July 31, 2009

Lewis Descends Into Self-Parody

The other day, a friend who works in county government called and asked me, “Hobbes, why did Greg Lewis have a statue of monkeys on his desk at last night’s meeting?”

Naturally, my first reaction was, “Huh?”

After a bit more prodding, and several hours of my life I’ll never get back spent watching Tuesday night’s meeting on LCTV, I was simply stunned by the display our illustrious county manager put on.

Turns out, my friend was right. Greg had the famous "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" monkeys sitting right in front of his seat at front of the Legislature’s chamber. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the statue was an “F.U.” aimed at either the Legislature or Senator George Maziarz, who was present at Tuesday’s meeting—a local leader for whom Lewis has never felt any need to hide his personal, Minnesotan contempt.

But it just got weirder and weirder. Lewis was also sporting his famous "I Love Niagara County" button—which, sources tell me, prompted one legislator to corner him after the meeting and ask, quite bluntly, “Greg, why is it that every time you go job-hunting, you pull that thing out of your sock drawer and start wearing it?”

Weirdest of all, though, was Lewis’s decision to bust out a canteen cup full of coffee, like the one seen here. Maybe it was his “subtle” way of reminding us he’s a veteran. Or maybe it’s that he’s just got a few screws loose. Or that he can’t take the sudden willingness of county legislators to question his wisdom?

Regardless, the whole thing was an embarrassment. We ourselves have long been mortified by Lewis’s unique, er, fashion sense. And yet, Tuesday was even more horrifying than normal. That’s because, and this is only a partial list mind you, the following people were present witnessing this spectacle:

1) The high muckety-muck of site-selection for Yahoo! You know, the guy who convinced his company to put a whole bunch of high-tech jobs, and hundreds of millions of dollars, into our fair county.
2) The grand poobah of the New York Power Authority, who was here to meet, face-to-face, the county leadership that put him and his Authority on the spot.
3) The big kahuna of the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise.
4) A state senator.
5) Two assemblywomen. Or, more accurately, an assemblywoman and an assemblyperson, as we hear Francine prefers to be called.
6) Entourages for all the people mentioned above.

Now, when they left Niagara County, I can assure you that Greg Lewis’s demeanor came up in conversation on the ride home. Word from one reliable source is that NYPA head honcho Richie Kessel even asked Lewis if he was feeling okay.

Lewis has slipped a gear. He’s no longer even behaving rationally, never mind respectfully. He’s, frankly, behaving like a rabid dog. It’s time for Bill Ross to take Lewis out behind the Courthouse and give him the Old Yeller treatment.

July 30, 2009

If He Only Had A Brain

I won't even begin to speculate why. Maybe he just can't help it, maybe it's genetics, maybe he just doesn't know any better, maybe he simply doesn't care or maybe he wants to continue to be Francine DelMonte's bitch. Whatever the reason, Niagara County Legislator Dennis Virtuoso is planning on wasting the county's time and resources by asking the state Attorney General's office to investigate the legality of the county's use of casino funds to cover its legal expenses in the lawsuit against NYPA.

His rationale? "It can only be used for economic development", says Virtuoso.

Now, I could go on a long-winded, intricate diatribe as to why this is the most critical initiative ever taken up by the county legislature as it relates to economic development, but it would be so far over Virtuoso's head that it would do him no good.

So let's try to simplify it.

When you talk to businesses in Western New York, they consistently have two complaints about doing business in this region: Taxes and utility costs. While the county has done a good job of addressing the county taxes over the past four years (school districts continue to rape us), NYPA continues to ask for, and receive, massive rate hikes.

So let's pretend for a moment that I own a business or am considering starting a business in this region. We'll work under the premise that is a manufacturing business.

Like any reasonably intelligent business person, I'm going to put together a business plan. In that plan, I'm going to evaluate, among many factors, my energy costs.

In a nutshell, if I can operate my manufacturing business more efficiently in another location, and that efficiency is based upon my utility rates, I'm outta here.

If you create an atmosphere that is conducive to business growth, business will flourish. Forcing NYPA to re-examine the way they do business and possibly bringing down the utility expenses for businesses is part of creating that atmosphere.

I wouldn't expect Virtuoso to be able to comprehend such a simple concept. After all, it's obvious that the guy never went to college. Hell, I don't think he ever went to Bryant & Stratton. Now, that is not meant to impugn those who did not have the opportunity to continue their education. But if you are going to pretend to oversee a corporation with a $300 million budget, as the county does, you goddamn well better have more business sense than the roll of tape sitting on my desk. Unfortunately for the residents of the district he allegedly represents, Virtuoso doesn't.

So keep throwing out your propaganda, Virtuoso. Maybe there are those in the community who buy into it. Of course, there are those in the community who need a lobotomy, too.

July 29, 2009

Stand And Deliver

Last night's Niagara County Legislature meeting was filled with promises of future benefits for the county and acknowledgements of a lack of past assistance from New York Power Authority President Richie Kessel.

Stating how NYPA has failed the county in the past, Kessel stated, “To be truthful, we haven’t done enough here. Last year, we had our most successful year of operations ever at the [Niagara] Power Project. We have a job to do collaboratively to help the county.” That's great, thank you for, if nothing else, stating that you understand our frustration.

When asked by Legislator Jason Murgia if the profits generated at the Niagara facility should go back to the taxpayers and the ratepayers of this community, Kessel said that they currently do to some extent, but it needs to be more. Fantastic. Another plus for you, Richie.

He also promised Legislator Renae Kimble that he would recommend to Gov. Paterson that a Niagara County resident be appointed to one of the vacant seats on the Power Authority board.

In addition, Kessel suggested a working group between the county and the authority’s senior staff to discuss issues of mutual importance.

That's four for four, Richie. I'm gonna start calling you "butter", cuz you are on a roll!

Now, I like to look at myself as somewhat of an optimist. But I gotta tell ya, I'm not buying it. Am I hopeful that Kessel is a man of his word and will deliver some tangible results for Niagara County? Yes. Do I know enough about the downstate mentality and its perception of the rest of the state to know better? Absolutely.

So, I'm not going to sit hear typing all of the reasons that I think Kessel will fail in his multitude of promises to Niagara. I'm simply going to say thank you for coming to Niagara and spending this time addressing the concerns of the county legislature.

