January 29, 2009

GOP Better Watch Their Back With Lewis

Now that Greg Lewis has pretty much signaled to all of Niagara County that he'd rather be somewhere else as he pursues a county manager job back in Minnesota, we are sending up a warning shot to the Majority Caucus, particularly the GOP members: Watch your back.

You see, Greg Lewis was brought to Niagara County when the Democrats had the Majority of the Niagara County Legislature. Dennis Virtuoso and Renae Kimble really drove the process to land him and in spite of the GOP Majority that took over in November 2003, Lewis has always been more loyal to the other side....adhering to the old saying, "dance with the one who brung ya."

Lewis himself is a proud and partisan Democrat. During his nearly six year tenure here he has never made any effort to work with Republican State Senator George Maziarz even though a good relationship with the state would be very helpful to the county. Some sources have told us that Lewis has never, ever set foot in Maziarz' office.

Lewis embarrassed himself (ok he regularly embarrasses himself) when it came to light that he was a donor to the Barack Obama presidential campaign, even though he is supposed to be a non-partisan leader. While we say he can back anyone he damn well chooses in the voting booth, he lost a lot of credibility by crossing into partisan politics -- something that is considered a no-no in the professional world of county managers.

So, now that Lewis has one foot out the door, he has even less reason to show any kind of loyalty to the Majority and can be expected to do all he can to undermine them before this November's elections. Just look at how he has tried to control Homeland Security $$$ in the hopes of creating a position that he could fill with an old crony.

Just look at how he announced a huge tax increase in the middle of the election season last time even though that tax increase was never going to pass the Legislature.

Don't forget how he submarined the Leg on the AES Pilot, the one time he hid from the cameras, took no position and left the Legislators hanging out to dry even though they have been proven right on the PILOT deal.

So, to the rank and file Majority Caucus members: Don't be fooled by those whispering in your ear that Lewis needs to stay. Don't make the same mistake Bill Ross and Mal Needler made when they thought they could trust Lewis and gave him a new contract.

He has shown his true colors...you should show him the way out of town.

City Taking No Prisoners In War On Blight

City of Lockport Judge Tom DiMillo gets a rousing thumbs up for his recent fine of an absentee landlord who has refused to make the required repairs to a rental property. DiMillo hit the delinquent rental property owner with a $12,000 fine this week in housing court.

A big thumbs up also goes to prosecutor Matt Brooks. Brooks said he hopes the fine — by far, the largest ever levied in Lockport housing court — sends a message to other property owners who would “abuse the system” by playing the monthly appearance game but not making required repairs. We could not agree more.

The city of Lockport is a beautiful, historic community. That being said, the number one problem in the city is blighted housing. The teamwork of Mayor Mike Tucker and the Common Council, who after years of neglect finally gave the Building Inspection an acceptable number of bodies to work with, the Building Inspection Department personnel, DiMillo and Brooks cannot be overlooked. They have set in motion the policies and procedures to address the blight in a manner which has never been seen in the city.

Urban renewal ensured that most cities, including Lockport, can never return to the glorious days gone by. But that doesn't mean that it can't be an excellent community to raise a family. Cracking down on the scumbag slumlords is a huge step in the right direction. Keep up the good work, it's being noticed.

January 28, 2009

Despite Contract, Lewis Looks To Get Out

We've made no secret of our dislike for Niagara County Manager Greg Lewis. He thinks he is a county executive, running the county like a little fiefdom. He has shown utter disdain for the taxpayers, the unions, the legislators, the department heads and anyone else who would dare to question his authority, including the local newspaper, radio station and cable TV.

We have been critical of both Lewis and the county legislature for their respective handling of Lewis' open job search while under contract with Niagara County. It has been our belief that Lewis showed blatant disregard and disrespect to those who have placed their faith in him, including the residents of the county. He has never committed to the future betterment of this county, only looking for what he believes to be his next opportunity. The legislature, apparently incapable of seeing Lewis' lack of commitment to our area, simply let Lewis' job search go on while wallowing in uncertainty.

