Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Fecal Follies Continue

Those big meanies at the DEC still think dumping human feces into the Mohawk River is a bad thing. That has Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente hopping mad.

The ban on new development in parts of the county because of a major sanitary sewage problem was kicked around at a meeting Friday between the county executive and three developers.
"The DEC (state Department of Environmental Conservation) is literally shutting down development in this county," County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. said after the session. "It’s handcuffing this county’s ability to grow."
The moratorium would be in affect while the situation is being corrected, and that’s not acceptable to Picente.

Mr. Picente seems to be confused about the chain of cause and effect here. The only roadblock to Oneida County's continued development is...Oneida County's refusal to take responsibility for it's continued development.

Friday’s meeting followed the county receiving a reply Wednesday from DEC in response to the county’s earlier comments to the state concerning its initial proposed consent order.
"They haven’t really budged on anything," Picente said when asked whether the state offered a new deadline for ending the discharge of raw sewage. He declined to give details about the state’s answer. The proposed order won’t be public until both sides sign it.
He has no interest in signing a consent order containing fines or an unrealistic timetable for a final solution, in addition to having to cope with the ban on new sanitary hook-ups in certain areas.
Picente hopes to set up a meeting of state and county officials early next month to talk face-to-face.

Hmmmm....the state won't budge on it's demands that Oneida County quit dumping billions of gallons of untreated sewage into the river. Mr. Picente won't budge on his demand that the state just ignore the whole thing.

Gosh, I wonder who's going to win this fight?

It's becoming increasingly obvious that Mr. Picente simply refuses to accept that contaminating surface water with human waste is a bad thing. Then again, from his viewpoint the problem may not exist. If the information in this NYS Board of Elections report is accurate Mr. Picente lives at 110 West Oak Street in Rome, which just happens to be miles upstream from the gushing fountain of filth flowing into the Mohawk River.

Does anyone think he'd be so cavalier about this issue if he lived downstream from all the crap?

Update: Perhaps Mr. Picente would be singing a different tune if billions of gallons of sewage were being dumped into Delta Lake. From this Google Maps view it appears his home is only 800 meters west of the Lake's primary outlet. The Mohawk River, the part of it that isn't filled with sewage from Oneida County, is over five kilometers directly south of his home.

That does kind of put things in perspective, doesn't it?

When Can We Expect The Pylman Report?

On February 23, 2007 the Utica Common Council heard testimony from it's final witness for it's investigation of Utica Police Chief C. Allen Pylman.

It's now been over three months since that inquiry effectively concluded and the Council still refuses to issue a final report, citing seemingly insurmountable problems with "transcribing" witness testimony.

The Council has yet to make a clear statement about what exactly it was investigating. More intriguingly, the embarrassing delay in issuing a final report raises the question of what they're now trying to hide.

No, Really, This Time I Mean It

Yes, I've been slacking off. After enjoying an incredible vacation that included everything from plotting solar incidence charts for arcologies to a mass gathering of hot women, including my Significant Other, dressed as Slave Leia, I need to get back to work. That's why I forced myself to attend tonight's Saranac Thursday kickoff.

After an extensive investigation I've determined that Saranac Thursday is a lot of fun. The beer was cold and plentiful, the badge carriers kept the vibe upbeat, and everyone had a great time. I think "The Bomb" is an all-too-aptly named band, but that's a matter of musical taste.

Onward we go!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Arcuri Stabs Troops In The Back

Last night Congressman Michael Arcuri voted along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi to cut off all funding for the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Luckily, the bill passed by a wide margin, but Mr. Arcuri's action leaves no doubt about just how much he supports the American military.

As of yet he hasn't seen fit to explain his vote.

Note: I'm currently on my way home from vacation. I expect I'll have a lot more to say about this when I get back.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Economy Is Excellent, Comrade

Here's an interesting look at why upstate New York is so economically hopeless.

“We simply cannot continue to increase taxes and increase public spending even as our population declines, unless we want to continue to depress economic growth and drive our children from our doors,” said the Buffalo banker, who is widely known for taking a public stance on regional economic and political issues.

“Most countries in Eastern Europe had a socialist government and their economies were stuck in the water,” Wilmers said. But now, “the economies of Poland and the Czech Republic are some of the most dynamic in the world, and there’s no reason we can’t be like that.”

Take a moment, if you will, to let that sink in.

We're aspiring to be as successful as countries that spent decades under the boot heel of a totalitarian regime committed to idealogical purity at all costs. Places where the majority of the population struggled through their daily existence while a ruling elite enjoyed luxurious lifestyles beyond the dreams of avarice. Nations where central economic planning produced a nightmarish landscape of insipidly bland concrete towers connected by pothole filled roads and a tangled web of sagging power lines.

Come to think of it, it's a pretty apt comparison.

Running The Numbers

If you want to get a feel for just how out of whack Oneida County's sales tax is take a look at this report from the State Comptroller. Just as a heads up, since I know some computers choke on the damn things, it's a PDF file.

If you're a stat geek you'll find all kinds of interesting tidbits, including the actual dollar figures showing how dependent local municipalities have become on sales tax revenues to meet basic budgeting needs. Oneida County is particularly vulnerable to this trend because so much of the real estate is owned by the government or non-profit groups, making it tax exempt. That means property taxes have to jump by huge percentages to produce the kind of income our bloated government is demanding.

One radical idea did cross my mind while reading the report. None of the proposed economic revitalization programs of recent years, including Bruno's vague "Upstate Now" idea from earlier this week, would provide nearly as much benefit as removing the state's share of the sales tax altogether. That generates about $51 million in revenue annually, a relative pittance compared to Oneida County's share of Bruno's proposed $3.7 billion dollar program. I know it's never going to happen, but it would be an interesting economic experiment to see what would happen if the state just waived it's 4% for five years.