That being said, you've set the bar pretty high for yourself with what you've brought to the table.

As you undoubtedly found, frustrations run pretty high up here when it comes to NYPA, but we're willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, for now. And getting one deal done is not causing anyone to do handstands. In other words, you're not getting off that easy.

So it's up to you, Richie. Stand up, be a man of your word and deliver for Niagara.

July 28, 2009

Stop Screwing Around & Dump Mt. View

The Niagara County Legislature made the right decision in blocking plans to replace the heating and air-conditioning system in the Shaw Building, which houses the county’s Health and Mental Health departments.

The recommendation to dump $278,000 into the antiquated building came at the request of county manager Greg Lewis.

The building, which is part of the Mt. View campus, has been for sale for approximately two years. The idea of dumping nearly $300,000 into a building that's for sale is ludicrous and irresponsible. Some said that putting this money into the building, not to mention the $400, 000 the county has already dumped into this 78 year-old facility over the past four years, will enhance its value to a prospective buyer.

While there may be some validity to that logic in most real estate proceedings, it's misguided logic in this case. Why? Because someone pegged the asking price for the 31 acre Mt. View campus at an unattainable $6,000,000. Is it possible that someone would come in and pay that for the property? I suppose. After that, I have a bridge or two near Grand Island I'd like to give them a shot at buying.

In reality, the county should be putting that property out to bid. Take ads out in local, state, regional and national publications, let realtors know and pass the word any way you can. Set a deadline and open the bids. Whomever wins get the property. No mess, no fuss.

Lewis, in explaining that a prospective buyer looked at the Mt. View building for an assisted-living facility stated, “You don’t need Shaw to do assisted living. They may not want it, and in that case, we’ll have Shaw for the next 10 years.” Well, no shit, Greg. You agreed to list it at $6 million bones. And how many millions will we have dumped into the facility at the end of those 10 years?

This is not rocket science. Someone at the county take our suggestion of putting it out to bid, you don't even need to give us credit for the idea, and run with it. You'll be a hero. The property will get back on the tax rolls and you won't need to dump a dime of taxpayer's money into it ever again. Forget about this sub-dividing of the property, as Lewis suggested, and just dump it. A no-brainer if there ever was one.

July 27, 2009

Demler Releases Personnel Records To The Media

From the rhetoric coming out of Wheatfield, it's going to be an interesting primary season. Incumbent Tim Demler is accusing challenger Bob Cliffe, formerly the town's justice, of improperly applying for benefits from the state.

Cliffe states that he applied for benefits from the state when his employer went to a four day work week under the state's Work Share program. According to the state's DOL website, "Shared Work is a voluntary program that provides employers facing a temporary decline in business with an alternative to layoffs. Rather than laying off a percentage of the work force to cut costs, an employer can reduce the hours and wages of all or a particular group of employees. The employees whose hours and wages are reduced can receive partial unemployment insurance benefits to supplement their lost wages."

Cliffe states that although he is eligible for the benefits, he has in fact chosen not to accept them. Based on Niagara Gazette reporter Mark Scheer's column on the issue, Cliffe has been completely forthcoming on the circumstances under which he became eligible for the compensation.

Demler, on the other hand, seems to be pulling a "pot calling the kettle black" routine. It seems Demler has not quite been as transparent as the state would like him to be, nor as transparent as he is asking Cliffe to be.

In the below letter received by Niagara Times, a communication sent to Demler from the New York State Office of the Comptroller states: "Dear Mr. Demler, despite previous correspondence with your office, your annual report for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2008 remains delinquent".

So why is Demler delinquent in his filing of the state-mandated town financial statements? We'd like to give Demler the benefit of the doubt and not play conspiracy theorist. But that's not realistic. More likely is that Demler is intentionally delaying the filing because he's hiding something. And he knows that, since he is facing a significant challenge from Cliffe, and that the report contains information that would be detrimental to Demler's campaign, it is easier to get such letters from the Comptroller than to actually face the music of what is contained in the filings.

The way Demler is coming out of the box in this campaign is highly questionable. He is slinging mud at someone we've heard is one of the most honorable and principled men you will meet. Someone who we've been told won't stoop to Demler's level is mud-slinging.

So we'll do it for him.

Demler has been in office way too long to be campaigning on anything but his record. For him to be taking this approach shows a complete lack of character.

People lose their jobs. Sometimes their hours get cut. To try to take advantage of someone's economic hardship for personal political gain is unconscionable.

Even worse, Cliffe has been forced to answer questions in the media about this issue. Why is that? Because Tim Demler has taken private Town of Wheatfield personnel records and released them to the media. Every employee in the town should be VERY concerned about this situation.

If Demler has the ability and the willingness to release personnel records so easily, what's to stop him from doing the same thing against any other employee whenever he believes he's justified?

July 24, 2009

Lewis Countdown Clock

Niagara County Manager Greg Lewis has made no secret of his desire to leave our community. He can wear all of the "I Love Niagara" buttons all he wants, but no one's falling for this sham. Previous blog posts have covered his attempts to seek employment in several states.

So, we're going to help Greg along. Since he hates it here so much, we've decided to post a "Greg Lewis Countdown Clock" on the blog. Hopefully it will remind Lewis that he will not be stuck in what he obviously believes to be purgatory for too long.

If/when he should find other employment before his contract runs out next November, we say riddance and don't let the door hit you in the ass.

Like Viet Nam hero Ron Kovic said in "Born on the 4th of July", love it or leave it. That goes for you too, Greg. Love this community or get the hell out.

Happy Friday.

July 23, 2009

Niagara Falls Building Inspection Office Raid

That stench you encounter once you hit the Niagara Falls border isn't the plethora of toxin-spewing factories that line what I guess could be construed as a skyline. It's the stink of corruption that has permeated every crevice of this city for decades.

For years, records of city officials have been raided and seized by virtually any and every law enforcement agency imaginable. How maniacally egotistical would a city official have to be to engage in any type of illegal activity without fear of being caught?

Apparently quite egotistical. According to the Buffalo News, three of 10 workers in the city’s Department of Inspections are now on paid administrative leave, and allegations that surfaced in court documents Friday paint a disturbing picture of how the department operated.

In addition, the News piece stated "a search warrant for the City Hall offices of Bax and Amendola show that investigators were looking for evidence of whether the two employees received “items of value”; whether inspectors, including Bax, had construction work done on their homes by David Gross Contracting; and whether Department of Inspections employees had “corrupt relationships” with David Gross Contracting."

