August 31, 2009

Cayuga County Manager Gets The Boot

It is amazing, what Forrest Gump said, about life being like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get.

So when I came across this story at syracuse.com, I was astounded at the similarities between the situation the Cayuga County Legislature had with their county manager, and the situation our county legislature finds itself in with their county manager. Where the similarities part ways is in how the legislative bodies handled their respective situations.

In Cayuga County, they had a county manager who was completely disconnected from the legislature. In fact, back in July, the Cayuga County Manager sent an email to each of the county legislators letting them know just how "out of the loop" he felt he was. Wow, does that sound eerily familiar.

The crux of the Cayuga County Manager's concerns centered around the fact that the county legislators were bypassing him and going directly to the department heads for their needs and concerns, and that the committee form of government was inhibiting his ability to manage the county. Guess what kind of government we have in Niagara County - the committee form of government.

Interestingly, Allen was the county's first county manager.

Apparently, the relationship between Allen and the legislature has gotten progressively worse. Allen said he's had trouble with some lawmakers since he was hired, and those relationships soured in recent months.

So you know what the county legislature did? They fired him in a special session on Saturday.

With more than a year left on his four-year contract, the county legislature came to the realization that this relationship was not working. Then they had the courage and fortitude to do the right thing by letting Allen go.

There are so many similarities between the situation in Cayuga and the circumstances in Niagara, it's downright amazing. The one difference is how the bodies ultimately will resolve their situations.

Cayuga took immediate and swift action. Niagara is content to wallow while Greg Lewis, who has shown nothing but utter contempt and disdain for the county legislature, sits in his office searching for the next best job.

Congratulations to the Cayuga County Legislature for having the strength to do the right thing.

August 28, 2009

Stapleton's Actions Insubordinate

Niagara County Public Health Director Dan Stapleton has done an excellent job since taking the reigns of the Health Department a couple of years back. He's proactively addressed health threats such as H1N1 and MRSA, as well as creating and implementing programs to better the overall health of our community.

However, Stapleton has seriously crossed the line in attempting to dictate policy that has nothing to do with his responsibilities.

In today's Buffalo News, Stapleton states that that the former Harrison Radiator plant in its current condition is not a suitable location for his department. As you may recall, two Lockport county legislators directed County Manager Greg Lewis to investigate the feasibility of moving the county Health Department and Mental Health Department out of the run-down Shaw Building to the Harrison Place.

Now, Stapleton could in fact be right in his assessment. But it's not his place to speak on this. He was not asked to do the analysis, and he certainly was not asked to make comments to the press about it. Seriously, Dan, what the the hell are you thinking? He has unequivocally undermined the authority of his the people who employ him. In the private sector, we call that insubordination, and you get fired for it.

In reality, Stapleton's screw-up probably isn't entirely his fault. Greg Lewis, in between his attempts to find the next best job, likely used Stapleton as his pawn. But Stapelton needs to be smarter than that - Stapelton has a future with the county - Lewis does not.

But that does not excuse Stapleton's actions here. Let's hope someone in the county legislature is strong enough to convey to Stapleton that actions such as this will not be tolerated again.

August 27, 2009

Kill NCCC Culinary Plan

This idea of placing a culinary institute in the decrepit Rainbow Mall in Niagara Falls stinks on a multitude of levels.

First of all, anything that David Cordish is involved in should raise a red flag. The guy has done nothing to revitalize a once thriving retail space smack dab in the middle of a city that draws 11 million visitors a year. How the hell is that possible? You don't even need to develop with the "if you build it they will come" mentality. They're there already! Cordish has been a complete disaster as the owner of the mall.

Jim Klyczek, President of Niagara County Community College, is delusional if he thinks this thing is going to get past the county legislature. Considering the county contributes approximately one-third of NCCC's budget, I don't want a single freakin' penny of MY tax dollars going to support what will be another failure in the City that Always Weeps. If any legislator does decide to support this, get ready for an onslaught.

You've got to love Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster's quote in today's Buffalo News: "What happened today was that you had all the key entities sitting around one table," he said. Who, you? You're a key player? In what, overseeing the demise of what once was one of the greatest cities in the country? Please. You're not a key player in watching water boil.

Dennis Mullen and Peter Kay....well, let's just say I wouldn't trust them to oversee the development of a house made of Lincoln Logs.

Bill Ross, Chairman of the County legislature, apparently was in attendance as well at this meeting of supposed "key players" (I'm sorry, I just have to laugh out loud when I read that...my colleagues keep wondering what the hell I'm doing in here). Let's hope Ross doesn't get steamrolled by Klyczek the way he's been run over by Greg Lewis.
Call your county legislator and tell them if they support this waste of your tax dollars, they lose your support.

1st Jason Murgia 439-7177
2nd Renae Kimble 282-1618
3rd Jason Cafarella 285-8132
4th Dennis Virtuoso 284-1582
5th Sean O'Connor 298-5179
6th Danny Sklarski 297-7982
7th Gerald Farnham 433-0703
8th William Ross 731-5949
9th Andrea McNulty 572-4994
10th Peter Smolinski 695-1873
11th Paul Wojtaszek 695-7134
12th John Ceretto 754-7066
13th Clyde Burmaster 791-3111
14th Kyle Andrews 751-6252
15th Anthony Nemi 434-0133
16th Wm Keith McNall 434-8070
17th Richard Updegrove 434-2140
18th John Syracuse 778-5064
19th Michael Hill 735-3259

August 26, 2009

R.I.P. Ted Kennedy

It will come as no surprise to readers of this space that Niagara Times has never been particularly enchanted with the late senior senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Ted Kennedy was far too liberal for our tastes, and, frankly, we never quite bought his explanations for the events that night at Chappaquiddick. But now, that’s between Kennedy and his Maker, and no longer for us to judge on this earth.

