April 30, 2008

Port Authority To Blame In 1993 WTC Attack

A state appeals court on Tuesday upheld a jury's verdict that the Port Authority was chiefly to blame for the 1993 terrorist bombing at the twin towers.

In a blistering decision, a five-judge panel unanimously agreed with a Manhattan judge who last year refused to throw out the jury's 2005 verdict. The jury found the PA ignored years of warnings that the towers were a "prime" terrorist target.

"The jury got it right, the judge got it right, and the appeals court got it right," said David Dean, a lawyer who represented the victims of the attack at trial. "And the Port Authority got it all wrong."

Six people were killed in the February 1993 attack, when terrorists loaded a rented Ryder van with explosives, parked it in an underground garage and took off after lighting a 10-minute fuse. The blast, which packed the power of 1,500 pounds of dynamite, blew a crater six stories deep.

The jury found the PA was liable for 68% of the attack, with the rest being pinned on the terrorists. The PA had faced more than 500 lawsuits, though most have been settled. "We've resolved all but a few dozen of the remaining cases ... and look forward to resolving those, as well," spokesman Steve Coleman said.

April 29, 2008

Wilson High School Hazing

I must admit, I have hazed, and I have been hazed. You see, I was in a fraternity. As anyone who has been Greek knows, hazing is generally part of the pledge tradition. For me, the hazing would involve doing another brother's dishes, making a "Dirty Harry run", getting each brother to sign my pledge book, carrying a brick around for six weeks, etc, etc. Pretty innocuous stuff. And it never crossed the line of criminality.

When the rookie football player is forced by the veterans at training camp to stand up and sing the song of his alma mater, that is hazing. When I was a freshman baseball player, I was forced to carry the equipment. That was hazing. Unfortunately nowadays, hazing has a much stronger connotation. A glimpse of the local newspaper or TV news can tell you that.

In case you've been living under a rock, you've undoubtedly become familiar with the alleged hazing incident involving the Wilson High School baseball team. If you have missed it, three varsity baseball players were charged Friday with various counts of third-degree aggravated sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child after the alleged hazing of junior varsity players.

Even though we don't have details of the alleged incident yet, the quote by New York State Trooper Major Christopher Cummings, “I can’t say I’ve heard of anything that goes to this level”, is very disconcerting. I would think that a NYS Trooper Major has pretty much seen it all.

We're not going to play judge and jury. However, if, and that's a big if, these young men are found guilty of third degree aggravated sexual abuse, they need to go to prison. No youthful offender status, no plea bargains. I'm sick of this "it's just boys being boys" defense. Boys being boys doesn't involve forcibly inserting a foreign object into a younger boy's rectum - allegedly.

April 26, 2008

Roberson Loses Lawsuit

The Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court has unanimously ruled against attorney Bob Roberson and the law firm of Andrews, Pusateri, Brandt, Shoemaker and Roberson in a lawsuit filed against Niagara County and County Auditor Ruth Ohol.

Roberson had appealed after State Supreme Court Justice John Michalski threw out his lawsuit attempting to force Niagara County to release more than $17,000 he believed he was owed while serving as the Sewer District attorney.

Roberson, who was the attorney for the Sewer District until he was fired in January 2006, filed the suit in September 2006 after a lengthy dispute with Ohol.

The decision comes as yet another blow to the law firm, which has seen its cash cow in Somerset come to a screeching halt. Roberson is a law partner of Ed Shoemaker, town attorney for Somerset. Shoemaker had represented Somerset in a lawsuit against the county Industrial Development Agency, trying to overturn the tax break the IDA awarded to AES Corp. for its Somerset power plant. Roberson had also been fired from his position of Town Attorney in Newfane and Shoemaker had previously been terminated from the same position for the Town of Lockport.

In the Sewer District case, the Appellate Court judges ruled that "It is hereby ORDERED that the judgement so appealed from is unanimously affirmed without costs." There was no further explanation, which from what I am told by friends in the legal community, is indicative of the court's complete disdain for the merits of the case.

This lawsuit and its subsequent decision are another reflection of why so many entities have severed their ties with this law firm. I'm sure it's simply a matter of time before others follow suit.

April 25, 2008

To Cap Or Not To Cap

As the Niagara County Leg debates capping the sales tax on gas purchases, here is a perspective from the Poughkeepsie Journal:

With some Republican state lawmakers clamoring for a suspension of the state's gas sales tax this summer, some counties are taking the opposite approach: lifting what they view as ineffective tax caps.

Onondaga County this month dropped its two-year cap on gas sales taxes after an analysis showed customers were seeing no significant savings at the pump compared to other upstate counties. Other counties made similar choices after the state in 2006 let counties put a cap on taxes collected on gas sales. The cap exempted county sales tax on prices more than $2 per gallon, which was intended to lower costs by 4 cents on a $3 gallon of gas.

At the same time, the state capped its part of the sales tax at 8 cents for gas purchases, which lawmakers say has saved New Yorkers about $450 million a year. Yet Rockland County dropped its county cap late last year and other counties, including Schenectady, Orange and Albany, also abandoned a cap after some determined the savings was simply going back to oil companies. "It is clear that the intended savings for Albany County drivers was a windfall for the oil industry," Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners said in a 2006 report.

