Follow Up on the
This is despite the fact that county Democrats
spearheaded a successful drive to gather signatures on a petition
that would subject that very redistricting plan to a public
referendum in November. But the question remains - if the redistricting
plan is subject to a referendum in
November, in what districts will county legislators then run
for office in that same election? The previous plan, under which
the 24-9 Republican majority was chosen in the last election
for the body in 2001, was declared to be unconstitutional by
State Supreme Court Justice Vincent Bradley, who, nonetheless
let it stand for that election.
The Republican majority this year voted in
the new, multi-member district plan that is now under a referendum
challenge. Savago's suit seeks to have this plan be used for
this year's elections. Savago said he is suing to ensure that
an orderly election process is put in place.
But Democrats say the suit is an attempt by Republicans to nullify
voter choice by imposing their chosen plan.
"Let's get this straight This has nothing to do with the
petition," said Savago. "That petition [referendum]
will be on the ballot. All this is doing, is asking the court
to approve the plan that was agreed upon by the county legislature."
That plan was approved in December by a narrow, 17-15 vote -
a two-vote margin in a body where Republicans 15 vote advantage.
County Democrats have been vocal about seeking single-member
districts, in which each citizen votes only for one candidate,
and is represented by one member. In multi-member districts,
by which the county has been governed since the advent of the
legislature decades ago, voters choose from a slate of more
than one, are grouped into larger areas, and, as happened in
the 2001 election to the town of Ulster, sometimes includes
Ulster elected six
legislators from Saugerties and one from Woodstock.
County clerk Randall Roth last week certified
the petitions as valid, thus forcing the plan before voters
to accept or reject. But, as that vote will not be held until
November, there is currently no valid constitutional plan to
elect the county legislature.The attorney for the county Democratic
Party, Josh Koplovitz, said Savago's suit was part of an ongoing
pattern to manipulate the electoral process to benefit the county
Republican party, which has held large majorities in the county
legislature almost continuously since the legislature was first
seated to replace the governing Board of Supervisors in 1968.
The process calls
for new districts to be drawn every ten years, after the census
figures are received, to ensure the one-person one vote principle
is adhered to. Savago's suit seeks to have a federal judge issue
an order that the county legislative plan adopted in December
will govern the 2003 election, even though it has distinct similarities
to the plan Bradley ruled unconstitutional.
Koplovitz said Democrats are likely to petition
the federal court for status as interveners in the lawsuit.
They are also contemplating bringing action in state court,
to force a state judge to rule on a plan to
govern the November elections. Koplovitz said if they decide
to proceed that way, the Democrats will request the federal
judge step aside and allow New York state's legal system a chance
to decide the matter.
A week before that, Olive firefighters put out
a fire that destroyed a trailer in boiceville. Often invisibe
until an emergency happens, Olive's fire department consists of
approximately one hundred twenty residents who volunteer their
time and skills to train and remain prepared to respond at a moment's
notice to such crises.
According to Olive fire chief Tom Planz, however,
it is getting increasingly difficult to attract and keep fire
"The number of volunteers has been declining
over the years," said Planz, speaking from the firehouse
on mill road the day after the barn fire. "The economy is
one reason. People are working two jobs or husbands and wives
each work a job, with one leaving to go to work when the other
returns to watch the kids." In an effort to stave off this
decline, Planz said, he and fire department board members are
hoping voters will approve the implementation of a state endorsed
"Length of Service Incentive Program," which, while
not a pension plan, gives firefighters a monthly dollar incentive
for each year of qualified service.
"The program will not necessarily bring
new members- not many 18 year olds are thinking about pensions-
but it will have an effect on retaining older members and encourage
those that we already have to stay," said Planz. Fire districts
in Napanoch, Woodstock and Ulster, as well as many others throughout
the state, have been operating with the service award program
for over a decade, and, according to Planz, report greater levels
of member retention, including in particular the trained veterans.
Under the proposed plan which is governed by general municipal
law, firefighters could earn a $20 per month benefit for each
year of qualified service up to a maximum of 20 years, or $400
per month, from which they can begin to draw at age 62. But to
qualify, Planz said, they must meet minimum state requirements
earning at least 50 points within a calendar year by attending
district meetings and drills, holding elected or appointed positions,
and responding to at minimum 10 percent of the department's emergency
Planz said the projected cost for the program, based on the approximately
100 members who would be eligible under current guidelines, would
be around $100,000 per year for the first ten years, dropping
to $43,000 annually thereafter. These numbers, Planz said, include
a five year buy back policy that allows an existing volunteer
to receive credit for five years past service once he or she serves
anadditional active year following the start of the program.
