Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Exodus Rolls On

I'm just one of the thousands of former New Yorkers that have fled the "Empire State" over the last decade because of the state's abysmal condition. Unfortunately, our departure is going to have a serious impact on those of you that are left:

New York State’s population grew by a hair in the year that ended July 1, but because Sun Belt states like Nevada, Arizona and Florida are growing faster, the Empire State stands to lose seats in Congress after the 2010 Census.

An analysis by Queens College of population trends suggests that Texas will gain as many as four Congressional seats and Florida’s delegation will grow by two, while New York and Ohio will lose two seats each.

The projected decline in House representation is only the latest installment of long trend.

New York’s delegation in the House of Representatives peaked at 45 seats, following the 1930 Census. As other states grew more quickly, New York’s share in the House got smaller. Now, New York has only 29 seats, and stands to have only 27 after the next Census.

That's a pretty damn harsh dose of reality. It's bad enough that New York is just a shadow of what it was nearly a century ago, but the re-apportionment is likely to have some nasty direct consequences for the Utica/Rome area in particular. There's a good chance that the 23rd and 24th congressional districts will be the ones that see the biggest changes as their borders are redrawn to cover even more of the state's sparsely populated northern territory. That means less political clout for the state as a whole and less regional power both at the state and federal level.

On the bright side, there's still plenty of time for you to move down here to Texas before the 2010 census. Over the next year you'll be able to pick up some amazing housing bargains as the sub-prime meltdown spins off a slew of undervalued properties. Even better, in the unlikely event you can't find a job that pays more than what you were earning in New York you'll still have more money in your pocket thanks to our low property and sales taxes.

Oh, and did I mention we don't have a state income tax?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Here's wishing you and yours a safe and happy holiday.

Sorry about the total lack of updates, but things have been understandably hectic with the move. We're currently living in a rented house just outside Austin (while we wait for home prices to drop even further as the housing "crisis" progresses), but even with most of our stuff in storage at my workshop things couldn't be better.

Oddly enough, none of us have particularly missed having snow on Christmas. Snowflakes gently drifting down from the sky are nice, but I'm rather enjoying our forecast of sunny skies and a high near seventy.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I'm Lovin' Texas

We're still weeks away from moving to Texas, but I'm already loving the state. I spent yesterday working out the details of moving my guns and had a simply amazing experience. Barring any legal complications with states we'll be driving through, which I'm still checking on, I should be able to transport my longarms locked inside a secure shipping container.

Handguns, on the other hand, are a bit more complicated. I have two pistols that I'll have to transfer to a dealer here so he can ship them to a dealer outside Austin, where I'll ultimately pick them up. Just a few minutes after I contacted a dealer in Texas he called back to say that not only would he do the transfer gratis, other than the normal mandated charges for paperwork, but he'd throw in a free membership for his shooting range and a couple of tickets to their monthly BBQ in December.

I don't even live there yet and I'm already getting invited to parties. That, my friends, is hospitality.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Unreal Estate

So I'm on the phone with our real estate agent, who happens to be a family friend, when the following conversation occurs:

"Does your house have any special features?"

"Oh, yeah. It's fully wired for cat 5 and coax with a central switcher in the basement."

"Anything else?"

"There's a generator room in the garage for a backup generator. It's already wired up to code and has a nice muffler system installed. We can leave the generator if the buyer wants it. I also installed some heavy duty wiring for my welding gear and the bomb shelter."


"A bomb shelter?"

"Yeah, there's a ten by fifteen bomb shelter off the basement TV room. Reinforced concrete, air vents, steel door...the whole deal."

"Er...where we watched movies? That room?"


"How do you get to the bomb shelter?"

"Through the door. It's hidden behind the shelving with all the books and DVDs."


"Okay. why do you have a bomb shelter with a hidden entrance?"

"Because somebody built it. From the junk we found inside I'd guess back in the fifties."

"Do you use it?"

"Yeah, it's where I play my guitar. I installed the wiring to power my amps. Even with the levels cranked up you can't hear it in the house."

"So you have an underground bomb shelter with a secret entrance and heavy duty wiring so you can play a guitar?"


"Well, yeah. I don't play very well."


"I think we might want to leave out the bomb shelter in the listing. If anyone seems interested in that kind of thing we'll tell them about it, but otherwise I'm going to describe it as a wine cellar."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Letters, We Get Letters

I want to thank everyone that's emailed since yesterday, and I apologize for not replying to every message individually. There was a consistent number of questions in most of them and I thought it would save time answering them all at once.

The most prominent was "Are you sick again?" Physically, not at all. Now that I'm actually taking the time to sleep, instead of zooming around for twenty hours a day, my health couldn't be better., not so much. I'm not suffering from anything pathological, but, and I hope you'll pardon my frankness, the constant stream of bullshit that issues forth from our politicians just wore me down.

I think the real breaking point was the Mitch Ford situation. The only thing I found more infuriating than his blatantly racist attitudes was the collective shrug it seemed to generate in the local media and the population as a whole. I've grown to accept a certain amount of casual racism- when you're as lily white as I am and your significant other is as black as coal you get used to it- but the in-your-face arrogance of reducing another human being to subhuman status with the epithet "nigger" is simply unforgivable. In most of this country that incident would have been a major scandal. Here, it was a blip.

That, needless to say, did not inspire a great deal of happiness in our household. After that it became increasingly clear this just wasn't a place we wanted to live anymore.

The other big question was "Why Texas?" Two of our closest friends moved there last year. Since then they've been engaging in a steady campaign of propaganda to convince us to join them and it finally took hold.

From a tax standpoint Texas looks like paradise, at least when compared to New York. There's no state income tax, the combined state and local sales taxes are equal to or lower than anywhere in New York, and local property taxes are quite a bit less in relation to the elevated real estate prices.

Secondary costs are also significantly smaller. Electricity and energy? 60% of New York's bloated rates. Housing? Significantly higher prices, but it's a market, unlike New York, where people actually want to live, producing a natural market pressure for increased values. Water and sewage? Comparable to New York's despite our much-vaunted natural water supply. Health insurance? Significantly less than New York thanks to a state government that isn't completely beholden to health care unionistas.

Ultimately, our decision came down to quality of life and in that respect the Austin area just blows away anywhere in New York except for Manhattan. The city is home to a thriving arts community, including an amazingly productive crop of filmmakers. The weather is..well..perfect. The schools, while costing significantly less than the ineffective warehouses we have in New York, actually produce students with an education.

Two other factors also weighed heavily in our decision. First, a politician in Texas that calls a black candidate a nigger has effectively ended their career. That's a nice change of pace from Oneida County. Second, fireworks are legal. If you want a handy guide to how valuable the concept of personal freedom is to a state government there is no more telling barometer than their fireworks laws.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Love It Or Leave It

Well, I finally snapped.

After months, nay, years of grousing about Central New York's abysmal condition I finally realized that it's pointless to stay here. Over the weekend I and my significant other came to the decision that it's time to cut our losses and get out of New York. Monday we'll start the process of moving to Texas, just outside Austin.

A lot of things influenced our final decision, but the most telling was the increasing dysfunction of both our local and state politics. Put simply, our political class is totally devoid of even the most rudimentary leadership ability. The consistent refusal to control tax growth, even as the area undergoes a population loss of almost biblical proportions, means the increasingly small population here will be burdened with higher and higher costs. That feedback loop, unchecked, will produce a death spiral of ever shrinking populations and ever escalating taxation.

Actually, I shouldn't say "will". It has. The death spiral is already here. After talking with some friends with a much better grasp of demographics than I have, since thier livlihoods depend on it, I think the upcoming census is going to find that the area's population loss has accelerated to around five percent a year. Worse, the ones leaving are the most capable of driving long-term growth in the economy- the young, skilled professionals, and high value workers.

If I find the time to post any more I'll probably discuss why leaving New York is so attractive (and probably the right choice for most people reading this). If I don't find the time I just want to thank everyone that appreciated my scribblings. It was fun.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Another Missed Opportunity

I'd like to be Mike Arcuri's friend, but I just can't afford it.

"Wednesday, September 19th, 2007
Reception for Congressman Mike Arcuri (NY-24)
437 New Jersey Avenue, SE Washington, DC
Time: 5:30 PM – 7:00 PM
Requested Contributions: $5,000 PAC Host, $2,500 PAC Sponsor and $1,000 Friend"

On the bright side, at least it didn't cost a grand to get some potato salad this time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Then Again, Maybe Not

Bob Hyde has deleted his post accusing Utica City Democratic Chairman Mitch Ford of repeatedly calling Common Council candidate Jane Kelley a "nigger".

Make of that what you will.


Am I the only one frustrated by the arcane formatting off the O-D's new website. I know it takes some time to get up to speed with new software, but it's been...what...a month now? Is the formatting really as much of a disaster as I think it is, or is my use of Adblocker distorting my view of the layout?