Initially, 15 counties capped gas sales taxes, but now it's down to only seven. Officials in one of those, Oswego County, say it is considering dropping the cap when the law expires May 30. "What they found was that by and large they were not able to identify that there was the cost savings directly to the consumer," said Mark LaVigne, spokesman for the state Association of Counties.

Other counties, including Westchester and Monroe, never instituted the cap, in part because they said they didn't want to give up the sales-tax revenue.

But some counties plan to keep the gas-tax cap. Chuck Lafler Jr., chairman of the board of supervisors in Seneca County, said the cap helps keep the county competitive with gas sold cheaper on nearby Indian reservations. Also, truckers stop at the county's rest stop near the state Thruway because gas is slightly less expensive, and that helps the local economy, he said. "If we repeal the tax, I feel more Seneca County residents will feel the pinch," he said. In Onondaga County, though, Executive Joanie Mahoney wants to use the revenue from lifting the cap - about $5 million a year - for property-tax relief.

At the state Capitol, some Republican legislators - with a critical election looming in November - are pursuing the crowd-pleasing proposal of suspending state gas taxes, which are at 32.75 cents a gallon, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

While the move might help drivers amid skyrocketing gas prices, doing so would cost the state between $500 million and $800 million - at a time when it is already reeling from the struggling national economy. But Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island, said the gas-tax suspension would make New York's prices competitive with other states and potentially have a positive economic impact.

April 24, 2008

"Plumber-Gate" Stinks Up Lewiston

Recently, Lewiston Town Supervisor Fred Newlin and Councilman Sean Edwards attempted to pass a proposal to create a plumbing board and to license plumbers in Lewiston. The proposed board would administer a test for plumbers working on new buildings and, once passed, would be added to a list of approved town plumbers. A multitude of builders and contractors showed-up at a town board hearing to voice their opposition, and the town board decided to put the idea on hold.

This action begs the question: Why would Newlin and Edwards worry about licensing plumbers in Lewiston, when there are so many other issues to worry about? Also, why did they target only plumbers and not any other trade?

A review of New York State Board of Elections financial statements may hold some answers. Interestingly, three members of the Lewiston town board received $3100 from the Pipefitters & Steamfitters Local 22 Political Action Committee (PAC).

During his 2005 campaign, Edwards received $1400 from this PAC, which incidentally, wasn’t reported to the Board of Elections until 2006. In 2006 and 2007 Newlin received $950 in Pipefitter PAC money, and in 2005 and 2007, Councilman Mike Johnson received $750.

The treasurer for Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 22 PAC is listed as a Michael McNally. Amazingly, the Business Agent for the Pipefitters and Steamfitters Local 22 is none other than Lewiston Town Councilman Sean Edwards, according to their website: www.ualocal22.com.

Did Edwards use his influence to finance his own campaign, as well as that of Newlin and Johnson? Even uglier, did the trio then try to push this "licensed plumber" agenda onto the community? As Ricky Ricardo used to say, "You got some splainin' to do!" In all seriousness, this simply looks bad. With requests for Boards of Inquiry being thrown around quite easily, it certainly appears that this situation needs further review by an outside, independent body.

For more detailed coverage of this story, visit http://www.niagara-gazette.com/archivesearch/local_story_084215435.html.

April 23, 2008

Beilein Appointment Back On Track?

Despite previous reports to the contrary, it now appears that the appointment of Niagara County Sheriff Tom Beilein as the chairman of the State Commission of Correction has been resurrected. Beilein, who had been tapped by former governor Eliot Spitzer to head the commission, was said to have been removed from consideration for the position after it was discovered that Beilein's picture had been prominently displayed in a Wheatfield business that was later discovered to be a front for a prostitution ring.

From what we have learned, State Senator George Maziarz has continued to lobby Governor David Paterson for Beilein's appointment. The two have apparently reached an agreement in which Paterson will move forward with the nomination if Maziarz assures him that the Senate will confirm Beilein. This certainly makes sense, as Paterson would not want to make a nomination on behalf of Maziarz and then have the Senate reject it.

These are certainly positive developments for Niagara County. Anytime one of our own is tapped for a high profile position in Albany such as this is good for our area. We hope the nomination is moved forward and confirmation is not too far behind.

April 22, 2008

Another Power Authority Fiasco

State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is probing allegations that Daniel Wiese, a former top State Police official, used a Power Authority security contract to dig up dirt on the political foes of former Govs. Eliot Spitzer and George Pataki, The Post has learned.

At least "several hundred" individuals were investigated under the contract, and Cuomo's probers are seeking to determine if every investigation was part of legitimate Power Authority business, sources said.

"If a PA contract was used for political spying on anybody, people will be going to jail," a Power Authority source said.

Cuomo's ongoing criminal probe of the State Police - authorized by Gov. Paterson in the wake of the Dirty Tricks Scandal and claims by state lawmakers that they were also targeted - comes as aides to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Rensselaer) were told separately that Wiese used a security contract to target political enemies.

Wiese, who has been suspended as the authority's inspector general, is a one-time State Police colonel and friend of Pataki's and Spitzer's. "We've been told that the contract was used to investigate people perceived as political enemies of former Govs. Pataki and Spitzer," said an aide to Bruno, who was targeted last summer by the State Police in a plot orchestrated by Spitzer and his top advisers.

