Monday, July 28, 2014

The Hidden Costs of Casinos

A lot can happen in one week. What hasn't changed is that we are a community that is opposed to a casino in East Greenbush. Please join us tomorrow to find out why and what we still need to do.

Nationally renowned casino research speaker Robert Goodman will join us on Tuesday, July 29 at 7pm. Author of the book The Luck Business, a study of the economic and social impacts of gambling policy, Professor Goodman will speak on the hidden costs of the casino industry and the NY State and local situation. The community is invited to take part in the conversation on where we are, how we got here, and what we can do next.

What: Casino Research Speaker Robert Goodman
When: Tuesday, July 29 at 7pm
Where: Community Gospel Church, 487 Third Ave Ext., Rensselaer, NY
Why: To talk about the economic and social impacts of casinos on host regions

The Hidden Costs of Casinos July 29

Please join us and help spread the word.

Save East Greenbush

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What do you do with a used casino?

Dwight Jenkins - our own FOIL detective and analyst has done his homework and FOIL'ed some casino material from the County, and we have it here - cut and pasted from the No East Greenbush Casino FaceBook page.  We've had a lot to say about the influence of the "political machines" on both sides of the fence in this East Greenbush casino disaster.  Nobody did their homework.  They just glazed over and followed the snake oil hype.  

Fred LeBrun has another great article in Sunday's TU, Here's the link:

Here's Dwight:

"Much has been written of the Town's classic collapse in the face of casino coercion. Much less has been written of the County's role in that collapse. In fact, recent FOIL disclosures from the County strongly indicate that it was the County that applied the pressure, specifically the County Legislature, including our own Region 2 Representatives: Robert Bayly, Leon Fiacco, and Phil Danaher (who doubles as the Town's Planning Board attorney). What follows is a lengthy timeline of hidden political influence at a higher level.

On 1/14/14 Legislator Mike Stammel, Rensselaer, introduced Resolution P/56/14 supporting the location of a casino in Rensselaer County. The 4th "Whereas" of the resolution: "This Legislative Body has received numerous calls of support for property located along the Hudson River Waterfront in the City of Rensselaer known as DeLaet's Landing as a suitable site for a casino."

Stop there.

This was also the 4th "Whereas" of his 12/10/13 draft resolution, the one that mentions ONLY DeLaet's Landing as the County's choice for a "prime location" casino site. But other forces were at work, and Mr. Stammel's attempt to lock DeLaet's Landing in fell short. He had to settle for an honorable mention in the final resolution. The 5th "Whereas" of that resolution left open the possibility of other sites as well: "This Legislative Body has also received calls of support from other entities... indicating other potential locations in Rensselaer County for a casino in different municipalities..." While recognizing the positive attributes of DeLaet's Landing, the resolution "further recognizes the positive attributes of other locations proposed as possible locations for a commercial casino, including proximity to other populated communities and major transportation roads and outlets (remember that), while noting the host municipalities have not yet considered issuing a declaration of support for such ventures; now, therefore, be it resolved, that this Legislative Body does hereby declare support for the siting of a commercial casino in Rensselaer County, based on the positive economic impact and fiscal benefits, provide(sic) there is stated support from the host municipality in Rensselaer County." Allegedly no one in East Greenbush Town Hall knew anything about a possible casino as of this 1/14/14 County resolution, even though one of our County representatives, Phil Danaher, also worked for the Town.

So what does this mean? It means that the County liked the idea of a Rensselaer site in December, before anyone else had expressed interest. But one month later the County had other options, options with proximity to major transportation roads (I-90, US Rt.4) and outlets. So the County, including our District 2 representatives, knew about East Greenbush before we knew about ourselves!

Conspiratorial? Consider Danielle Sanzone's (The Troy Record) e-mail to County Legislative Liaison Rich Crist on 1/21/14, one week after the County's 16-2 "Yes" vote on a casino in Rensselaer County: "do you think anyone in the majority would talk with me about casino prospects along I-90 in Rensselaer County? I heard the same folks interested in the First Prize site were looking for a larger location in Rensselaer County." Mr. Crist's response: "Wat is your phone number..." That answer wasn't going on paper, where it could be discovered on some inopportune day, like Feathers' East Greenbush notes.

