March 1, 2007

Ithaca school bond opinions

Ithaca City School District voters, including residents of about a quarter of Dryden, will get to vote next Tuesday on two bond proposals. Today's Journal includes three letters to the editor from Dryden residents, though only one of them is labeled 'Dryden". Art Berkey says he'll vote against them, calling for "Better superintendent staff work and BOE homework". Henry Kramer also argues against the bond. ICSD Board President David Lee writes to clarify a few points.

Posted by simon at 12:26 PM Comment

March 2, 2007

Well-water rules tightening

This morning's Journal reports that the County Health Department will be tightening well regulations. New wells will require permits, as will abandonments of wells. It seems to be coming down from the New York State Health Department, The county press release says about as much as the article, and both seem to get the county's web site wrong. The actual amendments are available online.

Briefly in Tompkins includes an announcement for "Retro Night", a fundraiser for the Senior All Night Extravaganza. WHCU's Dave Vieser will be DJing the event this Saturday, March 3rd, at the Dryden VFW from 7:00pm to 11:00pm. Attendees should be 21 or older.

On the opinion page, Roger Hagin of Freeville calls for schools to "operate on a sound long-term business plan", not chase "free money" from the state.

Posted by simon at 8:33 AM Comment

Lifton community forum in Cortlandville

I worry that I may be a werewolf. Or something similar. There's no fur, there aren't any extra fangs or even howling, but listening to state legislators argue that New York State government - or at least their house of it - runs just perfectly well punches my adrenaline to new highs and makes it hard not to sputter. I may be a pacifist, but that doesn't mean I'm always nice.

So, okay, here are the highlights of Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton's presentation this afternoon at the Cortlandville Fire Hall:

  • The new budget offers both more funding for schools and more accountability for education results, including accountability for state agencies.

  • In higher education, Lifton was happy to see increases for SUNY and the community colleges, though the state share per student at community colleges is still less than the 1/3 of costs it's supposed to be. She's also concerned about some line items for Cornell being lumped together as things to go out for RFPs (Requests for Proposals).

  • She's pleased with the appointment of a separate "economic development czar" for upstate who'll be based in Albany Buffalo. She's hoping that he'll build on a plan that Richard Florida developed for the Assembly, though hearing the name Richard Florida generally makes me groan.

  • In health care, she's concerned about Governor Spitzer's $1 billion in Medicaid cuts, but happy with his plans to expand coverage for all uninsured children and many uninsured adults, as well as more help in mental health.

  • Funding to small cities is up, but the CHIPS program for highway spending is down. Lifton wants to see more money spent on both.

  • She's unhappy with the STAR property tax relief program because it directs money to places that don't necessarily need it. Schools in the bottom 10% of income receive $918 for the $2300 that schools between the 80% and 90% mark get.

    STAR aid by decile
    STAR aid by decile.

  • Attendees brought concerns about foreign students attending TC3 and bilingual education in Syracuse, as well as general stories of people collecting benefits who shouldn't be getting them.

  • Lifton was happy about the recently announced worker's comp deal, but less certain about the deal on continuing detention and supervision of sex offenders.

  • One attendee had questions about further help to the parts of Cortland (and elsewhere) that were flooded last year.

Mostly it went pretty quietly, though when she started talking about the great good that member items do without talking much about where the money came from, I wasn't very happy. She defended the pool handed out by the leadership as a way to avoid the Governor's line-item vetos, and pretty much argued that the new system for member items should be much better and cleaner. Not that there was any corruption or, say, abuse by the leadership, under the old system. I asked if the money she'd brought to Cortland previously was borrowed - Dormitory Authority - money, and indeed, at least $100,000 of it was, though some of it seems to be real tax dollars.

Assemblywoman Lifton talks with constituents
Assemblywoman Lifton talks with constituents.

Another attendee said that there was "no political will to fix New York" and suggested that "she could take on Sheldon Silver in a fair fight." Lifton displayed no interest in challenging the Speaker, arguing that he represents the caucus and that a new leader would be much the same. (So long as the levers of power in Albany stay the same, I fear she's right - any replacement will fill the same role. It's not just Sheldon Silver or Joe Bruno - it's an entire culture of government.)

I asked about redistricting, and she said she'll be having a forum on it in the fall, including Assemblyman William Parment, who apparently supervised it for the Assembly last time around. (Producing a remarkably gerrymandered map, at that.) Something to look forward to, I guess.

I don't have much hope of Lifton ever challenging the leadership, or recognizing that there are good reasons why New Yorkers rarely place great hopes in their legislature. If it wasn't for the fundamentally broken state of New York government, we might get along, but for now, we won't.

Turnout was fairly minimal - six people at the start, building up to twelve by the end. It was definitely a Cortland crowd, which was good to see too.

(Cross-posted at The Albany Project.)

Posted by simon at 5:05 PM Comment

March 3, 2007

Former Dryden resident being evaluated

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports on Larry Brown, a convicted Collegetown rapist, and former Dryden resident, who has been released from Attica after a fourteen-year prison sentence, but is now (apparently) at a state mental health facility.

The county government is still waiting to hear about a grant intended to reduce local governments' health costs.

For Dryden residents in the Ithaca City School District, there's a overview of the bond propositions up for a vote on Tuesday.

Posted by simon at 1:52 PM Comment

County seeks budget input

This morning the County held a somewhat unusual information meeting at the Dryden Fire Station, looking for input on residents' priorities for the county budget. It was a long meeting - a bit over three hours long - but it was a lot more information than I've seen before, presented in a mostly understandable format. (Dealing with percentages before 11:00am on a Saturday isn't my usual idea of fun, but it was good.)