This is good news.

Gregg Sponburgh, former director of environmental health and safety at Utica College, was sentenced to prison today for his role a drunken-driving accident that left three people injured last September.

Herkimer County Court Judge Patrick Kirk sentenced Sponburgh to 2½ years in prison for second-degree assault followed by two years of post-release supervision. He also sentenced Sponburgh to 1 to 3 years for second-degree vehicular assault. The sentences will run concurrently.

One of the victims, Erin Dugan, 27, of Richfield, said she believes the sentence was equal punishment for two broken legs she suffered in the accident.

I'm glad the judge wasn't swayed by UC's inane "teachable moment" approach to crime. On the bright side, I suspect Mr. Sponburgh's value to the school will only increase during his incarceration. When he gets out he'll be able to lecture students on responsible drinking and life behind bars. It's a win-win for everyone!

Yeah, I'm a cold-hearted bastard about drunk driving. I fully support the right to a good bender, but I lost all empathy for idiots that get behind the wheel after boozing it up years ago.

Update: WKTV has video of the sentencing here. I'm a little confused about the phrasing they used in the story, since I was under the impression that Sponburgh still worked at Utica College. He's still listed as the Director of Environmental Health and Safety on the College's website, but the 'KTV story makes it sound as though he's no longer an employee.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Utica College Sez: Drunk Drivers Need Luv 2

From my site logs it appears folks at Utica College have gone Google-crazy trying to find mentions of "Erin Dugan". You remember her- she's the woman the safety director of the college crippled in a drunk driving accident.

Scroll down for the story of how the College is trying to get him off without any jail time or just click here for the fast and easy link.

Crankin' It Up

Looks like the Mitch Ford "nigger" issue isn't dying down.

This morning, Jane Kelley, who is a candidate in the Democratic primary, held a news conference to talk about racial slurs she says Democratic Chairman, Mitch Ford made about her.

Ford denies the so-called racial slurs calling the allegations false and ludicrous. He says these statements shouldn't be at the forefront of this primary.

Instead the candidates should be focusing their attention on the concerns of the constituents in the First Ward and less about trashing each other's reputations.

The inescapable conclusion is that either Bob Hyde or Mitch Ford is lying. Whoever it is needs to suffer serious consequences.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Blastwave, Continued

I've referred to the area's steady depopulation as a slow-motion neutron bomb before- the population is being wiped out with a thoroughness akin to nuclear bombardment. If this report (PDF Warning) is to be believed things are about to get a whole lot worse. Here's a sample of some of the conclusions:

- Oswego County in the Syracuse area will lose over half it's population by 2020.

- Herkimer County will be effectively uninhabited by 2020, with over 90% of the population either dying or moving out of the area.

- Oneida County's population implosion will accelerate, with over 15% of the year 2000 population gone by 2020. It's not clear if those population figures take into account the massive numbers of prisoners, but if it doesn't the picture is even bleaker. In just over a decade Oneida County will effectively be a gigantic nursing home, with close to 70% of the workers employed by government or government-sponsored jobs. The rest of the population will be overwhelmingly poor and increasingly geriatric.

I'm increasingly in favor of the massive pork project aimed at improving Route 12, because it's starting to look like we'll need all that extra highway capacity to support the flood of people leaving the area.

Did I Wake Up In Texas?

The only thing going on today is high school football, according to the O-D.

They really need to get at least one more staffer trained to handle their new content management suite.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Utica College Sez: Felony Assault? OK By Us!

This is simply amazing.

When an intoxicated Utica College safety director crashed his car into Erin Dugan's SUV last September, two badly broken legs brought the 27-year-old woman's life to a standstill.

The accident happened the night before Dugan planned to move to Florida. Instead, she spent the past year in recovery at her mother's house in Richfield Springs. After months of hospitalization, Dugan walks with a cane and faces additional surgeries.

Now, Gregg Sponburgh, an Army veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, waits to be sentenced next week. Utica College's president has written a Herkimer County Court judge in support of the college employee.

In the letter sent Aug. 30, Utica College President Todd Hutton asked the presiding judge to "consider the negative consequences that a prison or jail sentence would hold for Mr. Sponburgh, his family and the community."

The real question here isn't why the college is trying to get Sponburgh a light sentence, but why he wasn't fired the day he was convicted. Negative consequences? Take a look at the article's accompanying photograph for some "negative consequences". Ms. Dugan's legs were snapped like twigs in multiple locations, and that network of scars criss-crossing her legs is the result of the surgeries needed to put them back together.

In the letter to Judge Patrick Kirk, Hutton acknowledges the serious nature of the crime. However, after considering whether to terminate Sponburgh after 13 years of service, Hutton wrote the "better decision" would be to engage Sponburgh in efforts to prevent such incidents from happening again.

"If any positive can come out of this tragedy, it is that Mr. Sponburgh can use his own experience to make a powerful impression upon students, both at Utica College and at other schools, as well as upon others in the local community," Hutton wrote.

Perhaps Mr. Hutton would be kind enough to provide us with a list of other felonies he views as teachable moments rather than crimes. Just imagine the educational opportunities of having actual rapists perform rape counseling, or the wonderful potential some convicted pedophiles on staff would represent. Too extreme? How about hiring a couple of convicted embezzlers to handle business matters?

"An educational institution's No. 1 responsibility is to educate first," Brown said. "This letter is certainly the opposite of hypocritical, to educate first and take every step possible to educate the community. By incarcerating this individual, it would only delay that educational process from taking place."

I certainly agree that an "educational process" needs to start pronto, but I don't think it's the community that needs to be educated in this instance.

Update: WKTV has more.


I can just imagine the steam jetting out of the ears of the Hamilton Wack Pack right now.

An Alexander Hamilton Center promoting the study of freedom, democracy and capitalism will open in Clinton - but it won't be affiliated with Hamilton College.

The center's new location: the former O'Conner's Alexander Hamilton Inn in downtown Clinton.

The college first supported, then rebuffed hosting the center last year, giving up a $3.6 million gift from a lifetime trustee who was backing the center.

At issue: Disagreements over how the center was to be structured.

The college trustee, Carl Menges, subsequently resigned and is now a director of a newly constituted Alexander Hamilton Center.

"We will be dealing with issues of interest to conservatives, but the institute is scholarly and not political," said James Bradfield, one of the institute's founders.
The Alexander Hamilton Institute will offer programs focused on the ideals of the nation's founders, he said.

It's a shame that the same college that embraced Susan Rosenberg and Ward Churchill couldn't find the same enthusiasm for the ideals of Hamilton, but in the end things probably worked out for the best. You'll find a lot more information on the history of the Hamilton Center, as well as details on the forthcoming official announcement, over here. The Trustee's attempt to grab the trademark is particularly amusing.

Mitch Ford Don't Like Dem Niggers?

Yes, it's a dirty, hateful word. Which is what part of why this post at the Weekly Democrat is such a bombshell.

During the period of time that the screening committee for the City Democrats was meeting, Mr. Ford and I spent a lot of time together. Several times he initiated conversations with me regarding Kelley and her pursuit of the First Ward Common Council seat. Ford disliked her immensely. He was mad about some slight he felt was directed at him from Kelley.

He used swear words and racial slurs regarding her in conversations to me that he started. He called her the “N” word and "B" word, and other hateful, hurtful words. I cautioned him several times regarding his inappropriate language and use of racial slurs.

If this is true Mitch Ford needs to resign immediately. As much as I disagree with Bob's politics I just can't imagine he'd lie about something this serious.

Trevisani Sez: Boobies? What Boobies?

The OD has been on a roll the last few days, taking a closer look at some of our local "leaders" seeking elected office. Todays is Dan Trevisani, who seems to be suffering from a severe case of political I-don't-remember-itis.

When Utica mayoral candidate Daniel Trevisani took out an ad Aug. 26 discussing his 1998 personal bankruptcy filing, the Democrat said he wanted to bring it to the public's attention before his opponent did.

"I'm running for a major office and I want people to know everything and anything about me," Trevisani said.

As the O-D looked deeper into the situation, Trevisani wouldn't give specific reasons for what led to his financial issues.

Apparently Mr. Trevisani wants people to know everything about him...except for the delightfully sordid details of what actually triggered his bankruptcy. Ironically, I think he could have spun this into a positive if he'd just been a bit more forthcoming about what sent him into a financial tailspin. Instead, he's chosen to play dumb. Well, I hope he's just playing.

Trevisani tried to start a Syracuse nightclub a decade ago, but discontinued his business certificate a day later. He then gave at least $10,000 and possibly as much as $25,000 to a friend who opened a strip club called USA Dream Girls at the same address at which Trevisani had listed his business.

