Mar 20, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Pull up a chair and listen to 12 takes on democracy in Saratoga

Our democracy was created as an experiment, and so is the democracy-inspired event you’re invited to sit in on Wednesday at Caffe Lena in downtown Saratoga Springs.

You’ve heard of TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks. Well, on March 27, come hear LED Talks — League Embraces Democracy.

The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County put out a call for people who’d like to speak for a few minutes (no notes allowed!) on various aspects about making our democracy work. I’m intrigued by the varied backgrounds and interests of the dozen people who were chosen and excited about the angles they selected to address.

The two-hour, free event begins at 7 p.m. March 27; doors open at 6:30 and space is limited. I get off easy as facilitator; you and I get to listen, learn and have fun.

The ground rules for the speakers prohibit the promotion of one political party over another, but rather ask that they address issues and solutions in a knowledgeable, interesting, and engaging way. In other words, we’ll be keeping it civil, but not dull.

Speakers (who’ll be on stage between five and eight minutes each) include award-winning storytellers, a beekeeper, educators, a well-traveled GE retiree, healthcare professionals, and political candidates (successful and not).  The speakers and their topics are:

·         Margaret French: Coming to America  

·         Kathleen Quinn: Not Just for Us Hippies: What Cooperatives Can Teach Us about Democracy 

·         Michael Belanger: Taxation with Representation: The Underpinnings of National Sovereignty 

·         Cynthia Cook: Democracy, Privacy, and Technology 

·         Eva Hawkins: Why Third Parties Matter and Why They Should Get More Media Coverage 

·         Lezlie Dana: Democracy, Change, and the Courage to Believe 

·         Kate DuddingThe Story of One American Soldier 

·         Kathy JohnsonLiberty and Justice for All  

·         Annarosa MuddDe-escalating the Fight: How Arts Help Compassion and Problem-Solving 

·         Tara Gaston: The First Rule of Ballot Fight Club 

·         Norah BrennanTime for Democracy  

·         Linda Salzer: We Must Vote!  

This is the third event in the League’s Democracy Series, and the first of its kind in the very cool Caffe Lena at 47 Phila St. Food and beverages will be available (their chocolate chips are to die for). Learn more at www.lwvsaratoga.org.

Feb 19, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Take 10 minutes at the mic to talk about making democracy work

You know you have something to say about what’s at stake for our democracy in our current political climate. Here’s a chance to tell your story.

The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County is recruiting speakers for its inaugural L.E.D. Talk — modeled after the well-known TED Talks – a free event slated for 7 p.m. March 27 at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs.

Interested participants should complete the one-page application at www.lwvsaratoga.org/led-talk by Feb. 28 or call 518-728-5201 with questions. Those selected will be notified by March 3. 

Speakers will each have up to 10 minutes to talk about any issue related to making our democracy work. Examples include, but are not limited to, the importance of voting, the power of resistance, the importance of the arts in a democratic society, the impact of social media, youth enfranchisement, and the politics of inclusion. Or whatever’s on your mind.

Ground rules: Talks should not promote one political party over another but rather address issues and solutions in a knowledgeable, interesting, and engaging way. Speakers may not use notes (I didn’t make the rules, I’m just relaying the league’s announcement) or multimedia, but will have the opportunity to experiment with story-telling as they educate the audience.

I’ll have the privilege of facilitating the event, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say. If you prefer to just listen, note that the March 27 L.E.D. Talk is free and open to the public; doors open at 6:30 and food and beverages will be available from the Caffe Lena menu. If you know someone who might like to be heard, please share this.  

Feb 8, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Wave of women in leadership focus of league panel Feb. 26 in Saratoga

I call to your attention a Feb. 26 panel on Women in Leadership sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County.

Here’s the release with details: The league is sponsoring the second in our series, Making Democracy Work, a panel discussion, Women Rising: A New Wave of Leadership, scheduled for Tuesday, February 26, 2019, 7 pm at the Gannett Auditorium, Palmountain Hall, Skidmore College. The panel of three women representing business, advocacy, and politics will discuss their experiences, including challenges, growth, overcoming adversity and finding their inner strength or resilience.