"We were told by a Power Authority employee who really knows what's going on that, 'When you look at that security contract, you'll really hit the bull's-eye.' "

Investigators are focusing on a $656,000 contract awarded to Suffolk County-based CARCO Group Inc. - a major investigations and security firm once headed by former Police Commissioner William Bratton - on Wiese's recommendation in January 2006.

A Power Authority document shows that the contract was for "background investigation services."

Minutes of an authority meeting show the contract was supposed to be part of a post-9/11 effort to gather more detailed information on potential authority employees, as well as on authority contractors and their employees.

Repeated attempts to reach Wiese, a Pataki neighbor and longtime Spitzer associate who was a behind-the-scenes figure in the Dirty Tricks Scandal, were unsuccessful.

Wiese, stripped of his security clearance and state car earlier this month but allowed to keep his $180,000-a-year salary after the Power Authority received several subpoenas from Cuomo, recently hired a criminal defense lawyer, a source said.

The authority operates 18 electrical generating plants and controls the huge Niagara River/Niagara Falls hydro-electric complex in Western New York.

NY Post

April 21, 2008

Gas Price Woes

It's fun to sit around talking about boards of inquiry or who went to the local massage parlor, even lamenting the fate of Tom Christy. But you know what? When the rubber hits the road, none of it means a damn hill of beans. And despite the fact that those of us who read and participate in blogs and message boards love to do so, the reality is that what is said on sites such as this one is of small consequence.

What does matter is the economy and soaring energy prices. Sure, we watch the news most nights, and yes, they touch on economic news. But now it's starting to hit home for a lot people.

Gas prices aren't only affecting your wallet at the pumps. Everything that is transported will be impacted.

A simple glimpse of a couple of newspapers is more horrifying than a Stephen King novel. Manufacturers were walloped by zooming prices for energy and other raw materials; Lofty energy prices are squeezing businesses' profits and pinching consumers, leaving them with less money to spend on other things; The housing market continued to be stuck in a rut; The weak dollar. Soaring oil prices drove wholesale prices up 1.1% in March from February, the second-largest increase in 33 years.

Even Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke recently acknowledged for the first time that a recession was possible. That was a rare utterance of the "r" word for a Fed chief.

There are some beautiful vehicles on the road right now. The Escalade, the Avalanche, the Tundra, even the new Charger and soon-to-be released Camaro is going to turn alot of heads. Unfortunately, I don't know how anyone who drives significant miles can continue to own a vehicle that is getting 12 miles to the gallon. Actually, I do know how they will be able to afford it: They'll cut back in other places, and that will send a ripple effect through the local economy, especially local restaurants. When times are tough and people start cutting back, entertainment is the first luxury to go.

Having recently celebrated a birthday, my in-laws gave me a check for $50. Sadly, my first thought was, "Woohoo, I've got gas money for part of the week!". Hell, maybe I'll forget about throwing it in the tank and go for a fish fry instead - nothing like living on the edge.

April 18, 2008

Observations

With the announcement of a plea deal taken by the owner of four area massage parlors, Lisa Tsui, it's going to be very interesting to see what Ms. Tsui has to say about her clientele. The case has already impacted some relatively high profile individuals, and one has to think that there are more to come, since we must assume that part of the plea deal includes turning over any and all client information. I'm thinking there's some very nervous husbands in Niagara County right now.

Congressional candidate Jon Powers has apparently erred by using campaign funds to pay for renting part of his residence, a violation of Federal Election Commission rules. Now, at face value, this is not a very big deal. I'm sure Powers will pay back the money. What's disconcerting is, when asked about the rent payments, Powers’ campaign manager John Gerken said it was done in good faith. Huh? He misappropriated campaign funds and it was done in good faith? Mr. Powers is going to need a little but more effective spin doctor as he moves forward.

Senate candidate Joe Mesi (I think it's time to drop the "Baby" from your name, Joe), got quite an in indoctrination into politics just a few hours after announcing his Senate candidacy. Mesi allegedly whacked some guy around in an N.T. bar, but claims to have simply been heading towards the door when trouble broke out. Apparently Mesi figured that he'd find a more formidable opponent at Dwyer's than he ever faced in the ring.

The most humorous news of the day come courtesy of Niagara County Legislator Dennis Virtuoso. He apparently doesn't like the decision rendered by the Niagara County Board of Ethics in regards to County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek, so he believes that the entire board should resign. Maybe Niagara Falls Building Inspector Virtuoso should spend a little more time inspecting unsafe construction sites in Niagara Falls instead of spewing political rhetoric.

Lastly, it's good to see that the FBI has offered their assistance in the assault investigation of the 12 year-old girl in North Tonawanda, and it's good to see that N.T. is accepting the offer. So many times we see police agencies engaging in "turf wars" and not willing to work together for the greater good. Let's hope this tragic mystery is solved soon.

April 17, 2008

Public Sector Heist

Public sector employees wonder why those who work in the private sector are so disgusted with the salary and benefit packages of the public sector union members. And those of us who complain about our property taxes, which I'm pretty sure encompasses most of the State of New York, wonder how the hell our taxes have gotten to such a high level. Well, we're going to give you a pretty good example of how government and the public sector unions have conspired to drive our taxes to such levels. Here you go....