One Step At A Time

It's a small step, but it's a start. New York Sen. Charles Schumer pushed a provision through the Senate to have the Army Corp of Engineers study Oneida County's abysmal sewage system.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., announced today the U.S Senate passed a provision he authored requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a comprehensive study to evaluate the waste water drain and disposal crisis in the Utica and Oneida County area.

Schumer called for a similar study last week.

The legislation cleared the Senate late Wednesday night and was passed as part of the Water Resources Development Act. The full legislation will go to a joint House-Senate Conference before final consideration by Congress.

Due to outdated infrastructure and limited capacity, untreated sewage from the sanitary and storm water sewage disposal is being dumped into the Mohawk River from the county sewer district, which consists of 13 towns and villages.

I appreciate Sen. Schumer's attention to the problem, but I sincerely hope we'll have a solution to the problem sooner rather than later. We're dumping a quarter of a billion gallons of untreated sewage into the Mohawk River, and by extension an entire network of waterways across the area, every year. The more we delay fixing the problem the more we contaminate the area's surface water supply.

Update:A helpful reader pointed out that Congressman Arcuri has been silent on this issue. That's of particular note since he holds a seat on the Water Resources and Environment subcommittee of the House, which specifically handles wastewater infrastructure improvements.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

We're Here To Help You

Strikeslip beat me to the punch on the state Senate Republicans offering up a 4 billion dollar plan to save upstate.

Sorry, Republicans, especially Mr. Bruno . . . You have lost all credibility as to your ability to straighten out the Upstate Economy. What exactly did you accomplish in the last 12 years for attracting jobs while you controlled both the Senate and the Governor's Office? In CNY alone in just the last 5 years: Ethan Allen, Oneida Ltd., Carrier, Union Fork, LaSalle Labs . . . . . gone or severely downsized.

I've been a Republican my entire adult life, but I'm increasingly thinking that the party, or at least the New York version of it, has turned into something I can't support. I take cold comfort in the fact that many of my Democratic friends feel the same way about their party.

The Game's Afoot

Joe Politics has a nice summation of the increasingly interesting lineup of candidates for the fall follies.

The surprise comes from Mr. Trevisani. He and Julian are boyhood friends, but only worked together for a few months. The public story of his brief tenure was that he was offered an opportunity that was too good to turn down at the Masonic Home. The back story is that Julian wanted Trevisani to go to a few meetings and represent the city, but have no real role in running the city. He challenged the Mayor who did not back down and a lesson was learned: don't work with someone you want to remain friends with. It appears that Trevisani, (who has never made secret his desire to be Mayor) has not gotten over it. My belief is that in this one, Trevisani ultimately backs away and makes plans to run for Mayor in four years.

Don't forget.. Robert Palmieri is still lingering out there, yet to make a formal decision.

Be sure to read the part about Leon Koziol. Last night someone sent me an email regarding his run that I thought was a joke. It wasn't.

The email, I mean.


A Poem

Haiku For a Rainy Day in Oneida County,
With Special Attention to a Defective Sewage System,
in the Style of Buson (1716–1783)

Grey sky, falling water
Basin fills, then overflows
Sewage gushes forth

Feel The Pride

Once again, New Yorkers can proudly say "We're number one!"

According to the study by the Business Council of New York's Public Policy Institute, per-capita state and local taxes in New York led the nation in 2005.

It comes out to a whopping $5,770 for every man, woman and child - 36 percent more than the U.S. average, and 7 percent ahead of the next-most-taxed state, Connecticut.

Indeed, Tax Freedom Day - a concept crafted by the Tax Foundation - is itself a measure of New York's pain.

The date shows how late into the year the average person must work to satisfy the Tax Man, and it varies from state to state. This year, New York has the second-latest date in the nation - May 16.

Feeling proud yet? Neither are we.

Once More, With Feeling

Anthony Picente's battle to give Oneida County one of the highest tax burdens in the state, and hence the nation, continues.

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said Tuesday state representatives will likely support his proposal to reduce the county sales tax to 8.75 percent.

Once again, Mr. Picente is not reducing the county sales tax. The "emergency", "short-term" sales tax increase that was passed back in 2005 ends on November 30, 2007. By law, it's over. Done. Finished.

What Mr. Picente wants to do is pass another sales tax increase that takes effect on December 1, 2007. Yes, it's at a slightly lower rate than the tax we have now, but it is most assuredly a new tax. Tellingly, you'll note that he isn't even bothering to characterize it as a short-term measure.

State Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, the former county executive who implemented the 9 percent sales tax, will support the new legislation, said Ryan Nobles, director of communications and research for Griffo's office.

"After reviewing the information provided in (Tuesday) morning's meeting, the senator is prepared to honor home rule legislation once the requisite paperwork is provided," Nobles said.

He would not comment further.

Picente also said Griffo was committed to helping get the bill passed.

Mr. Griffo doesn't really have a choice in the matter, since a refusal would bring into question his own rationale for passing the original tax. The best thing he can do right now is keep his head down and hope the spatter from the soon-to-erupt crapstorm over the county's abysmal finances doesn't splash him too badly. I think that's an empty hope, to say the least. He's done more than enough to claim his fair share of credit for the tax hike already.

State Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito, D-Rome, who also was present at one of the Tuesday meetings, said she does not have a position at this point and is still reviewing the information Picente gave her.

An optimist could take this as a sign that maybe, just maybe the Democrats have decided to put some chips on the table after all. Mr. Picente has tried to bluster his way through the tax hike like an enraged bull, debuting the idea publicly for the first time last Thursday and immediately demanding that representatives decide on the issue within a week. That's a classic example of governance by crisis and he deserves to be called on it.