Now, we can all play coy and say that these are just allegations - the folks from the FBI who raided city hall are just on a wild goose chase. But we all know the reality of the situation, and when the indictments come down, not a single person in this county will be surprised.

We know that acting Building Commissioner Guy Bax, Chief Plumbing Inspector George Amendola as well as another employee are on paid administrative leave.

What is unclear is the role Senior Building/Housing Inspector Dennis Virtuoso has in this supposed "pay to play" investigation, if any. Virtuoso, who is also a Niagara County Legislator, has received campaign contributions from David Gross as recently as 2007.

I certainly wouldn't want to presume that Virtuoso is in bed with Gross in the same manner that his colleagues in the Building Inspection Department are, allegedly. I'm sure Gross' contribution to Virtuoso is based on his perception of the work Virtuoso does in the county legislature.

Either way, this is just another black eye on a city can never seem to get out of its own way.

The staff of the department is pictured below.

July 22, 2009

"Weakest Senate Delegation In Memory"

For years we've stated that the Upstate/Downstate disconnect is not so much about political parties per se, but more about the vast difference in priorities of those who represent the regions. If anything, the recent happenings in Albany have reinforced that position.

With the Democrats now in control of the State Senate, there is an even greater push to direct resources that were previously shared by the entire state to the New York City area.

Member items, usually referred to as "pork", are mostly headed downstate. Even this Buffalo News story acknowledges "when Republicans controlled the State Senate, they spread the pork barrel wealth around upstate each year — table scraps when compared with the overall size of the budget, yet still enough to bring grateful smiles from recipients and voters. Those days are gone".

The greatest asset that the Niagara region can offer, our inexpensive hydroelectric power, is being diverted downstate. The profits generated at the Lewiston facility are being used to fill Albany's budget gap.

Unfortunately, WNY has extremely weak representation in the Senate Democratic conference. Bill Stachowski and Antoine Thompson have stood by and said nothing while WNY has repeatedly been raped at the hands of those in his conference that they are so beholden to, that they have been completely emasculated.

The Buffalo News, in this editorial, states that "this region’s only chance for a meaningful voice lies in the still-close 32-30 split in the Senate, which means any senator willing to break ranks can wield some influence. Neither of Western New York’s Democrats have shown much willingness to break ranks on significant issues. In fact, the senior Democrat— Sen. William T. Stachowski, D-LakeView— has become political road kill twice since November’s elections, without a whimper". Dead on accurate. And this coming from one of the most left-leaning newspapers in the country.

The story also states "fighting for upstate has never been easy in a state Legislature dominated by New York City. Fighting for Western New York will be even harder now, with what could prove the weakest Senate delegation in memory." Yes, they're talking about you, Stachowski and Thompson.

The below video shows State Senator George Maziarz doing something that Stachowski and Thompson are just too weak to ever do - stand up for WNY. Take a lesson, boys.

July 21, 2009

Lewis Heading South?

We've been tough on Niagara County Manager Greg Lewis over the years, but only because we've had such high expectations from him. He came to Niagara County in 2003 from Minnesota, and despite our criticisms, he's adapted quite well. That is why it so difficult for us to once again announce that Lewis has applied for yet another county manager position, this time in Lee County, Florida.

Yes, our esteemed county manager is seeking to relocate to the warm confines of sunny Florida. We can't say we blame him - Western New York is a challenging location for a county manager. You have rampant union issues, the state is facing a massive budget deficit, there's a dwindling tax base and well, the weather can sometimes make life just a little bit miserable.

That being said, as much as we'd miss Greg, we know that our loss would be Lee County's gain. And although it would be difficult to replace someone of Lewis' caliber, I know that somewhere out there, another Greg Lewis awaits the fine people of Niagara County.

So, to the decision makers in Lee County, we'd like to let you know that you are so close to getting yourself a fine, fine county manager from Niagara County.

To Mr. Lewis, thank you so much for all you have done for us in Niagara. We hardly knew ya.

July 20, 2009

Dynamic Duo

I must admit, I don't know alot about Darwin Martin. I also admittedly don't know anything about a person by the name of Robert Kresse. I have heard of Frank Lloyd Wright, and I most definitely have heard of Bill Stachowski and Antoine Thompson.

How are these five connected? Through your tax dollars. From what I gather, there is a house called the Darwin Martin House, which was designed by Wright. Kresse is the Martin House chairman. Stachowski and Thompson are funneling millions of our tax dollars into this house. Now, in defense of the house, Kresse calls it "probably one of the most exciting examples of contemporary architecture in the country, not to mention the world.” Well la-dee-freakin-da. It's still my tax dollars being wasted on your little pet project during the worst economy in generations.

Here's the problem. Under the Democrats control of the most dysfunctional period in the history of the New York State Senate (that's truly saying something), with useless Stachowski and Thompson allegedly representing WNY in the Senate, this clown Kresse is calling these two the "Dynamic Duo". Yep, Kresse is so impressed with Stachowski and Thompson that he compared them to Batman & Robin. Why is he impressed? Because Stachowski and Thompson gave him $3 million of your tax dollars to work on this little project, with a strong insinuation of more money to come.

I'm going to assume that Kresse doesn't follow state government. If he did, he wouldn't make such a moronic statement. I'm also going to assume that Kresse doesn't watch the news. Ever. Because if he did, he'd know that heaping such praise on these two just looks dumb. It makes him look dumb, it makes the two look dumb, it makes the project look dumb and it even makes Wright look dumb - even though he's dead.

In case Kresse hadn't seen it, let me share with him this Editorial from the July 16 edition of the New York Daily News entitled Liars and bullies: State Senate Democrats become ever more disgraceful:

Ah, for the good old days when no one was in charge of New York's Senate. Back then, its 62 members hurt the state only by doing nothing.

Now, power-mad with renewed control, Democratic leaders are actively and wantonly running their house like something out of a banana republic - holding the people's business hostage, playing everything for revenge against political enemies, breaking every promise of reform and proving that, individually and collectively, their word is dirt.

Yesterday was the day when the Senate Democrats were scheduled to come into session - led by President Malcolm Smith, Conference Leader John Sampson and Majority Leader Pedro Espada - to take up critical languishing measures.