To the average homeowner in the town of Olive, Planz said, this
would amount to an additional $1 per month in fire tax payments.
The expense of this program on top of the existing volunteer fire
department budget amounts to a quarter of what a professional
paid department would cost the town, he added.But before voters
can decide whether or not to spend the additional money to provide
volunteer firefighters with a service award pension program, the
Olive town board must pass a resolution approving a public referendum
on the matter.
"The program is on hold until the town attorney
prepares a formal resolution for the town board," said Planz,
who first approached the town board with a proposal for the program
last September. According to Town Supervisor Berndt Leifeld, however,
the paperwork for the referendum is not a simple matter to prepare.
"We have been pushing Peter Graham (the town's attorney)
to come up with the necessary resolution," Leifeld said during
the March 4 town board meeting, "but it is a whole drawn
out legal affair and not quite as easy as the company (who will
underwrite the program) said."
As to when he thought the resolution would be available, Leifeld
said, "I wish we had the resolution by now, but it has not
The least thrifty strategy, which would save $600,000, entails
keeping students in their current schools but reducing staff
through creation of several multi-age classrooms. The fourth
plan is a hybrid, which entails using the Princeton Plan at
West Hurley and Woodstock andmulti-age classrooms at Phoenicia,
with no change at Bennett and a savings of $780,000.
Rowe's presentation was preceded by business administrator Chuck
Snyder's outline of the budget crisis which precipitated the
proposals. Snyder cited unavoidable cost increases such as the
12 percent increase in health care premiums, the rise in required
donations to the teaching and non-teaching employee retirement
funds, and the scheduled debt payment for the construction at
Bennett. These increases would cause a rollover budget-without
any increases in programming-to go up $4.3 million or 11.18
percent, from this year's total of $38 million to $42.6 million,
raising the tax levy by 16.67 percent. A contingency budget,
which would result if the board's budget were defeatedtwice
at the polls, would limit the rise to approximately three percent,
or $1.1 million, with a tax increase of 5.37 percent. The administration,
therefore, is attempting to reduce spending by $3.1 million,
down to the contingency budget level, under the assumption that
higher taxes could not be borne by the voters.
Adding to the crisis is Governor Pataki's threatened state aid
cut of $1,150,000, which may be restored in the final state
budget, but the government has failed, year after year, to finalize
its budget until after the school budget vote in May, leaving
school districts uncertain about how much revenue they can expect.
Another problem, said Snyder, is
the state's new policy to delay paying out building aid until
eighteen to twenty-four months after new construction is completed
in order to solve the state's cash flow problem. This year's
state aid may also be delayed into the next school year. Snyer
urged concerned parents to write to Pataki in opposition to
such tactics, including the proposed aid cuts. "The politicians
don't want to raise [state] taxes, but it's getting passed on
to us at the local level."
Trustee Marty Millman said that when he sat on the board ten
years ago, the budget was $19 million. "Now it has doubled.
Will it double again in the next ten years? When will we stop
the bleeding?" Snyder again pointed to the state government,
which has passed more and more laws mandating programs in schools
but has not funded forty percent of the cost of its mandates,
as promised. "They've never given us more than fifteen
percent," said Snyder.
Another factor is the decreasing enrollment in the elementary
schools, where class sizes have dwindled, in many cases, to
fifteen or less. Rowe's proposals all aim at increasing class
sizes in order to reduce staffing, the biggest expense in the
budget. "One of the things done in the district is to acknowledge
that the desire people have for neighborhood schools is so powerful,"
he said. "We have been willing to maintain that and lose
a lot of our efficiency in the use of space in the schools.
But now it is not possible to maintain low taxes and low class
sizes. We will need to shake the patterns people have fallen
into that make them comfortable."
Trustee Greg Walters asked what would happen if the West Hurley
school were closed, and then enrollments went back up. Rowe
said demographic data collected four years ago indicate that
the elementary-age population will continue to diminish for
at least three years, and the recent enrollments confirm the
accuracy of the projections, although he admitted it may be
time to update the data. Parent Jim Sofranko had pointed out
earlier that post-9/11 migrations from New York City may skew
the figures upward, but Rowe said he was confident the district
would be able to operate comfortably for at least five years
with only three elementary schools. Meanwhile, BOCES may want
to lease the West Hurley school, which would keep it in operation
as an educational facility, enabling the district to re-open
it as an elementary school in the future if necessary.
BOCES has indicated that its willingness to lease the building
would depend on its needs for next year, but Rowe said, "Ever
since I've been here, BOCES has been looking for space. They
may consider us to be in the hinterlands, but I think they'd
Rowe briefly discussed the Princeton Plan. "Some experts
argue that the benefits of K-6 schools are continuity and a
sense of community. Advantages of the Princeton Plan are that
it clusters together more teachers and students with the same
goals and grade levels. It would also reduce the disadvantages
of having kids coming from four different elementary schools.