The panel will feature:

Nicole Snow, founder and CEO of Darn Good Yarn, located in Clifton Park. Her company is committed to doing good in the world by sourcing products that promote sustainable and fair jobs around the globe. The company sources products that promote job creation to provide meeting the needs for underserved individuals.https://www.darngoodyarn.com/

Tierra Stewart is the National Fellows Program Director with IGNITE,  a nonpartisan organization that trains young women to run for public office.  https://www.ignitenational.org/, and

Nicole Margiasso, M.A. is a Public Affairs Community Organizer for Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson. Her work involves educating community members on political and legislative issues concerning reproductive justice and connecting them with tools to take action- locally, state-wide and federally.  She is the facilitator of the Saratoga Planned Parenthood Action Council and works closely with Vox, the student-run reproductive justice group on Skidmore’s campus. 

All presentations are free and open to the public. Students of all ages are encouraged to attend. Up-to-date information can be found at www.lwvsaratoga.org or call Pattie Garrett (518) 728-5201 or email president@lwvsaratoga.org.

Jan 24, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Saratoga LOWV program offers hope for democracy

It feels like democracy is in crisis. What can we do about it?

Learn what’s possible regarding ethics and the rule of law on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at the first of a three-part “Making Democracy Work” program sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County.

Martha Kinsella, an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice, will review the reform proposals contained in its National Task Force on the Rule of Law and Democracy. As the league explains, the report “lays out a vision for strengthening government ethics and the rule of law” and “includes common-sense proposals that would require presidents to adhere to long-standing transparency and ethics rules, create a stronger enforcement mechanism for ethical breaches in the executive branch, and increase transparency and accountability in White House communications with law enforcement agencies.”

The free program will be from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Gannett Auditorium, Skidmore College, 815 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.

Kinsella is counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that, according to its website, “works to reform, revitalize – and when necessary, defend – our country’s systems of democracy and justice.”

Prior to joining the Brennan Center, Kinsella was a trial attorney at the National Labor Relations Board, conducting enforcement litigation. Previously, she was a policy advisor at the agency. During her tenure at the National Labor Relations Board, she served as grievance chair of her union and received two agency awards for her pro bono work.

Learn more at www.lwvsaratoga.org.

Jan 8, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Follow Chris Wallace: Battle president’s lies armed with truth

Propagandist Sarah Sanders was unabashed by retorts of truth by newsman Chris Wallace.

No matter what President Trump tells the nation about immigration in his prime-time public address, it will be up to national journalists to report not merely what he says, but what is true.

This past weekend, Chris Wallace — an anchor, commentator and respected veteran journalist — showed how it’s done.

On his “Fox News Sunday,” Wallace politely but firmly rebutted White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders’ falsehoods – with facts. She talked about nearly 4,000 people on suspected terrorism lists being stopped by border or customs people, stating “we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is the southern border.”

Wallace was ready.

The overwhelming number of those stops were at airports, he said. Not the border. Most of those stopped were merely from countries that have had terrorists. “And the State Department says that there is, quote, their words: no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico,” Wallace said.

More facts on the topic came this afternoon when NBC reported that for the first half of 2018 (the latest information available), a total of six immigrants – count ’em, 6 – were stopped on the U.S.-Mexico border because their names were on the terrorism database. Six. The number arrested on terrorism-related charges: Zero.

The widespread reporting of Sunday’s Wallace-Sanders exchange illustrates how regrettably rare it is for a news person to knock down persistent untruths. It also illustrates the unnerving boldness of the propogandists. Sanders barely skipped a beat, still discounting the truth even when faced with facts.

So what’s to be done? It takes time and effort to gather, analyze and report information. It takes a commitment by news organizations to dig, dig, dig and relentlessly hammer away with facts.

