Tuesday, July 25, 2017

It's a well-oiled political machine that takes care of its elite members

If you read my last blog, you noticed I highlighted that 4 taxpayer-paid employees of the county legislature got involved in the political process of putting their latest (appointed, not elected) Legislator on the ballot this fall. I finished that post by pointing out the ethical dilemma of having the person they spent considerable time on outside of their jobs having to vote on their salaries, raises and let's add possible promotions to the list also.

You may remember I pointed out that the county executive was making phone calls looking for people than can actually vote for my opponent to help her also. Reading further backwards, you may notice that another long-time Legislator has been stumping for her also, via his "Hi, I'm Jim and this is Mary" article that was so blatantly political that it caused the Town Crier to offer me space to introduce myself also. This will be published in the August Town Crier, and I'd like to thank the management of that publication for being fair and offering to print my press release along with my forthcoming ad. This, btw, is not something they usually do, but did this one time to preserve their integrity.

So it is obvious: I am running against the established Picente-run political machine. They don't want somebody to come in and explore what's really going on, and they most certainly don't want anybody telling the voters what's really going on.

And believe me, there is plenty "going on."

Don't you find it somewhat ironic that the county can bond for tens and hundreds of millions of dollars for such things as:

  • Marcy Nano (It will take more than 1000 years for the current rent structure to pay for what was borrowed, and as the old Wendy's ad said, Where's the beef?)
  • Utica Aud renovations, with box suites (Whoopee) for the 6 people left in the area than can afford them (Hello, you're paying for this regardless of where you live)
  • $50,000 per parking space for an additional 80 parking places next to the county office building (do the math, I'm probably falling short of the real price)
  • A $45 to $50 million dollar proposed parking garage at the new downtown hospital (which I oppose both the location placement and having residents pay one nickel for at all)

And yet, for some unknown reason, the county executive has refused to propose a budget that lowers the sales tax. Again, you -do- realize we are paying the highest sales tax (8.75%) in NYS outside of NYC? You -do- realize that our immediate bordering counties are at least 1/2 percent lower and as much as 1 percent lower? (3 of them are 3/4 of a percent  lower).

You -do- realize this is obscene, don't you? You -do- realize the end result will be higher and higher taxes coupled with more people leaving Oneida County for greener pastures? The downward spiral will continue and this time, counting the prison population in the census won't help one iota.

Well, I'm not finished yet. As I've already said, But wait! There's more!

Purely by accident I stumbled across something that probably 99% of Oneida County residents don't realize even exists: The Republican Oneida County Legislators Election Committee. This appears to be a political committee dedicated to keeping their own in office. Go ahead, google it as it appears above and read their financials as found on the NYS Board of Elections website. While most of the contributors appear to be the Legislators themselves, there are outside donations. Usually these are vendors and entities looking to get or keep county business.

But I also noticed something peculiar in their expenditures. Go ahead, take a look and see if you notice what I did from previous year filings: They only drop contributions on themselves and it looks like they only do it if it's a contested race. In uncontested races, they don't bother to spend on themselves.

Oh, it's certainly legal. But it's also a practice that needs some sunshine put on it. These people are invested in taking care of themselves and keeping the elite country-club just the way it is. They don't want outside eyes taking too close of a look inside to see how things are really run.

So you have a choice this time for who you want to represent you in District 16: You can vote for the Machine rubber-stamp candidate (Mrs. Pratt) or you can vote for open government, term limits and real ethics reform (what a coincidence, that would be me) along with voting to zero out the line that has the additional 3/4% sales tax in the annual county budget. (Yes, the additional 3/4% has it's own line in the budget!)

I am asking for common sense. I'm asking to stop borrowing money to spend on pie-in-the-sky ventures (seriously, a CASINO downtown?) while our infrastructure crumbles. Please consider voting for real change on Primary Day, September 12. I promise you I will not be assimilated into the machine.

Thank you.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Oh, thanks for helping my campaign, now let's look at your raise again

Quiz time:


Question: Who are the following people?

Cynthia A. DelPiano of Beech St, Rome
Pietra Yozzo  of Evalon Rd, New Hartford
Genevieve D. Messa of Maynard Dr, Marcy
Mikale D. Billard of Imperial Dr, New Hartford

Answer: They are all people who have taxpayer-funded jobs at Oneida County. Taxpayer, as in both you and I fund their salary via the taxes we pay. As easily found on Google all four of them work in the same arena: They work for the Legislative Board. Ms. DelPiano appears as the deputy clerk of the Board, Ms. Yozzo is an analyst, Ms. Messa is the secretary and Mr. Billard is the clerk. Notice only 2 of them reside in New Hartford; and of the 2 only one (Billard) resides in District 16 where the race for the Legislative seat is really heating up. Mr. Billard is also a member of the New Hartford Republican Committee and as such, gets a pass because he is supposed to carry the petition of the endorsed candidate - Mrs. Pratt. As I told him during the screening process for the endorsement, I did not expect him to vote for me because if he did, it would cost him his job and he would be the next Brian Scala (see the other question below in the quiz for details).

