Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Fine Morning

Here are some thoughts from "The Original Gadfly" on what the future should hold for the new majority.

            -----  By Ray Mooney

An Open Letter to Ms. Matters, Ms. DiMartino and Supervisor Langley  

You did not ask, and you may not care, but I do so here goes: 

·         Don’t gloat over your victory. Be gracious. Work to unite the town – not drive people further apart.
·         Do an immediate deep, even forensic audit. You have to know the true state of the town’s finances from the very get go. Check to see if politically connected citizens are even paying their taxes. It is remarkably easy to hide that.
·         Invite/request that the OSC come back and dig into specific areas of concern from the last audit. Report openly and to the public on any concerns and corrective actions required.
·         Purchase an up to date version of today’s best accounting software. Recognize that, for the moment, it will be “garbage in; garbage out” but you have to start somewhere to improve the town’s accounting practices and systems.
·         Open up town board meetings, be more transparent. Share information without the need for FOILs. When in doubt share – don’t hide. If a town board agenda does not provide time for full public participation schedule a second, separate meeting for just public comment.
·         Negotiate collective bargaining agreements for the good of the town’s taxpayers not to curry favor with employees and their unions. Look to the long term. How will we afford health care and staggering pension expenses down the road?
·         Bruen is totally and completely out of control. Make an audit a condition in the contract and create a corrective plan. Set standards and hold the Buren leadership accountable.  You might even consider putting the contract out to bid.  And as OSC recommended, move the fiscal activity into the Town Comptroller's Office.
·         Retain Dave Van Wormer as DPW Commissioner. He is the best, by far, of the last three people to hold that position.   You will need Dave’s knowledge and support to reduce overtime and eliminate DPW excess positions. Use his expertise.  You might want to consider making the Highway Commissioner position elective as the law allows. 
·         Appoint a real accountant with an advanced understanding of modern accounting practices and up to date accounting software to the Comptroller’s position. If Pete Stenson is that person retain him.
·         Eliminate the practice of burning up taxpayer dollars at the end of the year for absolutely nothing  in a “use it or lose” way to maintain budgets for things like DPW overtime.
·         Resist the urge to appoint your political cronies. Your political hacks will not be one darn bit an improvement over their political hacks. That applies especially to your party chairperson, by the way.
·         Install computer monitoring software on all the town’s computers. It is high time to eliminate selling on eBay and surfing the Internet as valid things to do on the taxpayer’s dime while at work.
·         Set goals for all the town’s department heads.
Ø      For the DPW plan to reduce headcount by 2 to 4 positions by seniority. Set a goal of reducing overtime in the DPW by 10%.
Ø      For the PD plan to reduce headcount by 2 positions. Set a goal of reducing overtime in the PD by 15%.
·         Eliminate positions:
Ø      Deputy PD Chief. This was a purely political appointment to award a party loyalist. Eliminate it.
Ø      Automate the collection of taxes. It is soon to be 2014 for goodness sake. In automating the collection of taxes eliminate the two deputy tax collector positions.  The law allows for the tax collector position to be appointed and not elected.
Ø      Eliminate the town attorney position. Almost all serious legal work is farmed out to legal specialists so the position,  a political appointment anyway, can easily be eliminated.
Ø      Eliminate one or both deputy building inspector positions. Might be a good place to begin a work-load analysis.
Ø      Eliminate the town attorney secretary position.
Ø      Eliminate the data collector position.
·         At the January Town Board meeting pass the original, unrevised Code of Ethics.
·         Re-appoint Jack Conway to the Ethics Board.
·         Appoint serious people to the Ethics Board and the Citizens Fiscal Advisory Committee (CFAC)
·         Have the CFAC support, monitor and report publicly on the overtime and headcount reduction goals for the DPW and the PD.
·         Clean up town hall. It looks terrible and gives an equally bad first impression.
·         Re-evaluate the $14 million waste treatment plant expansion project. It makes no sense to put so much debt on taxpayers when the county option is so viable, simple and inexpensive.
·         Explore every opportunity to consolidate services. Evaluate the dispatcher function as a starting point.  It seems like a duplication of expense to have town employees doing what can equally and easily and less expensively be done through the county’s services.
·         Ask for assistance and help. Promote volunteerism. There are dozens of people, with all kinds of expertise ready and willing to support positive change in East Greenbush. Access those available resources.
Congratulations on your success.  We all look forward to your driving positive change and fulfilling your campaign promises.
The Original Gadfly

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Devil We Know or the Devil We Don't Know???

