Monday, February 27, 2012

Control Board Nonsense . . . and The Solution: Leadership

With the huge Utica city deficit some people are actually flirting with the idea of asking the State to come in and take over Utica's fiscal mess with a control board.


The State of New York has problems taking care of its own affairs so why should anyone think State control will improve things? Look at the NY budget.  How about Buffalo and Erie County? They are still in decline in spite of being under control boards.  How about the 700 school districts taken over by the State?  No headlines about student achievement there.  Some point to New York City and its Municipal Assistance Corp.  as a turnaround example... but NYC's turnaround was not engineered by the MAC. Rather, NYC's turnaround can be attributed to one man: Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his strong leadership. And therein lies the answer for Utica . . .


Utica is not going to be bailed out by the Tooth Fairy (even the Tooth Fairy is broke these days).  Utica will have to GROW itself out of this mess.  Knowing what will result in economic growth has been the question of the ages and seems to be a matter of guessing by those pretending to be experts in the area.  We know, however, what kills growth.

High taxes kill growth.
An 18.2% city tax increase on top of already high city, school, and county taxes and water and sewer fees and high utility costs will cause more people to leave town ... some may even abandon their properties.  What good does that do?

Utica needs to REDUCE taxes permanently; reduce unnecessary regulations; create accessible places where small businesses can set up shop without causing problems for neighbors; stop petty bickering over individual projects that drive up developer costs; and stop sucking on the Federal tit for grant money to construct more housing for poor people who wind up being from NYC. Anything less will continue the city’s loss of the very people and businesses it needs to pay the bills to sustain city services.

The People are the answer.

Since there is no $$$, Utica must marshal and coordinate the talents of volunteers — treat them and their ideas with respect — and value their work . . . because they will be the ones doing the things that the city will no longer be able to do adequately itself.

An example of what NOT to do: Pixley Park. One woman with a lot of help from her neighbors beautified a little corner of west Utica. But someone at City Hall, because they apparently did not like the woman, took umbrage and had the DPW destroy the volunteers’ work. Such must NEVER happen again.

Something else that must not be done:  giving raises to employees while relying on volunteers.

People LOVE Utica.  They WILL volunteer their time if they feel appreciated, feel that they are accomplishing something tangible, and feel that they are not being taken advantage of.

The key to making this all work: Leadership.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Surprised? Really?

Officials, residents surprised by people exiting South Utica 
... population fell by roughly 7 percent in the decade, from 10,105 to 9,353. Surprised?
So were a number of city officials and residents.
This blogger was not surprised! And I bet my readers are not surprised.

Utica officials and various institutions, particularly not-for-profits, are singularly focused on getting as much grant money as they can. Most grant money is geared to programs for the poor. Ergo, Utica's focus has been on its poor.

The recently passed Utica Master Plan and its drafts put this in sharp focus.  Why in the world would Utica need more "affordable housing" as called for in the Plan when it already has the most affordable housing in the nation according to recent surveys?  Why try to require that all developers set aside 20% of their units for "affordable housing?"  The answer to both questions is that federal programs have a lot of money for "affordable housing" and the "20%" criterion is a requirement.  But the Federal programs are geared to large metropolitan areas where housing is very expensive -- which is not the case here.  So the result here creates more harm than good.

Utica's citizens who are a bit higher up on the economic scale have been paying the bulk of the taxes that keep the city going.  But their needs have been ignored because there is no pot of grant money for officials to dip into for them.

They are "getting out while the getting is good."

Monday, February 20, 2012

It's Not About Health . . .

This story was the talk of conservative media last week:
Turkey sandwich replaced with chicken nuggets at North Carolina school  
A grandmother claims a state agent took away a homemade turkey sandwich, saying it wasn’t nutritious and didn’t meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.. . . 
She said a few weeks ago that a state agent inspected her granddaughter’s lunch and forced her to eat chicken nuggets from the school’s cafeteria.

The woman said the lunch consisted of a turkey and cheese sandwich on white bread, potato chips, a banana and apple juice. The student also brought home a bill for the cost of the school lunch she had to eat instead.
After cries of government "overreaching" took hold,  it was downplayed in main-stream press as a "teacher's mistake."

But this clearly was no "mistake" when a second  incident from the same school was reported, along with a memorandum from the school principal to pre-K parents explaining what would happen if a home-made lunch was brought to school and did not meet USDA standards.

The school lunch story was followed by this one: Mars to Downsize Candy Bars
This move is part of an agreement Mars signed with Michelle Obama's Partnership for a Healthier America.
What? The government wants to take away king-sized Snickers?

Then there was the political issue over who could be made to pay for contraceptives which are already readily available. 

Forcing people to pay for contraceptives in violation of their  religious beliefs, preventing them from buying king-sized candy bars, and replacing their home-made turkey sandwiches with mass-produced chicken nuggets ...

These things are NOT about health.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Goodbye Utica . . .