I don't normally put the names or area locations of people in my blog, but since they voluntarily put their names and signatures to public documents (Mrs. Pratt's political petitions as filed at the Board of Elections), now the airing of their names is fair use and legal. I'll also add that I presume they are all good and decent citizens.

Oh, the other answer you are looking for: All of them also either carried political petitions for Mrs. Pratt or in the case of Ms. DelPiano, as a Notary Public put her signature to some of her petitions as a witness. Witnessing a petition means you were present when every citizen's signature was put on each page. This process takes considerable time; usually it means driving to each person's house and asking them to sign. And they're not the only politically-connected names that appear as witnesses on Mrs. Pratt's petitions, but since the others are not paid by Oneida County taxpayers, I won't bother to list their names. One works for a neighboring county and others are related to Mrs. Pratt, which is fine and dandy with me.

I'm going to guess they did this on their own personal time, a fair assumption. But the bigger question looms: Why did people from Marcy and Rome sign or carry Mrs. Pratt's petitions? And what burning political issues are so important in District 16 to these people that they will drive 20, 30 or 40 miles to help her gather signatures on her petitions?

Perhaps they got some other form of encouragement. Maybe somebody asked them to do it. Maybe they volunteered. Or use your imagination as to why, an answer will come to you sooner or later.

In either event, a question of ethics has now surfaced: At budget time when salaries and raises are discussed by the Legislature, how will Mrs. Pratt view their "job" performance? Is she going to recommend that they get raises because they actually earned them, or has her vote now been influenced because they went outside of the scope of their job duties to help her get elected?

I don't know the answer to that question, but it needs to be asked. While it's nice to have friends in politics, and it's nice to do favors for people who seem to need help, sometimes doing something to help one of your bosses can lead to a conflict. About now, the conflict is beginning to smell pretty tangy.

In any event, if Mr.s Pratt now votes on their salaries or raises before her appointment expires at the end of this year, she has put herself in a position where her vote can be ethically questioned. And as any Legislator knows, you should never allow yourself to be put in a compromising position. No matter what you say after the fact, it does nothing to erase the blot.

Next question: (Multiple choice)

Who are the following people:

Pamela Mandryck
Vernon Grey
Brian Scala

1: Members of the "We Love Tony Picente" fan club
2: Have-been forgotten members of defunct 1980s rock band "Devo"
3: Famous authors who co-wrote "Sheisse Eins Zwei Drei"
4: Millionaire Bruce Wayne's gardeners

The answer is,of course, none of the above. They are all former Oneida County employees who found themselves out of a job due to ... unusual circumstances. No, they did not break any law or do anything dishonest. They fell out of favor of the County Executive. In Ms. Mandrycks case, she was the Republican Election Commissioner. In Mr. Grey's case, he was the former Airport Commissioner and in Mr. Scala's case, he was the deputy highway commissioner. In the interest of finishing this blog post, if you really want the juicy details, I encourage you to look up each individual and ask them to tell you their particular story. But as the stories were told to me, each one is ... very interesting, to say the least.

The point of this quiz is, of course to point out how heavy handed the County Executive runs the insane asylum on Park Avenue from the 10th floor. He demands loyalty, which is not usually a bad thing, but if in any way, shape or form look like you disagree with him, it's Sayonara baby. You're history.

So when people with political jobs on the 10th floor of the Oneida County Office Building suddenly take an interest in carrying petitions for Mr. Picente's candidate of choice, you get the idea. I promise you if elected, I will not ask Oneida County employees for any favors outside the official scope of their daily job duties. Nor will I accept any favors if offered so as to keep clean hands when it comes to fairly evaluating their salaries and raises.

As always, I respectfully ask for your vote on both Primary Day (Sept 12) and in the general election on November 7. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Profiles in Cowardice

John F. Kennedy is credited with writing Profiles in Courage shortly before his election in 1960. It is with a modicum of chagrin that I borrow the title to his book, modify it somewhat and use it to highlight some things many 21st century politicians resort to lately: Taking the cowards way out when the political decisions get tough.

I could tell a few stories from my 12 years on the town board, but that's for another time and place. This time, I'm going to tell you the 2017 story of political cowardice that recently took place on the 10th floor of the Oneida County Office Building during a regularly scheduled meeting. Some background first:

County services decided there was a need for a communications tower up on Higby Road in New Hartford a mile or so before the Herkimer County line. After some engineering, it was decided a 195' tower would solve whatever problem (or future problem) was needed to communicate with ... whomever. Apparently, this project went through proper channels and came to a vote on the floor of the legislature. It passed, but not unanimously. Your 2 New Hartford legislators abstained: Jim D-15 D'Onofrio and Mrs. D-16 Pratt both abstained from the vote. Why?

These towers are not popular in the area they are placed and the people that live there day in and day out don't want them in their 'backyard.' It's commonly called NIMBY which means Not in my Back Yard.

So, to be able to look their constituents in the eye and honestly tell them they did not vote for it, they abstained. Since they both represent the area bordering the location of the new tower, rather than take the heat for voting for it, they simply refused to vote.

