January 8, 2007

Violence mars New Year

I'm back, physically if not yet mentally, and it seems like I missed a fair amount in the Ithaca Journal. Unfortunately their archive only goes back a week, but here's what's happened so far in 2005 2007.

The worst story of the year so far, maybe of the year to come, is the alleged stomping and sexual abuse of two three-year-olds off Hanshaw Road. A three-year-old boy is in a Syracuse hospital, while Jacob Carter of Dryden is in the county jail. The sheriff's office apparently has a confession, and the DA is filing charges that could lead to a 75-year sentence.

There's another Monitor entry for an assault on a three-year-old, though I don't know if it's related.

In much brighter news, the first child of the year at Cayuga Medical Center was born to parents from Varna, and Cathy Wakeman devotes her column to local heroes.

Marge Villanova has a photo of the Grand Canyon published.

A look at Dryden's agenda for the new year reports that:

Framing for the new town hall is currently going up and the new home for the Town of Dryden administrative offices should be complete in the fall. The county is working on a study of land use on Routes 13 and 366. Consultants are taking public comments from a previous work session to create two alternatives for development along the corridor, one of which will feature two-node development in Dryden and Varna. These options could be presented to the public in January or February, said Ed Marx, county commissioner of planning.

I have my doubts about the 13/366 study, but we'll see what they come up with.

Just to the east of Dryden, Greek Peak is working on becoming a year-round destination, which could help local tourism.

The County Legislature re-elected Tim Joseph as its Chair and approved a $500,000 loan for RPM, the tree-growing company that's moving to Dryden.

Yes, December was incredibly warm. It sounds like January's had quite a start too.

In politics, the Journal notes newly-elected State Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Garry's taking over half the Tompkins County caseload. There's a piece on Michael Arcuri's joining Congress, and a number of pieces on Governor Spitzer. A local views piece includes Dryden School Board President Anderson Young, another examines the prospects for Spitzer's shaking up the legislature (my main reason for supporting him), and another presents State Senator James Seward pretending he agrees with Spitzer while still defending State Senator Joe Bruno, who Seward calls "a great majority leader".

On the opinion page, I'm pleased to see someone support the construction of a suspension bridge over Cayuga Lake, though I agree with the letter's author that it's unlikely. (Of course, I did just pay $9 to cross the Verrazano Narrows bridge - ouch!)

On more serious notes, Murray Cohen of Dryden wonders when the world will start pitying the U.S., Julie Owens of Freeville questions the wisdom of bringing back the draft, and Barbara Decker thanks Dryden EMTs for their help.

One other note on the Journal - readers seem to have noticed the comments space on their articles, and the comments seem like a free-fire zone to me. Maybe people just had time over the holidays?

Posted by simon at 6:11 PM Comment

January 9, 2007

Arrests in home invasion

The news in Dryden in 2007 has not been too good. Today's Ithaca Journal reports on a home-invasion robbery and related puppy theft. The invasion was on Lake Street in the Village of Dryden, and the puppy theft on Harbor Circle off Hanshaw Road. The home-invasion sounds like an attempt to rob someone the perpetrators thought was a drug dealer (who apparently didn't have much), and the puppies were pit bulls. Three adults and a minor were arrested.

The three-year-old boy assaulted last week is expected to live, and District Attorney Gwen Wilikinson plans to present the case to a grand jury at the end of the month.

98% of core classes in the Dryden and Ithaca school districts are taught by highly qualified teachers, though George Junior Republic stands out with only 76%.

Update: I missed this bit in the Monitor: a 17-year-old Dryden man was charged with selling copies of Girls Gone Wild DVDs to minors.

Posted by simon at 8:10 AM Comment

Different sizes of windmills

When Dryden passed a renewable energy law in October, it expressly aimed at small-scale windmills providing power that is mostly consumed on site, rather than large-scale windmills designed to produce power that is fed into the electrical grid.

(An earlier battle over Cornell's now-cancelled plans for a large-scale wind farm on Mount Pleasant demonstrated that large-scale projects will face substantial opposition here.)

I recently had an opportunity to see the industrial windmills in action, in a variety of sizes. We visited Emmelsbüll, a village in North Friesland, near the Germany-Denmark border. On the train from Hamburg there were lots of windmills, and I was trying to guess their sizes, but when we arrived I could really see them.

It turns out that there are multiple sizes of windmill in use, and they're often mixed up within the same project. While the village pastor told me that investors apparently only want to build the 100-meter windmills, which produce the most power, there are lots of smaller windmills still in operation. Wind comes off the North Sea nearly constantly, along with rain and fog, and farmers find the windmills a profitable addition to their drenched fields.

Mostly larger windmills near the North Sea.
Mostly larger (100m) windmills near the North Sea.

Smaller windmills near the North Sea.
Smaller windmills (~50m) near the North Sea.

A range of windmills near the North Sea.
A range of windmill types near the North Sea.

Aerial view of smaller windmill.*
Aerial view of smaller windmill.*

The windmills spun and rotated with the wind, though not all of the larger ones were actually operating yet. The smaller ones were closer to the road, and I could hear some noise, kind of like a washing machine, probably from the turbine.

Aesthetically, I have to say that I found the smaller windmills okay - not great, but tolerable - while the newer 100-meter ones loomed ominously and really did look like "schoolbus-on-a-stick". The smaller windmills had shorter, more rounded turbines, and the scale of their construction let them rest more lightly on the landscape. I can't say that I really liked the look of huge numbers of these things. A single windmill can be elegant; dozens of them is definitely cluttered.

Overall, seeing these windmills left me in about the same place I'd been before - strongly supporting small-scale windpower, but finding industrial-scale windpower much less exciting. Seeing these things for real left me wondering even more about the wisdom of giant structures needing cranes for repair, and wondering how long it takes to make back the energy cost of building (and maintaining) them.

* - If you look closely, you can see that this picture is really from Miniatur Wunderland, an enormous HO-scale model railroad layout in Hamburg. The rest of the pictures are from Emmelsbüll. The pastor I spoke with is Angelika's brother-in-law, and we really went up there to visit her family, not to study windmills.

