Thursday, June 19, 2014

A comprehensive plan (COMMENTARY with MUSIC)

“Oh Canada …”

You would think the administration of Mayor Lou Rosamilia would pick a Collar City company to do a comprehensive plan at a cost of $750,000.


OK, then one from the Rensselaer County.


OK, one from the Capital Region??


Then it has to be from New York state since it hopes to get some state money to help pay for it.


Jersey?? Maybe?


Then it has to be a company from within the borders of the continental United States of America.


The company it wants to pay $750,000 is Urban Strategies and they are based in Canada.

Maybe when the company representatives come and visit they can check out the Uncle Sam statue near Riverfront Park. You know, the guy who is from Troy and is widely seen as a symbol of the USA.

Obviously, given the Scolite debacle, low bidder is not necessarily the determining factor in picking a company so I’m kind of at a loss as to why it decided to head north of the border when there was one company, River Street Planning, based, as the name implies, right on River Street.
Actually, the whole concept of a comprehensive plan seems kind of like an exercise in futility. There hasn’t been one since 1962, according to the city, and there is probably a reason for that.

The biggest one that comes to mind is that there are better, more practical, ways to spend three-quarters of a million dollars like paving streets, alleviating the tax burden or even helping defray overtime or pension costs that continue to escalate.

I’ve seen these multi-year, multi-faceted planning schemes come and go and while there is probably some merit to them, every shred of common sense tells me they are better left to textbooks, term papers and egg head think tanks.

It’s kind of along the same lines as Mayor Harry Tutunjian wanting to spend I forget how much money to “brand” the city. “Enjoy Troy” had already been around for a couple of decades and was widely accepted in a couple of different manifestations. And the most recent “brand” comes from Tweeter Kevin McCashion and is simply #troycrazy.

There are certain spots in the city where long term planning certainly could work but I’ve yet to see any of them come to fruition. The Hoosick Street Overlay (or was it underlay) District, the South Troy Working Waterfront and even the so called “porn district” all fell by the wayside.

Maybe I’m just not a big enough thinker – egg head – or maybe I’m just practical enough to know that for most things when dealing with a city as eclectic as Troy with its fantastically diverse population it’s better to just guide the stakeholders in a general direction depending on a particular project or situation and let the chips fall where they may.

It’s worked pretty well so far, and it doesn’t cost $750,000.

I'd be shocked if the Council approves it and if they do, I'd be shocked if the state approves any money to pay a Canadian company to conduct a comprehensive plan in a city across the river from its Capitol when the governor is running for re-election.

A company to do a comprehensive plan (NEWS)

       TROY – The city selected Urban Strategies, based in Toronto Canada, to perform a comprehensive plan of zoning and development strategies at a cost of $750,000, said Mayor Lou Rosamilia.

The Council will need to approve the contract and will address it at the June 26 Finance Committee meeting.

“Urban Strategies has an impressive track record when it comes to city planning and we are pleased to announce that they will help us design a roadmap for the future that takes into account who we are and the direction we would like to head,” Rosamilia said of the first comprehensive plan since 1962. “Expertise in areas such as downtown revitalization, waterfront master planning and brownfield regeneration make Urban Strategies a good fit to continue the resurgence that the City of Troy has experienced over the last few years.”

Last summer the city received 15 responses to its Request for Qualifications including River Street Planning of Troy, Clough Harbor & Associates of Latham and Saratoga based Behan Planning Associates.

 That list was narrowed to four and then a committee of city officials and representatives from the Troy Redevelopment Foundation, a group of non-profits that includes Emma Willard, RPI, Russell Sage and St. Peter’s Health Partners. It’s unclear which companies made the final four.

“With all of the exciting things currently happening in Troy, the opportunity to help the city design a blueprint for its future is incredibly exciting,” said Mark Reid, a partner with Urban Strategies.

The two-year process to formulate the comprehensive plan will be paid for by the Redevelopment Foundation and funding through the state Department of State to prepare a downtown strategic plan and develop a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program.

Urban Strategies will host an open house in September to get public input and there will be a “multiple day city summit” in early 2015 for the public to weigh in on what the comprehensive plan should or should not include.

The comprehensive plan will address such things as zoning, development strategies and develop strategic plans for the waterfront and downtown.

