Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Common Council hopefuls gets in line

Common Council hopefuls get in line
Current president Shawn Morris is expected to run for the mayor's seat

By TIM O'BRIEN, Staff writer First published in print: Tuesday, February 24, 2009
ALBANY — As Common Council President Shawn Morris prepares to launch a bid for mayor, others are starting to line up for her job.
Council Majority Leader Carolyn McLaughlin said she will run, Council member Glen Casey is said to be pondering the race, and regular attendee Timothy Carney has said he wants to win the job so he can eliminate it. Lenny Ricchiuti, who leads Albany's Police Athletic League, said he has been approached but he likes what he's doing now.
Morris hasn't formally announced her bid to run for mayor in a Democratic primary against Mayor Jerry Jennings. But asked Monday if she's a potential contender for her current seat this fall, she replied bluntly: "No."
"I am going to run for that," she said of the mayor's job. "It's a matter of timing the announcement."
The council leader's post, which pays $30,938 a year, is largely ceremonial. The council leader runs meetings but only votes to break a tie, a rarity on a 15-member body.
McLaughlin, 55, said she sees the role as a natural fit after 12 years representing the Second Ward. She also works as an assistant manager for human resources for the New York State Teachers Retirement System.
"I think I am the prime candidate to not only move the city agenda forward, and the council agenda forward, but I can foster collaboration," she said. "You do need someone in that position who has experience with the council, who has some experience with the departments in the city. One of the things I hope to do is to bridge the gap between the council and the mayor."
Jennings and the council operate almost in separate spheres, with little interaction. Council members often complain they don't get answers from the administration.
"We have to ask for it and to let him know that this is for the benefit of the city," she said. "It's not for the benefit of the council president."
Casey, first elected in the 11th Ward in 2001, and Carney could not be reached for comment Monday. Carney once ran for the county Legislature in 1995 and managed Lester Freeman's primary campaign for the 21st Congressional District.
He has said at one council meeting he wants to run to work toward eliminating the council leader's job and to cut the size of the council in half.
Ricchiuti said he was asked to consider a run, but it's not on his agenda right now.
"I am enjoying what I am doing with the Police Athletic League," he said. "I guess it's kind of flattering that people think I have something to contribute."
Staff writer Tim O'Brien can be reached at 454-5092 or by e-mail at tobrien@timesunion.com.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Carney Supports Spectrum's Expansion Plan

Section: CAPITAL REGION Page: B8 Date: Saturday, June 10, 1995
SARAH METZGAR Staff writer
ALBANY The Spectrum Theatre has unveiled major expansion plans to neighbors, getting thumbs-up on a proposal for three more screens, additional parking and a cafe.
``They had excellent plans. We're going to put together a letter endorsing the idea,'' said Tim Carney, president of the Delaware Area Neighborhood Association. ``It's an asset, not only bringing people into the neighborhood but employing people. It's a beautiful place, and they're going to make it even better.''
Keith Pickard, one of the owners of the four-screen theater at 290 Delaware Avenue, which often includes foreign and art films among its offerings, said they want to add 348 new theater seats and additional parking, acquiring the building next door and vacant land behind it. They haven't filed any application yet with the city, he said.
``This is just in the discussion stages,'' Pickard said. ``Whether these plans are going to happen or not, we're not sure.''
Carney, who is stepping down from the presidency of the neighborhood group to run for the Albany County Legislature, said motorists would enter the parking lot at the existing driveway but would exit at a new driveway on the other side of the theater. About 120 new parking spaces would be built, he said.
An addition would be built at 296 Delaware, Carney said, to house three additional screens and a cafe.

Small Business Works for America

Section: BUSINESS Page: E1 Date: Thursday, January 22, 1998
Business writer
Americans and the media underestimate the importance of small business, said a handful of small business advocates and local politicians who gathered at City Hall Wednesday.

Local representatives of the National Federation of Independent Business brought the group together to launch the Small Business Works for America campaign. The promotion's goal is to make sure consumers and policy makers are aware that small businesses employ almost 60 percent of the nation's work force and contribute to local charities and other organizations.
Timothy L. Carney, NFIB's Albany-based territory manager, said Americans still perceive America as being defined by its biggest businesses. He said the media perpetuate that by overreporting stories about mass layoffs and underreporting stories about small business success.
To boost local awareness, businesses in the area are being asked to display window and bumper stickers with the campaign's red, white and blue logo.