Posted by simon at 8:49 AM Comment

Sewer monitoring to move forward

The last two weeks of the Dryden Courier have been pretty quiet, and are pleasantly calming reading after the last week of the Ithaca Journal. Of course, the Courier will probably have to catch up to those stories too.

The December 27th issue of the Courier led with an article on the Youth Commission needing new members, esecpially as long-time members Kristen Blackman and Tracey Kurtz are retiring. There's also a picture of the Southworth Library as a gingerbread house on the cover. The inside cover page asks six Dryden Elementary School students about their New Year's Resolutions.

Reporter Matt Cooper's column reflects on that resolution story, and there's a picture of playground aide Sue Shaffer wearing reindeer antlers and a nose.

In sports, there's an article on Dryden Athletic Director Ralph Boettger's efforts to address athlete behavior problems through community service, and a report on Dryden wrestling's win over Elmira's Thomas Edison High School.

The January 3rd issue leads with a report on the $124,000 the Town of Dryden is spending on monitoring flows in its Cortland Road Sewer District, which connects to the Village of Dryden wastewater treatment plant.

Matt Cooper's Inside Dryden column reflects on vandalism and grafitti at the Covenant Love Community Church, with a picture of the damaged sign. He also hopes to finally build a snowman this year. He writes briefly about the Dryden physical education teacher who resigned after an arrest in Cortland for public lewdness, and notes a blog entry on a site about arrested teachers.

In sports, there's a report on Dryden Wrestling's loss to Candor, and a 14th place finish at the Windsor Holiday Wrestling Tournament, despite some strong performances by Tony Clarke, Anthony Jerome, and Rex Hollenbeck.

Posted by simon at 6:38 PM Comment

Makar ready to work

This week's issue of Tompkins Weekly features an article on David Makar, the newest member of the Dryden Town Board. Makar emphasizes his intent to represent the entire town of Dryden, his interest in improving Internet and cellular service, his hopes for community centers, and the work he'd like to do bringing new businesses to Dryden.

On the front page, there's an article on the County Legislature's re-election of Tim Joseph as its chair, exploring likely projects for the next year. There are also pieces on the Gadabout bus service and leash laws around the county, as well as Ellis Hollow resident Nick Nicastro reviewing Cormac McCarthy's latest novel, The Road.

Posted by simon at 8:17 PM Comment

January 10, 2007

Dryden schools have extra facilities money

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that the Dryden Central School District has extra funding available for facilities work, which will allow them to get extra state aid for facilities upgrades without a property tax increase.

The Journal now says that December 2006 was only the second-warmest December on record, with 1891 being warmer. It's hard to tell, however, what their clarification about an old weather station being on the roof of a building means. It reads to me like much of that warmth may have come from the building, which isn't a problem at the current Game Farm Road station, but maybe they adjusted the reading?

On the opinion page, the Journal's editorial reflects on finding child care after the abuse last week. Dryden residents Art Berkey and Henry Kramer write about their hopes for how a planned Ithaca schools bond resolution will be presented. Nancy Suci of Dryden writes to propose a Martin Luther King Peace Center, honoring the civil rights leader with ongoing work as well as a named place.

Posted by simon at 8:01 AM Comment

Which court?

I'd like to highlight a comment from Groton Town Justice A. D. Dawson, who wrote about a question I had a long time ago on Town Courts and their jurisdiction:

According to the Criminal Procedure Law of NYS, if a town court is not available to arraign a subject arrested for an offense in its jurisdiction, the court of an adjoining town may perform the arraignment and return the matter to the original court of jurisdiction. (However, they have to be within the same county.)

What's interesting in the case cited here is that the offense of the theft of the meat occurred in the Town of Lansing, the subject was arrested in the Town of Dryden and subsequently arraigned in the Town of Groton.

To complicate matters a little more, the individual arrested can face charges in both Lansing and Dryden as the theft took place in Lansing and the possession of the stolen meat occurred in Dryden. Groton was just being nice and helped out with the arraignment.

It sounds like Town Courts can help each other out on arraignments within the county, but the actual place the defendant faces charges has to do with where the crime took place. I'm not sure what happened in the end in this case, but this nicely explains some of the flexibility in the system.

Posted by simon at 8:27 AM Comment

The Albany Project

Thanks to NYCO, I've found The Albany Project, which appears to be busily asking the hard questions about New York State government I've been wondering for a long time. They also have TAPopedia, a developing encyclopedia of information on New York State government and reform.

I'm always happy to see someone take on a project I've long wished I had time for, and this looks great. Hopefully I'll find some time to contribute.

NYCO also has a nice piece on Upstate residents can use Governor Spitzer's election to drive change at the local level.

Posted by simon at 8:46 AM Comment

January 11, 2007

Dryden students at mock trial

The Local section of today's Ithaca Journal has photos of the Cornell Law School's mock trials. The online version lacks captions and the accompanying story, but the top photo there is Tompkins County Assistant District Attorney Andrew Bonavia, while the lower photo is Dryden High School students Nick Lange and Lizz Hudler.

Dryden High School and Freeville Elementary were listed by the state as underperforming, though Superintendent Mark Crawford thinks that was a mistake:

The state Education Department and the high school may have different numbers on the percentage of students who took the English Language Arts exam, Crawford said. The state mandates a minimum of 95 percent.

At Freeville, the K-2 elementary school where the children are too young to take the exams, administrators allegedly did not submit a mandatory report.

Ithaca High School and Beverly J. Martin Elementary School were also on the list.

There's an update on the three-year-old victim in the Jacob Carter case, who is still listed in critical condition after surgery but doing better.

The Monitor reports a Dryden man's arrest for DWI and speeding.

In state news, conservative analysts at the Manhattan Institute are all upset over Governor Spitzer's plan to increase the STAR exemption on property taxes, complaining that it's just a shift to income tax. I know they'd prefer to take a chainsaw to state and local government, but the last election demonstrated that not everyone shares that opinion. Moving away from property taxes toward income taxes ensures that taxes are paid by those with the ability to pay them. Those with lots of income may not like that, and that's no doubt why they finance groups like the Manhattan Institute, but it makes a lot more sense.

