Blogs > Saratogian Newsroom

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

Wednesday, February 24

FOIL'd Again!

Round two of my test of the city's Freedom of Information Law reply and answer apparatus begins today. I am requesting of the city, and a handful of state agencies, the following: "A list of all pending Freedom of Information Law Requests submitted to INSERT AGENCY HERE, including the names of the agencies or individuals making each request."

The results should be interesting.

Also in my request to the city, the surveillance camera footage from Dec 19, 2009 of the cameras in the main hallway in City Hall. From what I'm told, there was some tomfoolery that happened then involving a game of catch with an envelope.

I've also got two interesting articles for your consideration.

The first, forwarded to me by
Saratogian Sports Editor, former City Desk blogger, and competitive bicyclist Andrew Bernstein, is an article posted at NYC Streets Blog on innovations in parking planning and management. It appears as though well planned paid parking has worked in the past to encourage walking and bicycling. Whether or not it will work in Saratoga is yet to be seen.

The second is a press release from the University at Albany's School of Business; they just released their 24th annual Business Climate Survey. The release says that over 30 percent of Capital District businesses surveyed believed that the recent tech-boom has has no effect on the local business climate. Officials at the release event quoted in the release appear to disagree with their business neighbors.

Thanks to
demroc for getting the A-Team reference in my last post. I'm still not sure how I feel about Liam Neeson taking over for George Peppard.

Tuesday, February 23

Deputy Finance Commissioner Kate Jarosh video & K-9 documents

Round three, of the deputy commissioner profile series, will be with Deputy Finance Commissioner Kate Jarosh. As with previous profiles, a video preview of our conversation can be found here.

What do you think of the first two profiles?
First year Public Works deputy Tim Cogan and Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton are planned for next week, any pressing questions you'd like asked?

On the K-9 front, the state replied to my FOIL request for traning documents and a list of acceptable training locations. They redacted one page from the training manual because, "the entire page contains sensitive law enforcement information that reveals non-routine criminal investigative techniques and procedures and its disclosure could endanger the life or safety of persons.""

Instead of trying to distill these documents, I will post them here:
Canine Training Standards
Canine Trainer List

Last week the City Council postponed a vote that would've remanded custody of the city's two canine officers to their handlers until next week's meeting. The dogs were cut due to the historic city defecit.

By the way, city Principal Planner Jackie Hakes is calling it quits to go back to the private sector. Any ideas about possible candidates for replacement?

The best planner I ever saw was
Col. John "Hannibal" Smith, but I doubt the city can find him...

Thursday, February 18

First deputy profile this weekend & new video preview of Deputy Accounts Commissioner Michele Boxely

The profile of Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Frank Dudla is set to run this weekend. In it he addresses his 2004 DWAI conviction, something some commentors wanted to see in the video preview.

In the mean time, here is a video preview of the next in the series, Deputy Commissioner of Accounts Michele McGraw Boxley. In the video, she reveals the "smooth" job she worked in college that launched her Canadian marketing career, eh.

Look for a boatload of updates next week on paid parking, K-9 cops, and updates on local citizen groups.

Thanks to those of you with recent words of encouragement! Keep those tips coming!

Tuesday, February 16

FOIL Update & A Primer on the Commission System

Just a note, I received timely notifications of the receipt of two FOIL requests by the city last week, by phone, email, and post.

On a historical note; during my interview with Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Frank Dudla, he gave me a brief introduction to the origins of the city commission form of government.

For those who may not know, the commission system of governance was first established in 1901 in Galveston, Texas. They needed more administrators in more areas to help rebuild after a horrific hurricane leveled most of the city. For those interested, some stunning reportage from the 1900 storm and a commemoration can be found here.

The commission system is still sometimes referred to as the Galveston Plan or the Texas Idea. Dudla noted that some time in the first quarter of the 20th century establishing a commission system became "the thing to do", but that since then most larger cities have opted for an alternate form.

