Road show

by Hugh Reynolds
July 21, 2011 12:48 PM | 0 0 comments | 203 203 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A local government entity doesn’t have to do much to impress the state comptroller.

Witness comptroller Tom DiNapoli gushing over Ulster County’s nascent “shared-services” program with a handful of towns during a whistle stop in Kingston last week.

Announced with much fanfare by county executive Mike Hein last January, “shared services” — actually, contracted services — was a plan for towns to take over snowplowing and some maintenance of county roads in their jurisdictions for a per-mile fee from the county. The cost for this year looks to be about $60,000.

So far, only five of 20 towns — New Paltz, Gardiner, Woodstock, Shandaken and Saugerties (Hardenburgh was on previously) — have bought in. The city of Kingston, which has 100 miles of streets, is not included. Hein calls that a good start. Perhaps so. But it’s hardly worthy of an Academy Award nomination…

DiNapoli trumpeted the scheme as “a laboratory and a role model” for other counties. DiNapoli warned his Kingston audience he was going to brag about what had been accomplished in Ulster County.

“It might be better if he kept it a secret,” observed the daily Times-Herald Record. “Sharing six percent of the load and leaving 94 percent untouched is not what anybody would call a success story.” The towns are taking care of just 24 of the county’s 425 miles.

Shouldn’t the comptroller have waited until the shared-services program encompasses something more than a good start before touting it as a state role model?

How much has actually been saved by the county through this program? County executive Hein has publicly used the figure of $2.3 million numerous times. That figure apparently encompasses county highway staff reductions — about 70 people this fiscal year — and in-house efficiencies, like assigning one rather than two drivers to snow plows. A new county GPS system also does a better job tracking vehicles.

Like an often-told urban legend, this $2.3-million figure seems to have taken on a life of its own. It popped up in a press release Hein issued a few weeks ago wherein the National Association of Counties cited the county for cost-sharing iniatives. DiNapoli used the same number in extolling Hein in Kingston last week.

I’ve placed several phone calls to the administration asking for a breakdown, to no avail.

I tried the county comptroller, keeper of all financial reports, and at least got a callback. “I’ve seen that number,” comptroller Elliott Auerbach said. “We have nothing at our fingertips at present to verify it.”

Hmm. Maybe the paperwork hasn’t gotten down to the comptroller’s fifth-floor office.

If this is indeed a real number, and I’m not saying it isn’t, our readers would like the details. The state comptroller may take these things on faith. We don’t.

Primary colors

Based on preliminary filings of nominating petitions, if the election for Kingston mayor was held this week Democrat Hayes Clement would beat Republican Ron Polacco by about two-to-one.

Of course, this would be akin to calling a baseball game in the third inning. A successful petition drive doesn’t elect anyone. But it helps.

Based on initial filings — partisan wolves haven’t had sufficient time to pick over petitions of rivals — Ninth Ward alderman Clement leads the pack with just over 800 signatures. This accounts for about 17 percent of enrolled Democrats, fairly close to the number who will probably turn out on primary day, September 13. Democrats have 4807 enrollees, according to the board of elections, Republicans 2236.

Before Clement leads those 76 trombones down Broadway, it should be noted that as the convention nominee he had several dozen committee members carrying his (and other candidate) petitions. Still, 800 is an impressive number.

Under election law, candidates for office must secure five percent of the signatures of party members who voted in the last gubernatorial election. In Kingston, that means 241 Democratic signatures (at a minimum) and 112 Republican.

“Grass-roots” Shayne Gallo — they’re all grassroots campaigns at this level, Shayne — made the most impressive showing among non-endorsed petition gatherers, with just over 700 signatures. Gallo, the Democratic challenger, did not have the advantage of committee members circulating his petitions. If nothing else, Gallo’s signature total confirms a determined, serious candidacy.

On the Republican side, worker bee Pollaco demonstrated once again how far a candidate can go with grit and shoe leather. Pollaco won reelection as Sixth Ward alderman by canvassing the ward three times in 2009. A similar city-wide effort, largely on his own, produced an unofficial 376 signatures, more than three times the minimum.

GOP convention choice alderman Andi-Turco Levin produced a respectable 303 signatures. Republicans have about half as many committee members as Democrats; some can even sit up and take nourishment.

Former alderman Rich Cahill, GOP candidate for mayor in 2007, filed 176 signatures, mostly with a two-man campaign staff, himself and his father. Cahill, like Turco-Levin, is pointing to the primary. Both would be wise to keep a closer watch on Polacco.

Former school board president Jean Jacobs, seen as a joke by some, gathered 189 signatures.

Nominating petitions obviously are but a means to an end. But there is this. Thoughtful people — and here I eliminate dopes who sign anything placed before them — will tend to vote for the person whose petitions they signed, by and large. As such, the petition signing results — 303 for Turco-Levin, 741 for everyone else — should give the Republican official nominee pause.

The Democratic nomination would seem a tossup, again not necessarily good news for the party nominee.

It’s elementary

With all the problems at Kingston High School, it probably doesn’t much matter whether school principal Marie Anderson was demoted (if that’s the word) to a cushy job as an elementary school principal or whether her vertical transfer was a final token of appreciation from a grateful retiring superintendent Jerry Gretzinger.

In sum, it was probably a combination of both.

Gretzinger and Anderson go way back to when both were underpaid teachers at Coleman Catholic High School in the town of Ulster. One of “Jerry’s kids,” Anderson, after a brief stint in the Red Hook district, was brought into the Kingston system as an assistant high school principal and then principal in 2002.

The ensuing years were for the Coleman grads, a bumpy ride. Under Anderson, the high school was on report more than your basic juvenile delinquent; its graduation rates a regional embarrassment. Perhaps the kindly woman insiders called “mother Marie” just wasn’t tough enough. I won’t get into the details surrounding Gretzinger’s implausible lapses of memory about how he handled a double-dipping police lieutenant/school security chief scandal, other than to say it wasn’t pretty.

For the school board, which voted for it 7-2, the Anderson transfer wasn’t all that wrenching. Most school boards assiduously follow the recommendations of professional staff — even lame ducks — and surely this school board had to know the next superintendent would want his or her own person at the helm of the district’s largest school. Especially given its recent record.

So, Anderson, with her handsome high school salary of almost $124,000 a year, plus perks worth a third more, heads for a soft landing at Crosby Elementary School. “About the only thing Marie will have to worry about now is when a kid forgets his lunch money,” a former colleague quipped. At 57, she should be collecting a near six-figure pension any year now. Gretzinger, of course, hits the rocking chair with even more gelt in less than six months. The duo should have grand old times at those Coleman reunions.

Here and there

I see where Republican assemblyman Marc Molinaro has raised an astonishing $250,000 in his race for county executive in Dutchess County. He announced only three months ago. By comparison, and there is no comparison, Ulster district attorney candidates Republican Holley Carnright and Democrat Jonathan Sennett have raised less than $100,000 between them. Carnright leads the money march two-to-one, according to official filings.

Sennett recently picked up the nomination of the Working Families Party, not exactly news since the WFP usually supports liberal Democrats. Carnright has the Independence and Conservative endorsements. ++

Hugh Reynolds’ column appears weekly.

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