Posted by simon at 8:04 AM Comment

January 12, 2007

Rehabilitation money to Village of Dryden

Today's Ithaca Journal is fairly quiet on Dryden, with only an article on the Village of Dryden's $400,000 housing rehabilitation grant. Hopefully that money will improve 15 to 17 properties in the village:

Funds will go to residents who can demonstrate financial need, as determined by Section 8 guidelines. Repairs that qualify for assistance must constitute a violation of code, health or safety standards and could address plumbing, electrical, heating and carpentry issues, among others.

The village has already received some applications for assistance. The first applicants could appear before the board starting in March.

Posted by simon at 8:39 AM Comment

New Town Board in action

I missed the Dryden Town Board organizational meeting, so last night was the first time I got to see the newest version of the Board together.

New Town Board
Newcomer David Makar joins Marty Christofferson, Steve Trumbull, Steve Stelick, and Mary Ann Sumner on the Dryden Town Board.

A few topics dominated the meeting:

  • the new Town Hall's construction (mostly okay, except for some late mechanical plans)

  • the decision of what to do with the house near the new Town Hall that the Board bought. Demolish it? Preserve it? The Town has cleared out the building and surrounding area. Part of the barn, in particular, may have historic value.

  • history, as County Historian Carol Kammen came to talk with the Board about a historical brochure for the town and the current lack of a Town Historian. Board member Steve Stelick also talked about having historical displays in the new Town Hall.

  • a growing realization that the work on new zoning, along with related stormwater and riparian buffer zone issues, will be gigantic. (Zoning comes from the comprehensive plan completed last year, while stormwater management and riparian buffer zones are state-mandated projects.) Environmental Planner Dan Kwasnowski will have an incredibly busy year - busy enough, in fact, that the Board agreed to contract with former Environmental Planner Debbie Gross to work on some of the stormwater management project.

  • contemplation of the work involved in supporting Advanced Design Consulting's move to Dryden, which will require major study with participation by multiple agencies.

  • continued discussion of community center funding. A subcommittee of Steve Stelick and David Makar will be working to finish off 2006 funding, sort out 2007, and plan for 2008.

One item notable for its brevity was the approval of the 2007 fire contracts, which will go to the fire companies without much change. There is $40,000 in the fire district budget that isn't in the contract which could go to the Etna Fire Company, but the Board will decide that later. There are also questions about matching funds for OSHA gear, training, and physicals, mostly about how these should fit with the contract and how reimbursement should be handled. There were also some questions about monthly reports mandated by the contract. New Emergency Services Committee members Mary Ann Sumner and David Makar will be working to address these questions and plan for 2008.

Posted by simon at 8:48 AM Comment

Black Sheep spinners gather

I almost forgot: the Black Sheep Handspinners Guild will be celebrating Rock Day tomorrow at the Varna Community Center (map) from 10:00am to 4:00pm.

If you have any interest at all in spinning, it's well worth a visit!

Posted by simon at 5:49 PM Comment

January 13, 2007

Rural Internet Access

Today's Ithaca Journal covers an issue that's a problem for much of Dryden: the challenge of rural Internet. Michael Ludgate, who lives near the Caroline-Dryden line, reports that:

he does most photo and music work on a high-speed connection at his business, Ludgate Farms. At home, his only option has been dial-up. Several months ago, when Frontier, his phone company, advertised broadband through the phone line, he promptly ordered it. After Frontier examined the line, he learned it wouldn't work.

I'm lucky to have RoadRunner service here, especially because the last time I checked, DSL isn't an option at my house. (If I didn't have RoadRunner, I couldn't live here and do my job, and this blog wouldn't likely have happened either. I'm amazed by Mary Ann Sumner's perseverance with blogging over dialup, and I'm sure there are others.)

The article notes that Clarity Connect is working on radio Internet for the area, and there's already a comment on Time-Warner's pickiness in serving Dryden. (I suspect Time-Warner's complaining about the franchise contract is an excuse, as the contract they proposed a while ago doesn't change the status quo in the least, and the Town has practically no say in it anyway.) A companion article looks at Governor Spitzer's hopes for addressing this.

There are also updates on two recent crime stories, with the robbery going to the grand jury and the three-year-old victim in the abuse case finally moving from critical to fair condition.

Posted by simon at 10:33 AM Comment

January 15, 2007


Over the weekend I had a disagreement with a friend, someone whose goals I generally share. It reminded me of the reasons I started this site, and the reasons I keep working on Dryden politics and community.

The disagreement was over the importance of process versus the importance of getting a particular desired result. I know, I know - anyone who talks too much about process is bound to be boring, while results are what everyone wants, right? Just hand over the results and don't waste our time.

Except... well, that's the attitude that drives me crazy in local politics and local projects. Getting things done is important, yes, and fortunately a lot of things do get done.

Unfortunately, we need to do more than just get things done. We need to include people, need to get them out of their houses, and need to involve them in the conversation. There's a huge divide between expecting local government to just happen - someone will take care of it - and feeling that local government is a part of our lives, something that both affects us and includes us.

The first thing a community needs is community. The Town of Dryden's sense of community is stretched thin, across a lot of neighborhoods and interest groups. Sometimes those groups and neighborhoods see themselves as competing, but a lot of the time something worse happens: they don't even notice each other.

My hope here, and in the other projects I'm working on around Dryden, is to get enough people interested in talking about Dryden to grow conversations. Those conversations can happen here in comments, in people's houses, over cups of coffee, or at Town Hall - but I really do want people to talk.

They don't have to agree - they won't. I don't have visions of a happy Dryden where Democrats and Republicans, developers and environmentalists, tax-haters and services-lovers come together in some strange glossy advertisement with everyone smiling. They just need to share their opinions, and sometimes their time, and even though everyone won't likely get what they want, the results will reflect more of Dryden than what a few people who happened to be on a committee wanted.