Picente said state representatives seemed to understand the need to change the tax rate to 8.75 percent, rather than let it drop to the scheduled 8 percent.

Er..but I thought Mr. Picente was reducing the sales tax? Looks like someone forgot the narrative. Heh.

He said the county can't afford to lose the millions of dollars in revenue that would result from dropping the rate lower.

"I really don't understand what the alternative is," he said. "I think they recognize the significance of having the tax."

Well, perhaps Mr. Picente could enlighten the rest of us as to what's actually going on. Up to this point he's been remarkably vague about what, if any, efforts he's undertaken to cut county government. I'd feel a lot more comfortable with his tax jihad if he'd taken the time to explain why there's not another dollar to cut from the county budget. One almost gets the impression he hasn't even bothered to try.

Update: Picente was supposed to address the county legislature about the tax hike at 2PM, but as of yet there isn't any word about what was discussed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Imagine That

While Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente is in Albany desperately trying to get sponsors for his proposed hike in the county sales tax at least one county legislator is saying there's another way.

County Legislator Michael J. Hennessy wants to see a greater effort aimed at cutting the cost of county government as County Executive Anthony J. Picente’s sales tax extension proposal comes up for consideration.

Hennessy, D-2, Sherrill, says there are three main areas where savings can be achieved:
• Consolidation of the county’s finance and audit and control functions.
• Possible elimination of the Youth Bureau.
• Cuts in discretionary spending,
Additionally, he wonders if towns could take over some of the work now done by the county Department of Public Works and whether the county is overestimating how much it has to contribute to the retirement system.
"The bottom line is there’s many ways of cutting this budget, in my opinion," he said.

It's good to see someone is considering the possibility of cutting the budget, but it's a huge disappointment that more legislators aren't speaking publicly about the issue. Then again, maybe they are and we aren't hearing about it. I know that most of them rely on the area's traditional media, the Observer-Dispatch, the Sentinel, and what passes for news departments at the local broadcast outlets, so there's a good chance their message isn't going out. Not because of any idealogical conspiracy in the media, although I know a certain amount of that goes on, but because there simply isn't enough airtime or column inches to cover every single political item that gets faxed in.

But I digress.

Meanwhile, Picente and other county representatives were in Albany this morning meeting with the county’s state representatives in hopes of lining up their support for his sales tax plan. Board of Legislature Chairman Gerald J. Fiorini, R-20, Rome, was part of the county delegation.
"I’m waiting to hear from them," Assemblywoman RoAnn M. Destito, D-116, Rome, said of her scheduled late morning meeting.
State authorization — approval by the state Legislature and enactment by the governor — is required before a county can implement a sales tax.
If Picente can get state lawmakers in both houses to introduce the necessary legislation today or tomorrow, the issue is expected to come up at the county Board of Legislators’ meeting Wednesday afternoon. A simple majority — 15 — of the 29-member county board must vote for the resolution asking state lawmakers to enact legislation authorizing the county to enact a .75 percent sales tax.
The issue is time sensitive because the state Legislature is slated to end its session next month. If the state gives the go-ahead, the county legislature would then vote on the tax a second time.

It would be a terrible, terrible thing if the vote in the county legislature came down on party lines. I'd hate to think of the political fallout if every single Democratic representative followed Mr. Hennessy's lead and voted against the tax increase while the Republicans all voted for it. Sure, it would still pass, but then the local Republicans would own it. I'd hate to see any challengers rubbing their noses in it this fall during the elections.


Monday, May 14, 2007


Over the weekend I had a great time at magician Leon Etienne's benefit show at New Hartford High School. He did a pretty standard mix of sleight of hand and stage magic, but I thought two segments in particular stood out. The first was a tight sequence of rope tricks that he blazed through with an amazing amount of skill. It was one trick after another, rat a tat tat, and his patter and coordination was phenomenally good.

The second was a very polished presentation of the "Metamorphosis" illusion, popularized by Harry Houdini, that has the magician changing places with an assistant locked in a trunk in the blink of an eye. You've probably seen the trick on television, including a segment in one of Fox's "Masked Magician" specials that revealed how it's accomplished, but seeing it done live is a totally different experience. I'm familiar with the mechanics of how the trick is done and, if anything, that made his performance of it even more impressive.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Ready For Launch

It's a beer! It's an energy drink! It's Moonshot!

You won't find many mentions of it on the website, but this is one of F. X. Matt's newest contract beers.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Arcuri Goes For The Threepeat

Congressman Mike Arcuri, NY-24, this week took the unusual step of speaking out in favor of House rules that allowed them to...uh...pass legislation. Be that as it may, it was enough to generate a press release on three pieces of legislation.

First up, HR 2237 "To provide for the redeployment of United States Armed Forces and defense contractors from Iraq". This was the "Get out of Iraq, Pronto!" bill that went down to defeat on Thursday with a vote of 171-255. Mr. Arcuri voted with Speaker Pelosi for withdrawal.

Second, HR 2206, the bill that would only provide short-term funding for military operations in Iraq and elsewhere. It passed 221-205, with Mr. Arcuri once again voting with Speaker Pelosi in support.

Oddly enough, Mr. Arcuri's statement contends that the recent tornadoes in Kansas demonstrated the National Guard's limited ability to respond to emergencies because of the Iraq war. That's a rather surprising assertion considering the Kansas National Guard's own statements:

Currently, the Kansas National Guard has 88 percent of its forces available, 60 percent of its Army Guard dual-use equipment on hand, and more than 85 percent of its Air Guard equipment on hand, said Randal Noller, public affairs officer for the National Guard Bureau. Under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which is a national partnership agreement that allows state-to-state assistance during governor or federally declared emergencies, Kansas has more than 400,000 Guardsmen available to it, he pointed out. However, Kansas has not yet requested assistance from other states.

