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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Joe Baruth Endorsed By CSEA For Lewis County Legislator in District 8

Trick or Treat

The days are ticking by until election day and no sitting Lewis County Legislators have taken a position on what the Lewis County Budget should look like. Horror stories are emanating from the bowels of the Court House on the size of an alleged budget deficit for this year that will only compound the difficulty of the already difficult budget making efforts that are now under way for next year. From the Board of Legislators we have only silence.
Past practice for budget making was weeks of Legislative meetings, usually with the Legislators meeting as a "Committee of the Whole" to discuss the size and scope of the budget as well as budget priorities. These meetings were open to the public and the budget cards were on the table.
It would appear that this budget year is going to be extremely nasty and with a number of Legislators facing competition the budget process is hidden in the County Manager's office.
Reportedly, even the CountyTreasurer has been told not to talk to the public about the process, to the extent she knows about it.
This is unacceptable. Voters and taxpayers have the right to know and need to know their elected officials thoughts on the budget, especially in a year where the process has reached a critical stage. There is no excuse for any elected official going along with the silence and hiding that is taking place. If a Legislator doesn't know where the budget stands, they have the right and the responsibility to demand answers. Shame on those that remain silent, either because of cynical political posturing or out of cowardice, and in this case, ignorance isn't bliss.
It looks like the Board of Legislators has a belated Halloween gift planned for taxpayers after election day and "it ain't gonna be no treat".

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hiding the Budget While Seeking Re-Election

The Lewis County budget has been located and it resides on the County Manager's desk. County Manager David Pendergast has been acting as the budget "czar", finally unveiling the budget to the Ways and Means Committee on Thursday, October 22, according to this morning's Watertown Daily Times.
While the County Manager is the Budget Officer, it is unusual that there would be so little Legislator involvement with the budget at this late date. Legislators are usually brought into the process in September, listening to budget presentations by departments and asking questions and setting priorities. Now, only two weeks from presenting the Tentative Budget, the Ways and Means Committee made up of only three of the ten Legislators has finally been brought into the process. The Ways and Means Committee is chaired by Legislator Jerry King, famous for attempting to close the Croghan Transfer Site even though it was making money and for turning last year's budget process into a three ring circus. Now, he and his committee appear to be the only Legislators that have had more than a peek at the budget. Why am a grabbing for my wallet?
As it stands now, we're looking at 24% tax increase. The County Manager calls this "unacceptable" and that is an understatement. But what is as galling is the smoke screen process
that seems to be deliberately followed this election year.
What is to be done about reducing this onerous 24% tax increase? What cuts are Legislators going to make? Will it be like last year where vital services such as the Emergency Management Coordinator was proposed to be cut while keeping a luxury like the Trail Coordinator? What are the Legislator's priorities? What other taxes or fees will they attempt to raise?
Oh, we're going to find out early in November...after...yes... the elections. Taxpayers have a right to know what their Legislator's positions on the budget are and to be able to hold them accountable. How convenient that the entire budget process thus far has been kept under wraps in one man's office.
The Legislators were elected to represent the taxpayers and have the fiduciary responsbility of Lewis County as their main charge. They can't do either while willingly or unwillingly being kept in the dark.
The taxpayers and voters need to start demanding answers from their Legislators starting now. This undercover budget process is an affront not only to our pocket books but also to democracy.
It would appear that Board members that have opposition are hoping the clock runs out before having to make their budget opinions known to the public.
Don't allow this to happen. Get on the phone now, but most of all remember the dismal budget track record of each of these people, primarily Lucas, King and Hoch, each exhibiting misplaced priorities. Lucas can't seem to stop spending, the self serving motel study is a case in point.
In this case they can hide, the budget that is, ...and they can run, for office that is,.. but you can
find them and catch them on election day.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Check Out This Site... Outside Looking In
See "A fight to the finish"- an excellent piece on the Baruth vs. Lucas Lewis County Legislative race.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gerald A. Smith for Congress