Instead, we today salute the man who managed, despite a legislative record we found far to the left on many issues, to accomplish some significant and important things for his country.

Among his most important legacies was being, arguably, the leading voice pushing the 26th Amendment. While, by being born near the end of the Vietnam War, we never had to contemplate the notion of “Old enough to fight the war, old enough to vote,” Kennedy was right on this point—at least in the era of Vietnam and the draft.

Likewise, Kennedy was critical in ending the filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which, incidentally, was being carried out by his fellow Democrats), which allowed the landmark legislation to finally come to a vote in the Senate. Now, while that law was far from perfect, and probably overstepped federal authority in a few areas, all in all it was good, and the right thing to do to end America’s own apartheid—the Jim Crow laws in the South.

Ted Kennedy was wrong—horribly wrong and misguided—on far more, of course, and his legislative “accomplishments” seem a laundry list of things that have increased our taxes. But despite that, we cannot help but feel like Ted Kennedy’s death was the end of an era that began to wither away when his brother Jack died in Dallas.

And maybe that nostalgia for Jack Kennedy’s idealism is why Ted Kennedy’s eulogy of his other brother, Bobby—a man whose convictions, if not all his policy ideas, we truly do admire—is how we prefer to remember him today:

August 25, 2009

County Leg: Fire The Lobbyists

Two weeks ago, Niagara Times broke news that County Manager Greg Lewis was misusing lobbyists hired by the County Legislature for a cool $30K, having them devote all their efforts to his ego-driven priorities: namely, a countywide wi-fi initiative and the Gregory D. Lewis Public Works Facility, a $42 million project in a cow pasture in Cambria.

When news reached us last week that the lobbyists hadn’t changed course, we were duly disturbed. After all, we’d hope that calling out Lewis like that would light a fire under some legislator, maybe even Bill Ross, to demand Lewis stop using the lobbyists for pie-in-the-sky “projects” and start focusing on real, concrete, shovel-ready projects. But then we remembered that this is the same Legislature that let Lewis negotiate his own pre-signed contract and made them ratify it.

But news that reached us yesterday after we returned from vacation convinced us that at least one person—namely, Gregory D. Lewis—has been reading our blog.

At 2:02 p.m. Monday afternoon, Lewis sent the following email, titled “Federal Stimulus Request Update,” to department heads throughout Niagara County’s government:

Dear Department Heads,

At the County Legislature's direction, the County is organizing to describe our status with regard to stimulus funding . Please read the message below and directly respond to Ben Biddel accordingly. This will enable the County to have an updated status on stimulus funding for the County Legislature's review. Your assistance is appreciated.

My best,

Gregory D. Lewis
Niagara County Manager
Telephone 716.439.7006


The email contained 18 PDF attachments for proposed stimulus projects from various government agencies. Reading through the 18 documents—many of them containing page after page of proposed projects, one thing became clear: the county’s lobbying firm hasn’t delivered jack.

With helpful notes like, “The Department of Economic Development was advised by the U.S. Economic Development Administration and NYS Empire State Development that this project is not eligible for funding under any of their programs” and “The Department of Economic Development continues to monitor potential State and Federal funding opportunities” and “Letter from SED does not identify a project sponsor or any specific projects/programs, so it can only be assumed that this letter pertains to projects from NCCC” and “NYS Office of Community Renewal provided a letter for a Niagara County Department of Public Health project, but the letter does not reference which project” and “Letter from NYSDEC indicates that a funding source could not be identified, but funding may be available through NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation or NYSDEC Water Quality Improvement Project Program” we’re left scratching our head as to what, exactly, we’re getting for that $30,000. Because it sure as hell doesn’t look like results.

Basically, after Lewis hand-picked Capitol Public Strategies to manage stimulus-funding lobbying efforts for the county, all they seem to be producing is one excuse after another, written in bureaucratese.

In fact, the only positive news in the whole report is that the county received $900,000 for its brownfields program. Unfortunately, as the report notes, that was because County Senior Planner Amy Fisk wrote up her own proposal and sent it in independent of the county’s stimulus request, and without any participating by the county’s lobbyists. (In case you ever wondered what, exactly, “chutzpah” was, mentioning Fisk’s funding in this report qualifies.)

Hiring a lobbyist was a good idea turned bad by Greg Lewis’ mismanagement of the program. Now, it may be too late to reap any benefits. But it’s also clear to us from the notes on various projects that Capitol Public Strategies was clearly too busy pursuing everything but shovel-ready initiatives. That not a dollar has been won for road or bridge repairs speaks volumes.

We’ve already said our peace on Lewis. However, let us be clear: Capitol Public Strategies has been complicit in this failure. As they are being paid $5,000 a month for this failed project, it’s time to cut our losses and cut them loose.