Now, however, Trevisani denies knowing about any such place or how his friend invested his money.

"I should have paid more attention to it and I didn't," Trevisani said. "I made a mistake, and I don't want all this information out in the Utica newspaper."

Let me summarize: "I owned a strip club, but I don't remember owning it."

This is an amazing assertion considering the rumor that his love of boobies, or at least a particular pair of them, seems to be the reason for his falling out with long-time friend Tim Julian. Behold, my friends, the power of the boobies! Tremble before their awesome ability to fog men's minds.

Oh, and heres a tip for anyone going into politics: never, ever tell someone from a newspaper "I don't want this information in the newspaper". That's like throwing a juicy slab of steak in front of a pack of Rottweilers.

Common Council member David Roefaro, D-at-large, is endorsed by the Democratic Party and will face Trevisani in Tuesday's primary election.

Executive members of both the city and Oneida County Democratic committees have made calls to the O-D since the Aug. 26 Trevisani ad was published, asking when a story would be printed about Trevisani's bankruptcy. Among the leaders making calls were county Democratic Chair William Morris II and city Democratic Chair Mitchell Ford.

Help me out here. These were the guys that thought running convicted felon Frank Meola for mayor was a great idea, right?

"This, to me, is very irrelevant," Trevisani said. "It should be irrelevant on your capability on running the city. It could derail a very, very expensive campaign."

Tip number two: never, ever tell anyone that a scandal could cost you lots of money. That torpedoes the spin that you've undergone any kind of redemption and just makes you look self-absorbed and arrogant. It looks even worse when you've already built up a reputation for fiscal irresponsibility by declaring bankruptcy.

During interviews this week, Trevisani first discussed why he placed an advertisement in the O-D about his financial struggle.

"I made a mistake," he said Monday. "I had a hard time 10 years ago, I came out of it and I've been very successful since."

The 1998 decision to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy was a private decision, but something he said he's not ashamed about. Asked about what led to the bankruptcy or if he had credit card debt, Trevisani said, "I'm not even going to go there."

Bzzzt! Wrong answer. Here's how you do it: "Unfortunately, based on the advice of people I trusted I made a bad investment. Because I was too trusting I failed to pay enough attention to what they were doing and ended up involved in something I ultimately didn't want to be part of. It was a hard lesson, but one I've learned from."

See what I did there? Now you're a victim, not a perpetrator. That's how a politician needs to think, and it's no coincidence that it's also how a lawyer thinks. You can tell Trevisani almost gets it by his emphasis on "making a mistake", but he failed to offer up the spin that explained how someone else made him do it.

On Tuesday, the O-D learned from an anonymous caller about Trevisani's possible connections to an adult entertainment club called Dream Girls in Syracuse. An online search of Post-Standard archives turned up a 1997 business certificate in which Trevisani discontinued Trelco Company at 117 Bruce St., Syracuse...

During a second interview, Trevisani said he never operated a business on Bruce Street in Syracuse and said he has no knowledge of any company called Trelco.

"I have no knowledge of any business that Mr. Critelli did anywhere, to be honest with you," Trevisani said before suggesting the reporter speak with Critelli directly.

Argh! That's it. Game over. Dan Trevisani's run for mayor is now effectively over. Even if he wins the primary he's just handed his opponent all the ammunition he needs. It's impossible to spin this as anything but a bald-faced lie, and a poorly thought out lie at that.

Head on over and read the rest of the article, because it's a real gem. And like all good stories it has a hanging plotline that can drive a sequel- the mystery woman that was in the middle of this whole strip club mess that no one has been able to find.

Gold, my friends. Pure comedy gold.

Let The Day Start...

After nearly three weeks I've finally been given a clean bill of health, and I have a lot of catching up to do. It's going to take a while to catch up with all my email, so I apologize ahead of time to anyone that currently has a message in my inbox. Onward!

Friday, September 7, 2007

It Lives!

It's hard to describe how frustrating the last two weeks have been.

I normally have a lot of energy, as my previous tendency to post at all hours of the day and night demonstrates. Over the years I've found myself sleeping less and less not because I have any problems sleeping, but because I always feel refreshed and recharged after only a few hours of sleep. What that means in practice is that I take a long nap during the afternoon, zoom around until midnight, and then sleep until three or four in the morning before I pop up and start the whole cycle over again. That kind of schedule gives me the time to support a lot of hobbies and interests, including this blog.

Unfortunately, it also seems to have worn down my body's natural defenses. I've been knocked out by the flu before, but this recent bout is the first time I literally haven't been able to get out of bed. Which is all the more surprising considering this year's strain isn't supposed to be particularly virulent, at least according to the seasonal evaluations. Less than 24 hours after I started having a few sniffles I was curled up in my bed, vomiting, and alternately shivering and sweltering with a fever that rose into the triple digits. The worse part, at least to me, was learning firsthand just what a fever dream is- an almost hallucinatory state of mind caused by the physical strain an illness places on your brain.

How bad was it? I don't remember actually seeing things, but my significant other says I started having conversations with people that weren't there while I was asleep. Long, detailed conversations about things as diverse as making bricks in Babylon and...uh...the creature trapped inside the Pentagon. You know, the monstrous beast imprisoned by the mystic wards inscribed inside all five sides of the building.

Yeah, it was that freaky. I have some pretty esoteric interests, but there's a big difference between reading goofiness like that for entertainment and actually believing it. That's when the significant other started to get a little scared.

To make a long story short, I'm still under strict orders from my doctor to take it easy and get some rest. "Rest" being defined as "start sleeping a normal eight hours and give your body time to heal or I'm going to have you forcibly tranquilized, you stupid git". See what I have to put up with? I'd kill the heartless bastard, but that would make my sister-in-law a widow and produce some very uncomfortable silences at our family get-togethers. Worse than that, my significant other now feels empowered to run the household however she sees fit. Which is why she feels she can threaten me with physical violence if I don't come back to bed right now.

Once this is over there's gonna be a reckoning 'round here, my friends. Mark my words.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Here's What Happened

1. Friends return from wonderful trip abroad.

2. They stop by at the house for a get together.

3. They don't realize they're carrying the new flu virus. You know, the one that shouldn't be hitting us until December.

4. I not only get my ass kicked by the flu, but get a fluid buildup in my lungs that sends me off to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning because I'm having trouble breathing.

5. Sleep. Eat. Sleep some more.

6. Get better.

I probably won't reach step six until Tuesday. Bleh.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Quid Pro Quo?

They're a little late to the party, but the O-D notices that Sandy DePerno seems to know who her friends are.

Six of the 10 abstract companies occupying space in the Oneida County Clerk's Office have made donations to Clerk Sandra DePerno's campaign since Jan. 1, 2006, according to the state Board of Elections Web site.

The donations total $1,130 and account for about 5 percent of her total raised — $23,834.

DePerno, who has been clerk since the beginning of the year, recently disclosed she has not been charging abstract companies rent to use space in her office, though the 2007 county budget included $30,000 from the rental fees.

DePerno, a Democrat, has said she will make up the fees elsewhere, but has not said how.

The donations did not impact her decision to stop charging the rental fee, she said.

"No it did not," she said. "I don't think it's an issue."

She did not give a specific reason for not charging rent and said it was a decision made at her discretion.

I'm surprised the O-D hasn't tabulated how many bar members that are practicing real estate attorneys donated as well. Those would be the attorneys, and abstract companies, that make up Ms. DePerno's "advisory committee".


More Scandal, More Fun!

This post is going to be a big ol' wall of text, but I think it lays out some interesting scenarios and levels some very serious charges against individuals within Utica city government. All of this material was emailed to me anonymously, so I make no claims to it's accuracy or validity. That said, it doesn't seem like any of this would be that hard to fact-check.

I have made some formatting changes in order to make it easier to read.

First off, some alleged shenanigans on the city's payroll.

Our City Comptroller, Mr. Cerminaro was elected to office in November 2005. One of his assistants in achieving election is a Mr. David Baran. Well, our Comptroller felt it necessary as his first act in office to promote Mr. Baran. In doing so, a number of issues were discovered by the fine Civil Service Union and Civil Service Department. The number one issue was Mr. Baran, as working in his capacity in the City Payroll Department, was receiving Longevity pay for over 6 years for which he was not entitled to. Since he was working in the payroll department, you would think he’d know he wasn’t entitled to this type of pay. We are talking longevity pay in excess of 12 percent per year for 6 years on a salary in the $40,000 range. Meaning he was overpaid in excess of $4,800/ year for 6 years or a total of $28,800. In addition, Mr. Baran was only entitled to 2 weeks vacation each year but instead was getting 5 weeks. He had 13 weeks vacation on the books when this was discovered. Mr. Baran will claim as his defense that he has been an employee since 1976. He was fired by Edward Hanna in January 1999. He came back to work for the City as a temporary employee through a staffing company for two weeks in January 2000. He later was hired as a full time employee in October 2000 meaning he was separated from service from city employment in excess of 1 year. When he gets hired in October 2000 he is essentially a new employee not entitled to Longevity pay until his 10th year of employment. He claims he never had a break in employment service time greater than a year.