The one large problem was turnout. There were a lot of people there, but most of them were either county legislators or county employees. About eight people turned up who weren't otherwise affiliated, and they included a number of current and former elected officials.

After a brief introduction from Legislator Mike Hattery, County Administrator Steve Whicher gave a presentation on the expense side of the budget.

Legislator Mike Hattery introduces the session
Legislator Mike Hattery introduces the session.

I learned a fair amount about what the county does. I knew they had health and human services, education and library, highway and infrastructure, and public safety services, but I didn't know, for instance, that:

  • The County administers the civil service exam for local municipalities, BOCES, and school districts.

  • The County Attorney's office, not the District Attorney's office, is responsible for prosecuting juvenile offenders.

  • The County Office for the Aging offers a Personal Emergency Response service.

  • The County's youth services program isn't a youth bureau, like the City of Ithaca Youth Bureau. It's also not about recreation, but rather about prevention services for youth, though its programs mix at-risk children with other children.

  • The Highway Department manages 307 miles of roads and 109 bridges - all the bridges outside of the City of Ithaca.

  • The County guarantees the property taxes for the towns, villages, and school districts, ensuring that they get their money even if taxpayers are delinquent.

Two groups did exercises where we used dots to prioritize our interests in county spending. I didn't think the categories made sense, and most of the shifts I might make were inside the category boxes, but the conversation was good.

A group presents on their priorities
A group presents on their priorities.

After talking about priorities, Steve Whicher presented again on tax burdens. He included statistics specific to Dryden, which I think are worth exploring.

In the Village of Dryden, for property taxes:

  • 61% of taxes are school taxes

  • 17% of taxes are village taxes

  • 17% of taxes are county taxes

  • 4% of taxes are town taxes

  • 1% of taxes are special district taxes

In the Town of Dryden, in the Dryden School District:

  • 71% of taxes are school taxes

  • 20% of taxes are county taxes

  • 5% of taxes are special district taxes

  • 4% of taxes are town taxes

For residents in the Ithaca schools, the school tax rate is lower. Whicher guesstimated 65% of property taxes there would be school taxes, and the other numbers would be slightly higher as a result of that shift.

Whicher explored the $71 million local share of the budget, 48% of which is raised through property taxes. I'll come back to this when the slides he presented are available on the web, because there's too much information to present simply, and I'm not sure that the presentation he gave was clear. (A key problem is including the capital budget in government operations, which makes it hard to tell how much of that goes to particular departments.)

Next, he explored some hypothetical situations ranging from maintaining all services to increasing spending only on mandates, ranging (hypothetically) from 1.4% to 10% increases in the tax levy. Then we had to go back into our groups and talk about how much of an increase was acceptable. The two groups' consensus figures were 3.4% and 4%, but there were fewer people there at that point and some people whose (higher) input came in after the consensus number was on the chart.

I don't think all of the exercises made sense, but it was still a good conversation. I hope that legislators will look at the specific comments, and not at the dots, as they build the budget. (It definitely felt better than the meeting held for the Route 13/366 Corridor study, with a lot more opportunity for conversation and details comments.)

They'll be having two more similar meetings, with one in Enfield next Saturday and one in Ithaca on March 24th.

Posted by simon at 2:12 PM Comment

March 5, 2007

Fire on Hickory Circle

A house on Hickory Circle burned early Sunday morning, sending seven people to the hospital. The Varna Volunteer Fire Company responded to a call about smoke, finding the house catching fire shortly after their arrival. Lack of water meant that they needed tanker trucks, and nine other companies, including all five other companies that serve the Town of Dryden, responded.

There also seems to have been a multi-car accident at Game Farm and Ellis Hollow Roads.

On the opinion page, Thomas Eisner of Ithaca is donating money to preserve an acre of land to the Finger Lakes Land Trust in recognition of the help four people gave him after he went off the road above Ellis Hollow Road. Shelly Forsythe of Freeville writes about the good old days before the current Bush presidency. Jay Gallagher explores change and the lack of change in Albany. Some good things are happening, yes, but it's because of a change in the membership of the Three Men in a Room, not so much because the process has changed.

The Journal also reports on Saturday's budget forum, as does an article in tonight's Cortland Standard.

Posted by simon at 8:02 PM Comment

March 6, 2007

Damaged house unsafe for determination

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that the Hickory Circle home that burned Sunday is unstable, making it difficult to investigate the cause of the fire. Varna Fire Chief Natan Huffman reports that:

"The risk of the investigation is greater than the reward of finding out how it started. I'm confident it started in the basement. I strongly suspect it was electrical in nature, given what the owners told me."

The Red Cross is helping the building's former residents.

On the opinion page, Roger Yonkin of Bethel Grove questions checkpoint security in Iraq.

There's also an article on natural gas in Enfield that likely applies to Dryden residents as exploration moves east.

Posted by simon at 6:36 AM Comment

Ithaca schools bond vote today

Ithaca schools will have their vote on two bond proposals totalling $98.4 million today. If you want more background, the Journal has a special section collecting articles and opinion on the bond issue.

The list of polling places is pretty large. If you are a Town of Dryden resident living in the Ithaca City School District, voting location varies by where you live:

  • If you live in election district 1 or 5 (meaning you vote at Etna Fire Station in regular elections), the parts of the Ithaca district east of Baker Hill Road, you vote at Northeast Elementary School (map).

  • If you live in election district 4, which includes Varna, Hanshaw Road from Ithaca to Route 13, and the area between Game Farm and Turkey Hill Roads, you vote at the Varna Community Center (map).

  • If you live in election district 8, the south side of Ellis Hollow Road over Snyder Hill to Route 79 and Bethel Grove (and normally vote at Bethel Grove Church), you vote at the Belle Sherman Annex (map).