August 24, 2009

Buffalo Fire Department

Our very deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the Buffalo Fire Department personnel who perished this morning.

August 21, 2009

Jefferson

Today's post will be brief as we pack to head to the U.P. Have a great weekend.

I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government; I mean an additional article taking from the Federal Government the power of borrowing.
- Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1798.

What a wise, wise man Jefferson was.

August 20, 2009

Dyster A Faster Study Than County Legislature

At Niagara Times, we’ve done little to hide our disdain for Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster. We even find ourselves in agreement with several of Dyster’s critics on the Niagara Falls Council who privately refer to him as “Dysaster.”

So when we first heard the news that Dyster—or more accurately, City Manager Donna Owens—had kicked uncredentialed Niagara Falls City Engineer Ali Marzban to the curb after five months, our first reaction was to cluck at yet another Dyster debacle. We even contemplated a blog post mocking Dyster. How do you manage a nationwide search for a highly-paid government official and end up with such a dud?

But then a friend gently reminded us that the Niagara County Legislature—a governmental entity that we find ourselves usually in the position of supporting—did precisely that back in 2003, when they hired this man. Nearly every single day since he started, Greg Lewis has managed to give Niagara County a black eye.

After five months of one embarrassment after another by Mr. Marzban, Dyster—or, more accurately, Owens—finally had enough and got the spine to fire an insubordinate worker with a penchant for grabbing unflattering headlines and bringing embarrassment to the government for which he worked.

So, for once, we’re ready to offer Paul Dyster some praise here at Niagara Times. Yeah, he screwed up royally hiring Marzban, but at least he didn’t take six and a half years to get rid of an employee that was completely out of his depth.

Maybe Bill Ross and the Legislature’s Majority Caucus should be taking notes.

August 19, 2009

Byron Brown's Buffalo Spiraling Out Of Control

Flipping through one of our favorite downstate tabloids the other day, we learned that it took a gunman shooting five people and leaving a community on edge for Buffalo’s imbelic mayor, Byron Brown, to realize that his city is suffering from a surge in homicides and general decline in public safety (as of this writing, the total murders to date for 2009 stand at 36 in mid-August, while the total number for all of 2008 was 38).

An article in the Aug. 6 edition of Newsday contains some stunning news delivered in the printed-word equivalent of deadpan: A day after a mass shooting in a distressed city neighborhood left two people dead, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown returned to the scene, bringing along crews to clean up overgrown and debris-strewn lots and paint over graffiti. Police closed off the street as dozens of workers from the city, Erie County and community groups tackled the job. Brown said he wanted to show the city's support for residents on the street, where abandoned homes have been scrawled with gang-related graffiti, "Die" and other messages. "We want to say to the irresponsible property owners and the criminal element that we're going to crack down with all the legal forces available to us," Brown said.

Now, we here at Niagara Times were left asking some obvious questions by all this, namely, Why the hell didn’t Byron show his support for residents before people got shot? And, the best he can come up with is spray-painting over graffiti?

And yet we still managed to find someone even more horribly misguided—no, make that stupid—than Byron Brown:

Darnell Jackson, a former gang member turned community activist, says the community needs to speak up with one voice.

"Until all of us come together and demand accountability on this HUD money and the economic stimulus money that is supposed to be headed to our community, we are going to continue to have these problems," he added.

In Byron Brown’s Buffalo, the root cause of crime isn’t criminals, it’s graffiti and a lack of stimulus money. After all, that much Krylon costs a lot of money.

We wish we could recommend a solution straight out of Escape from New York, but building a wall around Buffalo is a bit draconian.

But only a bit.

August 18, 2009

Obama Pushes Constitution Annihilation

When I started watching the video below, the first thing I thought of was the movie "Minority Report" with Tom Cruise. I've seen Minority Report a couple of times, and its premise scared me the first time I saw it. In essence, it gives the law the legal authority to arrest you and imprison you for crimes you may commit - and that is exactly what Barack Obama is proposing.

As much as the Bush Administration is criticized for stomping on the constitutional rights of terrorists, he never instituted such a widespread decimation of the Constitution upon the American people as Obama is proposing.

If what Obama is proposing doesn't scare the hell out of you, I'd recommend a serious reality check, because what he is suggesting is downright terrifying.

The video is about nine minutes long, but it's a must-view. Even liberal ACLU-type organizations are stunned by this announcement.

August 17, 2009

Contractor Begs For A Re-Vote

What we have have below is a copy of a letter sent to members of the Niagara County Legislature by a firm called Parise Mechanical. It seems that Parise is the firm that had won the bid to upgrade the HVAC system at the county-owned Shaw Building we have previously alluded to, and they're none too happy about the fact that the county decided not to move forward with the $300,000 in repairs to a building that the county has for sale.

In fact, Sam Parise, president of the company, wrote the letter requesting a re-vote take place. Why? Because, as taxpayers, they are "concerned that after the time and money spent by the County in designing drawings, specifications and advertising, the project is not going ahead". Awwww, how nice of them to be looking out for the taxpayers.

I've got news for you, Sam, I'm more concerned about the taxpayer than you are. How do I know this? Because I don't make my living sucking off of them, as you do.

I mean seriously, do you really think anyone is buying this line of bullshit?