Access helps, too. Wallace had the advantage of a sit-down, face-to-face conversation with Sanders. A reporter can’t retort when they are reduced to shouting questions outside a helicopter, or prevented at press briefings from asking questions, never mind follow-ups. That said, news anchors and hosts, especially on cable, squander opportunities to refute lies and misinformation that are so authoritatively repeated by the president and his spokespeople.

News people should not inject their opinions; doing so is a disservice that hurts the credibility of journalism. But it is a journalist’s duty to distinguish between truth and fiction, and to hold those in power accountable. I find it painful when Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Sanders, Rudy Giuliani and their cohorts are allowed to hijack purported interviews by so-called journalists who are unprepared, unable or unwilling to counter their fabrications.

Truth will out (as William Shakespeare liked to write) – only if people (journalists, politicians, various experts, community leaders, pastors, anyone with a conscience) are armed with facts and repeat them at every opportunity to deflate and ultimately defeat the president’s malicious misinformation, fear-mongering and brazen lies.

Nov 1, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Corrections and clarifications on charter post

FYI, I have modified a few lines in my preceding charter change vote post based on the corrections and clarifications kindly provided by Mike Sharp. Although my overall conclusion has not changed, the information he provided, which is posted in full as a comment, are appreciated and worthy of your consideration. For a view in favor of approving the first ballot question but not the second, I recommend you read the Saratoga Springs Politics blog thoughtfully presented by John Kaufmann.

Oct 29, 2018 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

Saratoga Springs charter changes do little to improve city operations

Changes to Saratoga Springs city government are on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Saratoga Springs voters should vote no on both charter change propositions on the Nov. 6 ballot.

This is not déjà vu. The 2018 propositions are nothing like the 2017 proposal – defeated by only 10 votes – that would have put a city manager in charge of City Hall and allow City Council members to serve strictly as legislators.

What’s on the ballot this time are changes formulated by a commission consisting entirely of the people who are running City Hall – the council members and their full-time appointed deputies, with the city attorney as chair. I attended two public sessions, read their proposals and have followed arguments for and against. My concerns about the propositions were reinforced Saturday when I received what looks like an official city mailing that eagerly promotes approval of the changes with blatantly biased and disputable claims about “enhanced efficiencies and organizational improvements.”

The major changes in Ballot Question No. 1 would:

  • Require that the mayor’s appointments to land-use boards be approved by a City Council vote. (Legitimate concerns about appointees could be addressed by revising the length of board terms and enacting term limits, and focusing on the mayor’s land-use attitudes as a key election issue.)
  • Move the Recreation Commission from the mayor’s department to the public works department. (This appears to be a logical realignment. But it wouldn’t be necessary if the public works commissioner and his full-time deputy paid appropriate attention to public priorities beyond their silo of responsibilities.)
    • Have the city lawyers, risk manager, human resources and information technology staff all answer to the entire City Council. Since 2001, this has applied to the city attorney. (The promotional material calls that giving them “appropriate autonomy.” I call having several employees reporting to a five-member council tantamount to reporting to no one. These employees should be able to serve all of City Hall while reporting to, say, the deputy mayor.)
    • Remove the stated City Council salary of $14,500 from the charter. (Whether removed or not, the council can raise the salary of the next council with a local law that would require a public hearing. By the way, the group did not seek to eliminate the lifetime health insurance available to council members serving at least 10 years, saying this would be up to the council to change by local law.)
    • Expect City Council members to hire full-time deputies with appropriate education and expertise. (A vague way to say “Don’t appoint unqualified hacks.” Council members who don’t know better ought to be bounced out of office.)

    The second of the two proposals on the ballot would add two at-large city council members. (The mailing says this “increases the opportunity to participate in city government.” True. But these legislative-only members would lack the practical access and authority of their peers, who control their specific administrative fiefdoms. Not worth the added cost of about $15,000 to $40,000 a year each to taxpayers, to start, depending on whether they accept city health insurance. By the way, this council expansion had to be a separate proposition for technical legal reasons, but the city decided that even if approved by voters it would be enacted only if the first proposal is approved as well.)