  • If you live in election district 9, the north side of Ellis Hollow Road, Ellis Hollow Creek, Ringwood Road, and many other smaller roads there, then you vote at Caroline Elementary School (map).

Polls are open from noon to 9:00pm.

Posted by simon at 6:44 AM Comment

March 7, 2007

Ithaca schools pass bond

It looks like both Ithaca school bond proposals passed in yesterday's vote, the first one by a larger margin than the second. The Ithaca initial school budget also came out, at a total of $92.4 million, up from $86.8 million.

Yesterday was really cold, but it wasn't a record.

The Journal's editorial looks at delays in state grant decisions.

Posted by simon at 12:11 PM Comment

It's not just Lifton

I've been frustrated with Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton's lack of a notion that there might be something wrong with how the state legislature functions before, both in her public presentations and in her writing.

It's not just her, though. It seems that almost everyone in the majority of either house - Republicans in the Senate, Democrats in the Assembly - can't imagine why the minorities in those houses are unhappy, or worse, why 'reform' seems to be a continuous drumbeat in the media, one frequently applied to them.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who I'd previously thought of as a relatively interested Assemblyman, wrote a piece for the New York Times this weekend. Assemblywoman Lifton mentioned that she would be looking forward to it, and unfortunately I see why. It completely ducks any criticism that something might be wrong inside the legislative process, preferring to look at what comes out of that process (sometimes) and a new challenge from a popular Governor.

Brodsky praises the Legislature's attention to constituent service:

The Legislature has always measured up to the second goal: offering access to ordinary New Yorkers. In individual districts, and in the Capitol, members are available and omnipresent. People who will never speak to a governor easily meet with their senators and Assembly members, and democracy functions in their name.

The last phrase strikes me as painfully funny - "democracy functions in their name." Sure, legislators gather votes, but there's no mention of the many barriers to having a democracy in New York that reflects voter sentiments directly, rather than the leadership of a legislature whose members effectively serve at the pleasure of the leadership. So what do we get? Legislators as bureaucrats, providing services to consituents by asking favors of the leadership and the state government. Yet - it "functions in [our] name."

Brodsky acknowledges a problem, but places its source outside the legislature:

Yet we lost the confidence of the people, and we know it.

Part of our problem is genuine institutional failure. We haven’t reformed our electoral processes, there have been instances of law-breaking and special interests are too powerful. Just as important, we failed to make our case about what we do well. When attacks were made, we were silent. When falsehoods were spread, they went unanswered. We enabled the creation of a poisonous, corrosive atmosphere that still cripples our ability to meet our constitutional obligations.

It sounds like Brodsky wants to reform electoral processes, perhaps through redistricting or finance reform, but that's as much good as there is to see here.

"There have been instances" is conveniently passive, the classic form of "mistakes have been made". Sure, special interests are too powerful - but why? Could it have something to do with the tight bonds they've built with the leadership and with legislators through lobbying and donations? The rest of it sounds like the legislature was too quiet and polite to respond to charges, and so everyone beats them up without cause. How sad.

Brodsky's conclusion is especially painful, claiming that the people need the legislature to conduct business as usual even though it seems that they elected a governor in large part because they wanted change in their legislature:

Changing the system from three men in a room to one man in a room is not reform.... We will support the governor’s proposals when he’s right, and oppose them when he’s not. We will make our case to the people clearly. And we must never retreat from exercising our constitutional responsibilities as an independent branch of government, even in unpopular circumstances.

The governor ought to be a welcome partner in that effort. He’s smart, honest and mostly right on the money. He’s already reined in the personal invective and the threats that we heard last month, and the atmosphere has improved. But we will be an independent partner in government. We know what we need to do to improve our own functions. We won’t be steamrolled. We deeply believe in our constitutional responsibilities. And the people need us to be effective, equal partners in the business of the state.

The people need an effective legislature, one that is an equal partner in the business of the state - but they really need that legislature to be responsive to the people, not to its leadership and not to special interests.

Brodsky writes as if the problems in New York State government rest in the difference between Three Men in a Room and the even worse One Man in a Room. Unfortunately, what New York State actually needs is a lot more people in various rooms, doing their jobs on behalf of the voters in a way that corresponds roughly to what our public schools teach students in civics classes. Until that happens - which means a lot more reform inside the legislature - pieces like Brodsky's are little more than "don't look at us - look over there!"

Posted by simon at 12:36 PM Comment

Livestock in the Village of Dryden?

I seem to be getting the Dryden Courier later and later in its weekly cycle, and combining that with my being out of town Monday and Tuesday means that the issue I'm about to write about isn't the one in stores any more. However, the Courier still does a great job of picking up stories I don't see elsewhere.

The front-page teaser "Village reasserts stance against livestock" was too good a headline to resist, so I immediately turned to page 19. Apparently the source of this "stance against livestock" is the interest of the New York State Agriculture Farmland Protection Board in two tax parcels on Springhouse Road within the Village. The parcels are surrounded by other agricultural land.

Trustee Dan Wakeman didn't sound happy: "The village was not put together to foster agriculture... you're not going to do it in the village." The village's prohibition on livestock came up, as Mayor Taylor pointed out that even chickens are prohibited. She suggested that a farm without livestock wouldn't be in violation of village ordinances, but:

"Ag law supercedes village law," she said. "What's the point in working so hard on a comprehensive plan when they can just force us to do whatever?"

Cooperative Extension representative Debbie Teeter "said that a compromise could probably be found sans livestock."

Returning to the front page, the Courier reports on the Dryden Caroline Drifters Chicks Ride, a snowmobile fundraiser for the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance, and on prospects for a larger number of students coming through Dryden High School.