We're being treated to a rather wild three way race here in the 23rd Congressional District. After a century and a half of one party Republican dominance we finally have a real competitive race-something political junkies like myself salivate over. So why am I, a Democrat, distinctly unenthusiastic?
Don't worry, I'm not going to delve deep into any personal psychoanalysis over this but I am going to look at our choices. That is where my angst is coming from.
In this race we have Dede Scozzafava, who by her record and her philosophy is a Democrat pretending to be a Republican.
Then we've got Doug Hoffman, a tea bagger's teabagger if there ever was one, pretending to be the "Real" Republican while running as a Conservative.
Finally, there is Bill Owens, a lifelong Independent who is pretending to be a Democrat.
I'm sure some of you may be thinking that only a political junkie could allow his/her mind to be tormented by this but let's look at the choices.
As a progressive Democrat there is really nothing here for me. Dede on most issues is more progressive than Bill Owens and even she doesn't seem to think health care reform is a pressing issue. Owens hasn't embraced the public option for healthcare
and on social issues he has been less than clear on his stances.
Forget Hoffman. His stances go beyond what even my most conservative financial instincts can tolerate. He has appealed to the screaming townhall meeting types and that philosophy will do nothing to move our country forward.
So what do I do? Ignore my principles and as a good Democrat vote for Bill Owens..or for Dede because of some of her progressive social stances and ignore the bad stuff?
No can do. Dede has made way too many mistakes (who calls the cops on reporters?) and as for the lifelong Independent who is now a wannabe Democrat Bill Owens... Well, I'm sick to death of Blue Dogs. I'm not going to support another Democrat that is likely to stonewall some of President Obama's best iniatives like healthcare. We've got enough Blue Dogs, thank you very much and it's time to close the kennel.
Yeah, I'm disappointed that after 150 years of Republican congressional rule that the Democrats have put up an Independent pretending to be a Democrat. So does that mean I'm not going to vote? Nope.
I'm voting for my good friend and real Democrat Gerald A. Smith from Barnes Corners as a write-in. He's not pretending to be anything, not even a candidate, but he's got my vote.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Budget, Budget,...Whose Got the Budget?

The best kept secret in Lewis County right now is our budget situation. This should be a hot topic, front and center in public discussion. The budget is apparently being kept under wraps in the County Manager's office.
The budget this year could be really bad news for county taxpayers if the Pilot Agreement with the windmill company has to go to the fall back agreement due to the loss of EZ benefits and Rick Lucas and Co. keep up their big spending ways.
The budget process in Lewis County starts in August with department heads and begins in earnest with the Board of Legislators and the Treasurer's Office in September. The budget process has always been a very public process but things are different this year. It appears from this vantage point that the budget is being hidden because it is just plain ugly and certain legislators that are up for election are facing strong challenges and could be hurt by the bad news.
Jerry King is the Finance Committee Chairman and he completely mishandled last year's budget-turned it into a three ring circus really and it may be that the County Manager is trying to protect King and his allies Rick Lucas and Joyce Hoch from themselves.
The budget should be out in the open for the public to see. The Tentative Budget needs to be completed soon and taxpayers have the right to know what is going on with their tax dollars.
Sources tell me that not even the Treasurer's Office and even some legislators know what is taking place with the budget and that is just plain wrong. This appears to be heavy handed politics and it is not responsible representation.
We don't have to look to Albany for political shenanigans these days. Just look at Lowville...and don't expect to see a budget.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Farming for Votes

I just took a look at Bill Owens' campaign ad highlighting the price crisis gripping dairy farmers. It's good to see politicians paying attention to the problem, but after looking at the ad I have to wonder, do they really understand the problem and if elected will they really try to address the issue?
This isn't a new problem. Like so many national problems we now face, (trade and banking are others) the political root of the problem began in the Reagan Administration and nobody, Democrats included, has taken a serious approach to fixing the price issue. Dairy farmers need a price for their milk that is based on the cost of production, not arbitrary federal support prices and cheese speculation on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. From 1949-1983 milk prices were based on a percentage of "Parity". Parity, to keep it simple was a formula that among other things took into consideration the cost of production. While there were still ups and downs, the perpetual price crises like these of the past 25 years were avoided. In 1983 the Reagan Administration set out to and succeeded in removing milk prices from the Parity formula. Ostensibly, they reasoned that farmers had it too good since they claimed there was a growing "surplus" of dairy products and well we had to put some farmers out of business- and oh yeah, those that survived the politically created crisis would have a life of "drinking free Bubble Up and eating that rainbow stew" to quote Merle Haggard. Of course, all that has really transpired is a twenty five year decline in the farm end of the dairy industry at the same time that processors are enjoying record profits and consolidating at an alarming pace.
Had a surplus been the issue in 1983, it could have been handled without removing farmers from the Parity formula. Had the United States established an on going mandatory supply management system, fair prices could have been maintained, surpluses managed and the economic devastation of much of rural America could have been avoided. It really wasn't about surpluses, however, it was about the Reagan Administration's willingness to auction off family farms so that corporations could gain record profits.
This brings me back to Bill Owens' ad. Yeah, somebody's making a profit off of farmer's backs and there have already been plenty of studies and investigations that point out who. What we and Mr. Owens, Ms. Scozzafava and Mr. Hoffman need to understand is this- even if the store price should drop to lower levels, the farm price of milk can not remain at 30, 20 or 10 year old price levels. Further, as well meaning as they may be, most of the current aid proposals are band aids that substitute taxpayer dollars for fair market prices and that is not acceptable. Make the processors pay a fair price based on a cost of production formula, control the supply with an ongoing supply management program and leaning on the taxpayers won't be necessary. Right now farmers are being screwed, the processors are paying a thirty year old price for farm milk and laughing all the way to the bank, while the taxpayers are being hit again. Maybe this is necessary in the short term, but a long term solution is twenty years overdue.
Will the candidates remember farmers after November? Will they fight for the necessary change or continue to worship at the altar of corporate America?
I'd like to think they will, I'd like to hope that they will, but as a long time political activist (progressive Democrat) that cut his teeth politically in farm activism and politics please forgive my skepticism. I've seen more than one politician run and win while proclaiming to be a friend of the farmer and then watch as they learned the mono-toned poltico speech of Washington D.C. and turn their backs on those that put them there.
Mr. Owens, we need a real solution and you damn well better mean it. This is a problem created by politicians and it's past time for politicians to fix it.

