say that Rensselaer County is paying too much for poorly maintained
It’s not a difficult question, really, said Kathy Wright:
Would you sign a five-year lease, agreeing to pay above-average
rental rates, to remain in a building that has been in a decade-long
struggle against disrepair, with a landlord who appears uninterested
in fixing the leaking roof and faulty urinals?
So why, asked Wright, an organizer with the United Public
Service Employees Union, would the majority in the Rensselaer
County Legislature pass a resolution authorizing county executive
Kathy Jimino to enter into a contract to renew the county’s
lease of the Raddock Building in downtown Troy? Since at least
1994, the county’s Department of Social Services workers,
whose offices are located in the building, have complained
about the Raddock’s crumbling infrastructure and shoddy maintenance.
One group of DSS workers said that the aging roof is prone
to leaks, and Albany Management, the building’s owner, is
notorious for taking an exaggerated length of time to respond.
One leak, workers informed Metroland, took more than
two years to fix.
There are other issues, as well: a faulty HVAC system; aging
elevators prone to failing; and overall poor maintenance,
which is the responsibility of Albany Management. Simple tasks,
the employees said, like cleaning shit off the floors or the
spit off the walls or stocking the bathrooms with toilet paper,
are routinely ignored. Wright’s favorite example of lazy maintenance
is a phone book sealed to the floor because the cleaners didn’t
sweep before waxing.
According to the union, roughly 80 workers in the building
have signed a petition asking the legislature to address their
are not siding with the Democrats, and we are not siding with
the Republicans. We are siding with our members,” the majority
of the 140-plus employees of the county Social Services Department
who work in the Raddock, Wright said. “We are asking that
this legislature find an alternative location.”
It is a difficult task to find the necessary 30,000 square
feet in downtown Troy, the majority argued.
If relocating the offices to a new location proves prohibitive,
Wright countered, then UPSEU is asking that the county enter
a “short-term lease with the Raddock Building, with mechanisms
built into that lease to give the department the leverage
they need to put pressure on the landlord to maintain that
building the way they should.”
At the legislature’s monthly meeting Tuesday, the Republican
Majority, headed by Bob Mirch, voted unanimously to allow
the county to extend its five-year lease with Albany Management
for $3 million.
The Democratic minority, predictably, broke from the Republicans.
Mirch wondered why the union waited until the last minute
to raise concerns about these issues. “There are problems
everywhere. Certainly after 14 years, why would the union
come here tonight, the night we are supposed to vote on a
resolution, and ask us to find another location?”
He dismissed the union’s complaints as political pandering
to the Democrats.
The Democratic minority argued that the county has allowed
this lease to continue due to a number of issues, including
a lack of foresight by the county executive to begin the process
of relocating the department, as well as a general “business
as usual” mentality that allows millions of dollars to be
“wasted” on an overpriced, underserviced contract.
The minority also argued that perhaps Albany Management is
being given a pass on this because of the relationship of
its parent company, Labarge Industries, with Republicans in
the county, many of whom, they said, have received campaign
Randy Hall, acting commissioner of social services for Rensselaer
County, however, said that the union and minority have painted
a picture that is “not entirely accurate.”
is a large commercial building,” Hall said, with “a lot of
use. It gets dirty. There are some issues. But we deal with
Albany Management on a daily basis . . . and they have to
respond.” He claimed that, if Albany Management fails in the
future to maintain the building, it is within the county’s
right to terminate the lease.
legislature has politicized this, and that’s not what it is
about,” Wright said. “This is about the employees. This is
about the environment they work in, and it appears to me that
along the way that has been forgotten.”
first U.S. war crimes trial in half a century
came to an end this week with mixed results. The
man on trial, Osama bin Laden’s former driver
Salim Ahmed Hamdan, was found guilty of supporting
Al Qaeda but found not guilty of conspiring with
bin Laden to commit terrorist attacks. Hamdan’s
trial was the first in what will likely be a series
of military trials of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Although he was partially acquitted, Hamdan still
faces up to life in prison. Representatives of
the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized
the Bush administration for starting the military
trials with “a marginal figure” such as Hamdan.