Curious, that. And probably worthy of an investigation, since the military must obviously be lying.

Finally, there's HR 2207, the bill that takes all the pork that was slathered on the original Iraq supplemental bill and breaks it out on it's own. Good news for salmon breeders, peanut growers, and spinach farms that have trouble keeping E. Coli off their crops, but not really anything to do with the war anymore. It passed 302-120, with Mr. Arcuri once again voting with Speaker Pelosi.

"Victory to me is bringing the troops home." - Michael Arcuri

Anthony Picente: The Man, The Legend

The solemn statesman/warrior king look is a little over the top, but I think the likeness is surprisingly good. When it's finished we can add it to Hanna Park, just north of the Bob Hope Memorial Clock and to the left of the Unintended But Strangely Appropriate Swirling Sewer Drain.

The Enemy Of My Enemy...

I'm mercilessly harsh on the guy, but Larry Tanoury deserves credit for linking to my tax rant.

CNY Snakepit has a great post regarding Picente's "so-called" sales tax decrease.

As pointed out, correctly, he is NOT lowering the sales tax. He is actually increasing it by .75%. The sales tax increase was supposed to expire in November, bringing it back down to 8%. Even though Picente promised the sales tax increase would end when he was appointed, he is now playing election year politics. He contadicts himself by telling us we have a surplus (good political sound bite), yet warns of more property tax increases.

Hmmmmm...I'm starting to think this High Taxes Suck (TM) thing could be a useful political issue. Too bad the Republicans don't seem to be embracing it.

I'm still upset that Larry wants to take away my beautiful chrome and ivory Ruger Mk II target pistol, but that's a post for another day.

(Editor: He shoots, he scores! In one fell swoop he advances his libertarian tax agenda, sets up the "Why do they want to take my guns?" meme, and solidifies his bi-partisan gadfly credentials. Genius!)

Floaty Sez: Happy Boating!

Huzzah! The state's canal system is now open.

The entire 524-mile state canal system is open, the New York State Canal Corp. announced today.

This year marks the 182nd consecutive navigation season on New York’s canal system.

Boaters are reminded that the corporation’s board has approved the extension of a 2006 pilot program to waive recreational boating tolls for the 2007 navigation season. Pleasure-craft owners will not be required to purchase a pass to cruise on the system during the 2007 season.

Floaty, Oneida County's official watersports mascot, would also like to remind boaters that the canal downstream from New Hartford is contaminated with human feces and sewage, which means a "floating log" warning on this stretch of the canal is something you should take seriously. Thanks to a defective sewage pumping station an average of four million gallons a day of untreated waste flows into the beautiful Mohawk River and hence into the canal system.

Happy Boating!

(Yeah, it's a cheap shot. Worse, it's true. I shed a tear for New Hartford's construction moratorium every time I inhale the rich organic stink of decaying sewage coming off the water.)

Someone Gets It Right

While the Utica Observer-Dispatch and WKTV swallowed the "tax cut" spin on Oneida County's new tax, the Rome Sentinel didn't.

Aiming for a “long-range plan” over a short-term election year fiscal fix, Oneida County’s chief executive said today he wants to keep most of the local 1 percent sales tax that expires on Nov. 30. Anthony J. Picente Jr. will seek permission to continue the special tax at .75 percent for two years. Otherwise, he said, county landowners would face a property tax increase of nearly 50 percent.

Out of the three major media outlets serving the area only the Sentinel offered an accurate description of how Mr. Picente wants to handle the County's funding problems. It's not a "tax cut" or a "sales tax drop". Yes, I'm arguing semantics, but in this case it's an important distinction. Why?

When then-County Executive Griffo unveiled his 2005 budget he proposed to add a 1.5 percent “Medicaid Sales Tax” to the existing 4 percent county sales tax. He said it was less burdensome to raise local sales tax to the highest in the state than to hike the property tax levy by about 48 percent to raise the same amount of money. The legislators agreed and there was no property tax increase in 2005.

This wasn't just a "Medicaid Sales Tax". This was a temporary "Medicaid Sales Tax", designed to provide a short-term solution to the long-term problem of the state's out of control Medicaid spending. That problem still hasn't been solved, since our tax dollars ultimately end up paying the criminally inflated costs anyway, but the state has put a cap on the share of the expenses paid by local governments, obviating the need for the increased sales tax.

Now Mr. Picente has donned his top hat and tails, walked on stage, and...Presto! Chango! Tada!...turned the "temporary" tax into an integral, permanent part of the County's funding process.

County Legislator Michael J. Hennessy, D-2, Sherrill, was not satisfied. He issued a statement by phone this morning, following the announcement. It read: “The one-quarter of one percent reduction does not go far enough. This is not in the spirit of the original legislation. Maybe returning to 8 percent was unrealistic, but reducing it by only one-quarter of a percent falls far short of making our sales tax less burdensome to our taxpayers and retail merchants. The discussion should not only be a debate on what’s better — increasing sales tax or property tax. It should have started with reducing the size of government and cutting expenses. Our problem is not with raising revenues, it’s been for a long time controlling the size of government and the cost it’s put on our taxpayers.”

Clearly, I woke up in the Bizarro universe this morning, because here we have a Democratic politician asking why a tax increase is even needed. Something even more notable since, you know, it's a pretty common-sense point of view that Mr. Picente has, by all measures, already rejected.