It would be two different schools and would resolve some of
the problems of the transition to middle school." While
there would be some increase in transportation costs because
of the duplication of bus routes, Rowe did not feel this expense
would be a deciding factor. "We have two hundred kids now
on variances," attending schools outside their designated
school area, he observed.
Board member Meg Carey asked whether variances would still be
available. "There's a good chance we could continue to
have variances," Rowe answered. "It depends on the
balance" of students in each school and whether there is
room in target classes. Board president Marino D'Orazio asked
that parents bring their questions to the two special meetings
scheduled to discuss the reorganization options. The first meeting
was to take place on Wednesday, March 12, at the West Hurley
Elementary School at 7:00 p.m. The second will be on Tuesday,
March 18, at Bennett Elementary School in Boiceville, also at
7:00 p.m. D'Orazio suggested that parents form groups of like-minded
individuals and designate a spokesperson for each group to speak
at the meetings, in order to encourage "an exchange of
information instead of people shouting at each other."
Based on the feedback from the community at these forums, Rowe
plans to recommend to the board which of the four options to
pursue, along with his budget proposal, at the March 24 board
meeting. D'Orazio praised Rowe and Snyder for giving thorough
background information on the plans, saying they had "diffused
a lot of problems I was anticipating."
Barbara Boyce said the staffing portion of her Pupil Personnel
Services budget could not be determined until the board settles
on which of the reorganization options to choose. She has trimmed
non-staffing expenses down to the minimum, with the expectation
that students requiring special education and related services
(academic intervention, homework programs, remedial reading,
etc.) will remain approximately the same. If staffing is not
reduced, her budget total will go from $7,097,000 to $7,274,000,
a rise of 2.49 percent.
Interim director of secondary education Frank Gorleski presented
the instructional budget, which will also be dependent upon
the reorganization decision. The operational portion of his
budget is cut from $171,603 this year to $131,000, a 25 percent
reduction. His proposal would enable summer school programs
to continue but would reduce such expenses as conference attendance,
journal subscriptions, reference books, in service training
for some areas, and school evaluation services.
A lifelong resident of the town of Olive, Shultis
is quick to point out that the store also housed the post office
at one time, making the latestin the day-to-day activities of
sorting the mail and assisting customers, working along side
her coworkers. In fact, her relationship with her team is another
reason for not wanting to retire just yet. "The people
I work with are great," she said. "We have a lot of
fun. I think it's nice when you
get along with the people you work with."
With the closing of the Krumville and Samsonville post offices,
the popularity of shopping over the internet, and the influx
of new home owners over the past 10 years, Shultis has witnessed
a substantial increase in the volume of mail that moves through
Olivebridge. Today, she said, her team handles about 25 feet
of letters and magazines and anywhere from 75 to 100 parcels
on a daily basis, making the larger space at the current location
a welcomed necessity.
While some residents bemoan the new post office's lack of charm
and are already reminiscing about the quaint familiarity of
the previous location, Shultis agrees the old place was "cute,"
but "not if you had to work there." It's a pleasure,
she said , to be able to accommodate parcels without having
to constantly move them around to find things.Shultis takes
pride in the fact that all the mail that is received goes out
the same day. "We try to do a good job," she said
as well as help people as much as possible. As an example of
the extra attention that customers get (not to mention the lollipops
available at the counter), Shultis said, "If we receive
a package that needs to be signed for, we'll call the person
so that they can stop by on their way to work."
One anonymous customer was so impressed, Shultis said, that
he or she surreptitiously hung a laminated certificate in the
lobby of the old building thanking the Olivebridge staff for
being pleasant and never making customers feel rushed."We
go out of our way to give good service," Shultis said,
"and people appreciate it."
Jordan flips aside hangers of various Metallica
and West Coast Chopper shirts to reveal Che Guevara portraits,
Anti-Flag and American Head Change emblems, the latter with President
Bush's face on it. There are also lots of the seemingly requisite
"I'm With Stupid" brand shirts. And leather pants. And
shoes with band and brand insignias. It's your usual mall-oriented
over-supply of product.
"I wouldn't do anything if someone wore a peace T-shirt,"
Jordan says, when asked how the Mall handled enforcement of its
little-known policy to keep "offensive" statements off
people's shirts. "I don't know who would do anything, except
maybe the security guys."
TSX owner Arthur Fine of Shokan, who also keeps a store at Crossgates,
said he'd always thought of America as a free country… but
added that he'd run into similar trouble back when he owned a
T-shirt store in Danbury, CT, where a customer wearing a t-shirt
with obscenities on it took his case to court.
