Zoning and the Comprehensive Plan

Since the release of The Leader Herald article entitled, “Group Wants to Update Gloversville’s Master Plan,” I’ve encountered some people who seem to think that, with all Gloversville’s problems, this is just another waste of time and money.

To those who feel this way, I really believe you have it backward.  It has been the lack of a plan, of a city-wide consensus, that has caused this city to spend decades lurching from one crisis to another.

Nothing exemplifies this more than the current Comprehensive (Master) Plan that collects dust unused, just like the 1995 and 1972 plans that preceded it.  These were created by committee with minimal public involvement, did not reflect a consensus of the population, and consequently were quickly forgotten and abandoned.

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New and Improved

One of the expectations I’d had for this blog from the beginning was to make it a resource for others to use.  I have finally figured out how to do that.

Over the next few months, I’ll be populating the new pages of this blog (found at the top underneath the blog name) with all of the material I’ve been scanning for the last few years.  The headers currently provided seem to work well for an organized breakdown of this information.  Still, I’m sure as this project grows the headers will change and the whole thing be made as detailed and manageable as possible.  Expect change!

As of now, I’ve only populated some of the months in 2004, just to get an idea what the whole thing will look like.  There is obviously much more to do (in the scanning and populating department) but hopefully you will all have an ever improving  searchable database in the near future.

I am willing to take submissions as well.  If you have materials that you can scan into .pdf format that you have not already been able to find on the site, feel free to forward them and I’ll upload them.  Specifically, I am referring to city documents that may add to a rich and in-depth research database for future area political leaders and those monitoring their actions.

If you have paper and no ability to scan, Derby printing is ready and willing to do this for you – for a price (and they are pretty reasonable actually).  In certain cases, I’ll consider doing it myself.  My only problem in accepting paper documents is that I have to avoid suddenly being flooded with paper.  I’ve been on a three year quest to scan 8 file boxes of paper.  I am not interested in crowding the house with more again.

Spanish born American philosopher George Santayana (not to be confused with the guitarist) is quoted as saying, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  Those words are very true, and just in the last 8 years of observing politics in this community I’ve found them to be startlingly accurate.  The goal of this database is to reduce the number of times those repeats happen, and to make any further repeats that must occur at least more informed so that forward progress is being made rather than spinning the wheels one more time.

Feel free to suggest improvements, categories, layout concept ideas and so forth.  This may be my blog, but the database needs to work for everyone.

Thank you

 

–Lance

 

The Animal Holding Unit is not a waste of Money

In October 2005 as part of budget discussions, I casually mentioned some problems I had with the contract the city had at the time with the Brennan Humane Society.  The contract we had with them had morphed over the years and parts of it now referenced sections that no longer existed.  Basically, it needed to be rewritten.

At the same time, I was concerned that we were paying something like $15,000 for this service, but compared to the number of animals that were actually being transported out there our cost was amounting to several hundreds of dollars per animal.  Not only was the city’s fine structure not even close to capable of recouping that loss, but the rate seemed quite exhorbitant.  There was no accountability for the money we were paying.

In the end, council decided tacking that issue in 2005 for the 2006 budget was a bridge too far.  The issue was dropped and the contract re-ratified for another year as is.

That was the ONLY time I’d ever mentioned the topic.  Due to more pressing matters, it wasn’t even on the radar for budget discussions in 2006 for 2007.  That is, until one fateful day in early November 2006.  I was on the road to New York City with my family when Joan Neherbauer called me and started screaming at me for comments I’d made in a Leader Herald article – an article I had never been interviewed for and didn’t even know existed.

Ms. Neherbauer wasn’t interested in explanations, remained rude on the phone (people in the car could hear her screaming at me while I was using a blue tooth headset), and over the course of the next 60 days continued to ratchet up a one-sided war of words which culminated in face time in from of television news organizations by her.

We soon came to learn that Gloversville was not alone in receiving this sort of tough love from Ms. Nehrbauer, but we were determined to find some sort of compromise.  Therefore, forgoing sleep on a day I had to work nights, in late morning of Friday, December 29, 2006 (a date that will live in infamy), Cynthia Morey, Police Chief John Harzinski, and I sat in the lounge area of City Hall working on changes that would be needed to come to accomodation with  the Brennan Humane Society.  Later that same day, Mayor Tim Hughes attempted to deliver the amended contract to Ms. Nehrbauer for her consideration only to be turned away because of television crews filming her outrage over treatment received by the City of Gloversville.

