May 7, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Come armed – with questions – for Saratoga school board candidates

City Council elections generally draw more attention than Saratoga Springs School Board elections, even though our school tax bill is bigger than the city bill. This year is different, but the issue isn’t taxes: It’s guns and student safety.

Who wants to do what, and why?

I hope to find out Wednesday at a candidate event scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. in the high school teaching auditorium. The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County is hosting the event. The league also promises to have info about the candidates on its website ahead of the May 21 school budget and board member vote.

The other day the president of the school board resigned immediately the other day without public explanation. His three-year term would have ended in June; he did not seek re-election. He was one of members who voted last fall to disarm the monitors who patrol the schools. It passed 5-4 and sparked the current election challenges.

I’m torn about the gun issue. I think arming teachers is an invitation for disaster, but trained officers could perhaps save lives. I want to hear more. I want to learn who’s running and why – and what the candidates are bringing to the table on matters other than guns.

Here’s a link to the League of Women Voters website and one to a rather disturbing post about the campaign by the even-handed John Kaufmann on his Saratoga Springs Politics blog.

May 2, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

My weekend in Montreal

Traveled abroad last weekend … to Montreal. Yeah, it was kind of cool, windy and rainy with threat of snow – but what do you expect for the end of April? Perfect for eating and museum-visiting.

Breakfast crepes in Montreal that would be rotated if I could figure out how to do it.

One of my favorite Montreal traditions is Friday dinner at Bis, a classic and classy Italian restaurant, and both the service and the food were as wonderful as ever. I love their homemade pastas and veal dishes, but this time tried a risotto special that did not disappoint. Not to name drop, but George Clooney and Matt Damon have eaten at Bis more than once (based on photos on entry wall and website), though probably not as many times as the Lombardos.

Saturday highlights: crepes for breakfast, duck confit sandwich lunch from Vasco da Gama café, an afternoon at the Fine Arts Museum, and cavatelli with mushrooms in veal reduction with duck confit at Le Pois Penche. On a duck roll. All are in walking distance from Chateau Champlain, the hotel with the semi-circular windows that remind me of a cheese grater. Always nice to be greeted at the hotel with a big smile from George, who’s been there 40 years.

Ever the curious journalist, I popped into the lovely lobby of the Montreal Gazette, happening upon a gentleman who told me he was the last of the graphic artists and that the shrunken staff was about to move to smaller and no doubt less stylish quarters. I felt his pain.

Looking forward to next April – dinner at Bis and maybe, just maybe, completed construction of the Champlain Bridge.

Our next trip abroad is to another French-speaking destination: France! Group excursions with our fellow Edventures travelers include the Louvre, Musee D’Dorsay, and the Marmottan Museum. Your suggested sites, eateries, neighborhoods and related tips for our free day in Paris are welcome! Merci beaucoup!

Apr 16, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Don’t let Alden Global Capital (AKA MNG) kill Gannett newspapers

If you own Gannett Co. Inc. stock, I beseech you to vote for the company’s recommended board of directors – NOT for the board proposed by MNG, which wants to take over Gannett and squeeze it to death.

I know what I’m talking about.

MNG, under various names, is a vulture hedge fund that buys distressed properties like newspapers and squeezes the life out of them.

“MNG’s comfort zone is running newspapers,” lies the company in its letter with the heading “Save Gannett” mailed to Gannett shareholders.

The truth is MNG could not care less about local news. They see Gannett, they smell blood.

Funny, during my years at The Saratogian under Gannett ownership, salaries were too low and staffing inadequate. As the top editor, I had to justify buying a box of paper clips and hire reporters at barely over minimum wage. Gannett’s local newspapers suffered as the expense of satisfying shareholders.

I didn’t know how good we had it.

Gannett, at least at the time I was at The Saratogian, encouraged its newsrooms to produce meaningful stories, provide community leadership, and reflect the diversity of its population. The trade-off for perpetual entry-level pay was breaking into the field and having fun doing it. I took pride in grooming countless young journalists, many of whom are still writing, editing and even running newsrooms.

Times changed. Gannett sold off some of its properties, including the profitable Saratogian.

The Saratogian’s new owners briefly had a small news-oriented corporate-level component that encouraged significant local coverage. But that was soon cut, along with salaries and jobs. By the time I left the paper in 2015, the owners’ dropped any pretense about caring about the product, the staff, or the community they serve. I give credit to remaining handful of Saratogian staffers diligently plugging along.  

MNG boasts in its letter to Gannett shareholders that among its dozens of publications is The Denver Post. Shame on MNG for bragging about the papers it is decimating. Sure, all is not hunky-dory under Gannett as news companies strive to stay profitable and make shareholders happy in the digital age. But Gannett is a zillion times better as a news company than MNG and its hedge fund, Alden Global Capital.  

The Gannett annual meeting on May 16. If you own a share of its stock, please vote to keep its directors intact and keep MNG at bay.  

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.