You can view the Request for Qualification which outlines what the comprehensive plan will address by clicking here.

Wiltshire and Zalewski are not backing down


As one prominent Troy Democrat said: “Hey, if we don’t have any decent Republicans to fight … we may as well fight with each other.”
And there is no doubt a fight brewing within the Democratic ranks.
Chairman Tom Wade is looking to oust Council President Rodney, his wife Jolene and Councilman Ken Zalewski, D-District 5 from the Democratic Party Committee. He strongly hinted that if they don’t walk away from the seats quietly, and instead challenge his picks by waging primaries, he would look to have them removed from the party for disloyalty.
Safe to say, the three are not going quietly.
“As a proud registrant and committeeman of the Democratic Party, I have consistently proven my loyalty to the party leadership, elected Democratic officials, voters and constituents,” said Wiltshire, a former president of the Rensselaer County Young Democrats, in a statement. “If the chairman wishes to proceed down this path I, along with my attorney Kathleen O’Keefe, will pursue this in court.
“I am a Democrat through and through. I have never supported nor given money to a non-Democratically endorsed candidate. I take these allegations seriously and I am prepared to take this as far as it needs to go.”
O’Keefe worked for Sen. Cecelia Tkazyk in her nail-bitter recount win over Assemblyman George Amadore and has long been counsel to the state Assembly majority. In other words, she knows Election Law and if Wade does try to bounce the three from the party it could ultimately end up in court.
The disloyalty, Wade claims, started when Wiltshire accepted the Independence Party endorsement in exchange for giving the Republicans committee chairs and other appointments. Zalewski’s disloyalty, according to Wade, was when he backed incumbent Republican Councilman Dean Bodnar over his Democratic challenger Michelle DeLair during the District 5 race last year.
Both sides are coy about their strategy too. The way it works is a committee representative can run in any Election District within the Assembly District where they reside. So few signatures are needed to get on the ballot that they can wait until the last minute to show their hands and disclose who is running where. In other words, we likely won't know who is running where and against who until petitions are filed next month. It really doesn't get more down and dirty than a good committee fight.
The brewing battle became public when Wade handed out committee petitions for the “solid” committee members. I say “solid” because there are 30 Election Districts in the city, and with each having two committee members it’s not easy to fill the entire slate and there are always vacancies. There are those party loyalists, however, who have served for years and who run without question every two years. The Wiltshires and Zalewski were once considered “solid” committee members.
That started to change when Wiltshire accepted the Independence Party line, which helped him knock Lynn Kopka, D-At Large, out of the presidency she held for two years. Kokpa is a tried and true Wade loyalist.  
Add that to the ongoing investigation the Council is conducting into two controversial demolition projects headed up – or ordered by – members of the administration of Mayor Lou Rosamilia, another Wade loyalist, and Wiltshire’s well known ambitions for higher office and … well … we have a war. 
The winner of the war, should the two sides continue with the game of chicken and actually bang heads when petitions are due next month, will likely have control of not only the Democratic nod for mayor but the Rensselaer County Democratic Party.  




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Council has to have an end game