I know that even this is difficult, and the people who serve on those committees know how hard it is to get input. Input tends to come only after a lot of work has been put into results, though that's hardly surprising. It's hard to comment on things that don't yet exist, and early surveys can't possibly produce the kind of results that looking at a draft will. ("I know I wanted change, but this???")

Hopefully this site will make it easier to have those meaningful conversations earlier in the process and with more people, and eventually we'll have enough people involved that public involvement won't seem like such a strange idea.

If you have any more ideas for how to get there, let me know!

Posted by simon at 10:07 PM Comment

January 16, 2007

DOT design about 20% done

Yesterday's Cortland Standard has more on the perpetually delayed New York State Department of Transportation maintenance facility. Back in February 2004 the Village of Dryden annexed land on its northern edge to accomodate plans for the project, which needed to have water available. Now Ron Moore, interim village Superintendent of Public Works, reports that the state will build a salt storage facility there first. A DOT spokesman reports that "design plans for the remainder of the project are 20 percent complete at this time," though the salt shed plans may be at 50%.

The state bought the property at the corner of Ellis Drive and Enterprise Drive for $365,000, and has since invested $1 million to extend a water line there. Dryden Mutual Insurance is using that line, at least, but it's not a lot to show for three years.

Posted by simon at 7:37 AM Comment

January 17, 2007

Girl scouts singing

This morning's Ithaca Journal includes Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk column, in which she reports on Girl Scout Troop 869, which meets at the Freeville Methodist Church. The troop has performed a lot of service in the past few years:

Over the last year, the girls of Troop 869 have painted the playground bleachers at Dryden Elementary School, collected 5,000 cell phone minutes for service people to use from Iraq and organized the purchase of playground toys for the elementary school, which needed to be replaced as a result of the construction of the new playground two summers ago.

They're currently focusing on safety, raising money to attend a national sing-along in June, holding a Kid's Night Out on the 26th, preparing for a Valentine's Day flower sale, and planning an event on February 26th for Girl Scout International Thinking Day. In Boy Scout news, Wakeman also reports on Philip Pamel's becoming an Eagle Scout, and the Dryden Barbershop is creating a cookbook of recipes from the men of Dryden.

An article from the celebration of Ezra Cornell's birthday notes the contribution of some Dryden residents:

Other friends of the young university included John McGraw, who gave McGraw Hall; Jennie McGraw Fiske, his daughter, who gave the chimes now in the library tower;

Jennie McGraw-Fiske also gave Southworth Library in the Village of Dryden.

In state news, Governor Spitzer and the state legislature have taken a few steps toward budget reform, requiring disclosure of member items in the budget before they are voted in, and sorting out a process for the hard question of "how much money do we really have?" I'm especially glad to see the member items piece, which should help New York move beyond the era of "slushpork", borrowed money under the tight control of the individual legislative leaders and the governor.

Posted by simon at 7:54 AM Comment

January 18, 2007

North Road man arrested

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that a 51-year-old North Road man was arrested for first-degree sexual abuse, "alleged to have forcibly touched a female in a sexual way without her consent" on Tuesday.

An article on a cancelled Trumansburg skate park notes that the Village of Trumansburg will talk with Dryden about the approach the Town and Village of Dryden took toward creating its skatepark, which should open later this year.

Carolyn Montague's Lansing Town Talk column visits with Tom Todd, a former Dryden Town Supervisor who moved to Lansing over thirty years ago. Todd is now preparing to retire after decades of egg farming. She notes that:

Listening to Tom remembering the years past is a class history lesson. He talked about paying $16,000 for a five-story chicken house, 125 acres of land and a 13-room house in Dryden back in 1957. Try to find something comparable today! His caged chicken layer house in Dryden was the first one in the area.

(Todd spoke at the Dryden Town Historical Society's "Cluck and Crow" presentation last year as well.)

On the opinion page, Mac Larsen of Dryden writes a guest column on why we should support the UN. Elizabeth Morano of Freeville wants the President and Vice-President impeached if they won't resign.

Posted by simon at 7:20 AM Comment

January 19, 2007

More on broadband

This morning's Journal is quiet on Dryden, but has an editorial on making broadband more widely available that feels like a followup to Saturday's exploration of the challenges in Caroline and Dryden.

Posted by simon at 12:51 PM Comment

January 20, 2007

Free rabies shots Wednesday

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that the SPCA will be giving free rabies shots on Wednesday at their facility on Hanshaw Road.

There's also an article on accusations about NYSEG's business practices, both in their treatment of customers and their treatment of employees. Given their regular back and forth with the Public Service Commission and their bizarre appeals to the public with full-page ads, I'm not entirely surprised. The complete document is online at a Yahoo! forum.

Posted by simon at 3:25 PM Comment

Town and Village

A perceptive reader noticed that I'd missed a key letter to the editor today. I'm afraid that I read the names and locations of readers, and didn't notice a letter about Dryden from Wendy Yager, a Groton resident. Yager, who grew up in the Village of Dryden, writes:

I would like it to be known that all of the terrible things that happen are in the Town of Dryden, not the village. Your paper very rarely distinguishes between the two, and the village takes a lot of garbage because of it.

Yager is completely right that not nearly enough people make the distinction between the Town and Village of Dryden. The Village is around 1832 people in around 1000 acres fairly close to the eastern edge of the Town, which includes 13,000 people in 94 square miles. You can get a sense of the relationship between Town and Village (and of the many other neighborhoods in the Town) on my Introducing Dryden page.

There are times when I really wish the Village had a different name from the Town. People sometimes ask me if I'm going to run against Mayor Taylor, and I have to explain that I live in Dryden, but not in the Village. The Dryden School District includes a majority of the town, but not nearly all of it. Zip codes don't help either.

If the Village of Dryden renamed itself, say, the Village of Paradise, there wouldn't be nearly the same confusion. Or the Town could change its name. I don't think either will happen soon.