Here are some perspectives on the election and the candidates from the Gadfly and guests to stimulate some thinking and commenting as we approach "the Decision" on Tuesday.

 Campaign 2013:

Like most election campaigns, I’m glad this one is almost over.  Although there has been a good deal of substantive discussion we have also seen personal attacks and unsubstantiated rumors about candidates and, more disturbingly, their families and friends.  But such is politics here in East Greenbush.  We have four candidates for two seats: if the republicans win both seats they will take the majority on the town board whereas the democrats only need one to maintain their current advantage.  The winners will take the places of Ginny O’Brien and Rick Matters, who in terms of tenure and contribution are the two most distinguished members of the current board.

The two primary sources for direct information about the campaigns have been mailings and articles in the Advertiser.  The republicans advanced proposals for fixing the financial problems facing the town while the democrats stressed the qualifications of their candidates.  Both were intelligent strategies as republicans used financial distress as the basis of their criticism of the current regime and democrats sought to underplay our problems and shift the focus from their role in creating the financial crisis to the positive qualities of the two candidates.  Each strategy brought out the best in the candidates – Mary Ann Matters and Deb DiMartino appear to have a number of good ideas for change, Mike Bottillo and Cheryl Vallee appear to be well qualified to sit on the board.  This is only a matter of emphasis as the republican candidates also seem qualified and the democratic candidates had some good ideas, especially in their focus on rejuvenating the 9 & 20 corridor.

The election also brought out the best in our town government.  In a rush to pre-empt issues they knew could hurt them during the campaign, the democratic majority passed a new Code of Ethics, approved funding for audits, and offered a plan for improving the fiscal condition of our town government.  The plan was slight and insufficient but its appearance did make me wish we had an election every six months since campaign season seems to be the only time the interests of taxpayers take center stage in the workings of our local government.  In fairness, the republicans deserve as much credit for these accomplishments as the democrats because there was little indication any of these things would have been done without having first been raised as campaign issues.   The democrats are asking for a chance to continue what they see as an upward trend in fiscal responsibility; the republicans are asking for a chance to see what Supervisor Keith Langley can accomplish with a board majority and a new direction in financial planning. 

My concern is that all of this is campaign blarney and what both sides really want is another chance to feed at the public trough.  So when deciding how to vote it’s also important to consider what appointments will be made in key positions.  The best argument for voting republican is that the democrats have run our finances into the ground and taking a chance on change is likely to yield at least some improvement.  In this case, the devil you don’t know is better than the one you do.  There will be a race for Supervisor in two years and some people want to see what Supervisor Langley can do with a majority before deciding to re-elect him.  The best argument for voting democrat is that the current majority has done some good work – the roundabouts, the plans for and clean-up of Hampton Manor Lake, the funding for the wastewater treatment upgrade – and their recent appointments have been good ones – Meghan Webster as director of planning, and Angelina Cadena and Pete Stenson as Comptrollers.  Dave Van Wormer has done a good job at DPW.  We can only speculate on who the republicans will appoint but if they win those choices will be critical.  For me the choice comes down to which candidates will show the most independence when faced with a choice between their party’s interests and those of the taxpayers.  We need strong-minded, independent representatives and we need them now.  We also need a town board that acknowledges our problems and resolves to take firm action to address them even if it proves unpopular with their base.  But however you come down on these issues, make sure your voice is heard on Tuesday.

                                                                                 -------  Jack Conway 

This time around:
I’m recalling the famous rhetorical question from Jeremiah 13 – “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?”  I’m also recalling the first act of the current majority after Mr. Langley was elected, but had not yet taken office.  You might recall that they “whacked” his salary in a deliberate attempt at intimidation.  Politics is not bean-bags in East Greenbush.  But then Mr. Langley did not understand and therefore could not heed good solid advice about how to use a minority position to his advantage and build a record for his people to run on. 