Look, I know Oneida County is facing some major budget problems. Well, "major" doesn't really describe it adequately. "Apocalyptic" is more appropriate. Over the next five years the County is going to have to come up with something north of $100 million dollars to cover the costs of infrastructure improvements. I just find it hard to believe that cuts to services aren't even being considered, much less advocated, by the serving County Executive.

But wait, it gets better.

Picente said that he’ll take his case to Albany Tuesday, when he meets with local legislators to convince them to support the plan. “They want to see our numbers,” he said. Asked if he’s received commitments from any state legislators to sponsor the home rule message, he said, “not yet, not until I show them our numbers. I haven’t asked for a commitment. I really need to know within a week. Hopefully I’ll get that answer when I meet with them Tuesday.”

"I really need to know within a week".

No time for debate. No time for a consideration of all the options. No time for a realistic appraisal of different approaches to the budget, including the option for a true cut-to-the-bone approach.

Bravo, Mr. Picente. You've now mastered the art of governance by crisis.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Arcuri Votes For Immediate Iraq Withdrawal

Rep. Michael Arcuri, NY-24, voted tonight along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the immediate withdrawal of all American forces from Iraq. The bill in question, HR 2237, was voted down 255-171.

"Victory to me is bringing the troops home." - Michael Arcuri

TaDa! It's The Magic Tax

Crowds cheered, snow white doves burst into the sky, and a beam of purest sunshine shone down from the heavens this morning. Why? "Picente proposes sales-tax drop"

Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente, Jr., announced this morning at a news conference he will propose a reduction in Oneida County’s sales tax to an 8.75 percent rate that would go into effect by Dec. 1.

The legislation would have to be passed by the county and state Legislature by September 1.

There is a possibility the sales tax could drop to 8.5 percent by the end of 2008, if the county is in a stable position to do so, Picente said.

Except, of course, Picente isn't proposing a sales tax drop at all. The "emergency, short-term, honest-we're-only-gonna-keep-it-until-the-crisis-is-over medicaid tax" ends this November, sending Oneida County back to a sales tax rate of 8%.

Mr. Picente is advocating a tax increase.

Update: WKTV is on board with the "tax cut" too.

Currently, in Oneida County, residents pay a sales tax of 9%, which happens to be the highest of any county in the state. But, if Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente has his way, you'll start to pay 8.75%.

Picente tells NEWSChannel 2, lowering the sales tax will add revenue that would be dedicated to county purposes. He says the county can afford to do this because of Oneida County's near $13 million surplus. However, he's not ruling out property tax increases in the future.

Again, the increased sales tax was supposed to be a "temporary" measure. It ends on November 30, 2007. Nothing is getting "lowered". Mr. Picente is asking the residents of Oneida County to pay a new tax that just happens to start the day after the old one ends.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Ten Weeks And Counting

The Utica Common Council's investigation into city Police Chief C. Allen Pylman effectively ended February 23, 2007. That's the day Council attorney Anthony Garramone resigned from his position for "health reasons".

It has now been over ten weeks since the last witness testified, but the Council continues to stall a resolution of the investigation by claiming there hasn't been enough time to "transcribe" testimony.

Clearly, the Council's administrative staff is incompetent and should be fired immediately. It's hard to believe that tax dollars are being spent on an employee or employees that obviously lied about their stenographic and transcription skills, but the Council needs to accept that they were indeed bamboozled and respond with a clear message that even civil service employees are expected to meet basic standards of competence.

Unless, of course, it's not Council's secretarial staff that is incompetent.

Everyone Loves Joette

Any idea what's going on with Joette Mancuso of "Joette's Gifts"? In the last few hours I've had at least six visitors from across the state that arrived via Google searches for "Joette Mancuso". Maybe she turned state's evidence. Heh.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Changes Afoot For The O-D Online?

It's not exactly a surprise, but the sale of the Observer-Dispatch to Gatehouse Media is now finalized.

The sale of the Observer-Dispatch to GateHouse Media Inc. was closed Monday, ending 85 years of ownership by Gannett Co. Inc.

Fairport-based GateHouse purchased the O-D and three other newspapers from Gannett for $410 million. The two companies first announced the deal nearly three weeks ago.

“The newspaper that we’ll produce will only get better,” said O-D President and Publisher Donna M. Donovan after a Monday morning meeting with employees. “And that doesn’t change, regardless of who owns it.”

It will be interesting to see how this impacts their online product. I haven't really poked around their server, since that would be...uh...ethically questionable, but it looks like they're still using the Gannet Online architecture, including remote script execution via the Gannet servers, to manage things. Unless the purchase includes some kind of hosting agreement they'll eventually have to move to a new server. That means a new architecture and content suite, which should keep the online staff busy for a while, and probably means a makeover for the paper's layout. Some of the Gatehouse papers have rather bland websites, but I thought this one actually has a better layout than the existing O-D site.

I'm Late To The Party

Thankfully, someone stayed sober over the weekend and didn't let their blogs go to pot. Joe Politics has a two-fer tackling the Julian/Meola Felonious Face-Off and Mr. Arcuri's potential challengers.

The first was a story I was hoping someone would write, but never expected it would come from them. It describes how both candidates for Mayor of Utica have a checkered legal past. They wrote the story down the middle and basically laid out the facts and then had "real" people say that it won't have a major impact on their decision. The best part was the comments after the online story. One reader said what we all were thinking.

"...who are these people who question why voters would consider criminal convictions of candidates. Are you kidding me?? Julian was arrested by Pylman; Meola was in a multimillion dollar fencing operation. Is there NO ONE ELSE ??....And Julian and Meola can understand why anyone would be interested in their criminal convictions ?? Are each of them suffering from some brain disorder ??"

