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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, September 28

Traffic and politics? Or not.

Christian Mathiesen announced his candidacy for public safety commissioner in early June and said he was running on a platform of — among other things — improving traffic and pedestrian safety in the city.

"There are a lot of traffic safety issues that need to be addressed in Saratoga Springs," he said.

At Sept. 19's City Council meeting, though, current Commissioner Richard Wirth seemed to beat Mathiesen to that punch.

At that meeting, he formally announced he was forming the Public Safety Traffic Safety Advisory Committee, a committee to address traffic safety issues around the city.

Wirth said the move was "absolutely not" a political one. "I've been considering this for months-- formulating the idea in my head," he said. "It's just a way to better address the influx of people commenting on issues we've received."

Mathiesen said he doesn't care if it is political or not. "I think it's a good thing they are looking at these issues. I was surprised to find (Wirth) doesn't seem to be aware about the number of issues, but I'm glad he is looking at them," he said.

However, he added, "I'm not sure how necessary it is to have a committee. I wouldn't say it's a bad idea, but between the commissioner, the deputy commissioner and the whole public safety staff, I don't know why they can't deal with them already."

Source of the Stink

It's funny that after years in this business I still can't always predict what stories are going to get people all hot and bothered.

We have been getting calls on the Sound Off line, comments on the website (or Web site if you follow AP style) and I have received calls at my desk-- all about this smell down Excelsior Avenue.

Some might say, as, ZYXW did on the original SeeClickFix story about the issue: "Frankly, I'm surprised this is considered news."

I felt like Toucan Sam the other day when I wrote the follow up about the DEC investigating the smell, wandering the area, following my nose wherever it goes trying to determine the source of any smell. I caught a couple whiffs on the breeze but never could figure out where it was coming from.

But it certainly has people talking. Everyone has a theory. One man in my office said the woods there used to be called the "Ten Spring Woods" because springs run throughout it-- springs that can be sulfuric and nasty-smelling.

I got a call saying it was the amount of rain we got from Irene. It pushed the manhole covers up, spread sewage all around and receded.

"The whole area smelled like your basic septic tank," said Ray Nichols, a nearby resident. He said he witnessed the manhole covers on Excelsior and East avenues lift and water spew out, along with everything else you might expect in a sewer. "There was toilet paper around the area afterward. The next day you could see the stuff on the ground and you could smell it horribly."

One man I spoke to near the site said recent construction probably hit a sewer line.

Others have dismissed the smell altogether. "It's smelled for years," they say, and the only reason you hear about it more now is because of the Spring Run Trail cut through the woods that brings more people to the area-- more people to complain that is.

Everyone, though, smells the smell, it's just a matter of the source.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesperson Dave Winchell said Water Quality crews took samples of water from "seepage" seeming to come out of the ground and run into the creek along the Spring Run Trail.

"The first thing we do when we have a possible pollution problem is to find out where the problem is coming from and stop it," Winchell said.

He said the discharge is being tested to determine whether it is sewage and the results will be returned within a few days.

When one is found, I'll be sure to let everyone know.

If anyone has any theories, feel free to let us know in the comments.

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Thursday, September 22

Fighting "The Man"

One thing that happened during the month I wasn't blogging was the Wilton road-rage stabbing.

You can't make this stuff up.

From all police reports, Frank Soriano (who I heard from a credible source has a history of road-rage) rammed Jeffery Streicher's car from behind on Northern Pines in Wilton.

According to police, Soriano (the author of a book on alien abductions who has given numerous interviews on his alien abductions) ran toward Streicher, a life-long boxer, and a fight ensued.

For more, read here: (Man stabbed several times in Wilton, possibly after a road rage incident, Road rage incident results in stabbing)

Later, Streicher appeared at the Saratogian office out of the blue to give me his side of the story. When he said "Do you want to see my car," I thought he was going to show me the damage to the back of his vehicle.

"That's my blood," he said, pointing in the open driver-side door to the blood-soaked seat. My mouth was agape. There was still blood on the door, the lock, the trunk-- everywhere.

Anyway, read his side here: (Alleged Wilton stabber arrested again on charges stemming from Sept. 1 incident , )

Be sure to check out the video for this story in the first few links because that is the point of this blog post.
Following the incident, our video was subpoenaed by the district attorney's office (no doubt because it was so good).

In a decision that went all the way to the top of the Journal Register company, our lawyers fought the subpoena.