That was the last straw.  It became evident at that point there were not two entities interested in negotiations.  There was the City of Gloversville with legitimate concerns about the condition of the contract and the cost of service, and then there was the Brennan Humane Society, whose leader was grandstanding on professed outrage but never actually working with us at all.  At that point we actively sought alternatives, one of which turned out to be Dr. Bluvas’ practice on Route 29.  The other was the idea of running our own shelter.  Gloversville used to have its own many years earlier, but for various reasons chose not to continue and contracted with the BHS.

The Sidewalk Program – An Analysis

In 2007, Bruce Van Genderen rediscovered a grant that had been acquired by the city shortly before he became Commissioner of Finance. 

This grant, for approximately $75,000, was specifically designed to fix the city’s sidewalks.  Mayor Hughes then asked council members to evaluate the condition of the sidewalks in their respective wards (to my knowledge I was the only one to actually present a list).

While some discussion occurred over the months of July and August, it wasn’t until the September work session (page 5) that serious debate took place on what the structure of this sidewalk replacement program should look like.  While most of my peers were content to go the usual lottery route, I favored scrapping the idea.   Given the number of seriously deficient sidewalks that emerged from just my own ward, it became clear the city could easily expend this money just fixing the most seriously deficient sidewalks.

Vandalism

Photo Courtesy of The Leader Herald

The Problem:

A rash of vandalism and “tagging” (spray painting of gang or gang-like symbols) on buildings has been plaguing Gloversville for years, but has recently intensified.  Churches, businesses and apartment buildings are being routinely defaced.  Over the last few years, vandalism has also been increasing.  While the problem is city-wide, the “citizens” responsible for doing this have become quite brazen by committing multiple acts of vandalism right on the four corners.  Both The Leader Herald and the Chamber of Commerce have received, between them, at least four known acts of destructive vandalism, with the most recent act being the overturned planters in front of the chamber.

The Reaction:

Local merchants and business organizations are quite fed up with this ‘in-your-face’ criminal behavior and want it stopped.  From their perspective, it has appeared as if such crimes are occurring right under the noses of the Police Department given that the four corners is supposed to be under surveillance by security cameras.

Efforts by Chamber of Commerce President Wally Hart and other merchants to get answers have been frustrated repeatedly with either non-answers from local officials, or, as in the case of the latest incident, no answer at all from the mayor after weeks of waiting.  Since the latest August 24th incident the city has yet to formally provide the chamber with information on what the investigation has found.  Nor has there been any sort of commiseration by the mayor, fact finding on the part of council members, or any sign that local government even cares  that one of its two primary sources of income is under increasing assault.  The lack of apparent concern by city officials has only intensified the bad feeling brewing between local government and business leaders at a time when Gloversville’s success depends strongly on creating as business-friendly an environment as possible.

An Effective Reaction Should Include Research and Process Improvement:It is hard for me to understand why the mayor and council are avoiding dealing with this issue.   The problem is not complex.  The city is under seige by hoodlums.  Those hoodlums have the potential to influence the lives and income of many of our fellow citizens, as well as reduce one of the two largest sources of municipal revenue.  Solving this problem means potentially improving the city’s image (not to mention the lives and livelihoods of local merchants).  Not solving it virtually ensures the city’s image continues to be tarnished, businesses close up shop or move, and municipal revenue will continue to fall.

While there may be many avenues for improvement, I would like to limit my discussion to one of the easiest ways the city has available to fight crime.
Cameras.
In 2005, the city purchased a very basic but expandable camera detection system which is controlled by the Gloversville Police Department.  The goal in purchasing the system was to increase the ability to detect and deter criminals.  Due to lack of funding, the system, which resides on a shelf in a closet, has remained essentially unchanged for four years.  Unlike the capabilities people may have witnessed on various police shows on TV, our system is limited in every way.
Here are the particulars on what we are currently operating with:
–Training:The Police Department’s system was initially purchased in early 2005 with grant funding.  Software updates that have occurred since have been with whatever money the department could piece together.  Training has been limited to in-house knowledge since no funding exists.  No one other than Captain Sira has ever been formally trained.

–Operation:

The six installed cameras are all manually controlled.  While they can be moved, that movement has to be done deliberately by an officer.  Once moved, the camera is stationary until the next time it is manually adjusted.  While stationary, it provides a continual stream of video to the hard drive of the controlling computer limited to the angle of its position.