The Town does, of course, include the Village of Dryden (and Freeville). Village residents can vote in town races. Town residents can't vote in Village races, however. The Town and Village also share a court, making the distinction even less clear in criminal proceedings. The Village has police - the Town doesn't - though those police also cover the Village of Freeville (by contract).

So Yager is right that it would probably be good to make the distinctions clearer. Unfortunately for the Village, she's definitely not right that "all of the terrible things that happen are in the Town of Dryden, not the village." The recent home invasion was in the Village of Dryden, as was the older daylight robbery of the Song Tao restaurant. The Village police log in the Courier is usually quiet, but it won't always be that way.

It would definitely be a good idea to distinguish between the two more frequently, but Yager overstates her case about the Village, from my perspective at least.

Posted by simon at 7:13 PM Comment

January 22, 2007

Child abuse

There isn't much on Dryden in today's Journal, but Craig Cook of Brooktondale writes to say that he hopes "that people will start opening their eyes to the fact that there is a serious problem not only in this area but nationwide with child abuse" instead of "the other politically correct issues this area seems to focus on time and again." Given that last year we elected a District Attorney who pledged to put these crimes at the top of her agenda, it seems possible that the county is already headed that direction.

In state news, Jay Gallagher writes of the short honeymoon between Governor Spitzer and State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. I'm not sure why that's particularly surprising, given that the two of them appear to have nearly opposite views of how government should operate and for who.

And apparently whoever becomes the next comptroller has more money to manage than anyone else.

Posted by simon at 5:15 PM Comment

Slushpork democracy

Every now and then I realize that I'm not nearly cynical enough about New York State politics. State Senator Dale Volker tells the New York Times that:

I personally believe it is the biggest democratization of the Legislature in all the years that I’ve been there.

And what would be the "biggest democratization"? A creative system that allocated a pile of borrowed money - off the budget, and well-protected from public scrutiny until recently - to whatever projects the State Senate Majority Leader, the Assembly Speaker, or the Governor felt worthy. (Each had his own separate pool of cash.)

I guess that a system involving lawmakers bowing and scraping before their leadership for borrowed money is the peak of democracy for some people. Or maybe the system before was even worse? It's hard to imagine, though I suppose it's possible.

Blair Horner of NYPIRG sums it up well:

"secrecy and its fundamental unfairness... The money is doled out really outside of public purview. But on top of that, it’s doled out as a function of political power, not based on need. So yeah, there are some wonderful programs that get funded, but the question is whether or not the system allocates money fairly."

The good news is that Governor Spitzer, Majority Leader Bruno, and Speaker Silver scrapped this bizarre system. There will still be member items - but where they belong, in the budget, where they can be part of the larger budget priorities discussion instead of goodies handed out in a dark room by a leadership that already has far too much power.

I sure hope that redistricting, forcing political geniuses like these into districts designed around something other incumbents' grasp on power, helps clean up these absurd rituals of power. It'll be too long a time coming, I fear.

(I worry that New York State government would do well to spend a decade or so re-establishing credibility with the people it governs. Even the people I know who support what the state does tend to doubt how it operates - and those who don't like what it does don't tend to be impressed with how it operates either.)

Posted by simon at 5:25 PM Comment

January 23, 2007

Council of Governments

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports on the creation of the Tompkins County Council of Governments, a new organization including all of the municipalities in Tompkins County - villages, towns, city, county. They "will meet on a monthly basis to discuss and recommend 'non-binding' resolutions for “more efficient and fiscally responsible delivery of government services." Caroline Supervisor Don Barber is the first chair of the organization, which takes an idea from Tioga County and uses it to formalize meetings that had been happening here already. They plan to focus on municipal health insurance costs as a first issue.

On the opinion page, the Journal's editorial calls for a complete investigation of recent allegations about NYSEG business practices:

NYSEG, as a provider of public utility, has a duty to provide gas and electric at the cheapest costs possible that will allow it to stay in business. It has a virtual monopoly on some utility services in the area, and “Voice Your Choice” and other programs designed to end that monopoly are smoke and mirrors at best. For most consumers, it wouldn't have been cost-effective to even try to figure out if it was worth switching providers.

It is our expectation that the PSC fully investigates Corbett's claims and at a minimum provides a detailed report that either absolves NYSEG or lets us know what happened.

Hear, hear.

Posted by simon at 8:01 AM Comment

Art Berkey, filling boxes

Sometimes when I write this site from the online version of the Journal rather than the print version, I miss a story. Looking at today's copy, it's clear I missed a story, one about someone I know and work with every second Sunday at the Varna Community Center's pancake breakfast: Art Berkey.

The Journal profiles Berkey's work assembling boxes at the Brooktondale Food Pantry, but the Ellis Hollow resident also volunteers (with his wife Gladys) at the Varna Community Association, where he's a member of the board. I've seen him regularly at Town Board meetings, patiently talking about issues from community centers to water problems. He's been working Election Day as an inspector for the last couple of years as well. I'm personally lucky to have bought some of the tools he refurbishes, including an axe and a brace and bit. The Journal also notes his sixteen years on the Ithaca City School Board.

Posted by simon at 8:47 PM Comment

January 24, 2007

Lane challenges state representatives on gerrymander

Today's Ithaca Journal includes a letter by former County Legislator Mike Lane that asks a hard question of our state representatives, all of whom enjoy districts gerrymandered severely in favor of their continued incumbency:

[Spitzer] also said he will submit “legislation that established an independent, non-partisan redistricting commission” to more fairly draw future election district lines.

While I have not read any comment about this from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, I was disappointed to read in The Ithaca Journal that Senate Majority leader Joseph Bruno does not think such legislation should have priority. The people of Tompkins County have the right to know where each of our state elected officials - Sens. James Seward, George Winner Jr., and Michael Nozzolio, and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton - stand on this fundamental issue of government reform. I call on each of them to respond publicly and state whether they will support Gov. Spitzer's effort to create an independent redistricting commission, or if instead think the legislature should continue gerrymandering districts for political advantage. (Emphasis and links added.)