It turns out that You, us and everyone else knows you are not considered an employee of the company you are working for if it is as a temporary employee through a employment agency. Mr. Baran knows better than this and so does the Comptroller. Mr. Baran claimed this as his defense and why he was entitled to the longevity pay. Well, after review from the Union and review from the City’s Legal Office, Mr. Baran and Mr. Cerminaro worked out a deal after much argument. Mr. Baran was to not have to pay back the overpaid salary in exchange just give back 10 weeks vacation. How is this in the best interests of the city taxpayers like You and Us? Shouldn’t our Attorney’s office have sued to recover the overpaid salary? After a couple of months, the Attorney’s office inquired if the vacation time change was made and were assured it was by these two clowns. The attorney’s office was then notified by a confidential source the time had not been removed. It took this much to get his time to be removed. So you can see the integrity of these two is not very good. Furthermore, if you inquire enough you will also find these two conspired to give Mr. Baran a promotion and pay raise to his very old salary.

To conclude, Mr. Baran ultimately was overpaid $4,800 a year for 6 years or $28,800 as a result of being given Longevity pay he was not entitled to. He was getting compensated time off in excess of 5 weeks a year he was not entitled to. He was being paid retroactive pay, overtime pay, etc. on an inflated salary. He did not have to pay any of this back. Just give back 10 weeks vacation. In fact he now earns more than before the cover up was discovered, has his compensated time off back in the form of Compensated time off and vacation time, and didn’t have to pay any money back. He was promoted after this was discovered to reach his previous salary. He now is accumulating Compensated time in excess of the 10 weeks he had given back. He ultimately is in a better situation now than he was before the cover up was discovered.

A bit of the ol' switcharoo using Urban Renewal?

The second important cover up is the City’s Urban Renewal Agency. The Urban Renewal agency has accumulated money owed to the City Taxpayer’s in excess of $400,000. The Agency is bankrupt and our fine Comptroller continues to pay bills and payroll for the agency. Our Comptroller has a fiduciary duty to protect taxpayer money by recovering Overpaid Salaries whether it’s his office or Urban Renewal Agency. The Comptroller will tell you the Agency is going to get properties from the City from Foreclosures and etc and the City will get it’s money back. Please raise the issue, how much interest do the taxpayers of this city have in those properties the Agency will get from the City after Foreclosure. In other words, the property has $1,200 owed in City taxes on the property. The owner doesn’t pay the tax bill. The City, under Mr. Cerminaro’s plan, will foreclose on the property, sell it to Urban Renewal for $1 and the City Taxpayer will get nothing and the Urban Renewal Agency will $1,200. So in essence, Mr. Cerminaro is taking our interest in collecting a tax debt, forgiving that debt, sending the property to Urban Renewal for Sale.

And lastly, some questions about how the city handles credit card fees.

The third issue is this. Mr. Cerminaro as part of his election promises, wants to make it easier for City taxpayers to pay their taxes. I see when I went down there, there are some changes. I also saw a sign that stated Credit Cards are being accepted for payment. Who is paying the interchange fee on these credit cards? Meaning, is the City being charged a percentage of the total credit card transaction? I do not believe the City is getting anything from the County or Solid Waste or School from collecting these taxes. So let me get this right, the City is charged a percentage each time a credit card transaction is performed. If the City accepts payment by credit card on County taxes are we as City Taxpayers paying the interchange fee of 2%?

Little Acorns

At first glance this posting at New Hartford Online may not seem like that big a deal, but I think it's going to have some interesting long-term effects.

At first, we were told we would have to pay for the town board meeting minutes because the Town Clerk said they were only available in pdf format; those minutes are often 30 or more pages at $.25 per page, it adds up. Knowing that the Freedom of Information Law had recently been amended to allow for electronic transmission of requested documents, Concerned Citizens once again challenged the town and requested that the board minutes be sent to us electronically to our email address. The Town Clerk contacted Mr. Freeman from the Committee on Open Government regarding our request. Once again, Mr. Freeman sided with us and stated that, according to law, any documents that are created in an electronic medium must be made available electronically, without charge, if requested in that form.

Emphasis mine.

Head on over read the full post and the linked letter from the COG as well. This is an excellent example of how local governments try to keep information secret and difficult to access for no other reason than sheer cussedness. How difficult could it possibly be to just email the minutes of a public meeting? Why would public employees expend all this time and effort, effectively wasting our considerable monetary investment in their employment, when the alternative is a hell of a lot less work?

I'm also intrigued by the implications of the COG's statement on other fronts. If public documents in electronic form have to be provided without cost, what impact does that have on our good friend Ms. Deperno and her plans for the Oneida County Clerks Office ? It would appear that charging people to access the existing digital document database is illegal, which would seem to put the kibosh on at least one of the proposals she's rumored to be considering. Does this mean anyone could request a copy of the database itself, since it surely meets the requirements for an electronic document? If so, that would render her whole password/logon system, a proposal that raises serious privacy concerns in and of itself, a bit moot.

Once More Into The Breach

It seems like I end up apologizing for not keeping things updated at least once a month. This apology is particularly galling since there was actually quite a bit going on over the last few days that I've totally ignored. Luckily, I'm going through one of my hyper-productive manic phases and it shouldn't take too much time to get back up to speed.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

C'Mon And Ride It

All aboard! The Diddler's Mantrain is now leaving the station.

Former two-time Mayor Edward A. Hanna has secured a spot on the ballot in November.

Hanna, who is running for Utica mayor, turned in 1,571 signatures between Monday and Tuesday to the Oneida County Board of Elections, he said.

Tuesday was the last day to file independent petitions.

Hanna will be an independent candidate in the Nov. 6 election, running on a line he's calling For The People.

"We did extremely well," he said. "The reception has been excellent."

Now that Hanna is officially on the ballot, much to the surprise of many, the potential impact of the alleged audio tape containing graphic descriptions of his sexual peccadilloes grows with each passing day. Was Hanna able to track down every copy of the tape? If he wasn't, who has it and how do they intend to use it?

More importantly, how will the blue-hairs react to hot guy-on-guy action becoming a major campaign theme?

Look, Up In The Sky

I've harped about the junk floating in the Mohawk River before, but here's something odd floating above the Mohawk River.

Attached is a 5 megapixel digital photo taken in Vischer Ferry, NY near the Mohawk River. The coordinates are 42 degrees 48' 9" north and 73 degrees 50' 31" west. It was on May 15, at 10:10 am.

The UFO can be seen in the upper right-hand corner of photo 1. Photo 2 is a blown-up picture of the object. I only noticed the object after I got home and checked it out on the computer. You tell me what it was, cause I don't know!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Legacy Of Corruption

Pinky Romano's designer carpets at the Oneida County Courthouse are just the latest chapter in the building's long and sordid history.

In the meantime, however, rumors of irregular financial transactions proved to be so well founded that shortly afterward there ensued indictment, trial, and conviction of two supervisors (who were respectively the chairmen of both the Republican and Democratic County Committees), the sheriff of Oneida County, and two merchants who had sold goods to the County and, at the suggestion of the officials had falsified their accounts. All were found guilty. The supervisors and the sheriff served terms in the penitentiary, and the merchants paid heavy fines.

The more things change...

Into The Memory Hole

Another facet of the recent brouhaha over public documents is what happens when they're released, but then they vanish.

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed this? Press releases, and other documents that have been on County, and City websites are disappearing at an alarming rate. Is this to aid in a cover-up? Or just a general malaise to confuse the public or to deter people from pulling quotes from elected officials and keeping the egg off their face(s). Perhaps it's just a disinformation campaign. For instance there was a press release on the county website 2 weeks ago, I wrote a letter asking for clarification. Two things happened; number one I did not get a reply or acknowledgment of the letter sent to a certain elected official and lastly the Press release is now removed from the county site. What gives?

I'm interested in hearing more about this story. Sanitizing a press release doesn't exactly inspire confidence in our elected officials, does it?

The Good And The Bad

The O-D has some commentary from local "leaders" on the recent Reader's Digest article about Utica's refugee population.

The August issue of Reader's Digest featured a long article on Utica's refugee population, titled "Second Chance City: A wave of refugees brings new life to a dying American town." Though they took exception to the article's title, Utica Mayor Timothy Julian, Utica-based pollster John Zogby and Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees Executive Director Peter Vogelaar said the article presented the city in a positive light and could bring good publicity.