Lewis had said that he wanted to stay in Niagara County, but needed to look for a new position because the Leg wouldn't extend his contract at the exact moment that he wanted it extended. He needed the stability of a new deal. Many of us can recall him going on LCTV wearing a very large "I 'Heart' Niagara" button, his way of making some sort of statement about his supposed commitment to Niagara County. The Leg apparently bought into this propaganda and rewarded him with a new four-year deal with a hefty raise.

Lewis was hired in May of 2003 after a similar stint in Minnesota. He's often talked fondly of Minnesota. Apparently, he wants to go back to Minnesota.

In a stunning development, Niagara Times has learned that Lewis has been actively seeking employment while under the guise of being committed, and under contract, to Niagara County. The below press release, found on the St. Louis County (MN) website, states that Lewis is one of five finalists for their position of County Administrator. The release states that Lewis first applied for the position in August of last year, not long after he was given the sweetheart four-year deal from the county legislature. He then recently re-applied for the job. Lewis was to have interviewed for the position just two weeks ago, while on the payroll of Niagara County, as he did during the last round of his search for the next best thing.

Enough is enough. Lewis obviously does not want to be here. This is just one position that we know of that he has applied for. Who knows how many more there are? How long is the county legislature going to allow Lewis to make them look so foolish?

These are extremely difficult economic times. We demand someone who is committed to guiding this county through these challenges, now and into the future. That person is not Greg Lewis. If he doesn't want to be here, fire him. Now.

People often say that government should be run more like a business. Well, guess what: his behavior would never be allowed in the private sector. It's called disloyalty, and it's grounds for immediate dismissal. It's time for the legislature, the employer, to get its tail out from between its legs when dealing with Lewis. Dump him and send him back to Minnesota on your terms, not his. We deserve that much.
(Click to enlarge)




January 27, 2009

What Am I Missing on CWM?

While I will never be accused of being the greenest crayon in the crayon box, I believe I share the the majority viewpoint in this community that we do not want hazardous waste from other parts of New York State dumped in our county. That's an easy one.

But at the same time, I've become perplexed by the complete knee-jerk reaction of so-called environmental activists to anything put forth by CWM -- Amy Witroyl I'm looking in your direction.

CWM is looking at using the latest science for capping its current landfill. It has scientific backup that says this is safer for the community. As a result of the cap, the landfill would gain some extra capacity.

The extra capacity issue has been seized on by the usual suspects to rail against this new cap. I believe that's ridiculous. If you want to be against CWM's plans for a new landfill, have at it and I might join you.

But being against better science that actually provides better protection for our community is just plain stupid. It shows that some people are more interested in the politics of the CWM issue than doing what's right --- again, Amy, I'm looking at you.

We're going to stay on top of this CWM stuff going forward, calling out both sides. It's time that science rules the day on this issue.

January 26, 2009

Priority One: Amend the Constitution

Some may say that the priorities of our elected officials are out-of-whack. Of course, no one has said that about the administration of The Savior, Barack Obama; he's going to cure everything that ails us. Why then is one of the first acts of Congress being presented under The Chosen One to repeal the 22nd Amendment of the Constitution? The following is the actual text:

111th CONGRESS/1st Session

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the twenty-second article of amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as President.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

January 6, 2009

Mr. SERRANO introduced the following joint resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary

JOINT RESOLUTION

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the twenty-second article of amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as President.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years after the date of its submission for ratification:

‘Article--

‘The twenty-second article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.’.

January 23, 2009

Number One

Paul Blart, Mall Cop is the number one movie in America. As I often say, never underestimate the stupidity of the American people. Thank you all for reinforcing my point.