Spitzer came into Albany claiming that "Day One, everything changes." It was fairly clear to me that unless the legislature changed - it didn't - "Day One" was going to have to last a long time, even as the Governor's office changed. I know too many New Yorkers share Mike's concern about the state of our legislature, but I'm afraid a lot of them seem to think it's impossible ever to change it. Mike's right, though: it's "time to return power to the people of New York."

Hopefully we'll hear from our elected officials and the leadership soon, but we also need to be figuring out how to break the dysfunction if those actively participating in it won't do it for us. It's a hard problem, one that requires convincing people their participation will help solve something which makes participation hard.

The Dryden schools added $38,000 to renovation plans. The money comes from $200,000 'found' earlier, and the rest of the money will go for "purchasing equipment, textbooks and supplies, and will offset next year's tax burden."

Posted by simon at 8:08 AM Comment

Jim Seward now second to Joe Bruno in Senate

Update - Or not: see the comments.

This evening's Cortland Standard reports that State Senator Jim Seward, who represents a strangely-shaped district stretching from Dryden to the Hudson River and up to Old Forge, "has been elevated to the No. 2 Republican leadership position in the Senate, where he will serve as majority whip."

Seward's press release is pretty brief.

I wonder if this gives Seward a shot at becoming Majority Leader if the various scandals around Joe Bruno finally force his resignation, or if it places him too close to the contamination.

Posted by simon at 6:14 PM Comment

January 25, 2007

Coyotes around?

For the past few days, I've heard occasional crazy howling that I've always taken to be coyotes. I heard it last winter too, though usually the rest of the year is quiet. It's eerie, but otherwise fine - except that it makes my dog bark, which is not quite fun at 2:30am.

Oh well!

Posted by simon at 8:43 AM Comment

Ethics changes: How much substance?

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports on agreement about ethics reform in Albany in a deal brokered by the classic Three Men In A Room: Governor Spitzer, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The agreement bans gifts and travel from lobbyists, keeps elected officials out of state-funded TV and radio ads, keeps legislative employees from becoming lobbyists for two years, and keeps the state (except the legislature) from asking about party affiliation during hiring. They also combine the Ethics and Lobbying Commissions.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton is cited on WHCU today saying:

Area Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton says although the reforms are needed, she believes that there are still good people in government. Lifton added that she believes that some of the ethics reforms have some substance, but that some of the reforms seem to be for appearance purposes only.

It's hard to extract much meaning from that brief statement. Is Sheldon Silver one of the good people in government? Are the good people actually in control, or are they watching from the sidelines? Does "for appearance purposes only" mean that the reforms don't go deep enough? Too deep? (I don't know if WHCU is quoting or paraphrasing, of course.)

The New York Post has a cheerful editorial on the whole process, "Lunches with Wolves", (thanks NYCO) that wonders if Spitzer got fleeced:

Silver and Bruno will still be calling the legislative shots. All alone.

This means that the "reforms" don't go nearly far enough. ...

Bottom line?

Albany needs a deep fumigation. But it appears to be getting a dusting of roach powder, and nothing else.

Spitzer was never a party to what NYU Law School's Brennan Center called the nation's most "dysfunctional" (i.e., corrupt) legislature.

But Silver and Bruno are the Legislature.

They alone hold all the legislative power. And they alone are responsible for the sleaze and dysfunction.

Much as it pains me to agree with the Post, sometimes they're right. This definitely doesn't look like a deep fumigation.

An article about County Environmental Management Council members suing the City of Ithaca over the temporary dog park's lack of an environmental review notes Dryden resident Joyce Gerbasi as one of the plaintiffs.

Posted by simon at 8:46 AM Comment

Civic opportunities in The Shopper

This week's issue of The Shopper includes opportunities for Village of Dryden and Town of Dryden residents to get more involved with their community.

Village of Dryden residents are invited to caucuses for choosing candidates for the Village of Dryden's March 20th election. Three positions held by Republicans are up for election: Mayor (Reba Taylor) and two Trustee seats (Bob Witty and Randy Sterling). All of these positions are for two-year terms.

Both parties will be having their caucuses on Tuesday, January 30th, at 8:00pm:

  • The Democrats will be meeting in the second floor of Village Hall, 16 South Street, Dryden (map). Please use the side door.

  • The Republicans will be meeting at the Dryden Town Hall, 65 East Main Street, Dryden (map).

Caucuses are a "let's get together and choose" kind of meeting rather than the more formal primary approach. To participate in the caucus, you must be a registered voter of the appropriate party for the caucus, and must live in the Village of Dryden. You don't, however, have to be a registered party member of a party to be a candidate - you just have to be a registered voter. Republicans can run Democrats as candidates, Democrats can run Libertarians, and so on.

If Village of Dryden politics isn't your speed, the insert from the Dryden Town Historical Society might be of interest. We're looking for members at any level, hoping to celebrate our 25th anniversary year with a burst of growth. I'd strongly encourage anyone interested to visit the History House, which is open Saturdays from 10:00am to 2:00pm, and Tuesdays from 9:00am to 12:30pm. There's great work going on there, and we hope to do more.

(And yes, I'm a trustee of the Historical Society as well as the chair of the Dryden Democrats, so I'm more than a little interested in all of these opportunities.)

Posted by simon at 12:09 PM Comment

Fox, meet henhouse

In light of the recent questioning of NYSEG's ethics toward customers, employees, and regulators, why exactly is Governor Spitzer appointing the president of Energy East Management Corporation, former director of government affairs at NYSEG, to be chairwoman of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates NYSEG?

The industry seems to be salivating:

Officials at the Independent Power Producers of New York, Inc., said they applauded Spitzer's selection of Sparks-Beddoe.

"Our association and its members look forward to working with Sparks-Beddoe and the PSC to ensure that New York's competitive energy markets continue to serve as a model for the nation," said Gavin Donohue, president and CEO of the Albany-based trade association.

Wow. If Voice Your Choice, which the Journal just called "smoke and mirrors at best" is a model for the nation, this country's really in deep trouble.

