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.

The Canary In The Mine

If you're an opponent of NYRI, or one of the people in the path of the proposed powerlines, you might want to keep a close eye on Congressman Arcuri's housing situation. Oh, and it wouldn't hurt to pay attention to the real estate listings to see if a slew of homes along the proposed route suddenly go up for sale.

Just sayin'.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

What's Up With Christian Garramone: Part Deux

Last month I noticed I was getting an insane number of hits from people searching for "Christian Garramone" and "Utica". A backtrack from one of today's hits on that subject led to the comments page for an underground hip-hop site. You might want to turn down the volume if you click through- the embedded video interview drops a few F-bombs.

Name: christian garramone (6/14/2007 3:25:00 PM)
Location: utica, ny usa
Comment: white people are oppressed too!!!! I am not immune to harrassment from cops because I am white....the gov't takes my money and uses it to wage war....this is a fascist country, and black and white people should leave the past in the past and unite to fight the real war.....the fascist regime that has always ruled this country/corporation!!!!!

The usual disclaimers about internet identities apply, but I thought it was amusing.

A Cry For Help

Both RoAnn Destito and Joe Griffo have op-eds in today's OD bemoaning the state's failure to site the promised data center at SUNY-IT. Both pieces feature a lot of talk about economic growth, high-tech development, and how hard they're both going to fight to make sure it ends up here, yesirree. I could spend a lot of time writing an insightful deconstruction of their respective works, but I'm lazy so I'll cut to the chase.

The state data center is never, ever coming to Oneida County. Nothing they do, from dropping even more money into the "UltraMega Nano-Center" black hole to putting together yet another economic advisory team, can possibly alter that fact.


Because the state public employee unions have already said they don't want it here, and what they say goes.

Urk! That's Greek For "This Is Terrible"

I dropped by at Symeon's with a few friends this week and was really looking forward to some great food.

By the time I left I was still looking forward to some great food, but I knew I wouldn't be finding it at Symeon's.

What the hell happened to that place? It used to have phenomenally good meals, but I felt like I'd ended up at the Bizarro world version of the restaurant I remembered.

Speaking Of Empire Zones

A terrible, terrible mistake has been made.

"I met the full requirement of my commitment," said Giotto, president of Fiber Instrument Sales, on Wednesday.

Empire State Development sent letters to about 3,000 businesses, including 157 in Oneida and Herkimer counties, notifying them that they are in danger of being decertified from the Empire Zone program because they failed to meet the requirements. The state based its information on 2005 annual business reports, but will make a final determination based on an audit of 2006 business reports.

Oriskany-based Fiber Instrument Sales had estimated a total investment of $4.37 million, including $3 million to construct a 40,000-square-foot building and $875,000 to develop products, when it was certified in the Oneida County Empire Zone in June 2002.

The company had only invested $1.3 million, or 29.8 percent, of its projected amount by the end of 2005, according to Empire State Development.

Empire State Development failed to include the $3 million that had been invested in the construction project by Aug. 1, 2001, nearly a year before the company was Empire Zone certified, Giotto said.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to remember that the Fiber Instrument Sales building wasn't in an Empire Zone in 2001 and most of 2002. The borders of the zone, and "border" is a pretty meaningless term when it comes to how these absurd zones are configured, weren't revised to include that property until August of 2002.

It's not just an Empire Zone, it's a retroactively magical Empire Zone!

Update: An email asks "Isn't this the kind of basic fact-checking the reporter should have done while writing the article in the first place?" It does seem like the timeline of events would be pretty important to understanding what happened, and the validity of the actual Empire Zone credit, now that he/she mentions it.

Update: This would seem to support the idea that the Fiber Instrument Sales building was outside of the Zone when it was built.

Call The Waaaaahmbulance

Sen. Joe Griffo is upset with the revelation that the Empire Zone program is filled with failure.

State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, wrote Gov. Eliot Spitzer's top Upstate New York economic-development official Friday questioning the state's tactics in enforcing Empire Zone standards...

In his letter to agency's Upstate chairman, Daniel Gunderson, Griffo asked what publicize the names of those companies is supposed to accomplish.

"I strongly believe that companies who accept Empire Zone benefits should live up to their end of the bargain," Griffo said. "However, (the state) went and posted a list of people they deemed to be not in compliance, without telling the whole story."

The O-D story neatly summarizes Sen. Griffo's press release, but why settle for the quick and dirty version when we can critique the real thing?

Dear Chairman Gundersen:

I have been in contact with a number of our local business leaders who were listed as not being in compliance with the standards set for accepting Empire Zone Benefits in the local media. While I strongly believe that companies that accept these benefits should fulfill their obligations, I take issue with the manner in which the report was released and the validity of the report’s findings.