Officer Patrick McDonald — who earned the highest pay ever recorded for a Buffalo cop — has retired from the Police Department, allowing him to receive a pension bigger than most police officers’ annual earnings.

McDonald, who was among the most senior officers in the department, took full advantage of a policy that gives overtime based on seniority. He worked 4,684 hours in 2007 — the equivalent of 12.5 hours a day every day of the year. Overall, the overtime windfall allowed McDonald to earn $119,608, with $51,796 from overtime, in 2006 and $189,456, with $122,774 in overtime, in 2007. It’s those last years that are likely to be the basis of McDonald’s pension.

Neither state nor local officials have calculated McDonald’s actual pension. Based on the number of years McDonald worked, his final years’ salaries and the pension formula, The Buffalo News estimated his pension at more than $100,000 a year.

Many of McDonald’s fellow officers believe that even in retirement, he will never stop working. He will probably pick up more shifts at security guard jobs they say he already has.
Buffalo police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said, “Officer McDonald was a very familiar face in the downtown area. Whether it was Sabres games, festivals or other events in the downtown area, Officer McDonald was always there,” said DeGeorge. “In a lot of ways, you could call him ‘Mr. Downtown.’ ”

Right, Mr. Downtown. Good call, Mike. How about "Mr. I know how to manipulate the system so well, I'm walking out of here with a couple mil of taxpayer dollars"? That seems to be slightly more appropriate.

April 16, 2008

Unified Leg Acts On Greenway Rules

Kudos to the Niagara County Legislature for putting up a unified front in sending a message to the New York Power Authority that this county is not going to continue to be dictated to by interests from Albany.

In rare case of bipartisanship at the Leg, the rules for determining which projects will be funded with Niagara River Greenway money were unanimously rejected. Those rules, or protocols, would have determined how the Power Authority’s $3 million a year is to be spent on recreational and tourism projects. To be approved, a project had to receive six votes of the eight members on the Host Communities Standing Committee. However, any member on the losing side could take the case to arbitration, potentially tying up project funding for years.

While the Leg often gets caught up in the petty politics that is so often Niagara County, this rare show of harmony proves that while they may fight amongst each other at times, it's encouraging to know that they have the ability to come together for the greater good.

April 15, 2008

School District's Attorney Benefits

It's outrageous that school districts in New York are allowing part-time lawyers access to full pension and health insurance benefits on the public dime. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo suspects it's happening in at least 180 school districts, including here in Niagara County. Wisely, he has launched a full-scale investigation that involves issuing subpoenas to more than 90 lawyers.

Because where there's smoke, there's usually fire, Cuomo must not limit his investigation to school districts. He should also look closely at the benefits that towns and villages are extending to their part-time workers. It's simply ludicrous, particularly at a time of budget shortfalls, layoffs and talk of recession, that elected officials are doling out such lavish benefits, but it's hardly surprising.

Cuomo's probe of part-timers included one lawyer who worked for seven school districts and BOCES in one year, and received $700,000 in pension benefits.

Meantime, Robert Koegel, head of the New York Bar Association's municipal law section, insists that giving part-time lawyers state pensions and health benefits is "completely acceptable." Oh yeah? That type of entitlement attitude is exactly the problem.

Along with Cuomo, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is also busy tackling this issue. He is using newly adopted legislation that requires local governments and school districts to better classify who qualifies as an employee.

As DiNapoli pointed out, "pensions are for employees." They should not be used as an extra meal ticket for well-off lawyers.

April 14, 2008

Somerset Legal Billings Questioned

Received via email from Somerset Town Councilman Dan Engert:

Before I lay out the facts of an important issue, I wanted to tell a story to set the stage for what is going on. Suppose that you had a series of roofing jobs that needed to be completed. You went to a contractor and told him that four roofs needed to be replaced and you would pay him an hourly rate to begin. He agreed and began to work on the first roof. After a couple of days, for whatever reason, you as the employer decided that it would be more cost effective if there was a set rate that would cover each of the identical roofs. The contractor agreed to a set rate for each roof and since he knew the scope of the work because he had already started, the agreement seemed ideal.

A few days later, the contractor demanded that he now discovered that the roof was a unique roof and he would not perform any more work unless you agreed to pay him hourly at a rate that was even higher than the original hourly rate he had begun with. The story ends here. What would you do? Would you just agree and pay him what he demanded? Why would he demand a rate that was higher than he first agreed to as the work hadn’t changed at all? Would you be concerned that he would pull the same stunt when he got to the next roof? Would you terminate the agreement because of his lack of integrity to honor your agreement? Why didn’t he discuss the “unique roof” concept before he signed with you? Is he a special roofer and there is no other roofer in existence to treat you fairly? Please read about a true story that is happening right now in Somerset and see if you find any correlations.

1. This year the Board unanimously, agreed to adopt a written Retainer agreement for legal services to increase accountability and cost certainty for the Town. Essentially, the Retainer Agreement sets a flat fee of $2300 per month (fair compensation) that covers all legal services except as authorized for litigation and administrative hearings. Each year previous, the Town had agreed to entirely open ended hourly billing for EVERYTHING. This Retainer agreement clearly was a step in the right direction to attempt to reign in spending in this area and provide more cost certainty for the Town resident’s.