The NFIB itself may be grass roots, but it is by no means small. Last month, Fortune magazine ranked the 600,000-member organization the fourth most powerful lobbying group in Washington, D.C.
NFIB's New York lobbyist, Mark Alesse, expressed satisfaction at the state level.
``The past few years have seen some important changes in state policy that have helped small business,'' Alesse said.
But he said the group will continue to press for more help in reducing government-imposed costs this year.
NFIB is one of more than 100 business, professional and municipal groups pressing for lawsuit reform this year.
To discourage frivolous lawsuits, NFIB will press for state laws to force filers of lawsuits who lose to pay the cost of defending the lawsuit. NFIB also wants to cap jury awards at $250,000 and to place a 10-year limit on how long a company can be held liable if a person is injured by its product.
NFIB will also press this year for a reduction in unemployment insurance costs. Alesse said the state's liberal policy allows people to stay on the payments longer on average than in other states. He said restrictions should be tightened so that people who quit, are fired or are not seriously looking for work would not qualify.
Alesse acknowledged that some exception would have to be made for workers, such as construction workers, who legitimately go on and off unemployment insurance numerous times.
Attending Wednesday's event were County Executive Michael Breslin, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, County Legislature Minority Leader Peter Crummey and Assemblymen Robert Prentiss, Jack McEneny and Ronald Canestrari.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Mayor's callers have tickets on their minds

Mayor’s callers have tickets on their minds
February 13, 2009 at 1:09 pm by Tim O'Brien, Staff writer
Mayor Jerry Jennings heard from callers to his radio show this morning about the “ghost” parking tickets.

One caller, named Brian, worried that cars on South Allen were ticketed the other day because police wanted to generate revenue to counter the coverage of the no-fine parking tickets. “I felt this was an ambush on our street,” the caller told Jennings.

“I don’t like the term ‘ambushed,’ ” the mayor replied. He said parking enforcement officers may have been responding to a complaint. “It’s got nothing to do with ghost tickets. It’s about enforcement.”
Another caller, named Bill, made fun of last night’s Common Council meeting, where the council decided to get testimony under oath. The mayor — who was not present – called the session ‘entertaining.’
Still, you could sense some nervousness in his voice over his re-election prospects.

“I hope people look at the whole record, how things were in 1994 and how they are today,” he said. “Hopefully the media will be objective in this race.”

The subject was raised again by Tim Carney, a regular caller. When he referred to the ticket issue as a ’scandal,’ the mayor argued.
“Don’t use the word scandal,” he said. Of the 299 people on the VIP list, the mayor claimed all but 1.6 percent were assigned to law enforcement.

According to my colleague Brendan J. Lyons, those numbers conflict with what the department has released. Of the 299, 208 belonged to Albany Police Department cars and 23 to cars from other local police departments. Chief James Tuffey has said more than 250 of the vehicles belonged to law enforcement cars. But 5 belonged to employees of the Downtown Business Improvement District. Others were for cars owned by a former corporation counsel and at least two were for retired police officers. At least two were driven by state officials whose law enforcement role wouldn’t require having to find parking in a hurry. There were also a smattering of private citizens whom the police chief is still working to determine how they were put on the list. He said it’s possible some inherited former police department plate numbers through DMV.

A city-owned Chrysler that was used by the mayor was also on the list.
The bull’s eye stickers given out by the Albany Police Officers Union have had a much bigger impact, resulting in tens of thousands of tickets not paid.

Jennings seemed to consider the council’s efforts to find out how so many people were able to avoid parking fines as a personal affront.
“This administration is going to continue to be successful, despite some people who don’t want us to be,” he said.

He also defended city treasurer Betty Barnette. Some council members have complained she has not provided information they asked for since the ghost ticket issue was first reported in November.
“She had nothing to do with the ‘ghost’ tickets,” Jennings said. “We’re going to do the right thing to get the information out.”

The council isn’t the only one Barnette hasn’t responded to. She didn’t answer calls for comment from the TU when the story broke.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spending Albany’s money
August 6, 2008 at 1:12 pm by Scott Waldman

Will the Albany Common Council become stronger? A proposed local law could give them more power in how Albany’s money is spent after the approve it’s annual budget.

The proposed law would require council approval of any departmental reorganizations or any midyear raises for individual employees.

Once the council approves the budget in December, the mayor can take raises to the five-member Board of Estimate and Apportionment for approval without council oversight. The board includes the mayor, Council President Shawn Morris, City Comptroller Thomas Nitido, Treasurer Betty Barnette and Corporation Counsel John J. Reilly.About a dozen citizens showed up this morning at City Hall for a public hearing on the matter. Most appeared frustrated that their elected representatives don’t have the power to make key financial decisions.

