Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Rural Take on Erie County Politics


It's the most...wonderful tiiiiime of the year

...unless you're an elected official attempting to cobble together a budget in the midst of a recession economy.

In Genesee County we've had our budget fight and we've approved ~140 million dollars in spending.  A great man had to sacrifice his job to keep a world renowned alternative justice program away from the fiscal guillotine for one more year, but we got it done.

Our neighbors to the west in Erie County have had their own budget drag 'em out this year.  In one corner, they had County Executive Chris 'Null and Void' Collins and his personal staff of well-trained legislators and in the other corner stood County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz, democratic legislators and the law.

The territory being fought over is cultural spending (hippie art crap in republican parlance,) libraries (pronounced liberrys if you've never been to one,) and staff cuts at the County Comptroller's office (the independent auditing agency that keeps Chris Collins honest.)

For some background from an Erie County blogger or two in the know, follow these links:

I have neither the time nor the inclination to go very deep into Erie County's situation and most of the folks who read this little page don't either, but I think a few points about good government need to be made using the antics of Chris Collins as an example.

We'll start with the question everyone asks me when I bring up the Erie County situation:  'Chris, why is County Executive Collins such a tool?'

Well, I don't know the answer to that.  Maybe he was born that way.  Maybe his mother didn't love him enough.  Maybe it's been too long since his last lapdance.

What do I really think?  Well, it's almost time for him to run what promises to be a tough re-election campaign and I find it fairly obvious that he is attempting to do as much damage to potential opponents like Mark Poloncarz and Kathy Hochul as possible while fortifying his suburban base.  See Chris Smith's story for a more in-depth breakdown on partisan politics in Erie County.

As an interested observer in this situation, I can't find any logical reason, other than the political one, for Collins to act in the manner that he has over the last few weeks.  He told his constituents the cuts had to be made to hold the line on taxes.  Fine.  So, democratic legislators submitted budget amendments that kept the culturals, the libraries and the Comptroller's staff intact without a tax increase, then passed them all.  In response, Collins declared the amendments submitted by democrats 'null and void.'  He may have also been overheard saying, 'Neener-neener,' and 'I'm rubber, you're glue, fuck your amendments.'

Erie County certainly isn't the only cesspool of a-hole politics to be found in today's America, but it's a great case in point.  To hell with good government, to hell with representing the populace and to hell with anything resembling common sense.  It's all about the next election.

I'd like to say that there's a fix for this, but there isn't.  Mr. Smith is never going to Washington.  He's never going to Albany or County Hall.  Mr. Smith will be damn lucky if he can afford to put gas in his car so he can go to his McJob.  That is why I find it particularly disgusting when a guy like Chris Collins insists on operating only within the boundaries of his next campaign which, I assure you, will not include making promises or even listening to the sort of people who need after school programs or pregnancy prevention and certainly not the folks who need public libraries so their kids can do schoolwork etc...

Let's leave aside the liberal hippie spending on social programs, the arts and libraries though and focus for a moment on the most politically charged portion of the Collins cuts.  How in the hell can it be legal for an executive to unilaterally slash the staff, budget and ability to perform of the the only department in Erie County that has a chance of keeping him honest?

Over the last six years, Comptroller Poloncarz's office has conducted 51 audits and major reviews, some of which were not kind to the Chris Collins regime.  Collins only gives the Comptroller credit for four.  I suppose it's possible that the County Executive was too busy  waving his finger in Kathy Hochul's face, forgetting he's met a US Senator  or engaging in various other forms of poor behavior that he simply didn't notice the other FORTY-SEVEN, never mind, it's not possible; Collins is just lying.

We can expect the bullshit level in Erie County to continue climbing over the next year.  Over here in farm country we may have to start wondering whether that smell next summer is fertilizer in the fields or Chris Collins opening his mouth 20 miles west.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Genesee County Nursing Home, It's Nice to Get A Win

Really, it is.

