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

Wednesday, March 31

Now that Gibson has the Republican nod in NY-20, maybe his book will become more affordable

What do President Barack Obama and Republican candidate for New York's 20th Congressional District Col. Christopher P. Gibson have in common? Both are published authors, albeit on different subjects and with vastly different bottom lines.

You can snag a new paperback copy of Obama's The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Crown) for as little as $1.50 on Amazon.

A copy of Gibson's 172 page academic report on the interaction between civilian leadership and military officers, Securing the State: Reforming the National Security Decisionmaking Process at the Civil-Military Nexus (Ashgate), will cost you up to $90! The publisher lists it with a 10 percent discount at $80, the best price I found was a used copy for $72.38.

That's 48 cents per page minimum. I used to think 75 cents for a newspaper was pushing it. At least now we know how he's going to fund the campaign.

I can't find it in the Mowhawk Valley and Southern Adirondack Library Systems catalog!

What is this long titled, short written, quite expensive publication about?

As put by LTC Peter Molin in the Sept/Oct 2008 edition of Military Review, "Colonel Gibson argues that the U.S. government lacks sufficient institutional structures and protocols to ensure that its 'civil-military nexus' functions efficiently. He identifies a pendulum-like oscillation between opposing concepts and practices during the post-World War II era."

A preview of the book can be found here.

(some) City officials were present at the racing rally yesterday, voicemail from Mayor Johnson on union negotiations

I failed to put the names and quotes from city officials that were at yesterday's rally for New York's racing industry into the story that ran today. Yes, some of them were there.

Public Safety Commissioner Richard Wirth, Deputy Commissioner of Accounts Michelle Boxley, and Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton did stand in solidarity with local stakeholders, as can be seen in the video posted along with the story.

That's Michelle Boxely standing to the right of Albany Mayor Gerry (ey, yo!) Jennings and Richard Wirth is to the left of Supervisor Yepsen in the wide shot.

I asked Wirth why he wouldn't be ready for the track to close, as it would save money, time and aggravation for the department because of the extra police that patrol the area during racing season.
"It can't close," he said, "it's a part of the community."

"Nobody wants to face the reality," Boxley said about the lack of action from Albany. She also said people had approached her recently saying that they never knew that racing in New York was in such dire straits.

Frankly, I didn't know until I started reporting here that horse racing in New York faced such a bizarre battle to stay alive. My family weren't big gamblers, Vegas was never spoken of as a possible vacation spot. I've only been to the flat track once, last summer, and I had a fantastic time basically giving away my hard earned cash. I never would've imagined that the state would just let a cash cow like racing starve to death, which is how I think most New Yorkers who have never placed a bet or heard of "Rachel Alexandra" perceive the situation.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson was not at the rally. According to Mayor Jennings he was, "out of town, someplace we'd all like to be." He didn't mention the locale by name but said that the weather was probably a lot nicer than it was here.

Mayor Johnson did leave me a lenghty voicemail from whatever warm, dry retreat he is staying. I had called him to ask about the status of union contract negotiations with the Saratoga Springs PBA. He said that while he couldn't detail any discussions based on their confidential nature, he did say, "I expect to have something on the upcoming City Council agenda (on April 6) to bring before the council for discussion about the PBA contract." He added that he hoped that discussion would lead to an agreement being reached between the two parties.

Johnson also said he had renewed his call last week to the union presidents (John Catone of the PBA, Kathy Moran of City Hall CSEA & Gary Benecosta of the Department of Public Works CSEA) to make contract concessions on items like health care costs. He said he was working with them to, "reign in the escalating cost of running our city government."

Union presidents have agreed to meet with Johnson on Thursday, April 1. I assume he'll be back from sunny... wherever when that meeting takes place.

Monday, March 29

NYC OTB set to close shop while local legislators encourage action to save New York racing

Saratoga County Supervisor Joanne Yepsen (Saratoga Springs) forwarded me a letter she asking residents to sign and send to Albany politicians in support of the racing community in New York.

In her cover letter to residents she says, "We are losing revenue, losing breeders and horsemen whi are getting better offers, losing the competitive edge in the racing world we have all taken for granted for too long, and now the potential of losing farms/43,000 acres of green space, thousands of jobs and racing as we know it in Saratoga and New York State."

Here is the text of the letter:

March 23, 2010

Dear Representative:

I’m a stakeholder who is economically dependent on the success of the Thoroughbred industry in New York State.