Both Athletes of the Week were from Dryden. Lindsey McCutcheon won after being named "Outstanding Field Athlete" at the State Qualifier Meet for track. Also winning in track was Matt Trevits, who was to compete at the State Meet last weekend.

In his Inside Dryden column, Matt Cooper reports on the Barber Shop Cookbook's recipe-collecting, which was nearly done, and a performance of Hall Pass. He was a little confused by the weather:

Winter break is an alien concept to me. I only ever had spring break, which I understand they get around here too.

The weather decided to warm up significantly last week, which was a wonderful break from the big downpour of snow we received on Valentine's Day. We went from record low temperatures to record high temperatures. It was pleasant until all of the melted snow and ice froze again overnight, leaving sidewalks treacherous.

The column is accompanied by a picture of Ruskn and Bogdan Scevchenko building a snowman in the village of Dryden.

In Anecdotes and Brevities, Harry Weldon writes about happenings at the Dryden Hotel, from the days of early settlement to a recent conversation about who would be running for Mayor of the Village of Dryden.

Posted by simon at 7:08 PM Comment

March 8, 2007

Online Monitor differs

Reading the print edition of this morning's Journal, there's no sign of the many Dryden citations that seem to have gotten into trouble in the online edition of the Monitor. A burglary at TC3, an assault, and a second-degree rape all appear online, but not in the paper. I'm used to that for Briefly in Tompkins, but it seems odd for the Monitor.

On the opinion page, Stanley Marcus of Freeville argues that Democrats fear President Bush's success.

Posted by simon at 8:43 AM Comment

March 9, 2007

Heroism in a fire

This morning's Journal leads with an article on heroism during a fire on Hickory Circle Sunday morning. Anondo "Binji" Mukherjee helped his family get out of their burning house, and returned to find a friend.

An article on a new professional development center for teachers in Lansing and Groton notes the existence of a similar center in Dryden.

On the opinion page, Caroline Supervisor Don Barber notes the energy-saving geothermal heat in the new Dryden Town Hall.

When I read the opinion page letters, I'm often looking for names I know listed as Ithaca which actually are in the Town of Dryden. Today there's a Freeville letter whose writer I know is from the Town of Lansing. Sorry Pat! Zip codes around here are interesting, to say the least.

Posted by simon at 12:52 PM Comment

March 10, 2007

Assessment season opens

Today's news seems to be at the county or state level. It's assessment season again, with houses now assessed at 85% of full value. 1500 property owners will be getting notices that the value of their property has increase. Next year the system will return to 100% of value, then 90%, then 85%, then 100%, and so on.

There's a report on Tompkins County Airport's 2006 and plans for 2007.

On the opinion page, there's a Laurel for Scott and Stacey Caskey for helping the 3-year-olds injured in an assault in January. Peter Davies of Dryden writes a laurel thanking John Edwards for speaking about real issues in his presidential campaign. (I know it says Ithaca, but he lives in the Town of Dryden. More zip code craziness.)

Posted by simon at 8:10 AM Comment

Project Dryden Child event today

The Project Dryden Child fundraiser event will be today from noon to 4:00pm at Neptune Hose Company, 26 North Street, Dryden (map). Sponsored by the Varna Community Association's New Moms Group, the event is raising money to help the little boy who was assaulted in January.

The event includes:

  • A spaghetti dinner

  • A 50/50 raffle

  • A quilt raffle

  • A loose change roundup

  • Performances by the Sweet Adelines, Bill Sherwood's Round & Square Dance Band, and Crossroads the Clown

Unfortunately I can't make it today, but I strongly encourage everyone to get there. It's a great response to a horrible tragedy, and I'm especially impressed to see lots of different parts of the Town of Dryden come together to support this family.

Posted by simon at 8:26 AM Comment

March 12, 2007

Helping a family

This morning's Ithaca Journal has an extensive article on Saturday's Project Dryden Child benefit, which raised around $10,000 for the family of children abused by a babysitter in January. It sounds like it was quite an event, with all kinds of people donating their time and energy as well as their cash. The children were there, especially enjoying the fire trucks.

There's also an article on Tompkins County's Comprehensive Emergency Plan, focusing on its availability to the public. It sounds like Lee Shurtleff, the county director of emergency planning, was happy to talk about it.

Posted by simon at 7:46 AM Comment

Dryden accomplishments; sewer plant questions

This week's issue of the Dryden Courier arrived in better time than last week's, and if you read this today or tomorrow and want to find out more about an article the paper will still be available in stores.

The front page focuses on the achievements of a Dryden High School graduate and a Dryden High School senior. Bryn Carr is heading up a genetics laboratory in the United Kingdom, but comes back to Dryden once in a while. Senior Amanda Ashman won a gold key for a self portrait in the Scholastic Art Competition, and will be attending Nazareth College to study arts education in the fall. (The painting is reprinted in the Courier on page 17.)

On the opinion page, Mike Lane writes an editorial about the need to rebuild the Village of Dryden Sewer plant, the challenges facing the project, and one path that that might distribute the cost: working together with Freeville and the Town of Dryden:

The three municipalities should come together now and plan for a new plant that is large enough to accomodate all three entities. Will it delay matters? Some, but it needs to be done right. Otherwise this year's 22 percent increase in Dryden's rates will be only the tip of the iceberg as to what homeowners will soon be asked to pay. And if the recent past is any example, the public will be the last to know what unpleasantness is in store for it until it is way to late, and the bills are in the mail.

