Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Hospital Board: Presumption and Arrogance on Display . . .

The guest editorial in today's OD by the Mohawk Valley Health Systems Board of Directors entitled "MVHS board welcomes public discussion on hospital proposal" reveals a level of presumption and arrogance on the part of the Board that the general public should find disturbing. Here are some highlights from the editorial and commentary.
The opportunity to build a new hospital for our community is significant and we, the Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS) board of directors, welcome the public conversation that the project has initiated.
"Welcoming" public conversation now is too little too late.   The decision to permanently remove 34 acres from the tax rolls, close streets, and dedicating such to a single use, is a significant departure from the mixed-use, small scale, private tax-paying "walkable" development envisioned in the Utica Master Plan -- a plan that was duly approved by the public's representatives after numerous public hearings. The Board's proposal not only threatens the viability of the Master Plan's vision for the remainder of Downtown, it also adversely impacts Utica's future financial sustainability.  It was presumptuous on the part of the Board to propose a project of such magnitude Downtown without engaging the public first.    
When we, the MVHS board, conducted the site evaluation process for the new hospital it was very thorough. The meetings were not held “in smoke-filled rooms.” There was open, candid and robust debate at each meeting. This “game changing” opportunity has been discussed at virtually every board meeting for nearly a year. Over the summer the MVHS board held two special meetings with a single topic: where best to site the new facility.
The "open, candid and robust" debate occurring over a year and at two special meetings was anything but, since it was done in private without the participation of the public. It was arrogant for this Board to think it could make decisions on behalf of the public. As for the "not in smoke-filled rooms" comment, smoking has pretty much been banned -- but the concept contained in that phrase accurately reflects what has happened here.
As board members we shared our thoughts, differences of opinions and concerns. In the end, we voted for the downtown site. The vote was unanimous in favor of downtown provided we can do it in a fiscally responsible way.
From this it is clear that the Board (1) is only concerned with its own financial stability and (2) will resist any costly modifications to its project that may be necessary to reduce adverse impacts to the rest of Downtown. Anyone wanting such modifications will be marginalized as threatening the loss of the $300 Million grant.
At our board meeting on Thursday, Sept. 24, we . . . also discussed the assertion that representatives of the #NoHospitalDowntown have made . . . This week we sent a letter, much like this one, to a representative of that site asking him to stop. He does not represent any of the MVHS board members or our organization.
And you, MVHS Board, do not represent the public.
Our promise is to be as transparent as possible, understanding that this is a very complex project that will require input from community members, businesses and governmental agencies.
Your promise, MVHS Board, is belied by your past behavior.
- - - 

For another good read on the Downtown Hospital proposal, check out the Utica Phoenix!

The Hospital: An Inside Job . . . But by Who?

Today's article in the OD - New hospital: Separating fact from confusion - is more revealing if you read between the lines.
Why hasn’t there been more public discussion and disclosure?
As a private, nonprofit organization, the health system does not need public approval for its decision to build a hospital or its decision where to put it...
This is the excuse for not involving the public in deciding to impose a significant change on Downtown.  It is also a mischaracterization.  The project decision does need public approval as revealed in the remainder of that paragraph:
. . .It will, however, need planning and zoning approvals as well as county and/or city cooperation for any accommodations it might need, such as the closing of local roads.
Planning, zoning, street closures, "accommodations," etc., apparently are minor annoyances to the proponents of the plan, but are the points where the public has a direct interest and is why the public should have been brought into this process from the very beginning.  This proposal is totally inconsistent with the Utica Master Plan's vision of a mixed-use, small scale development, "walkable" Downtown -- a plan that was duly adopted by the public's representatives after many public hearings. No doubt the Downtown hospital idea will now be pushed through the public bodies making required decisions (following a bunch of "window dressing" "public hearings") as an "all or nothing at all" proposition with individual board members pressured not to stand in the way of $300 Million.
Why do we need a new hospital when we have three?
Need is a relative term and it’s not certain that a new hospital is needed...
So, really, the hospital is not "needed" which makes it a "want" rather than a "need." That makes a Downtown hospital even more a "want" rather than a "need."