Almost exactly a year ago we had our first meeting about the Genesee County Nursing Home.  We sat around a table at our 'headquarters,' which is to this day a sample table at my place of business.  We smoked too many cigarettes (I still can't quit)  and discussed the importance of the home as a safety net for the indigent, a diamond in a place filled with cubic zirconium and the gold standard for elder care in the Genesee region.

When the meeting was almost over the point was brought up that our opposition to the sale of the home needed a public voice.  During the ensuing silence, I felt the expectant looks of a couple people who own all of my respect and I said, 'No, absolutely not.'

I had just taken a horrible drubbing in my bid for the legislature and I had no appetite for publicity.  I had concerns that any attempt of mine to publicly back a cause of any sort would be seen as politically driven.  I wasn't interested in taking on any sort of extra responsibility and I had no desire to lose.  In short, every objection I had to opening my notoriously big mouth last December was driven by a selfishness that I am now ashamed to admit.

Then my good friend Bea put in me in my place.  She reminded me that the night my ass was thoroughly kicked by the man I challenged in the 2009 election I said that I would continue to be involved in the community.  I said it to a reporter from The Daily News which was stupid because when you say things to reporters they tend to write them down verbatim.  After this happens, your ability to squirm out of responsibility for those words decreases exponentially....dammit.

Bea gave me a scolding, as is her way, and I opened my mind to the possibility, as is mine.

I started the Facebook page a few days later, taped up my hands, put on the boxing gloves and prepared myself for a scrap.  Since then I have made more than a few mistakes and, with the help of some great people, I've done a couple things right as well.  I want to talk about all of that now, particularly the mistakes, and let you judge for yourselves how we got to this place.

A week or so after the Facebook page was up I got a call at work from a local reporter.  She ran a story the next day about our objections as well as the county's side of the story.  We had the Assistant County Manager on record saying that sale was definitely the direction they were headed so the backpedaling and qualifying statements from county leadership immediately stuck in my craw.  Certain county electeds were privately discussing the sale of the home as a done deal prior to our push-back and that smirking, smarmy take on the situation irked me as well.  The public hadn't had their say yet and it's been said about this issue and many others that our county-wide elected officials seem to think that they represent the county to us instead of representing us to the county.  I thought it was time to put a stop to that attitude so we sent a few shots across the bow on The Batavian and a few more in The Daily News.

We had a couple more meetings, smoked more cigarettes and tried to plan a strategy.  We wanted to encourage participation from members of the public so I sent a few messages to the now hundreds of members of our Facebook site and asked them to share their experiences and feelings about the home.  Folks were more than willing to participate; here are a few samples:

After all of that there was a small question about math.  It was just one instance in a long line of head shaking moments in the Year of our Lord 2010, but it was certainly an accurate sample of the strange larger picture. This was the result:

After the mathematical dispute I found myself attempting to explain IGT's, federal contributions and general monetary and budgetary process to folks who were interested in the answers right until I started discussing financial match money, the general fund, etc...  This was the point where I realized that the glaze covering a person's eyes falls directly in proportion to the mathematical difficulty of your last sentence.  So I had an idea.

In retrospect, Mr. Hens, the County Highway Superintendent, didn't deserve the amount of abuse he had to absorb due to the Airport, Bad; Nursing Home, Good stunt, but we had to prove a point and it certainly worked.  The whole issue at that point was about what our county was willing to spend money on and what it wasn't.  When the elderly and indigent are expected to buck up and take it while people who own their own planes are given a place to park them...well, you get the point.

Sometime during all of this I was on local television which I thought was completely surreal.  This was when I really started feeling the pressure as well.  More on that after I finish up the flashback portion of this blog.

In a poor coincidence of scheduling, the consulting RFP came up for a vote right at that time, so I called a few friends and sent out another Facebook message.  We went in and kicked a little ass.  My friend and City of Batavia Councilwoman of 16 years, Rose Mary Christian grabbed a sign and sat right in the front row.  Bea McManis spoke for the senior citizens of Genesee County and I gave a speech that I had written fifteen minutes before I left work that night and was very proud of.  It was a moment of community activism that I had never seen in my small town.  A woman named Carol Mosicki showed up outside the County Courthouse with a petition to help abused women, a large group of supporters gathered to help our cause and I gave an impromptu speech on the courthouse steps.