January 21, 2009

Paterson Waffles

One really has to wonder where Governor David Paterson's head is at these days. He's proposed a horribly misguided budget, showed no leadership ability whatsoever once the Dems took over the State Senate and now has completely screwed up the selection of a successor to Hillary Clinton.

Just this week Paterson had said that he has a good idea of who he'll pick, but within 24 hours said, “I'm not totally sure who I'm going to appoint yet.”

Is Paterson playing games or is he that incapable of making a decision? Let me give you a little hint, Dave: no matter who you choose, you're going to piss someone off. Quit being a coward and make a selection.

Paterson is supposed to make a decision within the next couple of days. Meanwhile, everyone and their mother continue to lobby for the seat. While the slew of wannabes lobby to fill Hil's seat, critical work that should be done for the betterment of this state is being neglected.

With all of his misgivings, one thing that could never be said about Spitzer is that he wavered in his decision-making. Believe me, I don't want Client 9 back, but Paterson is making the Cowardly Lion look brave. Stop the bullsh*t and get on with the people's business. With the top ten highest taxed counties in the country all being in New York State, we can't afford anymore posturing.

Of course, maybe that's part of Paterson's strategy; if he distracts the people by drawing out this selection process, maybe they'll forget just how massive of a financial crisis we have on our hands. Nah, now I'm just being cynical.

January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

I remember when George Bush spent $42 million in private funds for his 2005 inauguration. What an outcry there was. Now, four years later, and in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Barack Obama is going to spend $170 million for today's festivities. And no one is saying a work. Why? Because it's an historic event. It's simply amazing what the human mind can justify under the right circumstances.

Despite this, I'm looking forward to today. No, I didn't vote for Obama, but I know that when I wake up tomorrow, all of the world's ills will be cured. On January 21, say goodbye to world hunger. Adios to global conflict. The financial crisis that has gripped our country will simply disappear. My 401(k) will suddenly quadruple overnight.

The local economy, so heavily influenced by the auto industry, will see Ford, Chrysler and GM once again on top of the world. Our taxes will be slashed. None of us will have to pay for health insurance again.

Tongue-in-cheek aside, the notion that a man named Barack Hussein Obama could be president of this country on September 12, 2001 is as far fetched a notion as any ever conceived.

However, the policies that George Bush enacted kept our country safe and paved the way for Obama's ascension to the White House. You may have not liked how he got there, but there's no denying the results. If there had been another terrorist attack closer to 2008, there is no way that Obama wins. In fact, there is no way that he is even a viable candidate.

When Obama gives his acceptance speech today, he should not exclude the one person who held this country tight and kept it safe, allowing Obama to enjoy this "historic" day: George Bush.

January 19, 2009

Pricey Partisan Victory Lap

New York is in the midst of a budget crisis. Arguably, in fact, broke. So broke that Governor David Paterson wants to raise taxes and fees 137 different ways. That’s why we find news that reached us from a friend who works in state government quite galling.

It seems that Deborah VanAmerongen, Paterson’s Commissioner of Housing and Community Renewal (who he inherited from his disgraced predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, who inherited her from Andrew Cuomo’s HUD), sent out the email quoted below to Department of Housing and Community Renewal personnel:

>>> Deborah VanAmerongen 1/14/2009 1:12 PM >>>

"Next Tuesday, January 20, Barack Obama will be sworn in as our nation's 44th president. To mark this truly historic event, I have arranged to have the inaugural ceremony broadcast in our Hampton Plaza, Beaver Street and Gertz Plaza offices. The event can be viewed in the Hampton Plaza ballroom, the 5th floor conference room at Beaver Street and the 6th floor lunchroom at Gertz Plaza, beginning at 11:15 a.m."

Now, we’ll concede that the inauguration is an interesting event. And no doubt some government employees would like to watch it. However, what we can’t quite grasp is why, in the midst of what Paterson & Co. have portrayed as a financial meltdown for New York State government, Ms. VanAmerongen is going to toss away money on something frivolous like this. (Never mind our sneaking suspicion that, had Senator John McCain won the presidency, she’d see it as neither a “truly historic event” nor deserving of taxpayer-subsidized live streaming throughout her agency’s offices).