Sadly, I think describing Utica as a dying town is all too accurate. In the last 15 years we've watched our population and average wages steadily decline as businesses fled the area, and the state as a whole, for friendlier climes. Over 60% of our population is employed by government agencies or non-profit organizations supported by taxpayer dollars. The remaining private sector jobs are primarily low-skill or semi-skilled labor dominated by retail sales, warehousing operations, and clerical workers.

The stream of legal immigrants flowing into the city is, quite literally, the only thing keeping the area from total economic collapse. Without that influx of population the area would be hard pressed to support the ever increasing tax load of public services, but we're starting to reach the point where even first and second generation immigrants are going to start leaving because of the lack of opportunity.

In the meantime we'll keep looking for quick fixes to revitalize the economy while continuing to ignore the elephant in the room- our taxes are too high. Everyone knows it, study after study demonstrates the negative impact of the high cost of doing business here, but our political class is so beholden to the very people slurping up all those tax dollars that nothing serious will ever be done to fix the problem.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Is That A Gun In Your Pocket?

One of our local porn palaces was robbed over the weekend.

Police Sunday night were investigating an armed robbery at Video Express on Oriskany Boulevard.

A man in a ski mask and dark jacket produced a hand gun and demanded money from a clerk at about 6:30 p.m., Yorkville police said.

The man fled out the front door with an undetermined amount of cash, police said.

It's unknown what direction the person went or if the person left in a vehicle or fled on foot, police said.

You know why the gunman was able to get away? Because at most stores reaching into your pants and pulling something out is suspicious behavior. At "Video Express" its just another Saturday night.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Here A Zone, There A Zone, Everywhere An Empire Zone

This is an example of how easy access to records serves the public's interest.

You might remember when I blogged about the resolution passed by the New Hartford Town Board regarding the Oriskany Manufacturing LLC.

At the May 9, 2007 Town Board meeting Earle Reed, Town Supervisor was ecstatic at the jobs it would bring to the area and told Peter Zawko, Vice President of Economic Development, Mohawk Valley EDGE "bring us some more of these jobs"....

Amazing what I found out. The property in question, tax map #317.010-5-1, is indeed in the Town of New Hartford, is currently assessed for $200, is approximately 1 acre that the Town Assessor has tagged (for assessment purposes) as a residential vacant lot. As of 7/1/06 it was owned by Edward Wurz.

Hey, at least we didn't have to spend $20 million making it "shovel ready".

Friday, August 17, 2007

8, Maybe 9 AM At The Latest

This looks like it will be an interesting read in tomorrows O-D.

Sweethearts Angel Robles and Jessica Robles decided to make the most of their leave from Iraq last week – they got married.

The newlyweds, who are Army military police serving in Iraq, are at Angel’s home in West Utica spending time with their family for the remainder of their two-week break before they’re deployed to Iraq again...

Read the complete story in Saturday's Observer-Dispatch and online at

Unfortunately, I'm confident the comments section will have an anti-Bush diatribe by 9 AM at the latest. I'll update this tomorrow to see how close I was.

Update: It's 0830 and comments for the article haven't been turned on yet. The suspense is killing me.

Spam Bloat

I'm sorry, but I just can't take it anymore. All of you that left comments were amazingly polite and well behaved, but I just can't keep up with the constant stream of comment spam from around the world.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Clueless Local Media: The Saga Continues

I know I'm being cranky with WKTV, but the wide-eyed wonder of this story just rubbed me the wrong way.

The world’s first solar powered boat was in Rome Thursday, just for show, but it impressed many.

Is it really that hard to type "solar powered boat" in Google? I'll concede this is a fluff piece, but why would a reporter fail to do even the simplest fact checking for a story? There are hundreds of solar powered boats afloat today, not counting the thousands of vessels that have supplementary solar cells.

Why, I've even heard tell of boats equipped with those new-fangled solar powered things called "sails".

Note: This is the kind of pedantry you get when my carefully planned weekly schedule is thrown out of whack. If it weren't for tonight's storms I would have been at Saranac Thursday working up a good buzz right now instead of ranting on the internet. Mea maxima culpa.

I Hate Being Right

Before David Copperfield became an embarrassing parody of himself he was famous for pulling off some amazing illusions, including making objects as big as an elephant, a 747, and the Statue of Liberty vanish before a live audience. Governor Spitzer must have been taking notes, since he just made the $100 million dollar state data center at SUNY-IT disappear.

Spitzer, a Democrat, said his administration is reviewing the Pataki administration's 2006 proposal to construct a $99.5 million data center. That center would have brought 240 state jobs to the area from Albany.

"We are looking at that issue," Spitzer said during a visit with the O-D Editorial Board. "If there is a shift, it will be a shift designed to improve on the economic engine that we put here in Utica. Maybe we can do something better than the data center."

"Day one, everything changes." Not necessarily for the better, apparently.

Money Well Spent

It's looking more and more as though the campaign contributions that flowed into Oneida County Clerk Sandra DePerno's coffers last year are paying back big dividends.

The Oneida County clerk is not charging abstract companies for space they occupy in the office, which could cost the county up to $30,000 this year.

County Clerk Sandra DePerno, who took office in January, said Wednesday she plans to make up the revenue elsewhere. She did not specify how.

"It's at my discretion," DePerno said, following the Oneida County Board of Legislators Internal Affairs Committee meeting, when asked why she chose to eliminate the rental fee.

Former clerk Rick Allen charged the companies rent throughout his tenure from 2001 to 2006. The administration before Allen did not charge the fee, DePerno said.

Oddly enough, although Ms. DePerno has come clean about what she did she still hasn't offered up a rationale for why she did it. A cynical man might suggest that she was paying back the same people that helped get her elected. Me? I think she just realized she was making the County too darn much money.

The 2007 county budget included $30,000 from the rental fees, and Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente questioned why DePerno would cut any source of revenue.

"It will be a problem if it's not made up at the end of the year," said Picente, a Republican.

But Oneida County Comptroller Joe Timpano said $30,000 is not going to make or break the budget, and DePerno has discretion over her budget.

That's good to know. Based on Mr. Timpano's statement I hope we'll be seeing at least a $30,000 cut in the Clerk's budget for next year. Heck, what's $30,0000 in the big picture? It's not like the county is strapped for income and just passed a massive sales tax increase.

Oh, wait...

As a sidebar to the rent reduction story we get this priceless gem:

A task force is studying the possibility of posting Oneida County records online, county Clerk Sandra DePerno told the Oneida County Legislature's Internal Affairs Committee Wednesday.

The task force, formed by DePerno to get ideas about how to handle the records, includes abstractors, attorneys and a county legislator.

So the task force deciding if property records should be online is made up of lawyers and representatives from abstract companies.

The two groups that just happen to gain the most if those records aren't freely available on the internet.

The two groups that funneled thousands of dollars in contributions to Ms. DePerno's campaign.

The two groups that saved tens of thousands of dollars in expenses when Ms. DePerno magnanimously decided to stop charging them rent for space in her office.

Must be another one of those amazing coincidences that seem to happen so often hereabouts.

Celebrate Your Good Fortune, Citizens!

Break out the party hats, uncork the champagne, because WKTV has some great news!

Listen up shoppers!

You'll soon see a lower overall sales tax in Oneida County-- and just in time for the holiday shopping season.

Hallelujah! All this time we thought the tax hike was a bad thing, but it turns out it's actually a big ol' Christmas present!

All sarcasm aside, you just witnessed the unbelievable spectacle of our crack local media cheerleading a tax hike. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the number of station staffers that sit on the boards of non-profit agencies drawing money from the County. Purely a coincidence.

The "Oneida County Board of Legislators" has voted to lower the sales tax from nine percent to 8.75-percent. Even a cursory reading of the actual measure would demonstrate that the Oneida County Board of Legislators didn't vote to lower the sales tax. They voted to impose a new tax that takes effect immediately after the expiration of the old tax. This isn't a matter of semantics, but of accuracy.

It's The Dawn Of A Bright New Day

Congratulations, Oneida County! For a while it looked like your record-setting run as the state's sales tax champions was in jeopardy. Short sighted elected officials had promised the county's elevated sales tax would end in November, but luckily cooler heads prevailed and those promises were thrown out the window.

PAST: A 1.5 percentage point sales tax hike was initiated in 2005. The sales tax went as high as 9.75 percent before dropping to 9 percent. Under the 2005 legislation, the tax was supposed to drop to 8 percent this winter.

PRESENT: The Oneida County Board of Legislators passed legislation Wednesday that will officially make the county sales tax 8.75 percent on Dec. 1. The vote passed 28-1. The tax expires in November 2009. The legislation also includes the option to reduce the tax to 8.5 percent next year.

The county's sales tax is currently 9 percent.

FUTURE: Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said property taxes could increase.