Now that the Council is wrapping up its investigation into questionable demolition projects in the city – as well as a couple other things – I can’t help but wonder what the end game is.
Of course, there are those who say the probe has already accomplished its goal – to embarrass the administration of Mayor Lou Rosamilia. But even if that’s the case, there has to be some sort of formal resolution in addition to scoring intangible political points.
I suppose it could come in a few ways: The Council, under President Rodney Wiltshire, could refer their findings to other agencies like the Department of Labor, the District Attorney or the FBI; it could write a report and make recommendations including any disciplinary action it would like to see taken against members of the administration; or it could take action on its own.
As far as I can tell, not much new came out of the hearing last night when the Council heard from Dave Sheeran, a long time code enforcement officer, Planning Commissioner Bill Dunne, Ben Brucato, who lives at 51 Third St. and Andrew Kreshick, who was overseeing the demolition at the King Fuels site.
As I wrote before, the Rosamilia’s administration is out of control and everyone seems to do as they please with little regard for protocol, the Charter or even the mayor. The latest two hearings didn’t do anything but reinforce that observation.
Much of last night’s marathon was spent talking about the city’s decision to shutter 51 Third St. for lack of a certificate of occupancy. The building, owned by Igor Vamos, a former member of the anti-establishment “Yes Men,” was used as a gathering place for some who were protesting the Troy police and how they handled a melee at Kokopelli’s Bar. The accusation is that the shuttering was an effort to discourage – or intimidate – the potential protesters from joining in an anti-police rally.
There is some validity to that concern given the fact Dunne and Sheeran used information garnered from this blog to investigate the building and then used Facebook and a computer program to determine the building did not have a CO, even though Vamos has owned it and it was occupied for more than a decade. Plus, I’m told the normal course of business – or at least one avenue available to the city in such situations – would be to issue a temporary CO and give the building owner time to get everything in order.
Anyway, back to the end game, my guess is the Council will write a report, outlining the already well known issues (in addition to forwarding its information to the Department of Labor, which has an open case about the King Street demo and has already requested such.)
Some recommendations the report could include:
-The Troy Local Development Corporation, which owns the King Fuels site, is out of control and needs more oversight.
-Fire Chief Tom Garrett acted beyond the scope of his duties by unilaterally ordering the demolition of the King Street buildings, and even negotiated with the owner for payment, and should be reprimanded
-Order someone – be it the owner, attorney Don Boyajian, or the city – to at least clean up the lot and take that God-awful tarp off the building that wasn’t knocked down on King Street.
-Dunne acted beyond the scope of his duties by sticking his nose into the Code Department in shutting down 51 Third St. and should be reprimanded. Or, if he is terminated, it would make life a lot simpler for the administration and a whole bunch of Democrats.
-Lobby the state Legislature to enact initiative and referendum in this state to cut Rosamilia’s term short.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Germano's trial postponed until July 28

According to records from the Indian River County Court, F. James Germano’s trial was postponed yet again from June 2 until July 28.
Germano - who stands accused of solicitation of a prostitute, a misdemeanor, and a felony of committing a lewd, lascivious or indecent act - was in court on June 2 but Judge Robert L. Pegg agreed to postpone it more than a month because Germano and his attorney were not ready for trial.
The now 85-year-old Germano was initially charged with soliciting a 12-yr-old boy for sex while the youngster was waiting at a bus stop near his Vero Beach home. The boy called his mother, and she came to the bus stop before Germano had left so he allegedly propositioned her too.
The charges of procuring a person under the age of 18 years old, a felony, and two counts of misdemeanor stalking were dropped by the prosecutor. Germano was later re-arrested on the lewd and lascivious behavior charge. The former North Greenbush political boss remains free on $65,000 bail.
This is third time his trial was postponed - once from April to May and then again from May to this month.
Click here to read some background on Germano and his bizarre arrest.

Monday, June 9, 2014

More on the Democratic Party Committee battle

WADE (Times Union photo)
It’s not a complete house cleaning but Rensselaer County Democratic Party Chairman Tom Wade is getting rid of “dead weight” and those deemed “disloyal” to the party.
As reported, when the petitions forms for committee members were handed out last week, they did not include the names of Council President Rodney Wiltshire, his wife Jolene or Councilman Ken Zalewski, D-District 5.
They also didn’t include three family members of Brian Premo - a long time attorney and Democrat who also has had his differences with Wade - for their committee seats in Brunswick.
The Wiltshires and Zalewski, however, will not be “bullied by the chairman," according to their camp, and are preparing to wage primaries. While Wade did not say he would follow through, he does have the option of assigning a committee to hold hearings to determine if they should permanently get thrown out of the party for disloyalty.
The way it works, though, is that a committeeman can run in any Election District located within the Assembly District in which they live so it’s kind of difficult to see who will run against who until the petition process is complete.
Anyway, disloyalty, according to Wade, includes Zalewski’s support of Republican Councilman Dean Bodnar, R-District 3, over Democrat Michelle DeLair in last year’s election and Wiltshire’s acceptance of the Independence Party line - which helped him oust Councilwoman Lynn Kopka,a party loyalist, as president. Since the Independence Party is controlled at the local level by the GOP, Wade claims Wiltshire made a deal and gave Republicans appointments in return for the party’s nod.
The “dead weight” claim stems from Wade’s contention that the Premos do not show up to committee meetings and do little or no work for the party.  
Also, two years ago, Wiltshire, Zalewski and Premo worked for Robert “Rabbit” Riley in an unsuccessful effort to oust Wade as chairman.
The way it works, according to Wade, is that the town chairs throughout the county and council district leaders in Troy recommend names of those party members they would like to see serve on their respective committees. Wade maintains he is only following those recommendations.
Control of the committee is important in that the committee picks the chairman and ultimately has control who the party endorses. Zalewski is term limited out, but Wiltshire does have political ambitions past the Troy Council and one option is obviously mayor.
If Wade is not supporting Wiltshire for committee, it stands to reason Wiltshire is not his top pick for mayor should Mayor Lou Rosamilia opt not to run for another term. Actually, it would be difficult to see Wade supporting him for another run at Council.
Wade said the party is also shaking up committees in Grafton, East Greenbush and Hoosick but denied there is an all-out house cleaning in Troy as evidenced by the party carrying petitions for former Troy Councilman Mike LoPorto and operative Tom Aldrich in Troy, Charles “CB” Smith in North Greenbush and Phil Malone in East Greenbush. All of whom have had their differences with Wade.
In other words, the war is on and it should be a good one. Wade has been through them before and is not without his support on the committee and Wiltshire and Zalewski are two proven vote getters and popular in the city.  