This raises the question WHO "wants" a Downtown Hospital?    
Health system officials and their consultants considered 12 sites – three in the city – but will not release the list. They also have declined comment on any sites other than downtown and St. Luke’s. They did say that the other two sites in Utica were not determined to be suitable and were not put before the health system board.
If the health system board only was presented with two sites for consideration, then it was the health system "officials" and their "consultants" who restricted the board's consideration of sites.  Who are the "officials," who are the "consultants" . . . and, perhaps more importantly, who are their connections?  

Come on O-D.  There is a golden opportunity for some real journalism here.  Don't take at face value and merely report what you hear from the "officials" involved.

Someone originated the idea of a new hospital, Someone originated the idea as being ripe for state funding, and Someone originated the idea of putting it Downtown.  

Exposing the Someones and the complete chain of events will expose who really pulls the strings in Utica and the region.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Worst Possible Location!

The regional "Insiders" have struck again! 

The "powers that be" have determined that locating the proposed regional hospital in Downtown Utica is "best" for everyone.  No opportunity for public input.  No opportunity for the City Council or Planning Department to weigh in.  Inconsistency with the Master Plan's call for developing a "walkable" downtown.  More parcels of property taken permanently off the tax rolls.  

It has taken two generations since Downtown was gutted by the East-West Arterial Project and Urban Renewal Projects for the nascent start of a "walkable" Downtown to appear with Private investment and "infill" development in Baggs Square West. . . with the renovated Aud to become the focal point of a new Downtown.

Now a multi-acre medical campus will be plopped just across the street from the Aud -- another "urban renewal" project -- becoming an effective barrier to extension of Private development to the south of Baggs Square. Why this is a bad location, and a potential alternative location, were previously discussed here.

This project would not be possible but for the MASSIVE infusion of Public tax dollars -- OUR tax dollars -- but the Public's opinion is the last to be considered . . . if it is considered at all.

I just wish some local news organization would do an in depth study into How this decision was made -- not the justification for the site chosen (already mentioned in the news article) but WHO was involved in the decision making, What process was followed, and What other sites were also considered.   

It will tell us a lot about how we are governed -- and Who to blame for our current state of affairs.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Political Theater?

Richard Hanna calls the vote to defund Planned Parenthood "political theater" . . .

Carly Fiorina says
 'I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, to watch these tapes,' Fiorina said. 'Watch a fully-formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,' Fiorina said . . .    'This is about the character of our nation,' she continued. 'If you will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.' 
In a 1973 film, Charlton Heston said

What was shocking fiction to the American Public in 1973 seems oddly quaint compared to what is actually happening today . . . .


 'This IS about the character of our nation.' 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sales Tax Extension Slipped By . . .

At least WUTR was paying attention: Legislators Vote to Keep Oneida County Sales Tax 8.75% 

But was anyone else?  

Here are the relevant documents:

The underlying state legislation authorizing sales tax extension . (Note the dates this legislation was acted upon.)
Letter 8/17/15 (for distribution on 8/24/15) by County Executive requesting special meeting. (Note that action was deemed "time sensitive" and had to be taken before September 2, 2015.)
Notice of 8/24/15 Special Meeting with the county's legislation attached. (Note the statement at the end of the legislation "This enactment shall take effect December 1, 2015" (emphasis suppled).)

Do you wonder if any of the County Legislators feel that they are being manipulated . . . or do you wonder if they even care?

Nothing like scheduling a "last minute" meeting to ensure maintenance of the status quo.

Update: Rome Sentinel

Friday, August 21, 2015

WTG New York Mills!

Interesting article in the Syracuse paper today: 5 things parents did in one CNY district to get so many to opt out of state tests
In New York Mills, a small school district in Oneida County, 77 percent of students opted out of the state's Common Core math test and 74 percent opted out of the English examination. The district had the highest percentage of students to opt out of the exams in the six-county Central New York region, according to a analysis of state Education Department data.
The article interviewed local parent and organizer Kate Despins who described five things parents did to get students to opt out.
5. Used the small community nature of New York Mills to their advantage. They talked to each other and to their children, so they all understood the issues.

"We are a small community and we talk to each other,'' Despins said. "If someone sneezes in New York Mills, we all know it. We see the same people at sporting events, at the grocery store and everywhere else, and we talk. We stick together, and we inform each other."

Despins said the high opt-out rate is because parents there understand the issues.
Small school districts are often looked down upon because they do not have the population to support all the offerings found in larger districts.  This story, however, exemplifies an advantage that a small school district offers over a larger one:  greater parental control.  It is easier for parents to organize themselves for action in a smaller district because they all know each other.