Tim Carney called the council “a rubber stamp” for the Jennings administration. He said the local law would not go far enough. “This city has to change, it has to be brought into the 21st century and stop living in the 16 century.”

Council president pro tempore Richard Conti sponsored the law, which is awaiting Jennings’ approval, or veto (it would be Jennings’ first veto since he took office in 1994.) He said Albany is the last city in New York to have a city council that does not have the power to make budget decisions after it has passed. He said the new law is a “modest proposal” that would create a system of checks and balances.

Jennings has not yet commented on the proposal. A spokesman said the mayor will address it after he returns from a period of mourning following the death of his brother, Joe.
Albany's old ways die hard

By FRED LEBRUN First published in print: Sunday, February 8, 2009

There was a very long time in Albany, during the O'Connell-Corning machine years, when you made a call to who you knew when there was a problem.
A problem like, say, an inconvenient and expensive parking ticket. There was virtually no problem imaginable that couldn't be fixed with the right call.
Those were the bad old days, of who-you-knew justice that naturally promoted an insiders culture, a privileged class. We thought that onerous system of corrupt governing was long gone, shucked once and for all by the late Mayor Tom Whalen when he took over. But the so-called ghost parking ticket scandal that still haunts the city is an irritating reminder that the old ways die hard in some quarters.
It's important at the onset to note that Mayor Jerry Jennings brought to a definitive halt last November the Albany Police Department's hitherto unknown but long-standing practice of issuing no-fee parking tickets to a favored few. The mayor issued his edict after this newspaper revealed that certain Albany police, relatives and friends had little bull's-eyes on their windshields, alerting meter attendants to give them a free pass, virtually anywhere in the city. That got those who live or work in Albany and have to contend with constant parking problems pretty irritated at the favoritism.
Frankly, in retrospect, that is small beer compared to the outrageous revelations last week by our reporter Brendan J. Lyons that a number of private citizens with connections also got scads of free parking for years if they were on a VIP list kept by police department higher-ups.
The reason I say that the latest pool of freebie parking tickets is more galling than the bull's-eye business is that now the stench of old-line who-you-know politics seems to be involved. With the bullseyes, the abuses were exclusively by a few cops that spilled over into family and friends. It was a blue line thing. The bullseye system started as a way for cops on legitimate business, especially around the courthouse, to avoid parking tickets. The abuses that followed are not excusable, but at least understandable, and most cops were not involved.
But there is simply no justifying those on the VIP list who are not cops or other civil servants on city business. It's worth noting that the rank-and-file Albany cop or union member had nothing to do with the VIP list. This is a different deal.
The private citizens who got thousands of free tickets had to be put on the list by some ranking official. Lyons found out about the VIP list and all these no-fee tickets through a Freedom of Information request, so he had to go digging for them.
Knowing there was a VIP list generates questions that still need answers.
How do we know, for example, that the list the city gave Lyons is complete? Rumors persist that there are more names of civilians who got freebies that we haven't yet seen. I'm not saying it's true or not, but the city has opened itself up to a major credibility issue here over the extent of all of this.

Who came up with the list? Who kept it and massaged it year after year? Logically, City Hall is suspect in this regard since it sounds like plain old reward-your-friends politics. But interestingly enough, that's not the signal I'm getting from those in the know. An old police department hand tells me that if City Hall was methodically involved, there would be a lot more names and different ones from those revealed so far. OK, that's an interesting and plausible argument, but we need to hear more.
At the very least we know that a high-ranking Albany Police Department official, at least a commander if not an assistant chief, had to have direct oversight of programming the various meter attendant machines that automatically gave certain license plates a free pass. That would strike me as a pretty good place to start an inquiry that is way overdue here.

Where is Albany's Common Council on this? It is their fiduciary responsibility to find out the extent of these ghost tickets. Big bucks are involved, or at least so it seems. Regardless of how much was lost in revenues, a thorough forensic look at this scandal is needed to restore the city's credibility in very trying times for taxpayers.

If ever there was an occasion to bring in the state comptroller to do a special audit, this is it. Name names. Who ran this scam?
I don't believe City Hall, or the police department, any longer has the credibility to do its own investigation.
Fred LeBrun can be reached at 454-5453 or by e-mail at flebrun@timesunion.com.
To save the City of Albany almost 1.2 million Dollars over 4 years, we, the voters in the City of Albany need to eliminate half of the Common Council members. With the decrease in population to 90,000 people, the city could, with the new census numbers reduce the number of wards from 15 to 7.