In sports, Lindsey McCutcheon placed 13th in the Section IV state track meet triple jump and 14th in the long jump, while Matt Trevits came in 19th in the 300 meter race. Dryden wrestler Rex Hollenbeck and Tony Clark also attended a state wrestling tournament.

Reporter Matt Cooper's Inside Dryden column visits Freeville's unopposed elections for Village Trustee, the Southworth Library's weekly story hours and adult book club, the food pantry at the McLean church, and the upcoming Dryden High School musical "State Fair", which will be March 15th, 16th, and 17th.

Harry Weldon's Anecdotes and Brevities column looks at the empty storefronts at the four corners in the Village of Dryden and reflects on their past, including the one-time challenge to Dryden from Willow Glen, up the hill. He also visits the Southworth Library, pointing out a full-size bald eagle carved by Jansen Miller, a violin-maker who worked on East Main Street.

Posted by simon at 7:54 AM Comment

March 13, 2007

Carter pleads guilty

I've had a hard time getting online today, so this is kind of late, but the big news in this morning's Ithaca Journal is the guilty plea from Jacob Carter for the assault and abuse of two 3-year-old children he was babysitting in January.

Carter now faces 43 years to life at his sentencing.

Posted by simon at 9:54 PM Comment

March 14, 2007

Kudos for teens; village letters

This morning's Ithaca Journal editorial praises Anondo “Binji” Mukherjee and Jed Glosenger for their heroic deeds during a fire on Hickory Circle Sunday.

Former County Legislator and Village of Dryden Mayor Mike Lane writes a letter to the editor whose opening sentence could be the motto for this site:

Dryden Village government should be open and accessible every day, not just at election time.

Extend that to the Town and the County (which seem to be doing well lately) and New York State (which limps along) and that's the foundation of why I've been writing this site. Mike is concerned specifically with the Village of Dryden here, writing to endorse Lisa Valentinelli and Elizabeth Gutchess to improve communications between the village and its residents in a number of areas.

Village Trustee Mary Ellen Bossack also writes to support Valentinelli and Gutchess, writing that they "have the common sense, work ethic, and love of community that we all want to see in our representatives".

There's also an article on the possible consequences of the Enfield Fire Company not having a contract. I'm confused, because Dryden fire companies have frequently operated without a contract, and I believe Etna is in that position now. I don't know the specifics of the Enfield situation, but the article didn't fit what I've seen in Dryden very well.

Posted by simon at 6:51 AM Comment

March 15, 2007

More Village letters

This morning's Ithaca Journal carries more letters on next Tuesday's Village of Dryden elections.

In the Monitor, a Dryden man was arrested for DWI in Richford.

Posted by simon at 8:28 PM Comment

March 17, 2007

Dryden marching for peace

Dryden residents will be marching today in Tompkins County Marches for Peace, an Ithaca Peace Vigil project. There are multiple places Dryden residents can join, including:

  • carpooling at the Village of Dryden Eckerd at 1:30pm;

  • carpooling at the Village of Freeville Park and Ride at 1:30pm;

  • marching from Snyder Hill and Besemer Hill Roads at 12:30pm;

  • marching from Snyder Hill and Skyvue Roads at 1:15pm;

  • marching from Ellis Hollow and Turkey Hill Roads at 1:00pm;

  • marching from Ellis Hollow and Pine Tree Roads at 1:45pm;

  • marching from Belle Sherman School at 2:15pm.

All of these groups eventually converge on the Ithaca Commons. County Legislator Martha Robertson will be among those speaking. In case of extreme weather, the speeches will be in the Ithaca Baptist Church on Court Street.

Posted by simon at 8:53 AM Comment

Poverty in Tompkins County

This morning's Ithaca Journal leads with a huge story on poverty in Tompkins County. County Legislator Martha Robertson is quoted on the challenges facing the county government's efforts to deal with poverty:

"The money we spend doesn't begin to meet the need. As large as the dollars are, there's so many people who fall between the cracks," said County Legislator Martha Robertson, D-Dryden. For example, she said many times people aren't aware of the services available to them. With more than 100 organizations offering programs that can help low-income people, it can be a difficult system to navigate.

The article also cites County Legislator Michael Sigler as "R-Freeville", though that should be "R-Lansing". (Maybe he has a Freeville zip code?) There's also an article on how one wrong move can create financial disaster, and a Poverty by the Numbers section looking at the statistics.

On the opinion page, TC3 sends a Laurel to the Town and Village of Dryden.

In state news, the Journal visits the State Senate's annual pork handouts. As expected, the majority Republicans funded 352 of their projects to 25 of the minority's projects, giving the Democratic minority a total of $391,000 in projects while spending that much and more on some individual projects on the Republican side. The Senate Republican spokesman couldn't be bothered to even have a total for the cost of the Republicans' projects. (Yes, I know it's just as bad in the Assembly, just with parties reversed. Amazing.)

There's also an article on the state budget process, which seems even crankier than usual. Frankly, I don't mind - all sides seem to be reaching out to the public for support, and anything that gets the public paying attention seems like a good idea to me.

Finally, the Journal has How they voted in Albany and How they voted in Washington.

Posted by simon at 9:35 AM Comment

March 19, 2007

Dryden residents march for peace

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports on Saturday's march for peace. I joined about thirty people marching from Belle Sherman down to the Commons, many of whom had carpooled from the Village of Dryden or walked in from Snyder Hill and Ellis Hollow. (Freeville residents also carpooled in, going to Ithaca High School and marching from there.)

Dryden Citizens for Peace
Dryden Citizens for Peace.

Snyder Hill arrives on the Commons
Snyder Hill marchers arrive on the Commons.

County Legislator Martha Robertson was among those who spoke, detailing the impact of the war on the county, including the finances, the opportunities lost, and the soldiers who have died in Iraq.