Given last year’s close vote, a change in the city’s form of government is on the horizon. Meanwhile, the new mayor decided to try to amend the city charter within the existing form of government for the first time since 2001. Restricting the task to the people whose own jobs are affected was a mistake. It was a misstep for the previous mayor’s charter group to shut out the council members and their deputies; the new mayor made the same gaffe in reverse.

It’s easy to cite operational shortcomings small and large resulting from or exacerbated by the commission form of government. Three examples: A conscientious mother was bounced between department for weeks last winter seeking a straight answer about sledding in Congress Park and ended up having to address the entire City Council. Neither an elected public safety commissioner nor his full-time appointed deputy carried out their administrative oversight responsibilities according to a pending lawsuit about police misconduct allegations. The council did not challenge a colleague’s decision to carry an unqualified relative on his department’s payroll.

I think many members on the 2018 commission worked hard to meet their charge from the mayor. Most of my experiences with City Hall have been positive and productive. Dedicated, competent people are committed to their jobs and service to the public. The city is thriving and taxes are reasonable.

But continued success depends not only on having the right people, but also the right structure. (The condescending tone and misinformation spread by some leaders of the 2017 charter movement reflect the opposite problem: right structure, wrong people.)

Despite good intentions, the charter changes on the 2018 ballot don’t offer much to make City Hall more responsive, efficient or accountable. Instead, they illustrate incurable weaknesses in the commission form of government.

Oct 1, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Laura Chodos honored for preserving past, protecting future

Laura Chodos identifies needs, sees possibilities and makes things happen, especially when it comes to learning. She is a forward-thinker who recognizes that understanding the past is essential to a better future. She is tenaciously yet humbly effective at getting things done.

Assembly member Carrie Woerner and Skidmore College President Philip Glotzbach spoke at Oct. 1 tribute to Saratoga Springs resident Laura Chodos as she was honored by the New York State Archives Partnership.Those characteristics and her advocacy for the preservation and accessibility of statewide records drew a standing-room-own crowd of admirers this morning as Laura was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the New York State Archives Partnership Trust.

The tribute for Chodos, 91, included touching reminders of her decades of productive service as described by New York State Archivist Thomas J. Ruller, Assembly member Carrie Woerner and Skidmore College President Philip Glotzbach.

Don’t glaze over the archive partnership name. The trust is a non-profit whose mission is to ensure that past, present and future records of government is preserved and used. For instance, Laura was a driving force behind the 28-year-old annual Student Research Awards designed to encourage students to create relevant projects by exploring the New York State Archives and poring through local records.

Assembly member Carrie Woerner and Skidmore College President Philip Glotzbach spoke at Oct. 1 tribute to Saratoga Springs resident Laura Chodos as she was honored by the New York State Archives Partnership.

Laura served 17 years on the New York State Board of Regents, represented the state at two White House conferences on Libraries and Technology and as stated in the event program, chaired an international task force to ensure follow-up on conference resolutions. She zeroed in on education shortfalls, such as overlooked needs of Native American children in New York. For decades she applied her international approach to educational and cultural exchanges with Russia, including the creation of a sister city program between Saratoga Springs and Chekhov, Russia.

The list of Laura’s local, state and international accomplishments is long and varied. I have long been one of her many admirers, and it was a pleasure to see her honored today.

 

Oct 1, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Digging deeper into police, city documents re Darryl Mount case

Darryl Mount is treated by emergency workers in Saratoga Springs on Aug. 31, 2013. Mount eventually died from his injuries. The photo is an exhibit in the wrongful death lawsuit brought by Mount’s mother.

The other day Saratoga Springs resident John Kaufmann wrote an updated report on the city’s handling of the Aug. 31, 2013 incident involving a police chase and death nine months later of then-21-year-old Darryl Mount, which I reported extensively this past AugustHere is a John’s piece, which includes correspondence related to his research and response to his post.

