councilman calls for greater oversight as Albany’s Water Board
and Finance Authority proposes to increase rates for the fifth
time in seven years
Albany Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) wants
state Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Albany) and state Assemblyman Jack
McEneny (D-Albany) to introduce legislation that would create
a financial-control board to oversee the Albany Water Board
and Finance Authority. Calsolaro’s move comes after the water
board’s financial advisor recommended the board increase residential
rates by 6 percent, which would equal an increase of $30 for
most average users. This increase would be the fifth rate
hike in the past seven years.
In 2005, state Comptroller Alan Hevesi’s investigation into
the water board found that the board was “very poorly run.”
In 1999, the board had a $1.8 million surplus, but was in
debt $10.7 million by 2004. Hevesi’s findings concluded that
“there were no controls on operating expenses, which have
increased rapidly, growing 34 percent from $12.5 million in
1999 to $16.7 million in 2003. There was absolutely no relationship
between the capital budget and actual capital costs. For example,
three capital projects were budgeted for $205,000 and actually
cost $6 million.” The investigation also found that “water
rates increased 25 percent over just two years, 2002 and 2003.”
Calsolaro said he is outraged by what he sees as the board’s
inability to “straighten out their finances.” Calsoalaro said
he feels one of the reasons the board has to raise the rates
in Albany is because of a $7 million deal it made to lease
the Six Mile Waterworks from the city of Albany in 2003. Calsolaro
insisted, then and now, that the deal was made to infuse the
city of Albany’s coffers with cash to avoid a property-tax
increase. “It doesn’t make for good fiscal management,” Calsolaro
said. “The water board is supposed to be separate authority
and yet it is being managed through the same people.”
The water board now owes the city of Albany $9 million, down
from $11 million. However, in 2009, the city’s annual debt
payments will skyrocket from $3 million a year to $5 million
Breslin indicated to Metroland that he would be receptive
to the idea of an oversight board, and said, “Dominick’s heart
is in the right place.”
McEneny seemed less receptive of Calsolaro’s plan but said
he would consider it. McEneny noted that Albany’s water infrastructure
is simply expensive to maintain. “There were literally wooden
water pipes in it. The infrastructure literally goes back
to the middle of 19th century, and the prognosis is that to
keep up it is a costly system.”
Although he could not be reached for this article, board chairman
Anthony Ferrara has publicly stated that the board has reduced
overtime, personnel and equipment costs for the 2008 budget
by $1 million.
Albany Common Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) is incensed
by the idea of a water-rate increase and insists the Albany
Common Council has let the issue slide for too long.
reasoning for raising rates is to pay off debt; three years
ago they were raised because they were in debt,” said Ellis.
“We need to take a look at that. I think it keeps sliding
under the radar, but we are the legislative body of Albany’s
government, and if we are not prepared to hold a department
accountable for mismanagement, for missteps, then we aren’t
doing our job.”
A public hearing on the proposed rate increase will be held
at the Common Council chambers in Albany City Hall on Tuesday,
Feb. 5. Any change in rates likely would not occur until mid-March.
a Wide Stance for Privacy
years ago, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that
people who engage in sexual activity in bathroom
stalls “have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Armed with that ruling, the ACLU has filed a brief
in support of Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). Craig
was charged this past summer for inference with
privacy after allegedly soliciting sex from an
undercover officer in a bathroom in the Minneapolis
airport. The ACLU is arguing that the state cannot
prove that Craig’s sexual advances would have
drawn other people’s attention or otherwise been
a public nuisance.
Year Older, None the Wiser
a tour of Guantanamo Bay, the chairman of the
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen,
told reporters that he would like to see the controversial
prison shuttered. Mullen was touring Gitmo just
days after the prison rounded its sixth year in
operation. Apparently, the new chairman recognizes
the probable damage caused to America’s reputation
by the string of suicide attempts, hunger strikes,
and prisoner deaths at Gitmo. “I believe that
from the standpoint of how it reflects on us,”
he told the reporters, “that it’s been pretty
damaging.” However, he added that he is not aware
of any plans to close the prison.
presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)
has said in recent weeks that he is suspicious
of the New Hampshire primary vote because of “credible”
reports he has heard that early hand-counted totals
favored Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) while the computer
count went in favor of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Polls had put Obama in a double-digit lead. This
Wednesday, Kucinich put his money where his mouth
is and paid to start a recount of ballots. Kucinich
only garnered about 2 percent of the vote, and
does not expect his total to get any better during
Tuesday the New Hampshire Republican Party sent
out a press release that read, “In a close-fought
victory, Senator John McCain succeeded again [in]
the Michigan Republican primary, winning over
a traditionally unpredictable voter base in Michigan.”
The problem was, he did not win. Mitt Romney,
Michigan’s native son, did.
