Tom Richards Budget Cuts "Voice of the Customer"

Today in Lake Riley Lodge at Cobb's Hill Park (Norris Dr. at Culver Rd., although the City claims it is at 100 Norris), Mayor Thomas S. Richards was on hand to discuss the City budget and take requests to cover a deficit at Voice of the Customer 2012 meeting with for the Southeast portion of the city. I had trouble getting Tieson to behave so I left late, then went to the wrong lodge, and finally arrived a bit late. And then I had to leave early on top of it! But at least I got to say my piece — whether it's heard or not is out of my hands.

Richards and his staff outlined the situation and attempted to lead the audience to avoid cuts to police (e.g., paraphrasing, "the school budget is out of our hands, and many people say, 'don't cut the police force' so we can consider those two biggest bars on the graph off-the-table.") He also avoided mentioning the millions of dollars of tax exemptions on certain commercial properties in the city — but thankfully Alex White was there with a brochure describing exactly that. Relatedly, there didn't seem to be line items for equipment costs for the police (e.g. how much does a patrol car cost for a year?) except for the mounted patrol which, I guess Richards wants to eliminate. I also noted that there was a budget item for the pension fund in addition to paying for pensions in the cost of individual employees.

So I migrated to the Public Safety table and made suggestions that the extreme surplus of police officers should be reduced. I attempted to outline a system that used conviction rates as a benchmark: officers who arrest people who are then convicted of those crimes are "good cops" (who we should keep) and officers who, say, arrest people in a park illegally and don't get convictions are "bad cops" (who we should let go). Another person at the table brought up the security cameras, and I dovetailed jeir suggestion that we eliminate them unless there is proof they work (specifically: being admitted as evidence in court, since we were sold them on the claim that if someone commits a crime, jeir face is on camera and jee can be arrested.)

But my genius suggestion was that we could create a health plan that any city resident can buy into (expanding from all city employees) which, since it's a larger pool of participants, will further reduce costs. And it will provide a valuable service to citizens (and particularly small-business owners in the city) as an inexpensive, quality health plan.

1,847 total views, no views today

Arrests at Occupy Rochester

I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Made in Dagenham at 8. Before the film, it was announced that people in Washington Square Park (Woodbury Blvd at South Clinton Ave, across from Geva Theatre) protesting as Occupy Rochester would be arrested: Mayor Thomas S. Richards had ordered them out at 10 p.m. Although that news distracted me through the first part of the film, it was nonetheless enjoyable. It reenacts the events surrounding a strike of female auto workers at a British Ford factory in 1968 — their pay was cut when they were reclassified from "semi-skilled" to "unskilled". I gathered the historical accuracy was not perfect but reasonably good, and although the film concludes stating better labor relations, the Dagenham plant closed after the film was made and moved its operations elsewhere.

Although I'd rather have gone to celebrate for Halloween, I headed to Washington Square Park just about 10 p.m. At that point, no police were around — hauntingly, I saw no police on my way there either, and it was the Friday before Halloween Weekend on the busy East End area (in which one would ordinarily observe 2 or 3 parked cruisers). The members of Occupy Rochester were discussing their plan for the evening. They did this with a technique I saw at an anarchy class: whenever anyone wanted to speak, they were added to a "stack" by a moderator, and then allowed in turn to speak to the group. They used a "living microphone" of sorts where when one person spoke, they'd do it in 4-7 word pieces which were then loudly repeated by the group so everyone could hear.

A posting on the statue announced that the park was to be vacated by 10 p.m. The police had notified the group earlier that they would arrive at 11 p.m. The group appointed two laissons to approach the police when they arrived. The laissons were to explain the purpose of the protest, state that it was indeed a protest and a peaceful assembly protected by the Bill of Rights, and to ask that the arresting officers contact their superiors and request that the arrests be cancelled. The crowd was to remain respectfully quiet for the laissons to speak with police. Discussion in the group then revolved around getting arrested, having bail money, pairing up, and finding a small group of people who would remain at the jail until everyone goes home.