County Legislator Martha Robertson speaks to the rally
County Legislator Martha Robertson speaks to the rally.

Looking out at the crowd
Looking out at the crowd.

The Journal quotes a Dryden resident:

"Nothing we've done has been for helping the Iraqi people," said Mike Pitzrick of Dryden.

Pitzrick acknowledged that it is a difficult subject, but that the country's involvement was for all the wrong reasons.

Dryden resident Katie Quinn-Jacobs article following some Dryden residents up on the organizers' site as well, and I've posted a pile of photographs from the day you're welcome to explore.

Elsewhere in the Journal, they note the crazy weekend snow, suggest that the New York State Senate is now 'Bizarro World', even as they're losing support. Oh - this just in - lobbying in New York State continues to climb to new and amazing heights. (Or is that depths?)

Posted by simon at 12:35 PM Comment

Democratic Presidential conversation Wednesday

The Dryden Democrats will be meeting Wednesday, March 21st at 7:30pm at the Dryden Town Hall, 65 East Main Street (Route 392), Dryden (map).

We'll be opening with a brief discussion of how Tuesday's Village of Dryden election went, and then leaping into new territory, discussing the Democratic candidates for president.

All local Democrats are welcome to attend.

Posted by simon at 12:47 PM Comment

Village Elections tomorrow

The Villages of Dryden and Freeville will be having elections tomorrow. Freeville's elections are uncontested, while Dryden has a contested trustees race and an uncontested mayor's race.

In Freeville's non-partisan elections, incumbents Rachel Dickinson and Lloyd Purdy are running for re-election.

In Dryden, Democrats Lisa Valentinelli and Elizabeth Gutchess are challenging Republican incumbents Robert Witty and Randy Sterling, while Republican Mayor Reba Taylor is unopposed.

I believe polling in both villages is from noon to 9:00pm at their respective village halls, but I'm trying to confirm that for Freeville.

Posted by simon at 12:55 PM Comment

March 20, 2007

Vote today in Freeville and Dryden

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports on today's elections in the villages of Dryden and Freeville. Voting will start at noon and end at 9:00pm in both Village Halls. Freeville's election is uncontested, with incumbents Rachel Dickinson and Lloyd Purdy seeking to return to the board.

In Dryden, the Mayor's race is uncontested, with only incumbent Republican Mayor Reba Taylor running. There are four candidates for two trustee's seats, though: Democratic challengers Lisa Valentinelli and Elizabeth Gutchess are facing Republican incumbents Bob Witty and Randy Sterling.

On the opinion page, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton has a guest column that should be remembered for years to come as a classic case of how to argue for inaction. She says she's "interested" in an independent commission, but apparently dreads the details of how it would work. She only comes vaguely close to acknowledging that having Republicans draw the lines for the State Senate and the Democrats draw the lines for the Assembly is a really really truly horrible idea, one that ensures that legislators turn over their seats mostly when the leadership, not the voters, want them to go:

Bipartisan systems have often been a check on corruption, as in our electoral system, which is run in a bipartisan fashion. On the other hand, it runs the danger of bias toward maintaining the status quo.

Praise the current system first, then back off slightly with a comment about the status quo. The piece is brilliantly short, long enough only for her to express her concerns about solutions without ever expressing whether or not there might possibly be a problem.

Amazing - and depressing. It may be a "complicated issue", but it wouldn't take a perfect solution to make matters a lot better than they are today.

Posted by simon at 10:17 AM Comment

March 21, 2007

Tight race in Village of Dryden

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that Democrat Lisa Valentinelli and Republican Randy Sterling appear to have won Dryden Village Trustee seats. They don't report that these results may - it's not yet clear - be within the margin of absentee ballots. Current results look like:

CandidateDemocratRepublicanBetter DrydenTotal
Lisa Valentinelli12936165
Randy Sterling162162
Elizabeth Gutchess12034154
Robert Witty151151

I'll report more as I know what's up with absentee ballots. I'm immensely pleased with the work the Democratic candidates put into the race, and still have some hope that Elizabeth Gutchess can make up the eight votes between her and Randy Sterling, though statistically it seems difficult. The Republican candidates were definitely out there this year as well.

It looks like a change in state-aid formulas may cost Tompkins County child-care aid.

On the opinion page, Elizabeth Morano of Freeville reflects on President Bush's tour of Latin America.

Posted by simon at 8:00 AM Comment

Tighter race in Village; incumbents appear to win

Some days all you can say is argh...

New results, after this afternoon's canvassing of absentee ballots:

CandidateDemocratRepublicanBetter DrydenTotal (Change)
Randy Sterling181181 (+19)
Robert Witty169169 (+18)
Lisa Valentinelli13137168 (+3)
Elizabeth Gutchess12335158 (+4)

There are still two military currently ballots uncounted, as their backs weren't filled out correctly (and yes, we put them on a three-day hold), so in the end this may be a three-vote loss rather than a one-vote loss. It's also possible that some ballots will appear in the mail in the next few days, but they only count if they were mailed on the 19th or earlier. (One absentee ballot was disqualified for being mailed the 20th.)

Posted by simon at 4:57 PM Comment

March 22, 2007

Kiwanis recognizes Dryden teens

Several Dryden High School seniors were honored on March 13th by the Dryden Kiwanis Club for their community involvement and their achievements.

I already reported on yesterday's change in Dryden Village election results, and there's nothing new to the story in the Journal article.

In the print edition, there's a letter from Katrina Blair of Dryden calling for Cornell to suspend student Alexander Atkind for his admitted abuse of a dog under his care.

