Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dare We Make His Principled Stand Meaningless?

It is reported that Mayor Duffy won't sign an agreement with Monroe County to guarantee the City's receipt of money to fully compensate it for loss of revenue due to the sales tax intercept plan.   City News describes this as  "... a $50-million stand on principle."

Duffy says he realizes it's a high-stakes stand -- one that could cost the city about $50 million if the county chooses to cut the city out of the sales-tax pie altogether.

"My belief is you stand by your principles," he says.  "You disagree with something, you do it.  You take a chance on incurring other pain elsewhere."

In response, the County attorney says that if a municipality declines to sign an agreement, the County will send the money anyway:   "If they didn't want it, they could return it."

The County attorney's response is unacceptable.   It leaves County taxpayers (which includes all City taxpayers) wide open to a big hit.

There needs to be an agreement between the County and each municipality with which it plans to share revenue pursuant to FAIR.   That agreement should state that if the municipality takes the money, it agrees not to sue the County over the intercept.   Without an agreement like this, a municipality could (1) take the money offered, then (2) turn around and sue the County to overturn the intercept plan.   If the lawsuit succeeded, it would force distribution to the municipality of County sales tax revenue equal to the amount already paid to the municipality.   If effect, the municipality would get a double-dip.

Could this be the real principle involved in the Mayor's refusal to sign?

That would be out of character for Mayor Duffy, and, to date, the City has not joined the litigation to overturn Brooks's FAIR plan.   But it could do so at any time -- even after it receives payment to compensate for the loss of sales tax revenue under FAIR, thereby setting itself up for the double-dip.   The County, and especially the County Attorney, can't seriously be suggesting that the County just go ahead and pay $50 million without protecting against this possibility.

The County has lived up to its commitment and its moral obligation to the City by offering it $50 million (to offset a $50 million loss of revenue from sales tax receipts).   When the FAIR plan was enacted, the agreements were part of the deal as a condition for getting the money.   To turn down one is to turn down both.

The $50 million offered to the City is more than enough to make the school districts whole for their $29 million loss under the FAIR Plan.   Our suggestion is this:   offer the the money to the City, tied to an agreement, once more, just so no one can say you didn't try.   If the Mayor refuses again, give the schools their $29 million.   Put the balance in reserve to hold down future tax increases, or turn it back to taxpayers immediately by reducing the county property tax.

Mayor Duffy has taken a stand on principle.

We're reminded of the quip by cartoonist Jules Feiffer:
"Christ died for our sins.  Dare we make his martyrdom meaningless by not committing them?"


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ambulance Ambiguity

What's the connection between Mayor Duffy and Monroe Ambulance?

That's the question that practically screams itself aloud from the epic saga of the selection of an ambulance service for the City of Rochester.

What influence is strong enough to cause a once-in-two-decades rift between the executive and legislative branches of an otherwise uniformly cohesive one-party City government?  What is it that would cause the Mayor to put himself in the position of loser in a tug of war with the Council?   What is the tie that binds sufficiently tightly for the Mayor to veto City Council's choice even without the votes to sustain that veto?   Why would he put himself in the position of being bested by Council (by a unanimous vote, no less) when merely doing nothing at all -- neither signing Council's approval of Rural Metro Ambulance nor vetoing it -- would have effected precisely the same result produced by City Council's override vote yesterday?

It was the veto that finally drew our attention to the ambulance story.

In vetoing Council's choice, the Mayor deliberately invited publicity about his inability to carry the day on this issue.   He knew he didn't have the votes to sustain the veto.   As it turned out, he had no votes whatsoever.

A political figure of even limited astuteness would have done his vote-counting before deciding whether or not to veto.   Without the votes to sustain, he wouldn't have vetoed at all, since it wouldn't change the outcome and would only cast the Mayor in the role of loser.   That's the point where the reasonable mayor would have gone to the Monroe Ambulance people and said, "Sorry, guys. You know I tried, but the votes just aren't there..."   He wouldn't have paraded his failure in public.

But Mayor Duffy didn't act in the manner of our hypothetical reasonable Mayor.   Instead he intentionally made a point of demonstrating that he himself had done every single thing within his power to give the contract to Monroe.

For whom was this demonstration performed?   And why?

We may never know the answer.   The Mayor's ostensible explanations, about "process" concerns, and worrying about the City being sued, would be instantly derided by the press and the opposition party as a joke, if made by Maggie Brooks in a similar situation.   But as the Democrat and Chronicle's fair-haired boy, Duffy gets a pass on serious scrutiny.   And the City government, of course, is a single-party regime.   There's no opposition party to even ask questions, much less hold anyone to account.