The Council Members get an annual pay and benefit package of almost $30,000 dollars each and are considered full time employees in the NYS pension system.

The City of Buffalo has 10 Wards with 3 times our population, the cities of Syracuse and Rochester have 9 council members each and they are double our population and the Town of Colonie has 6 town board members with about the same population.

As a City of Albany resident and an active member of the community, I find it difficult to justify what they do for the money. Most of the members work for the NY State Government FULL time and get this as a bonus. They have no power and no budget input, so what good are they.

Secondly we need to eliminate the elected position of Common Council President. This position pays almost $40,000 per year and has no power at all and no voting privileges. The duties of the council president, what little they are, would be done by the Majority Leader of the council.

I have many other ways to save the city money and will introduce them in the coming weeks. I am asking for everyone’s help with ways of saving the City of Albany money. If you have suggestions e-mail me.

If we work together we can make a difference.
Timothy L. Carney
City of Albany

Friday, February 6, 2009

Population might shrink, but government doesn’t
December 22, 2008 at 8:46 am by Mike Goodwin, Assistant City Editor Check out this story by Tim O’Brien
People come and people go, but the size of government rarely changes.
Since 1985, the city of Albany has seen its population drop to 94,172, yet there are still 15 Common Council members and a president.
Colonie, with a population of 81,759 and growing, still has seven elected representatives. No one’s calling for its expansion.
“The institutional bias is toward stasis, no change,” said Alethia Jones, an assistant professor at the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs. “Any kind of change would upset the existing power structure.”
The tendency of governments to stay the same size comes at a price. In Albany, each Common Council member is paid $20,314. The president, who votes only to break a rare tie, makes $30,938. All are eligible for health and pension benefits.
With the economy in turmoil and governments looking to trim costs, rarely do leaders’ eyes turn toward their own institutions. The Albany council approved a 15-page list of recommended areas for cost reductions, Shrinking the council wasn’t among them.
At a recent meeting, Tim Carney announced plans to run for council president with the goal of eliminating the job.
“We have 15 council members, and we could get by with half,” which would save $1.2 million over four years, Carney said.
Council President Shawn Morris said talk of change for governments at all levels may spur a renewed look at the size of Albany’s council, but any changes should be coupled with a re-examination of how city government works.
“People are giving more and more thought to how government works,” she said. “I think that’s a discussion that’s ripe for being had.”
Common Council members serve geographic wards not the community at large as many town boards do.
“When you’re districted, you really do have a connection with the people,” she said.
Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian tried to shrink the council’s size from nine to seven in a referendum this fall after Democrats gained a council majority. The Democrats fought the proposal, which was defeated.
Troy’s population has dropped from 62,918 in 1970 to 47,744. Elected officials on average represent some 1,600 fewer citizens each today than they did 38 years ago.
No community is as well-represented as the city of Rensselaer. There is one elected council member for every 792 residents. That compares with one board member for every 11,680 residents of Colonie.
The population of Clifton Park, one of the Capital Region’s fastest-growing communities, nearly tripled from 14,867 in 1970 to 36,322 in 2008. No one is calling for expanding the five-member Town Board.
Supervisor Phil Barrett laughed at the very notion.
“Nobody has ever told me that more politicians is a good thing,” he said.
Government leaders haven’t always been unwilling to change.
Troy slashed its council to seven members from 18 in 1964. In 1983, the council was bumped up to nine. Steven Dworsky, a former city manager and council member who served on Tutunjian’s charter reform committee, recalled that the increase came after neighborhood groups complained they weren’t getting their share of city resources.
When Albany reduced the number of aldermen from 19 to 16 in 1973 to reflect the population loss from construction of Empire State Plaza, the city’s wards were redrawn to create two where most of the population were minorities. said Assemblyman Jack McEneny, who drafted the boundaries as an aide to Albany Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd.
In 1981, the council was cut once again to the current 15 seats, but not to 14, as the population decline would normally have prompted because that would have eliminated one of the minority wards, McEneny said.
Robert Van Amburgh, executive assistant to Mayor Jerry Jennings, said any reduction in the number of council members should hold off for now.
“We’d probably wait for the official 2010 census,” Van Amburgh said. “We really don’t want to jump the gun.”
Staff writer Tim O’Brien can be reached at 454-5092 or by e-mail at tobrien@timesunion.com.