You want the contract because you want to make money. That is nothing to be ashamed of, so why lie about it?

What will be extremely disconcerting is if the Legislature gives this request one iota of consideration. If they do, what message are they sending to the taxpayers - I'll cave in an instant at the first hint anyone questioning my decision?

Parise goes on to utilize some of the most twisted logic ever uttered in advocating for the re-vote by stating: "We have over 50% of our employees that currently reside in Niagara County who pay taxes and would like to see the Committee take care of the tax payer's hard earned money."

I'm sorry, what?

You want the Committee to take care of the tax payer's hard earned money by dumping it into a decrepit facility that just happens to be for sale?

Jesus, Sam, you seriously should put a PR person on staff before you put misguided statements out like that.

The legislature needs to stand their ground here. Anything else would be an affront to the taxpayers of this community. And something to remember come election day.





















August 14, 2009

Lewis To Taxpayers: Drop Dead

Yesterday, Niagara Times broke news that County Manager Greg Lewis was misusing Niagara County's lobbying firm to prop up his plans for a palatial $42 million DPW garage despite efforts by Lockport Legislator Tony Nemi that would allow the county to take over a former New York State DOT garage for $1.

Now, even more disturbing news comes to us.

When Nemi and fellow Legislator Keith McNall won unanimous backing for three resolutions that effectively dashed Lewis’s dreams of a $100 million county office campus last month, we thought Lewis’ very expensive vision was dead. After all, the Nemi-McNall plan was brilliantly simple—and extremely cost-effective. In addition to acquiring the DOT facility, McNall convinced his fellow lawmakers to reject $300,000 in expensive upgrades to the decrepit Shaw Building, and instead look at housing the County Health Department in downtown Lockport at a city-owned office facility.

We certainly endorsed that idea—after all, why put $300,000 of the taxpayers’ hard-earned wages into a building the county has no intention of keeping?

Well, it seems Lewis is now working to force the Legislature’s hand. Sources inside county government alerted us that Lewis had County Historian Kate Emerson and her staff compiling a detailed history of the Shaw Building all day yesterday.

Why would Lewis ask for such a thing?

We can only speculate, of course, but by having the building, which pre-dates World War I, declared a historic landmark, Lewis would make it virtually impossible for the county to abandon it. County lawmakers would have little choice but to spend the $300,000 in upgrades this year—and much more to replace windows next year (Lewis and the DPW’s next plan for the building) and so on. And please, take our word for it, there is NOTHING historically special about this ugly, utilitarian government building, and if you don’t believe us, click here.

If Lewis succeeds in these machinations, forget about ever unloading Shaw. Because of Article 14 of New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, if Lewis succeeds in having Shaw declared a “historic” building, the county would have to go through years of paperwork and red tape and archaeological digs before it could be done with Shaw.

Apparently, by killing Lewis’ overpriced office campus, the Legislature bruised his ego to the point where he is working to directly undermine acts of the Legislature and stick the taxpayers with an enormous bill. However, by using both the county’s lobbyists and the county historian’s office to undermine the will of the Legislature, never mind to gobble up taxpayer dollars, Lewis has yet again shown his absolute contempt for Niagara County’s elected government.

We grow tired of saying it, but we’ll say it again: The Legislature must finally come to terms with this unelected tyrant, and send him packing back to Minnesota or Florida or Kansas or wherever he’s looking for employment this week.

August 13, 2009

Lewis Misusing Lobbyists

On Monday, Niagara Times took Antoine Thompson and Francine DelMonte to task for failing to bring home more than table scraps for Niagara County from New York State’s cut of the federal stimulus bill. We never particularly liked the stimulus bill, but, we’ve always reasoned, if we’re going to get stuck, and our children are going to get stuck, and our grandchildren are going to get stuck paying for this spending spree, then Niagara County might as well get what’s coming to it.

Unfortunately, we noted, Niagara County’s take from stimulus funds is a pathetic $113 per capita, versus a national average of $181 per capita and a statewide average of $177 per capita. And, we stand by our belief that this shows us just how pathetically irrelevant DelMonte and Thompson are even within their own party.

However, new information that has reached us from sources inside county government points to another culprit: County Manager Gregory D. Lewis.

It seems that, when the county decided to expend $30,000 from the county’s disappearing casino revenue on a lobbyist—a move we applauded at the time—they left management of the whole program to Lewis. In fact, Lewis was even allowed to select the lobbying firm.

So, maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that Lewis is wasting the time and efforts of that lobbying firm, Capitol Public Strategies, on his pet projects, rather than the economic stimulus projects identified by Commissioner of Economic Development Sam Ferraro.

Ferraro devised both a 25-page federal proposal and a more compact state proposal that outlined the “shovel-ready” programs in the county. In Ferraro’s package, there were projects to build and repair roads and bridges, ensure safe drinking water, fund agribusiness development and market start-up companies, and, perhaps most critically in this new Yahoo! era, improve infrastructure at the Buffalo Bolt Business Park in North Tonawanda and the Town of Lockport Industrial Park.

So, one would imagine Greg Lewis is pushing our lobbyists to get results on, say, the “bridge deck sealing” of 27 bridges countywide, or the $3.4 million Cedar Street Bridge reconstruction project. Or maybe he’s instructed our lobbyists to push for the $1 million requested to resurface Nash Road.