In response to an email to Kaufmann from then-Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen, I am asking Dr. Mathiesen for documents to support his statements. Also, today I filed a Freedom of Information request with the city for documents pertinent to the insurance company’s investigation of this case and the police department’s practices regarding the investigation of misconduct complaints. Dr. Mathiesen has stated that investigation cleared the police of any wrongdoing, but no such report has been made public. I emailed him about this earlier today and he thoughtfully and promptly responded, but his reply sheds no new light for lack of documentation to support his assertions.

Here is a copy of my email to Dr. Mathiesen followed by his response this afternoon and, below it, my FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request to the city for documents.

Dear Chris,
I appreciate your responsiveness to questions relating to the Darryl Mount case. I read with interest your email exchange on Sept. 22, 2018 with Jo

hn Kaufmann, which was posted on his blog, and I have questions related to two points that you raise.
In one paragraph you wrote: “I later found out that both the DA and the Attorney General were aware of the incident, had been contacted about doing an investigation and apparently decided that the investigation conducted by the SSPD was satisfactory.”
My questions: Could you please provide any documentation that indicates the D.A. and Attorney General were contacted and decided the SSPD investigation was satisfactory? When did you learn this, and from whom?
A couple of paragraphs later you wrote: “One of the investigations that were done is often ignored.  Traveler’s Insurance investigated thoroughly and decided that the Mount family allegations are baseless.  Otherwise, they would have settled a long time ago to limit their expenses.”
My questions are: Could you please provide me with a copy of the Traveler’s Insurance investigation? Who conducted this

Thank you.
Sincerely,
Barbara Lombardo

Oct. 1, 2018 response from Dr. Mathiesen to me:

Barbara,
Question #1.   I can only say that I learned this from a source outside of our department and well after I had been pressured by the Mount family and declined their demand that I call for an  investigation by an outside agency.  I was told that both agencies, as well as possibly others, had declined to initiate an investigation and it was inferred that, after looking into it, they found no reason to do so.
Question #2.   I don’t have a copy of the Traveler’s investigation.  Sometimes cases are settled rather than going to trial because the company feels that there is not enough evidence to predictably defend the City.  I was told that the reason that they were not doing so in this case was because the insurance company found no evidence to undermine the assertion that the police were not at all responsible for the injuries suffered by Darryl Mount.  That would not be surprising given that the facts gathered in this case are overwhelming consistent.
Chris Mathiesen

HERE is the Freedom of Information request I emailed to the city the morning of Oct. 1, 2018:

1. The report prepared for the city in the Traveler’s Insurance investigation of the Aug. 31, 2013 incident in which Darryl Mount was injured.
2. Any correspondence or communications between anyone in the city and the insurer related to the aforementioned incident, beginning with the time of the incident to the present.
3. Any complaints of police misconduct recorded by the city police department from 2011 to present.
4. Records of internal affairs investigations conducted in accordance with General Order 25 from 2011 to present.
5. Any correspondence or communications between the city and the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office referencing the Darryl Mount case from Aug. 31, 2013 through 2014.
5. Any correspondence or communications between the city and the New York State Attorney General’s Office referencing the Darryl Mount case from Aug. 31, 2013 through 2014.

Oct 1, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Bigger City Council on ballot; learn more in Saratoga Springs Oct. 3

Changes to Saratoga Springs city government are on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Would Saratoga Springs be better served by a bigger City Council?

Voters will be asked on the November ballot whether to expand the council from five to seven members, among other changes. This isn’t as huge as last year’s vote on whether to totally replace the form of government. But the proposals are significant.

A public meeting is set for this Wednesday, Oct. 3 to learn more about proposed changes that will be on the ballot Nov. 6. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. in Saratoga Springs Public Library.

I can think of pros and cons about the proposal to add two council members who will serve only as legislators, which their five colleagues would continue to be responsible for specific departments. However, I am going to reserve my opinions until after I’ve heard more about the proposal and the reasoning behind them.

The presenter will be City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis, who was appointed chairman of the 2018 Charter Review Commission.

Wednesday’s meeting is being hosted by the group that opposed the wholesale change in government that last year voters rejected by a mere 10 votes. The event is intended as an informational session. I hope people come to learn what the items on the ballot contain and what they might mean for the city.

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