Top on the agenda was extending mayoral control of city public schools. There was supposed to be a vote on legislation that mirrors a measure passed by the Assembly and has widespread bipartisan support.

Put it on the floor, as Sampson and Smith committed to do in writing, and it would pass. But Sampson and a handful of others wanted penny-ante additions. So the bosses delayed coming into session and two of their number, Brooklyn's Carl Kruger and Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, announced they were going home.

This is government by extortion. And every member of the Democratic majority is complicit.

These include supposedly enlightened senators such as Tom Duane. Daniel Squadron, Jeff Klein, Liz Krueger and Eric Schneiderman, who have timidly given their proxies to the bully boys.
With their tacit support, for example, Sampson and Smith have elevated an accused domestic abuser to a highly paid committee chairmanship under circumstances demanding a full-blown criminal investigation.

Top to bottom, they are a disgrace.

So please - if you get a big, fat check from these two, just quietly go about your business - the hyperbole is just so sickening. And labeling them the "Dynamic Duo" is just plain embarrassing.

July 17, 2009

Friday Ruminations

For the last few years at the trade deadline, Sabres fans have clamored for a big trade to upgrade the team. Unfortunately, what we all fail to realize is that not many other teams are interested in what the Sabres have to offer. This often happens in sports and is the truest sign of how bad your team is – nobody else wants what you have. I thought of this when I read that Niagara County Manager Greg Lewis was once again rejected for another job in his unending desire to get out of our community. We want Lewis out because he is a fool…Lewis wants out because he knows his days are numbered….and yet he continues to be rejected by local governments across the land. A pretty telling sign about what people really think of the Greg Lewis record and resume.

Regular readers know that I am not a fan of Dennis Virtuoso. That’s why I would bet most of you think I am going to be critical of the fact that his wife Gina was appointed by Governor Paterson to the NCCC Board of Trustees. Well, you’re wrong. From everything we have been told, Gina is a smart lady, an independent thinker and an all around fine person. There is some concern that her appointment is being directed by the NCCC faculty union and if that is indeed the case and Gina does their bidding on the board, we’ll call her out for it. But given her resume, she deserves the benefit of the doubt and we hope she proves to be an effective leader at one of the few community institutions we have here in Niagara County.

The Niagara Falls Reporter has a blistering article on Francine DelMonte and her sponsorship of the state's weak civil confinement law which allows dangerous sexual predators to re-enter society rather than spending the rest of their lives in mental institutions. The law has allowed dozens of sexual deviants to live just steps away from a Niagara Falls school. Not only do you suck as a legislator, you've sponsored legislation that puts our children at risk. How the hell do you sleep at night?

As far as we can tell, GOP county legislators Keith McNall, Danny Sklarski, Rick Updegrove, John Syracuse, Mike Hill, Clyde Burmaster and Paul Wojtaszek, as well as Dems Renae Kimble, Kyle Andrews and Jason Cafarella, are all unopposed this election season. That's 10 of 19 with no contest. Sure makes one wonder if Albany's insanity is impacting the will and desire of locals to run for office. Looks like there will be more excitement in races at the town level than the county this year.

Senate Dems wasted no time is sticking their dirty little fingers in the pie that is New York State's member items. Even useless Bill Stachowski got $4 million to bring back to his district. I guess not getting the Finance Committee chairmanship after being promised it by your conference's leadership is a fair trade for four million bones. I wonder what you'd sell your soul for at heaven's gate.

Billionnaire Sabres owner Tom Golisano dumped $5 million into his Responsible New York PAC last year. It now has $49,000 in it. Makes you wonder if the fact that the state Board of Elections has referred three complaints against the PAC to the Albany County district attorney for criminal prosecution of possible election law violations has anything to do with it.

Lastly, what blog in the State of New York would be complete without video of idiot senator Kevin Parker pronouncing his expertise in government. Remember, this is the same guy who was made to look quite the fool at the hands of Senator Jim Wright a few years back, and the same Parker who recently labeled Governor David Paterson a "coke-snorting, staff-banging" governor.

Thanks to Liz Benjamin from the NY Daily News for the video footage.
Happy Friday!

July 16, 2009

Ethics Opinions May Impact Legislature Race

In what may be an extremely problematic situation for the Niagara County Democratic Committee, Niagara Times has learned that a significant conflict of interest may lie ahead for County Legislature candidate Scott Stopa should he prevail in his quest to unseat incumbent legislator Tony Nemi who currently represents the 15th Legislative District in Lockport.

In a detailed email received by Niagara Times, several opinions issued by the New York State Bar Association's Committee on Professional Ethics related to what a county legislator/attorney can and cannot do while serving in the dual capacities were cited. Those include:

Opinion 692 (55-96/26-97) 6/23/97 Topic: Part-time legislator’s practice in criminal courts in city and county. Digest: A part-time city or county legislator may not represent criminal defendants in cases in which the legislator expects to cross-examine a police officer who is a member of a police department over which the legislature has budgetary authority, or in which the legislator would be opposing a lawyer over whose office the legislature has budgetary authority.

Opinion 798 – 9/28/06 Topic: Practice of criminal law by legislator/lawyer. Digest: A lawyer/county legislator may not represent criminal defendants in cases involving members of a police department or district attorney’s office over which the legislature has budget or appointment authority. It is irrelevant whether the county or the budget is large or the representation involves only plea bargaining. If the lawyer/legislator is employed by a law firm, other lawyers in the firm are not per se vicariously disqualified, but imputed disqualification may be appropriate where members of the public are likely to suspect that the lawyer/legislator’s influence will have an effect on the prosecution of the case.

Opinion 702 - 5/7/98 (60-97/60a-97) Topic: Practice of law by member of county legislature. Digest: Prohibition against practice of criminal law by a lawyer-legislator not cured by abstention on votes affecting District Attorney’s budget and public disclosure of intention to abstain.

Now, that's a whole lotta legalese for someone whose closest experience to the law is pleading down a couple of speeding tickets, but let's take a stab at interpreting the opinions:

An attorney who practices criminal law cannot be opposed by an attorney who works for the county. So if the attorney/legislator walks into the courtroom and a District Attorney is prosecuting the case, the lawyer/legislator is off the case because as a legislator, he does indeed have budgetary authority over the D.A.'s office. If the lawyer is employed by a firm, which Stopa is (Jackson, Balkin & Douglas), the entire firm is potentially disqualified from most criminal cases. Lastly, by simply choosing to abstain from votes that impact the D.A.'s budget, a lawyer/legislator is not cured from the prohibition against the practice of criminal law.