Who knows better what children need? Albany/Washington bureaucrats or their parents?

I'll opt for the parents any day!

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Per GE, Austrian company to invest $2 billion, bring 2,000 jobs to Nano Utica.

GE is coming back to Utica!  Willkommen to a new company from Austria, AMS!

Listening to the governor explain how Upstate got into its economic problem, he got it!

Now it is up to us to make the best of this good news.

More from the Sentinel, Times Union, and the OD.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

FD Post Mortem

The proposed Whitestown Fire District went down to defeat, being approved by both villages but soundly rejected by the township.  Why it was defeated will be the subject of speculation for the next few weeks.  Here's my take:

1) The case for "consolidation" was not credible . . .  not transparent.

  • "Pros" and "cons" for the project would be different for each community, but only the "pros" from the perspective of Oriskany and Whitesboro were presented.  Proponents completely missed the fact that the Town residents would be exposing themselves to potential liabilities they now avoid by being mere "customers" of village services.  
  • If you disagreed with the "pros,"  you were called a "liar" and had your motivations questioned rather than being civilly asked why your perspective was different.
  • The makeup of the Board of Commissioners (Town vs Villages) had yet to be decided -- i.e., the plans were still a work in progress.
  • Proposed tax rates and budgets were presented with no supporting documentation/explanation that public members could use to verify what they had been told.  
  • Since the public was not told of any specific equipment or personnel cuts, the financial benefits of "consolidation" were not evident. 
  • Since most service within the FD would be done by 2 rather than 4 units of firefighters, the "safety" benefit was not evident. 

2) "Consolidation" from the perspective of a fire department was not a "consolidation" from the perspective of the taxpayer, who would be faced with paying an additional unit of government. 

3) A board of appointed commissioners is not as accountable to the public as a board of elected commissioners.

The public is open to the idea of consolidation . . . but it must be real, transparent, and accountable.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Half-Baked Fire District

Per WKTV . . . 
"Whitesboro Fire Chief Peter Sobel . . . says the town could not have less votes than a village, but he says the ultimate makeup still has not been decided upon. He says Whitestown could get three commissioners . . ." 
The Villages will give up their equipment and their contractual payments from the Town, but don't even know how they are going to be represented on the new commission? They sound desperate to offload their FDs.

I guess the people will have to vote for the fire district to find out how they will be represented in it. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fire District "Consolidation" . . .

Here is a Question for proponents of the proposed Whitesboro-Oriskany-Whitestown Fire District "Consolidation" that creates a new unit of government not directly answerable to voters: 

Will the new Consolidated Fire District pay the Village of Oriskany and the Village of Whitesboro for their respective fire department assets (stations and equipment)? 

If so, how much will each village be paid, and how was the price determined? 

If not, then is not the Town getting something for nothing (a vote over use of village assets)?

I do not live in any of the jurisdictions involved so I'm ... 

Jus' askin.'   :-) 
More Thoughts . . .

Village Whitesboro
Village of Oriskany 
Town of Whitestown
Joint Fire District Propaganda 

From the above links the Oriskany link is most informative.   It appears that the Villages will be GIVING their equipment to the new FD, and the FD will lease the stations. What is the value of the equipment to be given away?  What assets, if any, will the Town give -- and what value? What will be the terms of the leases?  How will the rents be determined? Which village gets the better deal? What happens if down the road the FD and a village cannot come to an agreement on a lease?

This OD article from June points to another issue . . . 
Whitesboro Mayor Patrick O’Connor presented figures obtained through the government-transparency group See Through New York of the Empire Center for Public Policy that indicated New York Mills’ revenue from contracts for fire control exceed its expenses by as much as $266,390 over a five-year period. 
[Mayor] Bialek appeared taken aback.
If NYM is making a "profit" from its fire operation, are not the Villages of Whitesboro and Oriskany doing the same? If so, what "profits" are these villages giving up in this deal?

If they are not making a profit, you have to ask yourself "Why not?"

[The word "profit" is a bit misleading. It actually is a "return on the Village's investment" in real estate, equipment, and personnel PLUS A RETURN FOR THE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH RUNNING A FIRE DEPARTMENT. (If you do not understand the risks, ask the Village of Prospect)].

