students, and more vehicle and pedestrian accidents along Geyser Road.

If one wishes to fight for keeping that critical 209 acres unique environmental wetlands, please write the DEC and Army Corps of Engineers who still needs to approve the Project.. You can call me for the email or postal addresses. .

Have a nice Holiday everyone."

Secondly, Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III responds to Chief of Police Edward Moore's retirement (also presented exactly as submitted):

"Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy, III upon learning of Saratoga Springs City Police Chief Edward Moore's retirement said "Ed has always been a chief who places the men and women of his department above himself. In his noble effort to decrease the number of layoffs of the less senior and new probationary employees, he has resigned so that there will be some additional funds available to lessen the number of those laid off. He has always been a man of integrity, honesty, loyalty and dedication to the department. His actions have always been in the best interests of the department and today's resignation is no exception. Today, when he called to tell me he was resigning, he said how can he as a Chief sit by and watch a young female police officer with five children get laid off....he believed it would have been unconscionable for him to have stayed."
While Murphy tried to talk the chief out of leaving, it was clear he had made up his mind.
Murphy said " he is an honorable man who has done an honorable job. He will be missed. He has set the bar remarkably high. I admire him and the work of his department. I have had the privilege of serving side by side with him for the 21 years I've been in the district attorneys office. I hold him in the highest regard. He and I have worked hundreds of cases together including a number of homicides. He should be commended for the faithful performance of his duties and for taking the spirit and nature of his oath seriously, an oath he lives everyday."
DA Murphy pointed out that the Saratoga Springs Police Department has been used as the statewide standard for the development of best practices for the investigation and arrest of perpetrators of domestic violence and victim support services."

Citizens Transportation Committee

The Citizens Transportation Committee of Saratoga County will meet for a "retrospective" on Wednesday evening, at 7 p.m.

The discussion will be held at the Arts Council building, on the corner of Broadway and Spring St., and will feature remarks by representatives of the city, county, state, and federal governments, as well as a question-and-answer session.

The event's billing notes that all types of transportation will be discussed, including buses, bicycles, rails, cab, and pedestrians.