According to the editors, lawyers and corporate-types in the company, it was a matter of principle. The DA's office didn't just subpoena the video we ran, they subpoenaed the video we didn't run-- as in all of the outtakes and clips that wound up on the cutting room floor (figuratively--it's digital-- and we don't have a "cutting room").

That is tantamount to subpoenaing a reporters' notebook.

According to our corporate lawyer, the NYS Shield Law protects us from having to divulge confidential sources as well as notebooks that don't necessarily have any confidential info therein.

And to be clear, the extra video was not cut because of confidentiality, it was cut because for every 2 minute video you see on our site, there is at least a few more minutes you don't see-- often several (at times I shoot a half-hour of video and use 90 seconds).

In the end, the subpoena was withdrawn and we supplied them with the video we ran. WIN WIN.

Of course, this is another example of the changing world of journalism. There was nothing we needed to hide on the video, but with this being the new world, according to our lawyers, we didn't want to be a "doormat" for every request from the DA.

But now the precedent has been set. Video cuts = notebooks. Mark it down.

I'm just waiting for the day we get a subpoena for the paper's Facebook Friend requests.

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Wednesday, September 21

Back in time for politics

Hello all.

I noticed last night (with the help of Dan "Fun in Saratoga" De Federicis) that it's been more than a month since my last post. Time flies when you have good duty. So sorry to anyone out there who has been checking in.

But I'm back, and just in time for election season, in the city and the nation. Funny, like Christmas elections seem to stretch a few days earlier every cycle.

Mayor Scott Johnson announced his candidacy over the weekend.

We discussed in the newsroom Tuesday whether we should put it on the front or not.

Brent Wilkes got front page when he announced, but he also did so alongside Michele Madigan and Christian Mathiesen who are running for Commissioner of Finance and Commissioner of Public Safety respectively at a presser in the park-- that means pictures and info about people many Saratoga Springs voters don't know about.

Johnson didn't make quite that splash.

He sent a press release, which actually got stuck in my SPAM filter, so I didn't see it until after he sent it out and late into the news day after we had decided most of what was going in the paper.

Also, as Johnson himself said, it's kind of assumed he would run, so we opted for 2. If it had been a slower news day he would have been on the front. As it stands, that day Alex Grant's toxicology report, County shortfall in taxes, an oil spill on South Broadway and City Council were on the front.

Not that Wilkes, Madigan and Mathiesen announced on a slow day. They shared the front page with Colegate news, the Saratoga Springs high school scandal over the gold-toothed yearbook photo and Derrick LeGall being named "Citizen of the Year" by the Elks, but the nothing needed to be bumped for any of that to make the front.

And all of the other candidates also seem to be ramping up their campaigns.

Now, to be clear, I am going to be posting a lot of statements, quotes and info about candidates over the next couple months, but none of that should be construed as me endorsing anyone.

That is up to the editors.

Michele Madigan, who has attended most City Council meetings in recent memory, made the following statement at Tuesday's meeting:

"I would like to strongly suggest that the 2012 budget NOT (her caps, she gave me a copy of her statement) include a property tax increase. As of December 2010 our unreserved unappropriated fund balance was $4.2 million. A year ago at this time we were told by the Finance Commissioner that this would not be the case, and that the fund balance would be depleted by the end of 2010. This was the rationale for further spending cuts and property tax increases for 2011 on top of the 2009 year-end layoffs and the 2010 property tax increase. Since the fund balance is once again at a reasonably healthy level, that we received $1.5 million in unexpected VLT revenue this year, and the expectation that 2011 sales tax revenues will be higher than anticipated in the 2011 budget, I would hope that we will not need a property tax increase next year. However, I am also very concerned that we do all that we can to ensure our public safety and public works employees are not subject to further layoffs. I am aware that some of those laid off in December 2009 are back at work and it is my understanding that much of this is due to grant funding that expires in 2012. I respectufully request-- and strongly suggest-- that the Commissioner and the Council do all that they can do avoid property tax increases while ensuring appropriate staffing levels of public safety employees and public works employees."

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention something the city's auditor from Willard G. Reynolds of Bollam, Sheedy, Torani and Co. said about a half hour later when discussing the city's $4.2 million fund balance: "The main thing to avoid is dipping into the fund balance for recurring costs. They should be covered by recurring revenue (taxes."

More election coverage to come.