Utica continues its history of self-destruction . . . Council changes direction, supports Arterial plan
Councilman Joseph Marino, D-4, who sponsored the most recent legislation, said he hopes the state gets the message.
 “It’s saying, ‘We do in fact support the project,” Marino said. “We do in fact support investment in this area.”
Even investment that continues a 50 year pattern of destruction, apparently.

So . . . What becomes of the issues raised last year? The visual and psychological barrier of a wall separating the Brewery and Arts Districts and preventing synergies between them does not go away. The effect of cutting off Sunset Avenue -- a major North-South thoroughfare in Utica -- does not go away. The effects of severing Lincoln Ave from Court St, routing Lincoln Ave over Roberts St., and eliminating a right turn off westbound Court onto the arterial, do not go away. Removal of scores of properties from potentially contributing to the tax rolls does not go away.

The "devil is in the details" as they say, and this new, youthful Common Council -- whom the public had desperately hoped would inject vitality into the body -- has shown itself to be too lazy to address the details: the changes to the UTICA street system, traffic patterns, potential tax base, and the effects thereof.

Being "decisive" is easy if one does not care. Being deliberative requires effort.

Instead of youthful vigor, Utica gets operatives of the elites who have pulled the strings from behind the scenes for the last 30 years.
But the council unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday saying they are supportive of the current plan
Unanimous?  This blogger has been on the receiving end of numerous e-mails urging attendance at Council meetings on this issue . . . but received nothing in over a month.

Mr. Zecca, you have some 'splaining to do.

Goodbye Utica . . . Between lazy, know-nothing newbies and old would-be power brokers, there is no hope for you.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Entitlement Mentality: Rich . . . and Poor . . .

Utica teachers group: Concessions not the answer 
Wage concessions aren’t the answer to the Utica school district’s budget woes. That’s the stance of the Utica Teachers Association, one day after the district said it would have to cut 150.4 teaching positions to help make up the $10 million deficit it’s facing for the next school year.
Astounding! Businesses closing all over the place, state workers giving up pay increases for years, but this group feels entitled to more in spite of already being among the best paid workers in the region.

Local residents 'Speak Out' against area poverty
Area residents and community leaders gathered Wednesday to hear the stories of those who are struggling. The group met in an effort to bring attention to poverty issues in the Mohawk Valley during the Community Speak Out for the Mohawk Valley at the Parkway Recreation Center in Utica. . . .
“I work as hard as I can to provide for my son,” [a 21 year old single mother] said. “I don’t get any help. Now I have to pay.”
 “I want you to all pretend you get $200 in Food Stamps every month. That’s it,” [a local senior] said. “You dial the phone for your Food Stamp balance and it’s now zero. The programs have been cut. So, now what do we do?”
Perhaps it is unfair to ask why a 21 year old has a child but no supporting husband?  Perhaps it is unfair to ask why a senior must subsist on food stamps?  OK, people make mistakes, people don't always plan for their future, and people suffer the unexpected. They need help . . .  Most people believe in helping the poor. That is what charities are for. 

But the tone of persons being "entitled" to help is what is bothersome here.
Where does the tone come from? This event was organized.  Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency was a sponsor. Per its 990 out of a $17 million dollar budget $16 million comes from government grants: i.e. it comes from the taxpayers.

Whether we speak of relatively well-to-do teachers' union members, or the organized poor, taxpayer dollars are fueling lifestyles -- and, apparently, a sense of entitlement.  Taxpayers can always be forced by law to cough up more money.
 Sorry . . . NO sympathy here for the entitled rich and poor ... I'm saving that for the taxpayers.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Silencing Constituencies . . .

Recently, the proposed redistricting of the State Assembly practically wrote Assembly Member Tenney out of her district by attaching New Hartford to a district sprawling to the east to the Hudson River.  Fortunately the governor plans to veto this map, but why was it drawn this way? In a similar fashion Congressman Allen West is being written out of his district in Florida.  Since Florida is a growing state, why should anyone lose their district? While "politics"  is always the ready answer -- the Republicans and Democrats always seem to be trying to best each other when lines are redrawn -- there is more at stake than just numbers of Rs and Ds.

Constituencies are being silenced.

In Ms. Tenny's case, both she and her predecessor, while both Rs, have not always followed the "party line," much to the consternation of the always downstate-dominated party elite.  Similarly, Florida's Mr. West has taken a "Tea Party" stance on many issues, again to the chagrin of party elites. Are these attempts to silence the conservative preferences of the voters in these districts?

What about the County Legislature?

The OD has just run another edictorial -- the latest of a series that runs back several years -- calling for the Oneida County Legislature to cut its number by 10. Anything less is deemed unacceptable by the editorial board. The OD compares Oneida to "larger" or similarly-sized counties such as Onondaga and Broome which have fewer legislators, essentially arguing that if these counties can do with fewer legislators, so can Oneida. This, however, is misleading.