Camera crews from TWEAN (Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse Partnership) News Channel of Rochester L.L.C d.b.a. YNN and Newport Television LLC, 13WHAM (formerly WOKR ABC) were on hand. The police arrived at 11:15 p.m. and set up a pick-up truck with what appeared to be a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) along with about 15 cruisers and a few vans. They announced to the crowd that the park was closed from 11 p.m. (maybe it was 10 p.m. … I don't remember off hand) to 5 a.m. (per city ordinance which they identified), anyone remaining in the park would be arrested if they did not leave in 15 minutes, and all remaining personal belongings in the park would be confiscated. (It reminded me of reenactments of witchcraft trials where the accusers attempted to claim the side of right and good with formal language that failed to address the whole situation.) Some people moved to the sidewalk around the park, leaving a crowd of 40 or so in the park proper and another 50 more on the sidewalk. I opted to observe from the other side of South Clinton. There were about 40 uniformed officers including Police Chief James M. Sheppard and a few other high-ranking officers. Police cruisers had blocked South Clinton at 490 and Byron St. as well as Woodbury from South Clinton to South Avenue.

My friend and City Council candidate Alex White was there. I talked with him a bit and he was checking in with the police and observing to ensure things went smoothly and peacefully. He noted that the police were concerned as they were outnumbered and did not want things to turn violent.

At around 10:35 the police announced they would begin making arrests. Police Chief James M. Sheppard personally attended to the first half-dozen arrests. I don't know if the laissons from Occupy Rochester stated their case, but the crowd was quiet, and they were the first two to be arrested. During subsequent arrests, the crowd shouted at the police things like, "you are working class too", and chanted "shame".

The police had two vans they were using to transport one person at a time to jail until the Monroe County Sheriff showed up with a van capable of transporting more people, at which they filled it with 8 or 9 women from the group.

TWEAN (Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse Partnership) News Channel of Rochester L.L.C d.b.a. YNN left before the arrests began as the 11 o'clock news had ended. Crews stayed from Newport Television LLC, 13WHAM (formerly WOKR ABC) although their large production van left before midnight.

Around 12:30 a.m. a woman drove the wrong way down South Clinton. When she approached the police barricade, one of the officers approached her and told her she was driving the wrong way and to turn around.

I left around 1 a.m. before all the arrests were completed, although it appeared that only about 10 people remained in the park at that time. As I heard later, 32 people were arrested.

Mayor Thomas S. Richards did not speak with the protesters beforehand and did not arrive to witness the arrests.

1,171 total views, no views today

JayceLand's Endorsement for Mayor: Alex White

On Tuesday, March 29, the City of Rochester will hold a special election for interim mayor. Although the election defies the City Charter (which directly specifies that the Council appoint an interim mayor), it appears that the election will take place and the results of that election will be supported over the Council's transgression — at least until the next election cycle.

On the ballot are Alex White, Bill Johnson, and Tom Richards along with an active write-in candidate Ann C. Lewis. I wrote about the candidates at the Gleason Works debate, and had a chance to hear them discuss issues on March 14 at St. Anne Church (1600 Mt. Hope Ave.) where they reinforced my original report.  As I see it, there are several challenges the City of Rochester faces that the mayor should be addressing.

First, the City needs to innovate to survive. While it is important to examine other cities' successes, copying those plans simply sets us back at least a couple (if not ten) years, for those cities plans germinated long ago. We need a mayor who knows Rochester and how to leverage its strengths and repair its weaknesses. We also need to examine the reality of the coming major economic disruptions: ever-increasing fuel costs and the related dwindling supply, changes in the balance of power in global economics, and environmental attacks on our generous and clean water supply.

Next, the City also needs to abandon the harmful practices of the past. First is to stop using public money for private projects, avoid the ulterior motives of developers' "suggestions", and (as I explained earlier) to stop affecting the assessment of business risk (that is, to stop paying for part of a private project to "sweeten the deal" for a potential business). Nearly all of the past boondoggles could have been avoided by following those practices. Second is to equalize the tax base so small businesses can compete with big ones: as it stands now, big businesses are strongly favored for tax breaks and public money leading to a proliferation of unsustainable monoliths (that is, unsustainable if they had to pay full taxes like small businesses do).

Finally, the City must address the crippling poverty. This is the cause of numerous problems in Rochester, including the troubled school system. Poor planning on the City's part to mitigate it has resulted in an explosion of police presence — a desperate last-ditch effort to effectively imprison the "problem".