Posted by simon at 4:47 PM Comment

March 26, 2007


Yes, it's been kind of quiet around here. I have a cold (flu?) that just won't let go, and can only concentrate for a little while at a time. It's better in the evening than during the day, but still... yuck.

Fortunately it's been fairly quiet. The main headline over the weekend was a 5-year sentence for a Dryden man involved in a home invasion robbery in January.

Today's paper has lots of state news, including the possible end of a career for the hard-fighting chair of the Lobbying Commission, and continuing negotiations over the budget. There's also a letter from a government teacher that I think is especially worth highlighting, even though it's not from Dryden:

As a high school government teacher (a shout out to my seventh period class), I am called upon to discuss the legislative branch of our state government. I applaud the efforts at reform by our new governor and the recent editorial of The Ithaca Journal, in which the Legislature was described as “dysfunctional.” However, in light of the recent comptroller-selection debacle and the looming prospect of another late budget, it seems like our legislators in Albany will continue to be a source of embarrassment.

Perhaps we should revise Participation in Government (or civics, or whatever it's called this year) textbooks to explain how the New York State legislature really works, rather than the vision of democracy portrayed in most textbooks.

"Legislative districts are designed to ensure that incumbency is guaranteed to the extent possible, for the legislator but more importantly for the party in control of each house. Legislators provide a public face for the leadership in their district, explaining to the district why what the leadership has decided to do must be right for the district. Legislators also look for projects that the leadership can approve to demonstrate how valuable the leadership is to the district."

Well, that's my version, but as I said, I'm not thinking too clearly today.

Posted by simon at 12:05 PM Comment

March 27, 2007

Freeville house fire

An old house I'd always really liked burned yesteday in Freeville. The Freeville, Dryden, Varna, Etna, Groton, McLean and Cayuga Heights fire departments all responded, as did Dryden Ambulance, NYSEG, and the New York State Department of Transportation. There were no injuries, but three people were hurt, and it sounds like years of work on the house have been lost.

Today is the final day for vote-counting in the village elections, including Dryden's, where one vote separates a win from a loss and two ballots, which we held during the canvas, remain to be counted. I've asked the Democratic Election Commissioner to count those final two, despite their incomplete backs. I don't expect any change in the results - and as I said in the article, this has been excruciating.

Dryden High School will be fielding its first lacrosse team ever, having built from modified to junior varsity to varsity. It's an amazing game to watch, and hopefully it'll be here to stay.

On the opinion page today, the Journal looks at a subject that's caused major controversy in Dryden in the past, fire company audits. They're right that it would ease a lot of conversations if audits were ordinary, just a part of doing government business.

Apparently I'm not the only one who found Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton's reply on redistricting to be disappointing. Kahlil Williams of the Brennan Center for Justice uses a children's story to ilustrate his concerns with her piece:

Enter Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton. Her guest column on redistricting in The Journal... illustrates how Henny Penny and Turkey Lurkey are sometimes the same creature. The beginning of her piece is in the Henny Penny mold, presenting some important considerations and questions for redistricting reform, including compliance with the Voting Rights Act, respecting communities of interest, etc.

But these considerations begin to sound more like excuses that undermine reform as the article goes on. For instance, Lifton wonders aloud whether we could find non-partisans "who would be willing to take on the complex task" of redrawing the boundaries for New York's Congressional and state legislative districts, even though 2.3 million New Yorkers are not registered to any political party. And she struggles to understand how an independent commission might be structured (as if one must be adopted out of whole cloth) ignoring the fact that such commissions already exist elsewhere. In short, it's as if she's preemptively saying "Not I," a la Turkey Lurkey.

Laurie Snyder of Varna writes about the ups and downs of spring's arrival.

Posted by simon at 8:38 AM Comment

Past years

NYCO suggests that bloggers look through their archives, and that seems like a good idea in a period when I feel I haven't been giving Living in Dryden the attention that I used to. Looking back to the end of March in 2004, 2005, and 2006, I was writing about:




Hmmm.... a lot of the same issues keep coming up, though I feel a lot brighter about the Town Board these days. It helps that both major parties are represented there. It helps a lot.

Posted by simon at 5:04 PM Comment

March 28, 2007

Civil Air Patrol launches rockets

Model rockets, that is. Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk reports on the local Civil Air Patrol's Cadet Rocketry Weekend, which concluded with a launch at TC3.

She also notes that the Dryden schools are revising their Athletic Code of Conduct, and the capital project vote will be April 3rd from 7:00am to 9:00pm at the Dryden Middle/High School.

On the opinion page, Michael Alvich of Dryden writes to encourage the City of Ithaca to keep Marjorie Olds as City Judge.

I was reflecting yesterday on a grass pellet stove demo held two years ago on Mount Pleasant, and the Journal looks at the latest in grass pellet developments today.

There's an article on the expense of special districts, 7,000 of which spend $1.3 billion in New York annually. Personally, I think I live in four: Turkey Hill Water District, Turkey Hill Sewer District, Dryden Fire Protection, and Dryden Ambulance. If special districts are being run badly, then there's a problem, but I don't see anything wrong in the services themselves. Perhaps it would be smarter for places with lots of overlapping districts to form villages and simplify the billing, but otherwise the problem doesn't seem to me to be the districts themselves: it's suburban development that doesn't have the kinds of centers that naturally produce villages and cities.

It looks like we may have an on-time state budget this year. Maybe.

Posted by simon at 8:39 AM Comment

March 29, 2007

Village election closes; results same

The print edition of this morning's Journal reports that final results are in for the Village of Dryden Trustees' race:

CandidateDemocratRepublicanBetter DrydenTotal
Randy Sterling183183
Robert Witty171171
Lisa Valentinelli13137168
Elizabeth Gutchess12335158

There's also a letter to the editor from Kate Howells of Dryden complaining about Democrats 'trampling' the rights of military voters.