Saratoga Springs has employed the commission system since being established as a city in 1915.

Thursday, February 11

Deputy Commissioner Profile Series

Starting this week, I'll be interviewing the deputy commissioners of each city department for a series of profiles.

Today I spoke with Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Frank Dudla. You can find an excerpt of our conversation here.

Check your print edition of The Saratogian in the coming days for the full profile.

Wednesday, February 10

Information Racing

On Monday & Tuesday, I made two Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) for the latest contracts, memorandums of understanding, and negotiation minutes between the city of Saratoga Springs and four unions: CSEA locals 846 in the Department of Public Works & City Hall, IAFF local 343 firefighters union, and the Saratoga Springs Police PBA.

FOIL specifies that agencies acknowledge requests within five days of receipt. PERB responded with digital copies of the two records within a day of receipt.

Tuesday, they responded to my second request with available records in less than an hour.

Yesterday I made my first FOIL request to the city requesting the same documents, seeing as PERB did not have many on file. The city has yet to acknowledge my request.

I couldn't find instructions on the Saratoga Springs website on how to make a FOIL request nor whom to direct it to. In my experience, most state agencies and municipalities provide detailed instructions on where to direct requests. PERB has an online form sent directly to their information officer.

I also noticed that the city website doesn't list officials email addresses.

Does anyone else find this peculiar?

In case you may not know, most city email addresses are:

From now on, whenever I FOIL the city, I will make a point to also FOIL another agency that may have the records on file, and to the races we shall go!

So far the score is HOME 0, AWAY 1.

Answers to questions about FOIL and other government disclosure laws can be found at the New York State Committee on Open Government.

Tuesday, February 9

SSPD K-9 Unit Q&A

I got an email last week from a resident in response to the story on the elimination of the K-9 unit of the Saratoga Springs Police Department. The writer asked several questions, some of which I will answer now.

1) What is the status of the other dog, Dara?

Officer Mark Leffler will be given the option to keep Dara as a pet. Sources indicated he will most likely take that course.

2) What will happen to it Officer Leffler does not choose to keep the dog?

If either of the two handlers choose not to keep the dogs they would be sold and reassigned to another department. Part of the incentive for the officers to keep them is the hope that the department will reinstate them in the near future.

3) Why were the dogs purchased from the Czech Republic?

The short answer is that the best service dogs are Eastern European. The breeds stem from the bloodlines developed to be border guards during WWII and the Cold War. A deeper history of the Czech breed can be found here.

4) Why are the handlers required to be on "overtime pay" while they attend training with the dogs?

The handlers don't recieve overtime while training, the officers who cover their patrol shifts while the handlers are at training sessions do.

5) Are both k-9 units required to be on the road at the same time?

No. Officer Veitch works third shift and Officer Leffler works first.

The other questions I recieved focused on the police union's reponse to the cut and specifics on the state certification.

I am currently making the inquiries into these questions and will update as I recieve answers.

A history of the Saratoga Springs Police Department's K-9 Teams can be found here.

Sunday, February 7

Return of the City Desk & Super Sunday Salutations

Greetings city government fans, on this the super-est Sunday of the year!

I'm Patrick Donges, The latest addition to The Saratogian's reporting staff and the new proprietor of the City Desk blog.

I'm from Orange County, NY and a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany. Next week will mark the beginning of my second month with The Saratogian.

I'm relatively new to the city, so I'll be soliciting tips and advice from
you periodically as I get to know the major players in government
and business.

My goal is to continue the meaningful exchanges on important city issues
established here by my predecessor, while providing unprecedented
access to the latest local political news.

Before things get too serious and I'm flooded with questions about video lottery terminals, I have to ask about a different sort of VLT.

Who will take home the Vince Lombardi Trophy tonight?

The only bet I've made thus far is that The Who will play at least two
minutes and fifteen seconds of "Won't Get Fooled Again", pending
wardrobe malfunctions of course.

Let me know who you're rooting for, and have a safe Super Sunday!