Nope.

Greg Lewis has our county’s lobbyists working on two priorities: countywide wi-fi hotspots and construction of a new, $42 million DPW garage in Cambria.

Just three weeks ago, the Legislature unanimously passed a measure instructing Lewis to abandon that effort and concentrate on acquiring an abandoned New York State DOT facility in Lockport for $1. That measure, and two others which also passed unanimously, effectively put the final nail in the coffin of Lewis’s desperately-desired county office campus. So why the hell are our county’s lobbyists wasting their time trying to help Lewis resurrect an idea the Legislature just unanimously shot down?

Come to think of it, a “county wi-fi initiative” has long been a Lewis scheme as well.

Greg Lewis has perverted the intent of the Legislature once again, this time misusing a lobbying firm that was supposed to get us our fair share of the “stimulus” dollars we paid for. Instead, they’re helping Greg finance his ego. And you’re paying for it.

August 12, 2009

DelMonte's "Solution" Puts Families At Risk

In the August 3 issue of the Niagara Gazette, New York State Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte submitted a column in an attempt to justify her actions in leading the relocation of convicted sex offender James McKinney from the Midtown Inn in Niagara Falls to the B Cozy Motel in North Tonawanda.

In the piece, which can be found in its entirety here, DelMonte boasts, "A meeting I hosted in July with Division of Parole officials and (other entities), officials offered a constructive dialogue of Parole’s responsibilities supervising offenders and public discontent with the situation at the Midtown highlighted with McKinney’s placement there. Three weeks after the meeting, Parole moved McKinney to a new location in North Tonawanda."

As she stated, she hosted the meeting. DelMonte is clearly taking full credit for the relocation of McKinney from Niagara Falls to North Tonawanda. On her Assembly website, DelMonte crows of her "promise to continue fighting to ensure our children are safe and protected from predators".

But there is a huge problem with her pushing Parole to move McKinney out of the Falls to North Tonawanda: He has been relocated to an area that is within seconds of a several heavily concentrated communities in....not North Tonawanda, but Wheatfield. In case you're wondering, DelMonte does indeed represent Wheatfield.

Now, we're not advocating McKinney remain in the Midtown Inn - as someone who's been convicted of raping four girls under the age of 14 our belief is that he should be castrated and left in prison - but for DelMonte to present this farce as serving the best interests of her constituents is an absolute travesty.

But don't take our word for it. Take a look at the below video. It originates at the B Cozy Motel, where McKinney currently lives, and illustrates this "favor" DelMonte has done for her constituents. It also demonstrates, once again, DelMonte's blatant disregard for anyone in her Assembly district who lives outside of Niagara Falls.

Apparently her "promise to continue fighting to ensure our children are safe and protected from predators" only applies to her constituents in Niagara Falls. If you live in Wheatfield, you should be very, very concerned.


August 11, 2009

Seventy Grand For A Picnic - Thanks Antoine!

The following is a recent blog post in the Buffalo News' "Outrages & Insights" column in which the writer depicts his interaction with Antoine Thompson's office after receiving an invitation to Thompson's picnic. Note the idiotic quote from Thompson's press secretary.

To think that Antoine may have spent over $70,000 on mailing these picnic invitations is the epitome of arrogance and being out of touch with the populace. A link to the original story may be found here.

No picnic for state taxpayers

Let's see, the state is $2.1 billion in the red, just three months into the fiscal year. Hey, let's have a picnic! Let's hold it in Niagara Falls, but invite folks from all over -- Buffalo, Grand Island, the Town of Tonawanda. Let's tell everyone by printing and mailing notices via first-class mail. And let's do it at taxpayer expense.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of the picnic hosted Wednesday by State Senator Antoine Thompson.

I was one of the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of registered voters in his 60th Senate District to receive a mailed invitation earlier this week inviting me to a cookout in Hyde Park. Me, I live in North Buffalo. A buddy who lives on the West Side received one too.

We received our invitations not a day too soon. It landed in my mailbox Monday, just two days before the event. It gave me and other recipients barely enough time to figure out which lawn chair to bring and pair of shorts to wear.

There are 161,550 active registered voters in the district. With first class postage going for 41 cents a pop, I sure hope not everyone received an invitation. That would come to, let's see, $71,082, plus the cost of printing. And don't forget about the cost of the picnic itself, which was "free and open to the public," according to the invitation.

I called Thompson's office Thursday afternoon to see how the picnic went. I was told by Heather Zeisz, his press secretary, that about about 200 people attended.

Zeisz at first said she believed every household in the district received an invitation, at least in Niagara Falls, although she wasn't sure how many were mailed as opposed to simply handed out. She later said "a few thousand" were mailed, but she wasn't sure of the number.

I asked her how the senator could justify this kind of expense, especially given the state's fiscal condition.

Said Thompson's press secretary: "I don't speak for the senator."

Don't speak for the senator?

"I only give statements based on what he is saying," she said.

Ah, OK.

Zeisz gave me a call back a little later to say she has spoken with her boss -- who was unavailable to answer questions from me directly -- and wanted to relay that he's "a strong supporter of constituent relations and constituent outreach. This was just another event to increase participation."

Nothing about costs, besides the invitation comes out of the senator's mail budget. In a story I wrote last October, I calculated that Thompson spent $107,579 for the last year that data was available.