I'll never forget that day, not just because it was a triumph, but because it was the last time I was able to do anything truly meaningful in support of the nursing home cause.

It probably wasn't the end of my value to the fight, but it was the end of my effectiveness.  You see, almost from beginning to end I was involved in a personal failure.  My wife of four years and I had decided to get divorced and, by early summer, my mind had become clouded by personal concerns.  I'm not ashamed of that; I think any other person would have become distracted by any singular matter of great importance.  I am ashamed that I wasn't able to share these problems with other people who were personally invested in he nursing home issue.  I made some promises to them that I wasn't able to keep and I'm sorry for that.  The website never got off the ground, the summer picnic didn't happen, the things I wanted to do were cast by the wayside.  Enough of that.

Then something else happened.

Late-summer 2010, my grandmother needed surgery...again.  She's had circulation problems for a few years now and, after numerous medical procedures and hospital stays, her doctor recommended that the bottom part of her right leg be amputated.  To make a long and emotionally difficult story short, my grandmother, the bravest, toughest, most perfect woman I know, opted for the amputation.  She was sent to the Genesee County Nursing Home for rehabilitation and physical therapy.

You see where this is going?  There are more than a few candidates for sainthood in that facility.  They cared for my grandmother.  They fed my grandfather while he watched over her bed.  They did what they do for residents of our county every day and God damn anyone who wants to put an end to that.

The first night I visited her she told me that I had to keep the home just the way it was.

Earlier that day, my uncle, who had never mentioned the place to me, told me that if I was involved in the fight to keep the home I needed to continue.

My father told me how wonderful the staff had been to him.

I gave encouragement.  I nodded my head.  I told them I'd do what I could.  I knew that, whatever was going to happen, it was too late for me to have any effect on the outcome.  I never said so.

 Today, it was made public that the Center for Governmental Research in Rochester recommends that Genesee County keep its nursing home with a few tweaks.

What's the moral of this story?

I suppose it's whatever you want it to be.

Personally, I think I failed at my appointed task.  I could have done more.  I could have worked harder.  I could have followed through with more vigor, more attitude, more...simply more.

The reality here is that CGR's recommendation is an honest take on what the home means to Genesee County past, present and future.  There's a certain vanity in my soul that wants to take some credit for the verdict, a poorly developed id that wants to own a victory and claim moral and intellectual superiority, but ego be damned.  I feel good today because my faith in the RIGHT THING has been reinforced.  I don't know if I had an effect on the outcome and I don't care.

The reality of the situation was proven to fall in favor of those ideals I hold close.  Care for the poor, the indigent, those among us who need our help.  That amounts to a win for all of us.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Genesee Justice Matters

I was deeply affected this morning when a woman I've never met came to see me at work.  She wanted to talk about Genesee Justice, why it's so important and what we can do to convince our legislature that they are being wholly obtuse.

The problem is that my hands are currently tied when it comes to these matters for reasons that most of you who read this blog know, but that I am unable to discuss publicly.

I have ideas though and even though I have been barred from taking meaningful action, you have not.

Certain members of the legislature are lying about the small volume of constituent calls they've received about Genesee Justice.  Don't let them do it anymore.  Make a call and tell them to do the right thing, then have your brother/sister/spouse/mom/dad/friend do the same.

Show up to the budget meeting next Monday where they'll be discussing this.  They may not allow public comment, but it's an open meeting and just being there with a scowl on your face can make a me.

If the legislature accepts Ed Minardo's offer to give up his own job to save the program (which, by the way, makes him a better man than most) I want you to do something that maybe you've never done.  I want you to write two checks and I promise I'll be doing the same.  The first one should be made out to the foundation he'll be starting to keep Genesee Justice afloat and doing the good work they're known for.  The second should be made out to him personally because when a man sacrifices his livelihood for our benefit, we owe him our support.  The size of the checks don't matter, the principle you uphold by writing them does.