Meanwhile, over at Fault Lines, Strikeslip gives me way too much credit for hacking the Meola story. How I wish that were true. If they really want a fun story I can't imagine anything more amusing than taking a serious look at Larry Tanoury's online antics. Particularly in light of his family history. Apples falling from trees, and all that.

The Usual Suspects

It says a lot about a city when the candidates for mayor can compare notes on who has the more impressive rap sheet.

When city voters go to the polls this fall, they may be choosing between two mayoral candidates who've both had brushes with the law.

But several residents interviewed Friday said the candidates' stand on city issues is more important than past troubles. And both Republican Mayor Tim Julian and Democratic Common Councilman Frank Meola, D-4, said they would not raise the opposing candidate's prior arrest as an election issue.

The Observer-Dispatch and other media outlets have reported in the past on the arrests -- both at the time they occurred and subsequently when both men ran for political office.

•In 1995, state police charged Julian with felony criminal possession of stolen property while investigating two men who were selling stolen tools. Julian eventually pleaded down to a violation - the equivalent of a parking ticket - and paid a $250 fine.

As a violation, the file on the case is closed by statute. Julian said he didn't know the tools were stolen.

•In 2000, Meola and 25 other people were identified as participating in a Utica-based shoplifting ring that authorities said fenced more than $35 million worth of retail goods from stores in an 11-county area. Meola pleaded guilty to fourth-degree conspiracy, a felony.

Meola served no jail time for the offense and was placed on five years probation, but that ended after about two years because he'd complied with all the conditions of his sentence.

So there you have it. Tim "The Tool Man" Julian and Frank "Stickyfingers" Meola in a felonious face-off for the future of Utica. God help us all.

What I'd really like to see is an article taking a detailed look at what exactly happened in both cases, since there's a notable dearth of information on the subject. In Julian's case, as the O-D article points out, the same investigation that lead to his felony arrest also netted GOP Chairman Wayne Brooks. Oh, and they were both cuffed and processed by a relatively obscure state police major by the name of C. Allen Pylman.

Let that sink in. I'll wait.


Now that you've had some time to think about it I suspect you're just as curious as I am about what happened back in 1995. Sadly, the O-D doesn't provide any background by reprinting contemporary articles from the time of the arrests, which leaves a lot of questions unanswered and would, nudge, nudge, make for a great follow-up article. Who was the guy with the stolen tools? Where did he get them from? How did Brooks and Julian end up buying them? What did they buy and how much did they pay? How were they able to plead a felony arrest down to, amazingly, a violation?

These are all questions that I'm sure have very interesting answers.

Speaking of interesting answers, here's Mr. Meola explaining why being part of an organized crime ring shouldn't impact his chances of election:

Meola said his arrest is in the past and that he trusts voters will recognize how he's fought to improve the city.

"I've acknowledged what I did was wrong. Many good people, day-to-day, make mistakes," Meola said. "I hope we move on and don't dwell on the past. We all make mistakes and learn from them."

I'm a good person. I've made mistakes. But I think my lapsed inspection sticker kinda pales in comparison to a guy that was allegedly moving millions of dollars in stolen merchandise.

Again, the O-D doesn't provide any real background for the story and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Considering both these guys want to be Mayor of the city, a position that brings with it control of millions of dollars, I'd sure like to know more about the actual case. What exactly was Mr. Meola's position within the crime ring? How long was he part of it? How much stolen merchandise did he actually handle? Which stores did Mr. Meola and his partners in crime steal from? Did he pay restitution to the merchants he ripped off? Did the crime ring he was part of have any ties to established organized crime families?

These are all questions that need to be answered, and I hope the O-D is up to the task. Both Julian and Meola need to be held accountable for their criminal activity, and writing off either incident as a "youthful indiscretion" is the worst kind of white washing. These guys were grown ups, not kids. Voters need to see the full picture of what they were involved in if they're going to make an informed choice this fall.

To be honest, I'm more uncomfortable with the idea of Mr. Meola holding any kind of elective office than Julian. And believe me, that's damning Julian with faint praise. Frank Meola was part of an organized group that ripped off people for millions of dollars. He was in deep, he was in for an extended period of time, and he was quite literally living a life of crime. Is it beyond the pale that his relationship with his former conspirators didn't end in 2000?

2008 Rematch?

It's deja vu, all over again.

It could be Meier vs. Arcuri again in 2008.

Former state Sen. Raymond Meier, a Republican from Western, says he's considering a rematch against the man who defeated him in last year's race for Congress, former Oneida County District Attorney Michael Arcuri.

"I haven't decided yet," said Meier, who is now a private attorney. "But I do think it's a decision I would probably make before the end of the summer."

If he does run, it's likely he'll have the backing of the Oneida County Republican Party.

"I'm sure Ray would certainly be my first choice," Republican Chairman Mark Scheidelman said.

Upon reading this, I'm almost tempted to invoke Ronald Reagan's Eleventh Commandment and just let it slide. Luckily, Mr. Arcuri provided me with the motivation to go on:

"The things I promised, I delivered on," Arcuri said. "NYRI, minimum wage, doing what I could to oppose the war, I've done that. Education, student loan reform. All of the things we've talked about we've done." You haven't. Not a single piece of legislation dealing with any of these issues has been enacted into law. Bills have been passed, to be sure, but despite having complete control of both houses of Congress Mr. Arcuri's party has been unable to send a single finished bill regarding any of them to the President's desk.

Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zip.

They're all trapped in legislative limbo, that terrible emptiness between the House and Senate where legislation just kind of floats around until congressional staffers get around to hammering it into shape. About the only legislation they have been able to pass is the emergency appropriations bill for Iraq, and that ended up being larded with so much pork that even many Democrats were embarrassed by it.

But I digress.