2. The binding Retainer agreement was accepted and signed by the Shoemaker Roberson firm and took effect on April 1, 2008.

3. Meanwhile, the Empire State Wind Energy (ESWE) wind project that the Board had been working on since June 2007 moved along at a very slow pace for various reasons. The HCA document at the center of this project consists of 11 pages (minus cover, etc.).

4. Since receiving the HCA document (6/07), the firm has conducted subsequent research and provided legal advice in the matter. During the period of June 2007 through March 2008 (all pre-Retainer Agreement period), the Town was billed for more than 113.5 hours at a cost of over $14,000 by the Shoemaker Robeson firm for service specifically related to this document.

5. In February 2008, the Board asked two other firms (from Buffalo and Albany) to review and provide opinion on the document in an effort to be absolutely confident on our course of direction for the Town. Both furnished very professional written opinions within two weeks for less than 60 billable hours at a cost of under $9,000. These were subsequently turned over the Shoemaker Roberson firm so they would possess this legal work as well for their consideration.

6. On 4/8/08 the Board (except for Councilperson Gow) voted to pursue the final stages of negotiation on the ESWE HCA as being in the best interest of the Town.

7. On 4/10/08, (within the first 10 days of the new Agreement) the Board was notified by the Shoemaker Roberson firm that they will not perform any further legal service with respect to the ESWE HCA project unless they were authorized to bill the Town hourly at the rate of $175 per hour and further estimated that they would require 2-5 more weeks to complete such service!

8. I AM APPALLED by this action primarily because I believe that, 1) the Shoemaker Roberson firm has demanded from the Town, an entitlement for payment from the Town that is unwarranted and contrary to written provisions of the Retainer Agreement that they assigned and agreed to; 2) the HCA document is largely already written, MORE than 113.5 hours have already been expended and the firm should have a solid basis of experience with it by now. To suggest that 2-5 more weeks billed at $175/hour at this LATE stage in the process is highly questionable! The cost implications are enormous! ; 3) the firm obviously knew it’s expectations for payment on the HCA when they signed the Retainer Agreement, (remember this was ongoing at this time) and thus they should have provided more advance notice of their intentions to bill us separately on it then BEFORE it was signed as a binding contract! The time and place for discussion on this issue was then, not now when this delay can cause irreparable harm to the Town’s best interests!; 4) finally, there is no legal basis for the Board to authorize additional payment to the firm, as the Retainer Agreement is a binding legal contract.

On this issue, Supervisor Meyers and I are both in agreement that the Town should require the Shoemaker Roberson firm to follow the language of the Retainer Agreement which does not provide for an hourly payment on any matter other than litigation or administrative hearings. We believe that the contract should be honored by both and where there’s a dispute, it should be renegotiated when the contract expires! I have expressed my concerns to the other Board members and have not been able to persuade them to reconsider their position which is to treat this as a special issue and pay them what they demand. We are concerned about how many other special legal issues will be questioned or defined by this firm and similar payment arrangements demanded. We ask, what was the purpose of a written Retainer Agreement, which was specifically intended to avoid paying hourly for every single aspect of legal service that is provided the Town? The Board unanimously agreed with this principle and now certain members (Gow, Chaffee, and Wayner) apparently won’t stand by it.

We, as the elected representatives of our Town, have a responsibility to be cost conscious and good stewards of Town funds. Granting special payment arrangements that contradict the agreed upon provisions of a binding contract clearly do not represent an appreciation of this responsibility and furthermore, we don’t believe that there is any legal basis in the Retainer Agreement to authorize additional payments for legal services.

April 11, 2008

School District Budget & State Aid

Don't be surprised if you don't see any members of the Lockport School Board out and about the next few days. You see, there all very busy over there on Beattie Avenue congratulating themselves on the fantastic budget that they plan to present to the taxpayers of the district to vote on May 20. There's only one problem with that: The budget stinks.

The proposed budget for the 2008-09 school year is about $73 million, and represents about a 4.65 percent increase in from the current year’s budget. The district, meanwhile, received about $2.5 million more in state aid, a 6.5 percent increase from last year. With the millions in new found aid, the district is still looking at a tax levy increase below 1 percent. Well, hooray for you. You're getting millions more in aid, and you're celebrating the fact that you're still going to raise taxes? The tax, by the way, that comprises 65% of my overall tax burden.

Are we as taxpayers supposed to feel good about this? Should people be dancing in the streets because we're only looking at a modest tax increase despite the fact that the district received millions more in state aid? This is simply disgusting. There is no regard for the taxpayers. There is no attempt to reign in spending.

We've heard time and time again about our ranking in taxes when measured against property values, but no one talks about the fact that school district taxes are a huge portion the basis for that ranking. God forbid we do, then you're against kids! Perish the thought!! I'm going to go out on a limb and say that over the next day or two, you'll see our local periodical go as far as writing an editorial about what a terrific budget the school board put together. If you gave me a 6.5% increase over what I made last year, my budget would look pretty damn good too. I might even manage to save a few bucks with a 6.5% raise. Not the district though, they'll make sure they spend every last dime of it.

April 10, 2008

County Legislature Needs To Wake Up On Greenway

Sometimes I just don't understand what the members of the Niagara County Legislature are thinking. Quite frankly, my blood is boiling this morning over these ridiculous protocols our friendly legislators are poised to support for spending Greenway money that was part of the NYPA relicensing agreement.

