Monday, December 31, 2007

Crappy New Year, Plattsburgh!

Snow is shoveled but the dogshit remains. 9 days and counting.

The Burgh can take pride: Cleanliness is next to Godliness. (And people wonder why I’m an atheist.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

My Dogged Pursuit Of A Cleaner Plattsburgh

It sits there on the borderline between a restaurant and a private office. Five days and counting. Right there on a main street sidewalk, ignored by everyone.

If I owned the private office, I would check out the frontage from time to time, making sure at least my stretch of sidewalk was presentable. Professionalism, you know.

If I owned the restaurant, I would remove that fossilizing pile of dogshit. After all, the aim of a restaurant is to maintain, not kill, an appetite.

And if I owned a dog, I would make sure to pick up its crap.

But this is downtown Plattsburgh. Why worry?

Merry Halloween!

Nothing says “Happy Holidays” in Plattsburgh more than a rotten pumpkin stuck in a snow bank. At least it’s in suspended animation with the cold weather. But when the warm days arrive, gooey fun for all.

Take pride, Plattsburgh!

Friday, December 21, 2007

I Called. Did You?


That’s the number if you want to report unshoveled sidewalks in the City of Plattsburgh. I called and mentioned the mess on the half of Elm Street that runs to Miller. See the images below? Do you see any trace of a sidewalk?

This section of Elm Street is narrow. Cars traveling in opposite directions have enough of a problem passing each other without a pedestrian in the street.

And I also snitched on the city. Once again it failed to clear out the other side of this school crosswalk on Margaret Street, forcing kids to walk in the street or climb over the snowbank.

Shouldn’t the city lead by example? Is it going to bill itself for snow removal?

When I called the Building Inspector’s office, the person who answered the phone explained that it would take a while to get the sidewalks cleared of snow. He was polite and honest, explaining that the program was new and they were still working out all the details.

OK, I can cut the city some slack on that. For now.

Maybe you’re fed up with snow-obstructed sidewalks in other parts of the city. Did you call? I do more than bitch and moan; I file complaints. What about you?

Who’s Responsible?

The other night I noticed that a front-end loader was working on the Press-Republican parking lot. At one point it left the lot, traveled a bit down Margaret Street, and started to remove part of snow pile that had been blocking the sidewalk near the bar next door.

The pile had been there for a while. It sat on the borderline of Fitzpatrick’s Bar and the PR property. You either had to climb over it – about five feet of snow – or walk in the street. I couldn’t tell who made the obstruction. Maybe it was the person who plowed out Fitzpatrick’s. Or maybe it was the person employed by the newspaper. Or maybe both snow removers contributed to the problem.

At least the front-end loader from the PR cut down the bank. But as you can see from the above image, there’s still some snow left to go. So who’s responsible?

How is the city going to handle a boundary dispute? One property owner could say that the guy next day pushed the snow onto his land. And the other guy could say all he did was push snow back that had been shoved onto his property.

Well, if such a dispute arises, I don’t effing care. I don’t want to walk in the street or climb over a hill of snow. Just remove the damn barrier.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

An American Ideal: Free Markets

Unlike some other countries, like a commie dictatorship, the United States of America takes great pride in its free market economy. Everyone has a fair shake when it comes to getting ahead.

Or so we have been told.

For your consideration, this story:

There was once a locally-owned bookstore that specialized in used tomes. Due to a surfeit of titles, it planned on opening a second location during the holiday season at The Mall, hoping to reduce some stock. But The Independent Bookstore wasn’t allowed to set up a temporary operation.

Another bookstore, part of a corporate chain, was already ensconced in The Mall. The Corporate Bookstore specialized in new, not used, items. So each bookseller appealed to a different part of the market. But The Corporate Bookstore didn’t want anyone else selling books in its vicinity; it had cornered the market at The Mall and was going to keep it that way. Apparently it had legal wording to back up its wishes.

So the Independent Bookstore never unpacked its boxes, never offered an alternative to shoppers who believe this country runs on free trade.

Trade in this country is only free if you can afford a good lawyer.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Covering Another Common Council Meeting

Overheard via telepathy: “Will it ever end? I wonder if Jack has one of those CIA suicide pills.”

Friday, December 14, 2007

Author M. Dylan Raskin Shares His Brilliant Wit And Deep Insights At The Koffee Kat

Nutshell review: “Blah-blah--excrement--blah-blah--morons--blah-blah-blah--excrement…”

Arts Versus Taxes

NCCCA Executive Director Susan Daul speaks from the podium, explaining why the Common Council should honor its previous vote and help NCCCA secure the Federal Building.

Both sides were out in force at the Common Council meeting Thursday evening.

On one side: people who want to keep their taxes low.

On the other side: people who value art, seeing beyond the need to always make the cost factor a prime concern.

And somewhere between the two sides are those who want more discussion.

Background to the controversy: last year the Common Council was in favor of letting the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts – NCCCA – have first crack on the Federal Building on Brinkerhoff Street when the Feds finally move out. NCCCA would combine the building with the Strand, connecting it with a walkway, thus forming a cultural complex that would provide a variety of activities such as art classes.