I think Ray Meier is a good and decent man. I also think he's considerably smarter than Mike "New York is not a border state" Arcuri. That's why I found the total meltdown of his campaign, primarily at the hands of the NRCC, so damnably infuriating. I, and a lot of other Republicans, never felt like we were anything more than a source of funds during the 2006 race. The campaign never generated a sense of urgency or excitement and, as far as I know, never made any attempt to reach out and motivate party members at the local level. I don't blame Mr. Meier for that, since I think it was an inevitable result of the kind of top-down effort the party was running, but I think he needs to take a good, hard look at what happened in 2006 in order to avoid having the same thing happen in 2008.


Sweet Jebus. I take some time off to play with fire and booze it up over the weekend and the floodgates open. I gots some catchin' up to do.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Burn, Baby, Burn

I love to grill. And that's why my back hurts.

I've spent the last few hours chainsawing some immense tree limbs that came crashing down at a friend's house during February's storms. His home was once a farm, and the property has quite a few stands of mature oaks and maples as well as a the remnants of an orchard with apple and pear trees. When the spring thaw started the ground was littered with downed branches, but we were able to clean up most of them during the stretch of nice weather we had two weeks ago.

That experience gave me a real appreciation for just how tough our ancestors were.

It was back-breaking work, even though we had chainsaws, a motorized log splitter, and a truck with an impressive hunk of Japanese iron under the hood to haul the logs to the woodpile. I can't imagine how physically demanding the job would have been with pure muscle power. Which is rather shameful, since I know my grandparents did exactly that for years and they were, to put it politely, rather delicate of frame. I'm over a foot taller than either of them, and my son is already two inches taller than I am, but by the time we stacked the last log of the day we were both ready to collapse.

Sad, really, to realize you're made of softer stuff than the steel and leather of your sweet lil' granpapa and mama.

Tonight we finished up the job we started two weeks ago. All the straight and true limbs were already seasoning in neat little stacks for next winter, leaving nothing but the truly sorry specimens for collection. Bent, gnarled hunks of wood that even a carbon steel blade attached to a 2000 p.s.i. hydraulic ram couldn't split. Well, it could, but the result would be chunks of misshapen shrapnel spraying every which way while a gang of shrieking idiots dove for cover. No, these sorry dregs of wood can't be used for firewood. Too many knots, kinks, and twists for that, but there's still something of value in the wood.

Some of the larger chunks will spend a year or two in the back of the garage before paying a visit to a bandsaw and, like magic, they'll be transformed. The same tortured grain that makes them unfit for firewood makes them perfect for woodwork, where their contorted swirls can come alive under a buffing of linseed oil and wax. The rest, all the lumpy little nuggets too small for anything else or so buckled and bent that they aren't stable enough for woodwork, will undergo another transformation. We'll load them into a steel drum connected to a nest of pipes, utter a few chants for good luck, and then practice a little ol' school alchemy:

Nasty wood + fire - oxygen = charcoal.

The kind of charcoal God intended, not those hideous artificial abominations called "briquettes" made from compressed fly ash, sawdust, melamine, and glue. Okay, they don't really have melamine in them, at least as far as I know, but who knows? If the Chinese are willing to put plastic scrap in food products the mind boggles at what could end up in something like a briquette.

No thanks. We'll spend the weekend swilling beer and swapping lies while the charcoal cooks, cools, and then gets bagged up in burlap sacks, just like in the old days. When it's all done we'll have enough black gold to fuel a summer's worth of grilling and barbecue and an ample supply of sweet, flavorful wood chips for smoking food.

It's going to be a great summer.

Note: If you're curious how backyard charcoal manufacturing works there's a great write-up about the process over here. I wish our half-assed setup looked half as nice.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Other Woman

During the discussion about a possible serial killer operating in and around Utica I mentioned my vague recollection of a dead woman discovered floating in a hot tub. Some astute readers later identified the woman in question as Tenesha Sessoms, who died under questionable circumstances back in December of 2006. While she doesn't match the profile of the hypothetical serial killer's other victims (she was black while they were slim, petite, brunette caucasians) her death is just as tragic and equally puzzling.

Troopers found the body of Tanesha Sessoms in a Jacuzzi at 2363 Oneida St. after the homeowner, Christopher Roberts, reported the death around 6:30 a.m. Saturday, investigators said.

As state police await final autopsy and toxicology results to determine how Sessoms, of Steuben Street, died, police were questioning whether medicinal or recreational drug use had anything to do with her death. They also were trying to obtain Sessoms’ medical records.

In the meantime, investigators have not yet ruled out foul play, they said.

According to investigators, Sessoms arrived at Roberts’ residence late Friday night and she was in the Jacuzzi sometime before Roberts went to bed shortly after midnight. Roberts then discovered Sessoms’ body when he awoke several hours later.

Police were still looking into how Sessoms and Roberts knew each other.

According to this News 10 Now story the discovery of Ms. Sessom's body lead to the arrest of Mr. Roberts on multiple drug counts:

Tuesday, police arrested Roberts charges for possessing, selling, and growing marijuana. Police seized 250 plants and other equipment from his home, street valued at about $200,000.

They said Roberts is very important to the investigation of Sessoms' death.

"He was the last person to see her alive, so certainly he is a person that is very important to this investigation. At this point, I will say he has been very limited in his cooperation regarding this investigation," said Troop D Lieutenant David Krause.

A third story from an unknown source (Post-Standard? Rome Sentinel?) repeats most of the second article's details, but adds the revelation that Mr. Roberts was moving a considerable amount of cocaine:

As investigators await final autopsy and toxicology results that could take between two and four weeks, all possible causes for Sessoms death are being explored, said state police Lt. David Krause of the Oneida barracks. Sessoms’ death was reported by Roberts’ neighbor around 6:15 a.m. Saturday after Roberts found Sessoms in a hot tub on his back porch, Krause said.