I'm sure that Howells and everyone else will be glad to know that those ballots have been counted, and are now part of the final tally. There were three ballots which were open to challenge - a ballot from a Democrat carrying an election day postmark, and two military ballots from Republicans where the senders apparently hadn't seen the bold "MUST CHECK ONE" on the back requesting them to identify their military status.

The Republicans asked for the rejection of the ballot with the election day postmark, as they're supposed to be postmarked the day before. It might well have been put into a mailbox the day before - we just have no way of knowing. Given that the session started with a key Republican complaining about the post office's performance, this was kind of ironic. Still, it's a technicality, but that ballot wasn't likely to get opened.

The military ballots were the only other ballots with a visible defect, and we asked that they be put aside for three days. Three days would let us decide if we wanted to challenge them in court - we didn't - consider our options, and see if any other ballots arrived. (There was, for example, a military ballot sent to a Democrat that still could have come back.)

I asked Democratic Election Commissioner Steve DeWitt to open the ballots that had been put aside, and apparently he supported their inclusion in the final count. (I don't get to make these decisions personally, though I do get to provide input.)

In general, I'd like to see every ballot counted. If the checkboxes on the back reflect information that's already collected in the form requesting the ballots, I'd be happy to see those checkboxes removed. The absentee ballot counting process is designed to minimize voter fraud, a subject Republicans raise constantly, but unfortunately, yes, it does raise barriers to all kinds of ballots.

Personally, I lean toward including as many ballots as possible, and I'd support removing the one odd extra potential obstacle New York State has apparently placed in the way of military ballots, the checkboxes. I look forward to future races when Republicans find themselves facing the same questions about whether to challenge or include military ballots from Democrats, and we can find out how strongly they support these principles when their victories are at risk.

(In good news, there was one affidavit ballot. These have a large number of fields to fill out, and as a result are incredibly easy to challenge. The voter who filed one got everything right, and the ballot was accepted.)

Posted by simon at 12:04 PM Comment

Civics lesson comes true in budget

I proposed this as a civics lesson for students studying New York State government:

Legislators provide a public face for the leadership in their district, explaining to the district why what the leadership has decided to do must be right for the district. Legislators also look for projects that the leadership can approve to demonstrate how valuable the leadership is to the district.

Tonight I saw it echoed in the New York Times Empire Zone blog's telling of the budget story:

But the governor shared almost no details* about what deals had been struck, explaining that it would be improper to do so until Mr. Silver and Mr. Bruno had had a chance to explain the deals to their respective flocks, who would then be able to explain it to the rest of us during public conference committees.

Because otherwise, you see, it would look as though the whole thing had been negotiated behind closed doors and then handed down to the lawmakers as a fait accomplit.

Which is what actually happened.

It might be funny, if it wasn't so depressing.

Posted by simon at 8:44 PM Comment

March 30, 2007

Contact info for the Journal

Ever wonder how to tell the Ithaca Journal they got something wrong? Want to send an item to Briefly in Tompkins or Dryden Town Talk? Pages 6A and 7A in the print edition of today's Journal lists pretty much everything they do, and who to contact about it. Might even be worth keeping around.

Posted by simon at 8:30 AM Comment

Dryden police calls up

This week's Dryden Courier leads with the news that Dryden Village Police responded to 1800 calls last year, around five per day. The article cites traffic flow as a cause, though it doesn't say if 'calls' includes traffic stops. Crime is also up, though, moving from 40 part 1 (serious) crimes in 2005 to 58 in 2006. Central New York generally seems to be seeing an increase. In the closing, Dryden Mayor Reba Taylor seems to argue that the problems are non-residents (and public transit?):

"We're right on the TCAT bus routes," she said. "We get a lot of transients and drug traffic coming right through the village.

Also on the front page, Dryden schools are working toward a budget, with some controversy over a proposed staff cut in business education because of low enrollment.There are also questions relating to temporary high enrollment at the high school and low enrollment at the middle school, and sports showing increased turnout from students. (In sports, there's also a note about the district's plans to revise the athletic code of conduct, looking for help from residents.)

In his Inside Dryden column, Matt Cooper recommends the Dryden Music Boosters' April 21st Jazz Dessert Night, and reports that the Barbershop Cookbook is on the presses now.

In the Home Garden section, Cooper talks with Dryden Town Board Member David Makar about his gardening and his blogging about his garden. He got started cheaply, paid attention to the plants but didn't devote his life to them, and got a sizable return for his efforts. He also notes fellow Board Member Mary Ann Sumner's blogging and my own efforts.

Posted by simon at 8:32 AM Comment

Do you know how your legislator voted today?

It's possible that I'm missing something, but I've looked and asked and not found any sign that roll calls for votes on bills are available online for either the New York State Assembly or the New York State Senate.

It's kind of hard to write legislators when you don't know what stand they took, and the Ithaca Journal's "How they voted" seems to be an occasional feature. Even places like the Albany Times-Union's Capitol Confidential blog sometimes tell their readers things like "too time-consuming, sorry". While it's difficult enough to know what's going on in Albany before it happens, not being able to find out easily what has already happened seems very strange.

This isn't, for example, a problem in Dryden, where the meeting minutes list votes, or for the U.S. Congress, which posts votes as a matter of course.

In the hopes that it might work to ask for something that seems fairly obvious to provide - and certainly embarassing to lack - I've written a letter (23KB PDF) to Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton and a similar letter (22KB PDF) to State Senator Jim Seward. I'll share the replies I get here, if any.

Posted by simon at 12:28 PM Comment