Maybe so is Albany. Of course, maybe Angela Sparks-Beddoe will take all she learned at NYSEG and use it on behalf of the PSC to get us out of this crazy broken system.... I guess I can hope.

Update: And the alternative sounds like it might have been a lot better:

The transition crew has also been considering ... Michael Gerrard for the Public Service Commission....

Gerrard, a lawyer with Arnold & Porter who also has been mentioned for the DEC job, is well-respected in the energy and environmental fields. He has authored works such as "Brownfields Law and Practice: The Cleanup and Redevelopment of Contaminated Land." His latest book is on global warming (a field in which Spitzer wants to make a name for himself).

If Gerrard goes to the PSC, it means Energy East lobbyist Angela Sparks-Beddoe would be left out.

Oh well.

Posted by simon at 4:03 PM Comment

January 26, 2007

Deregulating the regulators?

This morning's Ithaca Journal confuses me a bit. I'm used to Democrats expressing their concerns when someone who's worked for a company with a bad attitude toward regulators is suddenly appointed to be a top regulator.

This morning the usual party roles are reversed - it's State Senate Republicans expressing their concern about NYSEG/Energy East lobbyist Angela Sparks-Beddoe, Governor Spitzer's choice to chair the Public Service Commission.

Compare and contrast:

Sen. Tom Libous, R-Binghamton, said that Energy East has waged a “public war” against the commission over electricity rates that “has a number of my colleagues concerned.”


"I've known Angela for a long time. She has the necessary skills and she's a hard worker," said Assembly Energy Committee Chairman Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, Montgomery County.

When asked about NYSEG's clash with the commission, Tonko said, "It's fair to say they responded differently than other utilities to the dismantling of the industry in the Pakaki era. They were bold and she was part of that boldness. This brings a little more balance to the process."

Wow. "They were bold"?

(The Binghamton paper has a longer version of the article.)

The Journal's editorial explores a newly revealed $1.9 billion of "pork projects on steroids," marveling once again at the strange collusion between former Governor Pataki and the legislature on spending money without including the public in the conversation. They hope Governor Spitzer will live up to his word that those days are over.

Update: The Syracuse Post-Standard has an article on the appointment now as well. I don't find a whole lot in it to convince me that this appointment is a great thing, but this closing quote from Assemblyman Tonko is more along the lines of what I'd like to see than what I'm expecting to see:

"I think you'll see a much more aggressive and broader use of regulation," Tonko said. "The watchdog has been missing in the equation for a while now."

I'll admit to being puzzled why exactly the AARP is actively supporting Sparks-Beddoe as well.

Posted by simon at 8:27 AM Comment

January 27, 2007

"In need of improvement"?

Dryden Schools Superintendent Mark Crawford has a letter in today's Journal questioning the state's placing Freeville Elementary School and Dryden High School on their "in need of improvement" list, citing problems in the data collection and interpretation process which had little to do with students' performance. The Journal claims that "an article about this issue can be found on the front page of today's Journal," but I don't see it in the print or online versions of the paper.

The print version of Local Briefs notes Tuesday's Democratic Caucus for Village of Dryden Democrats.

In state news, the governor and legislature look set for fights over healthcare and choosing a new comptroller.

Posted by simon at 11:32 AM Comment

Chocolate time!

I was delighted to get the latest edition of the Etna Volcano newsletter, which announces that "It's Chocolate Time!"

The Etna Community Association will be having its 7th annual Chocolate Festival on Saturday, February 10th, from 10:00am to noon at Houtz Hall (map). I strongly recommend going to this event, as it combines delicious dessert with an opportunity to support a community center. I took pictures a couple of years ago, if you'd like some idea of what to expect.

Their calendar includes a few more events for the first half of the year:

  • An Easter Egg Hunt on Sunday, April 8th at 1:00pm

  • A Soup and Salad Supper on Wednesday, April 25th, from 5:30pm to 7:00pm.

  • The Annual Meeting, Tuesday, May 1st at 7:00pm.

  • Playground clean-up day on Sunday, May 6th, with a May 12th rain date.

"Happening in the Hamlet" reports on on a meeting Etna had with Fernando DeAragon, direction of the Ithaca Tompkins County Transportation Council on traffic problems, signage, and a possible footpath, and also talks about the Route 13/366 Corridor Management Study meeting. (There's a Pedestrian Traffic Survey in the newletter too.) They applaud the $2000 from the town for playground and park repairs as well as for fixing some holes in their parking lot. They're working to change their charter to a different nonprofit status, and are looking for potential new board members to help them out.

Posted by simon at 11:47 AM Comment

January 29, 2007

Dryden schools performance

This morning's Journal has the article on Dryden schools and the "in need of improvement" list that they'd said would be on the front page of Saturday's paper. It sounds mostly like a complicated data-processing tangle.

The Monitor lists a McLean man arrested for identity theft and a Berkshire man arrested for DWI on Route 13 in Dryden.

The Journal also takes a look at the cost of board-outs at the county jail, which have increased dramatically over the last year. Board-outs stayed low for a while, but have grown as the number of inmates has grown.

On the opinion page, Jay Gallagher looks at the first month of reform in Albany, worried "that many key decisions will continue to be made by Spitzer and legislative leaders meeting behind closed doors."

Posted by simon at 8:58 AM Comment

January 30, 2007

Funerals to the north and south

Today's sad news is not in Dryden, but to the north in Homer and to the south in Candor. Private Shawn Falter of Homer will be buried in Cortland tomorrow, while Pfc. Nathan Fairlie of Candor was killed near Baqubah, Iraq on Friday. (Dryden lost a soldier early in the war, Air Force Staff Sergeant Patrick Griffin Jr.)

An article on rural revival talks about Newfield, but could apply easily to Dryden.

Posted by simon at 8:07 AM Comment

PSC appointment chips Spitzer's paint

I was starting to wonder if I was the only one surprised by Governor Spitzer's appointment of NYSEG/Energy East lobbyist Angela Sparks-Beddoe to lead the Public Service Commission, the regulatory agency NYSEG fought pitched battles against. (See here and here.) I haven't seen any other blogs pick up the issue, and papers were pretty quiet after the first round of stories. (Maybe it just doesn't seem reasonable to side with Senate Republicans rather than Governor Spitzer this month?)