"I urge people to be careful about what they wear in the
mall," he said.
The Crossgates story started Monday evening, March 3, when Stephen
Downs, a 60-year old attorney with the state Commission on Judicial
Conduct, was arrested for trespass after he refused to either
take off a T-shirt sporting the most benign of anti-war messages,
or leave the premises. Downs had bought the offending shirt, and
had the statements put on it, at a mall store much like TSX. On
the back of his shirt was the statement, "Peace on Earth."
Downs' son, Roger, 31 of New Baltimore, also
bought a custom shirt that read "No War With Iraq" and
"Let Inspections Work." Subsequent news coverage of
the arrest, which went international by Tuesday evening, noted
how mall security guards were called by an employee of another
mall store when they saw the two men emerge from the store wearing
their new t-shirts.
Security Guard Robert Williams responded to the call, and confronted
the Downs in the Crossgates Mall food court, where he asked that
they take off their T-shirts, leave, or be arrested. Roger did
so but his father, stating his legal occupation, said he didn't
think he had to. Williams returned with a Guilderland police officer
who arrested and handcuffed
the 60-year old attorney, then spoke with him for an hour asking
Downs "to drop the whole thing and take the shirt off"
according to reports. He was repeatedly told the mall was private
property and what he was wearing was unacceptable, the same as
if he went to someone's home wearing something unacceptable.
"I said it's not the same thing, it's not a good analogy,"
said Steve Downs, who later insisted he wasn't protesting or demonstrating
by wearing the shirt. Guilderland Town Justice Kenneth Riddett
released Downs on his own recognizance and set a return date of
March 17. Two days later, The Pyramid Companies, a Syracuse-based
company that owns 17 malls, countless senior citizen and student
housing complexes, and office buildings throughout Upstate New
York, dropped all charges. But then on Friday, they fired Williams,
the security guard who was originally called in to confront the
Protests of between 100 and 250 people have occurred at the Crossgates
Mall in defense of both Wiliams and the Downs, on three occasions
since March 3. "Mall management determined the customers
in question were violating mall policy," added Earl Wells
of E3, speaking from a car phone in the Rochester area Monday
"Courts have affirmed that shopping malls
have the right to restrict actions and behaviors deemed inconsistent
with a shopping environment.""I've ordered new t-shirts,"
Fine said about TSX. "People are asking for the Give Peace
A Chance shirts. I'm also making Peace Is Not A Crime ones. We
won't display them, but it'll be there," he said. "I'm
pro peace, always have been. But I don't want to upset people."
Aren't you glad we don't have malls here in free-speaking Shandaken?
Vice President Dick Cheney served as Halliburton's
chief executive officer from 1995 to 2000. The company has since
come under heavy pressure because of concerns about its liabilities
and a probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission into its
accounting for cost overruns on construction projects.
At the time Cheney retired as CEO of Halliburton, to run along
side George W. Bush for control of the White House, the company
awarded him a $20 million dollar retirement package, saying it
was their legal prerogative to increase the size of that package
at any time to any amount they desired.
KBR is the exclusive logistics supplier for both the Navy and
the Army, providing services like cooking, construction, power
generation and fuel transportation. The contract recently won
from the Army is for 10 years and has no lid on costs, the only
logistical arrangement by the Army without an estimated cost.
The New York Times noted recently that the government business
has been well timed for Halliburton, whose stock price had tumbled
almost two-thirds in the last year because of concerns about its
asbestos liabilities, sagging profits in itsenergy business and
an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into
its accounting practices back when Vice President Dick Cheney
ran the company.
Halliburton has declined any comment and referred all questions
Defense Department. Meanwhile, Halliburton Co. the world's No.
2 oil field services firm, did announce last week that it has
started a probe involving U.S. and Nigerian government officials
over theft of a radioactive device used at its Nigerian operations.Halliburton
said that it is concerned that the device's radioactive material
could be used to create a "dirty bomb," an explosive
device designed to scatter radioactivity in a densely populated
The device was in a locked storage box that weighs about 200 pounds
(90 kg) and is the size of a small car engine block. The device,
oil detection, was stolen in early December. Halliburton is saying
that its investigation also involves officials from the International
Atomic Energy Agency, which has been involved in recent UN searches
in Iraq. Cheney is still receiving deferred compensation from
Halliburton, but neither the company nor the White House would
specify how large his payment will be this year or how long the
payments will continue.
This is cash that he's already earned. Yet it's also cash that
Halliburton is accruing in part from its activities in Guantanamo
Bay and Afghanistan.