He has not said by how much, but said he will have a percentage by Oct. 5.

Feel the pride, people. Even more taxes are on the way!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bring Out The Gimp

Note: This was supposed to have been posted Tuesday, but Blogger was choking on the graphic.

Tomorrow's the day, my friends. So bend over and close your eyes, 'cause here it comes.

County legislators will vote Wednesday on a sales tax measure that has both political and financial consequences.

The 29 lawmakers are being asked to enact a .75 percent sales tax in place of the 1 percent levy that expires on Nov. 30. What they decide will have major impact on next year’s county budget and property taxes...

Enacting the sales tax is a way "to avoid a major property tax increase," said County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr., who favors the measure. But even with the sales tax, Picente projects an unspecified hike in property taxes — saying only that it will be "more" if the .75 sales tax measure fails muster tomorrow. The .75 percent tax would bring in about $19 million next year.

Every one of these people is up for election in November. Marcellus Wallace ain't gonna be their bitch, no way, no how. Are you?

The Mascoma Mystery

It's now been a week since the Mascoma corporation put together a deal to site a $30 million dollar experimental cellulosic ethanol plant at the Griffiss Technology Park in Rome. Well, that's the story that was released by the Oneida County Industrial Development Agency.

The company itself still hasn't announced the deal at it's website or via PR Newswire.

Not a single local politician has had anything to say about the deal.

Finally, the Town of Greece, just outside Rochester, still seems to think it will be hosting the experimental ethanol plant- since that's the location specified in the multi-million dollar state grant the company received to fund the plant's development.

A little odd, don't you think?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Likeness Is Astonishing

I shamelessly stole this idea from "Average Joe" in the comments to the courthouse story.

Ain't No Justice Without Custom Carpets

You might be worried how Oneida County is going to afford the $66 million dollar cost of a new sewage treatment plant. Or you may be concerned about how much it's going to cost to fix the second highest rate of lead poisoning in the state. Luckily, our elected officials have their priorities in order.

On Monday, Julian and several other justices unveiled a renovated third-floor courtroom that they believe reflects the kind of tranquil grandeur most fitting for the county's judicial domain.

Gone is the crumbling wall plaster, tattered seat cushions, phony walls and electrical wires that dangled from holes in the hand-painted ceilings of the previous courtrooms. In their place are plush carpeting, hand-carved benches and a blanket of blue, gold and white paint.

"Day-to-day justice — the trial of lawsuits, the jury trial — is integral to the very intent of the framers of our Constitution," Julian said during the unveiling. "Jury trials will be conducted here, and this is a courtroom that properly reflects the importance and significance of that constitutional guarantee."

Rest assured my friends, Justice is being done in Oneida County. Because nothing projects the awesome might of the rule of law like an attractive interior decorating scheme and matching accessories.

The renovation is part of an ongoing project at the five-story courthouse that has totaled around $40 million over the past decade, according to the Oneida County Comptroller's Office. The cost of rehabilitations for this particular courtroom, however, has been within the $5.4 million spent since 2004, Deputy Comptroller Sheryl Brown said Monday.

As an identical courtroom renovation awaits completion across the hall, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente vowed a continuation of support for such historical preservations.

"The people assembled here come for justice, come for comfort, come to see their problems get solved," Picente said. "We in county government really need to take hold of buildings such as this and landmarks that we have."

State Supreme Court Justice Bernadette Romano credited Julian's "dogged diligence and demeanor and his just never-say-die attitude" for keeping the project on track. Julian noted Romano's role in choosing the courtroom's deep blue and gold-trim coloring.

"You should also know the architects allowed us to design the carpet," Romano said. "I mean, we literally picked every color, and every nuance in the carpet was designed from scratch."

You know what makes this even funnier? Julian and Romano literally have no idea how self-involved they are. Maybe they haven't noticed, but they preside over the courts in one of the state's poorest counties. A third of the people in this area live below the poverty line, a place where putting food on the table takes precedence over picking out the perfect shade of paint or designing a custom carpet.

I predict there's going to be a huge backlash over this story, particularly in light of Mr. Picente's insistence that the county needs a tax hike to pay for "needed expenses". Custom carpeting ain't cheap, don't ya know.

Update: Here's what the spin is going to be when the backlash hits- "We were saving a historical landmark". Except, of course, that the multi-million dollar redecorating of these courtrooms has no connection with the historic appearance of the rooms at all.

Spitzer Sez: It's Over

You might have assumed from the four current investigations and pending subpoenas that Troopergate was still rolling along, but you'd be wrong. At least according to Governor Spitzer.

The governor appeared at a Harlem job training center earlier today to talk about his agenda for the working poor (here’s the release), a plan he says will help shrink New York’s income gap and boost the middle class. When a Daily News reporter tried to turn the topic to the scandal, the governor got rather testy, Liz reports over at the Daily Politics. Spitzer suggested the News’ Adam Lisberg re-read the State of the State address (ok, that’s just plain mean) and told him he is “simply not saying anything more on that stuff.”

And to put a fine point on it: “I’ve spoken and answered every question and been totally forthright, so now we’re going back to governing the state.”

As Attorney General Spitzer would have pointed out, answering questions is one thing. Answering questions under oath is another.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Everybody's Talkin' At Me

I've shied away from allowing comments in the past since it has a tendency to draw out every loon with an internet connection, but starting with my last post I'm going to turn them on. If email is any indication my average reader understands the basics of decorum and reasoned discussion, so I'm optimistic that it won't devolve into an orgy of assmunchery. All I ask is that you be polite, provide links to any supporting facts or figures, and accept that reasonable people can disagree and still have a discussion.

Oh, and don't be an assmunch. Unless you can do it and be funny at the same time. Then you get a pass.

Meet Mr. Giotto

I've mentioned Frank Giotto of Fiber Instrument Sales before, and he's back in the news.

"This new building that we're building is going to be for sales ... and warehouse," said Valerie Sitler, who is the president of FIS Blue and senior vice president at Fiber Instrument Sales Inc., which was founded by her father, Frank Giotto in 1985.

The two companies will operate independently.

At the OCIDA meeting Thursday, the agency's board approved a 10-year payment in lieu of taxes for FIS Blue.

Under the terms of the agreement, FIS Blue will save an estimated $25,000 by paying one-third of its property taxes for the first five years, and two-thirds for the remaining five years. The agency's board also approved mortgage and sales-tax exemptions that will save the company $47,500.

FIS Blue has two employees, but under the terms of its agreement with the agency, it must have eight employees by the end of three years, Duchow said. The average annual salary of those jobs will be $30,000, he said.

I believe Mr. Giotto is also the proprietor of Taypayers Talk, a website that advocates cutting the crushing burden of local taxes by consolidating services that I've linked to for some time.

Irony? Or just a businessman doing everything in his power to alleviate the very tax load he knows is driving business out of the state?


I've turned comments on. Please don't make me regret it.

Troopergate Troops On

Assemblyman Dave Townsend has an interesting take on Troopergate up at his website.(.doc link)

In a very prescient quote two years ago to the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Spitzer, referring to his investigations during his term as Attorney General famously stated,

“…we have found that the lack of transparency, combined with inadequate disclosure and regulatory oversight, often leads to market fraud…This has led to a crisis of accountability.”

This quote could just as easily apply to him and his staff’s recent actions, since Spitzer’s lack of transparency on this issue has led to what looks like fraud resulting in a crisis of accountability.

Regarding transparency, the governor must answer several questions. First, why did his administration rebut attempts by Attorney General Cuomo to interview Baum and Dopp? Second, as reported in news outlets on Monday, why were two other senior advisers, previously appointed in policy positions, named as special counsel?

Does it have anything to do with the fact that as special counsel, they can refuse any subpoena to testify citing attorney-client privilege?

The governor and Baum have repeatedly refused any knowledge of their staff’s actions. However, in a quote to a Mid-Hudson Valley newspaper last year, a top staffer acknowledged that Baum, as “head of Eliot’s cabinet [in the Attorney General’s office]…nothing happened without his consultation.” This is troubling in two ways. If the governor and his chief of staff do not know what their employees are up to, how can we entrust responsible leadership of the state to them? If he did, what did he know and why is he covering it up?

In fact, as recently as last Thursday, both the disgraced former employees retained criminal counsel. If there is no criminal action, is there need for a criminal lawyer?

Governor Spitzer needs to get out in front of the investigations and release everything now, or he risks dying the death of a thousand cuts as this thing drags on forever. On the bright side, if there's enough bloodletting from both sides maybe we'll see some real ethics reform in state government.

I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Fighting The Good Fight

If you're interested in open access to government documents you should check this out:

I just read your post “Keeping Secrets” and thought you might be interested in this page from WikiFOIA (the wiki dedicated to the Freedom of Information Act): which talks about the need for easier access to public records. Hope you like it!