Yesterday's Rochester paper seemed to trust Spitzer's judgment, apparently mostly because it's Spitzer. Today, however, their fellow Gannett paper, the Ithaca Journal, took a harder stance on Sparks-Beddoe:

Tapping someone who is in tune with what is going on in the utilities market is not a bad thing. But Energy East happens to own New York State Electric & Gas, which has been the bad-boy poster child for demonstrating how a utility can antagonize both its Public Service Commission regulators and its customers. In the last few years, NYSEG threatened that its transmission and distribution system would be put at risk if the PSC did not approve a NYSEG plan. Then, it threatened large layoffs of its workforce. Earlier this month, The Ithaca Journal reported on claims by a former NYSEG executive who described a strategy by the utility that if true will land it in the corporate hall of shame....

Spitzer would have been wise to wait on appointing Sparks-Beddoe until after the PSC conducts an investigation into Corbett's statements. Corbett also has a lawsuit pending that could tarnish Energy East and NYSEG further, or absolve them in some fashion. All is not lost with this appointment. Spitzer should immediately withdraw Sparks-Beddoe and move in a different direction or wait to see what the PSC does with Corbett's allegations. Further, we wonder how he can be comfortable tapping the head of a company that "waged a public war" with the PSC.

Those paint chips on the Spitzer Humvee are small right now. Pull Sparks-Beddoe's name and the governor's reform machine will only need a small touch up. If Spitzer leaves things where they are, we could be heading straight to the body shop for some major reconstruction.

Okay, the Humvee analogy is pretty strained, but it's really hard to see at this point how this appointment can possibly demonstrate good judgment. Maybe we'll get to hear of Sparks-Beddoe's mighty efforts to contain NYSEG's bad ideas from within, or of her plans to build up the PSC so that a "bad-boy poster child" has no advantage. So far, though, the story looks pretty unpromising.

Update: The Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin editorial shares similar concerns. (Hmmm... kentwater at the Binghamton paper and Greater_Ithaca on the Journal site posted identical comments on the two editorials. Odd.) There's also a letter in the Binghamton paper.

Posted by simon at 8:15 AM Comment

Village caucuses tonight

I was just on WHCU 870 talking about tonight's Village of Dryden caucuses. Here's a recap.

Village of Dryden residents are invited to caucuses for choosing candidates for the Village of Dryden's March 20th election. Three positions held by Republicans are up for election: Mayor (Reba Taylor) and two Trustee seats (Bob Witty and Randy Sterling). All of these positions are for two-year terms.

Both parties will be holding their caucuses tonight, Tuesday, January 30th, at 8:00pm:

  • Democrats will be meeting in the second floor of Village Hall, 16 South Street, Dryden (map). Please use the side door.

  • Republicans will be meeting at the Dryden Town Hall, 65 East Main Street, Dryden (map).

Caucuses are a "let's get together and choose" kind of meeting rather than the more formal primary approach. To participate in the caucus, you must be a registered voter of the appropriate party for the caucus, and must live in the Village of Dryden. You don't, however, have to be a registered party member of a party to be a candidate - you just have to be a registered voter. Republicans can run Democrats as candidates, Democrats can run Libertarians, and so on.

It's a great way to see local politics at work, and I strongly encourage Village residents to attend.

(Incidentally, at the Town level, the Democrats also hold a caucus, while the Republicans use petitions and a primary if needed. That all happens later in the year, usually between May and August.)

Posted by simon at 8:27 AM Comment

January 31, 2007

Successful Village of Dryden Democratic caucus

The Dryden Democrats started the race for village offices with a bang: great turnout at a caucus that unanimously nominated two strong candidates for Village Trustee: Lisa Valentinelli and Elizabeth Gutchess.

Lisa Valentinelli is the principal of the MacCormick Secure Center in Caroline. She grew up in Dryden, and as she puts it, "she's always come back to Dryden." She'll be starting work on her doctorate in the fall. She wants to see open government, and wants to see better communications within the village. Neighbors should know what's going on, and know each other. She's looking forward to asking questions.

Lisa Valentinelli introduces herself to the Dryden Democrats
Lisa Valentinelli (standing) introduces herself to the Dryden Democrats.

Elizabeth Gutchess has taught English at TC3 for the past 16 years and lives on East Main Street. She recently published the first volume of her history of the Village's second century. She volunteers at the Dryden Presbyterian Church's Food Pantry. She's the advisor to the TC3 drama club, where she's been trying to connect TC3 with local residents more directly. She'd like to develop stronger connections between TC3 and the Village.

Elizabeth Gutchess introduces herself to the Dryden Democrats
Elizabeth Gutchess introduces herself to the Dryden Democrats.

(Sorry, the photos aren't great, but hopefully they give you a sense of things!)

Mayor Reba Taylor reports on WHCU that Republican incumbents Bob Witty (CFCU president) and Randy Sterling (a City of Ithaca police officer) will be running for trustee, and she will be running for Mayor.

Posted by simon at 8:46 AM Comment

Snowfest Sunday

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that it looks like the Cayuga Nordic Ski Club's Snowfest on Hammond Hill will have plenty of snow and fun. It will be Sunday, February 4th, from 10:30am to 3:00pm at Hammond Hill State Park, based around the parking lot on Hammond Hill Road. They'll have equipment available to borrow starting at 10:00am, and plenty of activities for young and old alike, as well as a heated ski hut with free refreshments.

Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk covers other activities for beating the winter blues, especially for the elderly. She also visits the Dryden Dollies (the local Red Hat Society chapter), a Cub Scout Pinewood Derby, and announces an a capella concert coming up next Friday, February 9th.

Ever wonder what the TC3 dorms look like on the inside? The Journal visits the newest one, with a detailed description and pictures.

Posted by simon at 9:01 AM Comment