Mayor Donald Kasprzak prefers to put the building back on the tax rolls, selling it to a for-profit entity. But as he and others pointed out during the meeting, in one way any discussion about the building is premature until certain requirements are met with the Feds, e.g., it must be offered as low cost housing.

The pro-NCCCA side wants the Common Council to honor its unanimous vote last year in favor of the Arts Center taking over the Fed building. NCCCA had expected everything was settled, planning ahead to use the building, until Mayor Kasprzak tossed a political monkey wrench into the mix.

At times sitting in the audience during the Common Council meeting was like attending a sporting event. The Nay side would score and there was applause. But then the Yea side made a point and its followers would applaud.

The person next to me, knowing that I was with the Yea/pro-NCCCA side, nudged me to join in the applause. But that’s hard to do with a notepad and camera in hand. I was there to document, to make observations. I’m not into politics or sports; just journalism of the citizen kind.

Councilor George Rabideau gestures as he explains why his
POV regarding the NCCCA and the Federal Building has changed since last year.

At one point the Yea side took a shot when Councilor George Rabideau discussed an email he wrote last year to Sylvia Stack, President of the NCCCA, saying that he supported the Arts Center cause. Councilor Michael Drew, who was pushing for a resolution to help NCCCA, mentioned the email when he had the floor.

Councilor Rabideau became particularly animated when he spoke about the email. He appeared a bit upset that the personal correspondence was being used to argue in favor of NCCCA’s plan. Yes, he stated, he did support NCCCA at that time. But now he was with the Nay crowd.

Why? Because, said Rabideau, things changed after July 2006 when the City of Plattsburgh learned in December 2006 that it was facing a big debt and had to raise taxes. Taxpayers were lined outside the Common Council chambers back then, angry over the hit they were going to take. He added that tax increases are a primary concern of his constituents.

But the Yea crowd held in there. Councilor Michael Drew offered to modify the wording of his resolution, saying that the city would offer its support in the efforts of NCCCA to gain the Federal Building. The pro-NCCCA side won, four councilors voting Yes, two voting No.

But the issue isn’t quite over. New councilors are coming on board next year; they will have their takes on the issue. And the city still has to meet with the GSA in regards to what hurdles have to be jumped in getting possession of the Federal Building when it’s vacated in August 2008.

In one way everyone was on the same side. During the meeting a pol on the Nay side would point out, “Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m for the arts.” The individual would mention that he played a musical instrument in his younger years or dutifully attended a son’s concert. Apparently not supporting the arts is almost as heinous as not supporting the troops.

So the future will tell how much real help the arts will get from city leaders. Besides NCCCA, the only place you can find active culture in Plattsburgh is in a cup of yogurt at the supermarket.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Snow Removal Law Not A Done Deal

Bureaucracy. Ya gotta love it.

The City of Plattsburgh has been pushing a new law requiring a property owner to clear snow from sidewalks adjacent to his land. But the law won’t be in effect until the Department of State verifies and files it. This is supposed to happen in a couple of weeks.

I won’t be surprised if it takes longer. After all, it’s the end of the year, the holiday season and all that crap. And maybe the Department of State can’t rubber stamp the law until it’s reviewed by the State Department. And maybe the State Department is required to kick it over to the United Nations…

And take note: if the new law is passed, it will be “complaint driven.” When addressing the problem during his reign, former mayor Dan Stewart claimed that Public Works would “scour” the city to search and destroy – I mean clear – any unshoveled sidewalks. Then the scofflaws would be billed.

It doesn’t work that way with the proposed law. You, John or Jane Q. Public, have to call and report violations to either Public Works or the Building Inspectors office. Apparently city employees are too visually impaired to notice snow piled along a stretch of sidewalk. Their unfortunate condition must be the result of snow blindness.

So, as a public service, here’s the contact info to file a complaint:

Building Inspector
Richard Perry, Supervisor
41 City Hall Place
Phone: 563-7707
fax: 563-3645

Public Works
Mike Brodi, Superintendent of Public Works & Recreation
215 Idaho Ave
Phone: 563-6841

And as far as I know, you don’t have to ID yourself when making a complaint. So there’s no reason not to write or call to turn in a scofflaw.

Unless you’re suddenly struck by snow blindness.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

School Safety?

The crosswalk on Margaret Street for the Oak Street School. While the city has cleared to the entrance on the west side, the last part of the crosswalk on the east side remains packed in with snow. Another snowfall and the school kids might have to walk around in the street to use the sidewalk.

This isn’t the first winter I’ve photographed the same problem at this spot.

When it comes to snow removal, shouldn’t the City of Plattsburgh be leading by example?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Unshoveled Glazed Sidewalks Facilitate Downtown Perambulations

How effective is the city’s crackdown on unshoveled sidewalks in its downtown area? Consider this photographic evidence.

The property owners responsible for these uneven, slippery sections must be out of town, enjoying that Florida sun. So why should they care?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

City Threatens; Scofflaws Yawn

Property owners must shovel snow from sidewalks adjacent to their properties 24 hours after a storm or suffer the consequences!

Or so proclaimed the City of Plattsburgh with a new law that would bill property owners on their tax bills for snow removal. And while most have been good neighbors, some just still shrug it off as a boring detail.