Incidentally, our contact inside the Department of Housing and Community Renewal has assured us that DHCR disables all streaming video and audio on its computer servers normally. So, this would seem a truly historic event inside DHCR as well.

With New Yorkers staring at a $15.4 billion deficit that they must close to keep the state fiscally stable, using state workers’ time and taxpayers’ dollars to run what amounts to a partisan victory lap would seem to be just more of the same from the Paterson Administration.

January 16, 2009

Could Newlin Be Next to Have Wages Garnished?

The recent reporting about Ed Shoemaker's IRS tax problems and the demand from the IRS that Cambria and Somerset garnish the attorney's wages prompted an interesting email to us.

We have been told that Lewiston Town Supervisor Fred Newlin may also have some outstanding judgments against him. Seems that Newlin has defaulted on federal student loans and this issue has been outstanding for some time.

The little fact explains one of the great political mysteries talked about in many circles. Why would Newlin demand a 37 percent pay hike for himself in an election year when the national economy is crumbling and people are fed up? Some viewed it as political suicide and couldn't figure out Newlin's thinking.

Well now, perhaps we know. Maybe Fred is willing to take a political risk for more money because the federal government is bearing down on him because he stiffed them (and taxpayers) on student loans. After all, being a deadbeat is probably not the best qualification for office.

This will be an interesting story that we'll be following from now right through election day.

January 15, 2009

Ellis Drops The Ball

In light of revelations that attorney Ed Shoemaker owes as much as $108,000 in unpaid federal income taxes, Shoemaker took a leave of absence from his law firm, Andrews, Pusateri, Brandt, Shoemaker & Roberson. Shoemaker and his firm currently serve as town attorneys in Cambria and Somerset.

Upon learning of the situation, the Somerset Town Board made the decision to put out a request for proposals for town legal services. Good for them. It's enlightening to see elected officials who are willing to stand up for what's right.

The Town of Cambria Supervisor, Wright Ellis, could learn a few things from the folks in Somerset. Ellis has indicated that he will keep the embattled attorney's firm on to handle the town's legal services.

Exactly what kind of message are you sending with this decision, Wright? Are you saying that you condone Shoemaker's actions? Are you accepting of the fact that the tax dollars of YOUR constituents are going to be used to pay off this debt because of the wage garnishment order that you've been given by the IRS?

In addition, what the hell was the Cambria Town Board thinking when they passed a resolution last week giving Ellis the final decision on hiring attorneys? If you're too cowardly to actually make decisions as a town board member, why are you on the damn board?

We were hopeful that someone on the Cambria board would take a stand against this despicable decision. But, when you're dealing with one tyrant and a few of his serfs, hope and expectations are two very different things.

January 13, 2009

Loyalty

Boston College introduced Frank Spaziani, the Eagles' defensive coordinator, as the team's new head coach during a Tuesday afternoon news conference. Spaziani had been named interim coach last week after Jeff Jagodzinski was fired for interviewing with the New York Jets.
Jagodzinski, who had three years left on his five-year contract, had been told by athletic director Gene DeFilippo that he would be fired if he went through with the interview.

"We wanted someone who would be respected by our alumni, fans, staff, the news media, and most importantly, our student-athletes. And we wanted to find someone who really wanted to be at Boston College, more than anywhere else. We found the perfect person for that job right here on our staff. That person is Frank Spaziani," DeFilippo said.

You may be asking yourself why this is the lead in today's post. Simple. If you have a job, and while you have that job, you seek other employment, you're fired. Boston College made that perfectly clear to Jagodzinski, and most employers follow the same policy.

Why is this relevant? Because our County Manager, Greg Lewis, did exactly what Jagodzinski did, except instead of being fired on the spot, he was rewarded with a new contract from the County Legislature. Lewis openly sought employment elsewhere.