Indeed, the 74 page FOIL record went dark for 3 months until 4/22/14, when J. Strategies Inc. (Saratoga's PR firm) asked your District 2 representatives (Bayly, Fiacco, Danaher) for a 4/24/14 meeting about the casino. Chairman Martin Reid was also specifically invited. But was the record really dark during that period? Not really. One month after the County's "Yes" vote an LLC was formed, Greenbush Casino Associates LLC (later changed to Greenbush GB Associates LLC.) Rumor has it that all kinds of money changes hands when these commercial LLC's change names inexplicably- makes it harder to follow the money trail. Campaign contributions to local politicians can't be far behind either.

Three days after that 4/24/14 meeting Justin Hogan, of J. Strategies, Inc., sent a warm e-mail to Chairman Reid and the District 2 representatives: "Thank you for taking the time to meet with me yesterday to discuss the East Greenbush casino project. It was very informative and helpful. We look forward to working closely with you throughout this process. Also, thank you for all your help making these important connections..." Yes, yes, it's all about the connections.

On April 28th Saratoga Casino and Raceway issued an old-fashioned paper thank you, signed by co-owners James Featherstonhaugh and Daniel Gerrity. Within that letter they mentioned proximity to I-90 as being a key to keeping casino dollars in New York. Remember Danielle Sanzone's I-90 question to Rich Crist back in January?

Ten days later, on 5/8/14, Rita Cox issued a major press release about the casino's commitments to local businesses and regional attractions (Best Berry Farm? Schakolad Chocolate Factory? Stewarts?), and within a week J. Stategies, Inc. released the first of its weekly e-mail updates to casino supporters in the business and political worlds, inviting them to the Public Forum eventually held at Columbia High School, where one could see Town Board members and key employees/politicos, at least one County Legislator, and a State Assemblyman. The full court press was on.

"Other entities...This Legislative Body... Host Municipality support." Reads like a science fiction screenplay, and we're just supposed to be actors in that film. Funny though- sometimes it looks like we're climbing into the Director's chair. Come hear Professor Robert Goodman's dismantling of the "economic benefits of casinos" argument, Tuesday, July 29th, at the Community Gospel Church on 3rd Ave. Extension...."

Friday, July 11, 2014

Plan Snubs Ecological Questions --- By James Flanigan

From the Times Union, July 11, 2014:

"Several months ago, when representatives of Saratoga Gaming and Raceway first met with town officials to discuss the possibility of locating a casino in East Greenbush, two decisions were made, one of which may eventually prove fatal to their application.

The first decision was to treat the East Greenbush project as an elaborate public relations effort. In this public relations campaign, the firm turned to SKG Knickerbocker, a Washington-based communications firm with a specialty in political campaigns. Not surprisingly, the East Greenbush casino effort bore strong similarities to the political campaigns we are inundated with every fall. Newspaper, TV and radio ads were placed, slick fliers were mailed, lawn signs distributed and news releases were issued, all aimed at giving the project a positive "spin."

The casino strategy also called for downplaying any negative information. This led to the second, and potentially fatal, decision to minimize public input and delay starting review of the project under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

As the casino proponents may soon learn, the strategies that work in a political campaign for state Legislature are very different from the strategies that are required to convince a skeptical community to accept a large and complex change in their town.

Through the SEQR process, a structure is provided for town officials, developers and members of the community to identify potential environmental impacts, analyze their magnitude and develop plans to mitigate any adverse impacts. However, instead of starting this dialogue between the developers and local citizens, the town board first tried to slip through without public input a generic resolution supporting a casino. When the state rejected this approach, the town board passed a site-specific resolution without even starting the SEQR process.

It is safe to say there are significant environmental issues with the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway proposal. The proposed site for a casino and multi-story hotel is on a parcel over an aquifer, containing federal wetlands, adjacent to a Girl Scout camp, near an elementary school, zoned for low-density residential use and on a narrow residential street that dumps traffic onto an already congested section of state Route 4. Wastewater is planned to be treated at a plant that currently operates under a consent order from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Converting open fields to parking lots and rooftops will generate storm water that could inundate residences, shopping centers and neighboring communities. Police, fire, EMT and social service agencies can also expect to be impacted.

Saratoga Gaming and Raceway's reaction to all this could be seen in the response by its spokesman, Morgan Hook, to a lawsuit filed by a group of East Greenbush residents over the town board's failure to do a SEQR review of the casino project. Hook, a senior vice president of SKD Knickerbocker and a former press officer for Gov. Eliot Spitzer, displayed an arrogance reminiscent of his former boss as he dismissed the lawsuit as "silly and meritless."