Oneida County, geographically, is several times the size of Onondaga County, and is considerably more diverse: 3 cities, numerous far-flung villages, and numerous towns some of which are distinctly rural while others are heavily developed and suburban. Onondaga County is primarily 1 city and its surrounding suburban towns and villages. Broome, while having several cities, is still geographically smaller than Oneida.

Many, including the OD, seem to be fixed on the "one-man-one-vote" pure democracy form of government, assuming that all important perspectives will be represented. Our "Founding Fathers," whether at the national or NY State level, understood otherwise, however, and tried to formulate governments where certain constituencies would be guaranteed representation regardless of population (i.e., each State has 2 Senators in the US government, and each county formerly had one senator in the State government). The idea was that each state (or county) was considered sufficiently distinct from others to warrant its own constituency. In Oneida County a Board of Supervisors guaranteed a constituency for each Town until the County adopted the legislature as its form of government about 1970. (Saratoga County still has its Board of Supervisors.)

Now the OD wants to cut the number of legislators down to 10. In terms of cost saving, this will be minimal when compared to the County Budget. Will it be more "efficient?" Yes, if the intent is to reduce the diversity of voices that will be heard in formulating government policy. And therein lies the problem, because it would be unjust. Certain constituencies will undoubtedly be silenced or considerably diminished. Combining a Sauquoit with, say, a Paris or Marshall probably would not leave people feeling unrepresented because these Towns are very similar to each other. What benefits one will benefit the others. Combining suburban and rural towns, or suburban towns with portions of cities, is problematic because there is a diversity in needs.  Per the OD:
"Democratic Majority Leader Frank Tallarino of Rome doesn’t think any seats should be cut until the new district lines are drawn. But that’s not how it works. It makes more sense to trim the numbers and then carve up the districts to correspond with the number of legislators."
To the contrary, OD, Mr. Tallarino is right on the mark. Reducing the county legislature isn't just about reducing a number ... its about doing so without silencing constituencies. The only way the latter can be done is to draw the lines first.


Feb. 8, 2010 Update . . .

Oneida County Board of Legislators OK's reducing its size . . .
The Oneida County Board of Legislators Wednesday approved a measure that would reduce its size by six members, from 29 to 23.
If the public approves the measure in a referendum this November, the change would go into effect in the next term, which starts in 2014, and save the county $50,208.

Let's hope that the lines of the new 23 districts are drawn BEFORE the public referendum, so the public knows exactly which constituencies are going to be silenced.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Buzz: In With "Density" . . .

From City Journal, please read Get Dense. The subtitle tells the story in a nutshell:

"It’s time to stop wasting land and resources in the name of environmentalism."
More than three decades ago, the British economist E. F. Schumacher stated the essence of environmental protection in three words: “Small is beautiful.” As Schumacher argued in a famous book by that title, man-made disturbances of the natural world . . . should have the smallest possible footprints.
The idea is that the environment is protected when human activities are concentrated into a smaller footprint. "Sprawl" immediately came to mind when reading this, and author Robert Bryce did not disappoint.
 Perhaps the most familiar example of environmentally friendly density, though, is the way humanity has concentrated itself by moving from the country to cities, a process that is happening especially rapidly in the developing world. The opposite process, suburbanization, requires far more land area per resident—and therefore more miles of streets, electricity cables, and sewer lines . . .
Bryce goes well beyond sprawl to address other aspects of human development.  He exposes through specific examples of food and energy production  how policies promoted as being environmentally protective can be exactly the opposite when the density of development is taken into account.  The numbers will open your eyes. He summarizes:
The greenness of density leads to two conclusions. First, those who make environmental policy should consider density a desirable goal in nearly all the issues that they confront. And second, the real environmentalists aren’t headline-seeking activists and advocacy groups; they’re farmers, urban planners, agronomists, and, yes, even natural-gas drillers and nuclear engineers.
Bryce's article is well worth reading... and we now have a new word to bring into discussions: "density."

Buzz: The Sprawl Lobby .

From Next American City: Sprawl, Under Any Other Name, is Still Sprawl, we learn that in the Cleveland suburbs, politicians woke up to the fact that sprawl development hurts locally grown small businesses . . . but they cleverly tried to promote more sprawl by making the development aesthetically appear to be more small businesses. 
Now, why do we keep up with the illusion? Especially when the reality is a stagnant region with little-to-no job growth, and a concomitant infrastructure footprint that has become so unsustainable . . .
Part of the reason for this . . . is the sprawl lobby.
The sprawl lobby is real, and it’s powerful not only in Ohio but everywhere. It largely represents road and home construction companies, developers and home builder associations with deep pockets, and in the case of Ohio is tied to the farm lobby. Yes, the farm lobby has been fighting for farmer’s rights for generations, which means in the current context a refusal to allow agricultural zoning to occur as it would deflect from potential windfalls if and when the farmer decides to get out of the milking cow business.
We've seen this all happening right here in Greater Utica, too.  Now we have new words to describe those promoting sprawl: the Sprawl Lobby.