–Limitations :

What this means to frustrated merchants is that a camera, such as the one on the four corners, could often be positioned in one direction while nefarious demon spawn commit acts of vandalism in a different direction.  Because of their limitations as a real time crime prevention tool, their use is largely limited to a supporting role.

If day time operations regularly leave the cameras in a supporting role, night time operations with the cameras currently installed are almost beyond the systems capability.  Captain Sira showed me a typical recording of North Main Street during the day and at night. While it was possible to read licence plates and observe drivers in their cars or pedestrians during the day, the night shot provided no usable information.  The decorative street lights downtown throw far too little light for the current cameras to image fine detail – especially on an overcast or rainy night.

It would seem the capabilities of the current system are not quite up to the expectations we have all had since it was purchased and installed in 2005.  It is this discrepancy between expectation and reality that has the business class angry and the political class running for cover.Solutions Exist:

But there’s no reason for any of the anger and frustration.  If both sides can take a proactive approach, we can create a system that functions according to the desires of all parties involved (and my dead pan gaze is aimed more at the city than our merchants when I say that).

For example, the current system, while possessing a very small number of cameras with limited night time capability,  is expandable.  Cameras with infrared optics and automatic swiveling capability can be purchased.  Blind spots could be  eliminated by adding multiple opposing cameras at various locations.  Wireless cameras could be hidden in remote locations where frequent vandalism occurs.

Captain Sira reminded me that when the 2004-2007 council accepted the monies for this system one of the stipulations was that local merchants could, if they wanted, purchase the additional camera equipment that could help improve coverage.  If the proper equipment were purchased, it would allow the system to reach beyond the center of town.  City electrician Jim Walsh has already informed me the basic infrastructure to support a wireless system is in place downtown.

The city needs to disseminate knowledge of the expansion capability of this program.  While a few people I talked to were vaguely aware of the possibility, many were not after so many years.  Somehow, Gloversville’s leadership needs to use existing media outlets to share this information consistently.

Making the Choice to Act:

For its part, the City of Gloversville cannot hide behind lack of funds as an excuse for avoiding working with local merchants on this problem. The infrastructure exists and it has been proven that grant money exists.  Local government needs to understand intimately that anything that decreases the desire for business to remain in Gloversville is BAD.  Anything that increases business, and consumer, safety, comfort, profitability and access is GOOD.  Generally speaking, actions taken by government that work toward the benefit of business ultimately pay big dividends for property owners making everyone happy.

 

 

Pay and Benefits in Gloversville Elected Office

A1010.1000 – Common Council Personnel Services – AKA council pay.  It’s been $2500 for nearly 20 years, and actually decreased in 2000 when benefits such as health care were removed.  The state average for communities our size in 2007 was around $6900.  Johnstown, a city half our size (or smaller now), has a council that earns nearly twice as much as Gloversville’s.  Does that make sense?  I proposed an increase of this pay to the $6900 figure in July 2007 and that was apparently sufficient to get John Castiglione to run against me.  Now, having annihilated me in the polls, even he agrees the job is worth more than $2500.  No matter how unpopular it is, this issue really needs to be looked into  – along with the mayor’s salary (which should be 10% above the highest paid city employee.  Elected pay should be tied to some sort of standard, such as that of the Board of Supervisors who are tied to whatever increase members of the Board of Elections receive.  Allowing council pay to degenerate for so long may play good in the local blogs, but it’s a bad business practice if citizens have any desire to attract competent legislators.  Remember, elected office is in competition with every other business for the time and talent of experienced, competent people.  Paying insufficiently all but ensures the talent will rarely step forward.  You get what you pay for.

Staff Training

Gloversville has been supporting very little in the way of training for its union, salaried, elected and appointed officials – and it shows.  It is interesting that while people decry the idea of paying the council more, they elect people who are essentially in the same economic boat they are (who run because they are outraged about this or that (not an acceptable reason to run).  They cannot afford all of the continuing training provided by the state and simply choose not to go.  It’s so bad, in fact, that members of the Gloversville Planning and Zoning Boards had to be placed on notice that failure to obtain the required annual training would result in their dismissal.  If Gloversville is running a comfortable fund balance, and appears to have been doing so for five or more years, then each department of the city should be putting forward a wish list of training opportunities for its people and the city should be covering the ex