Hilton returned fire on the presumptive Republican
presidential nominee John McCain this week by
releasing a YouTube video mocking a McCain campaign
TV spot. Last week the McCain campaign launched
an ad that compared Barack Obama to Paris Hilton
and Britney Spears. Not only did McCain’s ad anger
Hilton’s parents, who are large donors to the
McCain campaign, it garnered a video response
from Paris herself. The video features—in mock
campaign-spot style—Hilton lounging in a pool
chair, offering her solution to the energy crisis.
And frighteningly, taking herself seriously for
two minutes before gleefully spouting the line,
“I’ll see you at the debate, bitches!”
perhaps one of the most off-color campaign stops
ever, John McCain paid a visit to the Sturgis
Buffalo Chip biker gathering in North Dakota this
week. The event, which featured Foghat, Kid Rock
and Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Hawaiian Tropic girls,
and women’s oil wrestling, also plays host to
the “Miss Buffalo Chip” pageant. While addressing
the rowdy crowd, McCain suggested he might have
a late entrant. “You know I was looking at the
Sturgis schedule and saw that you have a beauty
pageant and so I urged Cindy to compete,” announced
McCain to catcalls and hoots. “I told her with
a little luck she could be the only woman ever
to serve as the first lady and Ms. Buffalo
Times Union’s latest online database is forging new
ground, and drawing sharp criticism
Union editor Rex Smith was expecting blowback. This week,
the TU launched a searchable online database that makes
the salaries and job titles of all 375,000 employees of the
state readily available to the public. It was a move that
many other newspapers in the state have taken, and similar
to trends seen throughout the country. In his weekly column,
Smith compared the release of the database to strapping on
a pair of boxing gloves.
He dismissed some of the flimsier attacks offhandedly.
If the TU wants to publicize the salaries of the state
workforce, to invade their privacy, many of the TU’s
critics have asked, would Smith be willing to publish the
same information about his workforce?
First off, he said, that’s not his decision to make—he has
bosses, too. But, further, the comparison just doesn’t add
up. The TU is owned by a private company, obviously,
and the state is public.
voluntarily pay for the newspaper, therefore they become customers
of a private enterprise,” Smith said. “We are not voluntary
customers of the state of New York. And that is why we have
the rights to see those numbers.”
is what online journalism is about,” he continued. “Producing
data that really puts the content into the hands of the people.
Journalism is not as much one-way street anymore. It is interactive.
And we are increasingly able, because of the Internet, to
give people raw data that enables them to do their own analysis
and make their own judgments.”
Of course, most of the criticism leveled at the TU points
to the fact that most people are not analysts, and they do
not have the proper framework with which to understand the
data. As one commenter on Smith’s blog put it:
one reason this does Joe tax payer no good is that they have
no idea what the people in these titles do. If you compared
the pay these workers get to what private industry pays its
non-day-shift employees, you would realize how under paid
they are. You will never get a true understanding of where
your tax dollars are going to by knowing my title or my salary.”
Another commenter built on this theme: raw data without context,
though titillating, is otherwise pointless. “What does knowing
what an individual rank and file state employee makes tell
anyone about what government spends? Absolutely nothing. This
information was basically legalized voyeurism of the worst
Does the average person, critics asked, have the tools to
use this information?
don’t think we want to be saying, I don’t think Metroland
wants to be saying, that people aren’t smart enough to handle
this information, therefore they shouldn’t have it,” Smith
continued. “It is an unsupportable position.”
Another stream of criticism leveled at the TU relates
to its decision to make public the names of all the employees.
Why didn’t the TU demonstrate discretion is choosing
which employees to disclose? Perhaps the paper could have
withheld the names of the employees in the low-tier pay scale?
They are working schlubs, say critics, who are not in a position
to actually abuse the system.
think that is true of the vast majority of the people on the
payroll,” Smith said, “they are simply there doing their jobs
and they are not high-income people. They are not policy makers.
But by having names on the payroll, you will find those people
who are deriving a small amount of income and therefore being
kept in the state pension system. There are people who are
on the payroll at very low dollar figures because of their
particular political connections.”