Fortunately, it will be up to the courts, not Hook, to determine the validity of the complex environmental issues in this case and the need for a SEQR review.

Meanwhile, if the State Gaming Facilities Location Board allows the East Greenbush Town Board and Saratoga Gaming and Raceway to get away with replacing the SEQR process with a political-style public relations campaign, they will be reinforcing such behavior and setting a dangerous precedent for future casino projects in our state.

James Flanigan is a former town board member and supervisor in North Greenbush. He lives in Wynantskill."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ethical Ed and the Board of “Ethics” -- By Jack Conway

In his continuing role as political hatchet man, Ed Gilbert launched an attack on me in his Times Union blog.  This is my response:

Ed -
I’ll try to be kind but your delusions about yourself and the Board of Ethics are starting to worry me.  I love it when you say you’re only following the law because one member of the Board of Ethics must be a town employee.  You only qualify because you’re being paid for the non-paying job of deputy supervisor.  I have repeatedly demanded that a written job description be promulgated to justify that salary and none has been forthcoming.  This leads to a reasonable perception that you’re being paid to sit on the Board of Ethics in direct violation of State law.  One member of the board must be a town employee but it doesn’t have to be you.  Rick McCabe appointed Jim Breig and not only was Jim non-political, he wasn’t even a member of McCabe’s party.  That’s how you do it if you understand that the first rule of a Board of Ethics is that its members must be impartial.
Instead Keith Langley selected his own personal political bodyguard to sit on the Board of Ethics.  You are a bitterly partisan political operator who has run for office twice, has served (still serve?) as Vice Chairman of the County Conservative Party, had your hands all over one of the most vile blogs ever to appear in this town, posted political editorials like this one on the TU blog, harassed minority town board members (remember demanding that Phil Malone apologize to Keith Langley?), shilled for the majority, shilled for Keith Langley and, best of all, now shill for Saratoga Casino & Raceway.  You also regularly insult residents at public hearings.  As Chair of the Board of Ethics you should never have taken a stand on whether this town should have a casino.  Go back and look at my record.  I didn’t take a stand on political issues, and only commented on blogs and at meetings on questions that were specifically asked about the Board of Ethics.  I also held meetings twice a month at which the public was invited to participate at every level.  You haven’t held a single meeting since you started shilling for the casino.  You can be a political operator OR you can be a member of the Board of Ethics but you can’t be both.  You’re a walking conflict of interest and the scariest part is that you don’t get it.  It’s terrifying that the person with responsibility for monitoring conflicts of interest doesn’t even recognize the conflict of interest that’s staring at him every morning in the mirror.
Your historical version of how those rules and regulations came into being is hallucinatory.  We drafted an excellent Code of Ethics but the democratic majority refused to include financial disclosure.  We decided to pass that rough first draft of the rules and regs in order to put pressure on the majority because with rules in place people could file complaints under the 1974 Ethics Law.  With the promise that they would reconsider financial disclosure, we suspended those rules in less than a month.  They only exist now because YOU passed them as a final version.  But they work for you because we both know you wouldn’t maintain the confidence of any town employee who filed a complaint against Langley, DiMartino or Matters.  How many complaints have you gotten?  None?  That’s because people know what you will do to them.  Langley’s message in appointing you is clear: whistleblowers will not be tolerated. 
I strived to set a fair, impartial tone for that Board and have watched my work go up in the flames of your political temper.  The Board of Ethics only exists now as a joke that everyone gets but you.  If you would like to restore a semblance of honor to this critical institution I recommend you immediately do the following:
Make a public pledge not to run for Town Board next year.
Remove yourself from the debate on the casino and every other political issue.
Cease writing partisan blogs.
End your political relationship with the Supervisor and the majority.
Insist that a written job description be published detailing exactly what you are getting paid for as deputy supervisor.
Hold Board of Ethics meetings instead of walking neighborhoods with candidate petitions (not a political operator you say?)
Treat people with respect if they hold views different from your own.
And last but not least, get a grip.  Keith Langley should have known enough not to appoint you to the Board of Ethics; you should have known not to accept the appointment.  That the two of you don’t get it proves how little you understand the concept of ethics and the function of a Board of Ethics.  You should do the honorable thing - stand up, apologize to the residents of East Greenbush, and resign your appointment.