The current majority has not been a good steward of its charge.  The rush to produce a “record” at the last Board meeting was disingenuous.  East Greenbush government has been dragged kicking and screaming toward responsibility.  And those who have done the dragging are private citizens. 

So what about the alternative, Mr. DeFruscio’s “Republicans?”  (Is any candidate a Republican or Democrat this time around?)  I am concerned that there is a real possibility for the “same old same old” if the majority changes.  I remember the “it’s my turn” speech at a Board meeting some months ago.  That was not comforting.  So there is a bit of a quandary for us.  But we’ve seen the Dem leopard actually at “work,” and that’s the reason I think I’ll support a regime change this time around.

Hope for East Greenbush is going to be in independence from the Party Machines and their respective “hangers-on” and loyalty to the interests of the taxpayer.  Mr. Langley deserves a chance to show what his majority can do in the next two years.  If he doesn’t, and we have more of the same – only with a Republican brand – it will be a pretty good sign that we need a Third Party effort here in EG.  A government of, by and for the people – not the Party. 

                                                                                    ------ Don Johnson        

Thoughts on this year's election......

All my thoughts on this year's election for Town Board are covered in used coffee grounds, in my garbage can. That's where all the campaign literature goes. My recollection tells me it's all Republican this year, and full of typical empty blather about lower taxes and greater fiscal restraint. And not just at the Town level either, but also at the County legislature and a County judgeship opening. I can honestly say I have not received a single flyer or mailer from Town or County Democrats. Maybe because I'm a registered Democrat and they think they already have my vote? Why? Look at what they've done to us. Disregarding the misplaced attempts at bipartisanship voting shown by the Town Board Minority over the last two years, the fact is that the Democratic Majority could have passed every Resolution on their own 3-2 strength anyway. 5-0 just gets you there faster. And where is "there?" Junk Bond status, deep Town debt and documented (by outside agencies, including the State) Town mismanagement, improper handling of infrastructure assets like the Wastewater Treatment Plant, and the Town Park, unwillingness to update the Town Ethics Law, unwise hiring decisions (to include a contempt for even basic compliance with mandatory Civil Service law) and borderline illegal payments to people who shouldn't have been paid. We still don't have finished audits from three years ago because the Democratic-controlled books were so messed up that outside auditors, including the State, cannot yet make sense of the numbers. We had to hire a second set of auditors, paid for by you, just to make some sense of what the Democratic-controlled Town Hall was doing with the money. 

All in the past, yes, but what have we seen to indicate that this Chicago-style approach to governing would not simply continue under another Democratic regime? Nothing. Recent Democratic Advertiser pieces have been thuggish in tone, completely in keeping with tradition. And, they run an anonymous blog that no one will take credit for, a blog that stoops to new levels of low in attacking not just other politicians (which is expected, and part of the game), but also taxpayers who voice an opposing opinion, and even worse, their families and friends, people not even involved! This is reprehensible, and I have yet to hear anyone in the Democratic leadership call for it to stop. You may not like what you read here on this Gadfly blog because it too accepts anonymous comments, but you almost always know who wrote the original thread posts and you know who the moderator is! 

But most telling for me is a quick analysis of the last two years of Board Meetings. If you go to the Town's website you'll find the minutes of the meetings, 10 per page. When you get 6 meetings down on the 4th page you will be at the 1/2/12 Organizational Meeting, the 1st meeting with Langley, Matters, O'Brien, Mangold and Malone on the Board. There have been 36 meetings for these folks. That's 180 potential "I showed-up-to-vote" opportunities. They do, after all, get $10,000 a year to do this stuff. Running down the list you see the following: Langley missed 1 meeting out of 180. That's 2%. Matters missed 4 meetings, or 11%. O'Brien missed 2 meetings, or 5%. Malone missed 9 meetings, or 25%. That's a lot, no matter how you slice it. And Mangold, like Matters, missed 4 meetings. If you run the numbers by party affiliation, the Democrats missed 15 of their 108 possible meeting slots. 14% of the time they didn't show up. Republican-affiliated members ( non-Democrats, if that's easier) missed 5 of their 72 available meeting slots, or 7%. Do the math. The Democratic leadership in this town takes it's meeting responsibilities only half as seriously as the non-Democrats. I think I prefer the party that shows up more.
                                                                               --------- Dwight Jenkins