I am extremely concerned about the continuing delays to install video lottery terminals (VLTs) at Aqueduct Race Track. This legacy of failed decision making is costing New York State $1 million a day, forcing taxpayers to pick up the difference in funding state programs. Tragically, this nine-year delay has cost $2.5 billion in revenue to New York State, all at a time when our deficit and unemployment rate are growing.

The Thoroughbred industry is an economic engine for the State of New York in terms of revenue and employment, with over 400 farms occupying 43,000 acres of green space, while contributing some $2.4 billion dollars to the state’s GDP. The industry employs over 35,000 citizens across fifty different counties in New York. The ripple effect from the state’s Thoroughbred industry is impressive and many other businesses have become dependent upon the annual racing and breeding season. This cascading effect touches property values, tourism, retail, hospitality, restaurants as well as general products and services. Furthermore, the State and local government collect over $120 million in excise taxes per year thanks to the activities of the Thoroughbred industry.

Despite this all, the Thoroughbred industry is at risk of exile because of the lack of decision making and expeditious action by State Government. In addition to being in default on VLT revenue at Aqueduct, State owned New York City Off-Track-Betting Corporation (NYCOTB), continues in bankruptcy owing millions of dollars to the industry. State Government has yet to reorganize NYCOTB to be a streamlined, non-competitive, reputable business for the Thoroughbred industry and state and local government.

At the same time our State is failing the Thoroughbred industry and citizens of New York, our surrounding states and government are supporting the industry’s future. Pennsylvania now has a breeding program 36% larger than New York, due to VLT revenue. New Jersey will now have racing at Monmouth Park, supplying $1 million dollars a day in purse money for the industry. Furthermore, Canada, through VLT revenue now offers double the purses and breeding incentives than New York. Because of these competitive pressures, lucrative incentives and higher purses, farms, breeders, owners and horsemen are departing to other states who have acted in support of the Thoroughbred industry.

Due to the significant financial crisis of the state, the critical need for education funding, and the enhanced support of the Thoroughbred industry in New York, I ask that the Governor and legislature make the selection of an operator for VLTs at Aqueduct a priority and allow for expedited review, decision and execution of an agreement.

New York doesn’t need to lose any more money or business and New Yorkers’ deserve what was intended for them in 2001. Please make Aqueduct VLTs a priority.



Here are the suggested recipients of the letter:

Governor David A. Paterson
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

New York State Senate Leader
Senator John L. Sampson
409 Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Tel: (518) 455-2788
Fax: (518) 426-6806

Senator Eric Adams
Chair, Senate Racing Committee
Legislative Office Building, Room 915
Albany, New York 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2431
Fax: (518) 426-6856

New York State Assembly Speaker
Assemblyman Sheldon Silver
Legislative Office Building 932
Albany, NY 12248

Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow
Chair, Assembly Racing Committee
Legislative Office Building 845
Albany, NY 12248

The letter request comes shortly before New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. announced they will cease operations on April 11. NYC OTB filed for bankruptcy in September after falling five months and $15 million behind in statutory payments to the New York Racing Association.

This week NYRA announced it would layoff 12 employees, and recently NYRA officials and local industry advisors said that if NYC OTB closed "all bets were off" for a bright future for horse racing in Saratoga Springs.

Friday, March 26

A red letter day for the Ethics Board

I attended my first Ethics Board meeting last night and was treated to lessons on civics and history thanks in part to some inquisitive Saratoga Springs High School students (shout out!).

According to the city's website, "The Board of Ethics has five members, one of whom is an officer or employee of the City. They are appointed by the Mayor subject to approval of the City Council. The Board's job is to interpret the Code, to educate City officers and employees about the Code, and to help enforce the Code. The Board can only address ethics matters involving City officers and employees; it has no power or jurisdiction over any other ethics matters."

In April 2008, after Joe Scala replaced Michael Englert as City Attorney (following the election of Mayor Scott Johnson), there debate sparked over exactly what authority the Board of Ethics has.

Scala told the board that they did not have the authority to initiate investigations, that task being left to the City Attorney. Under the Ethics Code the board is required to keep lists of city employees, gather financial disclosure information, hold meetings, hear inquiries unto the ethical nature of any transaction made by city employees and officials and, "To conduct hearings, recommend disciplinary action to the appropriate appointing authority, pass resolutions of censure where appropriate, make referrals, and initiate appropriate actions and proceedings pursuant to this chapter".