Sara Key

I've heard some rumblings that Ms. DePerno intends to make internet access to the property database a pay-to-play proposition with...surprise,surprise...a discount for "heavy users". Those would be the lawyers and abstract companies that helped fund her campaign. That ignores the fact that we've now payed for the database multiple times- through the normal taxes allocated to support the staff of the clerks office, through funds dedicated to installing the computer hardware for the original database, through the individual filing fees for every deed, and through the money dedicated to paying for the hardware that supports the new database. If anything, you would think digitizing the records would save piles of money, instead of it becoming an increasingly larger expense.

Who's Zoomin' Who

CNY Insider offers up a little local media criticism.

But that doesn't matter to WIBX's First Look Host and now News Director Dave Andrews. As is custom Dave becomes the best friend of whomever is sitting in front of him. This morning he gave Betcher ca rte Blanche to sound off on each and every point he wanted and did not challenge him one bit. At one point he even asked Betcher to "give him the facts" as if in this situation Betcher owns the rights to the "facts".

Now, this beef has little to do with the topic, because truthfully I do not know enough to say one side's argument is better than the other. What I do know is that an issues newstalk show, which First Look claims to be, is worthless if the host does not take a few minutes to read a newspaper and come up with one or two probing questions that force the interviewee to prove his or her point. If I was interested in only hearing Betcher's side of the story, I'd read the propaganda on his web site.

I think Insider pretty much hits the nail on the head- nearly every member of the local mainstream media is incredibly lazy. The bar for reporting in Utica is set amazingly low and with a few exceptions, usually staffers at the O-D, most of them are looking to crank out enough copy to fill up their assigned slot with as little work as possible.

There's also a case to be made that the local media is far too chummy with the political class. In some cases they are, quite literally, in bed with the very people they're reporting on. In Mr. Andrews case he was a government employee of one sort or another until fairly recently, when an unfortunate incident, or incidents depending on who is telling the story, brought his career as head of the DARE program to a screeching halt. Then we have Ryan Nobles, who managed to parlay his job as a reporter into a political career while his girlfriend, now his wife, was still slaving away under the hot lights of the newsroom. And lets not forget the seemingly endless stream of interns and talking heads from local broadcast outlets, usually but not always female, that ended up doing the horizontal monkey dance with some of the very politicians they were covering.

Well, they were still "covering" them, but a bit more carnally than journalistic ethics normally allows.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Keeping Secrets

I haven't had much to say about Oneida County Clerk Sandra Deperno's on-again, off-again efforts to keep public records off the internet since I'm lazy and people like Strikeslip have been all over it. Making government more transparent is a good thing, and that includes making as many public documents as possible searchable via the internet. In an ideal world we wouldn't even need freedom of information laws because everything, down to the billing records of public employees with taxpayer funded cell phones, would be just a few mouse clicks away.

Sadly, that's not how Ms. DePerno thinks. She has claimed her primary motivation for keeping records off the internet is concerns over privacy, but I think that's a straw man designed to exploit people's fears of identity theft. The truth is that both lawyers and abstract companies, the only groups that would have had easy access to county records under her initial proposal, have a vested interest in making it harder for people to get access to property records. With that in mind I'm sure you'll be shocked to discover that those groups were among the biggest donors to her campaign in last year's election.

Purely a coincidence, I'm sure.

Update: Link was bad. All better now.

To The Bahamas, Via Utica

A couple making their way from Lake Superior to the Bahamas (!) had a less then wonderful time in Utica.

After leaving Sylvan Beach we had intended to tie up in Utica but IT IS IMPOSSIBLE. The wall there is like Mount Everest, and there are no facilities to speak of, so we went on to Ilion. Highly recommended as well - at Ilion there are hot showers, electric hookups, a cute little cafe, and walking distance to everything. Today we went through 5 locks including lock 17 - a 40-foot drop and arguably the largest lock (or largest lift/drop) in the world. It was impressive.

Read the rest of the post and you'll see that they've been having a great time making their way down the canal, with the notable exception of our fair city.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ethanol For One, And One For All

At first glance this seems like really good news:

Cambridge, Mass.-based Mascoma Corp. plans to use wood-based products to make cellulosic ethanol at plants in the Griffiss Business & Technology Park in Rome and an undetermined site in Michigan.

The cellulosic ethanol will be produced from biomass — paper sludge, wood chips, switch grass and corn stover — from New York state.

The Oneida County Industrial Development Agency approved a 20-year tax relief package, or payment in lieu of taxes program, for Mascoma at a board of directors meeting Thursday.

The deal will save Mascoma $1.25 million in property taxes and sales tax.

As part of its deal, Mascoma will be required to create 10 jobs over three years, said Rob Duchow, spokesman for the development corporation. He said the average annual salary will be $50,000.

The Rome site will be a demonstration plant that will produce as much as 2 million gallons of ethanol a year.

Maybe I'm overly cynical, but something about this announcement makes my spidey sense tingle. Why? First, it's coming out of the blue. Second, not a single politician has taken credit for what appears to be a multi-million dollar project that, conceivably, could have a huge economic impact on the area.

Update: The more I Google around the stranger this deal looks. Take a look at this press release about the original award of the $14.8 million dollar grant to put the plant just outside Rochester.

One of the companies – Mascoma Corporation – will build a 500,000 gallon/year facility in the Town of Greece, Monroe County. This project, which is a collaborative effort with Genencor, an enzyme company in Greece, along with Clarkson University, Cornell, and Khosla Ventures, has been awarded a $14,800,000 State grant and will include more than $15 million in private investment...

The State grants will be matched by the individual companies, resulting in significant private investments for the facilities. The projects are expected to initially create 48 permanent jobs, with the potential for additional job creation in the years ahead. In addition, the facilities will create new markets for 45 tons of biomass per day, which will generate approximately $10 million in the local economies over the next three years.

Mascoma Corporation is a recently-formed company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts that specializes in cellulosic ethanol technology. The proposed facility will use paper wastes from International Paper’s Ticonderoga plant in Essex County and wood chips from a St. Lawrence County supplier to make the cellulosic ethanol, and will also eventually employ a range of New York-produced feedstocks on a test basis.

The details of the proposal have changed significantly in terms of location, by several hundred miles, by jobs, from 50 down to 10 over three years, and capacity, by over a million gallons per year. Isn't the company pulling a bit of a bait-and-switch on this?

You'll also notice the press release is filled with comments from elected officials, since this is just the kind of pork gobblin' project they love. I count...what...twelve different politicians, from the governor on down? Why would a project like this suddenly move from Greece to Griffiss without a peep from a single politician?

Update: The company still hasn't put out a press release about the move. Nothing via PR Newswire or the company's own website.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Reaping The Rewards

I'm a little surprised no one has commented on this:

The funds secured by Arcuri are included in the fiscal year 2008 Defense Appropriations bill, which was approved by the House Appropriations Committee last week and is expected to be considered by the House later this week.

$1.9 million for the Cyber Attack Mitigation and Exploitation Laboratory (CAMEL) Program, which will be conducted by CACI, located in Rome, through Rome Lab. The CAMEL program will provide Research and Development that will help protect Air Force operations in Cyberspace. Tools resulting from this research will be used to protect both military and national critical infrastructure from attack and exploitation by potential adversaries including nation states, cyber criminals and international terrorists. During the course of the research, samples of malicious software will be forensically analyzed to determine intent and points of origin.

Considering Mr. Arcuri's personal involvement in the Franco assault incident, and his strident opposition to the Iraq War, it's more than curious that he would secure close to two million dollars for a no-bid contract to a company implicated in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal by Amnesty International. (PDF link)

Amnesty International condemns the abuses allegedly committed by U.S. agents
in the Abu Ghraib facility in Iraq as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. AI
has documented a pattern of abuses by U.S. agents against detainees in this and other
facilities and we feel that those responsible for abuses should be brought to justice in
accordance with U.S. obligations under international and domestic law. Your company
has performed services contracts with the U.S. military that have led to public allegations
of complicity in abuses against detainees by some of your employees. We hope and
expect that CACI will support and facilitate public investigations and help bring persons
found responsible to justice.

We would like to ask if CACI has a human rights policy, and if it does to tell us
about it. Under international law, all corporations have obligations to uphold, respect and
protect fundamental human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
calls upon every individual and every organ of society, which includes companies and
business operations in general, to promote and protect human rights and to strive "to
secure their universal and effective recognition and observance."

Obviously, as they say on Court Street, "Business is business".

Zeros Matter

In a speech about the abuse of earmarks earlier today, Sen. John McCain singled out the Long Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica.

• $16 million for display cases and interactive displays at at the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, New York.