According to today's Buffalo News article, the Power Coalition has developed protocols for spending their Greenway money. It takes six votes of the members to agree that a project is consistent with the Greenway plan. The members are the Power Authority, the county, the City of Niagara Falls, the towns of Lewiston and Niagara and the Niagara Falls, Niagara-Wheatfield and Lewiston-Porter school districts.

Now, getting six municipalities in Niagara County to agree on anything is hard enough. But here's the galling part. If any member who voted against the project doesn't like the ruling, they can challenge it in an elaborate arbitration process.

So, basically, we have just given the New York Power Authority, which never has treated this region particularly well, the opportunity as a voting member of the committee to kill, or at least jam up for long periods of time, any project that they don't like.

What if they just don't feel like spending the money? Challenge the project and hope you win or delay it long enough to kill it.

So, let's say Niagara Falls has a project and it has the six votes needed to spend the money (why other members even need to vote on each other's projects is beyond me), that should be enough. But wait, the know-it-alls from NYPA in Albany or White Plains or NYC or wherever they are hanging their hats decide that they don't like the project. And hence, the inertia that has plagued this community for half a century continues. What I am missing here that would make our elected leaders agree to this?

We are calling on the full Legislature to reject this set of protocols until NYPA's veto power is removed.

To read the full Buffalo News article go to:

http://www.buffalonews.com/cityregion/niagaracounty/story/319884.html

April 9, 2008

Questions Linger At NFMMC

The Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center (NFMMC) children’s mental health services has been slated to close and the unit’s 34 employees received layoff notices in February. The reason for the closure, at least according to NFMMC President and CEO Joe Ruffalo, is the massive monetary losses to the hospital associated with running the department. Ruffalo even made an impassioned speech to the Niagara County Legislature asking for their assistance, and several county legislators from Niagara Falls had sought to give the hospital a multi-million dollar bail out with county funds.

If running a children's mental health services department at NFMMC is so unprofitable, why is Lockport Memorial Hospital (LMH) looking at providing the same services, at the urging of the state? Is LMH that flush with cash that they can afford to assume responsibility for a money losing operation? Ruffalo had stated that NFMMC was losing so much money because the county was too strict with it's Medicaid requirements and too slow in processing the applications. But if LMH takes on the responsibility, the same requirements will continue to be in place and the county will continue to process the applications.

So what gives? We have taken Ruffalo to task before for his game of smoke and mirrors, but it seems that with every passing week, his weave of deception continues to unravel. When are the people of this county going to get a thorough financial accounting of exactly what is going on with this organization? Millions of taxpayer dollars are being sent to NFMMC, primarily state dollars, and Antoine Thompson and Francine Del Monte have been dead silent on this topic.

Two days ago we questioned spending approximately $60,000 in taxpayer money on a conference and some felt we were nitpicking. Well, we're not talking about a few grand here; we're talking about millions. Is it too much to ask for an accounting of what has happened to that money?

April 8, 2008

Beilein Out

As we first broke several weeks ago, it appears that the appointment of Niagara County Sheriff Tom Beilein as the chairman of the State Commission of Correction has been derailed. Beilein had been tapped by former governor Eliot Spitzer to head the commission, garnering a salary of $101,600 per year during his four year appointment. However, Beilein's appointment had taken place prior to Spitzer's resignation and the well-documented escapades of now governor David Paterson. The appointment required the approval of the full state legislature, which had not happened when the Spitzer scandal broke.

It also appears that Beilein is a victim of the scandal involving Coroner James Joyce. Beilein's picture had been prominently displayed in a Wheatfield business which was later discovered to be a front for a prostitution ring. Joyce allegedly has a business relationship with one of the individuals charged with running the ring, Alan Tsui.

This is a sad day for Niagara County. The opportunity for our area to have someone as well respected as Tom Beilein in that position would be very good for our area. It certainly seems that Beilein, obviously through no fault of his own, was a victim of circumstances. We wish Beilein the best and hope that Gov. Paterson will reconsider his decision.

April 7, 2008

Lost In Manhattan

We've been critical of the Greater Niagara Newspaper (GNN) in the past for what we perceive as a lack of "investigative" journalism, so when GNN does a story that requires more than the usual reporting, we want to give them the credit that they deserve. In this instance, we're referring to the story in Sunday's Niagara Gazette which highlighted the expenses incurred by local officials at an annual Association of Towns of the State of New York gathering in New York City in February.

In essence, the story details to a certain extent the expenditures of 37 officials from Lewiston, Porter, Niagara and Wheatfield to attend the function. Niagara sent nine representatives to the event. Lewiston also sent nine, Porter eight and Wheatfield sent 11. The cost of each person was as much as $2,000 per person for, as what Lewiston Supervisor Fred Newlin described as, "the only training that a town official gets in their job." So we're looking at as much as $64,000 to send our local officials to New York City to gain access to various state officials and experts in certain fields.

This is a problem. I could see sending a contingent from the four towns to represent the area, maybe a representative or two from each municipality, but 37 people? Why on earth would the Town of Niagara need to send four councilman? Why would Lewiston need to send it's Assessor Clerk, especially when the Assessor is going? Porter sent it's Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman, ZBA Vice-Chairman and a ZBA board member. Wheatfield sent it's Historian. It's HISTORIAN!