You’re Not Telling Me?
North Greenbush Town Board transition team made its recommendation
for appointments, and Charles Smith wants to know who was
on that team
No time was wasted this year before the Freedom of Information
requests began to fly in North Greenbush.
Charles “CB” Smith, longtime Rensselaer County gadfly and
North Greenbush Democratic Committee member, has lodged a
formal request for information regarding the makeup of the
transition team that made recommendations to the town board
about recent appointments.
had a transition team with input from about 10 or 12 people,”
says Supervisor Mark Evers, “with four people who were the
decision makers. But, ultimately, the board is the one who
acted on the recommendations, and appointed people into the
positions. And we did that in public, at the organizational
The transition team went through resumes and made recommendations,
but, Evers said, “it is obviously the five board members that
makes the final decision.”
Although the work of the transition team had an apparent impact
on the town, Evers said that the names of the members of the
team are a private matter. Smith, along with former town attorney
Josh Sabo, wonders why the names of the transition team aren’t
being made public.
question is: who are they?” Smith asked. “Where is [Evers’]
sense of responsibility to open government? Two years ago,
he put out a press release with his fellow councilmen announcing
his transition team. There was transparency. What has changed?
What is he hiding? Who is he hiding? That’s a better question.”
Smith listed the names of people he speculates could have
been on the team: F. James Germano, whose son, Anthony, was
appointed to the planning board; J.R. Casale, the contractor
to whom North Greenbush is still in debt for Water District
14; and Jack Casey, the chairman of the Rensselaer County
are the geniuses that recommended the hiring of an attorney
with a criminal record?” Smith asked, referring to the hiring
of Joshua Ehrlich to prosecute cases in the town court. Ehrlich
had his driver’s license revoked after a 2006 Driving While
Intoxicated conviction. “I think an attorney with a criminal
record is a serious offense to public sensibilities and the
integrity of the judicial system.”
Ehrlich is a very well-respected,” Evers argued. “He is a
highly qualified attorney with a lot of experience.”
But the lack of transparency on the transition team speaks
to a culture of secrecy at Town Hall, which, Smith said, rewards
at David Soares,” Smith says, referring to the Albany County
District Attorney, “fired the next day a prosecutor who was
simply arrested on a drunk- driving charge. Fired him! He
didn’t wait for the deposition. In North Greenbush, you have
an attorney convicted on this charge, and you put him on the
town payroll to prosecute crimes?”
Hiring Ehrlich was clearly political, Smith argued.
told you to hire this guy, Mr. Evers?” Smith asked. “Who’s
pulling the strings?”
could be your classic rags-to-riches story: Persistence pays
off. Keep at it, and eventually you will prosper. Don’t stray
from your goal. Make a plan, and stick to it.
Or so the Times Union would have you believe, in the
story of Jacklyn Lyte and the $18 million Lotto jackpot she
collected on a ticket she bought Dec. 4.
Twice a week, Lyte spent $2 on Lotto tickets; never more,
never less, always at the Nite Owl News in Troy, near where
she works. On Dec. 4, her ship came in.
twice a week equals millions,” the Jan. 6 TU headline
pronounced. “Persistence pays off for Latham woman announced
as winner of $18 million Lottery jackpot,” the subhead continued.
The story, by Jordan Carleo-Evangelist, opened with the sentence,
“Jacklyn Lyte was a creature of habit when it came to playing
the lottery.” However, Carleo-Evangelist did not write or
infer that Lyte’s persistence in adhering to her weekly ritual
somehow increased her chances of winning, and did not paint
a picture of diligence rewarded.
It was the editors who wrote the headline and subhead who
painted that picture, and they should know better than to
mislead their readers with such faulty logic—and in the process,
perhaps, encourage people to spend more money on lottery tickets.
Even the smaller-stakes lottery games in which frequent play
is more likely to yield an occasional payoff do not reward
persistence, because the odds of winning more than you spend
always favor the house. And the number of tickets you’ve bought
in the past has no bearing on your future chances; the odds
of winning the Lotto jackpot are so minuscule that even a
long-term plan of spending $4 a week on tickets does not significantly
increase one’s chances of someday striking it rich. Each drawing,
the odds are roughly the same: one in a freaking mega-million.
When Jacklyn Lyte hit the jackpot, the reason was the same
as when a one-time player strikes gold: blind luck.
To portray Lyte’s good fortune as the TU did promotes
two troublesome falsehoods: (1) that playing the Lotto on
a regular basis somehow brings you closer to that big payoff;
and (2) that there is virtue in doing so.
Congratulations to Jacklyn Lyte; may she spend (invest) her
windfall wisely. To the TU headline writers: She got
lucky. That’s all.
loose ends this week-