So, how would this impact someone such as Stopa should he win? If he were representing a party in a custody or visitation matter, the moment that a public-pay law guardian is appointed by the Family Court for the other party from the Public Defender's office or the Conflict's Office, the elected official has a conflict and must withdraw from representing his client.

In a macro sense, he may not appear in any court in which his client is being prosecuted by the Niagara County District Attorney's office. That includes misdemeanors and felonies, which are prosecuted in town courts, city courts, county courts and supreme court. That doesn't leave many options for a lawyer or a firm that spends a significant amount of time on criminal law.

Stopa and his firm must know of these opinions. And maybe they're okay with this. Maybe having an associate in the Niagara County Legislature is that important to the firm that they are willing to possibly set aside their work in criminal law. Maybe Stopa is content to give up his criminal law work in the courts of Niagara County for the $15k that the job pays.

But something tells me that they don't know.

With nominating petitions to be filed within the next day or two and acceptances to be filed shortly thereafter, it's going to be very interesting to see how this plays out.

July 15, 2009

Francine DelMonte And The Lollipop Guild

A friend who has worked for years in the office of a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly tells us that Francine DelMonte's colleagues in her own party have a nickname for her: Wicked Witch of Western New York. It seems her brand of hyperpartisan hardball politics is even off-putting for many of her fellow Dems.

And, frankly, it should be. After all, sometimes Democrats themselves end up among the biggest losers in Francine’s constant efforts to wage all-out partisan warfare.

Readers of this space already know about Francine’s seizure of the county taxpayers’ paltry share of revenues from the Seneca Niagara Casino—this despite Niagara County being defined as one of the casino’s host communities and not receiving a dime in taxes from the casino. This has left organizers of events like last weekend’s successful Olcott Pirate Festival—an event critical to the tiny lakefront hamlet’s economy for its ability to draw tourists and their dollars—scrambling to find ways to fund such events next year.

So bad is it, in fact, that Clyde Burmaster, the venerable vice chairman of the County Legislature, was left apologizing to the Youngstown Village Board last week as he told them that $10,000 he was providing to help them put together a brochure marketing their downtown businesses and to market the annual Youngstown Level Regatta would be the last such funds he could promise.

For those reasons, news that comes to us now sickens us, and reminds us that Francine’s nickname is justly earned.

You’ll all remember back in the spring, when Francine first engineered her grab of Niagara County’s share of the casino dollars. At the time, Francine told us she was redirecting dollars owed to residents of the Town of Niagara, Lewiston, Porter, North Tonawanda, Wheatfield, Cambria, Wilson, Pendleton, the Town of Lockport, the City of Lockport, Newfane, Somerset, Royalton, and Hartland to repair the decrepit roads in Niagara Falls. As she told the Buffalo News in March: “If the road issue wasn’t the priority it is, you wouldn’t have so many people calling out for funding to be diverted to help the city come to grips with the situation.”

Well, apparently Francine has forgotten all about those decrepit roads.

New promotional materials paid for by the Niagara County Democratic Committee include the following comments from the Wicked Wi—er, Assemblywoman DelMonte: “After [seizing the casino funds], I was able to see to it that the economic development money from the casino goes directly to the City of Niagara Falls, where I know it will be used for real economic development,” she reports. “Right now we are working on a project that will develop the areas of the City which were part of the Underground Railroad. It’s a program that will bring thousands of tourists to our community, one that will create jobs as well as highlighting the role Niagara Falls played in the historic movement to help slaves escape to freedom.”

So, which is it, Francine? Was the county’s share of casino dollars going to pay to re-pave Pine Avenue, or was it going to market Underground Railroad tourism? And, if it is Underground Railroad tourism, then how is that more legit than the tourists brought in by the Peach Festival, which benefits Democrat Supervisor Fred Newlin’s Lewiston, or the Electric Lights Parade, which benefits the Town of Niagara, where Democrats enjoy a healthy enrollment edge, or Canal Fest, which benefits a North Tonawanda that has otherwise languished under Democrat Larry Soos?

The truth is, this was nothing more than hardball, bitter politics, aimed at hurting the more Republican areas of the county to benefit Francine’s loyal political allies on Pine Avenue. And it’s proof that her Democratic colleagues in the Assembly know her best after all.

We suggest Francine should watch out for falling houses.

July 14, 2009

Website Turns Up The Heat On Newlin

Back in October of 2008, we blogged about Lewiston Supervisor Fred Newlin voting himself a 37% pay increase smack dab in the middle of the worst economic crisis our country has seen in decades, adding "families in our community are struggling, as they are across the country. A quarter of a million homes were foreclosed on last month. Corporations are laying of thousands of employees every day. People are going without health insurance because they can't afford it. Hourly workers are going without raises. The state of New York is looking at a multi-billion deficit next year, which is sure to trickle down to the counties and towns across the state. Seniors are worried about how they're going to pay their heating bills this winter."

Somebody else noticed too.

We received an email yesterday regarding the launch of a new website that is designed to address that same pay raise issue, http://www.37percent.info/. Despite just a brief look at this site, it's obvious that someone put a significant amount of time and effort into gathering the information contained on the site and putting it up.

It contains links to pages such as Newlin’s Hand in the Cookie Jar - Pattern of Greed, Newlin’s Salary Increase, How Does Newlin’s Salary Increase Compare to Others?, Mazierski Challenges Newlin, July Ad in the Sentinel as well as others discussing the Tax Increase for Town of Lewiston and the Bad Power Authority Deal for Lewiston.

But the site most definitely focuses on the fact that Newlin voted himself a 37% pay increase. The website also notes that "even more shockingly, within the same budget, a long-time coordinator of children’s programs at the Lewiston Library was cut."

As Newlin faces a stiff challenge from Katherine Mazierski (who organized the protest and picket at a NCDC fundraiser last year), this website is sure to be the political talk of the town in Lewiston. Mazierski and her supporters are obviously willing to put some serious effort and resources into this campaign.

This will certainly be one of the more interesting and entertaining local races to watch for the next four months. Stay tuned!