One word used by the BC AD summed it up: Respect. Greg Lewis has never shown any respect. Not to the taxpayers, not to the legislators, not to the unions, not to county employees and not to the department heads. What Lewis has never understood is that he also is a department head. He continues to operate under his delusion that he is a county executive.

The county legislature cannot go back and change the mistake it made by keeping this guy on, but they can correct it going forward. Dump this clown. If not now, when his contract is up.

A couple of years ago, I asked a friend of mine who supports Lewis to name three things that he has done for the betterment of the county. Shockingly, I still have not received a response, which is an answer in itself.

Shoemaker's IRS Woes

Buffalo News journalist Tom Prohaska wrote a story this week detailing the financial woes of Somerset and Cambria town attorney Ed Shoemaker. Apparently Shoemaker owes the IRS over $108,000.

Now, everyone has their personal financial situation that they deal with on a daily basis, and we certainly don't claim to know anything about Shoemaker's finances.

What is troubling is that while Shoemaker has failed to pay his taxes, he has donated generously to political candidates. A review of the New York State Board of Elections shows Shoemaker has personally given over $2,500 to various political candidates and organizations, including $2,000 to the Niagara County Democratic Committee.

His law firm, Andrews, Pusateri, Brandt, Shoemaker & Roberson, PC, has given over $2,100 to various candidates and political organizations.

So Shoemaker has plenty of money to throw around to protect his plum political patronage appointments, but can't muster the dollars to pay his massive IRS bill. Just as we said about petition fraud, people need to be sent a message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. Shoemaker needs to be given the maximum penalty for his failure to comply.

I pay my taxes every year, and I'm sure most of you do as well. Why should Shoemaker not be held to the same standard?

Petition Fraud

Virtually every election season, we have someone who is charged with petition fraud. This time around, it's a staffer from last year’s campaign of congressional candidate Jack Davis who has been charged with six counts of nominating petition fraud. The woman, Kelly Taylor of North Tonawanda, allegedly signed witness statements on petitions containing signatures she allegedly did not actually gather herself. The charges are misdemeanors, carrying maximum one-year jail terms.

Why does this happen virtually every election cycle? Because apparently none of our judges have the will to impose the necessary sentence to discourage this type of activity.

Petition fraud may sound harmless, but it's not. In this case, we're talking over 300 signatures that were allegedly collected improperly, enough to potentially disqualify someone from getting on the ballot.

Let's send a message that this type of tomfoolery will not be tolerated in Niagara County. A year in jail for the alleged violator will send that message.

January 11, 2009

Our New York State Senate

Over the past six months, we've talked about the potential impact on our region should the Republicans lose control of the State Senate. Our concern was not so much party driven, but what will our state government look like with this flip in power, when the fact that every single position of power in this state is driven by downstate interests.

We now know how the State Senate leadership looks. Each of these individuals are now a committee chairperson, with the exception of Syracuse-area Senator David Valesky. He was given the honorary, albeit powerless, position of Vice-President Pro Tem (and its $34,000 lulu).

This map illustrates the areas represented by Senate Democrats who have taken control of the State Senate, and raises the obvious question: Who's looking out for Upstate? Senators Stachowski and Thompson are I'm sure fine Senators, but can we really expect them to stand up to the NYC interests simply based on sheer numbers? (You can click on the map for a clearer view.)



Ask and ye shall receive. Here is the map prior to the Senate flip:

January 8, 2009

Gaughn Is A Snake Oil Salesman

I have long advocated for the downsizing of the Niagara County Legislature, but to be honest, the desire to see the county legislature shrink is due in part for my desire to see Dennis Virtuoso out of office. Virtuoso brings nothing tangible to the table, and repeatedly forgets that good or bad, he is part of the Leg. His problem is that when positive things happen, he uses the word "we"; when something negative hits, Dennis will repeatedly utter "they". Like I've said before, I'd never want to be in a foxhole with this guy. He sells his own team out every chance he gets.