Now, I'm sure all of these people are nice folks. But we're talking about a taxpayer funded trip to New York City for 37 people that is simply a waste of money. I'm sure each of them will trumpet how valuable the trip was and how much they learned from it. Of course, learning is easier when you've had a nice dinner of crab cakes, pasta, cheese cake and a nice cold brew to wash it down, as one Porter Town Councilman did.

We're looking at approximately $60,000 for 37 local officials to spend a couple days in Manhattan. But why does this event have to be in New York City? Are any of these officials who find it so easy to spend taxpayer dollars putting forth any effort whatsoever to have this event in Niagara Falls or Buffalo? Did any of the local leaders who attended the event even have that conversation with the organizers?

Here's another event that would be good for the representatives of the four municipalities to attend: Get together at Tin Pan Alley and figure out how the four towns could consolidate into one. While you're at it, bring in each of your respective Superintendents and consolidate your school districts. Then again, maybe I should be taking that trip to NYC to learn about those monstrous windmills; I might as well be Don Quixote with my suggestion of consolidation.

April 4, 2008

Board Of Inquiry

Several Niagara County Legislators have submitted a resolution for the next Leg meeting asking for a Board of Inquiry into what role Coroner James Joyce had in his business dealings with certain individuals who are now under federal indictment for allegedly running massage parlors as fronts for prostitution activities in both Niagara and Erie counties. While we do not know if the county should or should not move forward with the Board of Inquiry, we do find the reaction to the resolution calling for the inquiry from one Legislator laughable.

Dennis Virtuoso (D-Niagara Falls) stated that Joyce's role "had nothing to do with his position as a coroner. It was another outside interest that he had.” Here's the problem with that statement: Joyce had taken those individuals who've been indicted to political functions and asked public officials to become involved with their business ventures. Joyce had also personally partnered with the individual on business dealings. In essence, it appears that he did use his role as a politically connected coroner to advance his personal business interests.

Virtuoso also stated that the case didn’t bear on Joyce's county duties. While that may be true, I would imagine that Joyce wasn't pitching his offerings while on-call, his nearly 30 years in office certainly afforded him the opportunity to gain significant political influence.

Even Niagara County Sheriff Tom Beilein, who had posed for a picture with Joyce's indicted friends, stated that he did so because Joyce had vouched for the couple. Beilein, after learning that the photograph was hung in a prominent place in their Wheatfield massage parlor, had the photo taken down.

Now, we've given Virtuoso credit before. He is the consummate politician who is very effective in his role as Minority Leader. But don't sit there and tell us that this had nothing to do with his role as coroner, Dennis. This time, it just won't fly.

April 3, 2008

Things Getting Uglier Between Obama & Clinton

While lobbying for his endorsement, Hillary Rodham Clinton flatly told New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that Barack Obama could not win the presidency if he got the Democratic nomination. "He cannot win, Bill. He cannot win," she said, according to a report by ABC News.

Despite her appeal, Richardson ultimately endorsed Obama - which sent Bill Clinton into a purple rage last weekend during a private meeting with California superdelegates. "Five times to my face [Richardson] said that he would never do that," the former president thundered.

One of the roughly 15 superdelegates in attendance told the San Francisco Chronicle, "It was one of the worst political meetings I have ever attended."

Bill Clinton's tirade was triggered when Rachel Binah, a superdelegate who had supported Richardson's campaign, said she regretted that Bill's former top aide, James Carville, had called the governor a "Judas."

Others attending the meeting, assembled hastily during the state party convention in San Jose, confirmed the exchange but tried to soften the description of Bill's anger. It was "very good, very intense," said undeclared superdelegate Christine Pelosi, the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"The word 'tirade' may be used differently out here than in the rest of the country," said Chris Stampolis, who supports Clinton's presidential bid and also attended the meeting. "There was not a single swear word, no screaming, no pounding on anything."

Tirade or not, it was harsh enough for California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres to later call Binah and apologize on behalf of the former president.

During the meeting, superdelegates urged Bill Clinton to approach the undeclared delegates in a more balanced manner, the way he would approach independent voters in an election. "We were all looking around the room like 'this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,' " Stampolis said. "We're having an actual debate - a dialogue - here. I came away very impressed."

After the meeting, Bill Clinton spoke to a larger crowd of California Democrats and advised that everyone needs to "chill out."

In other campaign news yesterday, former Indiana Congressman and 9/11 Commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton endorsed Obama, praising his ability to transcend partisan divides and calling his foreign-policy stance "pragmatic, visionary and tough."

The endorsement adds to Obama's foreign-policy credentials and is especially important because Indiana is one of the few primary states that hasn't yet voted.

Also, Obama said yesterday he would ask former Vice President Al Gore to play a key role in his administration with respect to global-warming issues.

NY Post

April 2, 2008

Dennis Virtuoso Wins The Christy Spin Game

Dennis Virtuoso has once again shown why he is one of the most savvy politicians in Niagara County. Dennis got the Buffalo News to buy into his pro-Tom Christy nonsense hook, line and sinker.

Today's headline in the Buffalo News: "Niagara County Legislature won’t return Christy to cable."