That's some $2,000 a week, folks.

With no hard figures on the cost of this particular mailing, I decided to punch a few numbers into my calculator.

Let's see. If Thompson dropped $5,000 in printing, postage and picnic food and supplies, and he got 200 people to show up, the cost works out to $25 per head. Kind of a pricey picnic, wouldn't you say? At $10,000, the cost is $50 a head. How about $20,000? You see where I'm headed.

Then again, people have spent a lot more money of late to break bread with Thompson. Why, just last month, he helped to host a fund-raiser at the Buffalo Chophouse in which fat cats paid $5,000 per head to chow down with Thompson and other Senate Democrats, including Malcolm Smith and our very own Bill "Stickin' with Stachs" Stachowski.

Of course, they slipped in behind a curtain to shield themselves from protesters who, in Thompson's words, were "out there performing." In the same breath, the senator informed a reporter that he is a "man of the people."

Well, maybe, Antoine.

If nothing else, you've reminded us that it's no picnic being a taxpayer in the Empire State.

August 10, 2009

DelMonte, Thompson Continue To Fail Niagara

While there are those who will criticize Niagara Times for presenting what they believe to be a "right leaning" position on issues, we have no problem calling out Republicans when the situation calls for it.

Regardless of who we take to task, we'll always do everything within our power to substantiate our position with tangible support. Case in point, this Recovery Tracker analysis by ProPublica. This examination quantifies the amount of stimulus money given to each county in the country. For our purposes, we'll focus on Niagara.

According to the study, the distribution of county funds nationwide is $181 per capita. In the state of New York distribution of county funds, the average is $177 per capita. For Niagara County, it is a measly $113 per capita.

The numbers don't lie.

While there may be a perception that the decision of how to distribute the stimulus monies is being made in Washington, the reality is that those decisions are being made by Albany Democrats.

So the question begs: Where the hell are Francine DelMonte and Antoine Thompson? They are the two members of the State Assembly and State Senate who are in the majority within their respective conferences, and are the two "representatives" of Niagara County who are in the best position to effect the distribution decision. And once again, they have failed us. The two of them let NYPA screw us with their unquestioned support of the sweep of $550 million from programs that would have supported economic development projects in our community, and they screwed us with their support of a budget that raises taxes and fees on the people of this community by millions of dollars.

What's also extremely disconcerting is the fact that, upon further delving into the report, most of the dollars allocated to Niagara County go school aid and creating out-year obligations that the state and our school districts cannot afford - nothing in this allocation goes to creating jobs.

So are Thompson and DelMonte so unwilling to stand up for us to their political bosses from New York City, or are they simply so impotent in the hard core world of Albany politics that our county continuously gets the short end of the stick? I guess the answer is quite possibly both. For the 220,000 residents of our county, that's a sad, sad answer.

August 7, 2009

Dan Rivera’s New Legal Standard


Sources tell us that the best comedy show in town won’t be Aug. 21’s appearance by comedian Bill Engvall at the Seneca Niagara Casino. Instead, it was the show put on by wannabe-legislator Roger Chenez and our old friends Dan Rivera and Peeping Jim Sacco in Judge Frank Caruso’s chambers yesterday.

Of course, you’d never get that from the treatment that Niagara County Democratic Committee Spokesman Mark Scheer gives it in today’s Gazette. There, in typical fashion, Scheer parrots the Democratic Party line even after Judge Caruso had literally tossed Rivera and Chenez’s suit out of his courtroom—and them with it.

From what several independent observers inside the courtroom (that means people not related to Farnham, Mark) tell us, the audience watching the hearing actually was cracking up as Chenez fumbled through his testimony about why he thought County Legislator Gerald K. Farnham didn't live in his district. One legal observer, who has spent the better part of the last 40 years in courtrooms, told us that Chenez was, “Hands down, the most inept and ill-prepared witness I’ve ever seen.”

Apparently Chenez had a hard time answering a very simple question from Farnham’s attorney, Ned Perlman: “Mr. Chenez, you’ve called this proceeding today to allege Mr. Farnham doesn’t live at 5460 Hinman Road. What proof do you have to offer of that claim?”

Chenez’s answer? “Well, people have been talking.”

Wow! Good job, Roger! The new “people have been talking” legal standard. Now, ol’ Hobbes is no lawyer (although he has watched several episodes of Boston Legal, Law & Order, and *gulp* Ally MacBeal), but he’s pretty sure that “people have been talking” and Chenez’s later answer, “Well, several people told me” doesn’t quite meet the burden of proof.

Apparently, Chenez and Rivera had nothing to say when—and here, we’ll quote directly from Scheer’s press release, “Perlman presented a stack of documents supporting Farnham’s contention, including a monthly bank statement, water, telephone, electric, insurance and other bills — all mailed to Farnham at his Hinman Road address. In addition, Perlman presented a copy of the land transfer agreement between Farnham and LaFarge which includes a clause allowing the legislator to continue to live on the property, rent free, for up to five years after closing date of the sale. Perlman also introduced a copy of a July 2009 mortgage bill for the Saunders Settlement property which was also mailed to Farnham at his Hinman Road address.”