The intersection of Miller and Elm streets. These shots are almost identical to the ones I took last winter. Sidewalks remained unshoveled and pedestrians, afraid to walk in the street, have tamped down the snow. The trouble with such condensed snow is that it can form an icy glaze on top, resulting in slip and trip. A person slips, then takes a trip to the ER.

And what about this spot between the billboard and the railroad tracks on Miller Street? Who’s responsible for clearing this stretch off? The railroad company? The billboard owner? God?

And I hope they nail the scofflaw who didn’t clean up this sidewalk on Miller Street behind the Press-Republican newspaper building. Some time ago I checked into who is responsible for maintaining this section. The responsible party? No, not the Press-Republican.

It’s the City of Plattsburgh.

Reflecting On Art

If you’re in downtown Plattsburgh, there are a couple of art exhibits you can check out.

The North Country Cultural Center for the Arts (NCCCA) is running a members’ exhibit this month. Various media are represented: painting, photography, ceramics, etc. Located at 30 Brinkerhoff Street in the old Merchants Bank building, the NCCCA is open Monday through Friday 9 am to 4 pm and Saturday, from 11 am to 4 pm.

And also, just up from the street from the NCCCA, the Plattsburgh Public Library is featuring a photography exhibit in the Walter-Hale Gallery until January 25th. The library is located on the corner of Brinkerhoff and Oak streets.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ethics & The Loophole

Search engine queries can lead into some interesting areas. Especially gray ones.

I was looking for some information on a company that wants to build student housing in Plattsburgh when the name Karen Hitchcock popped up. I was puzzled. Why would this former president of the University of Albany be linked to that company?

I ended up reading a few articles that appeared in the Albany Times-Union and the New York Times newspapers back in 2005. They revealed the existence of The Loophole.

If a state employee was being investigated on ethics charges, he could effectively stop the inquiry by quitting or resigning. All ethics investigations could only be conducted while the accused collected a state paycheck.

Karen Hitchcock resigned from UAlbany back in 2004, taking another position in Ontario, Canada. After her resignation it was revealed she was being investigated on ethics charges in regards to her connection with a local developer. The developer, Walter Uccellini, is the founder of the United Group of Companies. That’s why Hitchcock’s name appeared in my search engine hits.

An allegation was made that Hitchcock was trying to push building projects for Uccellini in exchange for Uccellinni to endow a university professorship for her to fill.

Hitchcock has denied any wrongdoing. She has stated she would like to see a full, impartial inquiry to clear her name. But since she left her UAlbany position, the ethics inquiry was stopped.

Of course, some speculate that Hitchcock took advantage of The Loophole to avoid any penalties if the ethics board ruled against her.

So it’s an open question: What really happened with Hitchcock and her dealings with Uccellini?

Talk about a gray area.

Before leaving office, former Governor George Pataki signed a law that closed The Loophole. The Ethics Commission can now pursue any complaints even if employees leave the state payroll.

This doesn’t change the situation for Karen Hitchcock. Maybe she could get another NY State job and restart the ethics probe.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Hey, Dude! Where's My Hotel?

On The Ball

This post is an issue about “the issue.”

I try to keep up with local events, reading different sources. Sometimes coverage in Cardinal Points, the student newspaper at SUNY-Plattsburgh, is more complete than the Press-Republican.

In the latest CP, 11/30/07, there’s an article on page A3 headlined “St. John’s student housing plans stalled.” It deals with the controversy over the student housing project being promoted by the United Group of Troy. The new complex would house around 400 students.

As explained in a previous post (“Combat Zone: Peace Or Profit?”), Center City residents want a change in the zoning regulations to alleviate the concentration of so many college students in their neighborhood. This change would limit 3, not 4, unrelated individuals to an apartment unit.

In the CP article John Ball, Chief Operating Officer for United Group, claims that such a change could kill his company’s plans. For the project to be profitable, each suite needs four renters.

Ball contends that the new student housing wouldn’t create new problems; it would solve an old one by offering student housing of a higher quality.

At one point in the article it’s stated that Ball finds the entire process regarding the proposed zoning ordinance to be foreign, a mystery. He says that when United Group approached other cities with housing projects, the issue was never brought up.

If he means by “the issue” the number of students per suite, then in that sense Ball is right as far I can tell from my research. But if he means concern about the total number of students or talk about zoning changes, then there’s more to the story, at least in Oswego.

A previous post, "United Against United Group In Oswego,” detailed how the city of Oswego killed a student housing plan that had been pushed by Ball’s company. Citizens didn’t want a high concentration of students – 300 to 400 - in their neighborhood.

There was talk of rezoning to keep the project out of Oswego. In the end the owner of the property for the proposed site agreed to a deed restriction so his land couldn’t be used for high-density housing, effectively blocking the United Group project. The owner had a choice of a deed restriction or face the possibility of being rezoned.

Obviously United Group had encountered zoning issues in Oswego and also heard complaints from some Oswegonians about having a high concentration of students in one area.

And John Ball should know about all of this since he traveled to Oswego to pitch the project, discussing the details in a public forum with city residents.