July 13, 2009

Further Details Of Lewis' Swine Flu Debacle

This blog broke significant ground last Wednesday when it revealed some of the inside details of County Manager Greg Lewis’ failed attempt to contain news that the swine flu virus was on the loose in the Niagara County Courthouse in Lockport.

We asserted then that the public had a right to know, as, frankly, did the county’s workforce—it was they, after all, whose health was on the line.

What we find galling, therefore, is new details that reveal Lewis apparently engaged in a systemic effort to cover up this information and keep it from both the public and the workforce.

In a memorandum sent to county employees at 11:01 a.m. Wednesday (nearly four hours AFTER this blog reported the presence of swine flu, and more importantly, a full 26 hours after Lewis was notified!) Lewis stated “Niagara County management wishes to communicate to all employees that there have been no laboratory confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza in the Niagara County workplace or the Niagara County employee population.”

That memo goes on to say, at length, “Precautionary sanitary measures were taken on Tuesday, July 7 within the workplace regarding clean-up of office areas where illness was reported, which unfortunately may have led to speculation regarding the H1N1 flu. Again, Niagara County has no laboratory confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza in its workforce. Due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (‘HIPAA’) and general employee privacy concerns, however, the County will not ultimately announce the result of reported testing of any employee.”

That was Wednesday morning. By Thursday afternoon, though, Lewis was singing an entirely different tune, issuing a second memorandum at 4:40 p.m. This one stated: “A laboratory confirmed finding of Novel H1N1 Influenza A involving a Niagara County Courthouse employee was received late Wednesday by County officials.” Lewis goes on to advise employees to wash their hands. And note the time: 4:40 p.m., just minutes after the end of the county workday—this despite the fact Lewis had known all day the results of the test.

So, what caused the shift in Lewis’ opinion?

Perhaps Lewis genuinely believed that there was no swine flu in the government.

But no, that’s just not the case. An email circulated among several key members of the government reveals Lewis had every reason to believe, in advance of issuing his memo denying swine flu’s presence, that it was there. In an email sent to Lewis at 8:01 p.m. on Tuesday—the night BEFORE Lewis denied the presence of swine flu in the county offices—Health Director Daniel Stapleton wrote:

what about if/when the testing results come back positive for confirmation of H1N1? Should the cover say "at this time" or leave it alone? I don't want us to have to give an update if the testing comes back positive for H1N1, which it probably will.

As we all know, Lewis went ahead and issued a weasel-worded denial of swine flu the next morning.

So, what transpired to change Lewis’ mind by the next afternoon?

The same thing that forced him to deal with the issue in the first place: the county attorney’s office got involved, this time in the form of County Attorney Claude Joerg himself.

Our sources tell us that Joerg, after reading Lewis’ initial memo to employees and then receiving word that the swine flu tests had come back positive, was forced to seek an outside legal opinion to demand Lewis release the information.

You read that right: the county attorney was forced to threaten Lewis with legal action if he didn’t inform county employees of a very real threat to their health.

Greg Lewis has been a festering sore on Niagara County government for far too long. He is arrogant, oafish, and inept. But now, we can see he is also dishonest, more concerned with keeping problems hidden than addressing them honestly and capably.

We will, once again, renew our call to the Legislature: fire this idiot. Fire him now, before someone gets hurt.

July 10, 2009

Checkin' The Stats

It's not often that we at Niagara Times will engage in self-promotion, but when a recent contributor stated, "this blog is just a tool for stoking the republicans. It has 8 readers, 6 are just yes men, 1 is a know it all, and me", I figured it was a good time to check the stat counter. You may click on it to see a larger view.

Summary (Niagara Times) 10th July 2009 07:06:46

Page Loads Unique Visitors First Time Visitors Returning Visitors
Total 106,047 79,115 35,037 44,078
Average 35,349 26,372 11,679 14,693

Year Page Loads Unique Visitors First Time Visitors Returning Visitors
2009 29,239 23,164 11,186 11,978
2008 56,055 42,649 18,640 24,009
2007 20,753 13,302 5,211 8,091

Returning Visitors - This person is returning to your website for another visit an hour or more later.

First Time Visitors - This is considered their first time at your website.

Unique Visitor - This is the total of the returning visitors and first time visitors - all your visitors.

Page Load - The number of times your page has been visited.

Thank you to the nearly 80,000 unique visitors, in just our two+ years in existence, and their 106,000+ page loads. Oh, and even though mama didn't raise no math major, I'd say those numbers are somewhat higher than the "8 readers" of this blog that was suggested.

Happy Friday.

July 9, 2009

Paterson Kicks Dirt in Our Face Again

Governor Paterson tried to portray himself as a bold leader yesterday when he appointed a Lieutenant Governor to help break the Senate stalemate. First let me get two things out of the way that aren't part of this post:

1) It's clearly illegal and Paterson should be impeached for shredding the New York State Constitution. This joke of a Governor is making a mockery of the Empire State.

2) This move won't end the Senate chaos, it will add to it.

OK, but that's not want I'm focused on today. Paterson again sends a signal that he doesn't care about Upstate representation in State Government by picking another member of the Manhattan elite for this position. Think of the people running the show in the state right now. Paterson (Harlem), Silver, (Lower East Side of Manhattan) DiNapoli (Nassau County), Malcolm Smith (Queens) John Sampson (Brooklyn) Andrew Cuomo (Queens). Heck, let's throw in Senate reform coalition members Dean Skelos (Nassau County) and Pedro Espada (Bronx.)

And into this mix, the ever-wise David Paterson thought that naming someone from Manhattan as L.G. was appropriate. This guy has no clue that there is a whole other world beyond the Tappan Zee Bridge.

There are plenty of qualified upstate Democrats, particularly in WNY, who could have filled this role. As a matter of fact, WNY's absence from any leadership role anywhere in government is reason enough to consider secession...and I'm being serious there.

Add to all of this that the accidental governor named a over-hyped, media seeking, political chameleon...Richie Kessel...to head the New York Power Authority rather than someone from this community that is directly impacted by NYPA and you can see Paterson could not care less about our community.

(Sidenote: Shouldn't there be a ban on adult man going by the name Richie. Don't you cross a timeline in your life when it should be Rich or Rick? But I digress.)

I have never been a big fan of the Cuomo clan, but I hope Attorney General Cuomo sticks to his guns that this is an illegal appointment and helps make this blow up on Paterson.