This election season has been one blunder after another on the part of Rivera. First, there were his constant assurances that he’d produce a full slate of candidates. He didn’t—in fact, the GOP-led majority has never had to defend fewer seats. Then, there was Dennis Virtuoso’s ill-conceived efforts to kill a popular measure to downsize the Legislature. Now, he takes up a courtroom’s time with nothing but rumor and innuendo.

And the worst part? If the Democrat Party, or Scheer (but we repeat ourselves) had done a little bit of shoe-leather investigating, they’d have been able to avoid ending up with more egg on their faces than a Denny’s short-order cook. Or, they could have just asked their own process server where he found Farnham. For those of you who missed the Buffalo News the other day, this dispatch from reporter Tom Prohaska was priceless:

[Farnham’s] attorney, Edward P. Perlman, argued Friday that the very process of serving Farnham with the legal papers undermined the suit’s chances of success.

It seems the Democrats’ process server went to the Saunders Settlement Road address where the Democrats claim Farnham lives, but the server couldn’t find Farnham.
So, Perlman says, the process server headed for Hinman Road, where he found Farnham and served him the papers— at about 11 p. m., an hour at which most people, especially those like the married, 64-year-old Farnham, are in their homes.
That’s right: according to Perlman, a lawsuit that asserts Farnham doesn’t live on Hinman Road had to be served to him in his home on Hinman Road.
The suspense of finding out how this lawsuit comes out is just killing us.
We’ve never accused Dan Rivera of having any credibility. But yesterday’s episode is an embarrassment for democracy in Niagara County.

August 6, 2009

Show Me The Money

I must admit, I'm somewhat perplexed. What has me in this conundrum is the amount of money that has and is flowing to Niagara Falls with no tangible improvements.

The latest announcement, $3.7 million worth of street projects for the city of Niagara Falls, was recently announced by Rep. Louise Slaughter, who apparently found use for her GPS by programming it to find the city that always weeps.

This is on top of the $50 million that Niagara Falls has received from the Seneca Niagara casino slot machine revenues and the money that Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte recently diverted from a separate pool of casino funds allocated for every other community in the county to fix the decrepit roads of the city.

But nothing has changed in the six years of millions of additional dollars flowing into the city. Actually, let me correct that - things have indeed changed - for the worse.

So where the hell is all of this money going? Whose pockets are being lined? Why has there been no attempt by any member of the so-called local media to investigate this? Are they such cowards that they fear getting on the bad side of the politicos?

Niagara County Democratic Committee mouthpiece, errrr, Niagara Gazette space-filler (calling him a reporter would be an insult to the real reporters of the world) Mark Scheer likes to think of himself of having the pulse of the political scene in Niagara County. What a joke - this part-time blogger has more relevant information than he does. Here's some free advice for you, Mark: Go to Niagara Falls City Hall, do a FOIL for every expenditure related to the city's share of the casino revenue and write a story about it.

Meanwhile, millions continue to flow into a city that has become a complete and utter embarrassment. Yeah, I know, that pedestrian walkway sure has some nice pavers. La-dee-freakin-da. A city that gets 11 million visitors to it each year should not be suffering the way Niagara Falls is. The only way to get to the bottom of these troubles is to follow the money trail. Does anyone out there have the courage to do it?

August 5, 2009

Obama's Revealing Body Language

I'm a big fan of watching poker. Not that I'm that into playing it, but when it's on ESPN or Travel Channel, I just can't get enough of it. Why? Because poker is a phenomenal way of interpreting body language and a better way of watching professionals interpret body language, because as anyone who's ever played the game knows, it's not about playing the cards, it's about playing the person. So when I came across this article on B.O.'s body language, I was fascinated by just how ignorant the man is. The article is entitled Obama's revealing body language and it was written by Thomas Lifson & printed in the American Thinker. The article follows:

This picture truly is worth at least a thousand words.

I am stunned that the official White House Blog published this picture and that it is in the public domain. The body language is most revealing.

Sergeant Crowley, the sole class act in this trio, helps the handicapped Professor Gates down the stairs, while Barack Obama, heedless of the infirmities of his friend and fellow victim of self-defined racial profiling, strides ahead on his own. So who is compassionate? And who is so self-involved and arrogant that he is oblivious?

In my own dealings with the wealthy and powerful, I have always found that the way to quickly capture the moral essence of a person is to watch how they treat those who are less powerful. Do they understand that the others are also human beings with feelings? Especially when they think nobody is looking.

I think this photo constitutes another major Obama blunder.

As some AT commentators point out, this picture becomes a metaphor for ObamaCare. The elderly are left in the back, with only the kindness of the Crowleys of the world, the stand up guys, to depend on. The government has other priorities.

One of the major subtexts of the health care debate involves the public's fear of indifferent, powerful bureaucrats ruling their lives. It is one thing to wait in line at the DMV to find out which other line you should wait in, in order to begin the process of waiting for multiple bureaucrats to go through the motions of processing your request. I have spent entire afternoons going through this process.

But when we get to health care, waiting often means enduring pain and dysfunction longer than necessary, sometimes a worsening of the condition, and sometimes death.

That's why I think this image will have genuine resonance. It captures something that older Americans in particular can relate to. The President presses ahead with a program that will tell them to take painkillers instead of getting that artificial hip.