A quick search by Metroland turned up Rensselaer County’s
Bob Mirch. The well-employed Mirch, along with his job with
the city of Troy and on the Rensselaer County Legislature,
makes, according to the TU’s database, a biweekly salary
of $1,260.84. If the TU had only released his title—constituent
liaison—and salary, it would have been impossible to draw
the valuable insights from that anonymous data that a reader
can draw from knowing that the liaison is, in fact, Mirch.
have the opportunity to put information in people’s hands.
And that matches the Jeffersonian approach to democracy,”
Smith said. “It is an opportunity to say journalism is not
only an authoritarian allocation of information by the powerful
media. It is using the media to put information into the hands
of citizens. Information that has been heretofore held in
the file cabinets of government without the real opportunity
for people to access it.”
financial aid vetoed by the governor, Albany confronts a budget
deficit and possible layoffs
With a bill that would have provided millions of dollars in
annual payments to Albany vetoed this past week by Gov. David
Paterson, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings has been forced to air
the city’s financial dirty laundry in public. Jennings recently
told the Times Union that, with an estimated $14.7
million deficit looming over the 2009 budget, the city will
have to take a serious look at layoffs.
Common Council President Pro Tempore Richard Conti (Ward 6)
called for unity between the Albany Common Council and the
mayor’s office in coming up with solutions to the financial
crisis, pointing out that heretofore there has been a lack
of solidarity on financial matters.
and others raised concerns over the past years that we need
to deal with the expenditure side of the budget, that we needed
to deal with what was clearly a building financial challenge,”
said Conti. “If we had dealt with some of these issues earlier,
the decisions would have been easier, but still difficult.
But now we are starting at a crisis point in trying to close
this year’s operating deficit.”
The vetoed bill would have provided $5.5 million this year,
and $11 million in successive years, in payments to the city
in lieu of taxes for the state-owned Harriman Research and
Technology Park in Albany. The park is managed by the Harriman
Research and Technology and Development Corporation, subsidiary
of Empire State Development, a state agency tasked with improving
the state’s economy. And as such, the campus is not on the
Albany tax rolls. The hope is that Harriman campus will become
an economic engine and be inhabited by technology-focused
But as Conti pointed out, the city of Albany still provides
the campus with services that cost the city money, and he
did not think it was unreasonable for the city to ask for
payment in lieu of taxes for Harriman. He noted the PILOT
money for Harriman was not guaranteed and the city was not
basing its financial future around the payments.
However, without the payments, the gaps in the city’s budget
have become more daunting.
Conti said that it would take a 30- percent property-tax increase
to cover the 2009 deficit and an even higher increase to cover
the projected deficit for 2010—a financial burden, Conti said,
Albany’s citizens cannot bear.
is no easy way out of this,” said Conti. “This is going to
require real cooperation and working together. If we can all
buy in, it will be easier than if we begin saying, ‘whoops
we can’t do that’ and pointing fingers.”
Albany Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) agreed
that the council and mayor will have to come together to properly
address the problem, but added that with the treatment he
received last year when he offered two solutions to a financial
problem he saw looming, he wonders if Jennings will be open
do all need to work together,” Calsolaro said. “But when a
councilman makes suggestions that we need to eliminate unfilled
positions or charge more for the use of a golf course, the
council member shouldn’t have been called crazy. We now have
to do what I proposed a year ago. I made suggestions to WRGB
news and the mayor said he didn’t have to listen to my suggestions
and that I am crazy.”
Calsolaro said he is “impressed” with the ability the Jennings
administration has shown for squandering budget surpluses
and not planning for the future.
He said Jennings is complaining now about the city’s salary
and health-care costs, costs that are part of contracts Jennings
negotiated without any outside input.
Last year Calsolaro suggested eliminating unfilled positions
from the budget as well as reducing city borrowing by 5 percent.
He further proposed raising fees for the city-owned golf course
so that the city would break even on the venture.
And while Calsolaro clearly is annoyed that his ideas were
blown off last year, he said that he still thinks he and his
fellow councilmembers should be doing more to rein in spending
by voting against bonding issues that increase the city’s
Calsolaro said in the coming months he would like to see a
citywide audit. “We need to have a government audit to see
what we can do. Maybe we need to look at the whole way the
city operates to see what consolidation needs to be made.
We need to get together with the administration. This is going
to be a long process, and it’s not going to be fixed over
night or in the 2009 budget.”
loose ends this week-