July 8, 2009

Lewis A Threat To Employee Safety & Public Health

Details are still emerging, but yesterday the Niagara County Courthouse apparently had a major swine flu scare requiring offices to be “deep cleaned with a bleach solution,” emails obtained by the Niagara Times reveal.

County Manager Greg Lewis, meanwhile, spent most of the day AWOL on the issue, and building a wall of denial around the problem, trying to keep information about the potential outbreak secret from county employees and members of the public who conducted business in the Courthouse in recent days.

Let me repeat that: Greg Lewis tried to keep information about an outbreak of a serious, and potentially deadly disease from county workers and the public.

Lewis was first made aware of the problem at 9:30 a.m. in an email from Labor Relations Manager Dave Watroba, which we will quote at length:

[An employee] from the DA's office has notified us of one confirmed case of swine flu in their office. That person is in the hospital. Another employee is being treated for unconfirmed swine flu. A third is a "probable" case and a fourth is going to the doctor today, reportedly not feeling well.
The Dept. of Health has been notified. The office is being deep cleaned with a bleach solution today.

For hours afterwards, though, nothing happened. Sources tell us that Lewis, along with Human Resources Manager Peter Lopes, made the determination that they would not notify county employees or the larger public about the potential outbreak because they didn’t want to cause employee unrest. They then made the decision to keep discussions to only a handful of Lewis’ closest confidantes, including Lopes and Watroba. Even department heads in the government were left unaware.

We are also told that rumors began to fly inside the Courthouse that something was amiss around lunchtime when word of the cleanup began to spread, and that’s when county employees began to demand answers.

However, it wasn’t until after the county workforce’s workday ended at 4:30 p.m. that Lewis finally made the decision to act, and that only after a lawyer in the county attorney’s office got involved—apparently tipped off by contacts in the DA’s office—and the press started making inquiries. An email sent by County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton at 4:50 p.m. sums the issue up:

i just got off the phone with Rick Pfeifer from the gazette and Joe Foltz from county atty office. Tomorrow, I recommend that a memo to all county employees needs to go out from their employer with comments, education and directions from the Public Health Department, consistent with our outreach to the public. Thoughts?

Finally, at 6:29 p.m., Lewis made the decision that employees should be made aware of a potentially life-threatening disease:

I am ok with a memo to County employees provide HIPPA compliance is assured and the communication is carefully crafted in accordance with Public Health guidance on the subject matter of H1N1..

My best,

Greg Lewis

Did you get all that? At 9:30 in the morning, Lewis is alerted to a potentially serious health risk to employees. Rumors are flying within hours. But he can’t make a decision to act until AFTER lawyers tell him to do something and AFTER the media starts demanding answers—and AFTER workers had already left for the day.

Think about how many people were potentially exposed already on Monday. Think about how many more, though, were senselessly exposed on Tuesday because Lewis refused to act. People have a right to know if they’re at risk of contracting serious illness.

Think about pregnant mothers who chose to go to the Courthouse, whether they had business in the County Clerk’s office or were reporting for jury pool duty.

Think about young children accompanying parents on errands or seeing the legal system in action.

And think about the hundreds of county workers who weren’t warned to stay away all morning.

And then realize: Unlike you, Greg Lewis didn’t think about a single one of them.

His piss-poor attitude is one thing. His constantly courting employment elsewhere is yet another. But this, this is too much. Playing games with the public’s health, and that of his employees, though, is an entirely separate issue. If he isn’t removed for the first two reasons, then the third should be an impeachable offense.

Will someone in the Leg please grow a pair and kick this guy to the curb?

July 7, 2009

Dyster Is A Disgrace

The Niagara Falls Reporter has it right this week as it slams do-nothing Mayor Paul Dyster for, well, doing nothing about the sex offender hotel that is right around the corner from Niagara Street Elementary School. This flop house for the absolute scum in our society is located within 1,500 feet of the school, a clear violation of county law.

The state is supposedly trying to do something to move them, but needs time. Screw that. Dyster said the problem is one of coordination. Screw that too. The problem is that dirtbags who should have been either locked up forever, fried in the chair or castrated because they like young children and are INCURABLE are now housed around the corner from a school.

If Dyster has 10 cents worth of leadership, he’d have the Niagara Falls Police Department arrest all these losers and throw them in jail until the state figured out where to house them. That would send a strong message that the Mayor cares about protecting the most innocent of Niagara Falls residents. Instead, egg-head Paul is concerned about coordination of agencies. Nice.

Say what you want about his ethics, but why do I somehow think that former Mayor Vince Anello would be leading the welcome wagon of residents with baseball bats and pitchforks to make the point that these losers are not welcome to live in our community near a school and maybe such a message would get the Albany bureaucrats moving a little faster.

And before I wrap up, let me slam Francine Delmonte and her Albany masters in the Assembly for not passing real legislation – rather than a watered-down civil confinement law – that would keep these sick individuals locked up forever. You’re always doing it for the children…for providing education to children, health care for children, social programs for children, can’t do enough for the children…..but lo and behold we should actually protect them from getting sexually attacked by sickos in the community. Shame on you.

July 6, 2009

Wojtaszek Would Make An Excellent State Chairman

We'd like to wish Niagara County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek the best of luck in his pursuit of the New York State Republican Party Chairmanship. At this point, it appears as if it will be a two-horse race, with former gubernatorial candidate John Faso also seeking the top GOP position in the state. Of course, it's not clear if current chairman Joe Mondello will run again when his term expires in September.

Wojtaszek recently left his position with the law firm of Harris Beach to devote his time and energy to the effort.

In order to win the top spot, Wojtaszek will have to win over the majority of the 61 other county GOP chairmen & chairwoman. That will be no easy feat for someone from the most northwestern county in the state. But if it can be done, Wojtaszek can do it. Why? Because he wins races, and that's what matters. While most GOP parties in counties across the state are struggling with a two million voter-enrollment disadvantage, Wojtaszek has transformed the Niagara County GOP into one of the most successful county parties in the state.

Not only that, Wojtaszek has other qualities that the GOP needs at the top; he's an excellent communicator, he's able to lead without being authoritarian and yes, I'm not afraid to say it, he he the physical attributes to be the face of the party.

Once again, best of luck to Wojtaszek. We're looking forward to following this story closely for the next few months.