Alex White is a small business owner with tremendous skills in long-term strategic analysis. He has demonstrated that he understands all these problems, has directly acknowledged them, and has provided potential solutions. His innovative solutions are rooted in modest changes on the governmental front (such as more flexible zoning), proper public-works projects (such as inexpensive electricity through a municipal power company), forward thinking (such as making the city more walkable to phase-out the need for constant car use), and using regional resources to our advantage (providing support for college graduates to innovate with new, in-city small businesses). He is not foolhardy with money and has short-term plans to patch budget shortfalls while understanding that it is necessary and efficient for the city to collect taxes and provide certain kinds of services.  He is the best candidate for mayour.

1,112 total views, no views today

The Mayoral Debate at Gleason Works

I stopped by Gleason Works (1000 University Ave.) for the Mayoral Debate tonight. On the ballot are Tom Richards as a Democrat, Alex White on the Green Party ticket, and former mayor Bill Johnson as an independent. Ann C. Lewis was in present as a write-in candidate (and handing out literature outside) along with a couple other write-in candidates who were more vocally upset at not being invited to the debate. I've known White a bit through a friend of mine, and I find him to be rational, methodical, strategic, and a real lover of living life. I don't think I've ever seen Richards, and I've only had passing contact with Johnson when he was mayor or around town on occasion.

Anyway, let me lay things out in broad strokes. Rachel Barnhart, acting as moderator, asked 5 pre-conceived questions then selected several more from cards from the audience. Alas, she didn't ask about the proposed RGRTA Bus Barn project on Mortimer Street nor about the City Schools, but instead found it more important to ask about suburbanite concerns about parking and about what to do with the riverfront. In general, all the candidates recognize the major issues before them and have similar directions they'd like to go in.

The differences, though, are what's key. All three candidates agreed that giant boondoggle projects failed to revitalize downtown — White cited a few, and Johnson added that he counted 27 in the past 60 years or so as part of his research as a college professor. However, only White wanted to move forward with caution. Johnson seemed almost bitter that the Renaissance Square was opposed and cancelled — he saw it as the first time in a long time that the city and county cooperated, but my perspective was less of a trophy of such an achievement and more that the county would defecate and the city would get to keep it. Richards cited value in a rivers-end marina being developed with high-priced housing adjacent; he apparently didn't hear that the real estate market's bubble burst. While Johnson and Richards play with hitting the proverbial lottery, White's "big project" was public transportation possibly using light rail — and at that, his proposal was for, at best, a modest start rather than a one-shot full system.

White also differentiated himself by understanding that he is, foremost, a champion of the people. Johnson continues to give more credence to businesses than people (and yes, I fondly recall how he was so easily contacted, often recommending people call his office and set up a lunchtime appointment). Richards was scarcely a Republican in Democrat clothing showing strong support for big business and high finance over actual people. For instance, when White proposed that abandoned houses be rehabilitated for low-income families, both Richards and Johnson jumped down his throat that (1) the houses are not worth salvaging (clearly, White was proposing for the many houses in salvageable shape), and (2) the city now has a policy to secure the houses so it is nearly impossible for people to get into them so they can be "preserved" and get sold later. Missing from the discussion is that homeless people can be paired with abandoned homes (at least temporarily) to help solve two problems.

White also proposed that Rochester attempt to supply municipal electricity, citing that the density of electrical service suits such a system and can drive utility bills down. He prefaced by acknowledging that Richards opposes the idea (purportedly because Richards was former CEO of RG&E, resigning profitably when it was sold to Energy East, then later Iberdrola headquartered in Spain). Richards countered by saying that municipal power wouldn't work because there is no reserve to tap from, adding that the utility company is a major taxpayer in the city whose revenues would need to be replaced. Obviously capacity consumed by RG&E customers would be freed up for municipal power, so his argument is essentially that it's better to spend $0.17/kwh (average what I pay) so that $0.02/kwh can go to the city and $0.10/kwh can go to profit (fictitious figures, but you get the idea) rather than paying $0.05/kwh for municipal power and making up the $0.02/kwh difference in additional property tax (for those not good at math, that's a savings of over 50% of the cost of electricity).

Anyway, in reading other media, I find they fall for the allure of Johnson and Richards slickly polished public speaking skills with Johnson and Richards having an edge with better sound bytes. However, White spends less effort perfecting his public image and more developing sound choices for the future of Rochester.

1,472 total views, no views today