However, that is what I call a half-truth because they didn't vote against it either. It is 100% political cowardice.

But wait, there's more!

When I served on the town board for 12 years, there were plenty of contentious votes that would have been convenient to hide behind by refusing to vote via the abstention. But I didn't, and there's a few reasons why:

1, You are put there to make decisions. Sometimes, the decisions are tough - either you vote for bad, or you vote for worse than bad. Some decisions have no upside, they are necessary to keeping government operating smoothly and since you ran for the job, now do it. Make the tough decisions.

2: Abstentions are supposed to be way out of avoiding a personal involvement in what is being voted on, such as a financial tie or familial connections that could potentially benefit from your vote. THEN it is perfectly acceptable to abstain so as to keep clean hands.

3: If you do choose to abstain, you are duty-bound to explain to your fellow board members what your conflict of interest is. It is not merely deciding not to vote on something that is politically unpopular; if that were so, legislators would be abstaining all the time on any contentious matter.

No explanation was asked for or tendered to the public. They chose the cowards way out, and that is why I am calling them out for the political cowardice they displayed on the floor.

But wait, there's even more!

Mrs. Pratt has only a few months of appointed experience whereas I have 12 years of elected experience. Experience would have told me to handle the issue in a completely different fashion.
I would have asked to delay the vote so that I could notify the residents in the area and hold a public informational meeting about it. While I was setting the time and place for the meeting, I would have been investigating whether or not the need for the tower was real and dire and whether it could be co-located on an existing tower or in the worst case, lowered. 195 feet is tall and as an experienced Commercial Pilot, I can tell you towers can cause aviation accidents, especially tall towers on a hilltop.

And yes, if I was not afforded the opportunity to delay and hold the meeting, I would have voted AGAINST it. I would not have abstained.

I'm thinking of making this an annual award and expanding it to other local governments. From my years watching political units act, I can tell you there is no shortage of cowardice in politics and most likely never will be.

Next blog post: How Mrs. Pratt already took more money out of your wallet in her short 6 months.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and I respectfully ask for your vote on Primary Day (Sept 12) and in the general election in November.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

How many people am I running against again?

It's July 2017. Every month the New Hartford Town Crier shows up in my mailbox around the first of the month. It arrived 3 days early and I scanned it for political ads. To my surprise, the current Legislator from New Hartford (Jim D'Onofrio, D-15) has written a nice little script entitled I'm Jim, and this is Mary. Ah, I'm betting he didn't actually write it; rather, it was written by a ghost writeress. In any event, there it was in black and white for everybody to see.

Instead of promoting himself as a candidate seeking re-election (which he is), most of the essay is a blatant political endorsement of Mrs. Pratt. She's smart, she's learning... good gosh, I was left wondering if she can leap tall buildings in a single leap or is more powerful than a steam locomotive. Of  course, what Mr. D'Onofrio is saying is codswallop. As somebody on the Board of Legislators for ... 26 or 27 years now and counting, I was surprised at his naivety. Jim, what happens if she loses? Are you going to be sitting next to me and suddenly be my best friend? Perhaps you haven't noticed that this race is heating up and I'm campaigning non-stop to get my message out - and my message is being well-received in the district.

It's no secret that Mr. Picente has been busy making phone calls on Mrs. Pratt's behalf. Political grapevines often rumble and the word gets back to me one way or another.

So, not only am I running against Mr. Picente's poor ideas via his rubber-stamp appointed proxy - a Casino downtown sandwiched between a proposed new hospital and a drug rehabilitation facility (not to mention the Aud, Police/Court buildings and a new indoors shooting range), now I'm running against Jim D'Onofrio also.

No problem, Jim. I've always considered you a nice guy. But one of the things I'm running on is introducing terms limits, and you are Exhibit A.

After watching our county decline over the last 4 decades, and considering the vast majority of it has happened on your watch, I'm kind of left wondering why the idea of term limits hasn't been addressed on the Legislative floor already. Perhaps it's because the idea of it would have kicked you out of office years ago, and of course the idea of that doesn't really sit well with you.

There's an anecdote about baby's diapers and politicians... and why they both need to be changed on a regular basis. Considering how well the county is doing right now (significant loss of population, highest sales tax in the state outside NY City, etc) I want to thank you for removing any trepidation I might have had about bringing this idea forth. And so it is with pride I say:

If elected, I promise I will not run for or serve more than 3 terms. And I applaud any other candidate who promises the same.

The time to pass the torch to the next generation is sooner than you think. If we don't, we will continue to live with the same old stale ideas which will result in the continuation of the decline we've been in for over 4 decades now. With 23 members of the County Legislature, staggering the terms will insure that the entire board will not be swept out in 1 election, and the continuity of running the county will safely continue.

Or, as Einstein famously said, The definition of insanity is doing things the same way and expecting different results.

Let's at least talk about the ideas on the floor. I suspect the idea of term limits will not be well-received, but the discussion has to start at some point.

I respectfully ask for your vote on both Primary Day (Sept 12) and Election Day (Nov 7).

Thank you.

-Don

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