Everything we do, every day, has an effect on the world around us.  The actions we take and the ones we choose not to impact even our small sphere of influence in large ways.  If the people we have entrusted with the power to govern, the power to create and destroy, only choose destruction, apathy and decay by attrition then it is our responsibility to set the better example.

Members of the Genesee County Legislature:

Raymond F. Cianfrini
District No. 1
Towns of Alabama and Oakfield
79 N. Main, Oakfield, New York 14125
Office Phone: (585) 948-5201 - Home Phone: (585) 948-5347

Robert J. Bausch
District No. 2
Towns of Elba, Byron and Bergen
PO Box 81 Bergen, New York 14416
Phone (585) 494-2114

Annie M. Lawrence
District No. 3
Towns of Pembroke and Darien
2495 Brown Road, Corfu, New York 14036
Phone (585) 762-8506

Mary Pat Hancock, Chair
District No. 4
Towns of Batavia and Stafford
8234 Lewiston Road, Batavia, New York 14020
Phone: (585) 343-1011

Jerome J. Grasso
District No. 5
Town of LeRoy
8706 Haven Lane, LeRoy, New York 14482
Phone: (585) 768-8007

Esther Leadley
District No. 6
Towns of Alexander, Bethany and Pavilion
11047 River Road, Pavilion, New York 14525
Phone: (585) 584-3548

Robert J. Radley
District No. 7 Wards 1 & 6
City of Batavia
23 Allanview Batavia, NY
Phone: (585) 343-4509

Hollis D. Upson, Vice Chair
District No. 8 Wards 2 & 3
City of Batavia
69 Ellicott Avenue, Batavia, New York 14020
Phone: (585) 344-1014 (H) (585) 343-6211 (W)

Edward DeJaneiro, Jr. 2nd Vice Chair
District No. 9, Wards 4 & 5
City of Batavia
104 River Street, Batavia, New York 14020
Phone: (585) 343-9240

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Genesee County Legislature is ....

...full of simpering whiny children without a shred of courage to be found between all nine members.

That's right, you heard me; I'm back for better or worse.

They have wet dreams about selling the county nursing home, they can't wait to destroy the nationally acclaimed Genesee Justice program and they won't stop there.  What's on the chopping block next year?  I suppose we'll find out the hard way, just like we do every year.

This is a group of 'lawmakers' who are ideologically challenged to the worst extreme.  A cabal of morons, know-nothings and sycophants who, for some reason, don't understand why we're not thanking them for tossing everything that makes our county a decent place to live in the governmental trash bin.. 

Even a bread line full of Republican Party electeds can't seem to sway these blind ideologues from their appointed path this time around and that should give all of us pause.

The Chairwoman of the legislature, who I have always found to be a decent, well-meaning person, made this statement yesterday regarding Genesee Justice:

"The people who have come forth on this particular issue are people I respect," said Hancock. "These are people who don't usually take such strong stands on issues. I know they like us. They're not against us, but they're wondering why we're doing this. They must be right, but strangely I think I'm right."

Yes, Mary Pat, strangely.  Strangely, the legislature and Consul for Life, County Manager Jay Gsell, can't bear to take the advice of law enforcement professionals who do this sort of thing for a living.  Even after being assured by that same group of professionals that includes top City and County Court Judges, the District Attorney and the Sheriff that Genesee Justice saves the county about a million dollars a year, our intrepid lawmakers weren't willing to back off.

That's right, please take your fancy public school learnin' and mathy explanations out of our chamber.  There's no room for reality in our ideology so kindly get the hell out.

In my opinion, this farce is even more egregious than the fight over the county nursing home (the study on that came back two weeks ago by the way and still has not been made public) because the nursing home issue involves a fight about whether or not we should spend actual money on a service.  Dissolving Genesee Justice involves a decision on whether or not we want to stop saving money by not incarcerating every individual who is convicted of a crime worthy of it in Genesee County.

I said this on The Batavian earlier today and I meant it:

I will publicly and vocally support the first legislator for re-election, regardless of party affiliation who steps out on a limb and demands that we do what is necessary to keep Genesee Justice.