“At this point, I wouldn’t even call it a suspicious death,” Krause said.
In the meantime, investigators have said one avenue they were looking at was whether medicinal or recreational drug use had anything to do with her death.

Roberts was charged with felony counts of third-degree criminal possession of marijuana and third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, as well as misdemeanor counts of unlawfully growing marijuana and criminal possession of a controlled substance, Krause said.

Within the first 48-hours surrounding the investigation into Sessoms’ death, Krause said Roberts allegedly provided another person with cocaine.

Roberts is in the Oneida County jail on $30,000 bail awaiting a felony hearing Monday in Paris Town Court, police said.

I can't find anything about the disposition of the case after Mr. Roberts' felony hearing.

You're A Dirty Whore, But I Mean That In The Nicest Way

Utica's most volatile broadcaster may find himself out of a job...again. I understand he's had yet another blowup with a female co-worker, and this time it might end up in a courtroom instead of with an in-studio confrontation. Losing his current gig would make it particularly difficult to meet his child support obligations, considering the number of out-of-wedlock births he's responsible for.

It's Huuuuuuuge!

Billy Fucillo's uniquely inane commercials are getting a little national attention.

We are somewhat confused by and in awe of Mr. Fuccillo. We were certainly not aware that heaven was "very similar to Ridge Road In Greece." Yet, we accept it as fact with little or no backtalk.

Some of the comments are priceless:

Unfortunately, that ass clown has dealerships, and those ridiculous commercials, here in Albany, NY, too. I'd never buy anything from any business that makes me scramble for the remote when their annoying commercials spew from my TV.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Mitt Romney Is Unfit For The Office Of President

I like to think of myself as an open-minded man, but there comes a time when you have to take a stand. One of the founding principles of our nation is that every American is entitled to the basic freedoms enshrined in the words of our constitution- freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the freedom to follow the belief system of your choice. I never thought there would come a day when I would encounter a public figure with beliefs so abhorrent, so outside the mainstream, that I would find myself enraged beyond words.

Sadly, that day has come.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has revealed something that, at the very least, should disqualify him from consideration for the office of President. I can accept that he and I have different politics. I can accept that he and I have different faiths. What I can't accept is his enthusiastic embrace of something every decent American should denounce.

When asked his favorite novel in an interview shown yesterday on the Fox News Channel, Mitt Romney pointed to “Battlefield Earth,” a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. That book was turned into a film by John Travolta, a Scientologist.

A spokesman said later it was one of Mr. Romney’s favorite novels.
“I’m not in favor of his religion by any means,” Mr. Romney, a Mormon, said. “But he wrote a book called ‘Battlefield Earth’ that was a very fun science-fiction book.” Asked about his favorite book, Mr. Romney cited the Bible.

"Battlefield Earth"? It's cool that you're into sci-fi, and "Battlefield Earth" most assuredly qualifies as sci-fi instead of the slightly-more-reputable-but-still-a-little-iffy science fiction, but couldn't you pick something a little less hacktastic? If you like the pulpy adventure thing you should check out the books Hubbard, was inspired by, Doc Smith's Lensman series. They start out fighting with machine pistols and end up using entire solar systems as weapons! How cool is that?

If you're into the post-apocalyptic vibe "Earth Abides" is a classic. Or how about"Alas, Babylon"? If you want full-blown soul destroying hopelessness there's always "On the Beach". Heck, I'd even recommend Stephen King's "The Stand" or Robert McCammon's "Swan Song", but people would rightfully be leery of a presidential candidate that enjoyed either of those, if you know what I mean.

Anything but "Battlefield Earth".

The Truth Is Out There

Was the attack on the San Francisco freeway system of 4/29 a simple accident? Or something far more sinister?

The “official story” from “official government sources” is that weekend a lone gas truck driver crashed a single tanker loaded with 8,600 gallons of unleaded gasoline into a guardrail in what they say was an ordinary accident. Unfortunately there are too many questionable statements, too many conflicting reports, and too many outright impossibilities for any serious, thoughtful individual to take this “official report” seriously.

Let’s review the facts.

* The bridge should have easily withstood the thermal stress caused by pools of burning auto fuel.
* If steel from those overpasses did soften or melt, I’m sure we can all agree that this was certainly not due to auto fuel fires of any kind, let alone the briefly burning fire under that bridge.
* 800º C is near the maximum flame temperature of hydrocarbons burning in air without pre-heating or pressurization of the air, well below the melting temperature of steel.
* It is impossible for fire to melt steel.
* The section of the bridge appears to have fallen straight down, exactly as it would have from demolition charges.

We can only hope Utica's resident conspiracy theorists apply their investigative abilities to this breaking story. Truth out, homies!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


The clock has run out for the Oneida Nation and the state of New York.

The federal government will reconsider its approval of Turning Stone casino in June now that the state and Oneida Indian Nation have missed a deadline to stall the decision.

Monday was the last day for the state and Oneida nation to submit a joint request to postpone the reconsideration while they negotiate a new casino agreement. Without that joint request, the Department of Interior will now decide by June 14 whether to nullify its approval of the 1993 agreement that allowed Turning Stone to open.

The state and nation wrote separate letters Monday to the secretary of the interior. Both argued, in vastly different ways, that the agency had no power to reconsider the agreement, or compact. The nation said the agreement is valid and can't be revisited 14 years after it was first approved. The state argued that the Interior Department can't reconsider an agreement because it was never valid in the first place because it was not ratified by the state Legislature.

As Gov. Spitzer might put it, "Day one, everything changes. Except for the stuff that doesn't."