July 3, 2009

Stachowski & Thompson Playing For The Wrong Team

As we've been saying for months, and today's Buffalo News Outrages & Insights reinforces, Western New York's Democratic Senators Bill Stachowski and Antoine Thompson have been playing for the wrong team. From the Buffalo News piece:

Here's how clueless Bill Stachowski and Antoine Thomspon are: The Democratic leadership trotted the out in Albany Thursday to plead for passage of an extension of the Power For Jobs program.

Trouble is, the program does Western New York little good. In fact, it's one of the ways the profits from the Niagara Power Project are used to benefit downstate business interests.

Here's what I reported on the program in 2007 in my Power Failure investigation of the New York Power Authority:

The program was started in 1997 and was supposed to end in 2000, but lawmakers continue to extend it. In the process, they have required the authority to reimburse the state for an increasing share of lost tax revenue, now 100 percent. The program involved 599 companies as of a year ago, including 89 from Erie and Niagara counties, whose allocation of discounted power accounted to 12 percent of the statewide total.

Power For Jobs is now slated to end this June, but the authority as it now stands remains on the hook for another contribution of $175 million.

While Niagara power isn't the sole source of funding for the voluntary contributions, the Power Authority acknowledges the plant's profits do go a long way.

In other words, profits from our plant are being used to subsidize the operations of downstate businesses.

Rep. Brian Higgins is negotiating with the New York Power Authority to secure a portion of the Niagara Power Project's profits to benefit Western New York. The expiration of the Power For Jobs program would free up money towards that end. But we've got Thompson and Stachowski doing the bidding of downstate interests instead.

They're team players, all right. Just not our team. (end)

Antoine Thompson, it seems , is virtually incapable of articulating the number of jobs the Power for Jobs program will preserve. Watch this video of Thompson channeling Dr. Evil at yesterday's press conference. It would be hilariously funny if it weren't so pathetic.

At the same presser, Stachowski, in an attempt to justify his existence while the Senate Dems continue to bring state government to a grinding halt, says that he is entitled to receive his $100,000+ compensation because he busy in Albany "reading computer mail". Mmmmmmm, that'd actually be called "email", Bill. See the video below:

July 2, 2009

Lewis Still Looking For A Way Out

I was flipping through the channels recently, when I came across a segment in which a self-defense instructor was teaching a student how to defend herself. The teacher was decked out in full-body protection so the student could really let loose while practicing her punches and kicks to key areas such as shins, knees, groin, stomach, ribs, solar plexus, chin, jaw, face, and temple. There certainly is value in knowing how to defend oneself in the event of an unwelcome confrontation.

This morning, I feel like that self-defense instructor who was getting punched in the stomach and kicked in the groin, except without the abundance of padding. Why? Because Greg Lewis is up to his old tricks again - he wants out, and he's actively seeking other opportunities while employed by the people of Niagara County.

In yet another exclusive to Niagara Times, we have learned that Lewis has applied for the position of Brevard County Manager in Florida. The search is being handled by this firm. As if this weren't problematic enough, Lewis is also seeking the opportunity to serve as the County Manager in Johnson County, Kansas. Why is it a problem? Because he is under contract to serve the residents of Niagara County. Why is it further problematic? Because his current contract doesn't expire any time soon. Granted, if it were close to the expiration of his current deal, and an extension wasn't on the table, he should seek other opportunities simply to provide himself and his family the security they need.

But he's not. He's serving under a relatively new deal and he, once again, is looking to abdicate his responsibilities to the people of this community.

People are always saying that government needs to be run like the private sector. Although we generally disagree with that premise because it's basically apples and oranges, this is absolutely the type of scenario which should be treated like the private sector. And that reality is this: This type of behavior would never be tolerated in the private sector. He'd be fired on the spot for actively seeking other employment.

Now, we've covered Lewis' desire to leave Niagara ad nauseum, including pieces here, here, here and my personal favorite, here.

But he is repeatedly allowed to kick the people of this community in the proverbial nuts, and no one says a damn thing about it! How the hell is that possible? Please, someone in the county legislature publicly question Lewis at the next meeting and get some straight answers from this guy. Does he want to work in Niagara County? If so, why is he actively seeking other employment? If not, get the hell out! How difficult is this? Allowing him to continue this behavior unquestioned is the same as condoning it.

Lewis is an opportunist. He's jumped from job to job, always looking for the next best thing. When he finds it, he's going to leave this county in a predicament. Address the problem now. If not, don't say you weren't warned. Don't say you were caught off guard. Don't say you didn't see it coming. Dump this guy....immediately.

July 1, 2009

Lewis Has Big Plans - For Your Money

The following is a communication from county manager Greg Lewis to a firm that had inquired about the county's wanting to participate in a "Green Fleet" program.

As County Manager, I feel it is high priority to launch a significant "green" initiative. We need to become sustainable as an organization.

I would identify "ends" or "outcomes" at the end of a green day would be:

- Green fleet
- All green buildings
- A green transportation strategy to move employees to, from, and around to assigned tasks and sites while at work
- A green transportation strategy to move citizens served when required to do so per County core functions
- A green strategy to deliver County core services to make the County safe and secure, assist the most vulnerable, and implement public infrastructure
- A green strategy to advance County economic development
- A green strategy to provide green administrative internal support The County is going to need to decrease its carbon footprint, become more organizationally sustainable, and decrease our costs and increase our productivity.

Now, I'm far from a tree hugger, but I recognize the value of "going green". Do I buy into the hype about global warming? Of course not...it's rhetoric and hyperbole at its worst. But I'll acknowledge the fact that there are environmental benefits from going green.

But once again, Lewis is making statements of his intentions with no concept of the cost involved. He's already got big plans for his "campus" plan, which will cost a minimum of $150 million. Now he wants green buildings and green vehicles. By the time Lewis has implemented his green plans and his campus concept, this county could be looking at a quarter of a billion dollars in expenses, all of which will be raised on the backs of homeowners and taxpayers.

It has to stop, and it has to stop now. From the day he arrived here (thanks Dennis & Renae), he has thought about one thing: his legacy. And while he may angling for the Gregory Lewis Public Works Facility to be constructed in his honor, the only thing we, the taxpayers, will be left with is a legacy of bad decisions and a mountain of debt at the hands of Greg Lewis.

Dump this guy now.