Given the discord within the Democrats, though, its most powerful weapon remains the complete lack of a Republican Party in the City of Troy.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Wade takes on Wiltshire

WADE (Times Union photo)
It looks like there is going to be a good old fashioned battle over the Democratic Party committee seats as petition forms recently handed out did not include the names of Council President Rodney Wiltshire, his wife Jolene, Councilman Ken Zalewski, D-District 5, or Robert Martiniano. 
While a committee battle may seem like inside baseball, the fact Rensselaer County Chairman Tom Wade opted to publicly challenge Wiltshire is a precursor to next year’s mayor’s race and, if you take it a step further, control of the Democratic Party.
It’s no secret Wiltshire has higher political ambitions and one of them is mayor should incumbent Mayor Lou Rosamilia opt not to run for another term. I’m still of the belief Rosamilia will not run again so that opens the door for Wiltshire – a door Wade would just as soon slam shut.  
Wiltshire alienated the party proper by accepting the Independence Party line last year, which helped him knock Councilwoman Lynn Kopka – a Wade loyalist - out of the presidency. He is also upset the apple cart by killing a deal, backed by Rosamilia, to sell the former Scolite site to R.J. Valente and by spearheading the investigation into two demolition projects and other workings of the administration.
In other words, Wiltshire is not Wade’s top pick to replace Rosamilia as the county’s most high profile Democrat. In fact, he’s not even on Wade’s list to remain a committeeman and as such I don’t see any way Wade can back him for another run at Council.
But all that may not matter to Wiltshire. Given the small number of petition signatures needed to get on a committee ballot to force a primary and the small number of voters needed to win the seat in the election the Wiltshires and Zalewski could still win their committee seats and that sets the stage for another coup. Plus, Wiltshire is making quite a name for himself as president and may not need Wade’s support for anything – at least he must not think so.
But, Wade is a shrewd politician and successfully fought off M. Lynne Mahoney, his co-chair at the time, to win the chairmanship more than a few years ago and then fought off a spirited coup two years ago by Robert “Rabbit” Riley – a coup backed by Wiltshire and Zalewski.
Safe to say, Wade knows how to count.  
As an aside, Martiniano is a member of the “Delusional Bunch.” A group of Democrats Wade nicknamed by Wade who were also in Riley’s camp two years ago and while they are somewhat disorganized they are still Democrats.
But, for Wade to take on the sitting Council president and one of the most popular councilman the Democrats have is unprecedented. (Zalewski is term limited out but was elected four times and I can’t remember the last time he had a serious opponent.)
More on this, like who Wade is running in the primaries against the Wiltshires and Zalewski and how the committee process works, later today.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The fire chief's new powers