At every stage of the entire Gates affair, Obama has provided a revealing tell. The "acted stupidly" blunder revealed that he automatically blames the police and thinks they really are stupid to begin with. It didn't trigger a single alarm bell in his mind as he figured out what to say.

Then, the non-apology apology revealed an arrogant man who cannot do what honest people do: admit it when they make a mistake.

Now at stage three, the beer photo op looked OK. It didn't turn into a disaster.

But then in a small moment that nobody in the White House had the brains to understand, Obama goes and send a body language message like this.

I think he is going to get deeper and deeper into trouble. He is no longer repeating the familiar scripts dreamed up for the campaign. He was a master performer.

But when he goes improv, as a president must do, he lets his true character show. This helps widen the level of doubt that Obama is the same guy a majority voted for. Those doubts can only grow.

Andrew McCarthy has assembled an overwhelming case that Obama has lied about who he is. I predict that more and more Americans will become open to the argument that they have been had by a sophisticated and ruthless effort to foist a phony on America.

August 4, 2009

More High Tech Possibilities

We were quite happy to read this article in Buffalo Business First about Niagara County’s sudden emergence as a high-tech magnet.

The Albany area, or, more accurately, a corridor stretching along I-87 from Glens Falls south to around Poughkeepsie, has managed to re-brand itself “Tech Valley” over the past decade and a half. Actually, Tech Valley was a major initiative pushed jointly by former Governor George Pataki and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, a moderate Democrat many credit with turning Albany around. And Tech Valley really has turned the Albany area into an economically-strong region, with housing values three times or more what they are here in Western New York, with a growing tax base and a population that is no longer shrinking. It’s our hope that our region can do something similar.

The Business First article notes how both visionary development officials like the Lockport IDA’s David Kinyon, and progressive pro-business, pro-smart growth politicians like Legislator Rick Updegrove (also of Lockport) can really market our region’s strengths. Frankly, to call Kinyon the Architect of Yahoo! would be an understatement—it was his steady hand that managed to turn Yahoo! into a reality even as some politicians, flailing about for credit, were doing their best to derail it. Likewise, it was really Updegrove who saw the value of low-cost power as a tool for our county’s economic expansion, and who was the father of “Empower Niagara”—the government’s program to allocate cheap energy to companies willing to locate in our region.

The reason we’re happy about the Business First article is, frankly, it’s about time someone gets it, and reporter Alissa Kline, seems to. This is the reason the Legislature is suing NYPA. This is the reason that they put Richie Kessel on the stand last week. People like Updegrove have long understood that. The same can be said, truthfully, of Democrats like Renae Kimble and Kyle Andrews—both of them willing to turn the screws on NYPA.

Our region has always had the capacity to serve as a center of high-tech industry. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier because of a little orange airplane built right in Wheatfield. (That same Bell Aerospace plant also built key components that got Neil Armstrong to the moon 40 years ago.)

At Niagara Times, we hope that Yahoo! is just the beginning. Heck, we’ll even put up with Francine trying to steal the credit again if it means more good-paying jobs and a growing tax base.

August 3, 2009

A Note To Sacco & Rivera: Change Up Your Playbook

So, we read the news Friday that Peeping Jim Sacco and Dan Rivera are at it again, questioning another legislator’s legal residence. This time, it’s Gerald K. “Butch” Farnham, the long-time representative of western Lockport and Pendleton, former majority leader, etc, etc.
The problem is, you can only use a play like this once. While we see that over at the Gazette, our favorite “reporter,” Mark Scheer, dutifully parroted the Democrat Party’s talking points, we rather enjoyed the dispatch from the Buffalo News’s Tom Prohaska, who actually, uh, investigates things before he just passes them along as news.

We love this passage from Prohaska’s story: A reporter’s visit to the Saunders Settlement Road home this week turned up Bert Manning, Farnham’s father-in-law. Manning said Farnham is in the process of remodeling the house and intends to move there eventually, but he still lives on Hinman Road. Farnham confirmed that.

Wow. Butch Farnham bought a piece of property that’s in tough shape.He and his father-in-law are rebuilding it so he can eventually move. Meanwhile, Farnham has a long-term lease—and the paperwork to prove it—for his current residence in the Town of Lockport. Naturally, with nothing more than a wish he had found something noteworthy, Dan Rivera rushes to dirty up the waters and finds a willing ally in Democratic Party Spokesman Mark Scheer.

The problem is, Rivera and Sacco never did their homework. All they do is skulk around the County Courthouse digging through the real estate filings of every Republican elected official and appointee. (Here’s something to ponder if you fall into either category: Dan Rivera has already snooped through the legal filings related to your home. He knows what you paid for it. He knows what you pay in taxes. He knows who you bought the house from. And he thinks that’s all his damn business!)

Butch Farnham is a farmer. Farmers constantly buy and sell pieces of land. It’s the commodity they trade in. No doubt, Sacco will be showing up at his door early in the morning hoping to catch a glimpse of Butch in his bathrobe.

Niagara Times has more than happily criticized Farnham in the past. But at the end of the day, he’s a decent man and a pretty solid legislator with a strong record.

Dan Rivera and Peeping Jim, meanwhile, are little more than vicious partisans who will do anything to muddy up people who fail to genuflect to Francine DelMonte.

Rivera and Sacco owe Farnham an apology. Farnham owes Rivera a broken nose.