Campaign contributions don't explain it.   "Monroe Ambulance" is the trade name of Monroe Medi-Trans, Inc.   Campaign contributions under both names disclose nothing out of the ordinary.   The State Board of Elections reports no campaign contributions whatsoever by Monroe's principals:   Eileen Coyle, President, Timothy S. Coyle, Vice President, Tom Coyle, Vice President; and Cheryl Fowler, Chief Financial Officer.

We learned that earlier this year Monroe obtained a multimillion dollar line of credit to finance more ambulances to perform the contract they were sure they'd get.  A business doesn't do this unless it believes that the deal's been wired.   Somebody made, if not promises, then at least certain affirmative representations to Monroe Ambulance.

We're big fans of Mayor Duffy.   And we don't care who provides ambulance service as long as they're competent and can find their way to Mustard Street should it ever be necessary.   Whether it's Monroe or Rural-Metro or anyone else who's competent is a matter of indifference to us.

It was the Mayor who suddenly made this story interesting, by intentionally incurring a public defeat, through a veto he knew to be futile, in order to show someone, somewhere, that he has stood by Monroe all the way.

For reasons that, to date, remain private.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Almanac of Monroe County Politics - 2007

• Part 1:   County Legislature

• Part 2:   The Towns

• Part 3:   County-Wide Offices

• Part 4:   Primaries 2009


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mau-Mauing the Public Defender's Selection

The public defender is the person who runs an office of lawyers who defend criminal defendants who can't afford a lawyer.

The incumbent is retiring, effective the end of the year.

Under the law, the County Legislature picks the Public Defender.

The President of the Leg, Wayne Zyra, organised a panel to screen applicants for the position and recommend them to the County Legislature. It would consist of: 3 judges, Stephen Linley, Nancy Smith and one other; one member appointed by the Democratic leader of the County Leg, one appointed by the Republican Leader, and two appointed by the County Bar Association.

The kind of panel you'd expect to screen applicants for an important legal position.

But Assemblyman David Gantt isn't happy.

Gantt began agitating for self-appointed "community groups" -- run by Gantt sock puppets -- to have posts on the committee.

Gantt's insisting on the kind of screning committee used back in the 'seventies when the current incumbent was chosen. His tactics, also, are straight out of the disco era:   Gantt's succeeded in mau-mauing the Bar Association, which earlier had approved the panel, and also the legislature's minority leader Harry Bronson, who earlier did the same, even participating in a joint press release with Zyra. Both have proclaimed they're pulling out of the screening committee.

Editorialists at the Democrat and Chronicle have scrupulously followed instructions from Gantt to pile on, running no fewer than three editorials on the subject so far.

Let's hope Zyra, who political insiders insist is a lot smarter than his reticent manner might indicate, doesn't cave.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Politicus Interruptus

The Democrat and Chronicle may have occasioned some disappointment today with its report on local members of congress leasing vehicles with taxpayer funds.   Among them are Tom Reynolds and Jim Walsh, both wearing the scarlet "R" and therefore Certified Villains.   If the list stopped there, imagine the editorials to follow.   Imagine the postings in rarefied precincts of blogland where they know that Bush didn't just plan the 9/11 attacks, but actually flew the planes into the Trade Center himself ! (It's all explained in Loose Change.)

But just as the Truly Virtuous might have felt the stirring of an outraged response, along comes the third member of Congress named in the story:   Louise Slaughter.

Thus are the Enlightened silenced.

Jeez, Louise !   Whydja have to ruin all the fun ?

At least get Randy to lease a Hummer.


Monday, December 17, 2007

East Rochester's Reign of Error

Quite a response in comments to our story on the new Mayor's attempted ouster of long-standing employees in East Rochester.

We considered it worthy of mention, and the wrong thing for the new Mayor to do, for several reasons.

First, despite what one anonymous commenter to our last post states, Hizzoner Baby Doc demanded the resignation of three civil service employees, among the others whose resignations he also demanded. He did this without consulting the Village Attorney. Since the story came out we've talked to two different lawyers who do labor law, including civil service. Both told us that merely demanding the resignations -- without doing anything more -- violates the state Civil Service law, and subjects East Rochester to potential lawsuits.