CHIEF GARRETT (Times Union photo)
Where there’s smoke there’s fire … unless everyone sticks to the script.
Fire Chief Tom Garrett, while testifying in front of the city Council earlier this week, said the one and only reason he ordered the buildings knocked down on King Street was out of concern for public safety.
Out of 501 vacant buildings in the city, the ones on King Street – which may have different addresses but were really one big row house - presented the largest threat to the safety of fire fighters and the public at large.
Garrett said he didn’t talk to anyone in City Hall about ordering the emergency demo and the one and only discussion he had with Don Boyajian, the buildings’ owner, was the morning the buildings were taken down and during that chat Boyajian agreed to pay for it.
A couple things come to mind.
-The demolished King Street buildings have been vacant for years if not decades. The one end was occupied by a strip club until it was shuttered for offering customers more than a show and the other is home to the new Bombers Burrito bar. I still don’t know what suddenly made the buildings a threat to public safety – especially since the strip club and its extracurricular activities were shut down.
-Since when does the fire chief have the authority to unilaterally knock buildings down? When did it last happen outside of a building that was ravaged by fire? There is some question as to whether the chief has the power under the charter or not but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. But, even with the benefit of the doubt graciously extended, you would think he would run it by someone first - like the mayor perhaps. Or maybe the city engineer, but he was conveniently on vacation. (Russ Reeves has since resigned)
-Garrett said the boiler and most of the piping was removed from the building so he assumed there was no asbestos left. Now, not only does the chief have the authority to reduce any building in the city to rubble, he can do an asbestos survey by eyeballing it rather than using any funky air monitoring or testing equipment.
-He also knows enough about structural engineering to determine the wall between Bombers and the demolished buildings was not going to collapse while crews whacked away at it with a wrecking ball. In fact, he was so confident of that assessment, patrons were allowed to continue to patronize the bar while demolition was going on. Why ruin a perfectly good Happy Hour, after all.  
-The chief also now negotiates with the building owners on paying for the demolition should he order one.
-Given the above powers and/or skills the chief now possesses, I don’t think he makes enough overtime.
-No one is sure when or who ordered the Department of Public Works to set up the barricades but testimony showed it was ready to go the day before. Since Garrett ordered the demolition without speaking with anyone else one can logically assume he requested the barricades. Maybe the chief can plow streets and pick up garbage too.
-Boyajian may have paid more to get rid of the debris because it was determined there was asbestos present – despite the chief’s determination – but he did bypass a bunch of red tape most building owners have to go through if they want to conduct a demolition. That red tape includes a getting a permit, getting approvals from the Planning Commission and the county Department of Health, meeting a host of other criteria and having a post-demolition plan for the site. (See section 141-28and 141-29 of the City Code.)
So far, to no fault of the Council or how it is conducting the investigation into the demolitions on King Street and the one at the King Fuels site, there is a bunch of smoke and, so far, no fire. And there won’t be so long as everyone sticks to the script of “public safety concerns” and “miscommunication.”


Monday, June 2, 2014

Troy grant writer moves on

Bill Rohr, a grant writer, is the latest to flee the administration of Mayor Lou Rosamilia.
Rohr follows the departure of City Engineer Russ Reeves who resigned amid two controversial demolition projects – one on King Street and the other at the King Fuels site in South Troy. Also, Reeves assistant, Barbara Tozzi, a 30-plus year employee, also retired.
While the administration didn’t quite hang Reeves out to dry, it fell well short of backing him up when questions arose about the projects.
It was no secret Rohr wasn’t happy about the way Reeves was treated and while he didn’t abruptly resign, he did start exploring other options. Obviously, one of the options turned out to be better than staying in City Hall, where he has been writing grants for nine years.
Reeves and Tozzi voluntarily testified at the ongoing Council investigation into the demolition projects. Since there have been two other hearings one featuring the owner of the King Street buildings, attorney Don Boyajian, the crew that did some demolition work at the South Troy site and former Mayor Harry Tutunjian.
Tutunjian said Boyajian contacted him in 2011 about the King Street properties to inquire about an emergency demolition. Tutunjian said he refused to consider it since there was no justification. Some two years later, Fire Chief Tom Garrett ordered the buildings demolished while Reeves was on vacation.
Boyajian said “miscommunication” was running rampant in City Hall.
As for the South Troy demolition, the owner of DiTanno and Sons admitted the crew did not follow the demolition plan as approved by an engineer - which really comes as no surprise given the footage that was leaked.
The next hearing will feature some City Hall employees, who will, according to a deal struck by Rosamilia and Council President Rodney Wiltshire, testify voluntarily and not via subpoena.