Sen. Griffo's concerns about the release of the information are absurd. Once these companies agreed to reap the benefits of the Empire Zone program it became a matter of vital public interest if they were actually meeting their obligations. It's a bit disingenuous to suck at the public teat and then complain that someone is watching you slurp up that sweet, sweet milk.

On the other hand, it's a fair cop that there may be problems with the accuracy of the data.

Oh, and what do you want to bet that those "local business leaders" upset about being on the deadbeat list are also listed as making significant political contributions during the same time frame?

In particular, I disagree with the tactic of releasing the information to the press before contacting the business owners directly to work with them to discuss their status.

I disagree with the tactic of giving companies preferential tax treatment and then letting them skip out on their obligations. If shaming them gets them to live up to the agreement then so be it.

Publicly rapping companies that are on the road to compliance is not productive.

"On the road to compliance"? That's politician-speak for "not in compliance". As in "Sorry for not paying my video porn-on-demand bill, but I'm on the road to compliance. You can't cut me off now!" Sadly, I won't be able to watch Video Vixens 12: The Snake is Awake until I actually, you know, pay the bill.

It also does not present the image that New York wants to help industry flourish. It give the impression that your organization is just out to get them. That type of perception has dogged New York for many years.

Expecting companies to meet their obligations isn't a bug, it's a feature. See also: Hotel Utica.

I also disagree with the way that the report based its findings on old statistics dating back to 2005. As an Economic Development expert, I am sure you are aware that business ebbs and flows. A fluid program like Empire Zones should be designed to allow companies to adjust to changing environments. They should also be given the courtesy of using the most up to date statistics available. I am confident that a review of performance in 2006 would paint a much different picture of compliance.

Ebb. Flow. Whatever. If they took the tax break in 2005 they need to meet 2005's goals. In the private sector we call meeting 2005's goals in 2006 "Failure".

Finally, I want to stress the need for a Mohawk Valley Regional Empire State Development Director. We have been without this important official in our community since the Spitzer Administration took over. I wonder, if any of the companies who were rapped so publicly in your report, might have had a better chance of meeting their standards, if a local ESD director were in place?

I can answer that: no. A local ESD director isn't going to hire a single worker or spend a single dollar in investment. That's the responsibility of the company, not a highly-paid government errand-boy.

Filling this position is a vital component of the region’s economic growth and it would be a signal to our local business leaders that the Spitzer Administration is serious about improving the business climate in Central New York.

Yeah, that's just what we need. Christ, half the jobs in our area are in government or government-sponsored non-profits already. That's a disaster, not a "business climate".

I understand that your organization is evaluating all of the programs that were instituted by prior administrations and discussing the merits of keeping them going. I believe that is a needed exercise. However, while you are evaluating, our community still has important needs that must be met. We need a vision for the future of Empire State Development and when we can expect anticipated changes to these important programs.

Here's an idea- get rid of Empire Zones. Make the whole state an Empire Zone and give every single company the same benefits without any of the bureaucratic friction. Unfortunately, that would mean politicians would lose the ability to take credit for economic growth as well as the power to extract fealty from companies looking for favorable tax treatment.

And really, that's what the Empire Zone program is all about. Political power. As a great man once said, "The power to tax is the power to destroy." Empire Zones are just a dandified way of codifying tax favoritism based on patronage instead of letting the free market decide who succeeds and who fails. Maybe that's why companies that take a good, hard look at the state's horrific business climate decide that the real Empire Zones are "anywhere but New York".

With all due respect Mr. Gundersen, we are well past Day One and we have no clear idea of what this administration plans to do to improve our economic future. I think the time for action is now.

Okay, this part I can agree with. Speaking of pressing economic needs Sen. Griffo, there's this little sewer problem you might have heard about...

Friday, August 3, 2007

Up, Up, And Away

A little piece of the Mohawk Valley is bound for the Red Planet.

The CTM Corporation of Frankfort is going to Mars - not the whole company, but at least one of the items the company built is.

It is referred to as “the scoop” and it is primarily made out of aluminum and titanium and has an 8-foot-long arm attached to it. It also has a very small motor inside of it that is used to make it move. The scoop is used to dig trenches and dig up soil for analysis...

NASA refers to the whole item as the Phoenix Mars Lander. It will blast off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard a Delta II rocket on a 423-million-mile trip. The three-week launch window opens today.

The lander is expected to arrive at Mars 10 months after it launches and is planned for a three-month mission.

Congratulations to CTM.

As an aside, I always thought it would be awesome if someone started an orbital cremation service. There are companies that will launch your ashes into orbit today, but I'd like to have my ashes dropped back to earth in a canister that would burn up as it re-entered the atmosphere. Could there be anything more romantic than having your friends and family watch you streak across the sky as a falling star?