What's interesting is that when the Leg reduces its numbers, Niagara Falls will be the area that gets slashed because of their shrinking population. They'll likely end up with two or possibly three, which means that Virtuoso or his buddy Renae Kimble will be gone, possibly both.

But as much as I long for the day when there are no more budget resolutions that are nothing more than political attacks and do nothing to manage county finances, I am left wondering why the voters of Niagara Falls are apathetic to this. For some unexplained reason, the Niagara Falls voters keep returning the same do-nothing Legislators to office. But it is their choice to do that and soon they won’t have a choice.

Nobody in Niagara Falls seems to be concerned that their collective voice will become smaller and, yes, they will have less representation. So be it.

But the Kevin Gaughan angle, for some reason, is to sell this as cost savings. Well, county legislators make $15,000 annually and have no staff or offices or expense accounts, but do have the opportunity to utilize health care. For argument sake, we will say each legislator costs $20,000. When there are three less legislators from Niagara Falls, the taxpayers will save $60,000, which is two ten-thousandths, or .00002 of the entire county budget of $300,000,000.

If you want to get rid of your legislators in the Falls, then do it, but don’t expect to save more than a fraction of a penny on your county tax bill.

January 7, 2009

Same Pact, Different Interpretation

As I have pointed out in this column before, Niagara Falls has no intention to use its casino revenues within the terms of the language of the pact that provides these monies. The casino compact dictates that the casino revenues shall be used for economic development. Niagara Falls has decided to use this money contrary to the agreement and in violation of its terms.

Now, I appreciate that Niagara Falls has immediate needs, but the intent of the compact was to help Niagara Falls invest in its economy and business infrastructure to pay dividends down the road.

According to the Buffalo News, nearly a third of the casino revenue over which city leaders have control has gone into the city’s annual budget.

That money has been used to pay for new debt the city has taken on in the last five years to pay for equipment and capital projects. City officials intend to continue to use casino revenue in the budget to pay back debt on an estimated $47 million new courthouse and police station now under construction.

Officials have also used the promise of future casino revenue to borrow another $11.3million for capital needs such as new police cars, snowplows, trucks, street paving and pothole repair since 2004.

Unfortunately, the casino revenues have done nothing more than remove the opportunity for the City of Niagara Falls to become insolvent and seek bankruptcy protection which would have allowed it to restructure its public employee contracts that will now continue be a burden to the city taxpayer.

January 5, 2009

Where Are The Parents?

Unfortunately, this seems to be becoming a rather common, albeit disturbing, refrain. Teens from rural areas in the county participating in disturbing and illegal behavior, allegedly. This time we have 14 young men and women - yes, men and women, not kids, not boys and girls, not adolescents, not children, not youngsters, but men and women, who have been charged with a plethora of offenses, mostly burglary-related crimes. Fortunately, this bunch, which is primarily from the Newfane area, has no criminal code of ethics. They all started ratting each other out as soon as their enterprise started to crumble.

The questions once again beg to be asked: where the hell are the parents of these menaces? Do they not have any idea what their darling little Bobby and Suzie are up to each night? Do they even care? More importantly, what life lessons are these parents teaching these punks that they believe it is acceptable to go out and steal the personal property of their neighbors? Oh yes Mrs. Pearce, you must be very proud of the two angels you've raised and unleashed upon our community.

We've said it before and we'll say it again - these crimes will be allowed to continue until someone in our weak judicial system has the courage to not plea or accept a plea for offenses such as these. If these individuals face a few years in jail, nothing will be a stronger deterrent to the next group of punks who think it's okay to steal and threaten.

Put 'em all in jail for a couple years and let mommy and daddy, if they even have parents, foot the bill for the societal costs their children have wrought upon us.