The request to discontinue investigations was raised solely by Scala, as stated last night, as Board Chairman Rick Fenton had met once with Mayor Johnson since the debate began. The board asked Johnson for his opinion, Johnson asked the board for more information.

Fenton and other board members have been researching this topic and feel that they do have the authority to initiate investigations, or what you might call "appropriate actions and proceedings", based on NY municipal precedent and a published Attorney Generals opinion on the exact issue. They will voice their opinion in the form of a letter to the City Council, who are then obligated to issue an opinion on the matter.

As it was put last night by board member Ted Obloy, an Ethics Board that cannot initiate investigations appears "neutered".

The whole situation feels a little off to me. I haven't had a chance to talk to Scala about it (it is my day off after all), but I have a hard time coming up with reasons why a board designed to implement a code of ethics wouldn't be allowed to investigate potential violations of the code at their own will. I'll have to keep coming to these meetings to find out. They are held monthly at 5:30 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of the month in the council chamber.

On that note, while the neutered line was good, I'll give the quote of the night to board member Michael Arnush who said, "I've never been likened to a bowl of yeast before," after Fenton explained the staggered terms of the board to the students in the audience.

Wednesday, March 24

Murphy puts pork online & NY ORDA cut statement

Congressman Scott Murphy (D-Glens Falls) has put his appropriations requests (aka "pork") for the year 2011 online. The full list can be found here.

“By posting my requests online, I am working to ensure openness and accountability in government and the responsible use of taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars,” he said in a statement.

A few worth noting:
Saratoga County Youth Court, Saratoga Springs, New York - Amount: $40,000

Upstate NY Law Enforcement/Forensic Science Integration Project, Saratoga, Rensselaer, Warren and Washington Counties, New York
- Amount: $925,000

The Saratoga Medical Park Water Line Extension Project, Saratoga Springs, New York - Amount: $943,800

MRI Diagnostic Services for Saratoga Hospital, Saratoga Springs, New York - Amount: $600,000

Higher Education Transition Center: An Online Virtual Resource for Veterans and Military Personnel, Saratoga Springs, New York - Amount: $500,000

The Luther Forest Technology Research Network Project, Saratoga Springs, New York - Amount: $750,000

Adirondack Corridor High Speed Rail Improvements, Saratoga County, NY - Amount: $683,120

There are an awful lot of requests for water line improvements in towns and villages, but none for Saratoga Springs. The medical park line would extend from the town of Ballston to the park in Malta.

Murphy also sent out a release against the NYS Senate's budget plan that would cut funding to the NY Olympic Regional Development Agency.

“These short-sighted cuts proposed by the New York State Senate will devastate our long term economic growth and development. While we must make tough choices to get our budget back into line, devastating the Upstate economy is the wrong way to go about it. Thirty years after the Miracle on Ice, the Olympics remain at the heart of the Adirondack community," he said.

A bowl full of dirt (w/update)

UPDATE - Deputy of Accounts Michelle Boxley called me in to talk concrete. She said the gaps in the bowl were documented before the graffitti was removed, meaning the power washing did not cause any damage.

As I go back over my notes it appears Risk & Safety Dir. Marilyn Rivers did indicate the washing made the surface rough, but did not directly attribute any structural damage to the wash.

Boxley also said the city has proposed a "skate at your own risk" policy to the school district, which owns the property. They are waiting for a response.

I've been getting a lot of feedback from residents on the city's decision to fill the concrete bowl/pool at the East Side Rec skate park with dirt. The majority of people in the skateboarding community I spoke to about it yesterday were absolutely flabbergasted.

For those interested, the Facebook fan page put up in support of the park can be found here.

One of the most interesting tidbits I've heard since the article ran today is that the city is still paying off the initial bond for the park. There are three payments in the 2010 adopted debt service budget that add up to just over $3,500 in payments on principle and interest from what appears to be the initial build and the improvements made in 2006.

But what I'd really like to know what it cost to fill that hole with dirt too. For a city in the middle of a fiscal crisis I'm not sure the priority list has been whittled down just yet...

If the lack of posts wasn't enough of an indication, I've been having a hard time reconciling blogging with the working week. There is only so much to write about, this story just piled on some dirt to work with.

What is it that you, the reader, want from this blog? Would two or three updates a week with lists of interesting stories be enough, or would you visit every morning if there were fresh stories and links?

Please call or email with feedback.
583-8729 ext. 219