One Day Last Week

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


"I did do due diligence." This was how Lewis County Trail Coordinator Robert Diehl was quoted in today's Watertown Daily Times in an article about the Lewis County Board of Legislator's decision to open roads that essentially connect Tug Hill to Brantingham at last night's board meeting. Unfortunately for Mr. Diehl and Lewis County's trail honchos Mr. Diehl's "due diligence" points out just how pathetic landowner support for providing trails is in Lewis County. This is as expected. ATVs, unlike snowmobiles impact the soil directly and do immense damage, and what right thinking farmer or forester that depends on the land for a living is going to allow this type of activity to take place on their property?
The real casualty in this process, however, has been clear, logical, thinking. In fact, whatever the opposite of clear, logical, thinking is, is what has been taking place relative to ATV trail development.
For example, logic would dictate that since not enough actual trails were able to be opened to ATVs, Lewis County would have to back away from its plans to open up roads. However, in Lewis County "due diligence" seems to mean that if you look for the trails and no one allows you across their property, it's okay to just go ahead and open up public highways regardless of what state law has to say. I'm sure Mr. Diehl looked high and low for trails. The mere fact that he looked for trails and could not find enough landowners to make the project successful does not give Lewis County the authority to open up public highways to ATV use and essentially turn them into an ATV trail system. This turned out not to be about opening short distances of highways to connect long stretches of trails as state law envisions, but rather turned into opening long distances of highways to connect three extremely short stretches of trail.
The other slap in the face to logic was that roads should be opened, seemingly with no regard as to the legality of the opening, because of the claim according to the Times article that even though roads are closed "ATV riders still run their road, but now they do it at higher speeds because they don't want to be caught"... Logic...anyone? First let's asume for the sake of argument that the quoted statement is true and we have no real evidence that it is. In fact, since the County roads were closed, most people report a noticable decline in the number of ATVs on the roads. But, for the sake of, we don't step up enforcement, but we do take action as a county government and open roads illegally and potentially expose every taxpayer in Lewis County to more liabilty, read that higher taxes, so that a few law breakers feel more comfortable? Logic...anyone?
And, not for nothing what about that quaint old notion that local governments should themselves obey the law and their board members should actually live up to their oaths of office to uphold the laws of New York State?
Given the difficulties Mr. Diehl has faced in performing his "due diligence" one has to further question the rather remarkable claim in brochures and other promotional material that Lewis County's trail system is "90% private landowners". Now, I mean seriously, I mean logically, are we expected to believe this?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Does Rick Lucas Want To Be A County Legislator?

The 23rd Congressional District here in northern New York has a hot three way race underway that appears to be up for grabs at this time. The contenders are Republican Dede Scozzafava, Democrat Bill Owens, and Conservative Doug Hoffman. The betting favorite has been Dede Scozzafava but recent polls suggest that this election is anybodys at this point.
Dede is the current Assemblywoman whose district covers Lewis County and the possibilty that she may be moving on is causing speculation as to who may be interested in her position.
One name that has been turning up in the politcal rumor mill is none other than that of Lewis County Legislator Rick Lucas. His name appeared as a possible candidate in a recent post by Mayor Jeff Graham on his blog and since then his name has come up in other conversations as well as a possible Republican candidate for Assembly. The rumor mill even has Mr. Lucas making plans as to who the Republican Committee in Lewis County might pick for his replacement on the Board of Legislators should he actually run for Assembly and win.
Mr. Lucas would seem to be suffering from a severe case of "counting his chickens before they hatch" given he is facing a strong challenge from Joe Baruth and it is in no way a sure thing that he will be re-elected. Some would say the lad is "a bit full of himself".
So... my questions are- Does Rick Lucas sincerely wish to be Lewis County Legislator for District 8 in Lewis County and represent the people of this district, or is he using this position as a stepping stone to position himself for higher office, in this case the Assembly?
Is he willing to inform the voters of this district of his interest in the Assembly position?
Do the voters of District 8 understand that if Mr. Lucas were re-elected to County Legislator and successfully ran for the Assembly, that they have really given the Lewis County Republican Committee their vote and the right to pick his replacement?
Of course this is speculation, but it is informed speculation. Rick Lucas needs to step up and tell the voters of District 8 his intentions. Is he going to let the voters decide who will be County Legislator and serve out his full term if elected or is he going to run for the Assembly and let the Republican Committee decide for the voters who will represent them as County Legislator?
District 8 includes the towns of West Turin, Osceola, Montague, Pinckney, andHarrisburg.