Have these Villages overspent on their FDs? Is this deal a quick way for village officials to cover up their mismanagement or poor negotiation skills?

The OD's tone in the article [the note about Mayor Bialek being taken aback] reminds me of another regionalization that the OD pushed 20 years ago: The regionalization of the Utica Board of Water Supply. [Utica readers should note who was mayor when the ball got rolling on that one, and who is again running for mayor this year.] The dynamics of that effort look similar to this one. Except for suburban developers, I do not think you can now find anyone paying MVWA's exorbitant cost for water who thinks that regionalization of the water system turned out well.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Hinckley, West Canada Creek Juggling Act . . .

In the middle of last month, a rapid drop in the level of Hinckley Reservoir left a number of boats "high and dry." Per the Herkimer Telegram . . .
On July 16, the state Power Authority was directed by the state Canal Corp. to begin releasing a total of 1,350 cubic feet per second from the reservoir, which made the water level drop around 5 feet overall. . . . 
Shane Mahar, deputy communications director for the Canal Corp., said the water released was to make up for a lack of released water so far in 2015. “Recently, we have been providing compensating flow to Erie Boulevard Hydropower because less water was released out of the reservoir earlier this year at the request of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority,” Mahar said.
By the end of the month, however, the problem had shifted to low water levels in the West Canada Creek below the reservoir.  Assemblyman Marc Butler and campground owner Mike Papp appeared on the WIBX Keeler Show and expressed concern over the lack of water in the West Canada Creek, with Mr. Papp commenting that normal flows at that time of year would be 800 to 1000 cfs, resulting in a creek level about 1 1/2 feet higher than it actually was (listen at about 4:00 in the interview). Further along concerns were expressed over how the creek would be impacted in the future by (1) withdrawals for Nano and (2) withdrawals by MVWA to serve western Oneida County.

Mr. Butler knows this issue better than any other public official in the region. His concerns are well placed and are not about a lack of water resources in the region, but over how those resources are managed.

The lack of a properly functioning Gray dam (destroyed by MVWA in 2002) contributes to the problem with water management, but how much needs to be calculated with reference to particular places, times, and purposes because the nature of the "problem" differs with place, time and purpose.

Hinckley Reservoir was built solely to supply the canal for navigation purposes. Riparian landowners along the West Canada Creek had no legal basis to object to diversion of creek water away from them for navigation purposes because that was always the state's right as sovereign under common law. Fluctuating water levels in both the reservoir and Creek would reflect the needs of the Canal for navigation.

Gray Reservoir existed to negate the impacts of MVWA's withdrawals. Under an old agreement with the State, Gray was supposed to store 120 days worth of water useage by the Utica area, with water to be released into Hinckley during dry weather to replace any water removed. The State originally required Gray to protect itself from claims by riparian landowners of infringement of their property rights because the State had no right to divert water  for non-navigation purposes. 

A couple years ago to settle a lawsuit, the State entered a new agreement with MVWA which removed the water storage requirement and ensured MVWA the right to withdraw about 48 Million Gallons of water per Day (MGD) from Hinckley.   It is believed that the State did this to guarantee enough water for Utica area Nano projects, which were not only a priority for local officials, but for the governor himself. While the new agreement accomplishes this objective, it also exposes the State to liability to riparian property owners for any damages caused by withdrawals for non-navigation purposes.

To avoid being sued, the State must now operate Hinckley to not only supply the canal (its original mission) and ensure MVWA's right to 48MGD (a new mission), but to also mitigate MVWA's withdrawals to the extent necessary to keep riparian owners from suing (Gray's former mission). So far, the power company has successfully sued the state -- which explains the rapid draining of Hinckley in mid-July to make up for power lost to the power company earlier in the season. 

The State will take the path of least resistance in juggling its rights with obligations to others. That juggling act will become ever more difficult as more water is diverted to the MVWA. 
Whether or not other riparian landowners have retained sufficient water rights, have sufficient incentive, and have sufficient funds to sue the State themselves remains to be seen.  Suffice it to say that if other owners do nothing, in the future, as more water is diverted to MVWA, the West Canada Creek will more frequently be reduced to only the lowest flow needed to sustain aquatic life.  That will interfere with the Creek's recreational uses.  If other landowners do successfully sue, then the State may have to reduce the water available to its Canal.