The only problem being that the earmark, from back in 2003, was for $16,000, not $1,600,000. It was still a waste of taxpayer dollars, but not quite as monumental as Sen. McCain states.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Making Lemonade

WIBX sez:

One of Utica's mayoral candidates feels he's the victim of targeted vandalism attacks. Dan Trevasani, a democratic nominee in this September's primary, says around a dozen of his campaign signs throughout the city have been stolen or destroyed. He says the signs all depict American flags on the top, making the acts even more despicable. Trevasani says he's filed a police report with the Utica Department. A Lieutenant confirms the incidents are being investigated, but says there are no suspects at this time.

Frankly, I'm amazed that candidates haven't realized that sign vandalism is a golden political opportunity. You can buy a webcam for $10 that has full night-vision capability once you remove the plastic filter from in front of the imaging chip. Spend $20 and you can get one with night vision built in and an IR illuminator.

How much political mileage do you think you could get out of a video showing someone from an opponents campaign stealing your signs in the middle of the night?

Voting Machines And Razor Wire

For years I've been thinking our area was devoid of political power, but the New York Times says different.

A new study has found that 15 counties in New York, as well as the five that make up New York City, include inmate populations when they redistrict or apportion votes in local legislative bodies.

In five of those counties, the study concluded, the inmate population was large enough in one or more districts to dilute the political power of residents in the others. Thirteen counties that have prisons exclude inmates when drawing district lines.

“New York counties with prisons are faced with a tough choice — adjust the federal census data to ignore prison populations, or rely on the census and draw districts where some citizens are granted extra political clout because they happen to live next to a prison,” said the report, by the Prison Policy Initiative, an advocacy group that favors alternatives to prison sentences and urges that inmates be counted in their real hometowns.

And guess what? We're number two on the list, with 34% of some district's population being made up of prisoners. It's another Big Win(TM) for Oneida County!

Monday, August 6, 2007


Here's something to help you sleep at night.

If you're a Google Maps user you may have noticed that a large stretch of Utica around the harbor/Kitty's area has the blur effect Google uses for "sensitive" areas. You'll find the same blur applied to the chunk of Marcy around the electrical switching station that controls most of New York's power supply.

My Paranoid Friend(TM) says the reason the blur is in place is because of the high toxin levels of the area from the old gasworks. Set off a conventional explosive of sufficient size and the detonation would spray a cloud of contaminated dust across North Utica and, more importantly, shut down the Thruway, the canal, and a major rail route for days.

Sounds iffy to me, but fear mongering is always entertaining.

Troopergate Rolls On

And it just keeps getting better.

Cuomo's probers, who eventually produced an explosive report showing top Spitzer aides used the State Police in a plot to destroy the career of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Rensselaer), allowed the governor's legal counsels to decide what "relevant" e-mails would be turned over as part of the investigation.

Those lawyers - who instructed top Spitzer aides, including the governor's chief of staff, Richard Baum, and communications director, Darren Dopp, not to cooperate with Cuomo's investigators - turned over a small number of scandal-related e-mails from official state e-mail addresses, not personal ones, sources said.

However, Baum, linked to the scandal by e-mails sent to his official state address, has repeatedly used at least one private e-mail address to communicate with other administration officials in recent months, sources with ties to the administration told The Post. One source provided The Post with a private e-mail address containing Baum's name, saying it was the address Baum often used for official communications.

In the immortal words of Casey Kasem, the hits keep comin' and the countdown continues.

Just A Little More Time

The Hotel Utica saga continues.

Hotel Utica co-owner Joseph R. Carucci said Monday the taxes and loans he and his partner owe to Oneida County, Utica and the federal government will be paid.

He would not commit to a timeframe, however.

"Sometimes it just takes time to catch up," Carucci said.

Yeah, sometimes you just need a little time. How unreasonable of everyone to insist Mssrs. Carucci and Gaetano actually pay back their debt on any kind of schedule. Of course, Mr. Carucci leaves out the somewhat important detail that he's not just a slow pay, he's in default. If this were you or I our creditors would be dunning us on a daily basis after we missed a single payment. 30 days past due? Off to collections.

The Hotel Utica? Their loan is 1897 days past due, and counting, according to my back of the envelope calculations.

He spoke on the same day that the region's congressman said that Carucci and hotel co-owner Charles N. Gaetano must meet their obligations to taxpayers.

Those obligations include repaying the $5 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loan that helped the historic hotel reopen more than six years ago, U.S. Rep. Michael Arcuri, D-Utica, said.

"It was never meant to be a gift," Arcuri said of the hotel loan. "It is inexcusable for them not to be paying any of the money they owe us."

We can only hope that Congressman Arcuri will take this opportunity to send a strongly worded letter of condemnation.

Utica is diverting a half-million dollars per year in community revitalization funds to cover the federal loan payments the hotel hasn't making on any kind of regular basis.

Carucci said the hotel's owners are working on keeping up on the payments.
"Of course, we're trying to restructure things and reorganize," he said. "We're working on it on a daily basis to make sure we keep up with things."

Despite several attempts since 2002 to rework the taxpayer-backed loan, the owners of the hotel are still struggling to make regular loan payments, records show.

They've now been using the "we just need a little more time" excuse for seven years.

Seven. Freakin'. Years.

Really, does anyone even believe they're serious anymore? Well, other than Ed Hanna and Tim Julian?

None were made between August 2006 and May of this year, records show. Hotel Utica also fell behind on its county, city and city school district taxes, a July 29 O-D report found. Four days after the O-D revealed the situation, the hotel hand-delivered a check for more than $130,000 to cover its 2006-07 school taxes.

The hotel claims an occupancy rate of 70 percent, which is above the nationwide average of 63 percent.

So the Hotel has a stellar occupancy rate, a nearly booked up events calendar, a constant stream of meetings and conferences...and it's still not paying up? One doesn't have to be a CPA to wonder where, exactly, the money is going.

The hotel is constantly booked during large events, and there is no reason it shouldn't be paying its bills, Arcuri said.

In the future, Arcuri said he'd like to look more carefully at how federal money is loaned to private facilities such as Hotel Utica.

"We don't want it closing, but we want to make sure the people there are being responsible," he said.

Yes, you certainly want the recipients of taxpayer dollars to be responsible. Speaking of which, I seem to remember that the Players of Utica presented Mr. Arcuri with a detailed plan for the completion of their currently abandoned shell of a building. A plan that, sadly, no one but the Player's inner-circle and Mr. Arcuri seem to have seen.

Arcuri said the Players have submitted to him a detailed plan outlining the theater's construction completion. Details of the plan could not be learned Monday.

The Players have raised about $800,000 so far to cover the cost of the building's shell, foundation and infrastructure. Workers have yet to begin phases 2 and 3, which include plumbing, electrical work, lighting and carpeting, Players' past President Michele O'Neil said Monday.

O'Neil said fundraising efforts are ongoing but would not elaborate. She also would not comment on the potential federal funding.

This would seem to be the ideal time for everyone to learn how that fine organization plans on spending the $100,000 of taxpayer money Mr. Arcuri procured for them.

Not So Public After All

Guess what? Oneida County's land records are coming back online, but not for you! No, only lawyers and abstract companies will be able to access them. You know, the same folks that were complaining last year about the impact making those records available on the internet would have on their business. Why should you be able to do something yourself when you can pay them a few bills to do it instead?

Go read Strikeslip's take on this, since he hits all the high spots with his coverage.

And keep on eye on New Hartford Online, because this is just the kind of issue they specialize in.

Update: Hmmmm. It took me about five minutes to find at least one member of the Oneida County Bar Association with an unsecured wi-fi connection. How...reassuring.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Yeah, I Got It Tough

The next time I get into a "poor pitiful me" mood I'm going to remember this guy.

Hajric lost his sight while on duty during a mine explosion in 1993. He was 26.

Chess has been a tradition in his family and before the accident he was a frequent player. After he became blind he lost the drive to play. It was a good friend who was able to bring his motivation back.

"I didn't believe in myself," he said "He told me 'You got to try.' And I really tried. I did very well. He believed in me."

His family came to the Untied States in December 2000. Since he has been in the country, he participated in a string of tournaments. In 2002, he competed and won the New York State Chess Championship, playing against people with sight. Also, in 2005 he placed third in the United States Blind Chess Championship.

Now 39, Hajric not only excels at chess, but he works and cares for his 6-year-old son who is disabled. His son is in a wheelchair and Hajric sometimes has to carry him down a set of stairs when leaving the house.

Lets run down the challenges Mr. Hajric has in his life:

1. Veteran of one of the most god-awful conflicts in history.
2. Blinded in the prime of life by a mine.
3. Leaves his homeland and travels thousands of miles to start a new life.
4. Cares for a disabled son.

And he not only deals with all those challenges, but kicks ass in one of the most competitive games in the world. Most native-born Americans, myself included, would have just given up.