Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Politics Before Education . . .

Per the OD today the State Attorney General has claimed that students were denied entry to Proctor High School in violation of federal law.  It is interesting that the AG is bringing a suit against an entity that is both a creature of State law and under the control of the State Education Department. 

The question not asked is whether Utica City School District is in compliance with all of the rules and regulations of the State Education Department? 

If not, then the students are not getting the education to which they are entitled by law and an administrative proceeding should be brought before the SED to correct the problem. 

If UCSD has complied with all of SED's rules, then it must be presumed that the students are receiving the education to which they are entitled. 

If some federal standard indicates that the students are not receiving the education to which they are entitled, then the non-compliance with federal law is one that is permitted by SED's own rules. Since the AG and SED are both part of the State's executive branch, they are obliged to change the rules to ensure that all the state's school districts comply with federal law. 

Neither the AG nor the federal court have any expertise in education – which risks that any decision coming out of the federal court in this case may be educationally harmful to the students involved. 

The fact that the AG is willing to risk the educational well-being of these students by forgoing the State's own experts and proceeding directly to federal court strongly suggests that the law suit is motivated by politics rather than any interest in these immigrant students' education.   

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Choosing the Bush . . .

This week the Utica Common Council rejected a purchase offer and specific housing proposal (that was touted before the election as evidence of Utica being "on the rise") in favor of the mere possibility that a much larger amount of money will be spent on a sports complex on the land across the street from the Auditorium.  What a difference a month makes!

I guess a "bird in the hand" is NOT "worth two in the bush."

Ultimately this may turn out good for Utica.  Between the noise and traffic of sporting events to the south and railroad tracks with speedy freight trains to the north, the site seemed an unlikely one for "market rate" housing -- and more likely to turn into the subsidized housing that previously occupied the site. That was clearly on the minds of the council members. Chalk one up for some common sense!

That said, the manner in which this unfolded is bad for Utica.
Rick Gefell, Purcell Construction Corp. business development director, said he was “blindsided” by the decision. “We were disappointed,” he said. “We expressed a good-faith proposal and in the 11th hour somebody else came in. There’s not much we can do about it but I guess we just have to wait and see.” 
The site had been vacant for 10 years, a developer comes in from out of town, spends time and money putting together a proposal for "market rate housing" -- something in which the city had expressed interest and had studies to demonstrate an existing market -- only to discover that "somebody else," unbeknownst to the general public, planned to turn the area into a sports themed district -- a plan that has no discernible details other than "sports," "45 to 60 million dollars,"  and that it involved that site.  (Does anyone see a pattern here?) And that vague plan by "somebody else" became the basis for the Council to reject the developer's proposal.

Prospective developers are sent the wrong message: "Beware, in Utica, the city's planning is done by those with an 'inside track'" -- in this case, the sports proponents.

Now at least one of the developers vying for the site is going to leave Utica on a sour note, because their time was wasted. . . . and others (especially outsiders who might bring in some new ideas) will be discouraged.

This sort of  "insider trading" had been a staple of Utica for years:  no wonder why people avoided Utica for so long . . . and just as interest finally picks up . . . this happens.

Utica needs to get its act together.  The fact that a sports facility can compete with a housing complex for the same parcel of land is crazy -- and demonstrates the unfinished nature of Utica's Master Plan.

It's time to finish the work of the Master Plan, and create a specific enough vision that both developers and the public can understand. No more wasted efforts.  No more surprises.   

Maybe then Utica will receive the PRIVATE investment it both wants and deserves.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Dropping Shoes . . .

A couple shoes were dropped on Upstate NY yesterday: (1) The FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Oswego County will be closed in 2017 putting 600 people (many highly paid) out of work. (2) An ALCOA aluminium smelting operation will close in Massena taking almost 500 more jobs.  

The FitzPatrick shut down is motivated by "economics" -- in this case the low prices of natural gas.

According to USA today:

The Oswego plant, which has been in operation since 1975, loses about $60 million annually, and its financial viability is worsening lately because of cheaper electricity generated through natural gas, according to the company.

The Alcoa shut down is apparently also based on economics:
A source close to the situation said Alcoa has been losing about $1 million a week at the West smelter.
Official reaction to these announcements was both predicable and illustrative of New York's wrongheaded approach to business. 

 In the case of FitzPatrick . . .
"The state of New York will pursue every legal and regulatory avenue in an attempt to stop Entergy’s actions and its callous disregard for their skilled and loyal workforce," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement . . .
Demonize the company?  The plant is losing money!  The company needs to stop losing money! What is so difficult for the political class to understand? Entergy is shutting down a plant worth $Billions . . . the shutdown process itself will likely to take years and cost over a $Billion (based on the projected cost of shutting down the Vermont Yankee facility.)  I am sure this decision was made with much angst.  To accuse the company of disregarding its workforce is not only nonsense . . . it demonstrates the "anti-business" climate existing in New York State that cannot be masked by "Startup NY" or whatever other crony gimmick there is to entice a business get into bed with state government.

In the case of Alcoa, The Watertown Times quoted Massena Mayor Currier . . .
“The industrial model has changed in this country. It’s no longer there. We have to stop chasing that; it’s not going to happen,” he said. Instead, Mr. Currier said, the region should focus on areas such as tourism and recreation. “I’m a firm believer that the 1 gig broadband we have, combined with Massena Electric’s affordable, dependable power, is a great economic development tool for this community as we move forward,” he said.
Travel and tourism? or 1 gig broadband? The political class has all the answers but fails to grasp the simple: ALCOA loses money in Massena.

Until New York State governs itself more like Texas, where businesses can make money, look for more shoes to drop.