Second, it turns out that all of the employees hold positions that can only be filled by a process requiring (1) appointment by the Mayor and (2) approval by the Village Board. The Mayor can fire certain employees on his own (although not many of those on his purge list, because they serve for set terms, which are legally protected). But he can't hire anyone to replace any of them unless the Board of Trustees votes to approve. In other words, the Mayor acting by himself can create chaos, but not progress.

For all we know, dumping all of these people may be exactly the right thing to do.

Our point in criticizing the way the new Mayor has gone about it is that he can't accomplish his goal this way. Some of these people remain until the end of fixed terms that have a year or more to go. So if the goal is to "clean house," Baby Doc's blowing it totally by not cooperating with the majority-Republican Village Board. He should have approached them with what he wanted to do and worked out something they'd approve.

If it's in fact true that, as Koon told the press, the people of East Rochester voted for change and deserve to get it, then by approaching this matter as he has, Koon's guaranteeing that they won't get the change they voted for.

The fault lies with whoever is advising a new Mayor who still can't find the men's room in Village Hall. Whoever advised Hizzoner should have explained the Mayor's inability under law to act unilaterally to replace any of these employees, and should have helped him steer clear of the colossal embarrassment of treading on rights of civil service employees. If the Mayor's not willing to consult his own Village attorney, he at least should consult some trusted legal adviser, to avoid embarrassing himself. If, on the other hand, he did consult counsel, then the advice he received has a distinct odor about it -- an odor of comic incompetence.


Thursday, December 13, 2007


It's all over East Rochester:   the first official act of Hizzoner Jason "Baby Doc" Koon has been to demand the resignations of three civil service employees of East Rochester, thereby violating the New York Civil Service employees law.

Baby Doc dropped off his letters demanding resignations at Village Hall the other day, then, according to East Rochester residents who contacted us, beat a hasty retreat.

He also demanded resignations from six other Village employees, without consulting the Village Board or even the Village attorney, according to outraged East Rochester residents.

In East Rochester, apparently, as in the old days in Haiti -- heads will roll -- legally or not!


Not Local, Just Brilliant

The monthly column of our favorite Democrat, Camille Paglia.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Brooks Budget Plan Upheld

Monroe County won on all counts today in State Supreme Court, which threw out the legal challenge to the FAIR plan. From the Court decision:

Monroe County has no obligation to make the school districts whole for the reductions in sales tax revenue . . . 
There will be some very long faces at Monroe County Democratic headquarters tonight, which has desperately hoped to plunge the County into a fiscal crisis by invalidating the Brooks budget plan.  Remember the Democrats' Holy Grail:   leave Brooks no alternative but a massive property tax hike.


Sunday, December 9, 2007


Dateline East Rochester:   Princess Aura and Ming the Merciless swear in Hizzoner Baby Doc.


Friday, December 7, 2007

A Blog for East Rochester

From Matt Fox comes An East Rochester Renaissance, a blog devoted specifically to East Rochester issues.

With family relations in ER elected leadership starting to remind us of the Duvalier era in Haiti, Matt offers some insights on the premature arrival of East Rochester's own Baby Doc.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"Rare Mummified Dinosaur Unearthed: Contains Skin, and Maybe Organs, Muscle"

"Scientists have uncovered the mummy of a 67-million-year-old plant-eating hadrosaur, a duck-billed herbivore common to North America."

Read the full story here.


Monday, December 3, 2007

To Dream What Never Was and Ask, "Why Not?"

Over Thanksgiving one of the Mustard Street quartet, discouraged by Spitzer's loss of mojo, discussed with an aunt the apparent hopelessness of real change in New York in our lifetime.

Aunt Betsy, who's been around longer than any of us, recalled attending an anniversary dinner for National Review magazine back in the early seventies.   This, she noted, was when the Cold War division of the world seemed about as permanent a feature of life as anyone other than the most visionary could imagine.   One speaker brought the crowd to its feet with a concise assertion of the two main goals of conservatives:   roll back Communism and repeal the income tax.   In the 1970's both apparently seemed hopeless causes.   Yet here we are today.

One down and one to go.

We were reminded of this by a story that right next door, in Massachusetts, voters will decide in a referendum next year whether to repeal the state income tax.

Massachusetts was once known as "Taxachusetts" and "the Peoples Republic of Massachusetts."   But that's changed.  From here in the Banana Republic of New York, getting to vote on repealing the income tax looks like democracy at its best.


Saturday, December 1, 2007

Even "Gannett" Doesn't Do It

Life in the post-literate society:  a cruel self-identifier of semiliteracy, discussed in the New York Sun.