I beg your pardon? Since when does the Niagara County Legislature have any decision making role of whether or not Tom Christy or anyone else appears on LCTV. You can theorize a conspiracy, you can speculate on an organized boycott, you can try to blame Senator Maziarz who I'm sure stopped in the middle of trying to pass a state budget to orchestrate this anti-Christy stuff...yes, you can make all those wild claims but that can't change facts: THE NIAGARA COUNTY LEGISLATURE HAS NO OFFICIAL ROLE IN LCTV.

The News headline is misleading and factually wrong and proves they have taken Dennis' bait and turned this local issue into a county one. I know Prohaska will say he doesn't write the headlines, but even giving this story that much attention is ridiculous since the Legislature is not the governing body.

And the dumbest thing I have ever heard was the rocket scientist from Royalton...deputy supervisor Jennifer Bieber...who will sponsor a pro- Christy resolution at the next Royalton meeting. You can't even get LCTV in Royalton but you're outraged enough to take time conducting the people's business to weigh in.

That's smart Jennifer. Why you are at it, would you please pass a resolution hammering ABC for its failure to get new episodes of Grey's Anatomy on the air since the writer's strike ended. My wife really misses the show and since obviously you have a lot of free time at Royalton board meetings, you're help would be appreciated.

Please Help Judges Put Food On The Table

Once again, New York judges are crying about their paltry $136,000 annual salary, decrying how they are being punished by New York State legislators. Considering gas is now $3.40 a gallon, the rest of us should be so lucky to have the judge's' predicament.

In reading the article below, the audacity of Judith Kaye and others is astounding. Working families in this state are getting pinched at every corner, and Kaye is acting as if judicial pay increases are the most important issue facing the state. Outrageous!!!!

Maybe judges deserve raises and maybe they don't. But given the current fiscal climate in this state, is now the time to be crying? And you can bet we're not talking about two or three percent raises the rest of us are lucky to get. I bet we're talking 20 and 30 percent pay increases.

Kaye gives us the old saw about first year lawyers at big firms making more than judges. Here's my suggestion: Tell your whinny, lazy, work three half-days a week, unaccountable, stuffy compatriots that they knew what the job paid when they ran for it and if they don't like it...gasp....leave the bench to work for the private sector. Of course, the fact that they would actually have to work hard and produce results probably dissuades most of them.

The article....

Kaye presses for judicial pay hike
Chief judge says she'll sue if the state's judges don't get first raise in nearly a decade

By ROBERT GAVIN, Staff writer
First published: Tuesday, April 1, 2008

ALBANY -- Calling it a "shameful" embarrassment, Chief Judge Judith Kaye threatened to sue state leaders Monday if New York's judges don't get pay raises for the first time since 1999. "We have achieved a record -- and it's a shameful, disgraceful record," Kaye, the state's top-ranked judge, told an estimated crowd of 125 at the New York State Bar Association. "Never again should the judges have to endure this."

Kaye, chief of the state Court of Appeals, said first-year associates at large law firms make more money than do seasoned judges. She said New York ranks near the national bottom in judicial compensation. Meanwhile, she noted that federal judges, who make considerably more than their state counterparts, consider their own situation a "crisis."

State Supreme Court judges earn $136,700-a-year, while those at the federal level make $169,200, supporters of Kaye's cause said.

Kaye questioned why state lawmakers have consistently tied judicial pay raises to their own salary hikes, effectively holding the proposal "trapped in Albany politics."

"The legislative pay raises are none of my business," Kaye said. "Let them figure that out for themselves."

Kaye expressed exasperation with state lawmakers constantly telling her they support her cause, only to do nothing. There are proposals in both houses of the legislature to increase jurists' pay, but lawmakers haven't reached an agreement.

Bernard Nussbaum, a lawyer working at zero cost on Kaye's behalf, said he's prepared to argue a lawsuit -- and place Gov. David Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Joseph L. Bruno all on the witness stand.

"Let them explain this hostage-taking," he said.

April 1, 2008

Sommer To Seek Congressional Seat

Niagara Times has learned that North Tonawanda Council President Brett Sommer will be holding a press conference later this week to announce his candidacy for the 26th Congressional seat on the Republican line. Current Congressman Tom Reynolds has announced his intention to retire at the end of his current term. Sommer plans to make his announcement at the Third Ward Club in North Tonawanda.

Sommer, reached by phone last evening by Niagara Times, was noncommittal. "At this time, I am reviewing all of my options", said Sommer. "Obviously the decision to seek a United States Congressional seat is not a decision to take lightly."

Asked if the jump from North Tonawanda Councilman to Congressman was unrealistic, Sommer stated, "Some may say, but should I decide to move forward with my candidacy, I feel that the experience I've gained and the relationships that I've developed will go a long way."

North Tonawanda Mayor Larry Soos was skeptical of a Sommer candidacy. "Brett as a Congressman? Come on, what the hell does he know about dealing with the sub-prime mortgage crisis?"

Sources close to Sommer indicate that this has been a long-time dream of his. "Brett's always wanted to be a Congressman", said one insider who requested anonymity. "He actually has a very close personal relationship with Senator Schumer. They worked together to save the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station during the BRAC hearings."

Okay, no more. Happy April Fools Day. Yes, none of this is true.